Thursday, 5 July 2018

Death by water; Antonio Pedro da Gama Lobo Salema de Souza e Vasconcellos (1963-1989), Putney Vale Cemetery

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
                                  A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
                                           Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you
T.S. Eliot - The Wasteland

“25 years ago I had a couple of hook-ups with a guy. We met in Heaven and went back to my place first and then the following week we met at his place in Meard Street in Soho. He made me dinner. We had a fun time together. At his place he kept playing and dancing around to Express Yourself from Madonna's Like A Prayer album while he cooked me pasta. "I love this record", he said putting it on again. "You're not kidding!" He was almost obsessed with it. He made me laugh. He was a Portuguese banker and had more than one bottle of champagne in his fridge. Fancy, I thought! I was impressed. He was well-read too. A nice guy. Had a nice smile. His name was Antonio.”

“We talked about meeting for a third time. He had people staying that weekend though. How about in Comptons? His birthday was coming up and that Saturday night his mate was throwing him a party on a boat on the river. He said that I couldn't come as there were already too many people coming but we should meet the following day on the Sunday. Late though because it was going to be a late one on the boat. OK, Comptons it was. See you then. Look forward to it.”
Antonio de Vasconcellos never made it to his third date with Jonathan Green back in August 1989. Jonathan went to Heaven “feeling a bit miffed I couldn't go to what looked to be a wild party on the river.” In the club, at 2.30 in the morning, he started to hear rumours that there had been some sort of disaster on the river, that a boat had gone down and that bodies were being pulled out of the Thames. He decided to go home “but to my shame it was only after I had got on the N19 night bus on the way home it suddenly dawned on me, "Fuck! Antonio! Antonio was on the river tonight!" I got off the bus at New Oxford Street and dashed back to Meard Street. The lights were on on the second floor and I rang the buzzer but no one answered the door. I rang again. I pressed the buzzer for a full minute. No one was there….”

Antonio Vasconcellos with his friend Magda Allani during their years at Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Sunday 13th August 1989 was Antonio de Vasconcellos’ 26th birthday and he celebrated it by throwing a river boat party the following Saturday, the 19th, for 130 friends on the Marchioness an unassuming 85 foot long pleasure steamer built in 1923. The Marchioness  had been one of the little boats of Dunkirk in 1940, sailing to pick up British and French soldiers trapped on the French coast by the advancing German army but by the late eighties the steamer spent its days plying the Thames between Westminster and Greenwich piers showing tourists London’s landmarks from the river and its nights as a party venue. Antonio’s evening had started off with an intimate dinner for 8 people, including his older brother Domingos, at his flat in Meard Street where they were later joined by 20 other close friends for cake and champagne before the whole group set off for Westminster pier where they joined another 100 guests on board the Marchioness. Although Antonio was a merchant banker by profession most of his guests had nothing to do with finance. Many of them were from the fashion world; models, photographers, make up artists and agents.  Antonio’s best friend and party organiser was Jonathan Phang a former male model who had opened a model agency with Antonio’s financial backing. Most of the guests were in their early twenties.
The party was in full swing at about quarter to two in the morning (some accounts claim revellers were dancing to the Hues Corporation 1974 hit ‘Rock the boat’) and the Marchioness was close to Cannon Street Bridge when some of the guests noticed that a 250 foot long, 180 ton dredger, the Bowbelle, was bearing down rapidly on them, looking like it might ram the party vessel. The collision, when it came, was not head on and might not have sunk the Marchioness if the Bowbelle’s anchor, sitting high on the prow almost at the gunwale, hadn’t caught the top of the pleasure steamer’s superstructure and then pushed it under the bow of the dredger. Experts later estimated that it took less than 30 seconds for the Marchioness to sink. Party goers on the upper deck were thrown into the water; the ones on the lower deck went to the bottom of the Thames in the sinking ship. 51 people died. 24 bodies were recovered from the sunken hull of the Marchioness, the rest were picked out of the Thames in the days following the disaster. Antonio’s was the last body recovered, 11 days later on 1st September. His older brother Domingos died but his younger brother, Diogo, survived, helping save the life of a fellow passenger. The bodies recovered from the river were taken to Wapping Police station which served as a temporary mortuary. All the survivors had been rescued by the crew and passengers on the Marchioness’ sister ship, the Hurlingham, and by river police; the crew of the Bowbelle did not pull a single body out of the water. Instead they sailed on and berthed upriver because the ship’s Captain, Douglas Henderson, as he later explained to a public enquiry, decided to concentrate on the safety of his own vessel and thought that "the best course of action was to get clear of the area." He admitted to the public enquiry that he had drunk six pints of beer the afternoon of the collision and then taken a three hour nap to sleep it off. He also admitted having lied to the police about the number of crew on watch. He told the police there were two but in reality there was only one. According to a report in the Guardian he agreed that “the ship's helmsman wore thick glasses and a hearing aid, but …. denied that this meant he could not see dangers or hear warnings clearly.” The Captain of the Marchioness was not able to answer questions at the public enquiry as he had drowned in the accident. The conclusion of the public enquiry was that both captains were to blame as neither had posted adequate look outs. Captain Henderson was prosecuted, twice, for his failings on the night of 20th August but was acquitted both times.
The salvaged Marchioness after the collision

Antonio Pedro da Gama Lobo Salema de Souza e Vasconcellos was the son of João António Melo Trigoso De Sousa e Vasconcelos and his wife Maria (familiarly known as Boneca, doll, presumably for her diminutive stature and striking good looks), who had married in 1960 in what was then known as Lourenço Marques in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique and is now the capital Maputo. The Portuguese love to collect surnames, even the humblest person will have at least two, but a family which advertises its genealogy by hanging on to as many of its illustrious forebear’s surnames as it can usually has aristocratic pretensions, (even if they don’t actually have a title). João Vasconcellos brought his family to England, probably at some point in the late sixties or early seventies, and educated his three sons at Brompton Oratory and the best universities. He died in 1981 and is buried in the plot adjacent to his sons at Putney Vale Cemetery. His rather plain headstone features just his name, dates of birth and death and the carved outline of an artist’s palette and brushes.

