Gravestone destruction erases link to Royal Waggon Train

Salt of the Earth: the Royal Waggon Train was an important innovation in the Duke of Wellington’s army in the war against Napoleon

SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: One of the casualties of the churchyard vandalism at Croydon Minster last month was the gravestone of an old soldier who served in the Napoleonic Wars. DAVID MORGAN looks at the service of John Kennedy and two other Royal Waggoners buried nearby

Destroyed: the gravestone for John and Christiana Kennedy is feared to be beyond repair

The vandalism to gravestones in the churchyard at Croydon Minster has meant that one family’s name has become a talking point once again, as their 200-year-old memorial was at the centre of the destruction.

The Kennedy stone was an ancient one, and one which drew the eye. A local newspaper article written back in the 1930s thought enough about it to include it as one to find in a walk through the parish churchyard.

“A headstone to this gallant officer, John Kennedy, is still existing and may be seen through the railings on the island strip opposite St John’s Grove… It has been much quoted in service journals on account of the tribute to a Quartermaster, ‘Here lie the remains of an honest man’.”

The article went on to add that the inscription was quoted as a good-humoured army joke about the only quartermaster in the army supplies department who died “honest”.

The commemoration stone for John Kennedy and his wife Christiana was significant in several ways. First, it was 200 years old.

‘An honest man’: John Kennedy’s gravestone included a particular epitath

Second, it remembered a quartermaster in the Royal Waggon Train, who served during the Napoleonic Wars.

Third, it contained that memorable epitaph.

Today, because of the severity of the damage caused in the vandalism attack, the Kennedy gravestone is irreparable. The pieces, though, are to be collected up and sent to the Royal Logistics Corps Museum in Winchester, as efforts are made to see what might be salvaged.

John Kennedy died on January 28, 1804, aged 49. His wife Christiana passed away on August 10, 1818, aged 63. The couple had twin girls, Elizabeth and Mary, to whom the widowed Christiana left all her worldly goods in equal measures after she died. This included her clothes, her brass and pewter, her utensils, her furniture and her bedding.

When Christiana wrote her will, she was living in Broad Green and named her executrix as Ann Brown from Croydon.

If John Kennedy left a will, then it appears to have been lost.

The daughters probably arranged for the stone to be erected to their parents, although they could well have had some assistance from the military community in Croydon.

The Royal Waggon Train first had a presence in the town when a depot was opened here in 1803, so Kennedy hadn’t been in Croydon for long. This corps was originally founded in March 1794 as the Royal Waggoners, the first uniformed transport or logistical corps.

Mother’s last wish: the will of Christiana Kennedy

In the early years of the Napoleonic campaign, they served in the Low Countries under the Duke of York. When that campaign ended in 1796, the Waggoners’ officers and soldiers were placed on half-pay.

The corps was reformed in 1799 as the Royal Waggon Corps, with the name changed to the Royal Waggon Train three years later.

The existence of the Royal Waggon Train was good for Croydon in many ways. The local hostelries, especially the Six Bells, would have benefited hugely from the custom brought by the troops stationed here.

A newspaper advertisement from 1810 showed another way in which the barracks boosted the community. At the Crown Inn in Croydon on Saturday March 24, an auction was to be held by Mr Batten where folk could bid for horses that were surplus to the requirements of the corps.

Forty “strong and active horses” were made available to the bidders. The Band of the Royal Waggon Train, too, became very popular in the town, playing regularly for the locals.

It was between 1811 and 1821 that Croydon developed as a military area. The district around the barracks was originally known as Barracks Field and, later on, Barracks Town.

Kennedy, the quartermaster, wasn’t the only member of the Royal Waggon Train to have been buried in the churchyard at Croydon. Two others have been confirmed. There could be more.

Captain Samuel Johnson died on July 10, 1828, aged 44. He was credited as serving at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, where the Royal Waggon Train performed wonders to keep supplies going through enemy lines to reach the guard defending the chateau at Hougoumont, a key part of what would be Napoleon’s final battle, and ultimate defeat.

At the end of the battle, the Royal Waggon Train’s task had been to remove more than 4,000 allied dead from the battlefield.

Using the details from Capt Johnson’s will, we can discover that his wife was called Ann and that they had no children alive at the time of his death. Among the list of his goods which he left to his wife were all his paintings, drawings and prints. He owned two properties in Clayton Street in the parish of St Mary’s in Lambeth.

Also buried in the churchyard of what was then Croydon’s parish church is Lieutenant Henry O’Neil, who died on June 21, 1833, aged 38.

Lt O’Neil’s death and the subsequent revelation of his will must have upset someone, as there had to be a legal ruling on the accuracy of the document. He had drawn up his will on September 25, 1832. It was very brief.

Disputed: Lt O’Neil’s will had to be verified as being his

“In the case of my demise, I bequeath all my property to my sister Joanna O’Neil who is my nearest relative.”

Two men of his acquaintance and of good standing were required to swear on oath that they had known the deceased for a time and that it was O’Neil’s writing and signature on the document. Richard Griffith, a Commander in the Royal Navy and resident in Croydon, together with Joseph MacDowell, of Lambeth, testified satisfactorily and so his sister received the lieutenant’s possessions (although none of it is itemised in the documentation).

If gravestones were erected to mark the last resting place of either of these two army officers, then they have been lost.

With the destruction of the Kennedy memorial there is now no visible reminder at Croydon Minster of the town’s link with the historic Royal Waggon Train. Let us hope that situation can be remedied soon.

Previous articles by David Morgan:

  • David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours or illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups

If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or want to book a school visit, then ring the Minster Office on 020 688 8104 or go to the website on and use the contact page

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  • ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named among the country’s rottenest boroughs for a SIXTH successive year in 2022 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine

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3 Responses to Gravestone destruction erases link to Royal Waggon Train

  1. Margaret Chan says:

    The loss of so much iof Croydon’s history through this mindless destruction is heart breaking.

  2. Dan Kelly says:

    If Kennedy’s stone is irreparable could a facsimile be made? I’d be prepared to make a contribution.
    Are any steps being taken to tighten up security?

  3. What are the cops doing about this? Are they too busy arresting women giving out rape alarms and people with placards commenting about oil or the new monarch?

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