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 tried to get across and was knocked down."

Saturday, 13 July 2019

'Highgate Cemetery; Victorian Valhalla' John Gay & Felix Barker (John Murray, London 1984 - out of print)

One of the key publications in cemetery studies “Highgate Cemetery; Victorian Valhalla” is sadly out of print but good second hand copies can be picked up online for less than a tenner.  Originally published in the UK in 1984 by John Murray in conjunction with the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, unusually for a book on a single London cemetery an American edition was published by Salem House the same year. The public image of Highgate was essentially created by Gay and Barker’s book and thereafter assiduously marketed by the Friends of the Cemetery. There have been further books on the cemetery, John Swannell’s 2010 book of photographs published by Hurtwood Press and the Friends for example, but the view presented of the cemetery always sits comfortably within the template set by Gay and Barker.

John Gay was born Hans Göhler in 1909 in Karlsruhe, Germany. He studied art in Paris but taking an interest in photography returned home to try and make a career for himself as a photographer. He  left Germany for good at the age of 24 in 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor and the Nazi’s snatched power and emigrated to London where he had friends. No doubt the increasing hostility to Germans in the run up to the Second World War were ultimately behind the decision to give himself an English name but the reason for his choosing the 18th century poet who wrote The Beggar’s Opera as his namesake is not clear; perhaps he had seen the 1931 film of Brecht’s Die Dreigroschenoper and was making his political affiliations clear? Like his fellow national Bill Brandt, Gay became a successful commercial photographer in England taking striking portraits of the famous and documenting the daily life of the country for the magazine market. 

As the cover makes clear this is a book of John Gay’s photographs, Felix Barker’s contribution is merely an introduction. Barker was a successful journalist who had become the youngest drama critic on Fleet Street at the age of 19. He was also interested in art and architecture and as a sideline published books on London’s history including the innovative “London As It Might Have Been”, which looked at all the grand architectural plans for the capital that never got off the ground. He was an inspired choice for the text of the book. In a little over 30 pages he retails all the key narratives that have since become the story of Highgate Cemetery; its creation by Stephen Geary, its architectural marvels, its unparalleled success as the premier Victorian cemetery, and its decline into semi wilderness and eventual rescue by the Friends. As for its inhabitants he tells us about James Selby the coachmen, General Otway, George Wombwell, Tom Sayers and Julius Beer amongst others. We also learn about the Druce and Rossetti scandals but there is no mention of vampires or Satanism.  It is a lively trot through the history of the cemetery and sets the scene effectively for Gay’s photographs.      

Gay’s cemetery photos, particularly those he took of Highgate, are iconic. His is an essentially romantic vision; he was clearly fascinated by the cemeteries return to nature, angels wreathed in ivy, sometimes only a face or an upturned managing to escape the sprawling vegetation, tipsy monuments seemingly on the point of being toppled by tree roots, stairs covered in dead leaves, memorials imprisoned in a thicket of saplings, collapsed tree trunks held up by cast iron railings. Everywhere in the photos the work of civilisation, the human drive to memorialise the dead, is being engulfed and obliterated by the twin forces of time and nature. Whether he set the fashion or merely captured the zeitgeist, his photos are now the prototypical vision of what a London cemetery should be. The Friends expend considerable effort maintaining the cemetery just as Gay saw it. Nature is only allowed to run rampant up to a point, then it is carefully trimmed back, uprooted or cut; monuments must not be allowed to fall or be damaged. Nature must be carefully held in check, its attempt to overtake the cemetery frozen in mid course. It is a very tight balancing act.  

If you pay to go on one of the Friend’s guided tours you will get to see the majority of the monuments and sites within the cemetery photographed by Gay. Very little has changed since 1984 when the book was published.  Undergrowth has been trimmed back to better reveal some of the memorials and despite the best efforts of the Friends some monuments have succumbed to the ravages of time or vandals. There has also been some new burials – the tour guide will inevitably point out Alexander Litvinenko’s grave after you have paused at  James Selby’s and might draw your attention in passing to Beryl Bainbridge. George Michael is off limits though, one more of Highgate’s secrets carefully guarded by the Friends.  

Friday, 5 July 2019

Reasons To Be Cheerful? - Chiswick New Cemetery, Staveley Gardens, W4

“This is not one of London’s most appealing cemeteries,” says Hugh Meller with typical understatement, in ‘London Cemeteries’,” and it must be one of the noisiest, set down in a water meadow sandwiched between an arterial road and a suburban railway line. The planners probably realised the site was not ideal for residential development, but would not have anticipated the additional roar of aeroplanes that now regularly fly overhead to Heathrow. However, the dead don’t complain and the cemetery remains in regular use.”

