On Christmas Day last year I took a walk around the old Mendip Hospital, South Horrington, near Wells, now converted into luxury flats, and wrote it up. At the time I regretted that I had been unable to find out much of its history, but had found something on the hospital’s cemetery, now a nature reserve, and wanted to visit it one day, the Friends of the Mendip Hospital Cemetery opening it to the public on summer Sundays. I finally got around to doing so yesterday, the hottest day of the year so far. I read up on its history again.
The right-hand red dot in the picture above is Peter Jaggard, Chair of the Friends. We had a brief chat before I wandered round the reserve, and a much longer one afterwards, before I went into the chapel to find out more about ‘it’s history’, which I took to be that of the cemetery.
There were very few headstones, which cost more money than could (or would) be found by relatives, if indeed there were any relatives known. In the early days, graves were not marked at all. After a while a numbered metal marker was used to mark each grave. However, although the names of every person buried there is known, is is not possible to identify which marker belongs to each person. The markers were moved and gathered in clumps together long before the Friends became responsible for the cemetery.
There were a few wood sculptures around the reserve. I learned later that all had been carved by one member, and each from the trunk of a dead tree, some still rooted in the ground, carved on the spot.
As I walked around, I was aware of harp music in the otherwise very peaceful setting. It was irritating me a little, (only on principle, as the sound was gentle), just as recorded music for tourists in some large churches does. But I became aware that there was some stopping and starting and that therefore it was live, possibly someone practising in a garden in one of the surrounding houses, which changed my attitude entirely. I drew nearer to the sound.
I was tempted to go up to the harpist and chat, mindful of how I had been so taken by the harp in the Grantown-on-Spey Museum two years previously. But I decided to to leave her alone, and continued my stroll.
Beyond the lower wall, there was a long smooth patch of lawn. I learned later that it was part of Wells Cathedral School’s playing fields.
I identified the bungalow I had considered buying when I moved to the area ten years previously.
This would have been approximately the view from the bottom of my garden had I done so. The house had come second on my shortlist.
After my long chat with the Chair, I entered the chapel. I was delighted to find that the history was not just that of the cemetery but of the Hospital as well. The Chair has done an enormous amount of research, which is ongoing, but yet to be put on line. I was a little frustrated that my ability to take in the detail of what I was seeing was limited by the misting of my glasses due to my mask. Which I probably didn’t need to put on as I was the only person in there. And it was the day before the so-called ‘Freedom Day’.
Once photography came in, a photo of every patient/inmate/resident was taken. I think these drawings of the very first male and female residents are lovely.
I was saddened to see that Sir Gilbert Scott, whose work is so beautiful, had been deemed to have fallen out of fashion at one stage.
Peter Jaggard told me that Wells Museum currently have an exhibition on on the subject of ‘The Somerset and Bath Lunatic Asylum, 1848-1918’, for just two more weeks. I shall really try to get to it – and hope that I shall be the only person there, and therefore not feel the need to wear a mask!