Sunday, 21 October 2018

"Good old Bunhill! Almost every sod a song!"; Bunhill Fields, City Road EC1

The graves of Daniel Defoe and William Blake
Blake, Bunyan and Defoe are probably not names that mean much to today’s school children. If my own offspring are any indication neither will they have much, or possibly any, awareness of BBD’s contribution to the national culture. I was shocked when they looked blankly at me when I mentioned Robinson Crusoe. Every child in the Sixties and Seventies knew about the shipwrecked Yorkshire mariner if only from the 13 episodes of the black and white German made TV series that was a fixture on the summer holiday weekday morning programming from the BBC for the best part of 2 decades (astonishingly Crusoe’s desert island scenes were shot on the desolate shoreline of Playa del Ingles and Playa Maspalomas on Gran Canaria just before they were hemmed in by hotel and apartment blocks and invaded by package tourist hordes). Bunyan may not have been a name we were familiar with but most of us would have been exposed in school assembly to his only hymn, ‘To be a Pilgrim’, adapted from a poem in the Pilgrim’s Progress. None of us would have known or cared but we were singing a bowdlerised version of Bunyan’s words produced by the appropriately named Percy Dearmer, who sadly stripped out references to lions, hobgoblins and foul fiends. Thankfully he left in the giant. The hymn is sung to a rousing tune by Ralph Vaughn Thomas based on a traditional folk song called “Our Captain Cried All Hands”, but now generally known as Monks Gate after the Sussex hamlet in which Vaughan Thomas originally collected the song. It was my favourite hymn by far. I didn’t know what a pilgrim was but judging by the words, this person who stood strong in the face of all disasters, ignored all naysayers, vanquished all his foes and went into mortal combat with giants, sounded like a cross between the captain of a star ship and a Viking, and I wanted to be one. My introduction to Blake was a poem, one of the thousand in my sister’s copy of “The Book of a 1000 Poems”, an anthology originally published in 1942 and still, apparently, in print today. The poems were arranged in themed sections and in the one about animals I discovered Blake’s ferocious tiger burning bright in the forests of the night; words so startling that they immediately etched themselves indelibly into my memory. Blake, Bunyan and Defoe are all buried in Bunhill Fields the dissenter’s burial ground in City Road, just south of the Old Street roundabout and north of Moorgate.       

In any written account of Bunhill Fields it is obligatory to mention the following points:

·         It has been a burial site since Saxon times
·     It was the site of a Bone Hill formed from either waste from Smithfield Market or cast offs   from St Pauls charnel house (or both, take your pick)
·         It was the site of plague pits
·         It was opened as a burial ground in 1665
·         It was called the Campo Santo of dissenters by Robert Southey
·         Over 120,000 people are buried here, including....
·         John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and William Blake

John Bunyan

Bunhill Fields was part of the Moorfields area just outside the walls of the medieval city. From the mid 16th century space was periodically made in the overflowing St Paul’s charnel house by bringing cart loads of bones out through Moorgate and burying them in shallow mass graves. The resulting artificial mound, the bonehill, grew high enough over the years to become an obvious site for placing three windmills. In 1665 the City of London Corporation decided to place common burial grounds for the victims of virulent epidemics (also known as plague pits)  on the site and built enclosing walls around it. In the event the site was never actually required for this purpose and instead the corporation leased it to a Mr Tindall. Most believe that the site was never consecrated and therefore Tindall’s Burial Ground could only be used for non-conformists, those whose religious beliefs were outside the Church of England, but others point out that Tindall hired Anglican clergy to do burial services when occasion demanded.  Management of the site was eventually taken over by the Corporation of London itself (in 1781) but it always remained a non conformist’s burial ground. It closed for interments in 1854, its ground so saturated with human remains that all non conformists requiring committal were advised to take themselves off to Abney Park Cemetery in Hackney instead where there were plenty of unused and unsold plots waiting for dead dissenters.   

Tindall's burying ground as seen on John Rocque's map of 1746

Every grave you look at in Bunhill seems to belong to a doctor of divinity, radical preacher, or celebrated composer of hymns. The author of an anonymous article in the Birmingham Daily Post of 08 July 1941 claims that to most people “the famous burial-ground in the City one of the dingiest God’s acres in the universe.” It goes on to quote from a letter featuring a “quaint combination of poetry and Puckish humour” by the then recently deceased biblical scholar James Rendell Harris published in The Congregational Quarterly.  The subject of Rendell Holmes sly teasing was the high concentration of pious remains in such a confined space.  At the last trump he said “there will have to be a special archangel told off to collect saints in Bunhill Fields, and if the dead in Christ first rise, the place will be as full of holes as a medieval missal...... it will have to be a musical archangel, too, for when the clods begin to stir and the stones to wobble, the saints will begin to warble. Isaac Watts will be moving the Church again with ‘There a land of pure delight,’ and old Shrubsall at the far end will ask whether the time is come to sing ‘Crown Him Lord of all’ to the tune of Miles Lane, which is on his tombstone; while Master Hart from his adjacency..... will console himself on the resurrection morn by singing soft and low, and ever so sweet, that ‘Not the righteous-- Sinners Jesus came to call’.” Rendell Holmes' conclusion was that at Bunhill one found  in “almost every sod a song!”

In stark contrast to the reverent piety of its dead the behaviour of the living often left much to be desired.  In August 1877 Henry Willson of City Road was writing to the Editor of the Hackney Express and Shoreditch Observer about the appalling deportment of the local roughs: 

Sir,— While deprecating as every English heart does the “atrocities abroad," we must not ignore the “atrocities at home," which are almost daily committed in Bunhill-fields by half grown men and boys of the “rough” genus. I myself saw one miscreant writing detestable words on a grave stone, and in consequence was almost immediately assaulted with large stones, not thrown directly me, but almost perpendicularly into the air, so that they dropped around me, and on one coming nearer than the rest, I was forced shift my quarters, which was the signal for coarse laughter and coarser expressions. The language used by them is of the vilest description, and that in place of that kind where a quiet demeanour at least ought to be observed. That the ears of tender infants and children, mostly girls, should be constantly assailed and made familiar with the loathsome expressions and oaths, their ordinary language, is much to be deplored. I must add that it is now a constant rendezvous for gambling. I am sorry that little children are prevented entering the place, while the roughs are nearly always there in force. With many apologies for taking up some of your valuable space, —I am, yours most respectfully, Henry Willson. City-road, August 20th, 1877.

