Thursday, 31 July 2014

Father Nigel Bourne (1906 -1990) Catholic Priest and father of four; Chiswick New Cemetery

It is unusual to see a Roman Catholic priest buried with his wife (Clotilde Bienes) or the first line of his obituary draw attention to his four children. The brief details given in the Catholic Herald's obituary make it clear that he was an unusual priest in many respects:

Fr Nigel Bourne, a priest of the Northampton diocese and father to four children, has died at the age of 83. Fr Bourne was ordained in Rome on Easter Monday, 1975 at the age of 69 after a distinguished career as a civil engineer. Fr Bourne's Spanish wife Clotilde had died ten years earlier.
While working in Spain on the Santander-Mediterranean railway in the late 1920s, he met his wife and before their marriage in 1933 converted to Catholicism. He became involved in the Spanish Civil War on the Nationalist side and was placed on a hit list by the workers' committee which took over his company in Madrid. He later worked with refugees fleeing the second World War in Spain on behalf of the British government.

After his ordination Fr Bourne worked in the Northampton diocese until he reached retirement age at 75 when he moved to the southern coast of Spain, returning occasionally to the diocese as a supply priest. He is survived by two daughters and a son. He published an autobiography in 1985, ‘Padre-An Unusual Common Man.’
Catholic Herald 20 July 1990

Thursday, 24 July 2014

It is never too late to become a hero (or heroine); Betsi Cadwaladyr (Elizabeth Davies) 1789 - 1860, Abney Park Cemetery

The penniless and obscure Betsi Cadwaladr was buried in 1860 in Abney Park Cemetery, either laid above, below, or sandwiched between, three complete strangers in a pauper’s grave dug deep enough to take four cheap coffins. There were probably not many mourners at her funeral and no marker or memorial was erected over the burial spot.  The headstone now over her grave is new, put up in 2012 by the Royal College of Nursing and a Welsh Health Board that had adopted her name and proclaimed Betsi  a Welsh national heroine. Not everyone was pleased to see the obscure Betsi Cadwaladr, or Elizabeth Davies as she was also known, launched into posthumous celebrity. In Wales there were dark mutterings accusing the former nurse of having worked as a prostitute in the Liverpool Docks; in January 2012 the Welsh Daily Post felt obliged to defend her honour against her detractors and calumniators, retorting that there was no evidence that she had ever sold herself on the streets of Merseyside.

There isn’t much hard evidence about most of Betsi’s life. We know she was born in the tiny village of Bala in Merionethshire, Wales, just one of 16 children of the Methodist preacher Dafydd Cadwaladr. Her poor exhausted mother died when she was 5 and Betsi ended up working as a maid to a local family. At the age of 14, yearning for wider horizons she climbed out of a bedroom window and walked to Chester. Everything we know about Betsi from this point in her life until she went to the Crimea to work as a nurse for Florence Nightingale, we know from a highly coloured and highly suspect autobiography Betsi later wrote with the help of the Celtic bardess, Ysgafell (otherwise known as Jane Williams), and published in 1857. Betsi spent most of her working life in service in households in Chester, Liverpool and London. In Liverpool she changed her name to Elizabeth Davies because, she claimed, the English struggled to pronounce Cadwaladr. Her Liverpool employers took her all over the continent; she saw the celebrated Mrs Siddons act in Edinburgh, visited Vigo, Saragossa, Seville, Granada and Madrid in Spain, in Paris she saw Louis XVIII ‘come into the city’, was in Belgium at the time of Waterloo, saw Napoleon in Vienna, Vesuvius in Naples and was disappointed by Rome. She returned to Liverpool to become secretly engaged to Captain Thomas Harris of the Perseverance who was drowned two days before the wedding when his ship went down at Black Rock in a thick fog with the loss of all hands except for a ship’s boy (odd that such a disaster rated not a single mention in the newspapers of the time). 

Betsi in later life, at the time her autobiography was published

In 1820 she worked as nanny to the family of Captain S. and voyaged with them on the Iris to the West Indies. The following year she took up employment as a servant to Captain John Foreman and his wife and travelled with them on their ship the Denmark Hill.  Betsi made an eventful voyage to Van Dieman’s land with the Foremans and their 180 passengers, including a terrible storm in the Bay of Biscay, another storm near the Cape of Good Hope which stripped the ship of three of its masts, the rescue of the 430 crew and passengers of the Thetis which had sunk after being struck by lightning, detours to Madras and Calcutta where she watched open mouthed as living babies were thrown into the Ganges, a visit (inadvertent) to an opium den and a sighting of the Emperor in China, stays in Australia and New Zealand, witnessing an earthquake in Peru and encountering rattlesnakes in Chile.

