The place that haunted me for nearly 30 years – the return visit to St Lawrence’s hospital burial ground

Scan as on film camera.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

 

Where were we?  We’d come into a neatly mown clearing with a small statue of a headless angel on a plinth at its centre.  There were large stones arranged around the perimeter with names and ages inscribed on them. I don’t recall seeing any signs anywhere that indicated what it was.   The tall black trees seemed to whisper to each other around us but otherwise it was silent.  My companion wanted us to move on deeper into the surrounding countryside and so we did.  We’d already roamed around Happy Valley and he was keen to do more. But I had enough time to take one photo and it became an important, and the only, reminder of our visit.

The black pines that I remembered from my first visit.
©Carole Tyrrell

This was in 1990 and I had no idea where we were. In later years I discovered that we had been on Farthing Downs, near Coulsdon in Surrey.   Although I made several return visits and tried to retrace our walk I could never find the exact place. What was it? A farmer’s cemetery for beloved animals? The ages on the stones had been very young but I could never find it or any information online about it. Was it attached to one of the nearby asylums?  Cane Hill Asylum wasn’t that far away across the valley. I was nearly there.  In 2013 a magazine article and a map reference revealed it to be St Lawrence’s hospital burial ground. At last I knew where it was and what it was.

As the wind blew eerily through the bordering pine trees and passing, but invisible golfers, chatted to each other I knew that this was the place that had intrigued me for nearly 30 years.  No tidy clearing now and any memorials were half submerged in the overgrown undergrowth. But at last I knew that  I was standing in St Lawrence’s Hospital burial ground at Caterham which was now in the middle of a very upmarket golf course.  The golf course hadn’t been there in 1990 but its manicured lawns, water features and clubhouse surrounded the burial ground.  St Lawrence’s long, late summer overgrown grass, straggling and profuse bushes of blackberries and rose hips and uneven ground made a sharp contrast.  I trod very carefully. There were now two black painted metal gates at the entrance and an information board with photos and pictures of St Lawrence’s Hospital and the chapel.  This had long since been demolished, but the foundations and base could still be found amongst the long grass and clover.  An overcast day and spits of rain combined with the mournful wind made the burial ground feel abandoned.

As I stood there it seemed impossible that over 3100 people lay buried under my feet in this spot underneath the tussocks and unkempt long grass.  A burial register from 1916-1948 records 3100 people buried in 276 plots with 10-15 in each grave. However, the 1949 -1965 burial register is still missing so there may be 1000’s more buried here. The burial ground is the only surviving part of the Hospital as it closed in 1994 and was demolished to make way for a housing estate.

St Lawrence’s was originally the Caterham Metropolitan Asylum which opened in September 1870. It had a sister asylum at Leavesden, Herts.  They both took in the pauper insane from London’s workhouses as it was felt that the country air would be good for them and help improve their condition. This is probably why there is such a concentration of asylums in the Surrey area. However their location often led to staff shortages due to their remoteness.

According to Lost Hospitals of London:

 ‘There were 1560 patients which were housed in 6 three storey blocks for 860 females and 5 blocks for 700 males. The sexes were segregated as they were in all asylums. Children were also admitted and in 1881 St Lawrence’s also become known as the Caterham Lunatic Asylum for Safe Lunatics and Imbeciles.  The Victorians weren’t very PC and we would now say that these people had ‘learning difficulties’.  In 1913 under the Mental Deficiency Act it became responsible for mentally defective children pauper children or again children with learning disabilities. Children from another hospital and a Training Colony were also sent to Caterham.  It also had a large proportion of older patients who had no chance of improvement. 23.6% of its patients were epileptic. (Treatment for epilepsy was non-existent in the 19th century and even 40 years ago it was still in its infancy)

In 1981, St Lawrence’s and another hospital featured in a documentary called ‘Silent Minority’ which drew attention to the poor conditions in these places exacerbated by staff shortages. The media took an interest and patient care, amongst other areas, were investigated by government Inquiries.  It focused on the scant and impersonal natures of the wards, deficiencies in nursing care and staffing ratios for profoundly disabled patients. It was said that the hospital management had sanctioned the programme in the hope that public awareness of the extent of the problem might bring about change for the institution. Patients began to be moved out into homes and hostels and into the community.’

 When the burial ground was closed for burials in 1965 the memorial stones were removed from the main burial area and placed on the perimeter so that the grass could be mown. This is how it looked when I saw it in 1990 when the hospital was still in operation.  Like Netherne, the burial ground was almost forgotten and became overgrown and abandoned until in 2008, concerned locals took matters into their own hands and started tidying it up. Local residents, cub packs and schools all wanted to be involved and in 2010 13 memorials had been located either intact or in pieces.