It may well have been the same roughs who were responsible for the humiliation of a ‘distinguished American ecclesiastic’ who found himself the subject of ridicule visiting Bunhill Fields when he expressed concern about the grave of the famous philosopher John Locke.  According to the Examiner of 18 August 1877:

The stranger happened to be in Bunhill Fields burying-ground, and observed that rough boys were sporting on the grave of John Locke. He felt naturally pained and shocked, and he wrote an indignant letter to the Times. It appeared, however, that the grave in question does not cover the awful dust of the author of the 'Essay Concerning Human Understanding,' who is buried in the tomb of the Masham family in High Laver Church in Essex. The John Locke whose grave was used as part of the playground of the rough lads in Bunhill Fields was doubtless an honest man, worthy of better treatment than to have his bones disturbed by vulgar horseplay; but he is not exactly the Locke on whose last resting-place the good American bishop fancied himself to be gazing. The inscription on the tomb in Bunhill Fields shows, it would appear, that its occupant was laid there more than a century after the philosopher, his namesake, had been consigned to his tomb in Essex.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Mussulman Rites in an English Churchyard; The Lost Memorials of London, Khwāja Shāhsuwār (1582-1626), St Botolphs, Bishopsgate

In the ‘Additions and Corrections’ to his 1790 edition of John Stow’s A Survey of London Thomas Pennant says of St Botolph’s, Bishopgate, that “In the coemetery of this church is the very remarkable tomb in the altar form of Coya Shawsware a merchant and secretary to Nogdi beg the Persian embassador….” By the time of the 1813 edition the wording has been changed to ‘in the coemetery of this church formerly stood..’ The first Muslim tomb in London had disappeared sometime in the previous 20 years.  
The first reference to the tomb had been made in the fourth edition of Stow’s Survey edited by Anthony Munday and Humfrey Dyson and published in 1633. Munday was an older contemporary and possible collaborator of William Shakespeare’s and one of Philip Henslowe’s stable of Elizabethan playwrights.  He seems to have been a consummate hack and would turn his hand to prose if there was money in it. He worked on the third edition of the Survey published in 1618 and collaborated with the scrivener and book collector Humfrey Dyson on the fourth edition (the effort made by both men seems to have killed them– they both died in the year of publication). The deceased was a 44 year old Persian merchant Khwāja Shāhsuwār, phonetically transcribed by Munday as Coya Shawsware. In the book Munday’s account is illustrated with a line drawing of the altar tomb:

Khwaja's tomb in the fourth edition of  John Stow's
'A Survey of London' by Munday and Dyson
This Monument was erected to the memory of one Coya Shawsware a Persian Merchant and a principall serwant and Secretary to the Persian Ambassadour with whom he and his sonne came over.  He was aged 44 and buried the tenth of August 1626. The Ambassadour himselfe,  young Shawsware his sonne and many other Persians (with many expressions of their infinite love and sorrow) following him to the ground betweene eight and nine of the clocke in the morning. The rites and ceremonies that (with them) are due to the dead were chiefly performed by his sonne, who sitting crosselegged at the North end of the grave, (for his Tombe stands North and South) did one while Reade, another while Sing; his Reading and Singing intermixt with sighing and weeping. And this, with other things that were done in the Grave in private (to prevent with the sight the relation) continued about halfe an houre. But this was but this dayes businesse: for, as this had not beene enough to performe to their friend departed, to this place and to this end (that is, Prayer, and other funerall devotions) some of them came every morning and evening at sixe and sixe, for the space of a moneth together. And had come (as it was then imagined) the whole time of their abode here in England, had not the rudenesse of our people disturbed and prevented their purpose.
Sir Robert 'don't call me Shirley' Sherley
Much may have changed in England over the last four hundred but the rudeness of its inhabitants and their inability to spell their own language remain as constant as the rain and grey skies. Khwāja was a member of the retinue of the Persian Ambassador, Naqd Ali Beg, sent by Shah Abbas the Great, to support and no doubt keep a close eye on, the adventurer Sir Robert Sherley who had preceded him to London to persuade the King to support the Shah in his war with the Ottoman Turks. Sir Robert was the younger of the three Sherley brothers, sons of Sir Thomas Sherley of Wiston in Sussex, the one time High Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex who had lost a spectacular amount of money engaging in financial speculation with the royal funds entrusted to him as Treasurer-at-war to the English army in the Netherlands. With their father accused of fraud and up to his neck in debt to the Crown Sir Thomas’ three sons were forced to look for ways to make enough money to extricate the family from their ruinous financial position. The eldest son, also Sir Thomas, went into that well established career path of any Elizabethan gentleman looking to make a quick profit – privateering. His initial successes in state sponsored piracy came to an abrupt end when he found himself in the admiralty court after taking a vessel near Hamburg which turned out to belong to friendly Dutch merchants. A more ambitious scheme to become a buccaneer in the Levant led to his humiliating capture by the Turks and even more humiliating imprisonment in the Tower of London once ransomed, accused with interfering with the royally sanctioned trade of the Levant Company. The two younger brothers Anthony and Robert took up general adventuring, making themselves available for any dangerous mission offered by anyone willing to pay and were sent to Persia by the crown in 1598. Their mission seems to have been to serve as military advisers coaching the Shah’s generals in the secrets of western military discipline, a quality urgently required if the Persian army were to successfully rebuff the territorial advances of the Ottomans. After just a few months in Persia Sir Anthony returned to Europe with messages for the Queen from the Shah but leaving his younger brother in Persia. He never made it back to England, the continental powers doing everything they could to divert, distract and delay him on his route home. He was received by virtually every ruler in Europe, including Tsar Boris Godunov in Moscow, Rudolf II in Prague, and the Pope in Rome. He was showered with honours, arrested, sent to Morocco as an envoy of Rudolf, imprisoned in Venice and ended up living in Poverty in Madrid but during all his various adventures, always refused permission to return to England. His failure to return to London was viewed as treasonable by the English crown and he effectively became a refugee in Spain.
Meanwhile Shah Abbas, frustrated by Sir Anthony’s apparent disappearance and long silence sent his younger brother back to Europe in 1607 to find out what had happened. The ruling powers of Europe subjected Sir Robert to all the same wiles and trickery as his brother but he managed to avoid becoming as hopelessly entangled as his sibling, actually making it back to England by the summer of 1611. He stayed at home for just 18 months before King James commanded him to return to Persia in January 1613. It took him two years to arrive back at Shah Abbas’ capital where after a few months rest he was despatched back to Europe, a journey that this time took him almost eight years; he finally arrived in January 1625. He presented letters of credence, in Persian, to King James at Newmarket and was given a house on Tower Hill from where he spent the next year trying to persuade the King to engage in trade with the Persians. Late the following year he received news that a new Persian Ambassador had landed in England, this time a Persian, Naqd Ali Beg despatched by a Shah Abbas frustrated at his decade long wait for news from the West.