Antonio studied Economics at Trinity Hall Cambridge and went on to become a merchant banker firstly at Warburgs and then at Mercury Asset Management. In September 1988 he moved to take charge of Torras Hostensch London Ltd, working directly for the controversial Spanish lawyer and financier Francisco Javier de la Rosa. When the activities of Torras Hostensch were later scrutinised by the Courts, Lord Justice Mance remarked that Antonio “was paid the astonishing annual salary of £900,000.” His Cambridge friend Magda Allani, who survived the disaster, later said that at the time Antonio’s promotion had seemed to his friends the natural result of his brilliance, “but there was nothing normal about it. Any normal office handling resources of the magnitude of those at Torras’s disposal would have had a team of financial analysts. Instead, Torras Hostench London had just Antonio, his colleague Walid Moukarzel, secretary Elsa Garcia and a chauffeur. It didn’t feel right.” Javier de la Rosa has persuaded the Kuwaiti Investment Office to funnel $5 billion of investment through the London offices of Torras Hostensch with barely any oversight or scrutiny. How much Antonio was involved in the embezzlement of millions of dollars in Kuwaiti money no one will ever now know for sure but the lawsuit filed in London in 1993 by the US law firm of Baker & McKenzie on behalf of the KIO seems to indicate that along with Walid Moukarzel, Elsa Garcia and the chauffeur, he was probably an unwitting dupe. The £900,000 salary was perhaps to discourage him from using his keen intellect to look to closely into the deals he was asked to sign off. According to the New York Times the 1993 suit contended “that through the use of various shell companies, fictitious loans, fraud and embezzlement, the former Torras management conspired to steal at least $500 million between May 1988 and May 1992.” Lord Justice Mance agreed. Magda described Antonio as seeming ‘troubled’ in the days before his death, unsurprising given the scale of the fraud going on in the office he was nominally in charge of.       
Antonio’s job and his astonishing salary inevitably led to him, and his fashion conscious guests, being labelled as yuppies and beautiful young things by the media. In Margaret Thatcher’s deeply divided Britain there were few terms as corrosive as ‘yuppie’ and public support for the victims of the Marchioness disaster was in distinctly short supply. Homophobia also played a part as many of the victims were gay. Some blamed the lack of public sympathy on compassion fatigue because in the 2 year period between March 1987 and April 1989 a staggering 765 people had died in 6 large scale incidents in the UK; March 1987 the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise (193 dead)  November 1987 the Kings Cross fire (31 fatalities), July 1988 the Piper Alpha oil rig fire (167 deaths), December 1988 the Lockerbie bombing (243 dead) and the Clapham Junction rail disaster (35 dead), and in April 1989 the Hillsborough disaster (96 dead). A common reaction to the disasters was the setting up of a fund to help the victims and their families. In their first year the fund set up for the victims of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster collected £3.4 million and the Hillsborough disaster relief fund collected £3.5 million. In quite shocking comparison the Thames River Boat Disaster Fund set up for the victims of the Marchioness collected, in its first 12 months, a mere £55,000. Antonio Vasconcellos may have been by most people’s standards well off, as were some of his guests, but many others were not and public opprobrium and financial hardship must have been bitter pills to swallow after the traumatic events of the night of 19th August 1989.    

Friday, 29 June 2018

Stealing a complexion denied by nature - Joseph Paul Crocker (1834-1869), Brompton Cemetery

DEATH OF ONE OF THE CHRISTY MINSTRELS —the well frequented Hall of these minstrels was dark and silent last night on account of the lamented death of Mr. Henry Crocker, who died yesterday afternoon, after a painful illness of nearly two years' duration, at the age of thirty-five. Mr. Crocker was one of the joint proprietors of the Christy Minstrels, and a performer in the original company. He was a favourite with the public, and his loss will be deeply regretted by a large circle of friends who esteemed his private character.
London Daily News - Saturday 18 December 1869


We know very little about J.P. Crocker of the Christy Minstrels. When he died the London Daily News couldn’t even get his name right – he was certainly no Henry. Other newspapers at least had his initials down correctly, JP, even if they weren’t sure what they stood for. The Examiner said that he was “a robust healthy man”, which seems unlikely, given that he had just died of tuberculosis. He had been ill for two years and had not set foot on the stage for at least 12 months. Joseph Paul Crocker was born somewhere in the United States in 1834 and came to England with his close friend and associate George Washington Moore in 1859. Both men had been members of Christy’s Minstrels in New York but for some reason decided to leave the States to follow J. W. Raynor and Earl Pierce to England where they had set up ‘Raynor & Pierces Christy Minstrels’ and performed to great acclaim at the St James Hall in the West End. Both in the United States and in England troupes of Christy’s Minstrels replicated by binary fission, prolifically splitting up and taking on new members, with all descendants claiming to be the original and genuine. Edward Pearce Christy, the founder of the group, fought several legal battles in the States to retain control of his name and in England the battle to be known as the genuine Christy’s Minstrels also ended up in the courts. John Edmund Quick, a 26 year old pretender, was prosecuted in 1868 for stealing £200 worth of handbills from the St James Theatre and, after carefully excising the name of the proprietors, using them to advertise an inferior and ersatz version of the Minstrels in Banbury. JP Crocker was one of the proprietors of the St James Hall troupe of Christy’s Minstrels along with George Moore.  Frederick Burgess, who later took over after Crocker’s premature death, was the manager. Moore and Crocker were both performers. Crocker was a tambourine player and eccentric dancer whose performances evoked roars of laughter according to the London Evening Standard in a contemporary review which also said that he exhibited a “marvellous command of his bodily muscles in a thick shoe dance.” I could only find one picture of him, a drawing in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of September 1893 showing him made up for the stage, produced almost a quarter of a century after his death. The inscription on Crocker’s grave in Brompton Cemetery reads “Sacred to the memory of JP Crocker of the Christys Minstrels, St James Hall, who departed this life 17th December aged 35, buried 23rd December, 1869. This memorial is dedicated to his lasting memory by Fannie Crocker and his late colleagues G Washington Moore, Frederick Burgess and the members of the Christys Minstrels in affectionate remembrance and as a tribute to one whose kind heart endeared him to all who knew him. Years of sickness affected not his courage or rich vein of genial humour.”

