Monday, 20 January 2020

The Gardener Hath Plucked a Still Rarer Flower; Gladys Spencer (1837-1931) City of London Cemetery, Manor Park

City of London Cemetery…..mostly obelisks and angels on pedestals provide the principal accents. An eccentricity is the memorial to Gladys SpencerW1931 with piano and reclining figure”
Pevsner Architectural Guides: Buildings of England - London East (2005)

It is the City of London Cemetery’s best known memorial; apart from William Haywood’s mausoleum it the only one considered worthy of mention in Pevsner even if that is only as an ‘eccentricity’. It is much photographed and much loved as it strikes a rare note of individuality in a vast cemetery (200 acres) of 150,000 burials. I didn’t think to check for a  mason’s mark but the memorial was almost certainly the work of one of the local east end firms who generally specialised in turning out standard angels by the ton but could occasionally surprise when given the opportunity to produce something more original. Compared to cemeteries in Italy, France, Spain, Germany or any other continental country, even the best known English memorials are generally not of high artistic merit. There is often something homespun, almost amateurish, about them and this is certainly true of the Spencer memorial. 

The epitaph reads “In Loving Memory of Gladys Spencer LLCM.  My darling Gladeyes who passed away 6th April 1931 Aged 34 years. The gardener hath plucked a still rarer flower”. LLCM is a Licentiate of the London College of Music. The last line about the gardener isn’t a quote though may have been influenced by Wordsworth (“Pluck that rose, it moves my liking,” Said she, lifting up her veil; “Pluck it for me, gentle gardener, - Ere it wither and grow pale.”) In the official guide to the cemetery Gladys is described as the ‘piano lady’ who was “a young and dance teacher who worked at the Classical Academy of Music and Dancing in Rixon (sic) Road, Manor Park. Gladys was also well known for her local charity work and many were saddened by her death at the early age of 34 years on Easter Monday 1931.” 

Gladys was born in 1897 in either Ilford or Romford (her parents gave different responses on the census returns for 1901 and 1911). By the time of the 1901 census she was living with her father Henry (who gave his profession as printer compositor) and her mother Louisa in Douglas Road, Hornchurch;. By 1911 the family had moved to 172 Sixth Avenue, Manor Park and Gladys had two younger brothers Herbert and Henry. Henry senior had advanced in his career to the point of being a paper bag manufacturer but he later switched jobs and became a market gardener and ‘experimental plant breeder’ out in Billericay. By the time of her death Gladys had only moved a few dozen yards down Sixth Avenue, from 173 to 122.  In the 1920’s unmarried Gladys was working at the Classical Academy of Music and Dancing in Rixen Road as a dance teacher but also making money with her dance troupe Spencer’s Celebrated Dancers. Perhaps some of her dancer’s were sourced from amongst her pupils but she also advertised extensively in The Stage, the newspaper for professional entertainers of every stripe and hue. These classified adverts give some clues about the professional fortunes of Miss Spencer’s performers: “Spencers celebrated dancers - high kickers, splits or acrobats. This week East Ham Palace next week Putney Hippodrome,” runs a typical one. They also appeared at Great Yarmouth at the Regent Theatre in 1927, given equal billing with Alex McGill and Gwen Vaughan ‘the cheerful chatterers with a piano, in original comedy duets.’ These were more innocent times; in our more cynical age it is hard not to feel there is something slightly disreputable about advertising for girls who can do high kicks, cartwheels and splits or in a 1931 advert, “wanted Pretty Juveniles also Bigger Girls for Rev and Panto Immed. Vacs. Gladys Spencer, Rixen Road, Manor Park, nearest station East Ham”. A single surviving photo from the 20’s shows Gladys surrounded by her concert party pretty juveniles in white frills and lace with an outsized ribbon in their hair and her Bigger Girls in top hats.

Gladys died of pneumonia on Easter Monday, 6 April 1931. Her death may not have been entirely unexpected – she certainly left a will and very few unmarried people of 34 would bother going to the trouble of making a last will and testament unless they were seriously ill. Despite her relatively young age she managed to leave an estate valued at £1459 and 15 shillings; quite an impressive small fortune for the early 1930’s. Those high kicks and cartwheels clearly made money. Her executor was one Walter Ambrose Woodrow, a chemist who was just four years older than Gladys. Were they just good friends? Was Walter the one who christened her Gladeyes?

