Tuesday, 23 December 2014

"The Lately Discovered Depredations at Lambeth Burial Ground" - grave robbing south of the river 1794.

A shadow of its former self - Lambeth (or Paradise Row) burial ground in Lambeth High Street

“At a short distance from the church is another burying ground, belonging to the parish; it is divided into the upper, middle, and lower grounds. It is very much crowded, and the tomb-stones are deeply sunk in the earth; the state of the ground has rendered it necessary to discontinue the practice of interment. Bones are scattered about, and a part of the ground has been raised. The neighbourhood is thickly populated; the soil is very moist, and water flows in at the depth of four feet.”
                                              
Gatherings from Graveyards, George Alfred Walker (1839)


The Lambeth burial ground, sometimes known as Paradise Row burial ground stands on Lambeth High Street a quarter of a mile away from St Mary’s church. The ground was opened in 1705 as an overspill graveyard, enlarged in 1814 and closed in 1853. It is now a public park with gravestones lined up against the boundary walls. Much of Lambeth was a poor area with a high mortality rate and frequent interments. This made the burial ground a target for resurrection men who supplied the anatomists of Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals with their raw material. On the night of 18 February 1794 several grave robbers were disturbed in their work in the burial ground. They escaped but next morning, according to newspaper reports, “great numbers of the parishioners repaired to the ground, and having learnt that such thefts had often been practised, were so alarmed at the apprehension of their deceased relatives having suffered such a fate that they were determined to dig up their graves, and try whether they were there or not.”       

The Parish Officers did their best to dissuade the crowd from reopening en masse the graves of their relatives but people were determined to discover the truth. Pickaxes, spades and shovels were produced and more than a hundred coffins were summarily exhumed and examined. Only a fraction of the coffins contained corpses – around 10 or 12 according to the newspapers, who added “the whole neighbourhood, during the day, was one scene of anxiety, grief and lamentation.”  The incident was considered so shocking that a few months later a general meeting was held by the representatives of the London Parishes in the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand to consider the “lately discovered Depredations in Lambeth Burial Ground.” The minutebook of St Thomas’ parish in Bermondsey gives a full and detailed account of the meeting:   

" . . . It appeared, that the robberies of the said Burial Grounds, were discovered by three men being disturbed as they were conveying from thence five human bodies in three sacks, in the night of the 18th of February last.

That in consequence of such discovery, people of all descriptions, whose relations had been interred in that Ground, resorted thereto, and demanded to dig for them; which being refused they in great numbers forced their way in, and in spight of every effort the Parish Officers could use, began like mad people to tear up the ground; at the same time, charging the Officers and every one that offered them any opposition, with being privy to the robberies, and in general terms threatening them: thus circumstanced, the Parish Officers finding nothing but down-right force, (and that of more strength than the civil power) could prevent the populace, and fearing to bring on a riot (which in its effects might produce the most serious consequences) after having used every effort, short of force, were necessitated to give way, and let the people go on in their searches; by which a great number of empty coffins were discovered, the corpses having been stolen from them; great distress and agitation of mind was manifest in every one, and some, in a kind of phrensy, ran away with the coffins of their deceased relations; and the generality of the populace were so ripe for mischief, that they attacked a house with stones and brick-bats, upon the bare suspicion that the occupier had been concerned in, or privy to the robbery of the ground, and it was with difficulty they were prevented from demolishing it.


Resurrection men at work - by Phiz

To restore order, and discover the offenders if possible, a large reward was offered, and the committee aforesaid appointed; by whose enquiries, it was found that the Grave Digger, and three other persons were the robbers, and that the bodies had been conveyed away in a coach to different people for various purposes, as was made appear to them by informations upon oath; the material parts of one of which informations being now read, showed, that within the knowledge of the informant, eight surgeons of public repute, and a man who calls himself an Articulator (and by hand-bills openly avows the trade, exclusive of others of less note) are in the constant habit of buying stolen dead bodies, during the winter half year; in whose service the following fifteen persons are generally employed, namely, Samuel Arnot, alias Harding; John Gilmore, Thomas Gilmore, Thomas Pain, Peter McIntire, alias Mc Intosh, James Profit, Jeremiah Keese, Moris Hogarty, White, a man called Long John the Coachman, John Butler, John Howison, Samuel Hatton, John Parker; and Henry Wheeler, whose depredations have extended to thirty Burial Grounds that the informant knows of; and that grave diggers, and those intrusted with the care of Burial Grounds, are frequently accessory to the robberies, and receive five shillings per Corpse for every one, that with their privily is carried off, by which means many hundreds are taken from their grave annually.

That with the Surgeons and with the men above alluded to, there is a set price for dead bodies, Viz. for an Adult, two guineas and a Crown, and for every one under age, six shillings for the first foot, and nine per inch for all it measures more in length; that the bodies thus procured are used here in various ways, and the flesh by some burnt, by others buried, and by others the informant did not know how it was disposed of; that some bodies are prepared and made into Skeletons, and sent to America, and the West Indies; and many with the flesh on, or made into Skeletons, are sent into different parts of the Kingdom.

By another informant upon oath, the whole of which was also now read, it appeared that the aforesaid Articulator, makes the most wanton use of some that fall into his hands, substituting human skulls for nail boxes, and having the Skeleton of a Child, instead of a doll, for his own child to play with.

The Chairman 'also acquainted the meeting, that from other evidence (which though not yet upon Oath yet such as may be relied on) information is given that experiments have been tried and perfected, whereby human flesh has been converted into a substance like Spermaceti, and candles made of it, and that Soap has also been made of the same material."

 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

No rest for the wicked; Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) original interment Westminster Abbey, head now buried Sidney Sussex College Chapel, location of body unknown

Cromwell's coffin plate up for grabs at Sothebys.
Oliver Cromwell’s gilt copper coffin plate was sold yesterday at Sotheby’s in London for £74,000. The plate had originally been placed inside the inner lead coffin in which Cromwell was buried, the Order Book of the Privy Council for September 1658 details the arrangement, “his Highness Corps being embalmed, with all due rites appertayneing thereunto, and being wrapped in Lead, There ought to be an Inscripcion in a plate of Gold to be fixed upon his Brest before he be putt into the Coffin. That the Coffin be filled with odours, and spices within, and Covered without with purple Velvett, and handles, Nayles, and all other Iron Worke about it, be richly hatched with Gold."  The plate was removed by James Norfolk, Serjeant of the House of Commons when he supervised the disinterment of Cromwell’s corpse in 1661 for his public ‘posthumous execution’. Norfolk handed over the corpse but kept the coffin plate as a souvenir.