Christy’s Minstrels, formed by Edwin Pearce Christy in 1843, were the best known of the original wave of blackface performers that emerged in the United States in the decades before the civil war.  In 1847 they performed at a benefit concert for Stephen Foster in Cincinnati; this was the start of a close working relationship with the composer. They later specialised in performances of his songs and he even granted them the exclusive rights to his ‘Old Folks At Home’ (aka ‘Swanee River’). Christy popularised three part minstrel shows which started with a ‘walkaround’, the entire company marching onstage and singing and dancing their way through an opening number, before sitting in a semi circle to exchange banter with the Interlocutor the master of ceremonies. Minstrel shows had several stock characters, the slave Jim Crow and the dandy Zip Coon (whose signature song had the familiar chorus ‘O Zip a duden duden, zip a duden day’) and the inseparable pair Tambo and Bones. JP Crocker, the portly tambourine player was Christy’s Tambo and GW Moore its Bones. This review of Christy’s Minstrels in the London Evening Standard of 19 September 1865 gives a detailed account of their London shows:  
The entertainment given last at the lower room, St. James's Hall, is certainly one the best and diversified of the kind have seen or heard on any former occasion. It opens with a painting called Christy's Magnificent Diorama, in two parts, the first part descriptive of the outward voyage of the Great Eastern for New York, which arrives in time for the passengers to witness a performance of the “Christy’s Minstrels” at the Royal Academy of Music, New York ; the second part illustrating a journey down South, through Washington to a plantation in Dixie's Land, where the Southern “darkies” are beheld in their glory. After the dioramic exhibition there is a concert interspersed with sundry displays of Ethiopian wit between the Bones of the company, Mr. E. W. Moore and the tambourinist and eccentric dancer, Mr. J. P. Crocker, which creates roars of laughter. The diorama is followed by a new Christy's extravaganza, entitled Hair Brushing by Patent Machinery supported by Messrs. J. P. Crocker, E. W. Moore, and J. Ritter; to which succeeds an original sketch, by Mr. E. W. Moore, called The Breakneck Act, characters by Messrs. Moore and Crocker; concluding with Christy’s popular burlesque The Rival Darkies, parts sustained by Messrs  J.Ritter, L. Ludlow, Moore and Crocker. The Rival Darkies and Break-neck Act, if we remember rightly, are old friends; but Hair Brushing by Patent Machinery is new to London audiences. Performances by the Christy's Minstrels'’ without singing to many may appear uninviting; but the burlesque and extravaganza are exceedingly amusing, and all three were received last night with roars of laughter. Perhaps a more extraordinary entrance on the stage was never conceived than that of Mr. G. W. Moore, in the Break-neck Act, in which is made to bound into a room through the window, fall from height of some six or eight feet, and turn a somersault  on the stage. Mr. Moore is wonderfully active, besides being the most energetic and skilful of “Bones” and is, to boot, a first-rate comic singer. But the activity of the company is no means absorbed in the person of Mr. Moore. Mr. J. P. Crocker exhibits a marvellous command of his bodily muscles in a thick shoe dance, and Mr. J. Ritter (the champion!) in the Attakapas Jig—a sort of double-shuffle dance—displays an amount of terpsichorean agility quite out the common way. It is, however, in the musical line that the Christy Minstrels’ especially excel. There is not a weak hand in this company, vocal or instrumental. The band is composed of a violin, violoncello, cornet and harp— sufficient for their purposes their ensemble playing is literally irreproachable. Their solo playing, too, is more than creditable... The “Christy Minstrels” have announced the present as “positively their last season in London prior to their return to the United States.”

Minstrel shows proved to be even more popular in England than they were in the United States. The Christy’s Minstrels run at the St James Hall lasted for almost 40 years, from 1865 to 1904. George Moore never went home to the States; he died in London at the grand old age of 89 in 1909 and was buried a short distance away from his friend JP Crocker in Brompton Cemetery. The appetite for racist tomfoolery the pair planted in the English became an enduring legacy; 100 years after the Christy’s opened at St James Hall we were still lapping up blackface and Stephen Foster songs in the form of the hugely popular Black & White Minstrel Show. By 1964, when 73 million Americans were tuning into the Ed Sullivan Show to see the Beatles, 21 million Brits regularly tuned into the BBC to watch the Black and White Minstrels. I was one of them. As a kid I loved them. I loved them so much my parents took me to see one of the 6477 theatre shows the Minstrels put on between 1962 and 1972 when they weren’t making TV shows (a run which put them in the Guinness Book of Records at one time as the stage show seen by the largest number of people). We only had a black and white television and I was totally unprepared for the spectacle of the Black & White Minstrels in colour; the female dancers (who were not in blackface) whose dresses were technicolour southern belle taffeta confections and the Minstrels themselves strutted the boards in metallic gold frockcoats and top hats. Inevitably I grew up and as a teenager in the Seventies the Minstrels fell off my radar which had become more attuned to the likes of David Bowie and Led Zeppelin. I was quite startled to discover that they carried on broadcasting until 1978, well after the Sex Pistols had disbanded and the Ramones and Siouxsie and the Banshees had found chart success. Looking back at my childhood, sometimes it seems like I was born in 1860 rather than 1960. The swinging Sixties never really arrived in the South Yorkshire pit village I grew up in but the Victorians and Edwardians were still clinging on for grim death. Patronising racist stereotypes abounded, not just blackface minstrel shows on Saturday night TV; I loved ‘Song of the South’ when my uncle took me to see it at the Pavilion cinema in Attercliffe, Sheffield. The films best known song is, of course, ‘Zip-a-dee-doo-dah’ whose chorus is a rephrasing of Zip Coon’s ‘Zip a duden duden, zip a duden day’. I think I was already heavily into Enid Blyton’s retelling of the Brer Rabbit stories before I saw the film. In school the Stephen Foster songbook was well thumbed and we often gathered around the piano to trill "I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee, I'm going to Louisiana, my true love for to see" leadenly accompanied by the teacher. And of course there were the Golliwogs that you could collect if you saved the tokens from Robertson’s jam (the company stopped using Golliwogs in its advertising only in 1988 and stopped putting Gollys on its jam jar labels in 2001!) and the Golly that leered at you from the wrapper of Blackjack chews. There were the Tarzan films I adored where a white man marooned in Africa who was brought up by apes manages, somehow, to learn to speak impeccable English, live in a treehouse, cover up his genitals and generally learn to be more civilised than the benighted natives who were utterly beholden to the witchdoctor and died in their hundreds whenever there was a fight. And ‘Daktari’ and ‘Cowboy in Africa’ where the white people drove around in Land Rovers, wore safari suits, lived in ranch houses and were the constant focus of attention while the natives wore loincloths, lived in mud huts and were the comic interludes or a dangerous threat according to the diktat of the storyline.
Dubious 60's shenanigans

Friday, 15 June 2018

The blind poet; John Heath-Stubbs (1918-2006), Kensal Green Cemetery

Mr. Heath-Stubbs as you must understand
Came of a gentleman's family out of Staffordshire
Of as good blood as any in England
But he was wall-eyed and his legs too spare.