Walter was born in 1893 St Marylebone/Regents Park, was living in Bromley with his parents in 1901 and had moved to 47 North Street in Plaistow by the time of the 1911 census where he gave his occupation as ‘chemist working in oil manufactory’. He was living as a lodger in the house of 69 year old widow Venus Gidley (now there is an evocative name). Venus had two daughters, both older than the 18 year old Walter. 21 year old Ethel May Gidley worked as a tobacco moulder; the older, more worldly young woman whose mother was Venus seems to have won Walter’s heart. The pair were married in 1914 and moved to their own house at 8 Berkeley Road in Manor Park. Walter became the Head of the laboratory of the Anglo American Oil Company (later known as Esso) but doesn’t seem to have been able to hang on to his marriage. Ethel not only left Walter, she moved to the USA. The couple were never divorced and Walter never remarried. Did he become close to Gladys after the separation from his wife? If so her death must have been a terrible blow. He died in 1957 in Polegate, Surrey leaving an estate of £1347 11s 1d; 46 years in the oil business and he seems to have made much less than Gladys did in a much shorter time out of teaching piano and supplying celebrated dancers to the theatres of London and the South East.    

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Another Christmas Eve at Kensal Green.....

On the 24th December, thanks to a half day holiday granted by my employers, I made what is, for me at least, fast becoming a tradition; the Christmas Eve cemetery visit. We moved offices earlier this year and I am now lucky enough to work in Willesden, a location that my colleagues complain endlessly about as unless you live in North West London it can take be tricky to get to.  It is also dirty, dangerous and dismal, they say.  I have spent most of my adult life working in the parts of London that most people go out of their way to avoid and to me Willesden doesn’t seem that bad. I live in East London and I can’t say I particularly enjoy the hour and a half trek to and from the office on the overcrowded Central and Jubilee lines every morning and evening. More than balancing out the negatives for me is the fact that Willesden has more cemeteries within striking distance of the office than anywhere else I have ever worked.  Within 10 minutes walk of my workplace on the High Road are not one but two Jewish cemeteries as well as non denominational Willesden New Cemetery (opened 1891). Only slightly further away is North West London’s oldest Parish church,  St Mary’s founded circa 938 with its churchyard and Willesden’s Old Burial Ground. Paddington Old Cemetery isn’t far away either, virtually a straight walk of not much more than 20 minutes down Brondesbury Park. Or, almost as close but far more enticing, Kensal Green and its two cemeteries, All Souls and St Mary’s, a brisk 30 minute stroll away or a mere 10 minute bus ride on the 302. In London they say you are never more than 6 feet away from a rat or a mile away from a cemetery. Willesden is particularly blessed with both though I’m not sure if there is a connection. My colleagues appreciate neither.  

I may have been spoilt for choice but there is only ever going to be one winner for me in any competition between cemeteries; I walked to Kensal Green. It was a dull day, a gunmetal grey sky threatened rain and leached the colour out of what little was left of the afternoon. The weather forecast had promised breaks in the cloud and intermittent sunshine but there was no sign of any relief to the thoroughly depressing day. The cemetery was less busy than last year, there were a few dedicated souls visiting the graves of their departed loved ones but nowhere near as many as last Christmas Eve. Visitors to Kensal Green are, in my experience, always impeccably well behaved. I noticed a solitary rough sleeper in the portico of the old catacombs a couple of years ago but I have never seen discarded drug paraphernalia, had to steer clear of groups of inebriated street drinkers, stumbled across grown men clinched in intimate embraces in the undergrowth or seen any other sign of the variety of ways Londoners find to enjoy themselves in some of more disreputable the cemeteries.  It hasn’t always been this way though; a correspondent who signed himself A Mourner for the Dead, wrote to the editor of The Times on April 13 1857. “I, on Good Friday, went [to the cemetery at Kensal-green] to pay a tribute of respect and affection to one not long departed,” the troubled Mourner wrote and “in approaching the tomb I found a large assemblage of persons collected, whose behaviour and language were little suited to the solemnity of the place. The ground was strewn with oranges, nuts, &c, laughter, and opinions passed of those who slept quietly there jarred on the feelings of those who went to weep, to pray. I ask you, is this fit, is this becoming in a Christian country? The cemetery of Pere Le Chaise is not looked on as a tea garden, unjust remarks on the dead are not heard, decency is observed; but with us, how different!” The Mourner beseeched the editor to use his powerful influence to stop “sanctuaries for the dead becoming scenes of riot and disorder.”