I was last at this unappealing 15 acre plot in May 2014 looking for the grave of Moura Budberg, Russian émigré, possible spy, society hostess and lover of H.G.Wells and Maxim Gorky. The Russian graves were easy to find, marked as they are by Byzantine crosses. There were far more of them than I expected – in fact they seemed to stretch almost as far as the eye could see, hundreds of them in neat rows, blackened with soot and with heavily weathered inscriptions often in Cyrillic. My heart sank – finding Moura was going to be a nightmare. I almost gave up before I’d even started. I was standing on the path and I looked down at the cross in front of me. The inscription on the base was still legible though lacking a few letters M RIE BUDBERG nee ZAKREVSKY (1892-1974). It was the easiest grave search I have ever done. 

The cemetery was opened in 1933 by Brentford Council. The brick and Portland stone chapel was designed by the borough surveyor Joseph R. Musto and thriftily constructed for just £5000. It looks like an Art Deco cinema and was deliberately never consecrated to allow cross denominational services. It is small, relatively recently opened for a cemetery, belongs to the council and nothing much of any interest ever seems to have happened there. The one time it seems to have hit the news was last year when cemetery users complained it had become so overgrown that it was ‘like a jungle’. Photos showed that the grass hadn’t been cut for at least a couple of months....

The site may be unattractive, there are no really striking memorials but there are a few interesting burials here. Moura for me still remains by far the most fascinating character but the grave of Father Nigel Bourne also caught my attention. It isn’t often that you come across a catholic priest buried with his wife. There are many Polish as well as Russian graves including Wincenty Andrzej Rudolf Rapacki (1901-1980) whose epitaph reads 'ostatni potomek slynnej rodziny aktorskiej' – the last descendent of the famous acting family. He was named after his grandfather, the great Polish actor Wincenty Rapacki who was born in Lipno in 1840 and went on to found one of an acting and performing dynasties which included well known musicians as well as painters. Chiswick’s Wincenty was a pianist who fled Poland after the Second World War and settled in London, working as producer for Radio Free Europe.

At least three victims of the 1960’s serial killer popularly known as Jack the Stripper are buried here. The killer operated in West London and is believed to have murdered at least 8 women, all of them vulnerable to predatory attacks by a psychopath because they were working as prostitutes. The first to be killed and buried in a common grave at Chiswick was Elizabeth Figg a 21 year old from the Wirral who was found at 5.10am on 17 June 1959 by police officers out on a routine patrol in Dukes Meadow, Chiswick, a couple of hundred yards from Barnes Bridge. She had been strangled. Her underwear and shoes were missing and her dress had been ripped open to reveal her breasts. She was identified by family from a post mortem photo published in the newspapers. Also buried at Chiswick in common graves are Irene Lockwood whose naked body was found on the Thames foreshore at Corney Reach, Chiswick on 08 April 1964. She was 24 and was another northern girl working in the capital; she had been born in Retford, Nottinghamshire. She had been last seen alive the night before her body was discovered at a pub in Chiswick. The post mortem revealed that she was pregnant at the time of her death. Found just a couple of weeks later, in a Brentford alleyway, on 24 April 1964 was 22 year old Helen Barthelemy from East Lothian in Scotland. She was buried in the same grave as Irene Lockwood.     

In July 1979, the miserable, early months of Thatcherism, Ian Dury attempted to perk the nation up with ‘Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3’. His catalogue of things calculated to put a smile on the face of the gloomy British public included;

Something nice to study, phoning up a buddy
Being in my nuddy
Saying hokey-dokey, Sing Along With Smokey
Coming out of chokey
John Coltrane's soprano, Adi Celentano
Bonar Colleano

Dury was perhaps one of the few who remembered Bonar Colleano, a bit part actor whose film credits included A Matter of Life and Death and Escape By Night. Bonar was born in New York in 1924 and came to the UK when he was 12. He retained his American accent which stood him in good stead, winning him innumerable parts as an American serviceman in British movies of the 40’s and 50’s. He died at the age of 34 in 1958 when his red sports car was involved in a fatal collision in Birkenhead. He is buried at the cemetery. He fathered two children before his premature death, one out of wedlock, who grew up in Dundee to become Robbie McIntosh, a founder member of the Average White Band. Which means Bonar was connected to two top 10 1970’s hits as his son drummed on the AWB’s ‘Pick Up The Pieces.’  

P.S. This cemetery has strong personal significance for Sheldon from the Cemetery Club. His has written about at on his own blog, and for Loren Rhoads Cemetery Travel. 

