Memorial unveiling to Barnardo’s orphans with no marked grave at Tower Hamlets Cemetery

Thomas Barnardo, Victorian campaigner who rescued street urchinds in London's East End

Thomas Barnardo, Victorian campaigner who rescued street urchinds in London's East End - Credit: Ragged School Museum, Mile End

A memorial tribute to hundreds of orphans cared for by Thomas Barnardo’s charity who were buried in unmarked graves a century ago is being unveiled today in London’s East End where the Victorian campaigner worked.

Thomas Barnardo, Victorian campaigner who rescued street urchinds in London's East End

Thomas Barnardo, Victorian campaigner who rescued street urchinds in London's East End - Credit: Ragged School Museum, Mile End

A 6ft high Portland stone sculpture of hands releasing a symbolic cockney sparrow is being innaugurated at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park in Mile End where 513 children were buried between 1876 and 1924.

The children were given proper funerals, but no memorial headstones because Barnardo survived on a shoestring caring for the street waifs and strays he rescued from Victorian London.

Money for the £10,000 sculpture was raised single-handedly by Jean Clark, a former Barnardo’s child who now lives in Birmingham.

“It’s been a labour of love to give these children the recognition they deserve,” she said. “I regard them as my brothers and sisters and wanted to make sure their lives were recognised.”

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park at Mile End

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park at Mile End - Credit: Friends of TH Cemetery Pk


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The children’s unmarked graves were traced after thousands of hours of research by volunteers from Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park’s heritage team.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “This remarkable project has been made possible by dedicated, passionate volunteers who spent several years searching through burial records for the names of the children, so that they can have a fitting memorial.”

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The sculpture by master carver Tom Nicholls is being unveiled at 11.30am by David Barnardo, the great-great nephew of Thomas Barnardo who began his work in Whitechapel while studying medicine at the London Hospital.

The Victorian campaigner set up a charity in 1868 to run the East End Juvenile Mission in a converted warehouse at Hope Place, Mile End, to educate children and provide them with a hot meal, who also opened the Ragged School in 1877 at Copperfield Road by the Regent’s Canal.

But many children did not survive to adulthood with the chronic bad health endemic in the poor working class population a century ago.

Now, at least, they are being remembered with today’s unveiling at Tower Hamlets Cemetery.

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