The Protector died on 3 September 1658:

 
….. about four of the clock in the afternoon.  I am not able to speak or write; this stroke is so sore, so unexpected, the providence of God in it so stupendous, considering the person that is fallen … I can do nothing but put my mouth in the dust, and say, It is the Lord; and though his ways be not always known, yet they are always righteous, and we must submit to his will.
John Thurloe to Henry Cromwell on the death of his father

 
Cromwell’s death may have come as a shock to those closest to him but they should not have been surprised.  He had been ailing for some time, suffering from tertian ague (probably some form of malaria) and the grief of losing his favourite daughter to cancer on 6 August. On August 17 he was seen out riding by the Quaker George Fox who later commented “I saw and felt a waft of death go forth against him.” By September 3 he was dead. The Lord Protector had refused the crown when it had been offered to him but in death he was treated like Royalty. The Venetian envoy reported that “at Whitehall they are now preparing for the funeral of the late Protector, which will take place with extraordinary pomp and magnificence…”

 
Cromwell lying in state at Somerset House
The funeral arrangements were, ironically, modelled on those of James 1. The body was embalmed and then taken to lie in state in Somerset House where thousands of silent, solemn citizens filed past the elaborate catafalque. The funeral procession took place on 23 November, a wooden effigy standing in for Cromwell who, despite the embalming, had started to decompose and been buried in Westminster Abbey 13 days before in a private ceremony.  The cortege was headed by a carriage adorned with plumes and escutcheons and drawn by six horses draped in black velvet. Soldiers dressed in new red coats with black buttons lined the route and only ticket holders were allowed anywhere near the procession which took seven hours to travel little more than a mile. Anyone who was anyone in the protectorate followed the hearse, down to the Protectors household servants. After a ceremony in the Abbey the catafalque and effigy stood on public view for many weeks.

 
The ostentation of the funeral provoked mixed reactions. John Evelyn reported that it was “it was the joyfullest funeral that ever I saw, for there was none that Cried, but dogs, which the soldiers hooted away with a barbarous noise, drinking & taking tobacco in the streets as they went”. Cromwell was succeeded as Protector by his son Richard but the regime lasted less than a year and by 1660 the English had invited Charles II to become their king. One of the first royal acts was to order the trial of 12 surviving regicides who were convicted and then hung, drawn and quartered as traitors. Newly Royalist Parliament also ordered the posthumous execution of three deceased regicides Cromwell, John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton. Cromwell’s remains were removed from the middle wall of the Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey and taken to the Red Lion Inn in Holborn, where he was joined by Ireton and Bradshaw. On the morning of January 30 1661, the anniversary of the execution of Charles the First, the three corpses, in open coffins, were taken to Tyburn where they were hung in public view until the late afternoon. As the light began to fade the bodies were taken down and beheaded – it took eight blows to separate Cromwell’s head from his body. The bodies were thrown into a pit at Tyburn and the heads impaled on spikes on twenty foot poles and raised above Westminster Hall. There the heads remained until the late 1680’s.

The 'Wilkinson' head photographed in the late Fifties

Cromwell’s head went missing in around 1688 when a storm snapped the pole on which it was impaled and the head fell into the grounds of Westminster Hall. A sentry found it and hid it in the chimney of his house, ignoring the considerable reward that was offered for its return. No one knows what happened to the head after this until it reappeared in 1710 in the Cabinet of Curiosities owned by Claudius Du Puy who put it on public display. Du Puy boasted to a German visitor that he could get 60 guineas for the head if he wished to sell it. On Du Puy’s death in 1738 the head passed through various hands; a failed comic actor named Samuel Russell used to produce the head and pass it around at drunken revels, the clumsy hands of the carousers causing “irreparable erosion of its features”. The Hughes Brothers put it on public display in Bond Street and charged two shillings and sixpence to see it but the venture was a failure as many potential customers simply did not believe that it was the head of Cromwell.     

One of the ferocious head hunters
of Sidney Sussex College
In 1815 one of the Hughes’ descendants sold the head to Josiah Henry Wilkinson who astonished the novelist Maria Edgeworth by producing it one morning at breakfast “not his picture—not his bust—nothing of stone or marble or plaster of Paris, but his real head”. On the other hand Thomas Carlyle point blank refused to see it or to believe that the head could be Cromwell’s “it has hair, flesh and beard, a written history bearing that it was procured for £100 (I think of bad debt) about 50 years ago...the whole affair appears to be fraudulent moonshine, an element not pleasant even to glance into, especially in a case like Oliver's.” There were other candidates to be the authentic head of Cromwell – a skull in the Ashmolean museum in particular made strong claims to the one and only genuine article. The distinguished physician George Rolleston examined both heads and thought that the Ashmolean skull was a fake, a verdict concurred with by later investigators who pointed out that it had been pierced from the top, not the bottom, and that there were no vestiges of skin, flash or hair as would be expected from an embalmed head. In 1960 a descendent of Wilkinson’s presented the head to Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge where Cromwell had been a student. On March 25 1960 the head was finally reburied in the college chapel inside an airtight container with just a few witnesses. The burial was only made public in October 1962 and a plaque now marks the approximate spot, the exact location remaining a closely guarded secret.



Thursday, 27 November 2014

Sharkbait - snatched from the Jaws of Death, Sir Brook Watson (1735-1807), St Mary the Virgin, Mortlake

Worryingly the parish clerk at Mortlake was not sure if he was christening or burying the parishoners.
Brook Watson, was a wealthy and influential merchant who was an Alderman of London, an MP for the City for 9 years, Lord Mayor of London in 1786 and a director of the Bank of England. He was born in Plymouth in 1735, his father was a Hamburg merchant from Hull who according to some sources was unfortunate in business. He certainly left his son penniless and orphaned by the time he was nine and with no relatives in either Plymouth or Hull willing to take him in he was packed off to a distant relative called Levens who was living in Boston Massachusetts. By the age of 14 Brook has been sent to sea in a merchant vessel in which Levens owned an interest. It was whilst on this ship when visiting Cuba that the reckless young man decided to take a swim in Havana bay and was attacked by a shark. In later life Brook commissioned the American artist John Singleton Copley to commemorate the event in the celebrated painting ‘Watson and the Shark’ (now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington).


