Wednesday, 27 November 2019

The four dead sisters and the photographer; Alexander Julius Henry Friedmann (1836?-1904) burial place unknown

'Four nuns laid out in caskets' courtesy of the George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY14607

There are few sights so arresting as that of a dead nun. I don’t know many people who could walk past one in the street and not give her a second glance.  Not surprisingly the spectacle of four dead nuns neatly laid out in their coffins rather grabs the attention. Or so I found when I was scrolling through recent posts from The Victorian Book of the Dead a few months ago. Do you know it? Chris Woodyard of Haunted Ohio issues a constant stream of Twitter and Facebook posts featuring a miscellany of funeral and death related links culled from the web; antique coffins, post mortem photos, newspaper clippings, objet d’art, mourning clothes, hearses, and a myriad of other items calculated to whet the morbid appetite. A faded sepia photograph from the George Eastman Museum showed the four nuns in laundered habits and pristine wimples laid out in their coffins in a orderly row on a trestle table with four wax candles in brass holders burning at each corner and surrounded by living flowers in plant pots. As the only story I know involving four dead nuns is the  wreck of the ‘Deutschland’ I couldn’t help thinking that the four sisters could well be Barbara Hultenschmidt, Norbeta Reinkobe, Aurea Badziura and Brigitta Damhorst, who drowned aboard the foundering ship, were buried in St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Leytonstone and commemorated in Gerard Manly Hopkins famous poem. Chris unfortunately didn’t have any details of who the nuns were and neither did the George Eastman Museum which simply records their exhibit as ‘Four nuns laid out in caskets’, an albumen silver print of a photograph taken by H. Friedmann circa 1865.  It says its provenance is British and that it was purchased with funds from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, from the collection of Walter A. Johnson. I had never heard of the photographer but there is an inscription on the reverse of the photo: ‘H. Friedmann / PHOTOGRAPHER / 50 THE GROVE / STRATFORD / & / at Leytonstone.’ This clinched it; the funeral  service for the four nuns, conducted by Cardinal Manning no less, took place in the St Francis of Assisi church at 160 The Grove, Stratford and this is where H. Friedmann must have taken his photograph, probably just before the funeral service was held on 13 December 1875.   

When I searched for other photos of the four nuns in their coffins all I could find was a small grainy black and white shot taken from the same angle as the Eastman Museum photo but featuring a priest and two live nuns in addition to the four dead ones. It looks as though H. Friedmann exposed at least two plates that day. I was intrigued by H. Friedmann – who was this Stratford based photographer? Web searches revealed relatively little – samples of his work turn up from time to time on e-bay where they can be bought for £2 or £3. I found  a few standard studio portraits, one of a couple (woman standing behind seated man, of course), an old lady holding a book, a young man with carefully slicked down and side parted hair and a young woman in pearl earrings who appears to be dressed in mourning with a rather splendid ruffled crepe hat with what could be a dyed ostrich feather twined around the front. The reverse of one of these photos (‘The Negative is preserved and duplicates may be had at any time’) tells us that Henry Friedmann of 126 The Grove, Stratford, London E was an ‘Art Photographer’. It isn’t much of a photographic legacy to have left but the picture of the nuns of the Deutschland is hitherto unknown as far as I can tell. With a little more forensic digging around in newspaper archives and in birth, marriage and death records and census returns a more rounded picture emerged of this obscure Stratford photographer. 

Henry Friedmann was born, according to census returns, in Austria around 1836. At that time the Austrian empire included parts of modern day Germany, Italy, Serbia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland as well as Austria. I could only find one, unfortunately indecipherable, reference to Henry’s hometown which seems to say Whyan. No such place seems to exist (perhaps it is meant to be Vienna?) and so his exact origins remain a mystery. His parents, who named him Alexander Julius Henry Friedmann were Michael and Rebekah and they probably brought their family to England sometime in the 1840’s. The earliest record I can find of Henry in the UK is a baptism record dated December 13 1859 from Christ Church, Spitalfields (the now demolished Watney Street church rather than Hawksmoor’s masterpiece) when the 24 year old was working as a hairdresser and living in Canon Street. It is an unusual age at which to get baptised; perhaps the family was Jewish. The spelling of his mother’s first name is and the area they were living in had a large Jewish population. The reason for Henry’s conversion was his marriage; this took place a couple of days later in the same church to 16 year old Emma Hoggett, who had been born in St Werburgh’s in Derby but who was now living with her ironmonger father William and mother Rosana in Old Gravel Lane in Wapping.

24 year old Henry Friedmann's baptism record
Henry and Emma's marriage record
The newly married couple moved to St George Street, E1 after the wedding and had their first child, a daughter named Emma after her mother, a year later. Their second child, this time a boy named Julius after his father, was born in 1862. We lose sight of the family from the 1861 census until September 1867 when a story in the Essex Standard abruptly shines a revealing light into the state of Henry’s marriage and his family life. The newspaper headline reads ‘Melancholy Suicide’ and the story is of an inquest held in Chigwell into the death of Elizabeth Moore, a young woman who had been a servant in Henry’s household in Victoria Park and then had moved into lodgings in Chigwell. Mrs Darby, Elizabeth’s landlady, told the coroner that Elizabeth lived with Henry as his wife. Henry, who gives his profession as photographer, told the inquest that on Saturday 8th September he had been out with Elizabeth to High Beech in Epping Forest. When they came home he instructed his mistress to get some tea and insisted on her drinking some with him. Reluctantly she did but she refused to eat. He told her he would return on Sunday morning and bring some meat with him but she said that she would never do anything for him again. He asked if she were going to leave him to which she answered “You will see.” Henry told the inquest that he was separated from his wife but despite this quite possibly returned home to Victoria Park that night when he left Elizabeth in Chigwell. According to Mrs Darby, Elizabeth seemed unwell and low spirited. At a quarter to eleven Elizabeth said goodnight to her landlady and went upstairs to bed. A few minutes later Mrs Darby heard an unusual noise and ran upstairs to find Elizabeth “undressed, in bed and insensible.” There was a small glass bottle near the bed. By the time medical help was summoned Elizabeth was dead. Mr Thomas Lewis, a surgeon was summoned from Loughton; he performed an autopsy on Elizabeth and found a fluid smelling like prussic acid in her stomach. The glass bottle by her bedside, he said, contained cyanide of potassium, “three grains of which in a solid state would produce death.” Elizabeth had left a note for Henry which was read out in court:

Dear Henery,— forgive me if this should give you pane— but I do not think it will after what you said this evening— you are verry unhappy, i now hope i ham going you will be happy with those that you love, you will see my mother and tell her from me about her unhappy girl ; praps a tear she may shed but you will not think it. But i forgive you. kiss the dear children for me and ask emer to forgive me the rong I have done her, and i hope you will make amends for all. Dear henery my eyes are blinded with tears that i can say no more now, but pray for me. From your unhappy but true, E.

The jury, after as is customary on these occasions “some deliberation” returned a verdict of ‘Death from taking cyanide of potassium, while in a state of temporary derangement.’ With astonishing alacrity poor Elizabeth was buried the next day, Monday 11th September, in the churchyard of St John the Baptist in Buckhurst Hill. Shockingly, and this isn’t mentioned in the newspaper, according to the death register she was only 15 years old.  

