There is a place in my home town of Maidstone unlike no other. Just opposite the Hospital, over the road from the old Mental Hospital a tiny lane heads off the main road and leads apparently no where. Yet a short walk from the nurses accommodation, through puddles of mud and a derelict stone wall now covered in Ivy towers a redwood tree. Beside the Sandalwood bark covered in shaggy hair a gap in the wall leads into what looks like a park with open space peppered with trees of all varieties…Holly, Pine, Birch, Cedar… Upon crossing the gap in the wall you notice the birds seem to stop singing, the air is like thick treacle, here the veil is thin… but why?
Suddenly out of no where Gravestones appear, sparely spaced and scattered, seemingly randomly across the grassy spaces. Then faced with the realisation that we have stumbled across a graveyard, a forgotten cemetery. As we walk around the enclosed area we examine the stones as we find them. District Nurses, charge nurses, doctors, ward matrons all from the early 20th century all staff of Oakwood Park Hospital.
The old Hospital was never in use when I was a child, it always stood derelict and as a misguided teenager I remember once visiting the site with friends at night. Needless to say I never returned, the walls oozed with the demented pain and torment of former patients and the black musty air ripe with stress, anxiety, fear… I was too sensitive to see the event as a momentary teenage thrill! The hospital has since been turned into apartments. I don’t envy anyone who chooses to live within those walls, I know I wouldnt!
Anyway, the positioning of the graves at the old forgotten cemetery made me suspicious….are there others here in between those who were fortunate enough to be alloted marker stones? A little research highlighted rumours that many of the former patients of the hospital may have been buried here. In fact some urban legends suggest that in its heyday many of the patients were victims of gross experimentation and died in the hospital as a result. Many of these corpses were taken to the incinerator whilst the families were told their relative had escaped or died of natural causes. Maybe a little far fetched? Maybe it *is* just urban legend? Yet perhaps some patients are buried here in unmarked graves…. the air in this place doesn’t feel too dissimilar to that inside the hospital itself and walking between the trees reminds me of that night I visited the old hospital looking for a place to do what teenagers do!
In the centre of the cemetery a large stone memorial stands, the paved path leading up to the pedestal now cracked with grass and weeds growing between. Its epitaph reads “In Memory of all those who rest here”. Ironically some of the letters are faded and the memorial itself seems somewhat meaningless when surrounded by fallen headstones, littler and graffiti.
Walking back on ourselves I stop to clear some of the graves of dead leaves and, working together, my other half and I lifted the heavy granite headstones back into their upright position where possible. I said a small prayer of remembrance hoping that all those that lie here may be at peace.
On the outer perimeter of the cemetery a tiny derelict building stands, presumably a small chapel of remembrance at its peak, now nothing more than a canvass for kids with a spray can and a pigeon coop. The walls are almost completely covered by ivy and all the roof tiles have been removed, most likely stolen to tile someones new extension!. The door into the chapel is sealed with a sheet of steel, there’s no way in. Oh how I would do anything to step inside, and reconsecrate the old place in the names of all those who lie here forgotten.
We step through the gap in the fallen wall, I can breath again and the heavy atmosphere returns to the normal cold crisp winter chill. Such a bitter-sweet feeling of sadness for all those souls who may wander this place and also gladness that just for 1 hour we were there to remember. Just goes to show that remembering the dead isn’t just for All Hallows!