So where did we start? ... our story so far
The Graveyard Shift
In 2018, our family decided that we should find our family tree and through hard work, research, help from family and friends, we slowly began to know who we were and where we had come from.
This led us to find our great, great uncle Robbie MacDonald who had fought at the Battle of Mametz Wood, Somme, France, 1916, from where, unfortunately he would never get to return home.
So my sister and I decided that we would go to France and find Robbie, which we did in a beautiful, well looked after French graveyard. This got me thinking that if some kind stranger could tend to his grave, then in turn I could tend to the graveyard within the grounds of the old hospital. This was rather poignant and meaningful due to the fact that I work in the mental health 3rd sector where we actively promote removing the stigma around mental health within society.
At this time, little did I know that there was likeminded and good hearted people in the village who also thought the same and together, we hatched a plan to begin the reclaiming and restoring, but more importantly giving those buried their identity back. They had been hidden for far too long but from that day, they would no longer be anonymous or hidden from society.
So we began what seemed like an impossible task at the time, clearing away the years of rubbish, restoring the broken gates, cleaning up the remaining headstones and memorial stone whilst discovering the plaques that identified the resting places of those buried.
Rhona, our resident 'Charlie Dimmock', sowed and germinated wild flowers, nurtured rose bushes back to health and became a master jedi at killing the weeds. Ally was the Queen of the path clearing, Jackie was our powerhouse painting and moving slabs, Karen was the negotiator, making sure the bags were removed and pestering the council to keep their word, Rian and Jamie were the brawn, moving mounds of rubbish and foliage, Adrian was the restorer of the stones, grass cutter and painter, Neil was just a star putting his hand to everything, Cerys was another powerhouse like her mum and I became the resident digger, digging up the plaques. The more I think about it, I'm glad the police never approached as I don't know how we would have started to explain what we were doing with spades, metal detectors and wheel barrows in a graveyard.
Throughout the summer, we planted flowers, bushes of lavender (mental health plant) and roses, discovered many plaques and slowly began to build a database of the names, where exactly they were buried, the date of their death and basically any information we could find. After months of research and hard work, we identified a Polish Princess, a baby, 6 WW1 personnel, 1 being a woman but more importantly we began restoring the dignity and giving everyone buried within the boundaries of the old wooden fence their identify back.
There are hundreds of sad stories within the database, but mainly connected through the stigma surrounding mental health and poverty.
So here we are today, the graveyard has been an escape from COVID 19, a place we have recharged our batteries at times, had a laugh and supported each other. It's now a peaceful place where the birds sing, the bees buzz and the butterflies dance.
Please feel free to join us at any time.
Abandoned now and derelict, a building once so grand Is testament to all that’s wrong In this, our Christian land.
This is Hartwood Sanatorium From another time and place,
But what lies below this hallowed ground Is all of ours disgrace
Some were ‘private lunatics’ Put here through family shame
But most were ‘pauper lunatics’ And are buried with no name
Homosexuals, epileptics, The disabled lie here too
All outcasts from society Buried deep and out of view
Twelve hundred plus lie buried here With some plots being shared
And take with them their cruel lives For no evil here was spared
A few nursing staff are buried here With the damned young single mothers
But in their everlasting peace They are all our sisters, brothers
Five soldiers from the Great War, Who were tortured by their past
Join a lady from St Mary’s Corps And are honoured here at last
The atrocities to forgotten souls And the stigma that they bore
Are remembered by this simple plaque And are lost to us no more
A royal Polish Princess An heiress without grace
And the baby girl who never danced
Died in this godforsaken place
Paul Colvin, The Indy Poet
This is a poem composed by our very dear friend Paul Colvin, The Indy Poet. He captures the emotion, the stigma and often the feelings of shame that surrounded mental health in days gone by.
The Cemetery Guardians
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