All Saints’ Churchyard in Victorian Times

All Saints’ Church and Churchyard, at the junction of Church Road and Beulah Hill, date from 1829. The churchyard, of about one acre, was purchased (according to the vestry minutes of 1825) to provide a new burial ground sufficient for the wants of the Parish for many years to come.

The death registers of All Saints start in 1830. These show that many infants died young and that many young people also did not survive long. There were few old persons living to a great age. Cause of death was not recorded. In 1832, for instance, four very young children, two young persons and one elderly person of over ninety died.

The records show that the trend for the first few years was a high infant mortality, partly parishioners’ children and partly children from an institution called the ‘Norwood Poor House’.

Parish deaths rise slightly towards the end of the 1840’s, probably due to an increasing population. Then gradually the deaths recorded from the Infant Poor House exceed the number of deaths recorded for the whole of the Parish every year. Some years show alarmingly high figures. The years 1838, 1842/3 and 1847/8, for example, show a sharp increase in the deaths of children from the Infant Poor House, twice and three times higher than the whole of local people of the Parish. These dates appear to coincide with bad cholera epidemics in the very crowded areas of central London. A serious epidemic of typhus was also recorded in 1847 in London.

The Infant Poor House, or House of Industry, was built about the 1820’s on land stretching along Church Road to the corner where the Cambridge Public House is situated, by the roundabout. This was the position of the main entrance. The boundary followed the backs of the buildings in Westow Hill as far as the passageway by Bradley’s, and what used to be the Green Man Public House. (There is a small portion of the brick boundary wall left at the end of this passage).

It then followed roughly the line of St. Aubyn’s Road to the United Reform Church. Of this, the only building left standing is the old slate-roofed chapel, which is said to have formed part of the Infant Poor House. The site was just over three acres altogether and the buildings could accommodate about one thousand people, the majority being the children. They were sent there by the Board of Guardians from Workhouses or Pauper Houses of the City of London Union, St. Saviours and St. Martins-in-the Fields – all districts with a high proportion of slum dwellings and much overcrowding, where there was little or no proper drainage and a very doubtful water supply.

Such places were a breeding ground for water-borne diseases like typhoid or cholera. The children ranged in age from a few weeks to fourteen years, and they were trained (those that survived) for domestic work and seamanship. The relatively small churchyard of All Saints could hardly cope with such a large influx of burials and it was no wonder that after less than twenty years, problems began to arise.

The school was enlarged in 1849 and renamed the London Central District School. They looked for more land on which to extend the school, but gave up that idea in 1854. By then there was too much competition from builders, trying to purchase land in the vicinity of the newly-erected Crystal Palace for their own profitable developments. Instead, in 1855, the school moved to Hanwell.

There are no stones to mark the children’s graves, although there is said to be a bedstead type of wooden grave as a memorial. The only wooden one left is very difficult to read but the inscription reads as follows:

(First word illegible then)
“For 13 years Coachman to ------
25 - - 1850 - - 36 years”
(The last part is practically indecipherable).

There is one wooden post near this spot which may be a fragment of a grave.

About 1880, following complaints about the dilapidated condition of some of the gravestones, an area was cleared, so round this part of the Churchyard there is a large vacant space. Any markers to cholera victims may have been removed then. There were 736 deaths recorded from the Infant Poor House between 1830 and 1850.

Betty Griffin

Note: Members of the local history group of the Norwood Society copied out the entries in the burial registers by kind permission of All Saints’ Church Archivist, Mr. Peter Denman. For an account of the actions taken in 1868-9, following excessive burials in the churchyard, see Chapter 6 of The Phoenix Suburb by Alan Warwick.

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https://www.norwoodsociety.co.uk/

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