Amongst the more learned persons of his time
Having had his schooling in the University of Oxford
In Anglo-Saxon Latin ornithology and crime
Yet after four years he was finally not preferred.

In his youth he would compose poems in prose and verse
In a classical romantic manner which was pastoral
To which the best judges of the Age were not averse
And the public also but his profit was not financial.

Now having outlived his friends and most of his reputation
He is content to take his rest under these stones and grass
Not expecting but hoping that the Resurrection
Will not catch him unawares whenever it takes place.
John Heath Stubbs - Epitaph

Born on 09 July 1918 in London, the poet John Heath-Stubbs died on Boxing Day 2006, aged 88 at his flat in West London. The Church Times reported that his parish priest (from St Matthews in Bayswater) brought him communion the day before his death (on Christmas Day?) and reported “that the poet’s mind was undimmed, and he was still giving out erudition.” Sadly his poem ‘Epitaph’ was not used as the actual epitaph on his slickly polished marble headstone in Kensal Green Cemetery. 
The tall, gangly youth with extreme short sight, peering into a book (or a manuscript...whilst smoking a cigarette)
He suffered from problems with his eyesight from the age of 3 and after years of gradually deteriorating eyesight became completely blind just before he reached his 60th birthday. As a teenager his eyesight was poor enough for him to be sent to Worcester College for the blind. Despite his disability he was a brilliant scholar, a polymath and an expert of The Golden Bough, he graduated at Queens College Oxford.  His obituary in the Independent says he was “then a tall, gangly youth with extreme short sight, peering into books. Friends found the sight of him in summer, holding on to the riverbank while his punt moved slowly but surely downstream, transforming him from an arch into a splash, unforgettably funny. Little by little he became completely blind, so that if he was reciting his poems to an audience he might by misjudgement turn and address them to the wall.”
Heath-Stubbs was that very rare thing, a professional poet. Most of his income may have come from his academic posts but these were almost all granted to him because of his status as a poet. In the Guardian Jonathan Fryer wrote:  

Though curious to discover new ideas, he was not a good listener and could be unbridled when his hackles were raised. He sometimes lost his temper even with close friends, though he would usually ring them the following morning to apologise.
John could be found in many of Soho's notorious drinking-holes in the 1950s and 1960s, and his own little basement flat in west London was a model of bohemian squalor. Fiercely independent, he lived on his own and insisted on cooking for his guests - surprisingly well, though both the floor and the ceiling showed evidence of mishaps.

On the verge of total blindness - Heath-Stubbs in 1978 by Nigel Foxell
Some of his poetry is astoundingly beautiful, as in these lines about the swift;
There is no creature (except, perhaps,
The angel) so wholly native to
The upper air. His tiny feet
Cannot walk on ground, can cling only.
The wisps and straws he needs to build his nest
He snatches in mid-air. He even sleeps
Borne up by the rising thermals.
This black screamer, rushing at evening
Above our cities, is kin
To the tropical humming-bird, who can fly backwards
Out of the great flower-bells
In the Amazonian forest.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Mausoleums of St Mary's, Kensal Green

in 2008 Hugh Meller (or maybe Brian Parsons) couldn’t help referring in ‘London Cemeteries’ to the mausoleum in St Mary’s that was being used as a wood shed by the grounds staff. I presume this is the same mausoleum shown in my photo from December 2013 (above) though by the time I took my picture the contents included rubble and traffic cones as well as fallen branches and discarded wooden crosses. Perhaps this is why the staff are anxious about photography in the cemetery, particularly photography likely to find its way onto social media.
St Mary’s has an unusually large number of mausoleums for a moderately sized cemetery. This may be partly due of the relatively large contingent of wealthy Spanish and Italian immigrants buried here in the late 19th and early 20th century but Kensal Green next door also has a hefty complement of late Victorian ‘golden age’ mausoleums. For those not aware, mausoleums are purpose built buildings containing tombs or coffins. The word comes from the Ancient Greek Μαυσωλεον (Mausōleîon), the famous Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the burial place of the Persian Satrap of Caria (in modern Turkey), Mausolus who died in 353BC. The original mausoleum was one of the Seven Wonders of the World listed by Antipater of Sidon in 140BC. The 45 metre high tomb suffered the same fate as six of the seven wonders and was eventually destroyed by earthquakes and human cupidity but it lasted longer than most – there were still recognisable ruins in the 15th century when the knights of St John used them as a quarry to mine for raw materials when building Bodrum castle. The knights also decorated the castle with ancient sculptures from the mausoleum and these were later rescued by the British Consul. Marble blocks from the mausoleum excavated by Charles Thomas Newton  for the British Museum in 1857 were shipped to Malta where they caught the eye of a Royal Navy engineer and were used to construct a dock in the Grand Harbour to the east of Valetta. There is no evidence to suggest that at anytime in its unfortunate history the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was ever used to store traffic cones.     

The Misa Mausoleum, built in 1870 for Manuel Misa y Bertemati, the Conde De Bayona and Marques De Misa, is a small gothic mortuary chapel in the central part of the cemetery. It has a steeply pitched roof with fish-scale tiles and metal cresting, heavily damaged stained glass windows in the side and rear walls and a tiled path, enclosed by fine iron railings, leading up to the entrance. Manuel Misa was born in 1815 in Bayona, in the northern Spanish province of Galicia. His family were of partly Italian descent and made their living from mercantile trading. Manuel studied law at the University of Santiago de Campostella and then joined his brother in the Sherry business in Jerez. Manuel travelled the world helping to build the family’s sherry business and in the 1860’s he moved to London where he eventually married an English woman Helena Busheroy Blake. The couple had two children. The sherry business flourished and Misa, along with Gonzalez Byass and Domecq, became one of the great bodegas, exporting 1,400 butts of sherry in just one month in 1873 (that’s 2800 hogsheads of wine if you were wondering, or 798,000 litres). Manuel Misa became immensely wealthy and was honoured twice by the Spanish crown, first in 1875 when he was made Conde de Bayona and again in 1889 when he was made a full grandee, the Marques de Misa. Misa contributed substantially to the fund for the building of Westminster Cathedral and when he died in 1904 he left his palatial home in Belgrave Square to the Spanish Government which uses it to this day as the Spanish Embassy. 