Here is a selection of the memorials that I saw:

The overgrown uneven ground was obviously due for one of its two annual brush cuts and I trod carefully as I explored. I found a few memorials which were clustered in the overgrown memorial rose bed. I could make out dates and names on some of them and they were poignant reminders of the hospital’s patients.  According to the information board, these were the memorials that were found in 2011:

John                                                                  1945-1960

Valery Muriel Ann Howcroft                       1953-1962

Graham W Cleghorn                                     1936-1957

Brian W Udy                                                   1889-1917

Frederick Albert Houghton                        1948-1957

Ann Margaret Hazell

Bobby Wise

Terry                                                             aged 6 years

George Henry Hale                                    1884-1961

Edna Phyllis Millward                              1909-1953

Percy Herbert Goddard Barnes              1891-1963

Leslie Charles Alfred Nash                     1924-1963

Pattie (Patricia) Hill                                1912-1934

Donald Douglas Chamberlin                  1907-1924

Joseph H Wenderott                              1926-1942

Malcom Dow                                           1929-1938

 

I am indebted to The Downlander for information on two of the memorials:

‘Percy Barnes was in the 1890 Census where he was living at 98 Farringdon Road where his parents kept a coffee house.   By 1911 he was a kitchen porter and lived in Shoreditch with his parents, 2 sisters and 3 brothers.  But nothing is known of him from 1911-1963 so how did he end up being admitted to St Lawrence’s?

Leslie Nash’s memorial is under the black pines but I didn’t see it on my visit. ‘The burial ground restoration team were contacted by a cousin. He told them that Leslie’s brother was still alive and had been searching for Leslie’s memorial for many years. You can imagine how thrilled he was to know its location at last. Apparently Leslie had epilepsy and cerebral palsy and was sent to St Lawrence’s in 1938 when he had become too heavy for his parents to lift. They had three other children as well. Leslie’s epitaph reads:

Leslie Charles Alfred Nash

Born 6.6.24 – Died 20.9.63

Sweet the sleep you so much needed

Free from suffering care and pain on thy face so peaceful.’

The restoration team managed to make contact with a small number of relatives of those buried here so that they are not forgotten. As I wrote this, a relative was trying to trace her aunt who had been admitted to the hospital aged 18 and died there at 35. I was glad that the burial ground had been reclaimed by local people and that a few of the relatives had been located. As at Netherne they seemed to vanish once they were in the system unless a determined relative decided to look for them.

However, there would have been very few memorials and these would originally have been wooden markers which rot or simple metal markers bearing a number. Originally there were two angels marking the graves of two children and the one that I saw in 1990 may have been one of them. I found another one in the luxuriant undergrowth but it wasn’t the one in my photograph. .  The bodies of those who died without friends or family were given to the School of Anatomy to help doctors with medical research and training.

The information board also records:

‘that the Chapel was demolished in 1971 (and from the photo wasn’t a particularly decorative building). However it was large enough to house 8 coffins. The burial service took place in St Lawrence’s Hospital Chapel. A horse drawn hearse with a tarpaulin cover was led by the hospital porters through the gate at the back of the hospital farm and crossed the field to the burial ground. In later years the Head Gardener’s truck was used. It had an iron frame with a hood over the top and rollers for the coffin. But a former head Gardener recalled that the burials were ‘always done with dignity, never rushed.’

The burial ground is in an isolated spot and is reached by walking up a long, secluded lane. So unfortunately it attracts vandalism.

The memorial seat with the black pines behind it. I was able to confirm that this was the place by the trees.
©Carole Tyrrell

The lovely, very solid seat that I saw on my visit in 2017, surrounded by carved wooden animals, was set alight in an arson attack in 2019. It had been carved with a chainsaw by a local sculptor, Andris Bergs and weighed over a ton. The main seat was made from London Plane and its supports from oak wood. The animals were created from Douglas Fir and it seemed sad that these lovely creations were destroyed for no reason.  They had been part of the burial ground’s restoration.  It’s also seen as a haven for wildlife and newts have been found here.

However, I’m always surprised that asylum graveyards and burial places survive at all. Netherne Hospital Cemetery is also located in an out of the way place and maybe this is why it’s survived. The hospitals to which they were attached no longer exist and in time they might have been forgotten or just built over. In 1990 on my first visit all the big asylums in the area were about to close due to ‘care in the community’.  They had become too large, too overcrowded and once inside people seemed to find it difficult to get out of them and so became institutionalised.

