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.  

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