Introductory Panel to Mount Nod burial ground. © Enable Parks
The Huguenot Society had for many years followed the situation at the East Hill burial ground, liaising with Wandsworth Council as the site became overgrown and more derelict, a situation which would eventually lead to five grade II listed tombs being placed on English Heritage’s at-risk register. In 2010, an in-depth appraisal had been carried out by the Council, a first step in determining the way forward, but in 2018, due to the precarity of the monuments and the resulting danger to visitors, the site was closed to the public. It was therefore with great interest that the Society subsequently learned that funding had been awarded and work was to go ahead, Wandsworth Council having legally established its ownership of the site. A dedicated member of the Huguenot Society Council volunteered to liaise with the not-for-profit contractor, Enable, who, between 2019 and 2022, was finally able to undertake the clearing and landscaping of the ground, the stabilising and repair of the damaged tombs, and the commissioning of copper etched interpretation panels designed to tell the story of the Huguenots and others who were buried there. This was where the Society’s contribution would prove most valuable, as the 2010 appraisal had noted that promotion of the site’s historic interest to the borough was lacking.
Although for many years the ground has been referred to as ‘the Huguenot burial ground’, with its amusing nickname, ‘Mount Nod’, appearing within several Huguenot wills, in fact only 30 of some 150 identified tombs on the site recorded burials of one or more members of Huguenot families. Open to all parishioners, it was one of several plots of land, bordering on what is now Wandsworth Common, which were acquired by the parish in the 1680s as space for burials ran out in the churchyard surrounding All Saints church on Wandsworth High Street. A trapeze-shaped area, measuring around half an acre, the burial ground is bounded to the north by East Hill, to the east by a public footpath next to St Mary Magdelen Roman Catholic Church, to the south by Huguenot Place, and to the west by the imposing building which is now Book House, original home of the Booker prize. Open from 1687, the site was enlarged in 1700 and again in 1735. Having closed for burials in 1849, it later reopened as a public garden. In 1911, mindful of the historical record the burial ground provided of the Huguenot refuge at Wandsworth, the borough erected there a memorial to the memory of those Huguenots “who had found in Wandsworth freedom to worship God after their own manner. They established important industries and added to the credit and prosperity of the town of their adoption”.
The early Huguenot and Dutch communities at Wandsworth had been engaged in trades and crafts centred on the fast-flowing river Wandle and its many mills: running through the borough and on into neighbouring Merton, and long known as the hardest-working river in England, the Wandle is represented on Wandsworth’s coat of arms by a blue wavy division, and its water was claimed to have dye-fixing properties. Among the better-known riverside trades were bleaching, dyeing, felt making, calico printing and market gardening. Some later Huguenot residents favoured Wandsworth as a country seat, a retreat from homes and businesses in the City of London or at Westminster. Others were engaged there, as in neighbouring Putney, in farming the land.
A French-speaking Huguenot church existed in Chapel Yard, opposite All Saints parish church, from the 1680s, and although its registers have not survived, its community is referred to within the Society’s publications and in unpublished manuscripts held at the Huguenot Library. It closed in 1787, due to a dwindling congregation. As elsewhere, Huguenot descendants were becoming assimilated and were worshipping in local Anglican churches or nonconformist chapels, and indeed, a group of Methodists took over this Huguenot church. On the building’s demolition in 1882, it was discovered that some of the Huguenot congregation, probably its wealthier members, had been interred within the crypt of their place of worship, despite the obvious health hazard.
In his Huguenot Society Proceedings article, published in 1886, John Travis Squires included a sketch of the church, and this now features on an interpretation panel in the burial ground, as shown above. But most importantly, Squires undertook and published in the article the mapping and listing of all the burials on the East Hill site, a prescient and invaluable survey, since subsequent erosion of the headstones and tombs has now made the deciphering of most of the epitaphs virtually impossible.
The site contains a number of grade II listed tombs, five of which have been extensively restored, including that of Peter Paggen (d.1720) of Wandsworth Manor House on East Hill; his parents had been members of the Dutch Church at Austin Friars in the City, close to the French Church of London in Threadneedle Street, and he became a successful City of London merchant.
Several of the Huguenot tombs are of particular interest, largely due to the amount of documentation we possess on their occupants.