But I had finally found the place that had haunted me since 1990. The Royal Surrey Golf Club didn’t open until 1999 and at that time it was just countryside for miles.  Paupers surrounded by posh golfers. It seemed almost ironic. Maybe after lockdown it’s time to make a return visit and pay my respects to the permanent residents of St Lawrence’s Burial Ground.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading

The Downlander issue 51 Spring-Autumn 2011

http://www.caterham-independent.co.uk/latest-news/56-work-on-st-lawrences-hospital-burial-site-begins/

http://www.countyasylums.co.uk/caterham-mental-hospital/

http://www.aim25.ac.uk/cgi-bin/vcdf/detail?coll_id=11891&inst_id=118

http://www.caterham-independent.co.uk/latest-news/1466-nhs-gives-burial-ground-to-chaldon-village-council/

https://www.countyasylums.co.uk/caterham-mental-hospital/

https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/stlawrence.html

 

 

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Wildflowers and wild animals – a spring saunter through West Norwood Cemetery

A lovely display of tulips along path.
©Carole Tyrrell

Nature has decided to burst forth now that the sun’s out and suddenly everything’s out at once.     West Norwood Cemetery basked in a warm glow and its two terracotta mausoleums; the Doulton and the Tate,  seemed to be glowing.  I walked along the path from the entrance towards Ship Path and realised again how beautiful a cemetery can be in spring as new life appears amongst death.

I admired the groups of brightly coloured red and yellow tulips as they gracefully lifted their cups to the sun as in homage and a perennial Spring flower, garlic mustard, clustered around the base of a hedge around a memorial.  I’ve seen plenty of it already this year and wondered if it was an omen of future weather.

A queen wasp flew indecisively above one group of primroses as if unable to choose which one to land on and so evaded my camera. A Queen wasp is one of the 7 signs of Spring as they awake from their winter slumber. Multi-coloured carpets of primroses were everywhere between monuments and memorials and butterflies were on the wing obeying the imperative being to mate.

Orange Tips, Holly Blues and the odd Brimstone, the first butterflies of the year, impressed me with their speed and acrobatics.   One Holly Blue dived under a spreading rug of plants that covered last year’s forgotten or discarded horse chestnuts and dead leaves.    There has been a lot of clearing going on in West Norwood and it was like rediscovering it again as I found memorials and monuments that I had never previously seen as they’d been hidden under ivy, brambles and other vegetation. The clearances have made it much easier to get to the back of Captain Wimble’s exuberant and magnificent tomb to admire the still crisp carving of one the ships on which he sailed. But more about him and his indomitable wife in a later posting.  It is the reason that the grass path that runs past it is named, strangely enough, Ship Path.

Captain Wimble’s magnificent tomb – you’d never guess that he was a nautical man would you? It’s a shame that the stone model of a ship has lost its mast but there are carvings of 3 of the ships in which he sailed around the monument’s sides.
©Carole Tyrrell

In one clearing two drifts of wood anemones stood proud and nearby was a large patch of lesser celandine – another Spring time flower.  I’ve also seen so much of it this year and again is it an omen of a hard winter to come or a hot summer….

Another view of the wood anemones as they looked so impressive against the background of dead leaves.
©Carole Tyrrell

A flash of russet behind a group of headstones caught my attention and I saw an adult fox selecting a good place in a patch of foliage as his mattress in which to have an afternoon kip. After he tucked himself in he then spotted me and got to his paws and limped off with difficulty.  He appeared to have a bad problem with one of his front paws and I felt guilty for having disturbed him.

There is a part of West Norwood Cemetery which backs onto a small row of houses and so the occupants household pets, cats,  come into explore.  There’s often a good selection of them on a sunny afternoon; using the cemetery as an extension of their garden while checking each other out, going on the hunt or as their playground.  After having disturbed the fox, I caught sight of a fluffy back and white cat on his rounds trotting along a grass path.  I tried to keep a discreet distance as he passed Mrs Beeton’s modest memorial and the top of Ship Path.  However, as I galumped along, he began to pick up speed.  He trotted, more quickly now, across the main path in front of the catacombs and then leapt gracefully onto the wall above them. He looked back as if to say ‘Too late!’ and then vanished over it.

Nervous cat by railings – I tried not to come too close.
©Carole Tyrrell

A grey cat near the houses was quite timid and I didn’t want to come too close and frighten him away completely. I took a couple of photos from as close as I dared and moved on.

So many dandelions this year and there was a fine spread of them in between memorials. After all the recent murky weather it was encouraging to see their bright splashes of colour.

Bluebells, at their most effective when in great drifts in woodland, were clinging together in a patch opposite the crematorium.  It was just as if Mother Nature had brought everything into bloom at the same time instead of one after the other.

As I ate my lunch whilst admiring the crimson blossom on a tree nearby I could hear an old lawnmower in the distance.    As I got up and came around to explore another large cleared area I saw a descendant of the Doulton family mowing the grass around the mausoleum.  Terracotta always looks at its best in the sunshine and today it looked almost on fire.

 

A small statue of a praying child was almost being enveloped by lesser celandine and there’s been plenty of it everywhere I went this year,

Child angel statue surrounded by copious lesser celandine – it’s been everywhere this Spring – a hard winter or a good summer? We shall see.
©Carole Tyrrell

I descended from the columbarium admiring the speed of butterflies as they whizzed around tantalizingly out of reach of my camera.  It was then that I encountered the fox again. He lay draped over a grave like a fur stole and raised his head as I passed.