The notice on the rather damaged door of the Misa Mausoleum is interesting in refering to the building as a mortuary chapel. Strictly speaking the mausoleum ins't a mausoleum at all as there are no coffins. Manuel Misa's remain are probably in a vault below the building. This is true of all the mausoleums in St Mary's that you can actually see inside. A 'true' mausoleum stores the coffins above ground within the mausoleum itself. Even if the coffins have been removed there are tell tale coffin shelves along the walls.  

The internal view of the mausoleum makes it clear there are no coffin shelves. It is in need of a little care and attention - paint is peeling inside and out (see below) and much of the stained glass is badly damaged which lets the elements in to cause further havoc.   

The Emmet Mausoleum was built in 1919 by the American born Major Robert Emmet DSO, for his son who had died in 1915 of typhoid whilst serving in the British army. The ornate octagonal gothic structure, built of Portland stone, was designed by William Henry Romaine-Walker, who designed Stanhope House on Park Lane. Despite being the proud descendants of Robert Emmet the famous Irish patriot father and son both served in the Warwickshire Yeomanry in the First World War though only Major Emmet, the father, saw active service. Lieutenant Emmet, the son, died before getting the opportunity to go to the front line, perhaps because he changed regiments to the Life Guards shortly after the outbreak of hostilities. The Irish newspaper, the Weekly Freeman's Journal of Saturday 13 November 1915 reported the details of the funeral:

Emmet Great-Great Grandnephew.  The death has taken place in London of Lieutenant Robert Emmet, of the Life Guards, a great grand nephew the famous Irish rebel of the same name. Lieutenant Emmet, who was only in his eighteenth year, was the son of Major Robert Emmet, the son of Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, of New York, who has been settled in England for a number of  years past, having houses in London and Warwickshire. At the beginning of the war Major Emmet, who up to that time had been in civilian life, became naturalised as a British subject, applied for commission, and is now serving in Gallipoli. His son, though only eighteen years age, followed his example, and was with his regiment when he contracted an attack of typhoid, to which after three weeks he succumbed in a London nursing home. He was a most promising young officer, and  his death is deeply regretted by his fellow-officers and the men of his regiment. He was buried with military honours on Tuesday at Kensal Green Cemetery, the coffin being borne on a gun-carriage, and escorted through the streets by a contingent of the regiment. 
The Memorial Service. Prior  to the funeral a Requiem mass was celebrated at the Jesuit Church, Farm street, the Right Rev. Dr. Mostyn, Bishop of Menevia at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. About 300 officers and men of the 1st Life Guards were present, including the Commanding Officer, Sir George Holford, and Major General Sir Francis Lloyd. The band of the regiment, under the direction of Mr. Miller, played Chopin’s funeral March, and the trumpeters at the conclusion the ceremony played the “Last Post” and the 'Reveille.” The music during Mass was sung by the Farm Street Boys Choir, conducted by Mr. J. Farren. A R.C.M.

The inscription on the altar in the Ortelli mausoleum reads:

"In memory of Commendatore John Ortelli (late of Hatton Garden). Born 1830, died 1st Nov. 1898, buried in Appiano, Italy. Founder of the Hospital for Italians in Queen Square, WC, President of the Italian Night School, first Associate of the Italian Benevolent Society, an ardent lover of his country and admirer of England and a true friend to the poor."

The Ortelli's came from the lake Como region in northern Italy and had first emigrated to England in the 1790's. The family became quite prominent in the barometer manufacturing industry. John Ortelli (whose Italian name was Giuseppe, though he preferred to be known as the anglicised John even when in Italy) was a looking glass manufacturer based in Hatton Garden who became extremely wealthy. In 1864 he founded the Ospedale Italiano, the Italian Hospital, in Queens Square with the donation of two adjacent houses. These were later demolished and replaced with a purpose built hospital on the same site. This still stands, at number 40 Queens Square and bears an ornate plaque with the founders name. The hospital was closed in 1990 but the building was acquired  by Great Ormand Street Hospital for use as office accommodation.

These pictures were taken before the recent restoration of the Grade II listed Campbell Family Mausoleum. The collapsing marble tiles, leaks in the gilded ceiling and rampant buddleia have all been sorted out by a specialist restorer and now the place looks as good as it did in 1904 when it was first built. The neo byzantine mausoleum was designed by CHB Quennell for the family of John Davies Campbell who was born in Manchester in 1831. Campbell emigrated to Peru in the 1850’s where he became a speculator in nitrates for use as fertilisers in the form of saltpetre and guano (bird shit).  He partnered with another British expat, Joseph Outram to form the company Campbell and Outram which exploited the nitrate deposits of the Atacama desert. Campbell became a wealthy and powerful man, he was the mayor of the enticingly named nitrate port of Pisagua and married a Peruvian, Delmira Vargas. He died in 1878 and was buried beneath an impressive tomb in the town cemetery of Tacna. After his death Delmira took her husbands money and ran to where she had probably been hoping he would take her since the early days of her marriage; London.  Neither she nor the children ever seem to have returned to Pisagua or Tacna. All of them were buried in mausoleum at St Mary’s.     