John Singleton Copley's celebrated recreation of the moment of Watson's rescue from the shark 

When Copley’s painting was shown at the Royal academy in 1778 it caused a sensation as can be seen in the following account from a contemporary newspaper:   

The following is the Narrative on which the very extraordinary Picture now exhibiting at the Royal Academy, painted by Mr. Copley and numbered 65, is founded: BROOK WATSON, Esq; an eminent Merchant, now resident in the City of London, being at the Havana, when a Youth, in a Merchant-Ship, amusing himself one Day by swimming about it, whilst it lay at anchor, and being at the Distance of about two hundred Yards from it, the Men in the Boat, who were waiting for the Captain to go on shore, were struck with Horror on perceiving a Shark making towards him as his devoted Prey. The Monster was already too near him for the Youth to be timely apprized of his Danger; and the Sailors had the afflicting Sight of feeing him seized and precipitated down the Flood with his voracious Assailant, before they could put off to his Deliverance* They however hastened towards the Place, where they had disappeared, in anxious Expectation of seeing the Body rise. In about two Minutes they difference- covered the Body rife at about a hundred Yards Distance, but ere they could reach him, he was a second Time seized by the Shark and again sunk from their Sight. The Sailors now took the Precaution to place a man in the bow of the Boat, provided with a Hook to strike the Fish, should it appear within reach, and repeat its Attempt at seizing the Body. In less than two Minutes they discovered the Youth on the Surface of the Water, and the Monster still in eager Pursuit of him ; and at the very Instant he was about to be seized the third Time, the Shark was struck with the Boat- Hook, and driven from his Prey. This is the Moment the ingenious Artist has selected from the distressing Scene, and has given the affecting Incident the most animated Representation the Powers of the Pencil can bestow. Suffice it to say, in regard to the singular Fate of Mr. Watson, the Shark seized him both times by the right Leg ; in the first Attack, all the Flesh was stripped off the Bone from the Calf downwards; in the second, the Foot was divided from the Leg by the Ankle. By the Skill of the Surgeon, and the Aid of a good Habit of Body, after suffering an Amputation of the Limb a little below the Knee, the Youth, who was thus wonderfully and literally saved from the Jaws of Death, received a perfect cure in about three Months. 



Sir Brook Watson in 1803
by Robert Deighton
Whilst the Cubans treated Brook and his damaged leg in hospital the merchant man on which he worked, sailed and left him stranded in Havana. Once he was well enough he managed to beg a passage back to Boston only to find that Levens had quit the place leaving him ‘friendless, penniless and a cripple’ as one account puts it. The landlady of the boarding house where he had lodged with Levens reluctantly put him up but immediately made arrangements get him off her hands by apprenticing him to a tailor. Luckily for Brook Captain John Huston of Nova Scotia was lodging at the house, took a liking to the spirited young man and offered him a place in his store in Chignecto. Canada at the time was divided between the English and French and there was constant tension between the settlers and the troops of the two nations that eventually erupted into open warfare. Brook soon showed himself able and intelligent and apparently barely handicapped by his missing leg. Working for Huston he became involved in victualing the British military and became a favourite of General Monckton the British commander. He soon demonstrated his bravery when a herd of British cattle crossed the river Missiquash at low tide and found themselves marooned at high tide on French held territory where they were likely to be impounded and lost forever. No one amongst the citizenry or soldiery was willing to risk crossing the river to try and get them back except one legged Brook. He stripped and swam across the river and, dressed just in his wet drawers, was rounding up the straying cattle to drive them back across the river when a party of French fusiliers appeared demanding to know what he was doing on land belonging to the King of France. Hopping on his one good leg, dripping Brook told them that he had no business with the King of France or his land and his only concern was to take care of the English cattle. The admiring soldiers let Brook and the cattle return across the river unmolested.


Brook Watson in 1788 by
James Bretherton
In 1759, at the age of 24, Brook moved to London and set himself up as a Quebec merchant. He made himself hugely successful over the coming years and travelled frequently between Canada, America and London. He became one of the original committee of the Corporation of Lloyds of London in 1772 and served as chairman for 10 years. When unrest broke out in the colonies Brook remained firmly loyal to the British crown. It wasn’t always clear to those on the other side where his sympathies lay and the rebel William Dunlap called him a traitor and accused him of "ingratiated himself with many leading Americans, obtained as much information on their designs as he could, and transmitted it to his chosen masters." Returning from a trip to Canada in 1775 he was entrusted with the care of the rebel Ethan Allen who had been taken prisoner leading an American attempt to seize Montreal. Allen later wrote bitterly that he was “was put under the power of an English Merchant from London, whose name was Brook Watson: a man of malicious and cruel disposition, and who was probably excited, in the exercise of his malevolence, by a junto of Tories, who sailed with him to England ..."

Brook served as Commissary General to the army based in North America and commanded by Sir Guy Carleton in the 1780’s. When he returned to London he embarked on a political career that was to occupy him until his death, first as an Alderman, then as an MP and senior Government functionary. He had married Helen Campbell in 1760 but the couple had no children and when he died in 1807 there was no one to inherit the baronetcy he had been granted in 1803 for services rendered to his country. The title passed to his grand nephew by special remainder and his wife was granted a £500 annual pension by a grateful government. Debrett’s describes the crest of Brook’s coat of arms “Issuant from waves, a demi Neptune proper, crowned Or, mantled Vert, the dexter arm elevated, the hand grasping a trident Or in the attitude of striking, the sinister arm supporting a shield Argent, repelling a shark in the act of seizing its prey proper.” And on the shield itself the lower leg that Brook lost in Havana harbour over 50 years previously is represented by “a canton Azure charged with a human leg erect and erased below the knee proper.”

