A small but historically important piece of open space that plays a prominent role in the story of Wandsworth is set to be given a new lease of life as part of £250,000 council conservation scheme.
The Huguenot burial ground at the top of East Hill, also known as Mount Nod, and home to a number of listed tombs and graves, will soon be reopened to the public as a small “pocket” park – with restoration and landscaping work expected to get underway in the next few weeks.
The walled burial ground, which covers just under half an acre, lies at the top of East Hill and was opened 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 from across the Channel settled in Wandsworth, attracted by the cloth and textile mills which lined the banks of the River Wandle - bringing their skills as hat and dress-makers and helping to 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 today is mainly grass with trees and shrubs around the perimeters and has been given local historic park and garden status as part of the council’s recently held consultation on local listing.
It contains a number of historic tombs dating from as far back as 1687 while in 1911 a memorial was erected by the Wandsworth Society in memory of 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 has now been awarded the title deeds and can carry out work to improve and conserve this historic green space.
Council leader Ravi Govindia said: “Having taken lawful ownership of this often overlooked little corner of the borough, but which is so important in the history of Wandsworth, 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.”