Friends, supporters and family of Barnado’s recently gathered at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park for the emotional unveiling of a memorial honouring 513 Barnado’s children, buried there in unmarked graves.
Volunteers from the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park heritage team spent four years tirelessly searching thousands of archive records for the names of Barnado’s children buried there, so they can be honoured and recognised.
David Barnado, the great-great nephew of the Barnado’s charity’s founder, Thomas Barnado and Jean Clark, fundraiser and a former Barnado’s girl, unveiled the two meter high Portland stone sculpture showing a pair of hands releasing a symbolic cockney sparrow on Tuesday.
This is the third memorial that Jean Clark has fundraised single handedly for and she says that “As someone who grew up in Barnado’s care, I regard them as my brothers and sisters and wanted to ensure their lives are recognised”.
During the unveiling ceremony, held in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, guests listened to touching stories about the children remembered and buried in the cemetery park, read by former Barnado children and staff.
One of the people attending the service was Mayor John Biggs. “I had a personal interest [in the memorial] given that my grandfather grew up in a Barnardo’s home, and an interest also as Mayor, given that Barnardo’s was founded in the East End and its fantastic record of care is something we should all be proud of.” he said.
Doctor Thomas Barnado was born in Dublin in 1845 and studied as a medical student at the London Hospital in Whitechapel, moving to the east end in 1866, when he took lodgings in Stepney.
Shortly after he arrived in Whitechapel an outbreak of cholera killed over 3,000 people in east London, which left families destitute and children begging and sleeping on the streets after the death of the only breadwinner in the home.
Appalled and distressed by the situation, Barnado set up a Mission in Stepney, where poor children could get a basic education and he bought up further properties in the borough for the children to live and be educated in across the east end, with “No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission”.
From the foundation of the first Barnardo’s home in 1870 to the date of Barnardo’s death, nearly 100,000 children had been rescued, trained and given a better life.
Children who died in Barnado’s care were respectfully buried in individual public graves, but without headstones, as Barnado thought it unnecessary to spend more money on the burials than necessary. Barnado himself, lived on a shoestring and spent all his money caring for London’s most vulnerable children.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Barnado’s charity so it is fitting that the “Now unforgotten faces of the past” are remembered in Tower Hamlets, where his work began, just a stone’s throw from Wapping.