The Grade II listed tomb of James Baudouin contains the remains of an important member of the London Huguenot community. Its new panel reads: “James Baudouin, c.1648-1739, was a Putney landowner who was appointed in 1718 as the first Deputy-Governor of The French Hospital, established that year for the relief of ‘poor, sick and infirm French Protestants’ and which is still active today.” His epitaph, as transcribed by J. Travis Squires in 1886, has been reproduced on the panel and reads “Under this stone are deposited ye remains of James Baudouin, Esqr, who was born at Nismes in France, but in the year 1685 fled from thence to avoid tyranny and persecution, and enjoy a Protestant liberty of conscience, which he afterwards happily found, and was gratefully sensible of, in the communion of ye church of England. He constantly answered this pious resolution in his life, and went to enjoy the blessed fruits of it by his death, the 28th day of February 1738/9, aged 91.”
The tomb of Jean (De) Comarque, of Montauban, whose family name is among those engraved on the 1911 memorial, is significant since his itinerary testifies to the mobility of the Huguenot refugees. At the Revocation Comarque had fled to the Netherlands, before coming over to England in the wake of William III. He served in the Huguenot regiments as a lieutenant, including six years in Ireland and Flanders, and subsequently as a captain in two regiments of dragoons raised in Portugal in 1706 and in 1709. He was documented at Thorpe-le-Soken in the 1720s, when he oversaw the financing of repairs to the French Huguenot church there, carried out with funds raised in London for that purpose. Manor court records show that Comarque and his wife were in fact residents of this small Essex village by August 1718, when they acquired the copyhold of land and property adjacent to the French church site at the western end of Thorpe High Street. A large property set in extensive grounds bearing the name, 'Comarques', still stands on that site today. Jean Comarque and Isabeau de Bories later joined the Huguenot community at Wandsworth where it is known that he occupied a house in Church Lane in the 1730s. Isabeau’s tombstone in Mount Nod cemetery states that she was from Montauban, and died in 1731, aged 62. Jean Comarque died c.1748 at an advanced age, having outlived his three sons, the eldest of whom, Renauld, had been the physician to the French Hospital. In his will, Jean Comarque asked to be buried at Mount Nod, next to his wife.
The panel in front of the marble gravestone of Lewis and Mary Grolleau, and their daughter and son-in-law Susannah and Paul Fourdrinier, bears witness to the artistic talents of the Huguenots. It reads: “The tomb of Lewis and Mary Grolleau also contains the mortal remains of their son-in-law, Paul Fourdrinier, 1698-1758, who was an accomplished engraver who worked in Westminster. Fourdrinier’s work on architectural subjects (such as the Corinthian capital pictured above) is of particular importance and testifies to his reputation as “an eminent engraver”.” His wife, born Susannah Grolleau, predeceased her husband, dying in 1746, and the interment of the couple’s remains in and near her parent’s grave suggests that they had joined them in life, before doing so in death.
In addition to overseeing the restoration of the monuments and, in liaison with the Huguenot Society and the Wandsworth Society, the design of the panels, Enable commissioned a sensitive landscaping project for this unique site, creating winding paths to facilitate access, and areas populated by wildflowers to encourage biodiversity. As a designated green space, the burial ground is open at all times, with public access provided via a gate from the pathway which links East Hill to Huguenot Place. As well as the interpretation panels, wooden benches and litter bins have been introduced, and overall visibility has been markedly improved by reducing the vegetation, making the burial ground a safe and welcoming space amid the surrounding busy roads.
There is no doubt that over the years the story of Wandsworth’s Huguenot community has captured the public imagination, and since 1901 the borough’s coat of arms has featured blue teardrops symbolising the sufferings of its early refugee residents, many of whom found hope and prosperity in the busy riverside haven.
J.Travis Squire, “The Huguenots at Wandsworth and their burial ground at Mount Nod”, Huguenot Society Proceedings, Vol.1 (1886), pp.229-42; pp.261-312, plan and appendix.
K. Chater, "The Huguenots in Wandsworth: New Research", Huguenot Society Journal, Vol. 30, 5 (2017), pp.657-669.
B. Julien, The Consistory Minutes and Poor Relief Accounts of the French Church at Thorpe-le-Soken, 1683-1763, HSQS Vol. 62 (2015), pp. 118-9.
TNA: PCC PROB 11/776/198. Will of John Comarque, 1750.