'God's Acre': the Chelsea Moravians
This is, believe it or not, just off King's Road in Chelsea. A hidden acre of green space. 'God's Acre', as the Moravians - a Protestant church with its roots in central Europe - describe their burial grounds.
It's also the site of one of a handful of Moravian churches in London. If you haven't been here - and I hadn't until this week - then here's where you go...
The congregation dates back to 1742. It worshipped at Fetter Lane near Fleet Street, and still carries that name. According to its website, the congregation was established by Moravians who had come to London with the intention of moving on to the Caribbean to take the gospel to slave communities there. The Chelsea burial ground was set up nine years later.
During the Second World War, the church suffered severe bomb damage and the congregation dispersed. In the 1960s, they reassembled and began to worship in one of the buildings at their burial ground. They gather here still.
The burials are marked by small, uniform stone tablets in the ground, evenly spaced - quite an impressive statement of social equality and human brotherhood. More remarkably, the burial ground is in four quarters, reserved respectively for married women, single women, married men and single men. So no husbands and wives in neighbouring plots.
There have been 400 hundred interments in this particular God's Acre. As the graves were dug deep, the cemetery escaped the initial ban on burials in Central London and they continued here until 1868. The grounds are still in use for the interment and scattering of ashes.
I have a particular interest in the Moravian church - I went to a Moravian primary school at Fulneck outside Leeds, a community established at almost exactly the same time as the Chelsea burial ground. My parents weren't Moravians and the school certainly didn't proselytise. In my four years there, I don't think I ever set foot inside Fulneck's Moravian chapel, which I now rather regret.
Its main claim to fame back in the day was that the cricketer Sir Leonard Hutton and the actor Diana Rigg had attended the school.
I came across another Moravian church many years later in the most unlikely of places - at Leh in Ladakh, a Tibetan-infused corner of the Indian Himalayas. But that's another story!
In a corner of the burial ground off King's Road, not in the cemetery proper but on it's margins, there's this remarkable grave -
The plaque reads: 'NUNAK AN ESKIMO BOY 1770-1788'
Curious? I certainly am. We'll find out more in Curious Chelsea - a new addition to the Curious stable, with new authors too. Watch this space for more details!
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