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Jazz monkey see, jazz monkey do; Thomas Murphy (1892-1932), Charlton Cemetery

Before the funeral of Mr. T. Murphy, owner of Charlton Stadium, yesterday the cortege circled the racing track, followed by two of Mr. Murphy's favourite dogs.
Coventry Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 15 March 1932

Thomas Murphy’s  two favourite greyhounds, accustomed as they were to careening around the dog track at full pelt in pursuit of an electrically powered simulation of a hare, must have been disconcerted by the stately pace of the funeral circuit around Charlton Stadium. Murphy’s totem animals, relaxed with eyes closed and head resting on forepaws as though curled up and asleep in front of the fire, also ended up on his flamboyant memorial in Charlton Cemetery, a mile or so away from the dog track. 
Thomas Murphy was born on 5th June 1892 in Paisley. His father, also called Thomas, was born in 1866 in Glamorgan and his mother, Emily (née North) was born in 1871 in Leicester.  Thomas senior was a travelling showman and Thomas junior the third born of his ten children. The nomadic lifestyle led by the family is reflected in the birthplaces of their children; in the 1901 census the family is listed as living in a caravan in Maesteg Market Place, Glamorgan. 14 year old Charles, the eldest, had been born in Chepstow, 11 year old Hannah in Dumfries, 9 year old Thomas, as we know, in Paisley, Victoria, who was 4, in Perth, Sarah, 3, in Bridgend and 5 month old William in Aberdare. A decade later the 45 year old Thomas senior had finally giving up travelling and settled down to a more sedentary career as a fishmonger in Prince Street, Newport. He had acquired four more sons John, born in Abergavenny, Timothy born in Merthyr Tydfil and Alfred and Edward both born in Newport. It’s not perhaps surprising that Thomas senior gave up the roving showman’s life, dragging his brood around with him in the days before motorised transport would have been difficult enough but there were other dangers as a report in the Portobello Advertiser in September 1896 makes clear. In the Portobello Police Court, three men, “John McIntosh, mason, 12 Buchanan Street, Leith ; George Sutherland, tailor, Albert Street, Edinburgh; and Michael Murphy, mason, Gordon Street, Leith, were charged with having, the previous day and in Livingston Place Park, attacked and assaulted Thomas Murphy, a showman, temporary resident in Livingstone Place.” It transpired that this was not the first brush in Thomas senior had had with McIntosh and Sutherland who had been in the habit of ‘annoying’ him in Leith as he went about his business and demanding money. The two were intimidating enough for the showman to have to hire two policeman to protect the shows.  When he moved on to Portobello (admittedly only 3 miles away) they followed and assaulted him. The magistrate fined McIntosh, whom he considered to be the ring leader, 20 shillings with the option of ten days imprisonment if he couldn’t find the money, and the two other men 15 shillings with the option of seven days incarceration. It was perhaps this type of incident that finally drove Thomas senior out of Scotland, where three of his children had been born, and back to the land of his fathers, Wales.

By 1911 Thomas senior living in Prince Street Newport and employed as a fishmonger. 19 year old Thomas junior was no longer living at home; he had married Louisa Katherine Nail from Wolverhampton the previous year at Bristol Registry Office and the 1911 census shows him as a visitor at the home of Albert Wiltshire and family, a wagon painter of 3 Damas Lane, Swindon. He lists his occupation as travelling showman and declares that Louisa is ‘assisting in the business’. We catch sight of Thomas again in July 1916 when the Western Mail, calling him a ‘youthful Newport entertainer’, describes an action for damages he brought against Messrs Brothers for breach of warranty of a tent. Thomas is described as having ‘been in business since he was eight years of age’. He had hired a large marquee in which to entertain soldiers in Swindon but the king pole had broken leading to the show being suspended and the loss, he claimed of £109 in profit over a period of nine days. Messrs Brothers claimed the tent had not been properly taken care of and defended the claim. The case was adjourned and no follow up was reported so we don’t know if Thomas won his damages. In 1920 his first wife Louisa died. Three years later Thomas took up with Jennie Josling Shilson from Southwark, a fortune teller who worked in fairs and at the seaside. In 1924 when she gave birth to Thomas’ only child, a son they named Thomas Edward Walter Murphy, the couple were living together as man and wife, although they never in fact married.
In the summer of 1924 Thomas was running competition stalls at Dreamland in Margate when he met a young man desperate to find work called Edward Johnson. The 23 year Johnson was from a middle class family who had fallen on hard times; his father was a commercial shipping agent whose thriving business had been all but destroyed by the First World War. The family, who were originally from Dulwich, found themselves slipping down the social scale, moving to Southend before eventually settling in East Ham. Johnson’s father remained ambitious for his son and found him work as a solicitor’s clerk in the city but the impulsive youngster fell in love with a chorus girl on a family holiday in Brighton and married her against his father's wishes.  He left his job in the city and followed his wife to a summer season in Margate where the only work he could find was selling electric heaters on commission. Thomas rescued him from the hopeless prospect of flogging electric fires to holiday makers and installed him on one of his competition stalls. Other stall holders didn’t immediately take to the well spoken, well groomed young man and subjected him to endless goading and ridicule. When one seasoned veteran of the fairs didn’t like one of Johnson’s quick witted response to one of his taunts he walked over to his stall and hit him in the mouth, completely unaware that he was dealing with an East End amateur boxing champion. The thrashing Johnson meted out won him grudging respect from his colleagues. When Thomas found out that his employee had been a solicitors clerk as well as being a handy man to have around during a spot of bother, he promoted him to the job of being his personal assistant, though without reducing his hours on the competition stall or possibly even giving him any extra money.

