Lost London – Enon Chapel…

September 6, 2013

Built in what was then Clement’s Lane, just off the Strand, in the early 1820s, Enon Chapel became something of a byword for scandal thanks to its rather stuffed crypt.

The Baptist chapel had two functions: the upper floor served as a chapel for worship while beneath it – separated only by a timber floor –  lay a crypt where, for a small sum – said to be the very affordable amount of 15 shillings – people could bury their loved ones. (The smell can’t have been very pleasant from the get-go – apparently an open sewer ran under the chapel).

Despite the apparent smell and the fact people in the chapel fainted and even became sick from the mouldering bodies beneath their feet, it wasn’t until 1844 that, during the works to cover the sewer beneath the chapel, it was discovered the minister – who had since died – had interred an estimated 12,000 people plus people in the crypt, some of whom were buried under a shallow layer of earth while others were simply stacked in their coffins (or remains thereof).

The works were put on hold following the discovery but the remains weren’t removed until 1847 when they were taken out to West Norwood Cemetery, in the city’s south. In the meantime, the building was used as a dancing saloon, albeit with a new brick floor separating it from the crypt (the fact of the bodies beneath the floor certainly wasn’t hidden – the saloon even advertised the dancing events as “dancing on the dead”). In fact, it also became something of a tourist attraction with thousands of people visiting the site to view the remains before they were carted off.

While the scandal may not have resulted in instant action at Enon Chapel, it did help bring attention to the deplorable state of many of the City’s burial grounds which eventually resulted in the passing of the Burial Act of 1852 under which London’s burial grounds were closed and cemeteries built out in the countryside.

The building has long since gone.

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