Brook Watson's coat of arms with his severed leg and Neptune defending him against a shark
 

Friday, 21 November 2014

The poet, the muse and the abortionist; Ernest Dowson (1867-1900), Ladywell and Brockley Cemetery & Adelaide Foltinowicz (1878-1904)



When fin de siècle poet Ernest Dowson died Oscar Wilde wrote "poor wounded wonderful fellow that he was… I hope bay leaves will be laid on his tomb and rue and myrtle too for he knew what love was." When I called on him in Ladywell Cemetery only dandelions, ragwort and thistles were choking his rather modest grave. The memorial was restored in 2010 after a facebook campaign – the vase that would have topped the pedestal originally  was missing but a new stone was added at the foot of the grave inscribed with two stanzas from one of his best known poems:

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Dowson was born at Lee in Kent in 1867, the son of Alfred Dowson, the owner of a dry dock at Limehouse but also the friend of Robert Browning and Robert Louis Stevenson.  Due to delicate health he had an irregular education which included 5 terms at Queens College , Oxford which he left in 1888 without taking a degree. For the next few years he combined working as a supervisor in the dry dock with writing poetry and immersing himself in the London literary scene. His poetry was, according to T.S. Eliot, the product of the most gifted and technically perfect poet of his age. On the literary scene he knew Oscar Wilde (to whom, unlike many, he stayed loyal after his trial and imprisonment), W.B. Yeats, Arthur Symons, Aubrey Beardsley and Paul Verlaine. As well as poetry he translated many French novels including Zola’s La terre and Laclos's Les liaisons dangereuses. The memoirs of his friends painted Dowson as an archetypal  poète maudit of the fin de siècle, smoking hashish, swilling absinthe and roistering with professional ladies. In his Autobiographies Yeat’s said of him ‘sober he looked on no woman, drunk he picked up the cheapest whore.’ Ezra Pound, who only knew him by reputation wrote in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley thatDowson found tarts cheaper than Hotels.” Dowson himself didn’t help matters with remarks in private letters like “absinthe makes the tart grow fonder.”



In 1895 Dowson’s father died of an overdose of a sleeping draught of choral hydrate. The circumstances in which he died were ambiguous and many thought he had committed suicide. Six months later his mother left no room for doubt when she hung herself at the family home. Dowson was soon struggling to run the dry dock which he left in the hands of the family solicitors. They were extremely parsimonious with any money the business was making and Dowson found himself in financial difficulties and on a downward spiral of drink, poverty and ill health. In early 1900 the writer R.H. Sherard was drinking in the Bodega in Bedford Street when Dowson tapped him on the shoulder. Of late Dowson had generally been unkempt and scruffy but Sherard was startled at how ill he looked “it was if a being from the grave were standing by my side” he wrote later. Dowson told him a story of being driven from his sick bed by his landlord’s threats and demands for money. Sherard took him home to the upstairs half of a modest terraced house in Catford where he was living with his aristocratic wife Marthe whilst researching one of the journalistic exposes for which he was famous (published in 1901 as The Cry of the Poor). Dowson lived with Sherard for six weeks before dying in Marthe’s arms on 23 February. The funeral was held on 27 February and was described in a note by Herbert Horne one of his friends:

The Mass was said at the Catholic chuch in Lewisham, at 11 o’clock, and the body afterwards interred in Ladywell Cemetery in a triangular plot of ground just beyond the two chapels, which had recently been reserved for Catholics. The coffin-plate was inscribed: Ernest Christopher Dowson, Died 23 February 1900, aged 32 years. Beside his uncle, Mr Hoole, & a few relatives, Moore who collaborated with him, Sherard at whose house at Lewisham he died, & his wife, Jephson, Teixeira de Mattos, Mrs Plarr, Bennett, Swanton, Pawle & another actor friend & myself were present.



Dowson as sketched by Charles Edward Conder in the late 1890's.

Most definitely not present at the funeral was the woman Dowson had loved for over a decade, Ellen Adelaide Foltinowicz. Dowson first mentions Adelaide in a letter to his friend Alan Moore dated 7 November 1889; “I am dining to-night with Samuel at a Polish Pot au Feu in Sherwood St, Glasshouse St. Soho. I discovered it. It is cheap; the cuisine is fair; I am the whole clientele, and there is a little Polish demoiselle therein…..whom it is a pleasure to sit & look at.” The Polish demoiselle was 11 years at the time of this first meeting. Over the next two years after a day at the dry dock Dowson adopted a routine of starting his evenings in the Cock Tavern on Shaftesbury Avenue with a glass or two of absinthe where he would jot verses on scraps of paper or meet friends.  At seven he would go to ‘Poland’ to dine where he would linger on after eating until the rest of the clientele, mainly Polish and French workmen, had gone. Once the restaurant was quiet Adelaide would join him at his table and they would chat or play cards until her mother called her to bed at 10 o’clock. Adelaide’s parents do not seem to have been alarmed by Dowson’s interest in their daughter. His feelings for the intelligent and vivacious girl gradually deepened but he was aware that his behaviour might be misinterpreted. In August 1891 the newspapers were filled with the grim details of the abduction of the 16 year old Lucy Pearson. Dowson’s reaction to the story was repugnance and horror “this beastly thing has left a sort of slimy trail over my holy places” he wrote to Alan Moore. Mistrust of Dowson’s motives is probably even stronger today than it was in the 1890’s.  Bernard Richards, in his entry for Dowson in the Dictionary of National Biography states that he “regarded his unsatisfied love” for Adelaide “as something like Keats's for Fanny Brawne. Through the letters and poetry there runs a strong current of paedophilia, which has an erotic strain; but it is tempered by a humane and romantic appreciation of the freshness and generosity of children not yet tainted by the manners of society.”