The Grove, Stratford where Henry had his photography business
Any separation from Emma was shortlived; the couple had a daughter, Agnes, in March 1867 and another son Henry in 1870. At the time of the 1871 census the family were living in Leytonstone in Beaulah Terrace in Walthamstow. They had two more sons, Arthur in 1872 and Albert in 1874. The family probably moved to Stratford, to 126 The Grove, above Henry’s photographic  studio shortly afterwards. They were almost certainly there in 1875 when Henry took his pictures of the four dead nuns in St Francis’ Church. By the 1881 census the family had moved to 106 The Grove but Henry was still working as a photographer despite competition from at least two other businesses within walking distance of his premises. Over the course of the next decade Henry abandoned his career and his wife. In the 1891 census he was living at 2 Second Avenue, Manor Park with his 19 year old son Arthur and a servant, a young woman called Elizabeth Silverlock. Emma and the rest of the family were gone and Henry was now listed as a publican. A newspaper story of the same year says Henry was the landlord of the Earl of Essex at the corner of High Street North and Romford Road.  In a hint of things to come The Chelmsford Chronicle reported that Henry has been summoned for assaulting William Mayson. Henry told the court that Mayson had used bad language in the pub (shocking) “and had been a great annoyance.” He produced two witnesses to corroborate his story and the bench dismissed the case.  

In March the following year Henry was again in court, this time at the Stratford Police Court for disorderly conduct, using obscene language and causing a crowd to assemble. When asked how he plead he told the court “I think I had better plead guilty, so as not to go into the matter.” According to an account of the incident in the Illustrated Police News of Saturday 12 March, Henry had got into an argument with a Mrs Bennett who seems to have been the license holder of the Earl of Essex (though the address of the pub is given as Greenhill Grove where the only licensed premises is the William The Conqueror...) The argument may have started over Mrs Bennett’s refusal to serve him food or because he wanted to dismiss one of the staff and she was not agreeable. By ten past five Sargent Slatting from Forest Gate Police station arrived at the pub to find Henry “behaving in a very disorderly manner and making use of filthy language.” Henry was forcibly removed from the premises but tried immediately to re-enter shouting and using bad language and causing a crowd of curious onlookers to gather. Eventually losing patience Sargent Slatting arrested him and took him into custody. Henry told the magistrates that he was part owner of the pub and had papers to prove it. The magistrate told Henry he didn’t care and turned instead to Inspector Hunt, Sargent Slaterry’s superior, who told him that he had very many complaints of Henry’s conduct towards Mrs Bennett, to whom he was a considerable nuisance. Mrs Bennett was called and she confirmed that “she had to complain very much of the prisoner's conduct and his annoyance. He was constantly casting aspersions on her character and making utterly false statements.”  Henry told the magistrate that he had no choice but to throw himself on the mercy of the court, that he wished to considered as part master of the house and responsible to the brewers and distillers. The magistrates fine him 40 shillings plus costs and bound him over to keep the peace. 

In 1894 when Henry featured in another newspaper story, this time in the Coventry Evening Telegraph  of  23 February, he seemed to have given up on the Earl of Essex and was landlord of the Priory Tavern in Bromley-by-bow;

CAUGHT RED -HANDED. At the Thames Police Court Thomas McCarthy was committed for trial on the charge of stealing a watch and part of a gold chain, value £30, the property of Henry Friedman, of the "Priory" Tavern, Bromley. When the prosecutor was closing his house the defendant came up and snatched at his watch chain, getting the watch and part of the chain. He was caught after having put the watch on a window sill.

In May 1896 in was Arthur, Henry’s son, who was making headlines, in the South Wales Echo. Surely this exploit made Henry feel uncomfortable in recalling the death of 15 year old Elizabeth Moore almost 30 years earlier.

AN ILL-TIMED ATTEMPT AT SUICIDE -No Train Due for Twenty Minutes.  Arthur Edward Friedmann (27), a clerk, of second-avenue, Manor Park, was charged yesterday at the Stratford Police Court on remand of attempting to commit suicide. The evidence last week was that at 11 40 am on April 28th, the prisoner was at St. James's-s tree t Station, Walthamstow, with a Young lady, and suddenly he jumped on the line, lay down, and put his head on the metal rails of the down line.  Clark, the foreman porter, ran out to the prisoner, who, when lifted up, said, “Leave me alone I'm all right." At the station he said it was all through his girl. He was sober, but had been drinking. The young woman referred to, a Miss Emily Poplar, was now called on subpoena, and said that she was with the prisoner. She said he did not say what he intended doing, but she saw him get down and put his head on the metals. They had had as a little disagreement. —Mr E. R. Cook (chairman): You had a lovers’ quarrel, and he left you and did that? The witness Replied in the affirmative, and added that she knew that the prisoner was subject to fits, and a quantity of liquor made him excited. Mr O. C. Sharman, who appeared for the prisoner, said that no train was due for 20 minutes, and therefore in law there was no attempt to commit felony. The prisoner's friends were present, and would undertake to take charge of the prisoner, who had signed the pledge. The Bench told the prisoner that he had acted very foolishly, And after a further caution as to the future discharged him.

In 1895 Henry’s estranged wife Emma died in Poplar. At the time of the 1891 census she had been living in Wales, at 20 High Street, Chepstow in Monmouthshire with her older brother Charles who was a butcher, and his wife and their 6 children. Her widowed sister Monica was also living them. Henry was close by when she died. A story in the Chelmsford Chronicle of 10 December 1897 places him as the landlord of the Castle, a now demolished pub at 156 Leyton Road in Stratford;

At West Ham Monday James Godfrey, 38, labourer, of Bromley was charged with assaulting Henry Friedmann,  landlord of the Castle public-house, Leyton  road, Stratford, and also with assaulting Constable Rogers, 540 K, and with damaging a stone barrel of gin, valued £4 10s.—At about six o'clock on Sunday evening the prisoner entered the Castle, and created a considerable disturbance. He was sent to gaol for three months' hard labour.

According to the 1901 census Arthur had moved on but his youngest son Albert had moved in with him. It was still the obviously trusted Arthur who became Henry’s executor when he died on October 28 1904. His estate was valued at £3310 0s 6d. Disappointingly I have not been able to find out where he is buried. On September 14 1915, just over a year after the start of the Great War reliable Arthur changed his name by deed poll from the far too Teutonic sounding Friedmann to the much more acceptably English sounding Freeman. He left his roots completely behind when he moved south of the river to 25 Thurleigh Road, SW12, close to Clapham South tube. On the 3rd of June 1925 the 49 year old Brewery Clerk with the three storey terraced villa in suburban Wandsworth was granted the freedom of the City of London after declaring that he was not an Alien and was above the age of 21. Even so the clerk who completed the register felt it incumbent on him to note that in the deed poll Henry had been described as a Naturalised Englishman. Despite the lingering reservations about Arthur’s right to declare himself an alien the newly minted Mr Freeman was made a Freeman of the City. Henry would have been proud.   