Eventually she returned to London where she took up a post with Mr G., a lawyer of Birchin Lane. It was while she was in this household that she supposedly met the Kembles, Charles Kemble the actor being an old school friend of the lawyer. Betsi was taken up with the theatricals that took place in the house, though as a servant she was never allowed to join in. One day when she thought she was alone  (it is worth pointing out that this appears to have taken place in the mid 1830’s when Betsi would have been well into her forties) she picked up a poker and brandishing it like a sword began to declaim a lengthy speech from Hamlet. Charles Kemble caught her in the game and  said that he had not seen anyone with such a capacity for tragic acting since his “poor sister” (Mrs Siddons of course) and offered Betsi £50 a night to act for him.

As well as all this Betsi had at least 20 proposals of marriage, including two from Mr Barbosa of Sydney who had sent messages that “he would never marry anyone unless he could marry me.” Existing portraits give no hint of the alluring woman she must surely have once been to attract so much attention from the many bachelors she encountered in the course of her life and travels. She was also left a fortune in the will of another employer, Mr H. In fact Mr H. left his entire fortune to Betsi apart from a house left to his sister; all his household furniture, “many thousands in money, [….] several houses in F___ Street, […] an estate in Wiltshire, […] a farm in Hertfordshire, […]several farms at H_____, and other property.” All this was left to her with the strict injunction not to let his relations have anything at all to do with his affairs. Betsi felt this was not right and told Mr H.’s sister. In short order Betsi found herself deprived of her inheritance worth £4000 a year. But she shrugged the setback off philosophically and applied to work as nurse in Guy’s Hospital, a career change that was eventually to take her to the Crimea…..
"I did not like the name Nightingale. When I first hear a name I am very apt to know my feelings whether I shall like the person who bears it." Betsi Cadwaladyr on Florence Nightingale

“…as a result of reading one of William Howard Russell’s newspaper accounts from the Crimean War of the suffering of the soldiers, she volunteered in 1854 for nursing service in the Crimea. ..... She joined a party of nurses and ‘Sisters of Mercy’ under a Miss Stanley and eventually reached Scutari. This was the main British Hospital and was under the control of Florence Nightingale. Strong-willed Betsy did not like Florence Nightingale and was angry at being made to mend old shirts and sort rotting linen instead of being allowed at the centre of the action, the Crimean peninsular. She therefore left for the hospital at Balaclava and immediately set to work to treat the infested wounds of the soldiers. She nursed the men for six weeks before being put in charge of the special diet kitchen. Being an excellent cook she made sure that the soldiers had good food produced from the best ingredients. However, overwork and ill health meant that she was forced to return to Britain, leaving with a recommendation from Florence Nightingale for a government pension. However, her comments on affairs in the Crimea are extremely scathing and she had little good to say about Florence Nightingale.”

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

"Suicide of a Japanese Prince"; Nagayori Asano (1865-1886), Brompton Cemetery

“Dr. Diplock, coroner for West Middlesex, held an inquiry on Friday afternoon, at the Crown Hotel, High-street, Kensington, respecting the death of Nagayori Asano, a native of Japan. Mr J. Z. Lawrence, solicitor, 165, Queen Victoria-street, identified the deceased, and stated that be was a Japanese, and had resided in London for the purpose of studying for the English bar. Deceased was twenty-one years of age. Witness heard he held high rank in Japan. Maria Smith, a cook, deposed that she resided at 21, Philbeach-gardens, South Kensington, where the deceased had lodged. On Friday morning witness entered his bedroom, and there saw him in the bed, with a wound in his head and a pistol lying by the side of his face. The deceased was unconscious, but lived for four hours. The Coroner: Did you know of any special trouble to cause him to shoot himself? Witness: No, nothing. The Coroner Did you hear a report? Witness No. Mr. Lawrence (recalled) said deceased had suffered from melancholia. He was not in debt to witness's knowledge. Mr J. A. Owles, surgeon, said that deceased died from a bullet wound, which, in witness's opinion, was self-inflicted. The jury returned a verdict of "Suicide whilst of unsound mind." The body, which has already been embalmed, is to be temporarily interred in a vault and afterwards conveyed to Japan. It was incidentally stated that the deceased held the rank of prince in his own country.”
Reynolds Weekly, January 2nd 1887