Dowson certainly developed strong romantic feelings for Adelaide which continued as she grew and lasted until his death. Some of his most famous poetry was directly inspired by his unrequited love.  In 1893 Adelaide’s father became ill; worried that he would lose her forever with the death of the father and the inevitable changes to the Foltinowicz household that would follow Dowson blurted out a proposal to the 15 year old. She said she was too young and could not even think about it whilst her father lay dying. The matter was never raised between them again. Dowson continued in his devotion even when she became engaged to another man, Augustus Noelte, a tailor who had once worked in her father’s restaurant. At the beginning of 1897 took a room above the restaurant in Sherwood Street to be close to Adelaide. She married Noelte on September 30 that year at the Bavarian Chapel in Westminster. Dowson could not bear to be there but he ensured that the ever dependable Alan Moore attended on his behalf and gave the happy couple his present. The Noelte’s moved to 30 Comeragh Road near Hammersmith and had two children, Bertha and Amelia born in 1899 and 1900 respectively. Adelaide’s mother, who was living with them, died in 1900 and the couple moved back to Sherwood Street soon after. She seems to have lost contact with Dowson by the time of his death in Catford.

 

Bromley Road, Catford in 1895 with St Laurence's church in the distance

Adelaide died three years after Dowson at the age of 25 on 13 December 1903. The cause of death was septicaemia due to an abortion carried out in June. She had never recovered from the procedure and must have suffered immensely over the six months it took her to die. Following an inquest into her death, a woman called Bertha Baudach, was arrested in January and charged with manslaughter. The Cheltenham Chronicle of 23 January 1904 carries the following account of her arrest:

Bertha Baudach, a German woman, living in Drumrig Street, Euston-Road, was charged at Marlborough-street Thursday, under warrant issued the 6th instancet. Mr. Troutbeck for Westminster, with the manslaughter of Adelaide Ellen a young woman, 19 Sherwood-street, W1, by means of an illegal operation. Detective Sargeant Clarke, of the C Division, deposed that on Wednesday evening, with Sergt. McArthur and another officer he went to 2 Euston-square, and there saw the prisoner in a back room on the ground floor, concealed behind some clothing hanging on the door. He explained why he was there, and told her she would be accused of manslaughter. She refused to leave her hiding-place, and when dragged from beneath the clothes struggled violently for about ten minutes with the three officers. An effort was made to read the coroner's warrant to her, but that could not be done, as she continued her violence. Eventually she had to be carried to a cab waiting outside, and was driven Vine-street. During the struggle she exclaimed, "Kill me! Let me die now. I would rather die than go with you and go through what I have been through before!" When the warrant was read she answered, ''All right. I have been to Bant, in Germany, and only came back yesterday." During the struggle a wig she wore with a view to disguising herself came off. The magistrate directed a remand.

Bertha had form. In 1894 she had had a narrow escape when she and another woman, Louisa Greenleaf, appeared at the North London Police Court charged with causing thedeath of Mary Jane Keen by performing an illegal operation at Bertha’s house in the Ball’s Pond Road. On their solicitors advice neither woman gave evidence and they were acquitted when the medical witnesses said they could not find any evidence that an abortion had been performed. The following year Bertha was back in court and this time she was not so lucky. This time the forty five year old was charged, along with Otto Huster (38) with ‘feloniously using a certain instrument with intent to procure the miscarriage of one Martha Elizabeth Cole.’ Martha Cole did not die but Bertha was found guilty and sentenced to five years penal servitude. Huster was given 12 months hard labour.

In March 1904 Bertha was charged with the manslaughter of Adelaide Noelte at the Central Criminal Court. There are few details of the case in the official ‘Proceedings of the Old Bailey’ apart from the names of the accused, the victim, the judge and the counsel for the prosecution and the defence. Instead there is a terse one line description “the case being one of causing abortion, the evidence is unfit for publication.” There had been some suspicion, according to a slightly fuller account of the trial in the News of the World, of a Joseph Kaiser who boarded with the Noelte’s, who helped nurse Adelaide once became sick and often gave her her medicine but there was not enough evidence to charge him. Bertha was found guilty of causing Adelaide’s death and sentenced to seven years penal servitude.


Late Victorian satirical postcard
 

Friday, 14 November 2014

As I wend my way to heaven I'll be full of Cherry Pie; David Jersey (1697-1755), St. Mary Magdalene, East Ham



The epitaph on the grave reads:
Here lieth the body of
David Jersey
Victualler of the Parish of
Wanstead who departed this
life 1 May 1755 Aged 68 years.
Also 4 Daughters of above
who all died young
Likewise here lieth beneath the body
of Ann Jersey, wife of the above  


David Jersey of East Ham married Anne Garrin of Barking at St Stephens, Coleman Street in the City of London on 6 July 1721. David Jersey, victualler, was the landlord of the George and Dragon a coaching Inn originally built in 1716 and serving as a staging post between the daily coach from Aldgate and the Essex coaches. Apart from what is recorded on his epitaph and in the marriage register at St Stephens we know very little about him.


One intriguing remnant of his life still remains in Wanstead. The coaching inn was demolished and rebuilt in 1903 and the name shortened to the George. Nothing remains of the old Inn except an old inscribed stone dated 1752 which was rescued and set into the wall of the new building. The stone is a memorial to a cherry pie that cost half a guinea (10s6d) on the 17 July “that day we had good cheer/ I hope to so do maney a Year.” Local legend has it that the stone commemorates a cherry pie stolen by a local workman who was fined half a guinea for his crime. As the minimum sentence for stealing a pie in 1752 was hanging or lifetime transportation to Van Diemen’s Land the story seems unlikely to be true. Another theory is that it may commemorate a monster pie festival similar to the Tollesbury Gooseberry Pie festival – Wanstead was famous for its cherry orchards in the eighteenth century.  But no one really knows why David Jersey wanted to immortalise a very expensive Cherry Pie.  

The memorial stone from 'The Old Inns of England Vol II' by Charles G. Harper (1906)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The pills that cured all ills; James Morison the Hygeist (1770-1840), Kensal Green Cemetery


“One of the most remarkable mausoleums....... in Kensal Green is the tomb of James Morison the Hygeist; this the originator of the famed Morison's Pills medicine that was recommended with an assurance and hardihood that commanded success and riches. If the first dose failed the second was to be an increased quantum and the third a farther increase, and so on adding to the until the illness ceased - and cease it infallibly would one way or the other. I forgot how many men Mr Morison constantly employed in the manufacture of these pills;  they were, or are, in demand by this enlightened people by wagon loads These things always find their way across the Atlantic. In England a quack never fails unless he is untrue to himself, that is, if he be not sufficiently outrageous in his professions; let him promise and persevere in promising the impossible - let him screw his courage to that point and he’ll not fail; the yearly sum in advertisements alone by some of those venders of nostrums (the value of which they assert, and truly, is unknown and incredible) must be immense. 

