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London has a number of famous cemeteries or graveyards with a certain air of dereliction, yet still owned and partially maintained by councils or local organisations – with Highgate perhaps the best known example – and Abney Park, Kensal Green, Norwood on the list too. The cemetery I am about to discuss must be the only example in all of London to have absolutely no owners claiming responsibility for it!
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Its Barnes Old Cemetery in south west London. The present council responsible for the area makes very scant reference to this cemetery and does not list it among the burial sites under its responsibility. It does say on the notice board however that “Management is undertaken by LBRUT contractors. For more information please contact the Parks Department”
The cemetery’s Wiki page says: A local councillor commented as long ago as 1971 that “I’ve seen burial grounds at Flanders marched over by scores of troops – but even they did not look as bad as the Barnes cemetery.” For its part, Richmond upon Thames Council describes the cemetery as an “atmospheric and romantic place” with “an evocative atmosphere of decay and seclusion.”
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List of notables buried in the cemetery
Generally it seems Richmond’s Parks Department is responsible for the overall common and the cemetery is left to the work of local volunteers who will look after and maintain memorials and graves for a small fee. “The Friends of Barnes Common are happy to help people wanting to identify and gain access to a family grave or graves of local or national interest. Regular maintenance can be arranged, subject to a modest fee.”
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Emma, who died December 1886 and her husband, Frederick, who died June 1880
The cemetery opened in 1854 and soon had a number of quite substantial memorials erected to various locals and indeed some famous people. In 1966, the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames bought the site with every intention of turning it into a posh cemetery – that is, a garden atmosphere adorned with trees, flowers and splendidly kept lawns.
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Lovely gravestone with anchor from 1843 though bits of the inscription are missing
In order to prepare it for this new role the council set about demolishing everything it didn’t want. The cemetery keeper’s lodge was pulled down so there was no-one was keeping a watch over it. Its chapel was turned to rubble and finally the perimeter walls and the iron fencing on top of the wall were taken down. The cemetery was thus left completely open to the elements.
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Above and below. One of the cemetery’s largest memorials, this being to the Hedgeman family who were at one time notable local benefactors. This memorial stood on the eastern side of the old chapel and no doubt formed the centrepiece of an avenue leading from the chapel.
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The council had gone so far as to acquire an order to prepare the cemetery for its new role. This was known as ‘The Burial Grounds (Barnes Old Cemetery) (Richmond upon Thames) Order 1966.’ Perhaps the council’s enthusiasm in looking after the dearly departed somehow waned as it decided to abandon the cemetery.
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Elizabeth Appleford, died February 1925
Its strange, there’s nothing to indicate why the cemetery was abandoned. Quite possibly vandals had moved in very quickly, seeing there was nothing to stop them getting in… that’s no surprise to say the least! The council, possibly aghast at the damage caused to its newly purchased investment, evidently decided abandonment was the best course of action….
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Alfred Hannuell died December 1936 and his wife Alice January 1952
Since abandonment, the site has become very overgrown. The cemetery is now a recognised haven for wildlife and ecology. However its not that easy to walk around the site, one can stumble upon stones in the undergrowth and fall easily when venturing off the main paths, and there are loads of creeper plants with extremely sharp thorns which will give anyone who is not careful a nasty sting or even cuts.
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George Snook, died January 1940 and his wife Harriet December 1949
Sadly one can see the work of the vandals too. Many of the angels have been beheaded, their limbs torn off, gravestones smashed and even crosses destroyed. Thankfully a good number of the memorial stones and some crosses remain intact, with a few looking in pristine condition. These more fortunate graves and memorials are cared for by either relatives or local volunteers.
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Inscription at the rear but overgrown and difficult to read
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Part of the cemetery kept substantially clear for these two memorials which are still looked after
Its a eerie place, more so than Highgate or Norwood. But at the same time it is fascinating, even though by rights it should have not been abandoned. Just 300 metres (338 yards) away is Putney Common Lower Cemetery, well looked after by Wandsowrth council. It opened two years later in 1856, and its how Barnes Old Cemetery should look had the council not decided to absolve its responsibilities.
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Ellen Greenwood Boxing Day 1867
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Commonwealth War Grave: Rifleman A. V. Harris February 1916
As has been said, some of the memorials are maintained by descendants, local volunteers (such as Friends of Barnes Common) the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the nine war graves found here whilst that of Ebeneezer Cobb Morley is probably maintained by people who have an interest in football’s history.
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Commonwealth War Grave: Major G. Budibent October 1918
The pictures are a mix of photographs taken in both summer and winter. I noticed how many graves and stones seen in the winter just couldn’t be seen in the summer. Its a huge difference. The best time for a visit to the cemetery is obviously in the winter although it must be said there’s still a lot of interest to be found in the summer and one can spend easily a couple of hours just exploring the cemetery, reading all the fascinating inscriptions and looking at the site from all different angles.
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General view of the cemetery with two obelisks visible
Many people walk across the common and around the sides of the cemetery but (as I have noticed) somewhat fewer walk through the cemetery itself. I suppose its because they are fearful of its presence. There are three main paths through the cemetery which are kept quite clear but not heavily used like the other paths across the common.
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Ebeneezer Morley’s memorial stone
Ebeneezer Morley was a famous sportsman who is regarded as the father of the Football Association and in fact was the FA’s first ever secretary. His grave is kept considerably clear, fortunately it is almost right on the common itself and easily viewable without having to venture through the cemetery.
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Morley’s grave was clearly right on the edge of the old cemetery evidenced by the remains of the wall
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Commonwealth War Grave: Lieutenant Corporal P. G. H. Trollope January 1917
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Garston and Brealey families, various years of bereavement 1884 to 1922
There is no trace of the old lodge or the chapel. Clearly both were totally razed to the ground. Judging from old maps the site of the old lodge now forms part of the car park for the nearby tennis courts, marked by the cemetery’s large information board. Where the main middle path ventures through the cemetery and splits into two en route, this is obviously the site of the former chapel.
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Commonwealth War Grave: Flight Sergeant D. G. G Webster February 1921
Its easy to get to Barnes old cemetery. Its not far from Barnes railway station (reached by train from Waterloo) or Hammersmith (well served by three tube lines and many local bus routes.) From Hammersmith one can take the 33 or 72 bus to the stop at Ranelagh Avenue, about ten minutes ride. The cemetery can be found behind the Rocks lane sports centre and tennis courts.
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William, beloved husband of Louisa, died June 1953
Alternatively one of London’s top bus routes, the 22, from Oxford Circus (or anywhere en route such as Hyde Park Corner, Sloane Square, Chelsea, Putney Bridge etc) has its terminus at Putney Common just a short walk from the old cemetery. This can be done briskly in perhaps five or six minutes, however its probably around ten minutes leisurely walk.
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