The fox again! Still trying to have an afternoon nap.
©Carole Tyrrell

A cuckoo flower was half hidden in the long grass near another glorious display of brilliantly coloured tulips.

As I walked I thought how lucky I was in to be in this oasis with the busy world kept at bay outside its magnificent Gothic gates.    I passed the Stonehenge inspired monument to John Britton which still looks as if it’s just landed from the opening scenes of 2001 and then to one of my favourite memorials in West Norwood or maybe any cemetery.

It’s a real gem and is the unashamedly Art Nouveau headstone dedicated to Amelia McKeown.  Its modest size and poignant dedication have always impressed me and the primroses beneath it emphasised its deep blue colouring.  This had been a chance discovery a few years ago when the main entrance had been closed for building works and visitors had had to enter via a side gate. Sometimes the road less travelled can bring the unexpected to your notice.

As I left the cemetery, feeling that I’d had almost a Spring walk in the countryside with some attractive monuments, I noticed the Unknown Mourner still grieving in a rose garden.  The elderly lawnmower and the sparse cars of visitors were behind me and I was back out onto the slow moving traffic of Knights Hill and Norwood High Street again. I nearly turned round and went back in again…….

 

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Part 2: Betty, Jean, Gunner William, Jessica and a German POW – a return visit to Netherne Hospital Cemetery August 2017.

 

 

A familiar gap in the trees across field.
©Carole TyrrellThe Victorian iron gates were still in place and seemed to have been cleaned at least as I pushed one open and re-entered Netherne Hospital cemetery.  Someone had thoughtfully hung a wind chime from the other gate.

There had been  blue August skies above me as  I’d plodded up Woodplace Lane again.  The suburbs of Coulsdon and Hooley soon petered out to give way to fields.  I lost my bearings around the newly expanded Netherne on the Hill.   But I retraced my steps and found myself at the entrance of a large ploughed field and saw a gap in the trees on its opposite side.

I began to walk across the field towards it. As I did so 3 or 4 policemen and women walked past the entrance. ‘Yes, we’ve found her, she’s visiting the cemetery, it’s ploughed so no damage to crops otherwise we’d have suggested that she walk around the border.’ said one into his walkie-talkie.  ‘Doesn’t look like a ghoul.’ They walked on and I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted – me a dangerous person?  Obviously the neighbourhood watch had been on duty and I wondered what had been going on at the cemetery.

A defiant purple branch of buddleia stood tall over the wait high wildflowers as a white butterfly fluttered around it. Bright splashes of colour from ragwort, scarlet pimpernel, speedwell, red sorrel and fleabane stood out amongst them.  There were also fresh puffballs and older ones half hidden in the undergrowth.

The birdsong stopped as I stood inside the graveyard and looked around.  It didn’t look as forgotten as it had done in 2007. The cemetery had been cleared but was now rampant again with summer vegetation.  There was now a clear border around it which made it easier to explore. The horse chestnut trees still stood tall with bright shiny conkers here and there beneath them.  At the bottom of the cemetery was a luxuriant bush of ripe elderberries and I looked over the hedgerow to see two horses grazing in a nearby field.

It still seemed incredible that 1350 people were buried here but now the cemetery felt less abandoned. I looked again at the 6 memorials set into the concrete plinth, presumably to preserve them, but at least I now knew why the 7 year old Betty Trotman had been buried there.

In 2010, the developers of the Netherne on the Hill site had claimed in a local newspaper that they had never been approached by any family members of the people buried there.  But in 2013, a Croydon paper reported on the 2 and a half year campaign by two local people, an amateur historian called Adrian Falks and a Ms Wendy Mortimer.  They had both called for the cemetery to be cleared and the graves within it to be maintained.

Ms Mortimer knew that she had a great-aunt, Frances, who had been buried there in 1915 and had been extremely upset when visiting the graveyard in 2008 to find her last resting place to discover how overgrown the site was. She had had to crawl under a fence to actually get inside to find 5 feet high brambles and no memorials.  Ms Mortimer’s great-aunt, Frances, had been an epileptic, which at the time wasn’t properly understood and appropriate treatment didn’t really exist.  Frances had become brain damaged after falling from a wall, presumably during an epileptic fit, and had subsequently been sent to Netherne where she was classed as ‘an idiot’ in the less than PC classification of the time. A photo in the paper shows Ms Mortimer kneeling in the middle of the then cleared cemetery beside flowers in memory of her great aunt. It was a tragic tale of a life ruined which nowadays with the correct medication would have been very different.

As I walked around the edge of the cemetery I could see holes dug by animals, presumably foxes. Again in 2010, it was alleged by another Croydon paper that burrowing animals had dislodged some of the remains buried there and that bone fragments had been found.

Due to the war hospital scheme which displaced the asylum population in order to treat nearly half a million wounded or shell- shocked soldiers, some of which are buried here.  There are also the children of serving soldiers interred there.

