Devonport House Burial Ground and Admiral Hardy’s Tomb

The strange thing about the somewhat austere frontage of Devonport House and its even more austere grounds is that on a first glance it just looks like a patch of grass with a few trees in it.

It’s only when you start to peer in a bit further that you realise that what used to be the main cemetery for Greenwich Hospital still has some rather splendid monuments and even the odd grave. By the time naval veterans made it out to Greenwich they were already pretty decayed (if you look at old engravings of Greenwich Pensioners there’s always at least one with a peg-leg – either the same guy got himself into every picture or there were a lot of limbs blown off by cannon fire) so the cemetery filled up quickly.

Actually, the very first graveyard was at the bottom-east corner of Greenwich Park – where that little row of cottages snakes its way up the side of the park now. By 1749 it was full, so they decamped to a new one on Goddard’s Garden (no relation, I hope, with Goddard’s Pie Shop…no – let’s not even go there…) on King William Walk.

This was a purpose-built graveyard – which already included a posh Mausoleum for officers. It’s still there – although you have to crane your neck to see it unless you care to do what I did, which is sneak around the back (or front – I can never quite work out the geography of Devonport House) and tiptoe across the grass. It’s by Nicholas Hawksmoor (a man who certainly got around) and was built between 1713 and 1714 in his signature dour neo-classical style. When it was first built it had open arched columns but they were filled in sometime about 1820 and the whole thing re-roofed.

This might have something to do with the fact that it was attacked by grave robbers in 1806. Perhaps it was very stupid grave robbers who were hoping to find Nelson’s remains – he’s buried in St Paul’s Cathedral of course – though had they returned in 1839 they would have found Admiral Hardy – he of “Kiss me, Hardy” (or “Kismet, Hardy ” as it is more fashionable to say these days) fame. It also contains the mortal remains of Lord Hood and Tom Allen, who was Nelson’s personal servant.(I’ll get onto these guys another time.) You’ll be glad to know it’s listed.

The big move to East Greenwich Pleasaunce took place in 1857, after the graveyard at Devonport House just got Too Full. It didn’t help that not long after, the railway was being extended with a new-fangled cut-and-cover tunnel under Greenwich Park that went straight the cemetery. I’ll get onto that some other time.

But for now, it’s definitely worth a sneak around the grounds of Devonport House (which, in time-honoured tradition, I’ll cover some other time) and taking a closer look at the monuments that are left, looking ever so slightly lost, in the grass. If I understood the complex Victorian language of funerary monuments (a bit like a goth-version of the Language of Flowers) I’d be able to tell you what a broken pillar covered in a marble cloak or Britannia with her shield lowered meant. Sadly the book I had with it all in got lost years ago…

There was more disruption in the 1920s when building work began on Devonport House, when 1247 skulls and 58 boxes of bones were dug up for removal to East Greenwich.

For now, though, I’ll leave you to ponder upon the ghostly consequences of such deathly upheaval…

Comments are closed.