Friday, 20 May 2022

The Garden of Earthly Delights; Cemitério dos Prazeres, Lisbon


I have been a little pushed for time lately and not been able to post as often as I would like. When I saw this interesting article about Lisbon’s Cemitério dos Prazeres on Portuguese news site Mensagem de Lisboa it reminded me that I have been meaning to write about the cemetery since I first visited it back in 2014. Since then I have visited Prazeres many times and have taken literally hundreds of photographs. I thought sharing the article would give me the opportunity to use a few of my photos and save me the hassle of having to write the text myself. Translating Alvaro Filho’s article would be much quicker than writing something from scratch, right? Wrong. I thought I would just have to put the original text through google translate, correct the obvious errors and polish up the English a little bit.  But the output from google translate is riddled with errors and ungrammatical to the point of incomprehensibility at times; it took me a lot longer than I thought to produce this. Still, it was worth the effort – it is an excellent article on a fascinating cemetery. I just hope I don’t get sued for breach of copyright:    

For two decades historian Licínio Fidalgo has been clocking in for work amongst the mausoleums and crypts of the renowned Cemitério dos Prazeres in Lisbon. For the last seven years he has been the senior official responsible for the cemetery which opened in 1833 and today occupies 12 hectares, has seven thousand tombs and around a million permanent inhabitants.

The liveliness of Licínio’s walk is at odds with his sepulchral profession. The jovial 62-year-old is an enthusiastic guide who leads us through the lush cypresses of the cemetery to the bowels of a colossal pyramid-shaped mausoleum. Here a crypt opens into two floors and holds dozens of coffins; a setting straight out of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s more gothic tales. Totally undaunted, Licínio gropes through the shadows, flashlight in hand. The narrow hallway, no more than five feet wide, is flanked by coffins that rest on stone shelves. The faltering air supply descends from the surface through a small duct and gently sways a spider’s web. Our path ends in a large chamber; our guide shines the beam of his torch into the gloom to reveal walls packed floor to ceiling with tombs.

Being at ease in the presence of skeletal remains has been, if you will pardon the pun, the backbone of Licínio’s career. Licínio has been working at Cemitério dos Prazeres for 20 years, the last seven as general administrator, a kind of mayor of the necropolis.  The geography of the cemetery is a reflection of the living city outside its walls, with its alleys, courtyards, roads, traditional Portuguese houses and even a spectacular view of the river Tejo and the 25 de Abril bridge. This city of the dead spreads over almost 30 acres, houses seven thousand tombs and about a million permanent inhabitants, buried during the two hundred years since Prazeres opened in 1833. And like other any other city it is subject to myriad problems and challenges that Licínio faces with apparent tranquillity, all in the name of maintaining peace – in this case, eternal peace – in the cemetery.

Licínio, a historian with a degree from the Lisbon Faculty of Arts, hails originally from Coimbra and arrived in the capital as a child. His career began at the city council’s Office for Lisbon Studies; professional life among the tombs and mausoleums was purely down to chance. “There was a major restructuring in the local authority and, before finding myself redeployed somewhere I didn’t want to be, I started asking around about other jobs. Then, a friend told me: come here and see this, you'll like it. So I went, I saw and as promised I liked!” he says.

The friend had referred him to the Cemetery Management Division of the city council. In his first 15 years in his new position, Licínio divided his time between all Lisbon's cemeteries, overseeing the maintenance and restoration of the monuments, or looking after students carrying out research for their master and doctoral theses. In 2014 his dedication culminated in a promotion to coordinate the most iconic necropolis in the Portuguese capital. His background in history makes the manager see Prazeres with the eyes of a museum visitor. “This is a building with traces of Art Nouveau and clear Masonic iconography”, he says in a professorial tone, pointing to the imposing mausoleum of Pedro de Sousa Holstein, the Duke of Palmela, a pyramidal structure 40 feet high, Europe's largest private tomb.  Built in 1849 on a two acre plot, the mausoleum is a complex structure that houses a cemetery in front of the pyramid, which in turn contains a mausoleum and a crypt. In all 200 bodies rest there. “Outside, here are the Duke's servants,” explains Licínio, pointing to the large plot, “following Masonic tradition, the men buried on the right and the women on the left.”

Licinius points out that the term ‘burial’ is sometimes misused. “These were actually buried, as they are in contact with the earth,” he explains, referring to the duke's servants who lie in the ground, “but those who are in the mausoleum or the crypt, no. There, there is inhumation, a process whose opposite is exhumation,” he explains. This small detail contains a social distinction. The burials, in direct contact with the ground, are simpler and cheaper, because the bodies tend to deteriorate faster. The vaults are isolated from the earth by stone shelves and the coffins are lined with lead or zinc. “To preserve the body longer. Nobody wants to take the risk of being resurrected on Judgment Day with one less phalange”, the historian elucidates. Still in the funerary semantic field, the term “mausoleum” denotes a superior status. Most of the tombs are simpler, built to house the coffin at the bottom and the top decorated with a stone frame or a small chapel. The most illustrious dead, such as the Duke of Palmela, are in mausoleums with the right to a crypt, a basement where you can walk among the dead. Social distinction is also ornamental. The largest tomb in Europe has undergone several changes over the years. The pyramidal format was one of them, as was the retreat of the pediment and the inclusion of new Greek columns. Inside, the Duke's granddaughter, the third Duchess of Palmela, Maria Luísa de Sousa Holstein, hired the Italian Giuseppe Cinatti to produce marble sculptures. Born in Siena, José Cinatti – as he was popularly known in Lisbon– became famous for his set designs at the São Carlos and Dona Maria II theatres. He was not the only Italian to create funerary sculptures for Prazeres. Another scenographer, Luigi Manini, designed the tomb of Carvalho Monteiro, the owner of the famous Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, a merchant so rich that he became known as Monteiro of the Millions.

The tomb of “Monteiro dos Milhões” is the location for another of the cemeteries curious stories; the key that opens the mausoleum door is, according to legend, the same that opened the front doors of Carvalho Monteiro’s mansion in Quinta da Regaleira and his house in Lisbon, on Rua do Alecrim. The eccentricity of the prosperous merchant, who kept the key to his eternal abode in his pocket until his last breath, had a very mundane origin. Carvalho Monteiro made his fortune in Brazil and rumour had it that when he returned to Portugal, he disguised himself as a beggar. “His own sister would have driven him from the door of the family home but his mother scolded her and ordered her to serve the stranger some soup. After the prodigal merchant had revealed his identity, he always took care of his mother, but when he died he did not leave any inheritance for his sister”, says Licínio, suggesting that part of his fortune would have been buried with him.

