Work to begin this month bringing important part of Wandsworth’s history back to life
Published: Thursday, November 7, 2019
A small but historically important piece of open space that plays a prominent role in the story of Wandsworth will begin to be given a new lease of life later this month as part of £300,000 conservation scheme.
The Huguenot burial ground at the top of East Hill which is home to a number of listed tombs and graves, is to be reopened to the public as a small “pocket” park – with a restoration and landscaping project scheduled to get underway in the last week of November.
The walled burial ground, covering just under half an acre and also known as Mount Nod, was created towards the end of the 17th Century as a burial ground for Huguenot refugees – people who fled religious persecution in France after embracing the Protestant faith.
Many of these refugees settled in Wandsworth, attracted by the cloth and textile mills which lined the banks of the River Wandle. Their skills as hat and dress-makers helped establish 17th and 18th Century Wandsworth as a famed centre of fashion and clothes making.
Church services in French were performed at the old Presbyterian Chapel in Wandsworth for over a century after the first Huguenots arrived. Victorian social commentator James Thorne, writing in 1876, stated that “gradually the French element became absorbed in the surrounding population, but Wandsworth was long famous for hat making.”
Today’s Wandsworth borough coat of arms features the tears of the Huguenots – representing the tears of joy they shed at finding sanctuary in this part of London.
The burial ground closed in 1854 and is today mainly grass with trees and shrubs around the perimeter. It was recently given local historic park and garden status as part of a recently held public consultation.
It contains a number of historic tombs dating as far back as 1687 while a 1911 memorial erected by the Wandsworth Society referred to the Huguenots and their contribution to the life of the borough.
For many years it was unclear who legally owned the land, meaning public funds could not be spent on preserving its listed structures, but the council was recently awarded title deeds and is now able to carry out work to improve and conserve this historic green space. The refurbishment project will take around six months to complete.
Council leader Ravi Govindia said: “Having taken lawful ownership of this much overlooked but historically very important little corner of our borough, we can now set about the task of not only preserving its listed tombs and monuments for future generations but also bringing it back into use for today’s Wandsworth residents.”