The Crypt of St Pancras Parish Church was designed and used for coffin burials from 1822, when the Church was opened, to 1854, when the crypts of all London churches were closed to burials. Crypt burial was seen as a slightly better alternative to the overcrowded village burial grounds for those who could afford it...and a useful revenue for the churches.
The first burial was that of Ellen Strachey, aged 12, on 6th June 1822. The last burial was that of Harry Pearce, aged 71, on 27th October 1854. Burials here were discontinued by Order in Council dated 21st May 1855.
In both World Wars the Crypt was used as an air raid shelter.
This peaceful place is still the final home of 557 people. We respect their presence.
The Crypt in World War II
Gladys Green ran a canteen in the crypt during the evenings/nights when the crypt was used as an air raid shelter during the London Blitz. It was mainly open for air raid wardens, police, firefighters and people connected with the church. Gladys' daughter, Georgina, was about 8 at the time and has recorded her experience for us...
"My mother had to take me with her as my father was overseas in the army, so obviously I had to sleep overnight there, in one of the alcoves which were fitted out with bunk beds. I remember that my mother used to rest a large tea urn on the feet of a 'sleeping statue' of probably a former vicar or VIP of that time. Mum also used to make vast quantities of bread pudding, which was very popular but, of course, as everything was rationed, I can't imagine the menu was very varied. I am not sure of the dates nor how long she ran the canteen but it was during the Blitz period from 1940-41 and I certainly remember some of the lovely statues around the porch were damaged by bomb blast. Some of the caryatid urns were broken and I used to collect shrapnel for my vast collection (which my mother wisely disposed of at a later date!). The area was a prime target for the bombers, being near three very important stations: King's Cross, Euston and of course St Pancras Station, where I used to play as a child with other local children. It was very fortunate that no serious damage was done but when we emerged from the crypt in the mornings there was a lot of damage to be seen from fires, etc.
Unfortunately I have no documents or photos of this period as very few people had cameras at that time (1939-45) and film was only available for war work, but here is a photo of my mother taken later in her 30's. She would have been about 30 at the time she ran the canteen. She was a very attractive lady and she lived a good life and only passed away in November 2009 at the age of 99. She was a very tough lady!
Here's a photo of me aged 7, which was taken by a newspaper photographer when I was being evacuated to Cambridge in September 1939, right at the start of the war. I was only away for the first 6 weeks of the war and both Mum and I hated being separated so I came back to London and fortunately we both survived without too much damage.
I have very happy memories of our time spent in the crypt during the war as we used to have sing-songs and I am sure it must have been a comfort and shelter for all the weary workers during those awful times."
Georgina King (nee Gladys Georgina Green)
Art and Religion
Since time immemorial art has stimulated the emotions, the senses, the need for integration of the individual with the whole. The power of our imagination steps in when factual reality eludes understanding or explanation.
An ability to produce images of our perceptions underpins our humanity and indeed was a starting point for the development of human knowledge, including religion. From the ability to externalise perceived ideas came the possibility of examining the world of ideas, the development of imagination and the growth of an almost insatiable need to explore anything unknown or mysterious.
There is evidence to suggest that visual art as painting, drawing and sculpture has been a form of human expression for seventy thousand years. For most of that history, art has either been inspired by belief in a deity or created for religious purposes, giving human life purpose and beauty beyond sheer survival and thus touching all human beings.
The Crypt Today
In 2002 the Crypt at St Pancras Church became a gallery space where the imagination, thoughts and emotions of 21st century artists are shared with visitors from around the world. Now this popular venue hosts a year-round programme of art exhibitions. As a church we are pleased to include art that provokes and questions, as well as art designed for contemplation, because all form an important part of our common humanity. Throughout history the Church has encouraged and supported the arts and artists. Long may this continue.
To see an example of the crypt being used by an artist to show their work ">click here
The Crypt provides an intensely atmospheric backdrop to promote the work of a wide variety of artists, kept under the watchful eye of the caryatids. Details of current, forthcoming and previous exhibitions are listed on this website.
If you are interested in putting on an exhibition in The Crypt, please contact Claire Pinney, Director of the Crypt Gallery at St Pancras Church.
To read an interview with Claire Pinney about the Crypt Gallery ">click here