Thursday, 27 June 2019

There's a Home for Little Children - West Ham Cemetery, Cemetery Road, E7

Edith Ledingham's memorial was raised by public subscription

When asked to think of burial places in the capital the like of Highgate and Kensal Green are the most likely to spring to mind, but in the interests of honesty it has to be conceded that most London cemeteries are relatively small, scenically dull and in terms of their monuments and memorials, unremarkable. The affluent, the important, the powerful, those with any degree of celebrity at all, are likely to be buried in one of the magnificent 7 or in a handful of later rivals but the vast majority of London’s population, the hoi polloi who pass their lives toiling in unnoticed anonymity, are more likely to be buried somewhere utterly undistinguished, like West Ham Cemetery.

Like many of its counterparts across London the West Ham Burial Board was set up following the passing of the first of the Metropolitan Burial Act’s in 1852. The cautious alderman of the borough took their time acquiring 12 acres of land from local philanthropist Samuel Gurney, advertising the tender in 12 newspapers and writing to 10 local land agents before settling on a flat and barren site in the far north of the borough. The West Ham Cemetery opened in 1857 and was later enlarged; its 20 acres now lie contained within a 10 foot high brick perimeter wall adjacent to the 10 and a half acres of the Jewish cemetery. The cemetery is now owned by the London Borough of Newham and is still a working burial ground. In London Cemeteries Hugh Meller notes that “it is apparent that little regard was paid to the landscaping potential [of the site], good drainage and cost being considered more important. Thus West Ham is remarkable more for its lack of distinctive features than anything else.”  It is true that to the casual observer the cemetery contains little of interest, no impressive monuments, no well known burials and only a few trees punctuating the rather bleak prospect. But some at least of the rather ordinary memorials do have interesting stories to tell.  

The most impressive memorial in the cemetery (there isn’t much competition it has to be said) belongs to Edith Ledingham. The monument was raised by public subscription, over 5000 people contributing to the £50 cost of the terracotta tablet set in Portland stone showing a small child seeking comfort from a diaphanously draped woman. Edith was the steward of the SS Iona, a passenger ship which caught fire while docked at Limehouse in September 1895. She died saving a child from the flames and was hailed as a heroine as a result. The Edinburgh Evening News of 21 September 1895 reported that the “funeral of the stewardess took place yesterday afternoon at West Ham Cemetery in the presence of a sympathetic assembly. It was at first intended to make a start from the Custom House, where the parents of the deceased reside, but with a view avoid any crush, the funeral met at the undertaker's premises, High Street, Poplar. The coffin, elm, bore the following inscription: Edith Mary Ledingham. Died 16th September, aged 21. The principal mourners were the mother and sister of the deceased.” Edith was initially buried in a public grave, presumably because her family could not afford a private one but 10 months after the funeral she was exhumed and moved to a private plot as memorials were not allowed on public graves.   

Researching the history of Margravine Cemetery in Hammersmith I had been astonished at the stories of dead babies found abandoned in the cemetery by the staff, something I hadn’t come across at other cemeteries. Trawling through newspaper archives for mentions of West Ham cemetery I came across a similar dead baby story in the Barking, East Ham & Ilford Advertiser and Upton Park and Dagenham Gazette for Saturday 11 August 1894:

BABY FOUND A HALF-DUG GRAVE, Mr. Coroner Lewis held an inquest at West Ham on Wednesday on the body of a newly-born male child. lt appeared from the evidence of the gravedigger, John Jarvis, that Friday night he left a grave in West Ham Cemetery only partly dug out. Next morning he was surprised find a deal box in the hole. The box was handed to the police, and was found to contain the body of the child. Dr. Grogono said the child had been born three days. The cause of death was exhaustion from lack of proper attention at the birth. A verdict in accordance with this evidence was returned. The Superintendent of the cemetery said, in reply to the Coroner, that the wall was too high for any woman to climb over.

The first burial in the cemetery took place on 03 November 1837. The Essex Standard of 11 November reported on the event and on the new cemetery:  
The remains of Mrs. Meeson, wife of John Meeson, Esq., of Stratford, were interred in West Ham Cemetery on Tuesday last, being the first interment in this newly consecrated burial ground. Since the closing of All Saints and the Brickfield's Chapel burial grounds a very large increase of interments has taken place at St. John's. Stratford, and St. Mary's, Plaistow. The incumbent of St. John's very considerately made a reduction in the burial fees so as to afford greater facilities to the poor for the interment of deceased relatives, and a similar arrangement was also made by the incumbent of St. Mary's, Plaistow. The remoteness of West Ham Cemetery from many parts of the parish would point out the necessity of the parochial authorities providing some economical conveyance for the mourners as well as for the corpse, as there are many who are ill able to meet the ordinary expenses of a funeral, upon whom this increased charge would fall a great hardship. This matter would appear deserving the notice of the burial society, especially as they have a local precedent to warrant them in so doing. For several years past the guardians of the West Ham Union provided a horse-hearse, with cloaks, & that the funerals of paupers have been conducted with a decency and respectability that strongly contrasts with pauper funerals in many of the other metropolitan parishes.