Johnson had been at his post for over a month before he realised that his employer was illiterate which is why he desperately needed someone he could trust to deal with his business correspondence. In August 1926 another of Thomas’ employees, 28 year old clerk Harry Richardson was sentenced to 6 months hard labour in the West London Police Court for stealing two cheques with a total value of £10 10 shillings, from his employer. Taking advantage of his illiteracy Richardson made the cheques out to himself and got Thomas to sign them knowing he wouldn’t be able to read the name. Richardson turned out to have a string of previous convictions and lately “had been drinking to excess and had been going about with a young woman”, said the West London Observer of 06 August 1926. Thomas and Johnson had becoame inseparable; ironically just a week later  the pair were up in the same police court themselves, charged with gaming at Southend where they had been operating a disc game. This was a gambling game where players “threw pennies to a table on each of the eight sections of which were 1136 brass discs. If the coin touched a batten in the middle of the disc an electric light was illuminated, showing the rate of odds payable, which varied from two to twelve to one.” Counsel for the defence urged the court to acquit on the grounds that this was a game of skill, not of chance (West London Observer - 13 August 1926). In an article in the Sunday Mirror in March 1939 Johnson described his working life with Thomas, joining him on his trips to Prague where he bought prizes for the Margate competition stalls, working on the winter tours, being given ten minutes instruction and then being told to drive a truck when the regular driver failed to turn up to work, and being involved in a fatal accident in Reading when he and his wife had been trapped in a trailer when a truck overturned on an icy road, killing the drivers mate. He tells the newspaper how Thomas “became a fruit machine king in London….It will interest the penny punters in this kind of game to know that at Gracechurch Street, our principal saloon, the lowest takings on any day were £135, the highest just under £200. And there were plenty more saloons.” Watching Murphy raking in the cash without been given an opportunity to share proved to much for the usually loyal Johnson and he left Murphy’s employment shortly afterwards to set up on his own.     
As well as fair ground competition stalls and slot machines we know that Thomas ran at least one animal business, the Monkey Jazz band from his business premises at 158 Latimer Road, just behind the station. We know this because there was a media frenzy when burglars inadvertently let the 13 strong monkey Jazz band escape and run riot around west London for a couple of days in November 1926. This didn’t put Thomas off from trying to turn a profit from animals. His most ambitious project opened in July 1930, the Charlton Stadium. Initially at least the stadium was not licensed and there was local opposition, particularly to Sunday race meetings. In September the Lancashire Evening Post reported that “protests against Sunday dog-racing were made a meeting held at Greenwich, last night, which had been organised by the Council of Christian Churches.” Thomas had offered half the proceeds from the Sunday meeting to the Miller General Hospital in Greenwich but they refused to accept the controversially raised money. The protests presumably did nothing to damage the profits from the track. Although he couldn’t read or write Thomas must have felt that he was making a striking success of his life but any complacency he felt was soon shattered when he fell seriously ill with the cancer that killed him at the age of only 39 in 1932.
Probate records show that Thomas was worth over £26,000 at the time of his death, not bad for someone who was still living in a caravan on the dog track. Inevitably perhaps, given that Thomas never married his long term partner, there were arguments about the inheritance. In March 1933 the Sheffield Independent reported an action taken by one of Thomas’s younger brothers, William, who accused Jennie Shilson of cheating him out of £1000 his brother had gifted him. William, described by his own counsel as a ‘man of little education’ told the Court of the King’s Bench Division how he had worked for his older brother since he was 12 but received no wages until 1930 when he was married and his brother agreed to pay him £3 10s 6d a week. According to William on 21st December 1931, at a meeting of the Charlton Stadium Board, held in the caravan parked in the grounds that Thomas and Jennie lived in, Thomas, who by this point was aware that he was dying of cancer, told his brother that he would take care of him and would give him £1000 out of the seasons profits from the dog track. He also said that he would give Timothy, another of the Murphy brothers who worked at the stadium, £1000 and £2000 to Jennie. A few days later Jennie appeared with a cheque made out to William which she got him to endorse on the reverse, saying that she would pay it into the bank for him. After getting Timothy to endorse his cheque, Jennie went off and nothing further was ever heard of the money. Called to the witness box Jennie Shilson, who had inherited the business from Thomas as well as a third of his residual estate, told the court that the gifted cheques were an income tax scam and never meant to be gifts for the two brothers. She said that William was well aware of this and was taking advantage of Thomas’ death to try and get his hands on some of his brother’s money. She was able to show that the money from the cheques had been repaid to the company but this didn’t result in the verdict going in her favour. Counsel for the plaintiff made sure William was asked a lot of questions about his brother’s relationship with Jennie, making it clear to the jury that she lived with Thomas without having recourse to the sacrament of matrimony. The jury found in William’s favour and Jennie was forced to pay him the £1000.     

Thomas Murphy in the probate register


The Latimer Road escapade of Thomas Murphy's Jazz band monkeys

The only reason why God created man is because he was disappointed with the monkey.     
Mark Twain
There is a genre of art dedicated to depicting monkeys behaving like humans; its name, from the French for ‘monkey trick’, is singerie. Thomas Murphy’s monkey Jazz band could be seen as a sort of performance art, living singerie. Or as a way to make a quick buck by cashing on the perennial human fascination with watching simians aping humankind. One chilly late November night the 13 monkeys of Murphy’s primate Jazz band were gifted the opportunity of temporary freedom and indulged in one of London’s most legendary escapades. The full story is retold here in the words of contemporary newspaper accounts as this really did turn out to be a true media circus.    

Simian Jazz Band Let Loose! When thieves broke into a yard at the premises of Mr T. Murphy, amusement caterer, Latimer Road, Notting Hill, London, they made for a large hut which looked like a hen roost, stealthily forced the door open, and let out the occupants. And these turned out to be not chickens, but 13 fully-grown monkeys—members of a jazz band. Franco, the conductor, was last seen clambering about the roof of Paddington Railway Station. When the monkeys escaped they made for the platform of Latimer Road Station. There they frightened several old ladies and were chased by the railway staff. Franco jumped through the open door of a waiting train, and was carried to Paddington. Before the ticket collector could make any attempt to capture him Franco was scampering about the station. Meanwhile Notting Hill Gate has been startled and amused by the antics of three monkey saxophone players. Although the greater part of the troupe was captured, the three remained at liberty over the weekend. They made their base under the platform of the station, from which they made excursions on errands of mischief. One of the porters usually keeps his food in a fire bucket in a waiting room, and when he went to fetch it he found the food gone and a monkey sitting sleeping contentedly. In a second the monkey awoke, left the bucket and re-joined his companions, who were pelting children in the yard below with pieces of wood. Another monkey has been rehearsing the part of Santa Claus, and insists on going down chimneys. When he left his home he was brown, but when he came back of his own accord yesterday morning, he was jet black. A woman in a house in the district was taking tea when she saw monkey sitting on the dresser. She dropped the tray and fainted, and the monkey disappeared up the chimney. Another woman who has lived with her window open for ten years has now nailed it up. "If we do not catch Franco" said Mr Murphy, yesterday, “the troupe simply will not play any tunes on their weird band.” Those who have come back are little the worse for their adventures except that they are a bit wild. But their escape has brought in bills from all over he neighbourhood. “I had to pay 8s for broken crockery and 4s for a pound of chocolates, and several other items."