A curious story, but not like that of the military engineer Aniceto da Rocha and his quadrangular tomb, ornamented with a… dice. “Maybe he wanted to dice with death”, quips Licínio. Cunning, Aniceto designed a loaded dice, the sum of values ​​on opposite faces does not equal seven, like a true dice. Despite the ruse, the engineer was unable to outwit death and ended up losing the bet. Death, however, found Aniceto da Rocha standing. “He seems to have taken the expression 'the military die standing up' seriously”, explains Licínio. The engineer designed his tomb so that the coffin was placed in it vertically. The tomb opening system is also ingenious; a handle is attached to the dice and, when activated, opens the lock, turns the dice and slowly makes the lid slide open.

Not for a moment imagining he was trying to outwit the grim reaper, the prosperous Spanish coffee trader Francisco Mantero donated 70 percent of his fortune to the charity of Santa Casa de Misericórdia and his body to science. Owner of the fabulous Quintas das Conchas e dos Lilases in Lisbon, Mantero suffered from a degenerative disease and was buried in two stages: first, his torso, and then his head. The mausoleum of the Mantero Family is still under the care of the Santa Casa. It stands out for the beautiful Byzantine-style mosaic at the top of the façade showing the image of a Christ Pantocrator, with his hand in the position of blessing. Inside, you can see two tombs, a larger one with the merchant's body and a smaller one, where his head was buried.

There are also those who, whilst still alive, wished to keep their eye on their inevitable future. The tomb of the cocoa merchant José Luís Constantino Dias, the Viscount of Valle Flor, was built in one of the highest parts of Prazeres. “So it could be seen by the viscount from his mansion, almost two kilometers from the cemetery, in Alto de Santo Amaro”, says Licínio. The tomb is the second largest in the Cemitério dos Prazeres, only smaller than the pyramid of the Duke of Palmela. The palace from where the viscount viewed his current home is now the luxurious Pestana Palace and its architecture served as the inspiration for the mausoleum, a kind of miniature version of it. Unlike the Palace, which is now a hotel, the tomb only has spaces for 64 guests.

A plot in Prazeres is not for ordinary mortals. Currently, there are generally vacancies in the plots reserved for writers (I therefore live in hope) and also for actors, agents of the Polícia de Segurança Pública and firefighters. “Although the burial concession is a prerogative of the city council, customarily the appropriate professional association contacts the administration and requests the plot”, explains Licínio.  The area for firefighters is the oldest of the occupational plots in the cemetery. It dates from 1878 and was designed by Dias da Silva, the architect responsible for Lisbon’s bull ring, the Campo Pequeno. There were a few victims of the current pandemic laid to rest in Prazeres, a continuation of the  original purpose of the necropolis, which was created to deal with the cholera epidemic that swept Lisbon in 1833.

Before then, burials in the city took place in consecrated ground, in or around churches. A royal prohibition of intramural interment in churches, on health grounds, led to the creation of cemeteries. A site on the high ground overlooking Alcântara in the west of the capital, was one of the natural choices for a new cemetery, partly because burials already took place there at the hermitage of Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres, next to a holy well whose waters had been credited with healing properties since the 16th century.  Today the holy well is a forgotten fountain on Possidónio da Silva street. The hermitage chapel was sold at the beginning of the 20th century and converted into a tavern but despite this the name lives on, bequeathed to the nearby cemetery.

For those who have never written a book, trodden the boards on stage, arrested a criminal or extinguished a fire, the alternative is to compete for a abandoned tomb. Licínio stops in front of one of them, on avenue number 1, under the shade of leafy cypresses. It belongs to the family of Comendador José Pereira Soares. A pinned notice announces that it is considered abandoned and will soon be available for public auction. Article 66 of the Municipal Cemeteries’ Regulations considers any mausoleum abandoned where the current owners or their whereabouts are unknown or they have not exercised their rights for a period of at least 15 years. “After the plots are identified, the administration puts up a public notice and the owners have 60 days to contact us. Otherwise, the tomb is declared abandoned”, says Licínio. The Comendador's tomb will be among the 30 plots that will go up for auction but no date has been set yet. It is a small chapel style mausoleum with space for up to eight occupants. It is well located; the poet Fernando Pessoa was as a neighbour for a few years (until he was exhumed and reinterred in the Jerónimos monastery in Belem). “It's a mixed model,” says Licínio, “which can easily cost 30 thousand euros.” He does the arithmetic in his head, basing it on the assumption that the last one of the same size sold for 26 thousand. The laborious calculation of the value of a tomb or mausoleum, involves the area (not just on the surface, but also the depth), the state of conservation and the typology. The simplest ones, with only one stone frame – the “needle” type – enclose the dead underground. In the “chapel” model of mausoleum, the occupants are interred above ground, while in the “mixed”, as the name suggests, there are interments above ground and burials in a vault.

Despite the light rain, a couple calmly walks their baby among the tombstones. Licínio watches the pram go over a crossroads, one of many that intersect the 52 avenues in the Cemitério dos Prazeres. “The city of the dead is a mirror of the city of the living”, the administrator observes, as he guides us to the viewing point, at the far end of the cemetery, a small patio with an open view to the Tagus and the 25 de Abril bridge. An empty wine bottle suggests that the living have been here, contemplating the sight of the dead. Our guide confirms that, like other famous cemeteries in the world, Prazeres is often frequented by those who haven't yet kicked the bucket. Licínio cites the example  of Père-Lachaise, in Paris, where fans make pilgrimages from all over the world just to take a drink next to the tombs where their idols rest, or try to rest,  during their eternal sleep. The mention of the Parisian cemetery is no accident. “Père-Lachaise was the template at the time the cemetery was built, and served as a direct inspiration. In a way, Prazeres is a slightly smaller version of the Parisian cemetery”, says the historian who whilst on holiday, usually spends at least one day of his trip touring of the cemeteries of the cities he visits. “There is always something to learn”, he explains. Mirroring itself on a Parisian cemetery did not stop Prazeres developing its own character. For example, the mausoleums in the shape of Portuguese houses, decorated with azulejos on the facade, windows and eaves and threshing floors on the roof; a style of funerary architecture quite popular in the middle of the last century and found only here.