Ann Maria Meeson must have died relatively young. Her husband, John Meeson Esquire of Statford only joined her in the cemetery 33 years later, in 1890. The Essex Newsman reported that the borough flag was flown at half mast and that the “large and representative congregation” in the parish church “was hundreds more in West Ham Cemetery, where the body of the deceased was laid in the grave which years ago received the remains of his wife. The funeral procession was of great length. An open carriage lined with lovely wreaths and crosses headed the procession. Next came an open car bearing the body, the coffin being hidden by wreaths. The mourners followed in eight carriages, and upwards of thirty other carriages were in the procession, many of them being those of gentlemen of the district.”

On a corner plot by the side of the main path stands a small red granite obelisk. The inscription on the base reads “In memory of the 26 boys who unhappily lost their lives by the disastrous fire which occurred at the school Forest Lane West Ham 1st January 1890 – erected as an expression of sympathy with the bereaved relatives by the managers and staff of the Forest Gate District School.” The story was reported widely in the papers all over the country; the Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette of Tuesday 07 January 1890, just a week after the fatal fire, gives an account of the funeral of the victims the previous day;


The funeral took place yesterday at West Ham Cemetery of the twenty-six little boys who perished New-Year’s morning at West Ham Industrial School. An immense concourse of people assembled along the route and at the cemetery. The relatives of the deceased were supplied by the school with tea and bread and butter before the funeral. Several officials attended to represent the Local Government Board, and Mr Theobald, M.P. for the Romford Division, was also present. The bodies were conveyed in seven hearses to St. James's Church, and among the followers were twenty boys and twenty girls from the schools, who acted as choristers. The Service at church, which was choral, was performed by the Rev. Dr Nicholson, and at the grave side the Rev. Canon Scott officiated. The little coffins, which merely bore the names and ages of the victims, were placed in five graves, and during the sad ceremony the children mourners sang the hymn, “There's a Home for Little Children.'’

One can’t help wondering how anyone could think that a hymn with these words, sung by a choir of 40 children, would do anything but fill the hearts of the bereaved parents with wormwood and gall;

There's a home for little children
above the bright blue sky,
where Jesus reigns in glory,
a home of peace and joy
no home on earth is like it,
nor can with it compare;
for everyone is happy
nor could be happier there.

And tea and bread and butter before the funeral? Supplied by the institution that had let their children perish?  The industrial school was effectively a care home for children whose parents for whatever reason, were unable to take care of them (poverty probably being the commonest reason). The children came from as far away as Croydon but the majority were from the crowded slums of Poplar, Stepney and Bethnal Green. At the inquest the school superintendent Charles Duncan explained that the children had been put to bed at 7.45pm on New Years Eve, the same time as any other night, and that nothing unusual occurred until he was called from his quarters after midnight by the needle mistress Miss Terry who, in some consternation, told him that the needle room was on fire.  When he went to investigate he found not only the needle room but the corridor outside and the stairs leading to the dormitories full of smoke “so dense that be found it difficult to breathe.” He tied a handkerchief around his mouth and nose and on his hands and knees groped his way to the fire hydrant and extinguisher and tried, unsuccessfully, to put out the blaze. While he grappled with the fire other teachers evacuated the children. Unfortunately one of the dormitories was locked and the key in the possession of a teacher who had the evening off and had gone out to celebrate New Year. It took an hour to get into the two locked dormitories – every single child sleeping there had died of smoke inhalation and suffocation. The cause of the fire was a badly swept stove chimney which had set alight releasing clouds of toxic smoke.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Only doing their duty; Henry Vickers (1868-1917) & Frederick Charles Sell (1872-1917), West Ham Cemetery