I am indebted to Adrian Falks’ research on the soldiers who were buried at both Cane Hill and Netherne Asylums.  However, the names of most of the servicemen remain hidden in closed records.  But here are the stories of two of them who are buried at Netherne.:

In 1914, Gunner William James Carpenter joined the army for a better life.  But he found Army discipline was too tough and  often went AWOL which led to constant disciplining.  William finally deserted just before being sent to France in 1915. But after an argument with his wife he left their Peckham home and vanished for nearly 90 years.  He had died alone in Netherne hospital but it’s unknown how he ended up there.

Until 1962 a German POW, Hermann Albert Schnid, was buried there.  He had contracted syphilis which was treated at the hospital and he’d died there in 1917.   In 1959, the German War Graves Commission wrote to the Netherne authorities requesting that his body be exhumed and moved to the Cannock Chase German military Cemetery in Staffordshire.

Mr Falks also discovered the names of a few of the children of serving soldiers who were buried in the cemetery. He was quoted in a newspaper article as saying that he thought the state of the  cemetery was ‘shocking’ and ‘that all but one of the children buried at Netherne had had fathers who were fighting in the First World War.’

Some of the children are:

Leslie Thomas Jackman aged 11 – died 11/12/1917 – whose father was a serving soldier

William Arthur Simmonds aged 15 died 15/10/1917 – his father was presumed killed at the Battle of Arras.

Sidney Peters aged 5 – died 03/10/1915 – had a soldier father.

Jessica Davis  – aged 11 who died from TB on 20/02/1915.  It’s not known if her soldier father survived the war.

 and these two:

Both of her parents, Dorothya m

William John Newland – aged 15 – died from pulmonary TB on 18/02/1918. I found his case particularly poignant as he was an orphan without next of kin who had been transferred from an Epsom workhouse infirmary. I hoped that someone was with him when he passed away.

Book of Life dedicated to the 7 year old Betty Trotman.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

And finally Betty Trotman, aged 7, recorded on the Book of Life memorial as having died on 31/05/1929 after a 5 month stay in Netherne.  It had been surmised that her parents probably worked at the hospital.   I am indebted to a local resident who had searched for more information on Betty’s family via genesreunited.  Both of her parents, Dorothy and Charles were Londoners and have moved to Godstone in Surrey.  They married in 1921 but it’s not known if Betty had any siblings.  Dorothy died in 1991 aged 90 and Charles preceded her in 1959 aged 65.

 Asylums were often overcrowded and an epidemic such as influenza or TB would soon spread amongst patients.

I haven’t found any photos of these incumbents in Netherne cemetery which is sad as I would have liked to be able to put faces to the stories  I stood there in the hot August sunshine and realised that under the wildflowers were people with names, Jean, William, Betty, Frances, etc who had all ended up in Netherne often because there was nowhere else for them to go. But some of the once anonymous dead had been reclaimed by their relatives and they no longer rested alone and forgotten.

But one of the saddest and most moving stories is undoubtedly that of 8 year old Jean Barboni  who died in Netherne in 1915 and whose nurse mourned him for the rest of his life.

Part 3 – the nurse that never forgot the little boy she cared for and a patient’s remarkable artistic legacy.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

http://www.mendiphospitalcemetery.org.uk/history.html

 http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/10494304.Campaign_victory_after_cemetery_with_war_dead_finally_cleared/

https://billiongraves.com/cemetery/Netherne-Asylum-Cemetery/292853

http://www.simoncornwell.com/urbex/hosp/n/e140106/1.htm

http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/indepth/nostalgia/8392020.Forgotten_graves_of_the_war_dead/

http://www.suttonguardian.co.uk/news/8437328.Diaries_of_Catholic_nun_reveal_tale_of_child_buried_at_Netherne_asylum/

 http://beyondthetrenches.co.uk/the-other-war-dead-asylum-patients-during-the-first-world-war/

 http://www.croydonguardian.co.uk/news/8421298.Developer_s_broken_promise_over_asylum_cemetery/

 https://www.genesreunited.co.uk/boards/board/ancestors/thread/1314646

 

 

 

As anonymous in death as they were in life? Part 1 of a visit to Netherne Hospital cemetery

Close-up of the cemetery gates showing NETH over the top of them. May 2007.
©Carole Tyrrell

I first visited Netherne Hospital cemetery on an overcast day in May 2007.  It’s located at the edge of a large farmer’s field and is a broad, sloping strip of land bordered on three sides by huge, majestic, spreading horse chestnut trees.  You can look across the cemetery to the local beauty spot Farthing Downs in the distance. The trees were luxuriantly leafy on my visit and the graveyard certainly looked more appealing than in the photos I’d seen of it on an urban explorer’s website.  He had visited it in January when it looked very desolate and forgotten.  But on that day in May I saw large white candles of horse chestnut flowers in abundance as I peered through the two elegant, probably Victorian, iron gates.  Once they must have had Netherne Asylum in large iron capital letters over the top of them but now only ‘NETH’ remained.   They were almost being engulfed by large branches and leaves trying to force their way through. ‘Someone will steal them for scrap.’ I thought to myself as I pushed one of the gates open and entered.