Naqd Ali Beg, a portrait commissioned by
the East India Company in 1626 
Naqd arrived in England in February 1626. The East India Company accorded him full honours ensuring that his arrival was celebrated with due pomp and circumstance. They borrowed a royal coach and eight horses for the final stage of his journey into London and made sure that he was accompanied by not only the directors of the company but by a contingent of courtiers led by the Royal master of ceremonies, the Earl of Warwick.  The Persian ambassador was due to be received by the recently crowned King Charles a few days later but on the morning of the reception Sir Robert Sherley visited him in his lodgings with the Earl of Cleveland and other members of the court. The visit did not go well. The ambassador refused to rise to his feet when he received the party of English gentlemen sitting on a chair with his legs crossed under him in the Persian manner.  When Sir Robert produced his letters of accreditation from Shah Abbas, Naqd lost his temper, leapt to his feet, grabbed the documents and tore them in half before punching him in the face.  One of his entourage then attacked Sir Robert, knocking him to the floor and raining blows on his head. The other English men present pulled the Persian off Sir Robert and the Earl of Cleveland warned the ambassador that only respect for his master was stopping them from killing him. Thus began a feud between the two ambassadors that only ended with the death of the Persian the following year. In the meantime both claimed to the only genuine envoy of the Shah, and engaged in constant backbiting and bad mouthing of the other, much to the irritation of the King.

Sir Thomas Herbert, who later travelled to Persia as part of the first official English embassy to Shah Abbas later wrote in his Some Yeares Travels into Africa and Asia the Great wrote that “of the events of their enforced stay we hear little, save of trouble given to the company by the extravagant demands of Naqd Ali Beg and by his quarrels with a Persian merchant (Khwaja Shahsawar) who had come with him. This person died in August, 1626; but his son carried on the dispute and, and the Privy Council was forced to intervene.” He gives no details of the quarrel or why the Privy Council felt itself obliged to interfere. Despite the bad feeling between the Shahsawars and Naqd Ali Beg, the ambassador was present at the funeral of Khwaja when he died in August. We know few other details of the Shahsawars; the grief of Khwaja’s son Mohammed seems not to have stopped him falling in love with an English woman and apparently wanting to convert to Christianity. He was not alone in being attracted by the charms of the women of London; Naqd also started a relationship with a ‘lewde strumpet’ with whom he became so enamoured that he wanted to take her back to Persia. King Charles soon lost patience with the squabbling Persian envoys and sent them back to Persia with Sir Dodmore Cotton to take Shah Abbas’ advice on which of them was his genuine envoy. It was a ill fated embassy; Khwaja’s son died of a burning fever in the Arabian gulf, Naqd Ali Beg committed suicide and Sir Robert Sherley and Sir Dodmore Cotton died the following year before returning to England.  

Mahomet, a Persian merchant returning for Persia in our ship, died of a burning-fever, his father Hodge Suar having paid nature her last tribute in London the year before. Nemo ante obitum beatus was verified in this person; but a happy man we hope this Mahomet died if, throwing away the rags of Mawmetry [i.e. Muhammadanism], he clothed his soul with the robes of true faith in Christ, whom we were told, a little before he left the world, he called upon as the only efficacious means of his salvation; again I say happy, if unfeignedly. At his putting into the sea the captain of our ship honoured his funeral with the rending clamour of four culverins, his carcass at that instant being committed to the mercy of the sea, no less sure a treasury than the earth till the Resurrection.
Thomas Herbert

We came to anchor in Swally Road Nogdi-Ally-beg, the Persian Ambassador (Sir Robert Sherley’s antagonist), died, having, as we were credibly told, poisoned himself – for four days eating only opium. The Mary (where he died) gave him eleven great ordnance at his carrying ashoe, his son Ebrahim-chan conveyed him to Surat (10 miles thence) where they entombed him him not a stones cast from Tom Coryat’s grave…
Thomas Herbert

Friday, 28 September 2018

Hung, flayed and crucified; the gruesome fate of James Legg (1731-1801)

In the May the Royal Academy finally opened the doors to its £56 million redevelopment to the public. The event received much coverage in the media including terrestrial TV news coverage. I was watching it on Channel 4 news which took you on a tour of the new gallery spaces, the new bridge linking Burlington House with the Burlington Gardens building, the refurbished vaults and the new auditorium. They were interviewing someone, possibly Tim Marlow the RA’s recently appointed Artistic Director; I wasn’t really listening because my attention was transfixed by something in the background to the interviewee’s head shot. A life size model of a man being crucified. Some change in my demeanour, a shifting forward in my seat, widening of the eyes, a sharp intake of breath, I’m not sure what, alerted my wife that that I was taking more than usual interest in the programme.

“What is it?” she asked. I pointed to the crucifixion behind the interviewee’s neatly trimmed hair.

“That’s James Legg, the Chelsea pensioner, who was executed for murder then handed to the anatomists, who crucified him in an experiment then flayed his corpse and made a plaster cast…” I told her. She rolled her eyes and went back to leafing through her magazine, taking no further interest in the subject. I was much more interested in the 200 year old plaster cast than I was in the £56 million refurbishment of the Royal Academy. James Legg normally languishes in the RA’s vaults, seen only by students. He has occasionally been put on public view over the last two centuries but his public appearances are normally pretty brief and I have never managed to catch one of them. From the news report he looked to be on prominent display. I went to see him this week, the first opportunity I have had since seeing the news item in May, and didn’t even bother looking round the new gallery spaces, the new bridge or the new auditorium. I only had eyes for James.          