49 year Sub Officer Henry Vickers and 45 year old Fireman Frederick Charles Sell were members of the West Ham Corporation Fire Brigade based at the fire station in Silvertown. They were both killed in the 1917 Silvertown Explosion, caused by a fire in a TNT factory which the government had, with minimal regard for health and safety, set up in the Brunner Mond Chemical works, just across the road from the fire station. The factory had opened in 1893 to produce soda crystals and caustic soda. In 1912 management terminated production of caustic soda which left spare capacity in the factory which the government requisitioned in 1916 to carry out the extremely dangerous process of purifying TNT. Brunner Mond objected, pointing out that the factory was in a heavily populated area of London. It was also a very poor area of London so Brunner Mond’s objections went unheeded.  On the evening of 19th January 1917 a fire broke out in the melt pot room of the factory. The fire station was literally a few hundred yards away and so the corporation’s fire fighters were quickly on the scene and already tackling the blaze when it ignited 50 long tons of TNT. The resulting explosion spread red hot debris for miles around, causing many secondary fires.  A chunk of heated masonry hit a gasometer on the Greenwich peninsula, 200,000 cubic feet of gas exploding into a spectacular fireball.  60,000 buildings were damaged but, amazingly, only 73 people died, mainly because at 7pm on a Friday the factory and surrounding workplaces were all deserted. Many of the victims were mangled beyond recognition and identification, in those pre dental records/DNA test days, was a traumatic affair. Cases recorded by the Stratford Express include a fireman who was at the scene at the time of the explosion miraculously survived only to return home to find his wife and child had perished. A mother of a worker at the factory identified him by his head, which happened to be the only part his body that had been recovered. Another man identified a fellow lodger from the remains of a lower leg because he recognised the copy of the Daily Sketch which the victim had used to stuff a hole in the sole of his boots that morning before he left for work. A millhand identified the body of his 32 year old wife in one mortuary and his 13 year old son in another. His ten year old daughter he found in the ruins of his house. 

Henry Vickers and Frederick Charles Sell were both fighting the initial fire in the melt room and were killed instantly by the subsequent explosion.  Frederick’s 15 year old daughter Winifred and Ethel Betts, the 4 month old daughter of another fireman, are buried in the same plot in West Ham Cemetery. Henry’s son Harold formally identified the body of his father and his 15 year old sister. She had been in the fire station at the time of the explosion and was found in an adjacent field with her back broken. Harold arrived home in time to assist a colleague of his father’s carrying his sister from the field to the pavement in front of the fire station. He helped to lay her on a mattress where she quietly died. Two of his brothers and his mother had also been in the station at the time of the explosion but they survived. Also based at Silvertown fire station was George Betts. His wife had put their 3 children to bed at 6pm. After the explosion she brought two of them out into the street and a passing stranger went back into the house to find the third, four month old baby Ethel, but she was already dead. 

Monday, 3 June 2019

Crumbling into Anonymity - Highgate Cemetery (West)

"Highgate Cemetery....a vast army of Victorian Merchants, officers, widows and judges gently crumbling into anonymity beneath ivy and saplings and lushly sinister mare’s tails.”   

Professor Mark Girouard
It may be the doyen of London cemeteries but I have never been especially fond of Highgate. Uniquely amongst London cemeteries (in fact uniquely amongst any cemeteries anywhere as far as I know) the Friends of Highgate charge an entrance fee for visitors to the East cemetery. The current charge is £4, which isn’t extortionate by any means, but one has the feeling that Karl Marx, who is after all the major draw amongst the permanent residents, probably doesn’t approve of this blatant bit of capitalism. Once you have paid your four quid you can roam freely and completely unsupervised and spend the whole day inside if you want.  Access to the older Grade II listed West cemetery is more tightly controlled and is by guided tour only. One of the reasons I like cemeteries is that in a city if 8 million inhabitants they give me the opportunity to get away from other people. I hate being herded around anywhere but particularly in cemeteries which I prize as little oases of calm in the general bewilderment of London.  Having said that the tours are good, the guides knowledgeable and they only cost £12. But they tend to follow the same route around the cemetery and you are not allowed to stray away from your group or loiter over anything you find particularly interesting. The whole thing is just too controlled for my liking and has stopped me forming any sort of attachment to the cemetery itself.


