Almost Forgotten – Barnes Old Cemetery

I went and explored Barnes Common in search for the illusive Barnes Cemetery. It was rumored to be abandoned and derelict but still having the original graveyard in place albeit overrun by nature. Most cemeteries are looked after quite well in London so it was unique to go and explore an essentially abandoned graveyard.

The history of Old Barnes Cemetery begins in 1854 when a plot of land on the Barnes Common was enclosed to provide an additional burial ground for St Mary’s Barnes, which had become overcrowded.

The cemetery had its own little chapel and was in use until the mid-1950s, with many artists and writers among those buried. After it closed to further burials, it was taken over by Richmond Borough Council in 1966 with the intention to turn it into a lawn cemetery. The chapel and lodge were sadly demolished, and the boundary railings removed. For some reason however, this never really developed much further and the Council has now declared it a nature reserve and it is effectively part of Barnes Common, albeit very overgrown.

It was badly vandalised at some point over the ensuing years with a number of the headstones broken and the heads of almost every statue destroyed which was such a shame as one could see during their time they were quite grand.

Although, I was unable to find his grave, Ebenezer Cobb Morley, is also buried here. Known as the father of the Football Association and modern football, he was a solicitor and a keen sportsman. When he was the captain of the Mortlake-based club in 1863, he wrote to Bell’s Life newspaper suggesting a governing body for the sport, which led to the first meeting at the Freemasons’ Tavern which subsequently created the FA.  He was the FA’s first secretary and drafted the first Laws of the Game.

 

The centerpiece of the cemetery was a very large and grand grave for the Hedgman family’s son who died at only 27yrs. His aunt also seems to have been relocated to this plot from Abney Park after she passed. This was the largest structure in place and seemed largely to still be intact.

Most of the graves were late 18th, early 19th century, however there was one headstone below which was carved with wings and a circular snake biting its own tail surrounding a hourglass. This was more indicative of much earlier in the 18th century but maybe the occupant or his family simply liked this design. The residents’ details long deteriorated so no way of knowing why this was chosen.

There was also a very unique grave marked with a large anchor. The details of the grave long gone, but maybe it was a sailor or captain that wanted to make his last link to the ocean.

Although it is technically abandoned, there was some evidence that the cemetery had been cared for. The pathways were kept clear, most likely by local volunteer communities and there were a couple of graves with fresh poppies which represents where servicemen have been laid to rest and are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The most striking headstone had a large cross on the front in red mosaic tile which was not like anything else in the cemetery. It was also one of the oldest dating from 1892, however the final picture I think may just be the oldest grave considering its design as well as deterioration.

Although I sadly did not encounter any ghosts or even the sound of wailing, in my ramblings through the nettles, it was a beautiful cemetery in its own way and you could see nature taking back its own as it always inevitably does.

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