On October 28 1801, 70 year old Chelsea Pensioner James Legg was convicted of the murder of fellow pensioner William Lambe at the Old Bailey. The only witness to the murder was Lambe’s wife. She told the court that she was surprised that Legg, whom she had known for years, had shot her husband with a pistol because “I took him to be a very solid man, for he washed his own linen, cooked his own victuals, and took the sacrament regularly…” But on the morning of October second, in the common room of the Royal Hospital Mrs Lambe got up a little before seven to find Legg walking about “swearing, and quite in an ill humour, I thought; I asked him what was the matter, when he began to swear the more, and said, I will turn you out of the room, if you speak another word.”  William Lambe was still in bed, perhaps Legg’s threats to his wife woke him up for when she opened the door to their room he was just getting up. Legg brushed past her and put a pistol into his hand. Still half fuddled with sleep Lambe, according to his wife “took it, turned it about, and looked at it, and said, what is this for; the room was dark, and then he threw it into the common room; my husband had just put on a little flannel waistcoat, and stood up against the door.” Legg rushed up to him and fired his own pistol into Lambe’s chest, killing him immediately; “he endeavoured to call my name, but could not…” said Mrs Lambe pathetically. Legg seemed to be challenging Lambe to a duel, newspapers reported that he had said “You must get up and fight me,” as he threw the gun at Lambe but when the pistol was examined later it was found to be primed with gunpowder but to contain no bullet.

A Chelsea Pensioner in uniform

None of the witnesses at the trial had any idea why James Legg would want to kill William Lambe. When questioned Charles Coates, another pensioner and one of the first on the scene after the shooting told the court “I said, good God, why you have killed him, he is quite dead, how could you do so; he (Legg) paused, and said, I gave him a pistol in his hand, to come out and fight me like a man, he would not, but threw it down, then I fired….” The newspapers had reported that the two men had been at loggerheads over the coal ration but this seemed a poor motive for murder. So senseless did the killing seem that some witnesses suggested Legg was out of his mind.  Joseph Ryland, a tobacconist, swore that Legg did not seem in his right senses “This year past, he used to buy tobacco of me; one day, about half a year ago, he talked very wild, and said he was going to have a company, and be in commission afresh, under Lord Cornwallis in Ireland.” Ann Grant a nurse at the Old Infirmary testified “the prisoner was in the hospital, under my care, from the beginning of the year to the 10th or 11th of May; and, during that time, I saw a very great change in him, which I never saw before; a lowness, a melancholy and deranged state; knowing him so long, I took the opportunity of asking him what was the matter with him, and the reason of his melancholy; he told me his mind was confused; that he had no rest night or day; that he was hurried from place to place, and could not tell what he was doing; and I really was afraid he would make away with himself.” Mr Justice Heath was not swayed by this thin evidence of insanity and finding Legg guilty condemned him to death by hanging and, once dead, to anatomisation by the surgeons.

There was great public interest in James Legg. The Morning Post reported the scenes at Newgate Chapel the following Sunday when the condemned sermon was due to be read:

On Sunday morning a great number of persons attended the Old Bailey chapel to hear the condemned sermon. The principal objects of attraction were Smith, the pretended Parson, and Leigh, the Chelsea pensioner, both capitally convicted last week... The price of admission was at first a shilling; it soon rose to two shillings, and shortly after to three. From the increasing demand for places, and the affluent appearance of the visitors, the door keepers now thought they might sport box prices, and were on the point of demanding a crown a-head but unfortunately the place by this time was completely full, and the reflux of a disappointed tide put an end to any further solicitation for admittance. Still, however, numbers hovered about the place, waiting to receive an account of what passed within from their more lucky friends. From this state of suspense and expectation they were relieved much sooner than they could have had reason to hope. No condemned sermon was preached, the unfortunate objects of their curiosity did not appear in the Chapel, and the audience were dismissed after a short prayer. This disappointment was followed with loud murmurs against the Chaplain, and loud demands to have their money returned and, strange to tell, many Gentlemen did not leave Newgate without actual compulsion. 

The condemned sermon being read at Newgate Chapel

The same newspaper also gave a full account of the execution the following day:

Yesterday morning, a few minutes after eight o’clock, James Legg, the Chelsea pensioner, and Richard Stark, who were both convicted of murder at the present Old Bailey Sessions and ordered for execution were launched into eternity, opposite the debtors door of Newgate amidst the execrations of many thousand spectators who were assembled as early as half past seven o'clock, to witness their behavior at the place of execution.

Legg’s manner was as unconcerned during his confinement in the condemned cell as on his trial…. Throughout the whole of his confinement, he betrayed no fear of death, was always collected; and when he was about to ascend the scaffold, he took Mr. Kirby by the hand, and said, "I mind this no more than I would entering the field of action”. He afterwards shook hands with all around him, and turning to his companion Stark, who was weeping bitterly, said, 'Be a man, and die with spirit." He made use of many other exhortations, and so far succeeded as to make Stark hold up his head. Before they were turned off, Legg looked around, bowed to the populace, smiled, and appeared quite unconcerned. After hanging the usual time (an hour), their bodies were carried to the dissecting-room on Saffron-hill and this day they will be exhibited for public inspection. Legg was in the 25th regiment of foot about sixteen years, was born in Shropshire…. His appearance was prepossessing, an open countenance, about six feet one inch high.


The intention of the court was that Legg should be publicly dissected but the corpse was claimed by a staff surgeon at the Chelsea Hospital, Joseph Constantine Carpue, who had agreed to take part in an unusual experiment at the request of three prominent artists, Thomas Banks, Richard Cosway and Benjamin West.  All three were Royal Academicians; West was in fact the second President, having taken over the position left vacant on the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Banks was a celebrated sculptor, Cosway a portrait painter and the Anglo-American West a painter of historical subjects. These three distinguished men had been debating for some time the questionable anatomical accuracy of crucifixion scenes. They approached Carpue to help them determine the exact effects being nailed and hung from a cross would have on the human body. Conducting the experiment on a live human being would be likely to land them all in serious trouble so they settled on the next best option, experimenting with a fresh corpse.