What he learned and still learns about life among the dead Licínio Fidalgo shares with the thousands of people who in recent years have also dedicated a few hours to strolling amongst the tombs. He and Gisela Monteiro, a mathematician who recalculated her career path and now assists him at the cemetery, are responsible for various guided tours that take place at least once a month in Prazeres. These tours are free, the itineraries are published monthly on the on the city council website. With an average customer rating of 4.5 on Tripadvisor , the tours range from an overview of the cemetery to more specialised tours dedicated to the writers, musicians and women buried there, and to Freemasonry. One of the most popular is the Fernando Pessoa tour, an illustrious guest of Prazeres, until he was moved to Jerónimos, in 1985. The poet's mother, Dionizia, and his great love, Ofélia Queiroz, however, are still here.  There is also a tour  of the most impressive funerary art; the arcane symbology carved onto tombs is enough to make Dan Brown envious - inverted torches, thread cut by scissors, broken columns - no ornament is by chance. “When most of the tombs were built, a large part of the population was illiterate. The symbols help those who cannot read to identify who is there, what they did and even how they died”, explains Licínio. The inverted torch, for example, symbolizes the extinguished flame of life, just like the scissor that cuts a thread. The broken column indicates a person who died prematurely. The beautiful female statues on top of the tombs are also representative: if they hold an anchor, they are Hope; a cross and a book, Faith; while the one surrounded by several children is Charity.

The tour of the Cemitério dos Prazeres ends where it started, in the large courtyard at the entrance. Before we finish there is still time for Licínio to indicate his last improvement: a plaque with the emblem of Sporting Lisbon on the tomb of José de Alvalade, the founder of the club. “Despite being a Benfica supporter, I thought it was absurd not to see a mention of our great rival in the cemetery. There are Benfica crests in several parts of the cemetery”, he tells me.  Licínio got in touch, via some friends of friends, with the current president of Sporting, Frederico Varandas and, at the end of October, he represented the club at a simple ceremony to install the Sporting emblem on the tomb of its founding member. All thanks to a benfiquista.

To cover the challenges of managing a necropolis – from maintenance to football heritage – Licínio has just 14 employees. “I really need twice as many,” he acknowledges. Apart from gravediggers, where he could easily take seven more; but it's not easy to recruit. “It's a demanding job emotionally and physically. Have you ever thought about what it's like to bury a dead person weighing 200 kilos?” The remuneration, however, is below the national minimum wage. The emotional costs are also heavy, and not just because of the constant contact with the grief of those saying their final goodbyes to loved ones. Sometimes there are incidents that call for coolness. “One day, a man who was attending his sister's funeral got sick, had a heart attack and died”, recalls Licínio, of the day he was expecting just one dead person and ended up with two. Despite conveniently being already in a cemetery, the second deceased was buried in another necropolis. Faced with constant challenges, the mayor of the immense city of the dead knows that it is impossible to please everyone, alive or not. We wanted to know if Licínio had a tomb reserved for himself in the territory he administers. "Of course not. And if I did, what if my successor had some reason to complain about my management?” he laughs, with the usual good humor, of someone who knows better than anyone, that everybody is going to be dead one day, you just have to give them time. 

Alvaro Filho

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

No time to be making enemies; Alexander Litvinenko (1962-2006) Highgate West Cemetery

Alexander Litvinenko’s grave at Highgate Cemetery is impossible to miss as it lies in the middle of the of the path less than a hundred metres from the main entrance. You almost have to walk around it to make you way into the cemetery.  On 21st September last year The European Court of Human Rights ruled that The Russian Federation was responsible for the former Russian security officer’s murder by poisoning in 2006. Russia made no attempt to clear itself of the accusation of assassinating Litvinenko and the court pronounced that it “considers that adverse inferences may be drawn from the respondent state’s refusal to disclose any documents relating to the domestic investigation. Noting the government’s failure to displace the prima facie evidence of state involvement, the court cannot but conclude that Mr Litvinenko was poisoned by Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun acting as agents of the respondent state. The act complained of is attributable to that state.” It awarded Litvinenko’s widow Marina, who had brought the case, €100,000 in damages and €25,000 in costs.  Marina’s reaction to the ruling was that “It has taken 15 years to establish conclusively that Vladimir Putin murdered my husband, and to hold Russia accountable for its actions in an international court. I would like to hope that Sasha’s death, and the quest for justice that has dominated my life since then, have not been in vain. This ruling should make a turning point in the appeasement of Putin.”  The ECHR’s judgement did not provide the turning point Marina Litvinenko was hoping for in the West’s craven attitude to Russian aggression. At the time Russia was still a member of the Council for Europe (“the continent's leading human rights organisation” according to its own website), having joined in 1996.  Nearly two decades of ignoring Vladimir Putin’s flagrant disregard of human rights finally came to an end on 3rd March this year when the Council suspended Russia’s membership following the invasion of Ukraine. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, realising that every cloud has a silver lining, said Russia’s suspension from the Council was a “good opportunity” for it to reinstate the death penalty.  On the 15th March Russia casually announced that it was initiating a withdrawal procedure and gave notice that it wished to remove itself from the Council on 31st December 2022 anyway. The Council responded the same day by terminating their membership with immediate effect.  

Often referred to as a spy Alexander Litvinenko was in fact a senior officer of the Russian Federal Security Service who specialised in organised crime. In 1994 he met Boris Berezovsky when he took part in the official investigation of an assassination attempt on the Oligarch. It was Berezovsky who introduced Litvinenko to Vladimir Putin at a time the businessman was supporting Putin’s bid to become Boris Yeltsin’s successor. The meeting did not go well and Litvinenko was discouraged by Putin’s total disinterest in the evidence of corruption within the FSB that he had amassed. When Berezovsky accused Putin of being behind the plot to kill him Litvinenko was drawn into the fray, on the losing side, and was eventually dismissed from his job and found himself under investigation on charges of corruption. In 2000 he fled to Turkey with his family and claimed asylum at the US embassy. When this was refused, he bought a one-way airline ticket to Moscow from Istanbul, via Heathrow, and claimed asylum at his stopover destination. This time his application was accepted and he eventually became a UK national. He wrote two books about Russian involvement with state sponsored terrorism and supported his patron Berezovsky’s campaign against Vladimir Putin. The Russian state silenced him in 2006 when two of their agents, Dmitri Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi poisoned his tea at a meeting in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair. The two Russians left a trail of radioactive Polonium-210 all over London and had to be treated themselves for radioactive poisoning when they returned post haste to Moscow after the meeting. Lugovoi later became (and still is) a member of the Duma, the Russian parliament. The accusations of murder have done little to hamper his career in Russia, in fact they seem to enhanced it. In 2008 he told El Pais, the Spanish newspaper “in the interests of the state, those who cause serious harm to the government should be destroyed” and he later became a presenter at Zvezda, a TV channel owned by the Ministry of Defense, where he presented a programme called ‘Traitors’ about Soviet defectors; the programmes strapline – ‘each traitor will have an inglorious end.’