Inside Nature had taken over with a thick carpet of green brambles and undergrowth covering the entire site and it looked as if no one had been there in a very long time.  Without the gates the cemetery would have just looked like a fallow field.  It was impossible to see any monuments or memorials but I did find a raised concrete plinth in which 2 tombstones and a smaller Book of Life memorial had been inserted possibly to preserve them. The Book of Life was dedicated to a 7 year old named Betty Trotman and I wondered why a child was buried here.  Little did I know as I closed the gate behind me that it would take me nearly 10 years to find out.

Netherne was sited at Hooley in Surrey  and was originally known as the Surrey County Asylum or Netherne Asylum before being renamed Netherne Asylum.. It closed in the 1990’s along with the other large asylums and hospitals in the county.  Surrey has always been seen as an affluent region with its exclusive golf clubs, Tudorbethan stockbroker houses and the rolling hills of the green belt. But it has another, less publicised claim to fame. For over a century at least it was also home to several lunatic asylums originally intended for paupers and also homes or children with learning difficulties.  It was felt that the incurable or mentally ill might improve if taken out of the city and into what was then countryside.

The creation of the asylums also reduced the workhouse population as they were designed for paupers.  Cane Hill in Coulsdon, Netherne in Hooley, the Epsom cluster, Earlswood in Redhill and St Lawrence’s Hospital in Caterham were amongst them.  Iain Sinclair in his book, London Orbital, described them as mandalas of madness. All now gone; either demolished or converted into upmarket housing estates.

In 2007 Netherne  Hospital as it later became known was still in the throes of being transformed into an instant village; Netherne on the Hill.  The developers later stated that they were ‘leaving the cemetery well alone and allowing the wildlife to take over.’   It would be another three years before relatives of those buried there would start to come looking for their last resting place. At that time I had no idea that there were 1350 people buried there and that these included children, ex-soldiers, epileptics, the elderly as well as the mentally ill and those who had nowhere else to go.  The people buried in the cemetery seemed to be as anonymous in death as they had been in life apart from the memorials embedded on the plinth.

The cemeteries and burial grounds attached to these asylums and hospitals can be difficult to find. Often the markers on the graves have gone and so there’s no sign of their original purpose and as a result they can often become overgrown and look abandoned.  For example, in 2000 the Somerset & Bath Lunatic Asylum, or the Mendip Hospital as it later became, burial ground in Wells was put up for sale by the NHS as a freehold development opportunity. Nearly 3,000 people, patients and staff,  are buried here with the last burial having taken place in 1963. The grave markers had long since been removed.  However there was a public outcry from the local populace, some of whom may have had relatives living or working in the hospital and they formed a group to stop it.  There is a now a thriving Friends of Mendip  Hospital Cemetery group and so the burial ground looks safe.

I started researching the cemetery and discovered that asylums had a varied population.  In Rachel Lichtenstein and Iain Sinclair’s book Rodinsky’s Room they go in search of a man, David Rodinsky, who vanishes suddenly from a room above a back garden synagogue in Spitalfields and discover that he ended up in Warlingham Hospital, another Surrey asylum, where he died.  They speculated that his Eastern European Jewish scholarly background and language of codes and cabbalism may have led to him ending up there as it would have been incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with it. Other patients may have suffered from what we now term learning difficulties which the Victorians classed ‘idiots’.  There were also the elderly with dementia or people with degenerative diseases such as syphilis.

The soldiers appeared in asylums after the First World War when the authorities devised a scheme to treat the almost half a million wounded and shell shocked soldiers.  This involved decanting the current patients elsewhere and then re-designating the asylums as ‘war hospitals’.  By 1920 over 250,000 soldiers had been treated with 9% of them with psychiatric problems.  It saved lives but caused upset and distress to the decanted patient population.  However, not only soldiers were admitted to the ‘war hospitals’ but also their families.

There was an asylum in every county and in 1914 there were 102 in the UK with a total population of 108,000 men, women and children living within them – some permanently.  The sexes were strictly segregated and only met at events such as dances or sports days. Men usually worked on the hospital farm and women in the laundry or kitchen.  Women could be admitted as a result of having an illegitimate baby, rape or post-natal depression.  Asylums were often overcrowded and an epidemic such as flu could kill many patients.

I’d read on the urban explorer website that Netherne that there had been a campaign by a local amateur historian to have the cemetery cleared and accusing the developers of neglect. It was time for a return visit especially as my research had enabled me to put names to some of those buried there and their poignant, often heart-breaking stories.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

 Apologies for the quality of the colour photos of the cemetery.These were scans taken from hard copy film prints.