Thomas Banks
Benjamin West
Richard Cosway

According to Carpue, Legg’s body was removed to a temporary building “erected near the place of the execution; a cross provided. The subject was nailed on the cross; the cross suspended…the body, being warm, fell into the position that a dead body must fall into…When cool, a cast was made, under the direction of Mr Banks, and when the mob was dispersed it was removed to my theatre.” Carpue then flayed the crucified corpse, removing every shred of skin and subcutaneous fat to expose the muscle beneath. Banks made another plaster cast of the body, a classic ecorché. Both casts were later displayed in Banks studio, creating huge public interest before being moved to the Royal Academy where the sculptor hoped they 'might be useful to the Students of the Royal Academy & also to the professor of Anatomy at the time of his giving his lectures as they may be mov'd from the Antique Academy to the Lecture room & back again with very little trouble'. In the 1820’s they were moved to Carpue’s own museum of anatomy. St George’s Hospital inherited the two casts from Carpue and during the First World War the ecorché ended up back at the Royal Academy. The other cast has been lost.

James and friends, now apparently on permanent display in the Royal Academy vaults

Friday, 21 September 2018

Deer stalking at Brookwood Cemetery

Visiting Brookwood Cemetery I did not expect to spend almost as much of my time deer stalking as grave hunting. It had been a last minute decision to go to Woking; I’d actually planned to spend the afternoon at Kensal Green. I had wanted a day off work but couldn’t get the morning because of a meeting I absolutely had to attend. On the way to the office I received a message saying the meeting was cancelled, my boss let me take the whole day off and I swiftly rejigged my plans to take advantage of the extra half day. It was a glorious late summer day. The sun was shining in a cloudless blue sky but luckily a breeze kept the temperature from rising too steeply.  I wasn’t really suitably dressed for a day out in the country, being in a black pin stripe suit. In the cemetery I could have easily been taken for an undertaker I suppose.

Uniquely I think, in Britain at least, Brookwood has its own train station, reached directly from Waterloo (making my way to the train I was swimming against the tide of commuters pouring along the platform on their way to their offices, shops and other places of relentless wage slavery). I was only the only person who got out there. The cemetery is huge and not quite what I expected. I’ll write about it in another post. Just before lunchtime whilst I was taking photos of a mausoleum, from the corner of my eye I caught something moving swiftly out of clump of bushes. I looked up to see the back end of a roebuck disappearing amongst a group of tall headstones. I was mildly surprised but not tempted, at that point, to try and follow. An hour later I was sitting on a tree stump in the sunshine, my jacket off and draped over a funeral urn, eating a sandwich when I saw the deer trot briskly over the road in front of me and take cover under some trees. I stuffed the last of my sandwich in my mouth and threw on my jacket before setting off in pursuit. I cornered my quarry standing next to a road sign announcing St Chads Avenue. As I crept up, telephoto in trembling hand, he watched me nonchalantly over his shoulder, even letting me take a couple of shots before bounding off. For the rest of the afternoon our paths crossed at various times and when they did I trailed my fleet four footed acquaintance as best I could. He gradually started to get used to me I think. He certainly realised I didn’t move quickly enough to pose any sort of threat. He wasn’t dealing with a young Finn Mac Cool who could outrun a deer and wrestle them to the ground before finishing them off with his knife.  After a while he didn’t even bother running from me. When he was tired of my presence a brisk trot was enough to leave me gasping for breath in his wake. But he was pretty tolerant and would stand there watching me creep up on him, nose and scut twitching in unison, posing when I paused to take pictures. In the late afternoon two deer broke across the path in front of me. I thought they were two does at first but 10 minutes later I stumbled across the roebuck in the company of a doe so I must have been mistaken. She took off as soon as she caught sight of me but he stood his ground, allowing me to get my best picture of the afternoon (the one at the top of this post if you aren't sure which one I'm referring to).

Roe deer are not unusual in cemeteries either in the UK or in the United States. In the UK they have been spotted in cemeteries from Sussex and the South coast all the way up to the Glasgow Necropolis. Old cemeteries with their patches of woodland mixed with carefully maintained lawn make ideal habitats. Flowers left on graves are an added attraction. Roe deer love cut flowers, particularly roses. In some places they are considered a pest because of their pilfering of funeral flowers.   In Dufftown, in Moray, home of the Glenfiddich distillery, residents are furious with the local roe deer who brazenly filch flowers from Mortlach cemetery. Some of them demand that the local council take tough action the borough’s cervids. Miss Ross, the village florist (Rustic and Roses on Fife Street), says that her customers “come in and tell us with disappointment that flowers bought from us have been eaten, sometimes on the day they have been put down. It is very upsetting, and it costs a lot of money.” She has been using a special spray on her floral tributes, meant to deter rabbits but so far it has been a losing battle. Moray council has however responded to the clamour for action from the community.  A spokeswoman confirmed that requests for teeth proof metal cages to protect floral tributes can be made through local funeral directors and will be supplied free by the council.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Charity Begins at Home; Miriam Levy (1800-1850), Jewish Cemetery, Brady Street

James Aspinall Turner MP: “All that you infer from this transaction is, that Mr. Levy is a very sharp man of business?”
George Ramsay, Assistant Director of Stores and Clothing: “Very.”

Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the State of the Store and Clothing Depôts at Weedon, Woolwich, and the Tower (1859)

This is the only memorial singled out for attention in Brady Street in the London East volume of Pevsner’s Buildings of England.  The cemetery is, according to Pevsner, “crowded with mainly later Victorian monuments, some of considerable lavishness (e.g. that of Hannah Levy, c1850)…" Although he seems to have muddled up Miriam Levy and Hannah Rothschild, the date indicates that he is definitely referring to the Levy memorial. In truth the monument erected by the middle class rag merchant Moses Levy for his wife is considerably more lavish than the relatively plain identical double chest tombs of the multi millionaire banker and financier Nathan Meyer Rothschild and his wife Hannah. Sharman Kadish in Jewish Heritage in Britain (2006) points out that the memorial has “a very rare Jewish example of a bust of a woman: Miriam, wife of Moses Levy, identified as Miriam Levy 1801-1856, a welfare worker who opened the first soup kitchens in the East End. Her tomb is in the form of a square obelisk with four faces, decorated with figurative reliefs.” We know very little about Miriam Levy but whenever she, or the memorial, is mentioned it is obligatory to say that she was a welfare worker who opened the ‘first kitchen for the poor in Whitechapel.’ Some extend her charity work to ‘the sick and mothers in confinement’, quite possibly assuming she was also responsible for the founding of the former Jewish Maternity Hospital in Spitalfields, popularly known as Mother Levy’s nursing home. In fact there is little evidence to suggest that she was a charity worker, and the respected Cemetery Scribes website, which has investigated the claims remarks that ‘her much vaunted connection to the founding of the Jewish Soup Kitchen still eludes us.’ As the mother of ten children who died at the relatively early age of 50 it is difficult to imagine her ever finding sufficient time to spare from the demands of husband and offspring to feed or nurse the deserving poor of Whitechapel.

The inscriptions on the memorial are in English and Hebrew. The much eroded English is just about decipherable:  Beneath this monument .. deposited the remains of Miriam the beloved wife of Moses Levy Esquire of [L]..[r]oke Terrace, Notting Hill ....... who .. her .. life .. on the .. of November AM ..[5]. 561[6] in her fiftieth year of her age. This monument is erected by her disconsolate husband may her soul rest in peace.
The Hebrew Inscription (courtesy of CemeteryScribes) is a little more effusive and interestingly contains a discrepancy in her age with the English version: 'The tombstone of a pleasant woman; beloved of her husband and of her children too [alt. and a jewel to her children]; departed her home to the deep distress of the husband of her youth and all her family; she is Miriam bat Mr. Yekutiel, the wife of Mr. Moshe bar Eliezer; passed away on Monday 2nd Kislev and buried on Wednesday the 4th inst.; and her husband ,descendants and all her family will deeply mourn for; and "the days of her life" were fifty five years.'
Moses Levy was born in Aldgate c1790, the son of Eliezer and Rosetta Levy who were almost certainly born somewhere in Eastern Europe. Moses was in his fifties before he appears in civic records. In the 1841 census he gives his occupation as rag merchant and he lives with his wife (whose name was recorded as Mary) 9 children (Hannah, Israel, John, Rosetta, Isaac, Sarah, Lewis, Isabella and Rebecca) and one, overworked, servant, Martha Dunstan, in Gravel Lane, E1. As Moses’ business premises are known to have been at 109 Gravel Lane it seems likely that the family effectively lived ‘above the shop’. By the time of the 1851 census there had been something of a miraculous change in fortune for this Jewish East End family. 4 of the children were no longer living with their parents and Miriam had given birth to another daughter, Matilda, in 1844. Moses’ now gave his occupation as the respectable sounding Government Contractor rather than rag merchant and the family was living at Highbury House in Lavender Hill, a house large enough to be called a mansion, in what was then the Surrey countryside. The 3 live in servants now included a coachman!  

How did Moses change his fortunes around? On 28 June 1858 the Tory MP  for Chippenham, Henry George Boldero, an ex army man who was still referred to by Hansard as Colonel Bordero, stood up in the House and ‘humbly addressed’ Her Majesty (in the form of Her Government) to institute a Royal Commission looking at the War Department’s clothing establishment at Weedon.  One of the scandals of the recently ended Crimean War had been the inadequately clothed soldiers and the suffering caused as a result during the severe winter weather conditions in the Caucasus. Formerly regimental Colonels had been responsible for kitting out their own troops with funds supplied by the army. Almost all of them took a cut, larger or smaller, from the money that was supposed to be used for their solder’s kit. A new system was introduced after the war with the Government taking charge of procurement. Unfortunately the new arrangements seemed as prone to financial leakage and irregularities as the old and no doubt Colonel Boldero was pleased to be able to outline the intelligence he had received about the behaviour of War Department Officials, particularly the Assistant Director of Stores and Clothing at Weedon Army Barracks and Government contractors. The substance of Colonel Boldero’s allegations were that George Ramsay, the Assistant Director, was disposing of ‘surplus’ stock to contractors at a loss to the army which then bought back some of the same stock making a double loss for the army and an instant profit for the contractor and, by implication, George Ramsey himself.   According to Hansard he told the house “during the years 1856–7, 800,000 pairs of boots had been received at Weedon, and that 170,000 pairs had been disposed of, but where they had gone to it was impossible to ascertain. A person named Levi, who had made a large fortune, and who was rather shy about coming forward to give evidence, had stated that he had bought 50,000 pairs, and that he had paid for them at an auction at the rate of only about 5s. 5d., notwithstanding that they had cost the Government from 8s. 6d. to 8s. 9d. per pair. Those boots bought at 5s. 5½d. had been resold to persons who were in the habit of contracting for the army, and one of the witnesses who had been examined had honestly stated that he had supplied five militia regiments with some of the boots thus cheaply purchased, and that the Government had paid for them at the rate of 12s. a pair.”   