Such scenes were probably rare in the 1830’s when the cemetery first opened and the activity of the public was closely monitored by the company’s watchmen. In 1832, the year the cemetery was founded (the first burial was a year later) the Whig Government of Earl Grey had passed the Anatomy Act designed to curb the rampant illegal trade in human corpses by allowing licensed teachers of anatomy access to unclaimed bodies (of the poor obviously) from hospitals, prisons and workhouses. It was common practice before (and for some after) the passing of the act for burial grounds to employ watchmen to make sure that the dead were not disturbed by the activities of the resurrection men and it would have been no different for the new cemetery. The Naval & Military Gazette of 10 August 1833 contains the fascinating titbit that the watchmen employed by the General Cemetery Company were armed. “On Wednesday night,” it says, “as one of the watchmen employed at the New Cemetery at Kensall Green, was discharging his gun as usual on relieving guard, the barrel burst, and blew his right hand off from the wrist. He was immediately taken to a surgeon in the neighbourhood, and thence to the Middlesex Hospital.” As far as I am aware burial ground watchmen were not usually armed with anything more dangerous than a stout cudgel. The General Cemetery Company was clearly determined to discourage body snatching or any other unseemly activity from its new model cemetery. 

My trawls through the newspaper archives looking for other stories relating to pistol packing watchmen in the cemetery has failed, so far, to turn up anything at all. For how long watchmen went armed on their nightly patrols is still a mystery. The threat from resurrection men would have receded as the provisions of the new anatomy act started to take effect in the late 1830’s. At some point the danger of an employee blowing his own hand off would have been a greater risk to the company than body snatchers tarnishing the reputation of the cemetery by making off with a newly buried corpse. When that point was reached the management of the cemetery presumably retired its arsenal and took a less belligerent approach to protecting its property. Later press stories relating to guns and the cemetery are generally relating to suicides such as the ‘unknown gentleman’ whose body was found by undertakers conducting a funeral in the cemetery on 11 November 1872. “The body was lying amongst some tombstones,” reported the Scotsman of 12 November, “and a single-barrelled pistol was found near the head of the deceased.” No further details were reported. People who commit suicide in cemeteries generally have some intimate connection with someone buried there and generally kill themselves at the grave side. Sometimes the relationship between the suicide and the buried can be quite surprising; this was certainly true of another unknown man whose story was reported in Wigan Observer and District Advertiser of 11 March 1859. He had taken his own life with a dose of poison. “The wretched man had formed an attachment to a widow, which was not returned,” said the paper “and when his dead body was found it was lying the headstone of the widow’s late husband.” What an interesting conversation the pair of them must have had in the afterlife.  

Friday, 3 January 2020

'Saving Graces' (W.W. Norton 1995) and 'Beautiful Death' (Penguin Books USA) by David Robinson (out of print)

In the mid 1990’s American photographer David Robinson published two books of cemetery photographs; Saving Graces, with a foreword by Joyce Carol Oates, in 1995 was followed by Beautiful Death in 1996. The two books are very different - Saving Grace, published by W.W. Norton   is an A5 paperback of black and white photographs of the 19th century allegorical female forms that adorned tombs in continental cemeteries. Beautiful Death, subtitled Art of the Cemetery and published by Penguin Books USA, is a large format hardback of colour photos, again almost exclusively of 19th century European cemeteries but featuring a wider range of memorials than its predecessor.  