Nagayori’s father, Nagakoto Asano was an important political figure in Japan who supported the restoration of power from the Shoguns to the Emperor in the 1860’s. The Shoguns had been in effective control of Japan since 1192 and the Emperor reduced to a largely symbolic role. In the political upheaval caused when the Shoguns were unable to resist the United States' forcible opening of Japanese markets to foreign trade, the Emperor Kōmei asserted himself as the supreme political power in Japan. Nagakoto Asano was the Lord of the Hiroshima Shinden who helped negotiate the handover of power from the Shogunates to the Emperor. He became one of the most important political figures in Imperial Japan. Supporters of the Emperor were at once modernisers, who wanted to see Japan join the modern world and learn from Westerners and, at the same time, deeply traditional, wanting to preserve Japanese culture and convinced that their country was destined for supremacy on the world stage. Nagakoto lived a long life, dying at the age of 92 in 1937 just before the political path he had followed all his adult life reached its final destination in the Second World War. The urge to modernise was no doubt the reason Nagayori was sent half way around the world to train in a foreign system of law in a barbarian capital. The young man obviously felt lost and miserable in what must have been an utterly alien environment; why else would he have killed himself? His embalmed body never made it back to Japan, instead it was buried at Brompton Cemetery amongst the barbarians he probably despised and detested. Probate records reveal he left an estate worth £213, a very healthy amount for a law student, and that administration of the estate was granted to Nagayuki Asano of 37 Bleinheim Crescent Notting Hill, “the lawful attorney of Oka Asano Widow the relict now residing in Japan.” Was the attorney a relative? And it is a surprise to see that the 21 year old student was married.

Nagakoto Asano as a young man, perhaps not much older than his son was when he killed himself.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The price of fame; Joyce and Ronald McQueen, Manor Park Cemetery and Crematorium

The night before Joyce McQueen was due to be cremated at Manor Park Cemetery her husband Ronald and the couple’s children had to decide whether to postpone the funeral to give them time to organise a double interment. Joyce and Ronald’s youngest son Lee (better known to the world at large as Alexander McQueen, haute couturist) had been found dead at his home in Mayfair after apparently hanging himself in a fit of depression brought on by his mother’s death. They probably had no real choice but to go ahead with Joyce’s funeral as planned; if Alexander had committed suicide they may have had to wait some time for his body to be released by the coroner.

Alexander and Joyce McQueen taken at the time of their Guardian interview in 2004

Much is made of Alexander McQueen’s Scottish ancestry; his father is often described as Scottish, he wore full Scottish regalia in the McQueen tartan when he received his CBE in 2003 and his ashes were scattered on the Isle of Skye. Ronald was actually born in Stepney, a stones throw away from Whitechapel where his father Samuel had been born in 1907. Whitechapel borders on Spitalfields where Samuel’s father Alexander was born in 1875. Spitalfields is a short distance from Aldgate where Alexander’s father, also called  Alexander, was born in 1849. Alexander of Aldgate’s father was from Plumstead and his grandfather from, Shadwell. Joyce McQueen (nee Deane) was born in Hackney and later traced her own ancestry back to the Huguenots of Spitalfields  Alexander McQueen IV was therefore at least a seventh generation East Ender on both sides of the family.

Joyce and Ronald married in Stepney in 1953, and must have spent at least some time in South London because Alexander, the youngest of their six children, was born in Lewisham. They moved to the Carpenter’s Estate in Stratford when Alexander was a baby and brought their children up in Newham. Ronald worked as a black cab driver. By all accounts he and Alexander were not close, though how much can you trust media stories and Alexander’s own self-mythologising? Alexander claimed he was the pink sheep of the family despite being exceptionally close to his mother. He liked to strike bad boy poses – when he worked as a Savile Row tailor he claimed to have embroidered the words ‘I am a cunt’ into the sleeve lining of a suit he tailored for Prince Charles and his graduation show at Fashion college was supposedly inspired by Jack the Ripper. He effed and blinded even in mixed or cultivated company just like East Ender’s are supposed to but wealth and celebrity and assumed braggadocio could do nothing to buoy him up when his mum died. It is difficult to imagine how hard it must have been for Ronald to lose his wife of 57 years and his youngest son within a week of each other. It was probably why he only managed a couple more years himself.  

The McQueen’s striking monument in Manor Park Cemetery, sculpted by Cambridge based master carver Andrew Tanser was designed by the McQueen’s grandson, textile designer Gary James McQueen. Tanser was also responsible for Alexander’s memorial stone on Skye.  

