Historian travels from Australia to visit abandoned Horton Cemetery

This Is Local London: Kath Ensor, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, visited Horton Cemetery, in Epsom, last year Kath Ensor, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, visited Horton Cemetery, in Epsom, last year

A woman exploring the death of her grandfather travelled across the world from Australia to visit an abandoned cemetery where he is buried.

Kath Ensor, 63, who lives in Melbourne, visited Epsom, towards the end of last year, to pay her respects at Horton Cemetery, off Hook Road.

The cemetery contains 8,000 bodies of those who died at Horton Hospital and others in the Epsom cluster of mental hospitals, which closed in the 1990s.

Horton was a war hospital during the World Wars and a number of soldiers are believed to be among the dead in its overgrown and uncared for cemetery. 

It was sold off by the regional health authority to private developer Marques Securities in 1983 with no conditions placed on its maintenance.

Since then it has fallen into disrepair with rubbish strewn throughout the area among trees and dense undergrowth.

This Is Local London:

The Epsom Guardian launched its Dignity for the Dead at Horton Cemetery campaign in 2012 after human remains surfaced at the site.

Yorkshire-born Mrs Ensor, a public historian and genealogist who has conducted work to do with the mentally ill and how they have been expunged from family and national histories, moved to Australia as a teenager.

An actor who served in World War One, her grandfather died, aged 50, at Horton Hospital in 1936 and was buried in Horton Cemetery, according to the records preserved at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Mrs Ensor said: "I embarked on my journey to Horton Cemetery fully aware that I would not discover a headstone. 

"I just wanted to seek out his burial spot with the thought that I may be able to make arrangements for a plaque to be engraved to perpetuate his name.

"Armed with a map showing the location of the cemetery close to the group of mental hospitals, I checked with several local tradespeople and residents about the cemetery to ensure I was heading in the right direction. 

"I was puzzled when they did not know of a cemetery or even the hospitals in the area which I imagined would be landmarks.

"On arrival at the cemetery I was stunned.  It was dense woodland surrounded by a rusting iron fence. 

"There was no sign of an entrance.  This area had truly returned to its natural state.   

"I felt reassured this was a genuine resting spot in harmony with nature.  It was obviously home to much wildlife and native vegetation and it was certainly more aesthetically pleasing than a cemetery in ruins with unkempt graves and broken headstones."

This Is Local London:

But, Mrs Ensor said that her reassurance did not last long when she learnt of the cemetery’s owner’s potential plans for its redevelopment over the years.

She added: "This personal experience regarding the threatened perpetuity of this particular burial ground for those who were deemed to be insane is not unique.

"This quote of Gladstone’s is very relevant to the situation: ‘Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respects for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals."

This newspaper has charted the research of Epsom councillor Sheila Carlson into the cemetery since the bones surfaced in March 2012.

Coun Carlson is hunting for the names of soldiers buried at the cemetery, in a bid to have them officially commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), which she hopes will force the owners to show a sense of moral responsibility to maintain the cemetery.  So far, she has not been successful.

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Coun Carlson said: "This is a very significant year as we are at the 100th anniversary of the start of the war. 

"40,000 servicemen went through Horton Hospital through World War One and some of them didn’t go home and we would really like to hear about them."

In November 2012, the Polish Heritage Society pledged its support to the Dignity for Horton’s Dead campaign after being "appalled" by the treatment of the dead buried there.

Do you have any information about Horton Cemetery?  Email Hardeep Matharu on the newsdesk on hmatharu@london.newsquest.co.uk.

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Comments (1)

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9:22pm Sat 22 Mar 14

nugas50 says...

Re;- Horton Graves. This is disgusting that men fought for the country and many ended up with shell shock and were put into mental hospitals They should be afforded the same decent grave as any other serviceman.
Re;- Horton Graves. This is disgusting that men fought for the country and many ended up with shell shock and were put into mental hospitals They should be afforded the same decent grave as any other serviceman. nugas50
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