“When I was photographing in Pere Lachaise and other European cemeteries,” Robinson says in his afterword, “I soon became aware of women all around me. We are familiar with the image of widows dressed in black bending over to tend family graves.....but these were not the women who attracted my attention. Instead I found myself transfixed by gorgeous young women who were not dressed in black. In fact many were hardly dressed at all, and although exquisitely beautiful, they were visibly distraught.” These statues which adorn the graves of the haute bourgeoisie through most of West and Central Europe Robinson dubs the ‘Saving Graces’ “because of their beauty and their beneficence”. In her introduction Joyce Carol Oates notes that these figures are “classically austere and occasionally featureless, at one extreme, at the other, romantically voluptuous, barely clothed, in some cases starkly nude, lying, like the lovely figure gracing the cover of this book, in a pose of swooned, vulnerable abandon, as if grief were a form of erotic surrender.” Staid Victorian Anglo-Saxons would have been perplexed, appalled and aroused in equal measure by these eroticised representations of grief and the fashion never caught on on this side of the English Channel.  There are just two photos from London cemeteries – one at Highgate from the classically austere end of the spectrum and the other the highly untypical memorial to Ninon Michaelis in Kensal Green by Henry Alfred Pegram. Although he was born in 1862 Pegram died in 1937 and both the Michaelis memorial and the even more spectacular statue at Golders Green Crematorium, Into The Silent Land, are early twentieth century works. Pegram would have been considered rather old fashioned in European artistic circles; it had essentially taken more than half a century for a pair of sculpted naked shoulders to be considered acceptable in a London cemetery.

The most arresting image in the book, and the one chosen for the cover, is a white marble statue from Staglieno cemetery in Genoa of a completely naked woman, a conveniently placed swag of shroud or winding sheet falling modestly across her loins in Oates “pose of swooned, vulnerable abandon, as if grief were a form of erotic surrender”. Going by the evidence of the book it is the Italians who pushed the boundaries at the erotic end of the Saving Graces spectrum. The photographs are stunning; tightly composed and beautifully lit. The decision to shoot in monochrome seems absolutely right for the subject. The book is out of print but second hand copies are easy to find and generally very modestly priced. Highly recommended.     

‘Beautiful Death’ is largely shot in the same cemeteries as ‘Saving Graces’ and even includes a number of the same monuments but the photos are in colour and cover the whole spectrum of memorials from simple headstones up to the most elaborate mausoleums and funerary sculptures. The book includes a ‘text’ by Dean Koontz the prolific American author of gothic thrillers. Koontz’s contribution to the project isn’t billed as an introduction or a foreword or preface probably because the words seem to have little connection to Robinson’s pictures of 19th century cemetery art. His 5000 word riff on death is quite interesting. “Death,” he says “is not beautiful, going  on to describe what sounds more like Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of death, rather than any phenomenon that would have been recognised by the bourgeoisie of fin de siècle Paris or Milan; “he has the emotionless face of the unloving void, eyes as blank as polished granite, and a heart of maggots.” His revelations on the deaths of his parents are fascinating but completely out of place in this book. Robinson wasn’t keen on including all this but Penguin were not going to decline any involvement from a best selling author they felt so sure would help them shift large quantities of the book that they ordered an initial print run of 50,000 copies. It wasn’t the first time Robinson had had a project hijacked by a writer; his first book was to be a monograph of reflection shots taken in Italy. At the suggestion of Gore Vidal, who had declined the project, he went off to solicit help from Anthony Burgess. The author of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was then living 40 miles from Rome with his Italian wife and was enthusiastic about the work of the young American photographer. When Robinson shyly asked if he would consider writing the introduction to his proposed book Burgess roared “"No, no," before adding; "This deserves something more; this deserves a novel!" Poor Robinson just wanted a preface from a well known author to help him sell his book. What he got was ‘Beard’s Roman Women’, a novella which featured 17 of Robinson’s photographs in the first American and UK editions.  Subsequent editions “quietly dropped”  the photos he later remembered but “I ended up making more money on Beard's Roman Women than on any of my other books because I was on Burgess' pay schedule.”  

Robinson makes up for the deficiencies of Koontz’s text by supplying his own ‘Afterword’ which attempts to put his photographs in context by cantering through the history of burial practices since the middle ages and the development of the cemetery movement in Europe. He essentially rehashes Philippe Ariès’ arguments from ‘The Hour of Our Death’ but manages to make some inexcusable factual errors in the process. The old Parisian cemetery of Les Innocents closed in 1875 he says. Anyone who has read Andrew Miller’s ‘Pure’ knows that that date is at least a hundred years out – it was the closure of Les Innocents in 1780 and the subsequent exhumation and removal of the bodies to the catacombs that provided much of the impetus to open Pere Lachaise. He lists correctly the dates of the opening of the principal Paris cemeteries but for some reason completely fluffs the London ones claiming, incorrectly, that Highgate opened in 1836 and Kensall (sic) Green in 1838. Highgate actually opened in 1839 and Kensal (one ‘l’ please) Green in 1833.