Rather surprisingly Lord Palmerston’s Whig administration listened to Colonel Boldero and appointed a three man Royal Commission to look into the “state of the Store and Clothing Depôts at Weedon, Woolwich, and the Tower.”  The chairman was Henry James Selfe, barrister, metropolitan police magistrate, and, in his spare time, a dedicated chess player supported by James Aspinall Turner a Manchester cotton manufacturer, Whig MP and amateur entomologist. Turner’s close cross examination of Moses Levy was reported in detail in the Times and other newspapers. In his evidence he reported that he was living at 2 Stanhope Terrace, Hyde Park, and confirmed that his place of business was 109 Gravel Lane, Houndsditch.  He was asked about the purchase of 20,000 pairs of boots which it was claimed he had bought in 1856 from Weedon and which had then turned up at the Tower of London having been bought back by the army in November and December 1856. Moses denied having bought any army surplus boots in 1856 but said that he had bought a consignment of boots that had come from Deptford in July 1857, which he had sold onto a Mr Shaw, and which may perhaps had been purchased by the army from him.  He admitted that he sometimes made mutual arrangements with other contractors not to bid for certain consignments, effectively eliminating competition and keeping the price low. Though he denied buying boots at the Tower he admitted buying 20,000 yards of Oxford Gray cloth at 2 shillings 8 pence a yard from a friend who had bought at 2 shillings 7 and a half pence a yard from the army. He then sold it on to Gilpin the army clothier in Northumberland Street at a price ‘he was not dissatisfied with.’ He did not see anything wrong with the transaction, ‘it was very good cloth and ought not, in his judgement, have been sold. He did not see why the War Department authorities could not have made use of it.’  Mr Turner, the Cotton manufacturer, remarked that the impropriety was not in the witness who bought the cloth, but in it having been to the Tower for sale in the first place. Mr Selfe, who clearly fancied himself a wag, said that the cloth ‘was such as might have been available for the Irish people if it had not been made into trowsers for soldiers.’ The court dutifully laughed, perhaps even Moses raised a smile. After some further questioning by the Chairman during which Moses insisted that he had always bought his goods from the army ‘fairly and honestly in open competition’ and that he ‘was sometimes a loser and at others a gainer’ from his business dealings with the war office. No action was ever taken against him.

I found one other reference to Moses Levy of Gravel Lane in the newspapers. In July 1858 the Nottinghamshire Guardian ran the following intriguing piece:
The London Old Clothes Market.— Mr. Moses Levy of Gravel Lane, Houndsditch, London, has written the history of the Old Clothes .Market, about which the common council of the city have lately made so much noise. Mr. Levy states that this famous mart has existed upwards of a century; but that a few years since, in order to protect the poor dealers from the inclemency of the weather, he was induced by several benevolent members of the Hebrew race to erect a covered building for the use of these small traders in cast off garments, and the mart was removed from Petticoat Lane. Mr. Levy believes there is no discredit attached to the proprietorship of this famous institution; and having incurred a heavy risk in its construction, he does not think he ought to be deprived of the results of what the guardians of public morality lately viewed as a social convenience. He says: — "There are many ‘vested rights’, neither so well founded nor so necessary to the community, concerning which the common council have called out very loudly lately ; but he hopes it will not be forgotten that there is a class of persons— nay, if you so please, the lowest of the low— for whom such a market is — sad though it be to say so — an actual necessity . How the poor live, and how they are clothed, is one of the mysteries of London life. That mystery is solved only by those who are compelled to know thoroughly the Clothes Market in Houndsditch."

Friday, 14 September 2018

The Jewish Cemetery, Brady Street, E1

‘The old Jewish cemeteries are small secretive places, a few acres hidden by high walls and locked doors, often cheek by jowl with new buildings and identified from outside only by the trees that overhang walls topped with broken glass. Brady Street is an oasis in a wilderness of East End urban desolation comprised of waste land and forbidding council flat blocks.’
Hugh Meller & Brian Parsons “London Cemeteries.”
I am not at all happy with the photographs I took on a recent visit to at the Jewish Cemetery in Brady Street, they are truly a substandard crop.  There are two reasons for my disappointment and I hold Louis Berk responsible for both.  Firstly my visit was short, coming at the tail end of a guided walk by Louis through Whitechapel. To be fair he allowed us to wander around the cemetery for much longer than the 20 minutes allotted in the walk timetable but it wasn’t enough for me. I can’t take photographs in a hurry, I need to wander around a site, gradually circling my subject until I find the right angle and then make increasingly miniscule and painstaking adjustments to angle, aperture, exposure etc until I think I might have done enough to get a decent shot. I often end up with 10 almost identical shots of the same subject but that’s the digital revolution for you; only professionals or the extremely wealthy could have afforded to be so meticulous in the age of the film camera. The time available during our visit to Brady Street was too short to indulge in photographic fussiness of this sort and therefore I am convinced I somehow managed to miss out on some great shots. The second reason for the dissatisfaction with my pictures is that last year Louis published a beautiful book of his own photographs taken during a five year project to document Brady Street. Even if I had five years I’m not sure I could come up with anything to rival Louis’ shots so maybe he did me a favour keeping the visit down to a mere 40 minutes.

I was grateful to get into Brady Street at all. These closed Jewish cemeteries in the East End can be difficult to access and I had long wanted to visit here and Alderney Road. In 1761 the New Synagogue helds its first services in hired premises in the Bricklayers Hall, Leadenhall Street. That same year the synagogue trustees leased a former brickfield in Ducking Pond Lane, Whitechapel for the sum of 12 guineas a year and opened the East End’s fourth Jewish Cemetery (the Velho cemetery in Mile End Road was opened by the Sephardi community in 1657, Alderney Road, the first Ashkenazi cemetery, was opened by the Great Synagogue in 1691, and the Novo Sephardi cemetery, also in Mile End Road, in 1733). Demand for burial plots was brisk and despite being extended in 1795 space quickly ran out. The cemetery managed to stay in use for close to a century by adopting the expedient of piling a four foot layer of earth to a large central section to allow additional burials (this solution to the problems caused by high demand and restricted space would also be used by both of London’s Catholic cemeteries).  The new area became known as the Stranger’s Mound as many of those buried there were not affiliated to any particular congregation.  The headstone from the older burial was placed back to back with the headstone from the more recent one (a precedent not followed by the Catholics).
The tombs of Nathan Meyer Rothschild and his wife Hannah can be seen at the back of this shot