Highgate seems to exert a particular fascination over foreigners with taphophilic inclinations. Tracey Chevalier (American), Audrey Niffenegger (American) and Fred Vargas (French) have all set novels in and around the cemetery in recent years. Loren Rhoads (American), author of 199 Cemeteries to see before you die dates her own taphophile obsession back to a visit to Highgate in the early 1990’s. Her visit was inspired by a chance encounter with a copy of Highgate Cemetery; Victorian Valhalla in WH Smiths on Victoria Station and its iconic photographs of the cemetery by John Gay (aka Hans Göhler, German). Guy Vaes (Belgian) featured Highgate prominently in his 1978 book of photographs  Les Cimetières de Londres. The abandoned and overgrown Highgate of the 1970’s and 80’s photographed so lovingly by Gay has come to epitomise Victorian Gothic (even though the Victorians would never have allowed any cemetery to get into such a dreadful state of neglect). It is the cemetery converted to wildwood with toppled headstones and angels smothered in ivy that has found a special place in so many taphophile hearts. Only the English would so willfully neglect their burial places and allow them to revert so spectacularly back to almost untrammeled nature. Can you imagine the French letting Père Lachaise to get into the same state as Abney Park or Nunhead?

Highgate was the creation of Stephen Geary, an architect and entrepreneur, who was heavily involved in the Victorian burial reform movement. Like many who concerned themselves with the   campaign to abolish churchyard interments he had a marked proclivity for grandiose architectural styles (see Thomas Willson for example).  His first significant work was a sixty foot monument to King George IV which stood in an area then known as Battlebridge at the junction of Grays Inn, Pentonville and Euston Roads.  Neither the King nor his monument proved particularly popular and the giant statue was demolished in 1842, just six years after being built. Its nickname has lasted rather longer however – Kings Cross. Geary was a founder of the London Cemetery Company which founded Nunhead and Brompton as well as Highgate Cemeteries.  In 1830 the 17th century Ashurst Manor in Highgate was demolished and St Michael’s Church built on the site of the house. The London Cemetery Company bought, for £3500, 20 acres of the estate’s gardens due south of the new church, on the slopes of Highgate Hill. These were laid out as the cemetery with landscaping by David Ramsay and the first catacombs and the celebrated Egyptian Avenue designed by Geary himself.

The cemetery was consecrated on the 20th May 1839 by the Bishop of London and the first burial, of the 36 year old Elizabeth Jackson of Golden Square, took place just two days later on the 23rd. Elizabeth was buried in a grave 10 feet deep, 6ft 6in long and 2ft 6in for which her family had paid 3 guineas. The depth of the grave and the additional cost (13 shillings more than the minimum price) were to allow for additional burials in the same plot and Elizabeth was eventually joined by three other relatives. Business in the newly opened cemetery was brisk – there were 204 burials in the first year and numbers substantially increased in the years that followed. By the 1850’s the company was charging between £10 and £94 for space in the terrace catacombs depending on how many coffin places were required, brick vault graves taking 6 coffins were £15 5 shillings or £21 for one big enough to take a round dozen. A common grave was £2. Demand was high enough to justify acquiring 19 acres of additional land on the other side of Swains Lane and opening what is now the East Cemetery. Around 163,000 people have been buried in 53,000 graves since the cemetery opened. The business plans of all the cemetery companies suffered from the same fundamental flaw – plots were sold in perpetuity meaning that income was high in the early years when the cemetery was empty but dropped off steeply when the available space for burials inexorably filled up. The cemetery started to hit financial problems in the mid twentieth century. By the end of the second world war there was little unused space in the cemetery, income was no longer sufficient even to maintain the grounds property. In 1975 the cemetery closed.

In 1865 William Justyne wrote in his Guide to Highgate Cemetery that “no cemetery near London can boast so many natural beauties.” He praised the hilly ground “rising in terraces”, the winding paths, the long avenues of shrubbery and said that in summer “when the birds are singing blithely in their leafy recesses….there is a holy loveliness upon this place of death, as the kind angels hovered about it…” The hyperbole started early. Justyne also praised the view of London from the cemetery grounds, “there spread out like a broad map, is the great metropolis of the world with its countless spires of every shape and almost every age.”  The rampant vegetation has long since obscured the views of London, you will need to go to Hampstead Heath to get a sense of what they once would have been.  Nunhead and Norwood   had views to challenge Highgate’s, and still retain them today..  Hugh Meller has to concede that “the one disappointment at Highgate is the moderate quality and variety of its monuments which seldom compare to with the best at Kensal Green or Norwood.” I can’t dispute that Highgate does have its own romantic charm but I can’t imagine ever loving it as much as I do Kensal Green.   