But I suspect no one buys this book for the words, whether they are from Koontz or from Robinson himself. What matters are the pictures and they are very good indeed. They were shot in cemeteries all over Europe though France and Italy predominate.  There are just a handful of pictures from London cemeteries – 3 from Highgate, one from Brookwood and a single shot each from Chiswick and the catholic cemetery of St Mary’s, Kensal Green. If you discount Hogarth’s memorial in the background of the photo from Chiswick, none of the London images focuses on well known or spectacular memorials. Instead they focus on ordinary headstones, wild flowers, a bird box or a clutch of saints purchased from off the monumental mason’s shelf. London may have some spectacular memorials in it’s cemeteries but Robinson says that he was looking for the typical in the cemeteries of all the countries he visited; he is right, what is common in the Parisian or Italian cemeteries is pretty untypical in London. For me some of the best shots in the book are these quieter images – the beautifully hand coloured 19th century photos adorning Italian graves, the bizarre and brightly coloured ceramic cat with the word ‘Ricardo’ blazoned across its chest glowing amongst the mausoleums in a Spanish cemetery or snow blanketing the reclining figure on a chest tomb. Penguin’s decision to go for an initial print run of 50,000 hardbacks means that you can pick up very cheap copies of this now out of print title. They can be bought for as little as £2.99 on Abebooks. They would be cheap at 10 times the price.     

Saturday, 21 December 2019

"Rhine Refused them, Thames would ruin them" The Wreck of the Deutschland, St Patricks Catholic Cemetery, Leytonstone

Pray for the Souls of Barbara Hultenschmidt Henrica Fassbender (not found) Norberta Reinkober Aurea Badziura Brigitta Damhorst.
Franciscan Nuns from Germany who were Drowned near Harwich in the wreck of the Deutschland Dec 7th 1875. Four of whom were interred here Decr. 13th. RIP

On Saturday sailed from Bremen,
Take settler and seamen, tell men with women,
Two hundred souls in the round
Gerard Manley Hopkins – The Wreck of the Deutschland

We last week reported the stranding and wreck, on the Kentish Knock, some 25 miles from Harwich, of the North German Lloyd Steamer Deutschland, bound from Bremerhaven to New York. The Official Gazette of the German Empire publishes the list persons saved and missing, both of the crew and passengers. Forty-eight male passengers, women and children, and 86 of the crew were saved. Forty-four passengers are missing, including the bodies landed, but not yet identified. It is estimated that of the crew twenty perished.
Chelmsford Chronicle - Friday 17 December 1875

In December 1875 the Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was studying at St Beuno's, near St Asaph in North Wales. He had given up writing poetry when his religious superior asked him to write a poem to commemorate the loss of 5 nuns from Salzkotten in the foundering of the German ship the SS Deutschland. The nuns were fleeing religious persecution in Germany to begin a new life in the United States in the Saint Boniface Hospital in Carondelet, a town in Missouri south of St. Louis, where nineteen sisters of their order were already working as nurses. Hopkins dedicated his famous (and difficult) poem to “to the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns, exiles by the Falk Laws, drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th, 1875,” and based many details in his ode on incidents described in the newspapers. Before being buried together in St. Patricks Cemetery, Leytonstone, the bodies of the nuns were taken to the church of St Francis of Assisi on the Grove in Stratford. Hopkins had grown living across the road from the church, at number 87. 

The inquest on the victims of this disaster was opened yesterday afternoon at the Cups Hotel, Harwich, before Mr. W. Codd, coroner for North Essex. The foreman of the jury was Captain John Whitmore, shipowner, of Harwich, and former captain of merchantmen. There were 13 bodies, only one of which was named. It was that of a little girl, Pauline Gmelch, aged two years and eight months, who was brought ashore dead in her mother's arms. The other bodies were identified by Carl Lukermann, the chief steward of the Deutschland, as passengers, but he had not been long enough acquainted with them to learn their names.