The Guardian reported on Litvinenko’s funeral under the headline ‘Confusion envelops Litvinenko even as he goes to the grave’ (08 December 2006);

Alexander Litvinenko's funeral, like his death, was a mixture of mystery and confusion. As his body was laid to rest in the same north London cemetery where Karl Marx lies buried, there was an argument between mourners as to whether the ceremony should be non-denominational or Muslim and a disagreement about whether he had really converted to Islam.

In London the stormy day started with a ceremony at Regent's Park mosque attended by the dead man's father, Valter, as well as the Chechen exile leader, Akhmed Zakayev, Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, and a few others. Camera crews and photographers were each charged £250 to attend the brief midday prayer session, which was also attended by around 300 regular worshippers, some of whom were left bemused by the media attention.

While some of Mr Litvinenko's associates claim he converted to Islam shortly before his death, others expressed scepticism. Valter Litvinenko, who has said that he understood his son had converted, said after the ceremony: "I would like to thank all of my son's brothers in faith for gathering for him today." Mr Bukovsky said that the dead man had not been religious but wanted to be buried on Chechnyan soil because he was ashamed of Russia. He then accused the British government of "appeasement" in their dealings with Russia over the death and described Vladimir Putin as a "vampire".

Mr Litvinenko's family had asked for the former KGB agent's coffin to be brought into the prayer hall, but concerns about the potential for radiation being emitted from his body meant they were refused, and instead held a small prayer ceremony without the coffin.

The mourners travelled to Highgate cemetery where they were joined by around 50 others for a service that was non-denominational at the request of his widow, Marina, who attended with the couple's son, Anatoly, 12. Both Mr Litvinenko's parents and his first wife, Natalia, attended. Other mourners included his friend Alex Goldfarb; the exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky; the film-maker Andrei Nekrasov; and Lord Rea, patron and director of the Save Chechnya campaign. After the airtight coffin had been lowered into the grave by six pallbearers, and Valter Litvinenko had read a eulogy, proceedings were interrupted by an imam performing Muslim rites.

After the service Mr Goldfarb said: "It was supposed to be a non-religious, non-denominational ceremony, according to the wishes of the widow. Unfortunately, some people appeared and against the explicit wishes of the widow performed Muslim rites over the funeral. We had a choice to turn it into an unseemly situation but Marina asked us to respect the memory of Alexander and let these people do what they did. Let God be their judge ... I do not know what Alexander wanted. Akhmed (Zakayev) believes that he converted to Islam on his deathbed, but I have strong reservations."

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

All hail the monstrous regiment of women....

For International Women’s Day the London Dead would like to share some of its favourite memorials in London cemeteries and remember the intriguing women they commemorate. Cemeteries were (are) no less patriarchal than the rest of society so women long received unequal treatment and almost always second billing to their husbands. Women were viewed as nothing more than an adjunct to the significant male in their lives and recorded on tombstones as ‘daughter or wife of…’ (or even worse ‘relict of…’). But of course, many women were much more interesting than the boring old fucks they were married to; this is a selection of women who steadfastly refused to play second fiddle.   

Anne Maria Lucena (1834-1908), Lavender Hill Cemetery, Enfield

The memorial shows solicitor Stephen Lancaster Lucena’s second family in a sentimental grouping with the two children Stephen and Annie Elizabeth being read to by their mother Anne Marie, quite probably from the bible or some other religious book as the little girl is clearly praying. Even the dog seems attentive to the word of God. The domestic group was originally watched over by a pair of guardian angels but only one is now in situ, the other, toppled from its base, now lies headless and wingless behind the monument, the head is completely missing but the broken wings are tucked into a niche on the main memorial for want of any better place to put them.  The piety of the sculptured group conceals a series of late Victorian and early Edwardian scandals; both of the children were conceived outside of wedlock, their mother a household servant in their father’s house and in later life the praying little girl, Annie Elizabeth, went through a spectacularly messy divorce from an army major which resulted in the murder of her mother and the suicide of her ex-husband.

Anne Maria Benn met her future husband when she was 27 and working with her mother Hannah as domestic servants in the 56-year-old lawyer’s house, Rose Cottage, in Enfield. She became pregnant by her employer and went to have two children with him. He married her in 1874, three years after his first wife died and just two years before he died himself. Anne Maria put her husbands modest fortune to good use and turned herself into a very rich woman by property speculation. Her wealth failed to protect her from her psychologically damaged and brutal son-in-law who ordered her in 1908. Full story here.

Marthe Josephine Besson (1852-1908), Highgate East Cemetery

Up a steep and neglected muddy side path in Highgate East Cemetery, hidden amongst the undergrowth and surrounded by toppled and leaning gravestones, you will find this striking monument to a Victorian businesswoman. The inscription reads: 

In loving memory of
Marthe Josephine Besson,
daughter of Gustave Besson
of Paris and London
and beloved wife of Adolphe Fontaine.
Died 15th Sept 1908, aged 56 years.
Her great talents and untiring energy gained the praise of the foremost masters in the musical world.

It looks like a touching tribute from a grieving husband and one could lazily assume that Adolphe and Marthe were mutually devoted and lived long and contentedly in conjugal bliss. But one would be wrong. 12 years earlier Adolphe was trailing through Europe after Marthe and her Spanish lover accusing her of stealing his fortune, trying to have her arrested by Scotland Yard and generating a scandal that he must still have been trying to live down when he instructed A. MacDonald & Co. Ltd of Euston Road to produce his wife’s funeral monument.

Marthe certainly did not love Adolphe and would have been furious to see his name on her spectacular memorial. An astute business woman whose life was blighted by tragedy, Marthe was a strong willed woman who knew her own heart. Full story here and further details here.

 Dora Diamant (1898-1952) United Synagogue Cemetery, Marlow Road, East Ham

In the bed directly opposite me a woman lies dying. An older woman. She’s whimpering incessantly, trying to say something.  The nurses are trying to understand what she says. Earlier on she cried. She lay quite still and the tears flowed from her closed eyes down her face. A beautiful woman, fairly plump, cheeks a little pink, maybe she has a fever. What does she think? Does she know she is dying? She seems to be conscious. Then she certainly knows it. It is simply not something one cannot overlook. I was not as far gone a few weeks ago, but still I knew exactly how things looked....She is an Englishwoman so at least she is dying in her homeland. .......(Later, when the nurses had moved screens around the dying woman’s bed) I think it is the end over there. It is difficult to think about anything else. Now and then one hears laughter from the other end of the ward. On the whole most are quiet, not depressed, although they too think of nothing else it seems.