Sunday, 17 November 2019

The Boy from Bagwash City; Patrick Caulfield (1936-2005) Highgate East Cemetery

Late one evening a few years ago the talk got round to famous artists' epitaphs, and someone asked Patrick Caulfield what he would put on his gravestone. "DEAD, of course." Well put. Characteristically so. But very much not the last word on Caulfield, who has died of cancer aged 69.
William Feaver, The Guardian, 03 Oct 2005

I took these pictures of the artist Patrick Caulfield’s celebrated gravestone in Highgate cemetery back in 2013, six years ago. (I can hardly believe so much time has passed – tempus really does fugit when you are the wrong side of 50. I’ll be dead myself before I know it if I don’t pay more attention.....) I had forgotten about the photos until I was reading Martin Gayford’s excellent “Modernists & Mavericks”, a riveting history of the post war British art scene that features Bacon, Freud, Hockney and a whole load of other artists, including Patrick Caulfield, that he dubs the London Painters. Caulfield designed his own grave stone and took the unusual step of mentioning on it that he was dead. He is now remembered almost as much for this bit of iconoclasm as for a lifetime's work as a painter.   

Caulfield was born in 1936 in South Acton; you had to be specific he always said because “Acton has got very different areas. South Acton, where I was born, was known as ‘Bagwash City’, because, as you walked along the streets where I was born, you smell the smell of damp laundry.” (A bagwash was a primitive laundry service, often offered from domestic premises, that was common before the idea of the launderette was imported from the United States in the 1950’s). Apart from laundry Caulfield’s only other early memory of Acton was being stung by a bee “That really sticks in my...I mean, it sticks in my mind, well it stuck in my arm or wherever at that time. But it seemed very, God! very serious to me at the time. I mean, because, this was my first association with nature I suppose, stung by the bee....” He never recovered from that early encounter with the natural world – his entire adult oeuvre was dedicated to the figurative painting, carried out in as un-naturalistic manner as possible, of manmade objects in manmade settings. When he left Acton Secondary Modern at the age of 15 he worked in the design studio of Crosse & Blackwell (Andy Warhol’s dream job?) and at the age of 17 he joined the RAF (he would have been called up for National Service anyway). When he left the air force he studied first at the Chelsea School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art when David Hockney was a fellow student. He was a commercially and critically successful artist, not perhaps so successful as Bacon, Freud and Hockney, but successful enough to be able to afford a path side plot in Highgate close to Malcolm McLaren and Jeremy Beadle (and Hercules Bellville).

Caulfield photographed by Malcom Cooper in 1966 (courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery)
Patrick Caulfield died on September 29 last year at the age of 69 and was buried a few days later at Highgate Cemetery. He was a convivial and generous man – both qualities are radiantly manifest in his art – and he and his widow Janet Nathan had arranged his funeral as an exuberant and joyful send-off.

As a large gathering of mourners assembled at the graveside, on one of the cemetery’s broader avenues, a jazz trio played some of the painter’s favourite tunes. Fine weather contributed to the bittersweet mood, bathing the scene in bright but already fading autumnal sunlight – an end-of-the-day light, which filtered through the trees in a way that might have pleased even Caulfield, who did not care much for the great outdoors. He was a man of few words, as he demonstrated in his monosyllabic choice of epitaph: ‘Dead’. The word will be carved into his headstone, in lettering of his own design.

Andrew Graham-Dixon (Obituary in the Daily Telegraph)

His last painting, completed less than a fortnight before he died, was a tribute to his long standing partner and wife Janet Natham, Braque Curtain. According to the Tate, where the painting is now held, it “depicts a series of interlocking domestic spaces devoid of people and natural light. The patterned curtain of the title, was adapted from the wallpaper in the room depicted in Georges Braque’s The Duet 1937. This curtain and a lamp provide the painting’s focus as a place formed by artificial light. The painting plays with the casting of light and shade, notably in the doubled rendering of the lamp, asking which of these intersecting images is the lamp and which its shadow?”

Braque Curtain by Patrick Caulfield

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Birth, death and the dissection of Joanna Southcott (1750-1814), St John's Wood Burial Ground

Joanna Southcott was a West Country prophetess, born in the Devonshire village of Taleford in 1750. She lived a quiet and uneventful life as a domestic servant in Exeter until the age of 42 when she was suddenly struck by the conviction that she had supernatural powers and was the “woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,” spoken of in Revelations. She heard a voice which predicted wars and famines and under its influence began to write and dictate prophetic verses. In 1801 she used her life savings to start publishing her writings, her first book being The Strange Effects of Faith; with Remarkable Prophecies. This brought her to the attention of the London followers of the prophet Richard Brothers (who had lately disappointed his disciples by getting himself incarcerated into a lunatic asylum) and they sent a seven man delegation down to Exeter with a brief to examine the credibility of this new, self proclaimed prophetess. When they declared themselves satisfied they arranged to bring her to London the following year to face yet another two rigorous public examinations by the Brothers brethren. By 1803 she had won over the majority of Brother’s disciples in London and embarked on a long missionary tour to win herself more followers in the provinces.

Between 1801 and 1814 Joanna published more than 5000 pages of prophetic writings and became the centre of a movement with, according to some estimates, around 20,000 ‘sealed’ followers. The membership card of the Southcottian movement was a seal issued by Joanna herself; a circle was drawn on a piece of paper and a simple message of acceptance scrawled across it. The believer and Joanna would both sign the paper and then it was folded and sealed with wax using a device of two stars and the initials IC (for Iesu Christi). A fee of between 12 shillings and a guinea was allegedly paid to be ‘sealed’ in this way.

The Imposter or Obstetric Dispute: a Southcott caricature by Thomas Tegg
In 1814 the 64 four year old virgin announced in The Third Book of Wonders, Announcing the Coming of Shiloh that she was pregnant and about to become the mother of Shiloh, a divine incarnation that would bring about a new world order of peace, love and justice. The public were not convinced and Joanna became the butt of some savage caricatures from the likes of Thomas Rowlandson and Thomas Tegg and of vicious lampoons in the popular press.  The date fixed for the delivery of Shiloh was 19 October 1814. When Shiloh failed to appear as expected Joanna realised that it was because she had omitted to provide the divine baby with a father. To rectify the situation, on 12 November she married John Smith of Blockley a respectable, elderly follower and friend who had selflessly offered himself to the prophetess in the role of Joseph to her Mary. But Shiloh still did not appear and then, to everyone’s shock, on 27 December, Joanna died at her home at 38 Manchester Street. Many of her stunned followers believed she was only in a trance and that she could be resuscitated and Shiloh still be produced. The aftermath was described widely by the press including The Stamford Mercury in a piece entitled “Dissection of Joanna Southcott.”    