It seemed to me very bad policy to erect a monument at all to Mr Morison especially in this open manner; it should have been left to the public to believe, as they will believe anything, that his pills would ensure him an age running pretty considerably into another century.”

Henry Wood – ‘Change for the American Notes in Letters from London to New York by an American Lady.’ (1843)



Now almost completely forgotten James Morison was once a household name thanks to his Universal Vegetable Pills Nº1 and Nº2. The son of a Scottish laird from Bognie in Aberdeenshire, Morison studied at the University of Aberdeen and then trained for a commercial career at Hanau in Germany. At the end of his studies he lived and worked in Riga and then moved to the West Indies as a wine and spirit merchant. The tropics did not agree with him and after making a fortune he moved to Bordeaux where he met and married Anne Victoire, a Baron’s daughter from Alsace-Lorraine, at the relatively late age of forty. The couple had 5 children, 3 sons and 2 daughters. He seems to have gradually whittled away at his West Indian fortune and eventually had to return to Scotland. When he came to write ‘A Biographical Sketch of James Morison, the Hygeist, with the reasons that led him to the discovery of The Hygeian System of Medicine and The “Vegetable Universal Medicines”’ his successful mercantile career and successful family life was somewhat glossed over in favour of a self portrait which concentrated on “35 years of inexpressible suffering under the Medical Faculty.” At the age of 51 Morison summarised his life as “year after year struggling with disease, my speedy dissolution was often looked for, - my meridian of life passed - the powers and energy of life fast subsiding - my faculties impairing and sight becoming dim. I was fast descending to the grave….” and all because of constipation. For Morison all of life’s ills could be traced back to costiveness and the resultant poisoning of the blood that it caused.

In Aberdeen Morison experimented with various vegetable and chemical extracts and produced a pill which cured him of his chronic constipation. In 1825 be began to market his Universal Vegetable Pills in England. In 1828 he went into business with Thomas Moat a businessman from Devon and the two opened a grandiose building in the Euston Road to house The British College of Health, an organisation which dedicated itself to spreading the Hygeist philosophy and selling Morison’s Nº1 and Nº 2 pills. Morison detested the medical establishment and they loathed him in return. His pills were sold through a network of agents who were generally tobacconists, grocers and stationers rather than chemists or druggists. They were hugely successful – sales are estimated to have been worth a colossal £100,000 a year in the early 1830’s.


The Hygeists view of the meical profession; three learned medical men portrayed as the witches from Macbeth with Death waiting at the door
However things soon started to go wrong. In July 1834 Joseph Webb, proprietor of the London Coffeehouse in York and agent for Morison’s Vegetable Pills was indicted at York assizes for the manslaughter of a linen drapers  apprentice, Richard Richardson. The deceased had fallen ill on a Tuesday and been treated by Webb with large quantities of Morison’s Pill’s. By Saturday afternoon he was dead. A doctor had been called on the Saturday morning and he testified that in his opinion the deceased had died of small pox but that death had been accelerated by the use of Morison’s pills. No one quite knew what to make of a manslaughter case where the victim would have died anyway – after much legal argument the perplexed jury brought in a verdict of guilty against Webb but with a recommendation of mercy.
 
This was followed in April 1836 by a case heard at the Old Bailey. Robert Salmon of Farringdon Street, London, tobacconist and agent for Morison’s Pills, was found guilty for the manslaughter of John Mackenzie, master mariner of Ratcliffe who had taken 75 Morison Pills in the 24 hours before he died.  And then a few months later in August of the same year an inquest was held in Hull into the death of Mary Rebecca Russell of Collier Street. She was “not an ailing woman” according to her husband though she did suffer occasionally from the ‘windy dropsy’.  It was a result of stomach pains and fever brought on by gravel and windy dropsy that she had taken 6 of Morison’s Nº 2 pills the previous week. As there was no improvement her husband sent for the local Morison agent, a Mr Thomas La Mott, who prescribed six Nº 1 pills to be followed that night by eight Nº 2’s As there was no improvement in the following days La Mott prescribed escalating quantities of pills until Mrs Russell was taking 80 pills a day. After just over a week on this regimen the concerned husband called a local surgeon who bled her, applied mustard plasters to her legs, shaved her head and smeared “stimulating lineament on the shaven part” and finally applied a blister. All to no avail; Mrs Russell died.  The attending surgeon and the surgeon who carried out the autopsy on Mrs Russell both concurred that death had been caused by the overdosing of Morison’s Pills and the jury brought in a verdict of manslaughter against Thomas La Mott.
"The Singular Effects of the Universal Vegetable Pill."
A greengrocer finds himself in an interesting condition
after a large dose of Morison's Pills. A contemporary satire. 
These much publicised cases rocked the public’s confidence in Morison’s Pills but Morison fought back against his critics taking out adverts in the papers to defend his agents, and paying their fines when they were convicted. In February 1837 he sued the editor and proprietor of the Weekly Despatch newspaper for libel after they alleged that the famous Vegetable Pills were noxious and poisonous and claimed that after the trial of Robert Salmon sales of the pills had plummeted to the point that Morison could no longer carry on his business and that the workmen at the pill factory had been forced to take strike action in order to receive their wages. They also claimed that Morison had been forced to flee the country. It was true that the Hygeist had moved to Paris in 1834 taking with him his second wife Clarinda and their young son and leaving his adult sons from his first marriage to look after the business. At a time when a murder trial could still be despatched in an afternoon the libel trial took three whole days during which time the court was packed with spectators. Morison’s barrister, Mr Kelly, opened his case by telling the jury that his clients “cared not what attacks were made upon, or misrepresentations were advanced relative to their medicines; but they complained of the insinuation ….. that they were in a state of insolvency—on that part, at all events, the verdict must be for the plaintiffs.”