Dora Diamant, Plaistow Hospital April 1951

At 53 Dora Diamant was hardly old but she knew she was dying. She had been diagnosed with chronic nephritis, a condition which eventually causes kidney failure and for which there was no known cure. The disease could have killed her at any time; the only suggestion her doctors had to prolong her life was bed rest and a strict diet with restricted salt and protein. Even then they couldn’t tell her if she had years, months or just weeks to live. She was almost frantic with worry about her seventeen year old daughter, a beautiful but unworldly child who had spent most of her sheltered childhood in hospitals and boarding schools and was so shy that she could barely bring herself to speak to strangers. How would she cope with life without her mother to look after her?  Her other preoccupation were her memories of her first lover, Franz Kafka. Death would erase them unless she committed them to paper.  On March 4 1951 in black ink , she wrote across the front cover of a bright red Silvine school exercise book ‘To be given to Max Brod’. On the inside cover she wrote her address ‘Ward Pasteur 1, Plaistow Hospital, E15’ (Dora lived in Finchley and so can be excused not knowing Plaistow Hospital was in E13 not E15).  In the blank pages of the exercise book she took herself back to the summer of 1923 and the seaside town of Graal-Müritz on the Baltic coast, the place where as a 25 year old volunteer at the Berlin Jewish People’s holiday camp for refugee children, she had met and fallen in love with Kafka. 

Full story here.

Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957), Brompton Cemetery

“Quite suddenly and simply by chance, I once met a bizarre lady while taking tea with some friends in London. She arrived wearing black velvet from head to foot, her mouth painted blood red, and carrying a very tall umbrella with a decorated handle. And, you must understand, this ensemble was being worn in the middle of the day. This picturesque ruin of a woman was very tall and thin, and gave the impression of formidable strength. It was then I was introduced to the Marchesa Luisa Casati for the first and last time. She had made her entrance into that room looking wonderful and saying very little. She wasn’t beautiful—she was spectacular. Here was a woman possessing a presence one would never forget.”

Quentin Crisp

Full story here

Moura Budberg (1892-1974) Chiswick New Cemetery

In her final years Moura Budberg lived in a ‘large rambling flat’ in the Cromwell Road according to Michael Blakemore, who visited her at the request of Sir Laurence Olivier, ‘attended by a female servant, also Russian…and equally cranky… Moura had on a long dress, by no means new, but appropriate to a countess, and her grey hair, its colour improved by the application of some silvery liquid was swept on top of her head. A tiny metallic trickle ran down the side of her face.’ According to other sources she was swollen and arthritic, kept a half bottle of vodka in her handbag, passed her time making small bets on horse races at Ladbrokes or watching Pinky and Perky on television and, as she was perpetually short of money, shoplifting (for which she was arrested at least once). The former beauty still craved company and in his memoirs, Alan Ross recalls that her ‘entertaining, helped along by various Russian acolytes, was now much reduced but invitations were peremptory. Any excuses… were brushed aside as if of no account. “Just come in for a little moment,” she would wheedle in her husky voice, which remained distinctive and seductive long after all other physical charms had fled and she had become heavily square in shape.’ Another acquaintance, William Shier, tells us that two or three years before she died, she was beginning to sort ‘through piles of material from cardboard boxes that littered the living and dining rooms of her house in Cromwell Road after she had given in to the pleas of her friends to write her memoirs.’  The much-requested memoir was never written, ‘the work seemed sometimes to bore and exhaust her and she would telephone urging me to come over for tea and vodka.’ In 1974 Moura moved to Italy to live in the sun, with her son, but died a few months later. Her body was shipped back to England and after a funeral ceremony at the Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile at Emperors Gate (just off the Cromwell Road, close to Moura’s old flat) she was buried at the uninspiring Chiswick New Cemetery in a small patch of other Orthodox burials. 

Full story here.

Joyce McQueen (1934-2010) Manor Park Cemetery

The night before Joyce McQueen was due to be cremated at Manor Park Cemetery her husband Ronald and the couple’s children had to decide whether to postpone the funeral to give them time to organise a double interment. Joyce and Ronald’s youngest son Lee (better known to the world at large as Alexander McQueen, haute couturist) had been found dead at his home in Mayfair after apparently hanging himself in a fit of depression brought on by his mother’s death. They probably had no real choice but to go ahead with Joyce’s funeral as planned; if Alexander had committed suicide they may have had to wait some time for his body to be released by the coroner.

Full story here.

Elizabeth Alice Frances Hawkins-Whitshed (1860-1934) Brompton Cemetery

Although we know, courtesy of the newspapers, exactly what the newly married Mrs Elizabeth Burnaby was wearing when she set off on honeymoon (‘The bride’s travelling dress was stone-coloured cashmere, trimmed with satin to match, a white chip bonnet, and long white feather’), the only thing we know about the honeymoon itself is that Lizzie came back pregnant and that she and her husband were barely on speaking terms. They lived in London, together, until the birth of their only child, a boy, but before they could celebrate their first wedding anniversary Lizzie had moved to Switzerland ‘for the sake of her health.’ The presumptive consumptive startled everyone by taking up mountain climbing, something almost unheard for a woman in the dying years of the Victorian age. The cosseted ward of the Chancellor discovered unimagined freedom in the mountains, including the hitherto novel experience of putting “on my own boots, and I was none too sure on which foot should go which boot. It is difficult for me to realize now that for several years longer it did not occur to me that I could do without a maid … I owe a supreme debt of gratitude to the mountains for knocking from me the shackles of conventionality, but I had to struggle hard for my freedom. My mother faced the music on my behalf when my grand-aunt, Lady Bentinck, sent out a frantic S.O.S. ‘Stop her climbing mountains! She is scandalizing all London and looks like a Red Indian.’”  As well as being sunburnt Lizzie climbed in pragmatic short skirts which barely came down to her knees, to her scandalised contemporaries, practically naked in other words.

Full story here.