"The death of this miserable woman we stated in our last paper. It appears that the wretched enthusiast, before death, became herself doubtful of the issue which her infatuated "friends" positively anticipated. She therefore, in her lucid intervals, dictated a will, in which still professed her conviction that she had been visited by either a good or evil spirit, and that her womb contained a living creature of divine or  wicked origin. In  the hope that she might become re-animate, which she was satisfied would be the case, if she had been visited by the Lord,  she desired that she might be preserved with “every tender care for four days after her dissolution, the fourth being that which, under Providence, she expected she would be restored to life, and be delivered: if however, that period expired without any symptoms of re-animation, she then directed that her body might be submitted to the hands of skilful operators.” Her death excited no painful sensations in the bosoms of her disciples. They regarded her as merely "gone for a while." and with tender solicitude proceeded to wrap her body in warm blankets, to place bottles of hot water to her feet, and by keeping the room in a state of warmth endeavour to preserve the vital spark! After the event of her death the crowd which daily assembled in Manchester-street, opposite the depository of the body, was immense; and the enquiries made respecting her resuscitation were constant and anxious. To all such enquires, the answers given by the "chosen few" were consolatory and cheering. On Saturday morning the crowd again assembled at an early hour, and the most zealous of the followers did not hesitate to pronounce their positive conviction of her re-animation during the day. These predictions, however, to the mortification of the deluded multitudes were falsified; for the body began to display a discoloration, which at once proved  that the wretched Joanna was but mortal, and like other mortals subject to decay The hopes of her friends being thus frustrated, preparations were made to perform the operation which she had herself directed. At two o'clock on Saturday, fifteen medical men assembled. Besides these, there were also Parson Tozer, Colonel Harwood and one or two others of Joanna's followers. From the putrescent state the smell was dreadfully offensive and it required all the aid of tobacco smoke and burnt vinegar to render the place to be at all borne. The body having been placed upon a table Dr. Reece and Surgeon Want proceeded in the performance of their disgusting but required task. The result of this examination is contained in the following:

Medical and Surgical Declaration

"We, the undersigned being present at the dissection of Mrs Joanna Southcott do certify that no unusual  appearances were visible, and no part exhibiting any visible appearance of disease sufficient to have occasioned  her death; that a number of gall-stones were found in the gall bladder and the intestines were unusually distended with flatus, and no appearance of her ever having been pregnant. The uterus was not distended, enlarged, diseased, but on the contrary smaller than is usual.

Dr Reece, Mr Cooke, Mr Fester, Dr Sims,  Mr Stanhope,  Mr Wetherall, Dr Adams, Mr Caton, Mr Santon, Mr Clarke,  Mr Phillips,  Mr Wagstaffe, Mr Want, Mr Darling,  Mr  Wilkinson.

The curiosity of the profession having been gratified by this inspection, they took their departure, and the result having soon become public, the street was for a time in an uproar. Those of the followers who anxiously waited the event, skulked off  in great tribulation, and were happy to escape the view of the populace, who were outrageous towards any person they suspected of adhering to the to doctrines of the Prophetess. This indignation had in the early part of the morning nearly proved fatal to an old Lady, who with a most demure and sanctified countenance rapped at the late Joanna's door with intent to make enquiries respecting her re-animation. No sooner was she suspected to be a disciple than she was assailed with mud and filth. The female who was thus treated we understand, is the sister of Sir Charles Blicke. By the desire of Joanna, previous to her death, all the presents which were sent for the use of Shiloh and his mother, the crib, &c. are to be restored to the owners. Her remains were conveyed away privately for burial early on Sunday, and the time and place of interment known only to a very few.

Joanna’s disciples say – “Her friends know her to be dead, but the arm of  the Lord is not shortened; and if he is about to do a great work upon the earth, as they firmly believe he is, they know  that he can easily raise the dead to life as awake a person out of a trance. .Mrs Southcott's words have always been "that death or life would end the strife;" and on that ground her believers now rest the question."

Our readers perhaps will scarcely credit it, that besides the cradle, articles of furniture, and plate, purchased by the dupes of this wretched woman for the child, a very large sum of money was subscribed, and now in the hands of her Treasurer, the purpose of which was to purchase a piece of freehold ground near the Regents Park, to build a palace for King Shiloh! An eminent surveyor was applied to for a plan, which was exhibited and approved by all the dupes."

"Delivering a Prophetess" Joanna breaks her waters (note the gentleman bottling them for future sale). Caricature by Charles Williams

Joanna was buried on Sunday 1st January 1815 in the burial ground attached to the new St John’s Wood church. The funeral was conducted in strict secrecy to try and avoid some of the controversy that had attended her death. Parson Tozer, who attended the autopsy, took umbrage with the officiating clergyman and complained that the regular Church Service had not been gone through. The clergyman retorted that he had read the customary prayers for the dead. When Parson Tozer said that the customary prayers were not sufficient for such a holy woman and prophetess the clergyman lost his temper and said that he trusted he would never again be asked to officiate at the funeral of one who had lived by practising imposture and fraud, uttering blasphemies and died unrepentant. Joanna’s original headstone is severely worn and approaching indecipherability but still in place in the burial ground (which is now a public park). In the sixties a new headstone was raised a few feet away by the latter day Southcottians of the Bedford based Panacea Society.

Friday, 1 November 2019

The Stevedore who saved the crew of an Ironclad; Maurice Wagg (1840-1926), East London Cemetery, Plaistow

On Monday 08 September 1913, 50 old men (their average age was 83), all members of the London branch of the United States Civil War Veterans Association, celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg courtesy of the proprietors of the West End Cinema. They met for a slap up lunch at Frascati’s restaurant in Oxford Street, which according to John Davis, secretary of the veterans association and at 74 years old one of its younger members, was far better than the "rancid raw pork, rotten biscuits, and muddy water” they had enjoyed on the battlefields 50 years earlier. After the meal they listened to an address by the US military attaché Colonel Squire before tottering unsteadily with walking sticks and legs impaired by age and alcohol through Soho Square and down Dean Street to the West End Cinema on Coventry Street to watch a special screening of the silent film ‘The Battle of Gettysburg’ arranged by the manager Mr William L. Ken. Those that didn’t snooze off during the 5 reel epic greeted the final victory of the Union with rapturous applause, according to the East Kent Gazette who were there reporting on the attendance of their local veteran, 94 year old William Berry of Grown Road, Milton Regis.  “In spite of his great age” the admiring Gazette reporter noted, “Mr. Berry travelled to London alone, found his way about the busy streets, and returned home in the evening none the worse for the trip.” The oldest member of the association present was 104 year old Edward Munroe who was in excellent health according to the Gazette and whose “appreciation of the pleasures of the table were not curtailed by his great age.” The star of the veterans however was undoubtedly Maurice Wagg, a hale and hearty 73 year old from Cubitt Town on the Isle of Dogs who, to be able to attend the event, had had to ask his boss for the day off from the chemical works where he still worked as a labourer.  Maurice proudly wore his Congressional Medal of Honor, the US equivalent of the Victoria Cross, which he had been awarded for his part in rescuing the crew of the famous ironclad, Monitor which had foundered off Cape Hatteras half a century before.