Dundee Courier - Tuesday 23 November 1926

THE MONKEYS! HALF LONDON LAUGHING AT CIRCUS DESERTERS' PRANKS. FOUR DEFY CAPTURE. LONDON, Monday.—All Notting Hill is chuckling at the pranks of a troupe of 13 monkeys which escaped from circus proprietor's yard the other day. Nine of them have since lost their liberty. To-day, four remained at large. Three of the four have dug themselves in firmly beneath the platform at Latimer-road (Metropolitan) Station and are failing all attempts to capture them. The whereabouts of the fourth and biggest monkey is a complete mystery. He has completely disappeared. On Saturday afternoon, he boarded passing train and was whisked off. He was last seen at Paddington. Before they gained their undesired liberty, the monkeys were members of a jazz band, and Franco the missing monkey, was the leader of the troupe. The monkeys which have installed themselves under the station platform have plenty of food at their command. They have made frequent raids on a stable and greengrocer's yard beneath their lair, and have consumed bananas and horse fodder to their heart's content. One, this morning, was observed sitting on a horse's back, and a volley of banana skins and nutshells was loosed upon a party of would-be captors. Another monkey, with a livelier sense of the appropriate, clutched at a hammer and brandished it with threatening intent. Of the captured monkeys, one lost his liberty in a confectioner's shop, where he had lived a paradisiacal half-hour gorging mintballs and chocolates. Another confronted a dutiful housewife she was earning tea to her husband. She dropped the tray great fright and the monkey devoured the meal. Yet another of the animals appeared to have spent its liberty exploring the possibilities of a chimney. Evidently it liked not such freedom, for it was crestfallen and blackened with soot when it submissively gave itself up.

Hull Daily Mail - Monday 22 November 1926

JAZZ BAND MONKEYS. ADVENTURES OF FRANCO, BIMBO, SNOOKUMS, & SANDY. SHOCK FOR MOTORIST. Notting Hill was still monkey hunting this morning. The quarry by name are  Franco, Bimbo, Snookums, and Sandy, four of the 13 jazz band monkeys who escaped last week, and who have resisted every strategic move devised for their recapture.  Quite a mystery attaches to the whereabouts of Franco, the big leader of the troupe, who has covered up his tracks with the success of a master criminal. The last report received indicated that he was "somewhere in Paddington," though later there was a false rumour that he had wandered so far afield as Brixton. The three monkeys who have consolidated a little stronghold of their own under Latimer-road Station are continuing enjoy the time of their lives. When rations run short they sally forth on thieving expeditions. This morning one successful marauder was observed strolling back to his companions with a stolen loaf of bread tucked under his arm. Early this morning two of the animals almost frightened the life out of a man who came for his car in the yard garage. As he opened the door two black shapes flashed past him, and then when he got inside the garage he found the car occupied by one of the monkeys. He tried to catch the animal, but it defeated his efforts.

Nottingham Evening Post - Tuesday 23 November 1926
ANOTHER JAZZ BAND MONKEY CAPTURED. SAID TO HAVE DONE MUCH DAMAGE AT RUGBY. ‘Monkey captured here this morning after doing considerable damage for which I shall expect you to pay. Am sending him passenger to Euston.' It was a much harassed and rueful Mr. Murphy, the owner of the escaped troupe of jazz band monkeys, who received this telegram from Rugby this morning. He is at this moment probably speculating upon the identity of the monkey bandsman and the extent of its depredations. Mr. Murphy doubtless cherishes the hope that is the mischievous Franco, who has at last been run to earth. Franco was the treasured conductor of his troupe of minor bandsmen and quite considerable cash value was placed upon him. Franco it was who availed himself of a passing underground train to mask his escape, and when last seen he was exploring the possibilities of Paddington. It is possible that his wanderings took him from there to Euston and that a further train introduced him to Rugby. On the other hand, it is possible that Bimbo will prove to be the Rugby miscreant for after his co-conspirator Snookums was caught last night at Latimer road it was discovered that Bimbo had beat a retreat and that Sandy remained in lone retreat under the platform boarding. On arrival at the London station the Rugby monkey, which is at any rate not the leader of the band, was placed in the parcels office to be called for.

Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 24 November 1926

MONKEY JAZZ BAND. More Pranks of Sandy in a Wood Yard. Indignant at the premature assumption of his death, Sandy, one of the monkey jazz band players which escaped from a yard at Latimer-road, London recently, on Saturday demonstrated that the report was “exaggerated” by sitting on a pile of logs in a wood yard near his temporary home and hurling lumps of wood at the custodian of the yard, Mr F. Bullen. Mr. Murphy, the animal's owner, it will he remembered, stated a few days ago that he feared that Sandy had succumbed to the cold. When Mr. Bullen went into the yard with an assistant, he was met with a fusillade of small wood from a corner where Sandy was sitting. One of his shots hit Mr. Bullen, and an attempt to capture him was made. Sandy, however, executed a masterly retreat, covering his retirement with a few well-directed shots and made good his escape. Franko, the leader of the band, is still “reported missing."

Gloucester Citizen - Saturday 27 November 1926

THE TWO MISSING MONKEYS. It is feared that the two monkeys of the 13 who escaped at Notting Hill last week-end still remaining at large have died of exposure. Franko, the leader of the monkey jazz band, for whom a reward was offered, was last seen on Sunday at the railway station where he had taken refuge boarding a train bound for Paddington (presumably with an eye to the Cornish Express and the softer climate of the English Riviera). His companion, Sandy, remained in hiding under the platform at the station. Yesterday Sandy was not seen.

Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 26 November 1926

A BORN LEADER. At the Agricultural Hall I saw Rugby Bimbo, one of the monkeys who escaped on the Underground, and had such a high old time at Rugby before he was caught. He was formerly in a cage on his own, but being somewhat down-hearted, he was provided with a very young monkey as companion, and is greatly cheered by his little playmate, whom he alternately admonishes and pets. Franko, the leader of the Monkey Jazz Band, is still at large, though a reward of £5O is offered for him. The monkeys are all out of hand in his absence, l am told. "Whatever he does they will do, and without him they are sulky and obstinate. Monkeys are like men—some lead some follow, Franko was born to lead."

Birmingham Daily Gazette - Friday 21 January 1927

Winner of the 2014 Serco Prize for Illustration; Monkey Band At Large In Notting Hill 1927 by Gill Bradley