OPEN LETTER TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE DEPARTMENT FOR COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT

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Dear Greg Clark

We the undersigned are writing to you with an emergency appeal for cultural protection of a Grade 1 Listed Park and Garden.

Bunhill Fields on City Road, London EC1Y, is one of only ten parks in London to attain this status. Its legacy as the most famous Non-Conformists’ cemetery in Britain – if not the world – marks it out as a unique site, but what makes it truly iconic is that it is the final resting place of three of English literature’s most enduring writers.

John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrims’ Progress, was buried there in 1688. Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, was buried there in 1731. William Blake, author of the unofficial English national anthem ‘Jerusalem’, was buried there in 1827. Their stone monuments form an isosceles shape which writer Iain Sinclair has memorably dubbed ‘the triangle of concentration’.

As well as being a public park and green space in one of the most congested areas in the City of London, and a sacred site for latter-day ‘Dissenters’, it is an international magnet for people all over the world who have enjoyed the classics written by the great triumvirate.

Sadly, its natural beauty and cultural heritage have become a target for developers. On Feb 9 Boris Johnson approved a massive development which will see two 11 and 10-storey office blocks and two 5-storey office blocks going up around the north-east corner, on what developers call ‘The Site’. Existing offices will be demolished. The unobtrusive mediocrity of Monmouth House will be replaced by the monolithic mediocrity of what campaigners are calling ‘Mammon House’.

Urizen Heights

Islington Council opposed the move saying it would “substantially harm the setting of the Grade 1 Listed Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, the Conservation Area, and the streetscape”. Boris Johnson ignored Islington and the objections of the Ancient Monuments Society, Georgian Group, Victorian Society, Twentieth Century Society, Blake Society, John Wesley House, among others. Instead, he ‘called in’ the proposal and personally approved it. This is the third time in two years that Islington has been undermined by the Mayor’s planning powers, leaving the Council divided and demoralised in the extreme and seemingly unable to protect the jewel in its crown.

City Hall maintains the need for office space is ‘critical’ but there is already a gigantic office development going up metres away, the humongous White Collar Factory. Across the road is the 40-storey Atlas House. Four skyscrapers, therefore, will overwhelm Bunhill Fields, blocking light, and marring the skyline. They will set a dangerous precedent in an area that is “not designated for tall buildings”. If Mammon House is built, more high-rise developments will follow.

Furthermore, another huge residential complex called Bunhill Courts is about to be built by the north-west side of the Fields, (on the site of the cruelly closed-down Moorfields Primary School). An Inspector rejecting the appeal against approval of the Bunhill Courts development still agreed “that the proposed 5 to 7-storey elements would threaten the sense of seclusion and tranquility by altering the balance from one of harmony to one where the surrounding buildings would be oppressive and dominant”. Three seperate developments in various stages of progress will mean years of disruption and disturbance. With the completion of each new construction, Bunhill Fields will become colder and darker.

Office spaces are everywhere in London, Bunhill Fields is rare… a natural, historic and spiritual oasis. We are asking you, Secretary of State, to be our culture hero and call off this construction, thus protecting Bunhill Fields from the orgy of development that is sure to ensue. As Will Self warns: “The eradication of genuinely public space in London is like unto the tight fist of corporatisation choking off the city’s life-blood…..”

Thousands of people have signed a petition and will continue to do so. One signer, a young lady called Jet Payne, has ancestors buried there. Our target is 120,000 signatures, one for every dissenter buried in the cemetery. But this will take a while, and we only have until March 8 to act.

While Boris Johnson will be remembered in the capital as ‘The Mayor Who Sold London’s Skyline’, we are hopeful you might step in and save our beloved Bunhill Fields from these overbearing and overweening plans. What is the point of having a Grade 1 designation, if the Listed Park and Garden in question is used as a bait for high-rise property development, and its protected status so easily violated?

Yours sincerely,

Will Self, novelist
David Graeber, anthropologist
Michael Horovitz, poet-painter-musician
Vanessa Vie, poet-painter-musician
Heathcote Williams, poet
Lindsay Clarke, novelist
Robert Montgomery, poet-artist
Tom Raworth, poet
Julie Goldsmith MRBS, artist
Jody Porter, poet
Jet Payne, descendant of non-Conformists buried in Bunhill Fields
Jeremy Reed, poet,
Christopher Twigg, poet-artist
Sandeep Parmar, poet, BBC New Generation Thinker
John Kinsella, poet-environmentalist
Max Reeves, photographer
Neil Oram, poet-playwright
Jay Ramsay, poet
Claire Palmer, artist, International Times
Niall McDevitt, poet

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P.S. The petition began as a petition to Boris Johnson but is now addressed to you, Greg Clark. We have suspended our appeal to the Mayor as he seems to be too busy and as he never listens anyway. You’ll also see about 3000 signatures backing up the shortlist of poets and artists sending you this open letter. We are hoping to gather 120,000 signatures by the time the work is due to commence in May. Please halt it if you can.

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Boris_Johnson_We_ask_you_to_halt_the_development_of_towerblocks_by_Bunhill_Fields/edit/

Photo of Marlowe Chan Reeves, former student of Moorfields Primary School: Max Reeves

Photo of Niall McDevitt standing on the actual spot of Blake’s burial: Julie Goldsmith

I ROSE up at the dawn of day—
‘Get thee away! get thee away!
Pray’st thou for riches? Away! away!
This is the Throne of Mammon grey.’

Urizen Heights 5

Art: Claire Palmer

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About Niall McDevitt

Niall McDevitt > poet > author of b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010) and Porterloo (International Times, 2012) > urban explorer > radical pedestrian who leads Shakespeare/Blake/Rimbaud /Yeats walks, among others.
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