The Virginia and Monitor in the first battle of the ironclads at Hampton Roads

Maurice Wagg was born in Christchurch, Hampshire in 1840, the son of a former ploughman and the second of 9 children. Christchurch is just 20 miles from Southampton and the young Maurice succumbed to the lure of a life at sea. He was in New York at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 and enlisted in the Union Navy, serving as coxswain on the U.S.S. Rhode Island, a side wheel steamer originally called the Eagle and built just the previous year in New York then bought by the Union navy on June 27 1861. The Rhode Island was a supply ship providing stores to other navy ships as far south as Galveston, Texas. On 29 December 1862 the Rhode Island was ordered to tow the ironclad U.S.S. Monitor from Hampton Roads, where she had taken part in the famous battle, to Beaufort in North Carolina. The Monitor was the Unions first ironclad, designed by Swedish born John Ericsson and built on the East River in Brooklyn in just 101 days in late 1861. The U.S. Navy had largely remained loyal to the union at the outbreak of the Civil War leaving the Confederates at a disadvantage which they had tried to recover by investing in the construction of ironclads. This precipitated an arms race in which the construction of the Monitor was the Union’s first response to the Confederate’s strategy of using armour plated, steam powered battleships.  The ship was launched on 06 March 1862 and made immediately for Fort Munro in Virginia where a Union flotilla was blockading the James River. On 08 March the Confederate’s massive ironclad the Virginia engaged the flotilla at Hampton Roads, sinking two frigates and driving another aground. Although they were not convinced that the smaller Monitor was capable of taking on the much bigger Virginia Union Generals had no real choice but to order her into position to try and prevent the Confederate ship from breaking through the blockade and sailing up the Potomac to attack Washington. By the time the Monitor arrived at 9.00pm hostilities were effectively over for the day. When they resumed again next morning at 8.00am the crew of the Virginia were astonished to see the Monitor sail from behind the Union’s biggest ship, the Minnesota, and into a combat position. For the next four hours the two ships engaged in the first, ferocious, but ultimately indecisive, battle of ironclad battleships.  The two ships slowly circled each other,  it took the massive Virginia half an hour to complete a 180 degree turn, firing shells and solid shot at armour plate in an effort to sink the other. The Monitor took 22 direct hits, including 9 on its distinctive gun turret which caused bolts inside to shear off and ricochet around inside.  After the battle the crew of the Virginia counted 92 dents in her armour caused by the Monitors guns. Neither ship was significantly damaged; the outcome of the first duel of the ironclads was judged to be a draw.   

The crew of the USS Rhode Island save the crew of the Monitor   

The Monitor next saw action in May when she went to the assistance of the Union army trying to take Richmond by taking on the Confederate batteries at the battle of Dewry’s Bluff.  In September she was ordered back to Washington for repairs and refitting. On the day of her arrival she was greeted by a crowd of thousands lining the banks of the Potomac, cheering wildly.  On 24 December she was ordered to Beaufort, North Carolina from where she would join the blockade of Charleston.  Many of the crew, including the Executive Officer, Samuel Dana Greene, were not happy with the orders. Lieutenant Greene went so far as to say “I do not consider this steamer a sea going vessel”.  Designed for river combat the Monitor’s low freeboard and heavy gun turret made her unseaworthy in heavy winter seas. The crew were allowed to celebrate Christmas day on board (the cook was paid an additional dollar to prepare a festive dinner) but departure was further delayed because of poor weather. She was only able to launch on her final journey on 29 December.  It took her two days to navigate the bends and shifts of the Potomac and the sheltered waters of Chesapeake Bay  and reach the open sea; just in time to coincide with unsettled weather on 31 December. The command were so worried about Monitor’s seaworthiness that they put her under tow to USS Rhode Island, Maurice’s ship. Captain Bankhead used a chalk and blackboard to write a message to the crew of the Rhode Island – if his ship were to get into trouble he would use a red lantern to signal his need for assistance. It didn’t take long for the red lantern to be used; the unsettled weather soon turned into a storm and large waves were crashing over the Monitor. Water flooded into vents and port holes and the ship began to roll uncontrollably. The pumps were manned but water came quicker than the frantic crew could drain it out. The anchor was dropped, towlines to the Rhode Island cut (with the loss of two lives, both men swept overboard)and the engines stopped to divert all available steam to the steam pump but none of this was to any avail; the ship continued to pitch and roll in the waves and continued to take on water. Captain Bankhead lit the red lantern and signalled to the crew of the Rhode Island. 

The only known photo of Maurice wearing his Union uniform

Maurice’s official citation for the Medal of Honor gives few details of what he did that night as the Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras. He was, with the rest of the crew of the Rhode Island “engaged in saving the lives of the officers and crew of the Monitor.... participating in the hazardous task of rescuing [them],” when he “distinguished himself by meritorious conduct.” Exactly what this meritorious conduct consisted of is not stated. As a coxswain he would have been in charge of one of the small boats that put off from the Rhode Island in heavy seas, in almost total darkness, and rowed out to the sinking ironclad, getting close enough to take the panicking crew on board. 49 lives were saved before the Monitor finally sank taking four officers and 12 ordinary seaman with her to the ocean bed. None of the rescuers from the Rhode Island were killed though one of the cutters became separated and drifted away taking its crew with it. The Rhode Island stayed in position all night, waiting for daylight to search for more survivors and its missing cutter. After a fruitless search on new year’s day 1863 the ship made its way back to Washington to break the news of the loss of the ironclad. The missing cutter was picked up by a passing schooner 50 miles off Cape Hatteras later that day, all its occupants alive and well. Seven crew members of the Rhode Island were awarded the Medal of Honor for their part in the rescue, including three who had been in the lost cutter.  

Maurice’s Medal of Honor was awarded on 31 December 1864, the second anniversary of the sinking of the Monitor. We know he was still in the US in 1866 because on 20 January he married Mary Ann Murphy in Maine. The marriage did not last long; within a few weeks Maurice had abandoned his bride, walking out on her and taking her money in the process. It is hard to reconcile this behaviour with the heroism that won him his medal. By 1871 Maurice is back in England; he is recorded on the census as a mariner lodging at 3 Andersons Road in Southampton. He was still working on the ships 10 years later when he was staying with his aunt, the redoubtable widow, Benanna Summers, of Bulls Row in Northrepps, a village a few miles from Cromer in Norfolk. Maurice’s younger brother Charles had married a girl from Northrepps in 1875, Caroline Golden. Caroline had an older sister Harriet who had worked in London, in Belsize Park, as a housemaid to the ship owner Frederick Stovell but who was living back in Northrepps, in her father’s house in Bulls Row, when Maurice was lodging with his aunt Benanna. Harriet was 36 and Maurice 41, well past the usual age for marrying, when the pair of them tied the knot on 29 March 1880 at St Marylebone Parish Church, giving their address as 15 Lower Seymour Street, Bayswater just off the Edgeware Road. The following year the newly married couple were back in Northrepps with their first baby Ernest, Harriet staying at her fathers and Maurice with his aunt. Ernest was probably born in Northrepps, he was certainly baptised there in the 15th century church of St Mary the Virgin. The family may have been visiting Northrepps, certainly by the following year when their second child William was born In February they were living in Poplar. Baby William didn’t survive to see his first birthday, he died in January 1883.