Monday, 7 July 2014

The posthumous life of Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery

“On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep, but forever.”
                                                                            Friedrich Engels

On 17 March 1883, three days after his death, the funeral cortege of the 'best hated and calumniated man of his times' wound its way up from the Marx family home on Maitland Park Road in Kentish Town to Highgate cemetery where the dead philosopher was to be buried with his wife Jenny, who had died two years before. The funeral of one of the most renowned men who has ever lived was famously attended by a mere eleven mourners; his daughters Eleanor and Laura, his two son-in-law’s Charles Longuet and Paul Lafargue, Engels (of course, who also organised and paid for it as well as delivering  the celebrated oration) and a number of socialist colleagues and admirers. The leader of the German Social-Democratic party made a speech in German, Longuet said a few words in French, two telegrams from workers parties in France and Spain were read out and Engels made his speech. And that was it, the sum total of the exequies. The funeral party made its way back to Kentish Town and the gravediggers heaped earth onto the coffin. A few days later a stone mason would have come and added Marx’s name to Jenny Marx’s simple headstone. A week after Marx’s funeral the family was back at the grave to bury his five year old grandson Harry Longuet.   

The authorities may well have been heartened by the poor turn out for the funeral; it would have been easy to assume that Marxism was a spent force even before the man himself had died.  On the anniversary of his death however 5000 people (the official estimate) took part in a demonstration organised by the Communistic Working Men’s Club (London). The plan was to march from Tottenham Court Road to Highgate Cemetery where addresses in German, French and English were to be made over Marx’s grave. The directors of the cemetery objected to the rally being held there and the procession, accompanied by a marching band, was forced to convene on a plot of waste ground next to the cemetery where the protestors peacefully listened to the various speeches. The grave gradually became a place of pilgrimage for socialists and communists of every stripe. In 1903 Lenin led a solemn delegation of Bolsheviks, who were attending a pre-revolutionary conference in London, to the grave. No doubt there were more speeches.

The old grave is shown in this British Pathé newsreel from 1948
The numbers of visitors and the veneration in which they held Marx both increased over the years. The mean appearance of the grave started to shock many. At the 1923 Socialist Annual Conference Charles McLean prefaced a dull report to the hall with an account of a trip he had taken to see the grave at Highgate. “He had some difficulty in finding It” reported the Burnley News “it was only after an hour's search that he was able to stand at the foot of the grave.” He deplored the poverty stricken character of the memorial “an old withered wreath, which appeared to have been lying there for years, and an old flower-pot with a scarlet geranium in bloom, were all that commemorated the memory of that great figure…..some day, he felt, there would be international pilgrimages to Highgate Cemetery—just as there were pilgrimages to Mecca by the Moslems. He hoped he would live see the day when the memory of Karl Marx would have greater meaning.” The Soviets were appalled. If the British wouldn’t look after Marx, they would. By the end of the 1920’s The Soviet Government were applying pressure to HM's Government to allow them permission to exhume Marx and remove him to Moscow where the plan was to lie him in state next to Lenin in Red Square. To bolster their application they had even tracked down 115 descendants of Marx’s in East Germany who had signed a petition supporting the removal of their famous ancestor from the capitalist west. The pressure was resisted and the request refused.
In the greatest secrecy possible one cold night in November 1954 five grave diggers met at the cemetery gates at midnight and after erecting a canvas screen around the burial plot and  firing up their oil lamps they started the grim work of exhuming the four coffins from the Marx plot (as well as Marx, Jenny and their grandson Harry, the faithful family servant Helena Demuth had also been buried there, apparently at the insistence of Jenny Marx herself). The four coffins were gingerly carried to a newly excavated grave on a site next to the main path where a cedar tree had been felled to make way for it. It was two years before the new memorial was unveiled by Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain. A massive sculpted head of the man himself, made by Laurence Bradshaw, stands on a 12 foot high granite plinth with gold lettering.

The unveiling of the new memorial by Harry Pollitt in 1956.
It was probably the more humble aspect of Marx’s old grave (and the fact that it was hard to find) that saved it from the unwanted attentions of those who violently disagreed with his politics. In total contrast the provoking new memorial was almost an incitement. Right wing vandals have spent the last 60 years clambering over the graveyard walls in the dead of night to daub swastikas and slogans (including “I love Eichmann”) over the slumbering philosopher. In 1970 person or persons unknown tried to blow the monument up. The sophisticated plan involved sawing off Karl’s nose and then emptying bolts, fireworks and a mixture of weedkiller and sugar into the hollow head. The plot was foiled when many hours of sawing revealed that the nose was solid and therefore no easy route into the empty space inside the brain cavity. The bombers had to detonate their device on the ground next to the memorial. They managed to cause £600 worth of damage but the hacksaw had done more to deface the bust than their bomb. Since the end of the cold war things had quietened down but in 2011 another unwanted amateur paint job drew the ire of leading left winger Tony Benn and the chairwoman of the Highgate Society, Catherine Budgett-Meakin.     
 Unused footage shot by British Pathé in 1968 of the Soviet Ambassador laying a wreath at Marx's new grave