Acting for the defendants Mr Serjeant Wilde spoke of his surprise “his learned friend had not called some witnesses to show the efficacy the pills.” According to newspaper reports the “learned Serjeant then proceeded to state that several deaths had taken place through the administration of these pills. Could the jury believe that any medicine could made that would be equally good for the infant in arms and for the decrepitude of age? The libel called the plaintiffs impudent scamps, and could any person who made such statements be otherwise described? They advised the pills to be given to the child at the mother's breast, and if the poor infant became worse, they said—‘You know the reason; you have not given a sufficient quantity of pills,’ and they forced the pills down the throats of their victims until death relieved them from their sufferings. How did the plaintiffs describe their medicine? They said it was good for the small-pox, rupture, piles, the cholera, dropsy, and every other disorder which the human frame was subject.” Witnesses were called from the Webb and Salmon trials to retell their stories. Mr Kelly countered by producing various obscure surgeons who testified to being users of Morison’s Vegetable Pills and who swore to the efficacy of the medicine.  The court took a particular interest in the purgative effects of the pills and witnesses were called on to give accounts of their bowel movements much to the hilarity of the crowded and boisterous public gallery. Kelly even managed to find one witness, a Mr Pearce, who told the court that he calculated that he had taken as many as 18,000 Morison’s Nº 1’s and Nº 2’s in the previous two years with no ill effects whatsoever. The Chief Justice enquired how much 18,000 pills had cost him and the witness responded about “£22…..and he thought them well worth the money.” The jury were not convinced. They retired at 6.30pm and at 8.15 returned to give their verdict: they found for the defendant on the first part of the libel “as to the deleterious nature of the pills,” and for the plaintiff “for the imputation of insolvency.” They awarded Morison £200 damages.

"Massa Doctor, you tink I get more wite for taking you pills?" 
"Decidedly Sir! about two thousand boxes will without doubt render you as white as a lily." 
Another contemporary satire.
Morison died at his home in Paris, 3 rue des Pyramides, on 3 May 1840. His body was brought back to England to be interred in his splendid mausoleum in Kensal Green. If there was ever any inscription on the mausoleum it has been either effaced or removed and there is nothing to indicate who lies inside. The Universal Vegetable Pill continued to sell strongly – in the decade after Morison’s death 828 million pills were sold and a further 1.5 million given away to the poor. The international reach of the business is shown by pill advertisements being produced in Chinese and Arabic as well as most European languages. In 1925 when the company celebrated its centenary it was still a family firm being run by a descendant of Morison’s.  


Thursday, 30 October 2014

Martha Gall-Bianchi (1897-1936), Hampstead Cemetery and Cesare Bianchi (1898-1945), City of London Cemetery


The splendid Grade II listed Art Deco Bianchi memorial was created by Cesare Bianchi for his wife Martha who died in 1936 giving birth to her second child. The memorial is set in a large triangular plot that had wrought iron railings and a gate until they were stolen by thieves in 2011. A futurist angel stands with wings outstretched over a gateway inscribed with the name Bianchi. On either side of the gateway are carved relief panels, one showing Martha ascending to heaven accompanied by wingless angels and the other showing Martha and Cesare, apparently reunited in the afterlife, sitting on a bench with Martha finally cradling the baby she presumably never got to hold before she died.

Martha Gall-Bianchi
Martha Gall and Cesare Bianchi were born within a few months of each other; Martha, one of 9 children, in the small town of Insch near Aberdeen in 1897, and Cesare in 1898 in the village of Cernobbio on Lake Como in northern Italy. He first came to England in 1913 but as an Italian national was recalled to Italy after the outbreak of the First World War to serve in the Alpine Brigade of the Italian army as an interpreter. Italy had, of course, joined the war in 1915 on the side of the allies fighting against Austria and Germany. When the war ended Cesare returned to Britain and found work at the Palace Hotel in Aberdeen where he met Martha Gall. The couple were married in 1921 and had their first child Patricia the same year. Later they moved to London, where Cesare eventually became Head Chef at the Café Royal.  The family were living in Lawn Road in Hampstead when Martha tragically died in childbirth in 1936. The baby survived and Cesare started to raise his son Robert with the help of Martha’s older sister Mary and Robert’s older sister Patricia. The family barely had time to get over Martha’s death before the Second World War broke out. The entry of Italy into the war in June 1940 was a disaster for the family. Despite living for 27 years in Britain, fighting on the same side in the great war, and being a father to a young motherless family Cesare found himself interned by the British Government as an enemy alien and by the end of June he was in Liverpool waiting to board a boat for an internment camp in Canada, the British authorities apparently believing that only removal to another continent would ensure that the ex pat Italian community would be unable to help the Axis war effort.


"Oh for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still"


Cesare Bianchi
On the 30 June Cesare joined 734 other interned Italian men on the SS Arandora Star (owned by Frederick Leyland & Co) along with 479 interned Germans and 86 German PoW’s, all bound for St John’s Newfoundland. The ship sailed unescorted and early in the morning of 2 July, having crossed to the north of Ireland, was 75 miles west of  Bloody Foreland in County Donegal and about to set off across the open Atlantic to Newfoundland.  Here she was spotted by U Boat U-47 commanded by Gunther Prien. The U boat was almost out of torpedoes and about to sail back to base when she picked up the Arandora Star. In fact all that was left in her guns was a single broken torpedo that had already failed to fire. Prien decided to give the defective missile one last chance and took aim at the enemy ship; this time the torpedo fired, detonating against the starboard side of the ship, flooding the engine rooms and immediately killing all the personnel there. There was chaos on board the sinking ship as sailors, military guards and the Italian and German internees fought to get on the lifeboats and life rafts, some of them falling from the bows in the desperate scramble. 805 people drowned including the ships commander, Captain Moulton, 12 ships officer, 42 crew, 37 military guards, 486 Italians and 175 Germans. Cesare survived and returned to Liverpool from where he was interned on the Isle of Man. He was lucky, many of the survivors were sent to Australia to be interned on an isolated camp on the Murray River for the duration of the war. When the authorities decided that Cesare was no longer a threat in 1942 and released him from internment the journey home from the Isle of Man was much easier than it would have been from South Australia. He re-joined his family in Hampstead where his sister in law had been looking after the children in his absence. He found work in catering, helping to develop frozen food in Smithfield Market and must have hoped that he could now quietly see the rest of the war out. 
      