By the time of the 1891 census Maurice and Harriet were firmly ensconced in Galbraith Street in Cubitt Town on the Isle of Dogs. Maurice was to spend the rest his life living in the street, first at number 11 and then at number 24. The small terraced houses that once housed the workers at the Millwall Docks were all destroyed by German bombs in the Second World War and eventually replaced by low rise social housing blocks. In census returns Maurice lists his occupation as Stevedore and the houses he lived in were always shared with at least one other family. In 1901 his only surviving child, 20 year old Ernest died in Dublin. With no pension an no children to support him and Harriet Maurice continued to work well into his seventies. When work in the docks became too physically demanding he moved to a chemical factory as a labourer. He died on 22 June 1926 aged 86 and was buried in an unmarked grave in the East London Cemetery in Plaistow. After his death Harriet tried to claim a Federal Widows Pension from the US Government. Surely Maurice had told her about his previous marriage? Maybe he had omitted to mention thathe had never been divorced?  Her request for a pension was refused on the grounds that her marriage was invalid, Maurice’s previous marriage to Mary Ann Murphy having never been dissolved. Mary had died in 1910 but Harriet had no right to a widows pension. She died in Poplar in 1937, aged 97.       

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Bricked up alive?; the boy mummy of St Botolph's Without Aldgate

A Saxon saint, very popular in the early medieval period, St. Botolph had four churches dedicated to him in London, all close to the city gates. St. Botolph without Aldgate, being right on the edge of the city, survived the great fire but was rebuilt in the 1740’s. A chance remark by Ed Glinert in The London Compendium caught my attention; “When the church was rebuilt by George Dance the Elder in 1744,” he says, “the body of a mummified boy, frozen in a standing position, was found in the vaults and churchwardens charged members of the public twopence to see it.” This particular church inherited a famous mummified head from a sister establishment in the 19th century but I’d never heard of the mummified boy until I was browsing Glinert.  

Disappointingly I couldn’t find any references to the discovery of a mummy at St. Botolph’s in the 1740’s in the newspaper archives but both the Wellcome Collection and the British Museum have copies of a print, probably from the 1760’s which according to its inscription purports to show the ‘exact representation of a boy about 12 years old who was found erect with his cloaths on in a vault ... in the year 1742’. The inscription goes on to say that the boy ‘is supposed to have been shut in at the time of the plague in London 1665 as the vault had not been open'd from that period till the time above mentioned when the church was pull'd down. The extraordinary circumstances attending this body are, that the skin, fibres, and intestines, are all hard, and very little of the bones appears. It weighs about 18Ibs. He is in the possession of Mr J. Rogers of No 2 Maiden Lane, Wood Street, London. This print may be had price 2s, with a ticket for a sight of the boy.’

John Rogers of 2 Maiden Lane was, according to his business card, a coal merchant. We will probably never know where or how he acquired the body of the boy from St Botolph’s but churchwardens corrupt enough to turn the corpse of a child into a sideshow and charge tuppence a gawp for the privilege of looking at it would have no doubt been open to offers for permanent acquisition, at the right price. Rogers decision to commission an engraving of the mummy and sell them at two shillings a shot (which included the price of admission to see the cadaver) was inspired.  No one knows how many he sold or how much money he made but copies of the print still turn for sale from time to time (if you are tempted there is a slightly tattered one on sale on ebay at the moment, a bargain at just £250).  

The next description of the mummy was published in 1786 in Richard Gough’s groundbreaking work of antiquarianism “Sepulchral monuments in Great Britain.”  In a chapter entitled ‘Instances of extraordinary preservation of the Dead in their respective graves’ (which was widely reprinted at the time, included by the Philological Society of London) Gough discusses numerous instances of preservation from the ancient world to contemporary London; “To these may be added,” he says “the famous instance of a poor parish-boy supposed to have been shut into a vault in St Botolph's church, Aldgate, and starved to death, at the time of the plague, 1665, since which time the vault was known not to have been opened, where he was found, 1742, with the fancied marks of having gnawed his shoulder, only, perhaps because his head reclined towards it. The skin fibres and intestines were all dried and very little of his bones appeared. The body weighed about eighteen pounds and was as exactly a counterpart of Lichfield's as could be. No signs of any embalment appear, and the body is perfectly free from any fetid or other smell.” Only Gough’s account  mentions the grime detail of autophagy implying that the boy was bricked up alive in the vault and had, in a futile attempt to stave off death by starvation, tried to eat his own shoulder.

From an account in the Morning Advertiser of Saturday 03 January 1818 entitled Species of Natural Mummy we know that the 12 year boy of St. Botolph’s was by this time “in the interesting collection of Mr Symmons, of Paddington House.” The report goes on to say that “this curious morceau of mortality, after passing through various possessions, has become the property of the above gentleman, whose elegant and classic taste corresponds with the benevolence and amenity of his disposition.” The description of the mummy is taken word for word from John Rogers print; there is at least one version of the print surviving where the reference to Rogers is struck out and the name of John Symmons added in large florid copperplate.

John Symmons of Paddington House was born in 1745 in Pembrokeshire, the son of a local landowner who was the MP for the Cardigan Boroughs. He was well connected in society and was an important collector.  He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, a founder member of the Royal Institution and of the Linnean Society, and a member of numerous other societies including the Horticultural Society, the Literary Society and the Society of Antiquaries. At Paddington House he employed the nurseryman William Salisbury to look after his garden of 4000 species of plants which Salisbury documented in a catalogue published as Hortus Paddingtoniensis. Symmons married four times, generally to very wealthy women (his ultimate marriage being contracted in 1828 when he was 83 years old) and guarded the explosive secret that his parents had not been married at the time of his birth and that the legitimate heir to his father’s fortune was his younger brother Charles. He was, unsurprisingly, always financially generous to his younger brother who probably had no idea that he was the true heir to the Welsh estate of Llanistran.  Among Symmon collection was an ancient dagger found in Wales “supposed to be the Model of those which ministered to the Massacre of the Britons at Stonehenge.” This mythical incident, “the supposed massacre at Stonehenge,  Mr Evans in the running title of his book calls the treachery of the long knives and the story of this horrid slaughter is to be found in the most authentic and most ancient Welsh MSS and even in the writings of those contemporary with Jeffrey of Monmouth who rejected his fables.” The dagger, like the mummy of the St Botolph’s boy, disappeared for ever following Symmon’s death on the continent in 1831 and the breakup and sale of his collections by his heirs. 

Monday, 29 July 2019

The Death Posture - Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956) Buckingham Road Cemetery, Ilford

Artist Who Refused to Paint Hitler  Mr. Austin Osman Spare, an artist who refused a commission from Hitler in 1938 to paint a portrait of the dictator, and who had a painting hung in the Royal Academy when he was only 17, died yesterday in a London hospital, aged 69. In the blitz his studio was bombed and his right arm badly injured. After several years of poverty and struggle he regained the use of his arm and last year exhibited again in a Paddington gallery.