She drove in the dark to leeward,
She struck—not a reef or a rock
But the combs of a smother of sand: night drew her
Dead to the Kentish Knock;

Captain Edward Brickenstein said the steamer left Bremen on Saturday, 4th inst., for New York, having on board about 107 emigrants and crew numbering all told; he did not know exactly how many passengers there were because the register of the ship was lost; the vessel was anchored in the river that night, and proceeded on her way the following morning; about half-past nine o'clock the wind was blowing freshly from the N.E., and snow fell at intervals, the wind afterwards increasing to a strong gale; at four o'clock on Sunday morning speed was reduced to nine and half knots per hour, by one half; the lead was heaved every half-hour, and about seven minutes before the vessel struck gave 17 fathoms water; when he saw the breakers through the snow ordered the engines to be reversed ; the propeller broke before the vessel had even changed her way, and then, the wind being dead astern, she drifted on to the sand; the boats were cleared and rockets fired; the water began making its way over the ship, and some lives were lost; an attempt was made to get out the boats, but they were carried away; there were lifebelts on board for more than 500 persons ; the rockets were unanswered on Monday night, and on Tuesday morning, 28 hours after the Deutschland got on the sand, the tug Liverpool took off 136 surviving passengers and crew ; but he believed that more lives might have been saved by a lifeboat on Monday night, deaths occurred through the passengers and others dropping from the rigging into the sea.

They fought with God's cold—
And they could not and fell to the deck
(Crushed them) or water (and drowned them) or rolled
With the sea-romp over the wreck.
Night roared, with the heart-break hearing a heart-broke rabble,
The woman's wailing, the crying of child without check—
Till a lioness arose breasting the babble

'Waiting for succour' The Penny Illustrated Paper, Christmas Double Number 18 December 1875

It is sad anyhow to know that these 200 fellow creatures remained for some 30 hours so close to the English coast, passed by English vessels during the day, and their signals of distress seen and answered from the land at night, and that, notwithstanding, many of them perished just the last. Their situation first became perilous on Monday night or rather Tuesday morning. At 2 a.m., Capt. Brickenstein, knowing that with the rising tide the ship would be water logged, ordered all the passengers to come on deck. Most of them obeyed the summons at once; others lingered below until it was too late; some of them, ill, weak, despairing of life even on deck, resolved to stay in their cabins and meet death without any further struggle to evade it. After three a.m. on Tuesday morning a scene of horror was witnessed. Some passengers clustered for safety within or upon the wheelhouse, and on the top of other slight structures on deck. Most of the crew and many of the emigrants went into the rigging, where they were safe enough as long as they could maintain their hold. But the intense cold and long exposure told a tale. The purser of the ship, though a strong man, relaxed his grasp, and fell into the sea. Women and children and men were one by one swept away from their shelters on the deck. Five German nuns clasped hands and were drowned together, the chief sister, a gaunt woman six feet high, calling out loudly and often, "Oh! Christ, come quickly!" until the end came. The shrieks and sobbing of women and children are described by the survivors as agonising. One brave sailor, who safe in the rigging, went down to try and save a child or woman who was drowning on deck. He was secured by a rope to the rigging, but a wave dashed him against the bulwarks of the vessel, and when daylight dawned his headless body, which was detained by rope, was seen swaying to and fro with the waves: In the dreadful excitement of these hours one man hung himself behind the wheelhouse, another hacked at his wrist with knife, hoping to die comparatively painless death by bleeding. was nearly eight o'clock before the tide and sea abated, and the survivors could venture to go on deck. At half-past 10 o'clock the tugboat from Harwich came alongside and brought all away without further accident. Most of the passengers are German emigrants, and is only right to add that they have received here from the first the utmost kindness and sympathy.

One stirred from the rigging to save
The wild woman-kind below,
With a rope's end round the man, handy and brave—
He was pitched to his death at a blow,
For all his dreadnought breast and braids of thew:
They could tell him for hours, dandled the to and fro
Through the cobbled foam-fleece, what could he do…?

Divers are much wanted at the wreck, as there is a very general impression prevailing that all the bodies have not yet been taken off. A proper officer is also wanted to take charge of the property on board. It was impossible to form any idea of the rank or position the people who were brought ashore tonight. One body was that of well-to-do passenger, and another was that of one of the sailors. Nine of the bodies are those of women, but the clothes are so soiled by immersion in the water, and the light in the dead-house is so dull, that is impossible to form any opinion as to their position. There is a remarkably placid expression resting on the features of all the dead, most of whom resemble persons sleeping. Great credit is due to Mr. Inspector Guy, of the borough police, for the arrangement he has made for the reception of the bodies, and for the decent manner in which they have been laid out. The medical officers who have charge of the sick passengers (who are staying at the various hotels in the town) report that they are all progressing as favourably as can be expected. A German lady whose little child died in her arms on the way from the wreck, and who for several hours was so ill that her life was despaired of, was so far recovered this afternoon as to be permitted to see the body of her child. It is now hoped that no fatal results will ensue to those who were frostbitten, the medical skill of the locality being able to cope with all the cases which have come under their notice.