Betsi Cadwaladyr 1789 - 1860, Abney Park Cemetery

The penniless and obscure Betsi Cadwaladr was buried in 1860 in Abney Park Cemetery, either laid above, below, or sandwiched between, three complete strangers in a pauper’s grave dug deep enough to take four cheap coffins. There were probably not many mourners at her funeral and no marker or memorial was erected over the burial spot.  The headstone now over her grave is new, put up in 2012 by the Royal College of Nursing and a Welsh Health Board that had adopted her name and proclaimed Betsi  a Welsh national heroine. Not everyone was pleased to see the obscure Betsi Cadwaladr, or Elizabeth Davies as she was also known, launched into posthumous celebrity. In Wales there were dark mutterings accusing the former nurse of having worked as a prostitute in the Liverpool Docks; in January 2012 the Welsh Daily Post felt obliged to defend her honour against her detractors and calumniators, retorting that there was no evidence that she had ever sold herself on the streets of Merseyside.

Full story here

Friday, 4 March 2022

The arrival of spring?: St Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green

The weather was beautiful last weekend in London; clear air, cloudless blue skies and winter sunshine. Just a week before storm Eunice had been knocking over trees and ripping tiles from roofs and then we had had a couple of days of rain. Some areas of the catholic cemetery at Kensal Green were completely waterlogged; some graves were only accessible by skiff as you can see in the photo below.  Not for the first time it seems; this is from the Willesden Chronicle of Friday 03 May 1895.

Kensal Green Catholic Cemetery — A contemporary states that a number newly made graves in this part of the great cemetery at Kensal Green were suddenly flooded in the heavy storm on Saturday. As many as eight bodies had to be left in the church through the night and much distress was occasioned among mourners who had to leave the cemetery without the completion of the funerals.

I came across an interesting account of a visit to St Mary’s in the Saturday Supplement to the Daily Herald of 16 October 1915. The left leaning Herald was published in London between 1912 and 1964 (though printed in Manchester from 1930) and was a staunch supporter of the labour movement and the Labour Party. It was a broadsheet newspaper and relaunched as the Sun in 1964 (it only became a tabloid in 1969 when taken over by Rupert Murdoch). The article, entitled ‘At Kensal Green’ was by James W. Butler; I can find out nothing about him at all. His language seems rather high flown for a journalist.  

The dull canopied skies were lowering darkly upon the graves in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Kensal Green. October, with her grey, cold robes, chilled the blood in the veins. Leaves, dead and dying, with the dappled russet-gold of Nature’s mourning, strew the pathways and litter the decaying grass, or flitter for an instant on a headstone. Symbolical are they of the life that was in the spring; and the death near at hand.

In an almost obscure position, a few feet from the footpath, lies the plain white sarcophagus that covers the remains of the great Victorian poet, Francis Thompson, “a true poet, one of small band,” to quote George Meredith’s tribute, which was enclosed in the coffin, together with roses from Meredith’s Garden. No grandiloquent epitaph adorns the simply carved stone. Just as he who lies underneath would have wished it; “Meet me in the nurseries of Heaven.” 

The sound of feet crunching the small stones into the ground catches my ear. Glancing round, I see approaching along the narrow winding path a pathetic little procession. A woman, really a girl, shabbily clad, obviously of the costermonger type, is sobbing herself almost to distraction. She is being held up by an anaemic-looking young fellow, wearing corduroy trousers, a cheap black cap, a cheaper black strip of cotton stuff knotted round his throat, and a tattered serge coat through which brazenly peep parts of his shirt. Close behind follow three puny slum children; tragedy written plainly on their ferret-like faces. They, too, wear black kerchiefs round their necks—their only sign of mourning; whilst several relations and friends straggle in the rear. Poverty is strongly portrayed, and throws its shadows across their faces and manifests itself in their scanty attire.

Arrived at the graveside, tears and emotion were strongly universal. The poor young mother’s lamentations rent the chill air. She is frantic, and it takes the united efforts of her friends to prevent her from throwing herself into the grave. The priest sprinkles the cheap white coffin with holy water. Two penny bunches of white chrysanthemums are reverently dropped on to the lid as the tiny box is lowered into the hole, and with the rites finished by the clergyman and his two surpliced servers proceed towards the church to meet another funeral.

The small band of meanly-dressed mourners return to their one-horse coach. Eight try and crowd in; some have to walk back to Leather-lane. The ill-kempt children are waiting their turn. Quietly a two-shilling piece finds itself into one of the grimy little hands. But the movement has not escaped a lynx-eyed youth with a short leg.

“What’s the bloke giv’n yer? He greedily asks, leaning over the child and grasping her hand. He opens the fingers deftly and sees the spoils. Quickly he brings from his vest pocket a copper coin with which he rapidly rings the changes. other members are too grief-stricken to notice what has occurred…

With purple stole and black biretta the priest is waiting near the small mausoleums and chapels, containing the remains of foreign princes, counts, and members of the Roman Catholic aristocracy. In the distance and coming up the small roadway from the main gate is a gorgeous funeral cortege. Four prancing Flemish horses draw a hearse surmounted with a tray of black nodding feathers. Bay horses, the insignia of gentility, are doing their best in the coaches to add dignity and grandeur to the occasion. Costly wreaths almost hide the beautifully-polished oak shell, and decorate the carriage lamps of every vehicle.

It is a lavish display of studied position and wealth. But the dead child is not disturbed. mourners bent double with grief alight from the coaches. They hold their heads aloft, with chins pointed towards Heaven. It is the demeanour of the dignity of grief. Children are conspicuous by their absence. It is the custom; it is proper; it is etiquette. The priest again leads the way to the grave — in another part of the burial ground.

“… My soul hath relied upon His word: my soul hath hoped in the Lord…” The noble antiphons of the dead are recited. A few slight sobs are heard as the coffin is lowered into its last resting-place; but faces are under control. There is no unseemly demonstration of weeping. With stately mien the mourners return to the luxurious coaches, upholstered with comfortable seats.

"Meet me in the nurseries of Heaven.” Thompson, a fervent lover of children. “The Heart of Childhood, so divine for me.” He loved the small wan flowers of life; the children of the poor; of the streets. He wrote of them even to the last.

The mists were creeping’ into Harrow-road as I boarded a tram for Westbourne Park Station. Some distance further along the sidewalk toiled the lame young fellow with two companions. They were walking into the doors of a coffee-shop when the tram drew abreast. Then, indeed, I felt almost glad that the two shillings had changed hands.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller; St Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green


BIG FAT GYPSY FUNERAL Hundreds of Travellers from across UK descend on Surrey for funeral of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding star Paddy Doherty’s dad, hailed the ‘father of all Travellers’

Mourners joined the Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Celebrity Big Brother star to say goodbye to Simon Doherty, remembered as the "father of all Travellers". More than a dozen silver Rolls Royces, each bearing the Irish tricolour, lined up outside St Michael's Church in Ashtead, Surrey. Mr Doherty's coffin was emblazoned with the colours of the Irish flag and the message: "Simon Doherty - blacksmith, King of all Doherty's".