Birmingham Daily Post - Wednesday 16 May 1956

In a rather commonplace grave that lies almost at the dead centre of an unremarkable suburban cemetery are buried the mortal remains of the extraordinary Austin Osman Spare, a working class artist and visionary cast in the same mould as William Blake. Like Blake Spare lived on the fringes of society, gathering some renown for his drawings and paintings but often the target of ridicule for his esoteric beliefs and his refusal to conform to the norms of polite society. He was buried anonymously in Buckingham Road cemetery in Ilford, interred in his father’s grave. There is no mention of Spare on his father’s plain granite kerb memorial and nothing to mark out the grave site amongst the almost uniformly grey ranks of toppled headstones and grave markers. But when I visited someone had managed to locate this needle in a haystack before me, in fact a small delegation seemed to have made its way to the grave sometime in the previous days or weeks and left a greetings card, a bundle of desiccated twigs that may possibly have been red carnations when they were originally purchased, and a still unopened miniature bottle of Tomintoul 10 year aged single malt whisky.  “I hope you’ll enjoy these humble gifts,” said Mia in a message in the card. “Dear Spare,” said Zak, “thank you for imagining a system of magic I could engage with in good faith.” The message from the leader of this trio of young devotees of the Zos Kia Cultus, who signs himself off with a sigil, was unfortunately almost completely illegible apart from the final few words “continue to work your magic in the 21st century.” I would like to imagine these three callow occultists conducting some sort of necromantic midnight rite at the graveside but, given how hard it is to find,it seems unlikely that they would have been able to locate it in the dark. They probably arrived on the 25 bus in the late afternoon, spent at least 40 minutes wandering from grave to grave reading inscriptions and epitaphs until they found Philip Newton’s, then dropped a sorry bunch of carnations bought from a garage and the miniature whisky filched from one of their parents onto the tomb before gathering in a semi circle and self consciously mumbling some Thelemite orison.  Spare would have been pleased to be remembered; of the hundreds of thousands of graves in London’s cemeteries only a tiny fraction draw total strangers to them to pay homage to their occupants decades after their death and even fewer receive grave gifts.  

Philip Newton Spare, Austin’s father, was born in Pickering, North Yorkshire in 1857 and came to London as a young man to lodge in Grays Inn Passage, Holborn and to join the Metropolitan Police. His mother, Eliza Osman, whom he never got on with, was originally from Farringdon Gurney in Somerset and married his father at St Bride’s in Fleet Street in 1879. Spare père remained a police constable for his entire working life, based at Snow Hill station in the city. He seems to have had an unusually dull career; the only mention of him in the papers came in January 1911 when he had arrested Joseph Scott a labourer for being drunk and disorderly. At Mansion House Police Court Police Constable Spare has explained to the Lord Mayor that he had been at the foot of the boat pier at Blackfriars at 10.00pm the previous Sunday when he had seen Scott coming up the steps from the river stark naked. Apparently the rather foolhardy Scott had accepted a half crown bet and jumped naked from Blackfriars Bridge into the river, in January, in the dark. He was let off with a caution. Philip and Eliza started married life in police lodgings in Snow Hill, near Smithfield meat market. Austin was the fourth of the Spare’s five children.    

In 1894, when Austin was 7 years old, the family moved to Kennington. Austin soon began to show precocious talent as an artist and when he left school at the age of 13 he was apprenticed to Sir Joseph Causton and Sons, a firm that designed and produced posters. In the evening he studied at Lambeth School of Art. In 1904 Philip sent two of Austin’s drawings to the Royal Academy:


The Royal Academy exhibition was opened on Monday. The youngest exhibitor this year, as stated in last Thursday's Daily Mail is only seventeen years old. His name is Austin 0. Spare and he is the son of Mr. Philip Spare, until recently a constable in the City of London Police Force. He sent two black and white drawings to the Academy, says the Central News, both of which were accepted, one being hung. They were executed when the artist was sixteen years of age. Spare was born in December 1887. He was educated at St. Sepulchre's School. Snow Hill, and St. Agnes School, Kennington Park and received his first art training at the Lambeth Evening Art School under Mr. Macady. There, before he was twelve, he took three first class certificates. At the age of fourteen he won a £10 County Council scholarship and one of his drawings was selected for the British art section at the Paris International Exhibition. When he was fifteen some work which he was doing for Messrs. Powell, the stained glass manufacturers, attracted the attention of Sir William Richmond and Mr. Jackson. R.A. and those gentlemen recommended the youthful artist for a free scholarship at South Kensington Art School. There at the age of sixteen he won the silver medal in the national competition and also the £4O scholarship. Some drawings executed by him a year ago form part of the art of the British section at the International Exhibition at St. Louis. (London Daily News -Tuesday 03 May 1904)

Austin became an Edwardian celebrity, the new Aubrey Beardsley, working as an illustrator, holding exhibitions in the West End, and publishing his own books. Fellow artists acclaimed his work including G.F. Watts, John Singer Sargent and Augustus John. He met the Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley, who became a patron, publishing several of Austin’s drawings in his magazine ‘Equinox’. Crowley invited him to join his Thelemite order the Argenteum Astrum but the pair fell out before Austin became a full member. His association with England’s greatest occultist reinforced his interest in the esoteric and he remained committed to magical theory and practice long after the pre war fashion for it passed. During the First World War he was initially rejected on medical grounds for military service but then called up again in 1917 when the authorities were desperate enough to accept almost anyone. He served in the Royal Medical Corp (where he was officially reprimanded for scruffiness) and had a short stint as an official war artist in 1918. After the war he career went into terminal decline; Austin’s strong draughtsmanship and his attachment to figurative art left him outside the new mainstream of modernism and he ended up back living south of the river in the Borough in near poverty and increasing isolation. In the early 1930’s there was an attempt by some newspapers to claim that the artist was the father of Surrealism (FATHER OF SUUREALISM – HE’S A COCKNEY! ran one headline in 1936). Before the war he was trying to sell stylised portraits of Jean Harlow, Mary Pickford and other Hollywood stars from a studio  above Woolworths in the Elephant & Castle and in the blitz he lived in a bombed out basement in Brixton with a pride of stray cats. 

After the war another newspaper article, this one portraying him as a starving artist (concerned readers from as far away as South Africa posted him tins of pineapple chunks and salmon) brought him to the attention of fellow artist Steffi Grant and her husband Kenneth, Aleister Crowley’s one secretary. In an article in the Guardian Phil Baker (author of an excellent biography of Austin) pointed out that “it was in the writings of the late Kenneth Grant…. that Spare was reinvented as a dark sorcerer, seduced and initiated in childhood by an elderly witch in Kennington. Grant preserved and magnified Spare's own tendency to confabulation, giving him the starring role in stories further influenced by Grant's own reading of visionary and pulp writers such as Arthur Machen, HP Lovecaft, and Fu Manchu creator Sax Rohmer. Grant's Spare seems to inhabit a parallel London; a city with an alchemist in Islington, a mysterious Chinese dream-control cult in Stockwell, and a small shop with a labyrinthine basement complex, its grottoes decorated by Spare, where a magical lodge holds meetings. This shop – then a furrier, now an Islamic bookshop, near Baker Street – really existed, and part of the fascination of Grant's version of Spare's London is its misty overlap with reality.” Kenneth Grant was a key supporter and promotor of Austin while he was alive and integral to the creation of his legend after his death. The Grants were one of the few mourners at Austin’s funeral, Kenneth who had been born in Ilford, like Austin probably returning to the place for the last time, Austin never to leave, Kenneth never to return.  

