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Listed Building
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Date first listed:
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Islington (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:

Reasons for Designation

DCMS agree- list at Grade II*.


635-1/0/10246 BUNHILL FIELDS BURIAL GROUND 21-FEB-11 Monument to Daniel Defoe, Central broa dwalk

GV II* Obelisk monument to Daniel Defoe, 1870, designed by CC Creeke of Bournemouth and carved by Samuel Horner

LOCATION: 532715.5, 182271.2

MATERIALS: Sicilian marble on sandstone base; wrought-iron railings

DESCRIPTION: The monument takes the form of a tall marble obelisk with a three-stage stepped base, set upon a square pedestal with projections resembling the ends of a coffin-lid. All this rests upon a rectangular plinth and enclosed by low ornamental railings with fleur de lys finials. The total height is about five metres. The main inscription upon the shaft of the obelisk names 'Daniel De-Foe' as 'author of Robinson Crusoe', while a subsidiary inscription on the pedestal describes the appeal in Christian World magazine that led to the erection of the monument.

HISTORY: Daniel Defoe (1660?-1731) is a key figure in the history of English prose, whose work had a decisive influence on the development of both British journalism and the English novel. Born into a family of prosperous London merchants, he was initially intended for the Nonconformist ministry, but after completing his education at Charles Morton's Academy at Newington Green he decided to follow his father into trade, eventually developing a complex portfolio of (intermittently disastrous) business interests including haberdashery, shipping and brickmaking. Angered by the discrimination facing his fellow Nonconformists under the Catholic King James II, he took arms in the Duke of Monmouth's unsuccessful rebellion of 1685, and afterwards began to write political pamphlets in support of religious freedom; his satirical The Shortest Way with Dissenters led to his being placed in the pillory in 1703. His literary output was vast, comprising at least 318 titles spanning trade literature, travel writing, economics, political theory, satire, poetry and a series of long experimental prose narratives - of which the most famous are Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders - which laid the foundations for the development of the novel. His thrice-weekly magazine The Review is credited with establishing the future direction of periodical journalism, and many of his longer journalistic works, especially A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain and A Journal of the Plague Year, are still read as key documents of their times. As a pamphleteer, political informer and agent provocateur he was at the heart of the partisan intrigues of his day, working for both Whig and Tory administrations, and frequently threatened with arrest by infuriated opponents.

Defoe's literary reputation rose steadily after his death, based largely on the ever-increasing popularity of Robinson Crusoe as a children's book, and by the mid C19 it was felt that the simple headstone over the Defoe family vault in Bunhill Fields was unworthy of his fame. A subscription was raised amongst the readers of the children's magazine Christian World, who were each invited to give 'not less than sixpence' towards the cost of a more substantial memorial; more than £150 was collected, far exceeding expectations, and the Bournemouth sculptor Samuel Horner was commissioned to carve a marble obelisk to the designs of CC Creeke. The monument was erected at a ceremony on 16 September 1870, attended by three of Defoe's great-granddaughters. According to a contemporary newspaper report, the sculptor, who was in charge of the excavation, discovered a coffin apparently bearing Defoe's name, whereupon 'the spectators...wished to carry off the bones as relics, and Mr Horner was only able to prevent the accomplishment of these desires by calling in the aid of the police.'

Bunhill Fields was first enclosed as a burial ground in 1665. Thanks to its location just outside the City boundary, and its independence from any Established place of worship, it became London's principal Nonconformist cemetery, the burial place of John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, William Blake and other leading religious and intellectual figures. It was closed for burials in 1853, laid out as a public park in 1867, and re-landscaped following war damage by Bridgewater and Shepheard in 1964-5.

SOURCES: Old Tombs in Bunhill Fields Cemetery, Illustrated London News, Oct 23 1869 (illustration showing previous Defoe headstone). Corporation of London, A History of the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground (1902). A W Light, Bunhill Fields (1915). Paula R Backscheider, entry on Defoe in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (retrieved on 9 June 2009). Samuel Horner (ed.), A brief account of the ceremony of unveiling the monument erected by the boys and girls of England to the memory of Daniel Defoe in Bunhill Fields Cemetery, September 16th, 1870 (1871).

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The monument to Daniel Defoe is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * It commemorates a pivotal figure in English literary history, whose work shaped the growth of periodical journalism and laid the foundations for the development of the novel. * It is located within the Grade I registered Bunhill Fields Burial Ground (q.v.), and has group value with the other listed tombs in the central broadwalk.


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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