Paddy said: "He was like Mafia in his own way, not in a bad way - any trouble they would go to him. He was like the godfather - what he said was law. He said I want no one crying at my funeral, I want them happy, singing and get them drunk." The 58-year-old former bare knuckle fighter sat with his hand resting on his father's coffin throughout the service.

Floral tributes were laid on the altar in the shape of an Irish shamrock, bottles of whisky, pint of Guinness and a Rolls Royce. Irish dancers performed and a video footage of Mr Doherty senior in a horse race was played at the service. Paddy added: "He wasn't an average man - he was outstanding, a great man. Everything had to be five stars for him, he lived the best and was the best. My poor mother - her heart is devastated, her heart is broken. I'm so grateful how many people have turned out - we just want everything to go well, everything has to be tremendous and over the top."

The Sun 17 April 2017

Sunday, 20 February 2022

The recluse of Welbeck; William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck (1800-1879) the 5th Duke of Portland, Kensal Green Cemetery

I have always thought of myself as a Northerner because I was born and bred in Yorkshire but in truth my birthplace is a stone’s throw away from the Nottinghamshire border and only a mile or two of fields saved me from the fate of being a Midlander. As far as I am aware, I have no blood relatives or ancestors buried in any London cemetery; however I do have a personal connection to an easily overlooked vault close to the Anglican Chapel in Kensal Green. This vault, with its massive granite capstone, houses the mortal remains of William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the Marquess of Titchford and, from 1854, the 5th Duke of Portland. The duke is famous for being somewhat eccentric and for the unusual nature of his additions to the ancestral home at Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire. My tenuous connection with the duke is that my great-grandfather cleaned the chimneys at Welbeck Abbey and my grandmother worked in the kitchens; I am descended from the serfs on the estate.

The Dukeries, the area of North Nottinghamshire where the estates of the Dukes of Newcastle, Norfolk, Kingston and Portland are to be found, is just 10 miles from where I grew up. I heard stories of Welbeck Abbey, its eccentric Duke and of the tunnels and underground rooms he built beneath the main house from my father. Whilst he was, to all appearances, a sober man and certainly not one given to flights of fancy, I eventually came to realise that my father was a mine of disinformation. Whilst often containing a kernel of the truth his stories were prone to exaggeration; on trips to Clumber Park, once the estate of the Dukes of Newcastle, my father told me that the main house had been sold by an impoverished Duke before the war and then carefully demolished, all the bricks and building stones meticulously numbered and then packed and shipped off, along with all its furniture and artworks, to America where the mansion had been rebuilt for a millionaire, lovingly recreated exactly as it was, down to the carpets and curtains, the dinner service and the books in the library, in sunny California.  It was true that the house had been demolished in 1938 but the rest turned out to be total bullshit.  As a child I loved my dad’s stories about Clumber Park and neighbouring Welbeck Abbey; he told us that the Duke of Portland had built an underground home beneath the mansion, with a subterranean library, stables and a tunnel from the house to Worksop Station that was big enough to take a horse and carriage. The greatest wonder of the underground house he said, was a ballroom with a glass ceiling that had been built beneath the ornamental lake and where, if you looked up, you could see the carp swimming in the clear green waters above your head. It was only later that I learned to be sceptical about the details in these accounts. My grandmother later confirmed that she had worked for a while in the kitchens at Welbeck but the only detail I can remember her telling me is a story about accidentally shutting the oven door on a kitchen cat that had been napping inside, and the unholy noise it made when she lit the fire beneath the oven. I would love to be able to quiz her now about every last detail she remembers of the place (and everything else from her life) but she died in 1985.

The Duke of Portland expired at his town mansion, Harcourt House, 19, Cavendish-square, at half -past five on Saturday morning, after an illness of but brief duration. The health of the Duke had, indeed, for some time past been a cause of anxiety to his friends, owing to his advanced age, but it was not until the early part of the past week that his illness assumed such a serious aspect as to alarm his family, and on Friday he was seen to be sinking fast. During the night he got worse, and before day dawn on Saturday morning he had breathed his last.

London Evening Standard - Monday 08 December 1879

William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck was born in London 1800 and baptised at St George’s in Hanover Square. From childhood he was always rather dreamy and delicate and his parents took the decision to educate him at home rather than subject him to the rough and tumble of Westminster School, his father’s alma mater. Despite this he had a five year army career from the age of 18 though he did move regiment rather regularly, starting off in the Foot Guards before moving to the Light Dragoons and finishing off as a captain in the Life Guards. He saw no active service and suffered from ‘lethargy’ caused by his delicate health throughout his short career. In 1824 he changed regiments once again, moving to the Royal West India Rangers as a Captain; an unusual move since the regiment had been disbanded five years earlier. He happily stayed on in the non-existent army unit for another 10 years, drawing half pay and not having to be bothered with any tiresome duties. His family encouraged him to go into politics and he was duly elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Kings Lynn in 1824, a position he promptly resigned from two years later on the grounds of ill health. To escape further family attempts to find him a useful career he fled to the continent until he his father died in 1854 and he became the 5th Duke of Portland.  His position finally allowed the highly introverted middle-aged man to become what he had probably wanted to be all along – a recluse.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph of Tuesday 09 December 1879 carried a rather good obituary of the 5th Duke.  The version below is abridged!:

THE LATE DUKE OF PORTLAND. The "Recluse of Welbeck" is dead. He will be missed, but not by many; for not many saw or had intercourse with him; but by those who do miss him, he will be missed greatly. There was, perhaps, no man of whom so little was known and so much was said, as his Grace the Duke of Portland. The art of minding one's own business and not caring about the business of anyone else, was by him cultivated keenly, and brought to perfection. He was in the world, but not of it, in the ordinary sense of that term, and popular imagination had surrounded him with a brilliant nimbus of romance. And yet he was intensely practical and matter-of-fact. In all he did—and he did much—there was a method, as sane as that of the philosophic Dane. The Most Noble William John Cavendish Scott Bentinck, fifth Duke Portland, in the county of Dorset, of Titchfield, in the county of Southampton, Earl of Portland, Viscount Woodstock, of Woodstock, in the county of Oxon, Baron of Cirencester, in the county of Gloucester, one of the co heirs of the ancient Barony of Ogle, and a family trustee of the British Museum, was born in London on the 18th of September, 1800. He the second and last surviving son of William Henry Cavendish, fourth duke, by Henrietta, eldest daughter and coheiress with her sister, Viscountess Canning, of the late General John Scott, of Balcomie, in the county of Fife.

