Knowle Hospital Cemetery Overview

by Sue and Ted Fitzgerald

Location

This disused burial ground is situated south of the village of Wickham in the county of Hampshire, UK. The national grid reference is SU 561098.

Background

Knowle Hospital was built to house the "insane poor" of Hampshire in 1852. The cemetery and the mortuary chapel were consecrated on 23 October, 1856. Prior to that, patients who died were buried in the pauper cemetery in Fareham. However, families could always take the bodies of relatives for burial elsewhere. Besides patients, hospital staff and residents of the few houses around the hospital were buried there. The site was used for burials until 1971.

The Chaplain to the Hospital reported to the Quarter Sessions each year. These reports show that he wanted the cemetery to be extended in 1876, 1878, 1886 and 1896. Plans held by the Diocesan Registrar (available for reference on this web-site) show the original design of the site and each extension that actually happened (1878, 1910 and 1940).

In 1886, it was decided that all the graves should be marked and that their locations should be recorded. Prior to this date pauper burials were recorded in a register, but the burial site was not marked and there was no link to the entry in the register.

 

The Records

All the known public records concerning the hospital are kept at the County Records Office in Winchester. The most informative for the cemetery are the "Registers of Burials". The earliest register dates from 7 February 1877. However, the first entry is number 897, so there were 896 burials on site prior to this date, but no records are extant.

The registers have a "plot number" column. This column is blank until January 1886, at which time numbering starts beginning with 1. In general, the column remains blank for non-patients. For patients, there are usually two entries with the same plot number. However, during certain periods, there are three or sometimes four entries for the same number. This presumably indicates that more than one person was buried in the same plot, but never on the same day.

There are several errors in the numbering of the entries, but allowing for these, the registers show that 5,578 people are buried in Knowle Hospital Cemetery.

The Site

The current site is on two levels: the lower has the earlier graves and the chapel, the higher has the more recent graves. The boundary to the site was not clearly defined when I first visited but Berkeley Homes, the developers of the new Knowle Village, have now erected a stout wooden fence on all sides of the site.

On the lower site there are 14 memorials that record names and dates. The earliest is from 1860 and the latest is from 1916. Of these, three are definitely memorials for hospital workers. The other 11 appear to be memorials for patients.

There were also sixteen iron crosses each about three feet tall with a number on each side. These appear to be the only surviving grave markers from the period immediately following the decision to mark the pauper graves in 1886. I have linked these markers back to entries for 56 patients in the registers. The earliest of these entries is for March 1886 and the latest is for March 1914. Given that around 4,000 burials of this type took place up to 1914, the vast majority of the crosses have been lost.

On the upper site there are 16 memorials that record names and dates. The earliest is from 1915 and the latest is from 1967. Of these, four are definitely memorials for hospital workers. The other 12 appear to be memorials for patients. There are 30 plain concrete grave markers with numbers on them. These markers were originally upright with a number on both sides. However, most of them have been moved at some point and laid flat. Again, I have linked these markers back to entries for patients in the registers. The earliest entry is for December 1945 and the latest is for November 1971. Local lore has it that this part of the cemetery contains war graves. This is untrue and the story has probably arisen because the regular arrangement of the identical plain concrete markers once resembled a war cemetery.

Concern

My main concern was for the iron crosses. There were so few of them, they were not fixed to anything and none was in its original place. They are very portable and, while they have little monetary value, they are curios which could be removed, for example, to decorate a drinking establishment, as have other monuments and milestones. While they cannot be considered as individual memorials, they are the only remaining examples of how society treated a particular section of the population and they recall the lives of 4,000 people.

These crosses are not "memorials" in that they do not show names, dates or descriptions; they marked burial plots. They no longer fulfil that function as they have all been moved.

I was able to persuade the Diocese of the need to house these crosses securely and in July 2001 a "Permission for a Temporary Reordering" was issued by the Rural Dean and the crosses have been moved to a place of safekeeping. A long-term solution is still needed. They could be:

  1. Securely mounted in Knowle Cemetery.
  2. Removed to Fareham Museum or a County Museum for display and safekeeping.
  3. Removed to Wickham Churchyard and securely mounted, perhaps near the Knowle war memorial that was moved three years ago.

For further information contact clerk.wickham@parish.hants.gov.uk