References and further reading:

London Orbital, Iain Sinclair, Penguin 2003

Rodinsky’s Room, Rachel Weinstein & Iain Sinclair, Granta Books, 2000

http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/10494304.Campaign_victory_after_cemetery_with_war_dead_finally_cleared/

https://billiongraves.com/cemetery/Netherne-Asylum-Cemetery/292853

http://www.simoncornwell.com/urbex/hosp/n/e140106/1.htm the urban explorer site on which I found Netherne Cemetery.

http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/indepth/nostalgia/8392020.Forgotten_graves_of_the_war_dead/

http://www.suttonguardian.co.uk/news/8437328.Diaries_of_Catholic_nun_reveal_tale_of_child_buried_at_Netherne_asylum/

http://beyondthetrenches.co.uk/the-other-war-dead-asylum-patients-during-the-first-world-war/

http://www.croydonguardian.co.uk/news/8421298.Developer_s_broken_promise_over_asylum_cemetery/

http://www.mendiphospitalcemetery.org.uk/

Part 2: Betty, Jean, Gunner William, Jessica and a German POW – a return visit to Nethene Hospital Cemetery August 2017.

The Lord of the Manor and the local ratcatcher lie equal in their eternal sleep under the traffic’s drone – a visit to St Leonard’s, Streatham

 

View of exterior St Leonard's Streatham. ©Carole Tyrrell
View of exterior St Leonard’s Streatham.
©Carole Tyrrell

The substantial church of St Leonards at Streatham could almost be seen as God’s’ traffic calming measure as it makes the drivers on the busy Streatham High Road inch past its walls.  But once inside St Leonards churchyard the noisy flow seems to fade to a hum and you can appreciate a church which has had a chapel on its site for over 1000 years.

I was on a guided tour organised by the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery and our guide was John Brown who had an obvious affection for St Leonards.

The first church was built in 1350 and the lowest part of its tower still stands.  St Leonards was then rebuilt in 1778 and altered again in 1831 when the nave was completely rebuilt and a crypt created.  During the 1860’s a chancel was added.  But, on 5 May 1975, disaster struck when a fire completely destroyed the interior.  It was then re-designed and St Leonard’s now has a whitewashed interior within its 19th century walls.  This has created a wonderful backdrop on which the surviving wall tablets and memorials are well displayed.  An inspiring blend of the ancient and new.

We began by exploring outside  and stopped to admire the tower which is known as Sir John Ward’s Tower .  According to John, it has the highest oak tree between the Thames and Croydon  growing halfway up it. The tower is built from Surrey flint and is topped by a modern spire dating from the 1841.

The highest oak tree between the Thames and Croydon on Sir John Ward's Tower, St Leonard's Streatham. ©Carole Tyrrell
The highest oak tree between the Thames and Croydon on Sir John Ward’s Tower, St Leonard’s Streatham.
©Carole Tyrrell

The churchyard contains over 250 memorials  dating from the 18th century with the last burial in 1841. Part of the graveyard was  bombed during the 2nd World War and, as a result, has been landscaped to create a Garden of Remembrance.  John revealed that some of the burials had only had a wooden graveboard  which had long since disintegrated.

St Leonards was a very fashionable church during the 18th and 19th centuries and, as a result, a chapel of ease dedicated to All Saints was built in a nearby road. Alas, even God was expected to adhere to the rigid class system of the time as the local gentry worshipped at St Leonards and their servants would attend their own service at All Saints.  Dr Johnson and James Boswell are known to have visited the church.  This may be one of the reasons that there are several prominent local people buried in the churchyard.  John pointed out some of the more illustrious tombs;  Merian Drew, the lord of the manor and his daughter Jane Agnes Fisher, George Pratt of Pratts Department store in Streatham and  the Colthurst family member who had owned Coutts bank.

William Dyce, the Pre-Raphaelite painter and polymath, lies under a broken cross.  He designed the florin coin and was a much in demand portrait painter.  Amongst his many achievements were the frescoes in the robing room of the House of Lords although they remain unfinished. He also painted another celebrated fresco for the House of Lords, ‘The Baptism of Ethelbert’.    My own favourite of his paintings is ‘Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858’ with its haunting, melancholy atmosphere and muted colour palette.     He was also a churchwarden at St Leonards and was responsible for designing the chancel in 1863.  Dyce’s ‘Madonna and Child’ of 1827 featured on the Royal Mail 2007 Christmas stamps.   Robert Garrard, the royal jeweller s also lies here and there was a  flat, plain slab on the grave of one of novelist Trollope’s nephews  who was the owner of the building firm, Trollope and Colls. I also admired the small sculptures of angels on the Montefiore monument. There were also several tombstones dating back to the 1700’s with a scattering of skull and crossbones.

A large monument had been made from the wonder material of the 19th century, Coade Stone.  A Mrs Coade, invented it but for a long time the recipe was lost.   However it and the techniques for producing the stone have now been rediscovered and a new range of Coade sculptures are currently available.