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

216 coffins and 279 cases of bones; the St Olave Jewry & St Martin Pomeroy memorial, City of London Cemetery

The tightly packed and heavily populated warrens of the medieval City of London were full of religious buildings; there was a monastery, priory, nunnery, chapel, church or cathedral on virtually every street.  In the aftermath of the Great Fire of London the population thinned out as the new streets were widened and regulation was finally imposed on the previously chaotic building practices of the city. The number of parishes was culled as a result of the falling population. Continuing development of the city as a commercial and financial rather than residential centre in the 19th century drastically reduced the population of the remaining city parishes even further, to the point that by the 1850’s there were sometimes more officiating clergy than worshippers at religious services. The 1860 Union of Benefices Act allowed the Church of England to rationalise the number of parishes and to dispose of unwanted buildings and land, including burial grounds and churchyards.  By the 1880’s the population  of the seven pre 1666 city parishes of St Olave Jewry, St Martin Pomeroy, St Mildred Poultry,  St Mary Colechurch, St Christopher le-Stocks, St Bartholomew-by-the- Exchange and St Margaret Lothbury had fallen to just 601. All seven parish churches were destroyed by the great fire but only five of them were rebuilt, all to designs by Sir Christopher Wren; St Martin’s was joined to St Olaves and St Mary’s to St Mildreds. Only St Margaret Lothbury still stands, the rest have all been demolished.
St Olave Old Jewry, depicted in the early nineteenth century

St Christopher le-Stocks on Threadneedle Street was the first to go, knocked down in 1781 to make way for Sir John Soane’s extension to the Bank of England. St Bartholomew’s proximity to the Royal Exchange turned into a liability when it was demolished 1840 in order to improve access to the new exchange building. St Mildred’s was demolished in 1871 and in 1884 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners turned their attention to St Olave Old Jewry. The Graphic was appalled; it called St Olave’s “a beautiful specimen of Wren's architecture,” and appealed “on behalf of the City Church and Churchyard Protection Society for contributions to its nearly exhausted funds with which it may oppose these and similar acts of destruction and desecration.” It did no good; the church was closed in 1887. The St James Gazette was less sentimental than the Graphic, as St Olave’s “had no architectural merits, it is impossible to lament over its destruction,” it said, adding that “doubtless the site, when sold for the erection of one more block of offices, will bring in money enough to build and endow several churches in some poor district.” If the Gazette’s feature writer had any regrets about the demolition of City churches it was “the disappearance of their picturesque names. It is pleasant, in the wildernesses of industrial and mercantile London to come across a St. Antholin’s, or St. Olave’s, or St. Mildred’s, whose titles ‘fall upon the ear like the echo of vanished world.’” Apart from the tower the church was demolished in 1888. On 18 July 1891 The Star reported that a “placard on the doors of the church of St. Olave, Old Jewry, gives notice that the fabric and site of that building will be put up to auction at the Mart.” Two weeks later the freehold site of the church was offered for sale at the Auction Mart in Tokenhouse Yard, by Messrs. Edwin Fox and Bousfield and was knocked down for £22,400. Wren’s tower was retained by the new owners and incorporated into the new office building they put up on the site of the old churchyard. It still stands today as the entrance to a much newer office block.

Burials at St Olave’s continued right up until the 1852 Metropolitan Burial Act prohibited them, though the number of interments had obviously declined with the reduction in the living population. Although St Martin Pomeroy, which stood so close to St Olave’s as to be almost adjacent, had been destroyed in 1666 the parish burial register continued to be kept separately to St Olave’s until the early 19th century.  The fees for both parishes were identical; in 1820 £11 for the chancel, vestry and parish vaults and £1 3s 6d for either churchyard. Prior to the demolition of the church it was decided to remove all coffins and human remains from the site and rebury them at the new City of London Cemetery in Ilford. The churchwardens gave notice to the known relatives of anyone buried within the church or in the churchyard that they had 3 months to remove their remains. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners had set up a special fund with which to reimburse the costs of reburial elsewhere, up to a limit of £10. If no application was received to remove a body by the 1st December 1887 it would be removed by the Commission for Sewers and reburied in Ilford. The commission’s workmen dug up the churchyard and broke open the vaults, removing 216 coffins and 279 cases of bones. The job of taking these to Ilford was subcontracted to John Shepherd, undertaker of 55 Bishopsgate Street. At the cemetery the remains were reinterred in a brick lined vault and a new memorial was erected sacred to all of those formerly buried in the two parishes but specifically commemorating, in two long lists on either side of the monument, some of the more worthy deceased.   The Frederick family vault for example contained 27 coffins dating from between  1610 and 1799. Most of them are listed individually on the memorial including a couple of Frederick baronets, an admiral, a judge, and  Sir Humphrey Weld,  Lord Mayor of London in 1608. 61 coffins were removed from the chancel vault including the Revd Dr Samuel Shepherd.