Friday, 19 July 2019

On Murder Mile - Buckingham Road Cemetery, Ilford

Buckingham Road cemetery is unkempt and dilapidated though not, as many disused London cemeteries are, wildly overgrown and returning to a state of nature. It perhaps has more than its fair share of vandalised graves, dozens of memorial stones in some parts of the cemetery have been toppled, altar tombs have been demolished and most of the few statues are missing limbs, wings or heads. When local residents and cemetery users complained to Redbridge Council in 2017 about neglect of the site claiming it was potholed, strewn with litter, beer cans and the remains of arson and fly tipping, a spokesman for the council responded by telling the local paper that the cemetery “is squarely in the middle of the borough’s rough sleepers and street drinking hot spot. Redbridge police, our own enforcement officers as well as the rough sleepers outreach team visit regularly to offer help and to keep order.” The council was, the spokesman promised, going to fix fences and repair paths and access roads as well as clearing up the rubbish “however carrying out this work is made difficult with the number of rough sleepers on site and the area needs to be cleared of litter and drug paraphernalia in advance.” Although there was evidence of at least one rough sleeper when I was there last week, the unruly hordes of down and outs cluttering up the place a couple of  years ago seem to have largely moved on.

At around 1.00am on the 9th September 2010 police were called to reports of an injured man on Ilford High Road, close to the cemetery. They found a badly beaten 58 year old Git Singh unconscious on the pavement. Following another call at 3.30am they picked up 43 year old Harteerth Singh outside the cemetery, also with serious injuries.  Later that morning, when it was light enough, the police returned to the area to search for evidence of the vicious attacks on the two homeless men. This time they found they found the corpse of 31 year old Harbarjan Singh who had died of horrific head and neck injuries inflicted with a blunt, heavy instrument.  The two injured men soon recovered sufficiently to be able to identify their attacker, 57 year old Jaswinder Singh of Town Road, Enfield. The three men slept rough, sometimes in the cemetery, sometimes in a car park belonging to nearby business premises.  A few before the murder the three men had been involved in an altercation with Jaswinder outside a supermarket. Being outnumbered he had been at the receiving end of a beating that day and had sworn vengeance.  Shortly before midnight on the 8th September he had tracked the three down to the cemetery and bludgeoned them with an iron crow bar while they slept.  Jaswinder was an illegal migrant who had entered the UK from India in 1995. He had previous convictions and served prison sentences for violence in the UK and Germany. Authorities made four unsuccessful attempts to deport him back to India after each conviction but he was back in gaol for another offence before the deportation order came through.  “You are obviously a man with a tendency to explosive and eruptive violence, quite disproportionate to any perceived provocation,” said Judge Richard Hone at Jaswinder’s trial at the Old Bailey. He gave him a life sentence, specifying a minimum term of 24 years.  

On the 24th January 2018 Ilford police were called to A-Z Furniture and Carpets on the High Road by 31year old shop worker Imran Muhammed. A surprisingly calm Muhammed, who was bleeding from lacerations on his forearms, told police that he had been robbed in the shop and slashed with broken glass by a group of unknown men. Something did not quite add up for the investigating detectives and their suspicions only increased a couple of days later when the wife of the 49 year old shop manager, Seyed Khan, reported her husband missing since the evening of the 24th. He had left his South London home in Thamesmead at 5.00pm to go to the shop and had not come home that night. Police soon found Khan’s car parked nearby on the High Road and a check of his phone records showed that he had made a call on his mobile at 6.55pm probably from the shop. Muhammed claimed that he had never shown up for work that evening. Khan’s wife told the police that he had told her that he suspected one of the shop staff was stealing money and that he intended to sack him. On the first of February the police began a thorough search of the local area using tracker dogs. Buckingham Road Cemetery was a 10 minute walk away from the shop and it was there that the dogs found Khan’s body hidden in undergrowth. When questioned Muhammed immediately admitted murdering Khan. He told the police that he had killed his boss with an axe after he had made sexual advances towards him. He said that Khan had tried to rape him on more than one occasion and had also tried to blackmail. That night he snapped and cleaved his skull open with an axe. He had then put in the body in a supermarket trolley from the nearby Aldi, covered it with an offcut of carpet and wheeled it up the road to the cemetery where he had hidden it amongst some bushes. He then returned to the shop, cleaned up and painted over the bloodstains on the wall, and then cut his own arms with a broken bottle before calling the police to tell them that the shop had been robbed.  When detectives checked Muhammed’s internet browsing history they discovered that four days before the attack he had searched google for ‘how to kill a man with a punch, ‘how to kill a man with a hammer’ and ‘brain injuries’. The Old Bailey jury refused to believe that Khan, a father of four, had sexually attacked Muhammed and convicted him of murder.

Buckingham Road is one of the few cemeteries in the capital missed from that otherwise meticulous and exhaustive work of reference Hugh Meller and Brian Parson’s ‘London Cemeteries’.  The reason for its absence is probably a certain ambiguity over its status; is it a cemetery or merely an overextended churchyard?  Ilford became an independent parish from neighbouring Barking in 1830 and the new parish church of St Mary’s Great Ilford built the following year to a design by James Savage. The church had a small churchyard which was used for burials and which quickly became filled when the population of the parish began to grow at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1880 the parish established a burial board which bought vacant land behind the church and laid out a new cemetery, including a chapel (since demolished). The first burial took place on 4th September 1881. The cemetery was initially separated from the churchyard by a brick wall but this too has been demolished. There are few distinguished people buried in the cemetery. Sir Peter Griggs, a local householder who laid out much of Ilford’s new estates in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and became the town’s first MP has the tallest memorial surmounted by an angel (well out of reach of even the most determined vandal). The artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare is buried in his father’s grave (more of him another day) and the bird illustrator John Gerrard Keulemans is buried in an unmarked grave. 

A toppled grave in the centre of the cemetery marks the final resting place of 45 year old George Ward, ‘a devoted husband, a loving father, a faithful friend’ who died August 17 1928 at Ilford train station. George had worked for WH Smith’s since 1897 and was manager of the station bookstall when he died. The Essex Newsman of 25 August takes up the story:

ILFORD RAILWAY TRAGEDY. SMITH'S MANAGER KILLED. Mr. George Ward, aged 45, of Madras Road, Ilford, who had been manager of Messrs. W. H. Smith and Son's bookstall at Ilford station for years, was knocked down and killed by a train last Friday. Mr. Ward was married man. He was crossing the line to open a stall on the other side of the station, and apparently did not notice the train coming. Dr. Ambrose held an inquest at the Ilford Town Hall Tuesday, and in returning verdict of Accidental death. said: Familiarity breeds contempt, and after twenty-seven years of dodging across the line he tried to get across and was knocked down."