V2 devastation at Smithfield Market
In June 1944 the Luftwaffe launched the first of their new series of weapons at London, the V1 flying bomb. By September the Nazi’s upgraded their long range weaponry to the world’s first long range ballistic missile, the V2. The V2’s trajectory and speed (a falling V2 can travel up to three times the speed of sound) made it invulnerable to the traditional defences of anti aircraft guns and fighter planes. Over the next seven months the Germans launched 1358 at London. Many either fell short or overshot the capital and exploded in relatively uninhabited areas of the Home Counties, particularly after November 1944 when British intelligence began leaking false information to the Germans implying that most V2’s were overshooting London by 10 to 20 miles. The V2’s that did get through killed an estimated 2754 civilians and injured many more. The last casualty was killed in Orpington on March 27 1945. Just three weeks earlier, at 11.30am on March 8, a V2 hit Smithfield Market. The rocket breached the market buildings and punched through the floor, entering into the subterranean railway tunnels beneath before exploding. The huge explosion, heard all over London, created a huge crater into which the market buildings collapsed. 110 people died, not just market workers but women, many of them with their children, who were queueing to try and buy from a consignment of rabbits that had gone on sale that morning. Cesare was amongst the dead and if that wasn’t bad enough for the Bianchi children, so was Mary their aunt.
 
Cesare was buried with other victims of the V2 in the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park.  He would have certainly wanted to be buried with his wife but the circumstances of his death made that impossible. Mary Gall’s place of burial is not known.  

I would like to thank Jon Gliddon for allowing me to use the results of his genealogical research in this post and Robert Bianchi for permission to use his parents photograph's and for providing additional information about them. 





Friday, 17 October 2014

Spending eternity alone - Colonel Alexander Gordon (1840-1910), Putney Vale Cemetery




“GORDON, COL. ALEXANDER. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Dec. 16, 1840; father was a Scotchman, who sent him to his birthplace, Aberdeen, to be educated; first emigrated to this country in 1848 ; mother died in New York state in 1849, and his father and children returned to the old country in 1850. Came back to the United States in 1859; learned the trade of machinist and mechanical engineer; worked on the construction of monitors for the government from 1862 to 1866, then connected himself with the Niles Tool Works Co., a concern that has attained a pre-eminent success in the manufacture of machine tools and is now the leading one in capacity and general character in the world. The Niles Tool Works Co. has been intrusted by the United States government to construct enormous machines to form the armor plates and make their great guns for war ships and coast defense. Col. Gordon is now and has been for years president of this great company. Col. Gordon served on Governor McKinley's staff from 1893 to 1896. He is prominently named to represent the Third district of Ohio in congress, but does not entertain political ambitions. He is an ardent Republican.”

Brief Biographical Sketches of the "Familiar Faces of Ohio":  A Souvenir Collection of Portraits and Sketches of Well-Known Men of the Buckeye State – compiled by C. S. Van Tassel, Publisher, Bowling Green, Ohio  


His life was an archetypal American success story, the poor immigrant transformed into a king of industry, but Colonel Gordon (like Colonel Sanders and Colonel Tom Parker, the military title is purely honorific) lies cold and lonely in his Putney Vale mausoleum. The choice of faux Egyptian betrays dynastic ambitions but his son, at whose house in Lytton Grove, Putney he died on 11 September 1910, chose to be buried (or cremated) elsewhere and Colonel Gordon has  spent the last hundred years or so on his own in the cemetery’s most magnificent mausoleum. Many of the personal details of the Colonels life are lost – he must have been married but his wife either predeceased him or they lived apart. He was proud of being a British subject - in an application to the US Patent Office for “certain new and useful Improvements in Radial Drilling-Machines” he announced himself as “ALEXANDER GORDON, a subject of the Queen of Great Britain, and a resident of Hamilton, Butler county, Ohio“ - and he was proud of working for President McKinley, it was the only fact about him mentioned in his death notice in the Wandsworth Borough News.  But in general what details of his life are available are dry accounts of business successes and machine tooling. He was interred on 15 September – “no flowers by request.” His mausoleum is big enough to house a dozen coffins but no one else has ever been interred with him.  




Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Tommy Lawrence (1983-2011), East London Cemetery, Plaistow


Gypsy wedding murderer handed life sentence


A Traveller who stabbed the bride’s brother to death at a gypsy wedding in The Glyn Arms pub in Homerton, Hackney, after years of “bad blood” between the two clans was jailed for at least 23 years. Martin ‘Marty’ Ward, 24, plunged a carving knife into Thomas ‘Tommy’ Lawrence’s torso four times, severing his aorta.

Mr Lawrence, 28, was left lying in the gutter after the attack outside the Glyn Arms, a popular watering hole for travellers in Mandeville Street, Homerton on October 27 2011. The father-of-four received emergency surgery but could not be saved, Snaresbrook Crown Court heard.

The former binman of Abersham Road, Dalston, denied murder, insisting he “lost control” and was acting in self-defence, claiming it was an “obligation” to confront his rival or “repercussions would flow”. Several witnesses including bar staff said Irish-born Ward, who is one of 11 children, looked “scary” when he arrived at the traditional giving away ceremony the day following the wedding of Sharon Lawrence to a man also called Martin Ward, unconnected with the case.

Sentencing him to life for murder, Judge William Kennedy said: 'You are a young man coming to terms with a culture where spontaneous violence often replaces reasoned argument and having to learn the boundaries of violence anticipated in those circumstances. On the other hand…. this was instead a series of deadly blows struck in fury and revenge against an unarmed and unsuspecting opponent.’

The jury failed to reach a verdict during the first trial in November, and a second trial collapsed last month when the prosecutor fell ill. A third jury convicted Ward of murder by a majority verdict of 10-2. Ward, who left school illiterate aged 10 was jailed for four years for being part of a gang believed to be responsible for almost half of Britain’s caravan thefts from 2004 to 2007.

Hackney Gazette  May 31 2013