AMATEUR historians investigating bodies buried in unmarked graves at Littlemore have discovered more than 1,800 people were laid to rest at the site.
It has always been known there was a large piece of consecrated land beside the former Littlemore mental hospital,used to bury patients who died there. right up until 1954.
But the scale of the burials was only discovered by residents when plans to build 270 homes on the site were announced by Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, in conjunction with property and infrastructure business Capita.
Oxford city councillor for Cowley and vice-chairman of Littlemore Parish Council David Henwood is appealing for relatives of the dead to come forward. It is hoped they may have more specific information on where their ancestors are buried.
Mr Henwood discovered a distant relative, Joseph Henwood, was buried there in 1854.
He said: “We know the names of the dead, their ages and when they were buried, but not the locations of the plots. We are talking to relatives and trying to talk to people who have ancestors there to see where they are buried.”
The hospital opened in 1846 and bodies were first buried on the land that year.
It was not until 1882 that the Bishop of Oxford consecrated an acre of ground for burials, and 18 years later another half-acre was consecrated. The last patient was buried at the site in 1954.
Oxfordshire History Centre archivist Hannah Jones said there were a number of reasons why so many people were buried at the site.
She said: “Partly it was a taboo around mental health and partly because a lot of the patients didn’t have living relatives who could come and claim the bodies after death.
“It was built in 1846 as a place for ‘pauper lunatics’, so the people who were there would have been quite poor.
“Their families therefore couldn’t always come to claim them and take them to other graveyards when they died.
“It had to be extended several times, which shows the sheer volume of people who passed through.”
Littlemore History Society member Maggie Wallis has been researching the graves, on part of the site currently used as a garden, since news of development plans for the land were announced.
She said: “I knew there had been a burial ground there for ages but I was very surprised at the number of bodies.
“The hospital got very full, often because the sort of people who came in didn’t get treatment in the community.
“People entered the hospital with all sorts of problems and mental health was not really understood.”
The OUHT which runs the Littlemore Mental Health Centre on part of the site, did not respond to requests to comment.
To contact Mr Henwood, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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