There’s a tantalising secret hiding in the midst of a nondescript, leafy suburb in South London. Some forums claimed that Old Barnes cemetery was full of vandals, others said it was disrespectful to visit. Even more noted the cemetery to be haunted. I decided that the only way to find out the truth was to visit for myself! Side note: don’t read this sub-thread on Reddit before venturing out to Barnes Old Graveyard- it’s full of ghost stories!
Armed with little more than a camera in one hand and a notebook in the other, I set off across Putney Common to search for this long forgotten slice of history… The cemetery lies to the side of two tennis courts and is so well hidden that I’m not sure if many of the tennis players even know it’s there! Just when I was about to give up, I spotted a crumbling cross from the corner of my eye.
After visiting numerous urbex sites in the past few months alone, what I’ve really noticed is how quickly things fall into disrepair when nature is left to its own devices. Old Barnes Cemetery was no exception. To be honest, little could have prepared me for just how in disrepair the cemetery currently lies. Most of the angels are missing their heads, the crosses slumped and a feeling of melancholy permeates the air.
A Quick History of Old Barnes Cemetery
Founded in 1854, the plot of land (two acres) was purchased by the Church of England that same year for just £10. A chapel and lodge were also built around this time. Sadly, these two elements were demolished long ago and all that remains are crooked headstones and a haven for wildlife. The only graves that are properly maintained today are the eight war graves that lie within the shrub of Barnes Cemetery.
The Mystery of Barnes
On a particularly uneventful day in 1879, twice widowed wealthy Mrs Julia Webster chose to employ a new servant. In her early 50s, Webster lived in a semi-detached cottage in Richmond. By the end of that very same year, she was dead. The name of her employee (and eventual murderer)? Kate Webster. The Irishwoman, only 30 at the time, had already had a fair share of brushes with the law (predominantly petty theft).
Seemingly unaware of her servant’s past history of theft and deceit, Webster duly allowed Webster to become part of her small household. Although the two worked well together, Webster’s frequent trips to the local pub led to a deteriorating work ethic. Frequent arguments and an increasing tension between the two women resulted in the eventual termination of employment for Webster.
With nowhere else to go, Webster begged Thomas that she be allowed to stay in the house for a little while as she searched for new employment. A fatal mistake; within days Webster had murdered Thomas and dismembered her body. Shortly after, a local coal worked opened a box along the Thames to a particularly gruesome find: ‘a box of white flesh’. Mrs Webster’s foot was later found elsewhere in Richmond while her head remained hidden.
Webster was eventually found guilty by a trial and sentenced to hang. In 2010, over 130 years after the infamous murder and trial, the mystery of Webster’s head was finally solved. The head was discovered in the garden of wildly popular documentary maker and nature enthusiast David Attenborough.