The only name I recognised on the memorial was John Boydell the printmaker and publisher. His wife Elizabeth, who had been his childhood sweetheart and who he married in 1848, is also listed. According to the St Martin Pomeroy parish register he was buried on December 19th 1804 in the Doctor’s vault inside the church. According to Walter Thornbury’s “Old and New London” (1878) the 84 year old died on the 11th December, his death, “occasioned by a cold, caught at the Old Bailey Sessions.”  He goes on to say that “it was the regular custom of Mr. Alderman Boydell…, who was a very early riser, to repair at five o'clock immediately to the pump in Ironmonger Lane. There, after placing his wig upon the ball at the top, he used to sluice his head with its water. This well known and highly respected character was one of the last men who wore a three-cornered hat, commonly called the ‘Egham, Staines, and Windsor.’” That these crack of dawn, midwinter, open air dousings under the parish pump didn’t kill him off until he was in his eighties stands testament to his robust constitution.

Boydell was born in Shropshire in 1720, the son of a land surveyor. He came to London in 1740 as an apprentice, to learn the art of engraving. He opened his first business in 1746 making and selling his own prints. Thornbury’s principal source for his account of Boydell’s career, ‘Rainy Day’ Smith told him that when Boydell started publishing “he etched small plates of landscapes, which he produced in plates of six, and sold for sixpence; and that as there were very few print-shops at that time in London, he prevailed upon the sellers of children's toys to allow his little books to be put in their windows. These shops he regularly visited every Saturday, to see if any had been sold, and to leave more. His most successful shop was the sign of the 'Cricket Bat,' in Duke's Court, St. Martin's Lane, where he found he had sold as many as came to five shillings and sixpence. With this success he was so pleased, that, wishing to invite the shopkeeper to continue in his interest, he laid out the money in a silver pencil-case; which article, after he had related the above anecdote, he took out of his pocket and assured me he never would part with.” He gradually gave up engraving in favour of making prints of other peoples designs. He became enormously successful , transforming what had hitherto been a niche market for imported French prints, into a thriving domestic and export market in British produced prints.
In 1789 Boydell opened his Shakespeare Gallery on Pall Mall. He commissioned paintings based on Shakespeare’s works from Britain’s best known artists which the public paid one shilling to see. The entrance fee was a bargain – the Royal Academy charged considerably more ‘to prevent the Rooms being filled by improper Persons’. The real money spinners were the prints of the paintings produced by a team of 46 printmakers which were available to purchase singly, as a portfolio or as bound illustrations in a specially commissioned edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Boydell’s impressive profits enabled him to pay hefty fees to the artists who produced the paintings. Even Sir Joshua Reynolds, who as President of the Royal Academy strongly disapproved of Boydell’s gallery and who thought that prints based on paintings were vulgar, put aside his objections to the scheme when he was offered 1000 guineas for a single painting of the three witches from Macbeth. According to Thornbury George Stevens, the editor of the special edition of Shakespeare, took it upon himself to persuade Sir Joshua to accept the commission; “taking a bank-bill of five hundred pounds in his hand, he had an interview with Sir Joshua, when, using all his eloquence in argument, he, in the meantime, slipped the bank-bill into his hand; he then soon found that his mode of reasoning was not to be resisted, and a picture was promised.” The painter’s scruples completely collapsed in fact and he soon produced 3 paintings for Boydell’s gallery. The most famous of these was a Puck or Robin Goodfellow painted in 1789. Walpole described it as depicting 'an ugly little imp (but with some character) sitting on a mushroom half as big as a mile-stone.'  Thornbury, again, describes the birth of this picture “Mr. Nicholls, of the British Institution, related to Mr. Cotton that the alderman and his grandfather were with Sir Joshua when painting the death of Cardinal Beaufort. Boydell was much taken with the portrait of a naked child, and wished it could be brought into the Shakespeare. Sir Joshua said it was painted from a little child he found sitting on his steps in Leicester Square. Nicholls' grandfather then said, 'Well, Mr. Alderman, it can very easily come into the Shakespeare if Sir Joshua will kindly place him upon a mushroom, give him fawn's ears, and make a Puck of him.' Sir Joshua liked the notion, and painted the picture accordingly…. The merry boy, whom Sir Joshua found upon his door-step, subsequently became a porter at Elliot's brewery, in Pimlico.” Gillray satirised Boydell and the Shakespeare Gallery ironically using the very medium Boydell had done so much to popularise, print making. In ‘Shakespeare sacrificed or the offering to avarice’ Boydell is shown in his alderman’s robes burning the bard’s works, producing thick clouds of smoke which support travestied figures from the paintings commissioned for the gallery, watched by a ancient goblin like figure clutching two large money bags.