Conservation project brings important piece of Wandsworth’s history back to life
Published: Friday, September 18, 2020
A small but historically important piece of open space that has played a prominent role in the story of Wandsworth has been given a new lease of life as part of a £300,000 conservation scheme.
The Huguenot burial ground at the top of East Hill, which is home to a number of listed tombs and monuments, will shortly reopen to the public following a sensitive restoration and landscaping project.
Stonework on the tombs, headstones and monuments has been carefully repaired and restored, while overgrown vegetation has been cleared and replaced with new greenery and seating, opening up the space for people’s quiet contemplation and enjoyment. A formal reopening ceremony is expected to take place next month.
Information panels outlining the history of the Huguenot’s are being installed, while five of its ‘Listed’ tombs have been removed from heritage watchdog group Historic England’s “at risk” register as a result of the project.
The enclosed 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 tailoring.
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 garden status as part of a recently held public consultation.
It contains a number of tombs dating as far back as 1687 while a 1911 memorial refers 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 allowing it to complete this conservation project.
Council leader Ravi Govindia said: “For many years this significant but little-known corner of our borough was overlooked and gated off to the public. Very few people even know it existed.
“But now that its ownership status has been resolved, we have been able to carry out a full restoration of this historically important burial ground, conserving its ancient tombs and monuments for future generations.
“We hope that once it is formally reopened it will be used by local people for quiet contemplation and enjoyment, and that it is used as a unique educational resource for further learning and study of local history.”
The site’s restoration has been carried out in partnership with The Huguenot Society and The Wandsworth Historical Society.
Philip Evison of the Wandsworth Historical Society commented: “From what I have seen periodically over the railings during the present process, it is evident that the restoration has been carried out with meticulous care, respect and sensitivity.
"Like many others, doubtless, I cannot wait to wander amongst the memorials to people cruelly ousted (in effect) by Louis XIV after 1685 – and their descendants – whose skills made a great contribution not only to our borough but to London and the country as a whole. France’s loss was our gain.”