Take the backstreets from Camden Town towards Kings Cross and eventually you will come across St Pancras’ Gardens. Surrounded by the buildings of the St Pancras Hospital (which for nearly 50 years housed the London Hospital for Tropical Diseases), this is a site that’s steeped in history.
Within the gardens you’ll find the family mausoleum of one of London’s most notable sons, Sir John Soane, which he designed following his wife’s death – it also contains his tomb and that of his son. Although it’s not as elaborate as his famous museum, the tomb is most unusual, denoting his eclectic tastes when it came to architectural styles. The dome at the centre was used by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott as the inspiration for the roof of the iconic K2 red telephone box… St Pancras’ Gardens also contain what must be the most extravagant sundial in London, in the form of the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial, which was built in 1879 by George Highton, a Brixton-based architect. It was constructed in honour of Baroness Burdett-Coutts who, as well being part of the Coutts banking family, was also a philanthropist - she spent most of her life devoted to improving the living conditions of London’s poor and working class. As you can see from the photograph in this album, it is of a typically high-Victorian design – note the mosaics around the circumference which depict flowers and the seasons, and the statues of St Pancras and St Giles towards the summit.
The marvels that the gardens have to offer don’t end there either – there’s a beautiful bright blue drinking fountain from 1877 in the middle of St Pancras’ Gardens and you can also visit St Pancras Old Church, which is open to the public on most days of the week. A High Anglican church, it was used as a barracks for Cromwell’s troops during the Civil War. The clergy spirited away the valuables to prevent them from being stolen by the soldiers, but clearly something terrible befell them because after the war they weren’t reinstated – the hidden treasures were only unearthed during restoration at the beginning of the 19th century. These include a 6th century altar stone from the church that previously stood on the site – there are also several intricate wooden carvings to look at within the church.
As St Pancras’ Gardens is based within the footprint of the St Pancras Old Church graveyard, there are a couple of macabre finds too. One of them is remarkable – I’ve never seen anything remotely like it in any burial ground I’ve ever visited. In deconsecrated graveyards and cemeteries, old tombstones are usually left to lie where they fall, slowly being covered by earth and vegetation over the years. Not so in St Pancras’ Gardens. For some inexplicable reason they decided to stack them like dominoes around the base of a long-established oak tree!
Here’s a Google Map link to St Pancras’ Gardens if you want to go and explore the area for yourself.