The crowded cemetery finally closed for burials in 1857 and remained quietly undisturbed and slowly returning to wilderness for over a hundred years. In the 1980’s Tower Hamlets Council began eyeing up any unused plots of land in the borough that looked like that they may have redevelopment potential.  Four acres of walled off brambles, sycamores and  crumbling headstones within a stones throw of the Mile End Road were crying out to be cleared, levelled and have apartment blocks built on them. Brady Street was saved by Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild, one time Labour party peer who later worked for Margaret Thatcher’s government, ex MI5 man, Cambridge Zoologist, head of research at Shell and old friend of Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess and Kim Philby (the rumours that he was the ‘fourth man’ in the Cambridge spy ring were scotched when it became clear that that title belong to Blunt, and the speculation that in that case perhaps he was the ‘fifth  man’ similarly died when MI5 belatedly admitted that that was John Cairncross. Eventually it had to be accepted that there might have been at least one person who joined MI5 during the war who didn’t end up spying for the Russians and that that person may well have been Victor Rothschild).  L.B. Tower Hamlets were planning to serve a compulsory purchase order to force the United Synagogue to sell the burial ground as it had not been used for 100 years.  When Victor Rothschild died in 1990 he became the first burial in the cemetery since 1857 and effectively prevented redevelopment of the site for at least another 100 years. His pink granite tomb stands next to his ancestors Nathan Meyer Rothschild and his wife Hannah.    
The grave of Solomon Hirschel
Among the prominent memorials in the cemetery is that of Rabbi Solomon Hirschel, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain from 1802 until his death  in 1842. He was a great friend of Nathan Meyer Rothschild according to Bell’s Weekly Messenger who ran short piece on the pair in August 1836;
The late Mr. Rothschild’s manner of evincing kind feelings towards Soloman Herschel, the Grand Rabbi of Duke’s-place had something in which was both singular and whimsical. When any good speculation was afloat, Mr. Rothschild deposited on Dr. Herschel’s account a certain sum, proportionate to his own risk, and whatever percentage or profit accrued therefrom was carried by him to the Rabbi, to whom he gave a full and true account, even to the utmost fraction, the Millionaire, on such occasions, invariably dined with the Levite, and the day was usually passed by the two friends in innocent hilarity and pleasing conversation.
The Rabbi presided over his friends funeral obsequies when he died of an infected abscess in 1836. Rothschild was fabulously  wealthy (some estimate his fortune to be worth the equivalent of around $450 billion today – though these estimates always have to be taken with a pinch of salt) and his funeral was spectacular.  According to the newspapers “among those present on this solemn occasion was every Hebrew of any respectability in the metropolis, as well as several merchants of eminence in the City, “ and “at least 10,000 persons assembled during the procession.” This set off from St Swithins Lane, close to the Bank of England, at 1.00pm on Monday 1 August, headed by a party of city police 4 abreast with a mounted inspector bringing up the rear.  Next came the beadles of the various synagogues and the hearse and forty mourning carriages containing members of the extended Rothschild clan and their Jewish associates. There were a further 35 carriages belonging to the Lord Mayor and Sheriff of London, foreign ambassadors and British noblemen.  As the procession reached the East End it was joined by numbers of silent children from the Jews Orphan School and the Jewish Free School, staff and patients from the Jew’s Hospital. At Brady Street the funeral service was conducted by Mr Aarons, the burial ground rabbi and by Solomon Hirschel who delivered a eulogy in English.  According to the Bucks Herald:
The body was then removed towards the grave, which near the North West corner of the burial-ground. It is built of brick, is only five or six feet deep, and nearly square. The outer coffin is considerable size, and somewhat different in shape to those generally made in this country. It is made of fine oak, and so handsomely carved and decorated with silver handles at both sides and ends, that it appeared more like a cabinet or splendid piece of furniture than a receptacle for the dead. A raised tablet of oak on the breast is carved with the family arms of the deceased. From its great weight (it was said nearly a ton,) some difficulty was experienced in lowering it into its resting place. This, however, was accomplished, and the four sons of the deceased, performing the last melancholy ceremony of acknowledging the judgement death, which is done throwing three handfuls of earth into the grave and on the coffin, were very much affected, so much so that they were obliged to be supported in its performance.

The Cheltenham Journal and Gloucestershire Fashionable Weekly Gazette of Monday 28 November 1842 carried a quite detailed account of the funeral of Rabbi Herschel:
On Monday, Oct. 31st, Rabbi Solomon Herschel, Chief Rabbi of the German and Polish Jews in England, expired at his residence in Bury-court, St. Mary-axe, after a long and severe illness. He had been confined to his house for the greater part of the two last years of his life, in consequence of an accident which he met with about two years ago, by which his thigh was dislocated…. his mortal remains were deposited in the Jews' Burial ground, in North-street, Mile-end-road. At ten o'clock the body was removed from his late residence, and conveyed on a bier to the synagogue adjoining, where it was received by the Rev. S. S. Ashur, the principal reader, attended by the several readers of the different synagogues of the metropolis. The synagogue was crowded to excess by the most wealthy and influential members of the Jewish persuasion, all of whom were most anxious to offer this last tribute of respect to the worth and talents of the deceased. On the entrance of the hearers with the body, the Rev. S. S. Ashur, commenced the service by saving "This the gate of the Lord into which the righteous shall enter," and preceding the body towards the holy ark, chanted the 15th Psalm. The bier having been deposited front of the ark, the Rev. gentleman, assisted by the choir and the congregation, read the following Psalms, viz., 17th, the 23rd, the 49th, and the 44th Psalms. At the conclusion of this part of the ceremony, the bearers commenced removing, the body for conveyance to the burial ground, during which the reader pronounced several verses  from the Old Testament, and as they drew near the door of the synagogue, said, " Behold his bed, which Is Solomon’s, three-score valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel, they all hold swords  being expert in war, every man hath his sword upon his thigh, because of fear in the night" and concluded with, "The Lord bless thee, and ke ep thee, the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious onto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." ….The hearse, containing the body , was followed by upwards of 100 carriages filled with the friends of the deceased, and other members of the Jewish persuasion. The private carriages of the Lord Mayor, Mr. Baron Rothschild, Sir Moses Montefiore, and several other gentlemen, closed the mournful cavalcade. On the arrival of the procession at the burial-ground, the body was deposited on a bier at the centre of the synagogue, attended by six boys, holding lighted wax tapers, three on each side the coffin. The Rev. S. S. Ashur, with the other readers, then placed themselves at the feet, and when the whole were commenced reading extracts from the Old Testament after which they performed various circuits round the bier, chanting the 91st Psalm after every circuit. The body was then conveyed to the burial-Ground, preceded by the readers, and the boys holding the lighted candles, and finally deposited in a brick grave, about seven feet in depth, situate about the centre of the ground, and the ceremony being completed, the whole of the friends and attendants retired.