The drowning of the nuns in the Wreck of the Deutschland - Garrick Palmer 1975

Away in the loveable west,
On a pastoral forehead of Wales,
I was under a roof here, I was at rest,
And they the prey of the gales;
She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
Was calling "O Christ, Christ, come quickly":
The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wildworst Best.

Five German nuns clasped hands and were drowned together, the chief sister, a gaunt woman six feet high, calling out loudly and often, 'Oh! Christ, come quickly!" until the end came.

Essex Newsman - Saturday 18 December 1875

Banned by the land of their birth,
Rhine refused them, Thames would ruin them;
Surf, snow, river and earth

Today the four Franciscan nuns who, with another, were lost in the Deutschland were interred in St. Patrick's Catholic cemetery, Leytonstone, near London. The bodies, as soon as it became known to the Franciscans at Stratford that they had been recovered, were taken charge of by one of the order and removed to the pretty little church belonging to the brotherhood at Stratford. The church had been draped, the alter, the pulpit and other portions of the scared edifice presented signs of mourning. In front of the altar were deposited the four coffins and no restriction whatever was placed on the free entry of the public, who were allowed to circulate as they pleased close by the temporary resting place of all that was mortal of the four unknown but honoured corpses. Long before the hour announced for the solemn dirge for the repose of the souls of the departed – eleven o’clock – the little church was crowded to the door, and when his Eminence cardinal Manning, accompanied by the officiating priest, entered, the crush in the body of the sacred building was very great. Immediately after coming in front of the altar, the Cardinal indicated to two of the Franciscans in attendance as to the coffins that he wished the lids removed, and that was at once done, his Grace pausing at the foot of each coffin and gazing for a few moments on the pale and placid countenances within. The bodies were dressed as they were in life, the hands folded tenderly in front, and it was remarked that although almost a week had passed since they met with a violent death the countenances were as sweetly composed and the complexions as clear as if they had merely slept. The coffins having been closed and the palls restored, four crosses of evergreens and lillies were placed one on each coffin by four sisters of the order, a solemn requim mass (Corem Archiepiscipo) was sung and at the close of this His Eminence the Cardinal archbishop delivered an impressive funeral oration.……  The large congregation then slowly left the church, but lingered with thousands of others in the streets adjoining until the bodies were removed. They were taken direct to St Patrick’s cemetery, about a mile distant, where they were interred in the presence of a vast concourse.
 Dublin Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 14 December 1875

The nuns in open coffins at St Francis of Assisi in Stratford, photographed by Henry Friedmann

On Monday the four nuns lost in the wreck were interred in the Catholic cemetery Leytonstone. A solemn dirge for the repose of the souls of the four sisters was sung in the Franciscan church at Stratford, and after mass the large congregation was addressed by Cardinal Manning, standing at the side of the coffins. He said he was at loss to find words for the occasion. If there was no man - there touched already that most beautiful though most mournful sight no words of his would move him. Why should they mourn why lament, for those noble souls whose careers, devoted to God, had been brought this suddenly to a close? What did they or the church know of the past of the four sisters? They had a home, peaceful and happy and fruitful in good works, in the great Fatherland in which the Catholic faith had struck roots so deeply that no storms can shake it. They were labouring  in peace-ministering consolation to the sick and dying, and training little children in the holy fear and love of God. Why was their Fatherland no longer a home to them? He would not answer the question. It would be a note of discord, and their hearts would hardly bear it. Nevertheless, that home was home no longer to them, and they were constrained by hard necessity to go forth as strangers from their own land, and embark on shipboard to meet the perils of the wintry sea. The Cardinal then gave a graphic account of the wreck of the Deutschland and of the long suffering of the deceased, who, devoting themselves for the great change which awaited them, furnished holy example to the others who were also lost in the wreck. The service for the dead was then proceeded with by the Cardinal, and the four coffins were removed and interred in the presence of vast concourse of persons.

Essex Newsman - Saturday 18 December 1875

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