Every year since the Duke Portland inherited his estate, he has spent a princely fortune in carrying out alterations in building and in pulling down again. For cost the Duke’s building achievements are without precedent in the history of the country. Welbeck Abbey is at the present day a wonderful place, and has no equal. There are passages underground for miles, buildings under the sods of magnificent proportions, and a ball-room that surpasses the hall of the cutlers in dimensions and puts the Albert Hall to the blush. The most striking feature of the Abbey is the large Gothic Hall, which was restored by the Countess of Oxford in 1751. The fan like tracery of the calling, the elaborate designs, and the splendid decorations are a feast to the eyes.  All the rooms are furnished with princely luxuriance, and they are very numerous. Like the famous Worcester, the Duke of Portland was of an inventive turn of mind. He believed in labour-saving contrivances, and wherever he could he applied them. The necessity for waiters was minimised even in his great dining room. An hydraulic shaft connected the dining room with the kitchen, and by means of it a small waggon was lowered to the underground passages. The rails upon which the waggons run—like miniature tram rails—terminated in a cupboard, and in this cupboard, which was also a stove, food could be kept hot till needed for the table. The hundreds of valuable and high-class pictures hung in the various rooms showed his Grace's mind was highly cultivated and artistic. Indeed, the earlier part of his life was devoted to the cultivation of art.

The underground picture gallery

But the outside of the abbey, the grounds, the "works" as they are called, are the most striking proofs of the strangeness of the Duke’s ways, and thoughts, and doings. The grounds seem to be literally undermined. Extending in all directions from the abbey are burrows or passages. There are burrows to the right of the abbey, burrows to the left, burrows to the north, and burrows to the south, burrows to the east, and burrows to the west.  Not mere borings or excavations, but lofty, spacious passages, brilliantly lighted by costly apparatus for letting in sun-light, and where sun-light cannot be admitted, by lights from gas. By an underground passage we come to the celebrated riding school, the like of which is not to be found in Europe, or in the world. It is entered by a trap door, opened by means of a curiously-designed crank in the passage. In the days of the Duke of Newcastle it was used as a riding school, now it is magnificent museum of art over I50 feet in length. Hundreds of pictures are arranged— not hung—round the gallery, and piled in stacks on the floor are thousands of volumes of books, some modern, and many old, rare, and valuable. The floor of this gallery is of oak, and the ceiling is made to represent brilliant midsummer sky. Mirrors in profusion are placed about, and light is shed from four chandeliers suspended from the roof, and each weighing a ton. This apartment is lighted by over two thousand gas lights, and when all are illuminated the effect must be brilliant. There are many miles of passages under the grounds. One extends from the Abbey half the way to Worksop; another was only used by the Duke, and the stranger found in it was deemed guilty of an offence approaching high treason. The passages are all broad enough for three people to walk abreast in them, and pleasant to walk in. The library, like the picture gallery, is underground, and is the work of many years. It is divided into five large rooms, and so arranged as to form, when desirable, one very large room. This library is 238 feet long. Another immense and superbly-constructed room has been erected underground. At one end it is approached by spiral staircase, and the other by subterranean passages. Church or ball-room? It would do admirably for both. Some say it is intended for the first and some say for the second. It was begun five years ago, and left in an incomplete state. There are many of these rooms at Welbeck. They are free from draughts, admirably lighted, magnificently decorated, and all very costly. Comparatively few outbuildings are to be seen at this home of errate fancy. The most remarkable of those which can be seen is undoubtedly the new riding school, a building of gigantic proportions and of extraordinary beauty. The walls are of solid stone and the roof of wood, iron, and glass is nearly four hundred feet in length and one hundred feet wide, and divided into a great centre and two isles. The central department is decorated with frieze painted brass work representing birds, beasts, and foliage, and of perfect workmanship and elegant design. It is fifty feet high, and lighted by 8000 gas jets. Here the Duke took pleasure in seeing his horses exercised. 

The kilometre-long plant corridor which runs between the main house and the riding school

The "works" are marvels. He employed constantly upon them over 2.000 workmen. In fact, Welbeck was like an industrial village. There were wood yards, machine shops, factories, end even gas works, all within the grounds. He was ever building and pulling down again. A writer in ‘the World’ a year ago said of him that he had refined taste and skill in architecture. The Duke of Portland was a builder-up of good work and a puller-down of bad. There are many stories of his impatience of ugliness, and tenderness to its authors. An architect at one time employed by him built a gateway, which when completed became abhorrent to him; yet so considerate was he of the artist's feelings that he could not find it in his heart to remonstrate with him. So be tried another way. One night he waited till the architect had driven off it his dogcart, and then set all his men to work at overtime and double pay to pull down the hated edifice. By morning not a vestige remained, and the architect on his arrival rubbed his eyes in amazement; and neither he nor the Duke ever took the slightest notice of its disappearance. There was, too, a memorial bridge erected in the memory of Lord George Bentinck, near the spot where he breathed his last, close to the wood and opposite village of Norton. Short work was made of this bridge, as of numerous other odds and ends of architecture on the domain, and the present reign of perfection was inaugurated. 

The Illustrated London News from 1881

The late Duke was always what the world calls eccentric He visited not at all, and encouraged no visitors. He hated ceremony and the penalty of dismissal was said to be the result of a workman lifting his hat or specially noticing him as he walked about the grounds. A man who wanted work always obtain it at the Dukeries, but his Grace had a contempt for idlers. It was said that if he found a man ‘dawdling’, that man was sent instantly about his business. He was what people call a "good friend and a bitter enemy." He never forgave an affront, and could wait for years to repay it as some of the workpeople found to their cost. He detested "limbered tongue" people, if he found that any of the workpeople had been revealing secrets to the world he would dispense with their services. The Duke was enormously wealthy. It was currently stated that he had coming "a thousand pounds per day and two for Sunday." According to a contemporary his rent roil was something like £400,000 per annum. He had estates in Middlesex, Ayrshire, Northumberland, Derbyshire, Norfolk, and Lincolnshire.

There was no peace for the Duke even after his death – in 1897 began the long running Druce case when Anna Maria Druce claimed that his grace had lived a double life, pretending to be her father-in-law, Thomas Charles Druce a successful London upholsterer. Druce had been buried at Highgate in 1864. As the 5th Duke had never married and had no children the Druce case was essentially that Anna Maria’s husband was the rightful heir and the Druces should inherit the entire Portland estate. The case was only settled in 1907 when Druce’s body was exhumed at Highgate see here for the full story.