We then followed John inside to admire two 17th century imposing and magnificent monuments in the porch.  The striking Massingberde memorial commemorates a London merchant and Treasurer of the East India Company who died in 1653.  The two figures facing each other symbolise the triumph of life over death. The dramatic Howland monument   was erected by a grieving widow, Elizabeth, to her husband John who died in 1686 and features a brooding skull and several cherubs.

The Thrale memorial tablet by John Flaxman - reputedly drawn from the life. copyright Carole Tyrrell
The Thrale memorial tablet by John Flaxman – reputedly drawn from the life.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

At the top of the chancel by the altar were the Thrale monuments. These were to Henry Thrale and his mother-in-law, Mrs Salusbury.  Henry, who is also commemorated by the nearby Thrale Road, was a wealthy brewer and MP.  He and his wife, Hester, entertained the well -known movers and shakers of the day including Dr Johnson and James Boswell. There were two epitaphs written in Latin by Dr Johnson and a beautiful  tablet by John Flaxman is set into the wall.  It has  three female figures on it which were reputedly carved from the life. One of them is Sophia Hoare.  John Flaxman (1726-1803) was a prolific sculptor of funerary monuments, mainly in the Classical style, and his work can be seen in Westminster Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral as well as many churches.

The mutilated statue of Sir John Ward. St Leonard's Streatham ©Carole Tyrrell
The mutilated statue of Sir John Ward. St Leonard’s Streatham
©Carole Tyrrell

A somewhat dog eared and damaged figure lies on top of what looks like a table tomb.  This is what’s left of an effigy of Sir John Ward in his armour.  Colin Fenn of FOWNC has compiled a list of helpful notes to accompany the reconstruction drawing of it and estimates the figure as dating from 1350-1380.    Sir John fought with the Black Prince at Crecy and, in the modern Streatham stained glass window, he appears holding a model of the first, 14th century chapel that he built.  The rest of the window records the history of Streatham and St Leonard’s and is well worth seeing.  It’s by John Hayward as all the stained glass within St Leonard’s.

There are more  intriguing memorials in the Chapel of Unity and  John drew our attention to Edward Tylney’s. He was the Master of Revels, under Queen Elizabeth 1 and King James 1, and who put on plays and other entertainments for the Court.  He was renowned for being vain and had the memorial created during his lifetime which is why there is a blank space for the date of his death in 1610. But there is another version in which the mason was so relieved at Tylney’s passing that he omitted to add the date of his death.   Nearby is William Lynne’s affectionate tribute to  his wife, Rebecca which dates from Cromwell’s reign. Part of it reads: ‘

 ‘Should I ten thousand yeares enjoy my life I could not praise enough so good a wife.’

The oldest inscription, dated 1390, was below the altar and is a small brass plate which asks for prayers for the repose of a long past rector, John Elsefield.

Then we descended the spiral staircase to the crypt.  This was an unexpected surprise. Although not as extensive as West Norwood or Kensal Green it was still impressive and atmospheric with incumbents in their loculi.

Loculus which is Latin for ‘little place”, plural loculi, is ‘an architectural compartment or niche that houses a body, as in a catacomb, mausoleum or other place of entombment’  Wikipedia

The crypt is laid out with 2 corridors and the gated individual family vaults lead off them.  Some contained entire families including the Thrales.  John showed us one in which the loculus had been bricked up as the occupant had been buried in only a shroud.  This was Mr Costa, a silk merchant, who left instructions that every pauper who carried his coffin was to be given a guinea.  Needless to say, his coffin was carried by many poor men and so his wealth was redistributed.  Only the undertaker was left empty-handed.  There’s also two earls who ended up down there whilst visiting Streatham but I don’t think that the two events are connected.

 

 

 

The crypt was rebuilt in 1831 and was used as an air raid shelter during the 2nd World War during which time an experiment was carried out to determine the depth of the charnel pit under the flagstone floor. The measure went down as far as it would go which was 20ft but the pit extended far below that.   More recently it became the home of a local tramp called Black Tommy who had his mail delivered there.  One wonders with whom the postmen would have left large packages when Mr Tommy was out.

Tombstone of the local ratcatcher St Leonard's Streatham ©Carole Tyrrell
Tombstone of the local ratcatcher St Leonard’s Streatham
©Carole Tyrrell

As a finale, John showed us the substantial headstone of the local ratcatcher which proved that he was certainly busy, successful and appreciated.   Sadly, the epitaph appears to have completely vanished.  Afterwards a couple of us strolled about the churchyard reading the fine epitaphs on several  memorials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

Our grateful thanks to John Brown for his knowledge and enthusiasm, St Leonard’s, and Cathy Mercer of FONC for organising the visit.

http://www.stleonard-streatham.org.uk/church.html

http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/autumn_07/articles/wrig_09.html  baptism of ethelbert

http://www.artrenewal.org/pages/artist.php?artistid=120 – portrait of William Dyce

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loculus_(architecture)

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.