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The original cemetery associated with the Leavesden Asylum/Hospitals is located on the south side of East Lane and was part of the original purchase of 85 acres of land made by the Metropolitan Asylums Board in 1867. The 1950 square yard cemetery was located directly to the east of the cemetery/grave diggers cottage which also served as the hospitals first mortuary until 1902 when a new one was built nearer the main hospital at the end of the main corridor which ran along the male wards.
On the 26th of September 1870, the cemetery was consecrated and blessed by the Bishop of Rochester (the original hospital and cemetery was within the Parish boundaries of the Diocese of Rochester at that time) after he officiated at the formal opening ceremonies of the main hospital on that day.
A wooden lich gate was erected at the entrance to the orginal cemetery in 1886 and was located next to what was then known as the grave diggers cottages. The lich gate was most likely moved to its current location sometime in the early 1900s (around 1910 is my best guess) when the old cemetery was permanently closed and the new one was being used exclusively by the hospital.
In 1906, the management committee of the hospital made a formal petition to the Right Reverend, Bishop Edgar of the Diocese of St Albans, to create a new cemetery on the north side of East Lane stating in their request that the need for a new cemetery was due to “the original site begin now full”. Approximately, 26,000 square feet (.6 of an acre) of land was purchased from nearby Woodside Farms and the new cemetery was consecrated on 5th of June 1908.
The requirement for this new cemetery in 1906, after the original one had become full or just stopped being used, was most likely due to the large number of additional deaths resulting from a cholera epidemic which struck the hospital around 1899. This cholera epidemic was most likely the result of a broken sewage pipe, which carried waste from the hospital to large tanks near the gas plant, leaking into the two aquifers located near the plant. The contaminated water was than pumped back up to the main hospital where it was used by both patients and staff. The total number of people who are at rest in area A of the cemetery, which served the hospital from 1868 to 1906, is estimated to be over 5000. This is supported by the extensive research that Monica Diplock conducted for her book “The History of Leavesden Hospital” and Molly Whittington-Egan in her book “The Execution of Mary Ansell”, with further support coming from a paper written in 1899 by William Thomas Hatch, M. Inst. C.E. who stated “an exceptional server outbreak of diarrhoea was noticed amongst the patients with a correspondingly high death rate”.
On the 23rd of June, 1959, the Leavesden Group Hospital Management Committee made a formal petition to the Diocese of St Albans for a grant of faculty to relocate a total of 47 headstones to the outer edges of both the old and new cemeteries for the purpose of “levelling the ground to make the mowing and maintenance of these areas easier”.
Relocating the large, old headstones to the edges of cemeteries to make maintenance of the site easier for the local authorities and churches who owned them, became extremely popular during this time as it meant that they could save time and money by being able to utilize large, riding or push mowers without any such obstacles as headstones getting in their way.
Unfortunately, this resulted in the loss of much information about the original locations of the headstones and the people named on them due to poor record keeping.
On Saturday the 11th of January 2020, 15 enthusiastic volunteers from the Leavesden Hospital History Association gathered at the HIVE heritage centre for a 4-hour training session on how the survey for the cemetery was going to be conducted. The following day we gathered our tools, some warm drinks and our packed lunches and braving the very cold and wet weather meet at the cemetery to see what we could dig up.
Although topographical and ground penetrating radar surveys of the cemetery had been made early in 2019, they both proved to be inconclusive, inaccurate and impossible to make heads or tails of unless you had a degree in how to interpret the numerous pages of technical data they produced.
The only starting point we had, other than the 30 or so headstones and marker stones that were visible on the site at the time, were several photographs of the cemetery taken in 1985.
By the middle of January 2020, the field survey was as complete as we could get it, and I embarked on the daunting task of collecting, organizing and entering all the information we found into the “Leavesden Hospital, Chapel of the Good Shepherd, East Lane Cemetery, Register of Names”.
Finding and collecting all the names of the patients and staff who are at rest in the East Lane cemetery was only part of the journey as finding out more about their lives became more and more important as the list became larger and larger and people from all over the world became aware of our work.
I was extremely fortunate to enlist the help of Gill Durell, a local Genealogist, who accepted the challenge of researching the back grounds of 570 names in the Register of Names.
The Register of Names is now availbe to all to view and a copy the most current register can be found here