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 CafĂ© 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

Monday, 6 October 2014

Marriage is just a piece of paper - George William Lancaster and Louisa Mary Wilkinson (East Sheen Cemetery)

Chest tomb. Memorial to George William Lancaster (d. 1920) and Elisa (sic) Mary Lancaster (d.1922) by Sidney march (1876-1967). Portland stone and bronze. Comprises a loosely draped female angel in bronze, with roses gathered up in her skirt, mourning over a rectangular sarcophagus of Portland stone which stands on a coved base and rectangular plinth, also of portland stone: This work is influenced by North Italian tomb sculpture (especially Leonards Bistolfi) and is considered one of the most significant C20 examples of funerary sculpture. Memorable for the fluid positioning of the body and the weight-defying droop of the wings over the stone sarcophagus. Described by Hugh Meller as "Arguably the most dramatic sculpture in any of London's cemeteries". Sidney March showed regularly at the Royal Academy between 1901 and 1932 and his best known work was the Canadian National War Memorial at Ottawa (unveiled in 1939) made in collaboration with his brothers.”

George William Lancaster from Wigan in Lancashire was a successful mining engineer and colliery owner with interests in the Welsh and Kent coalfields. Despite taking George’s name and being buried with him.  Louisa Mary Lancaster was most definitely not his legal wife as a case brought at Mortlake Police Court in December 1922, six months after her death, showed. The case was brought by a Mrs Emily Lancaster of Riverside, Maple Road, Surbiton, the real Mrs Lancaster, against Captain Arthur Claude Lancaster, a decorated war hero and Louisa’s eldest son.  Captain Lancaster was summonsed on four counts of making false statements to the registrar of deaths at Mortlake – he had registered his mother’s death under the name Lancaster, given her title as Mrs, and said that she was the widow of GW Lancaster. When questioned by the magistrates Captain Lancaster had to admit that his real name was Jones and his father had divorced his mother on the grounds of adultery with George Lancaster.

Divorces were still relatively rare in 1896 when Mr Edwin Charles Jones, a commercial traveller, petitioned the courts in Bristol for a divorce from his 35 year old wife. The case was reported in detail in the local newspapers. Jones had married Louisa Mary Wilkinson in 1883 and the couple had three children, the oldest of them, Arthur, was just 9 at the time of the divorce.  According to Jones he had been formerly employed in his father’s ironmongers business but his father’s death had left him without employment and rather “badly off”. His wife’s affection for him cooled in the families new straitened financial circumstances. To try and improve his situation Jones had moved his family to London where he opened a small tobacconists in Finsbury Park. The business was not a success and unemployed again Jones moved back to Bristol with his two eldest children to live with his mother until he could find other employment. When he did find a job and wrote to his wife to join him in Bristol she refused. From the children’s nurse Jone’s discovered that his wife was frequently visited by George Lancaster, generally at her home but on at least one occasion spending the night at the Grosvenor Hotel. The nurse was produced as a witness and told the court that the children called the co-respondent ‘Uncle George’. The judge granted Jones a decree nisi with costs and custody of the children.  

George’s martial problems predated his liaison with Louisa. According to the 1891 census he was already living apart from his wife Emily in Acton and looking after their two children. The separation was never formalised and he remained married to Emily until his death in 1920. By the time of the 1901 census he was living at Greenford Hall in Middlesex with Louisa listed as his wife along with their two young daughters. They later moved to St Mary Cray in Kent where they lived with Louisa’s children and her widowed mother and finally to Clare Lawn, a mansion in East Sheen (now demolished). George was a successful business man and when he died he left a fortune worth £504880.0s3d of which the lions share had been bequeathed to Louisa under her maiden name of Wilkinson. His wife had been left a mere £700 annuity. No doubt this rankled with the legitimate Mrs Lancaster but there was little she could do. When, to add insult to injury Captain Lancaster registered his mother as George’s widow on her death and arranged for her to be buried with him (in some style), enough was enough and she commenced legal action against him for making false statements to the registrar. Captain Lancaster’s defence was that he did not realise that his mother had not married. He denied that the family had been driven from St Mary Cray by social disapproval and dismissed the idea that other parishioners resented his mother and adopted father  taking holy communion. He also denied knowing that George’s will had referred to his mother by her maiden name even though notices had been published in the press – he said that he did not read the papers. The magistrates chose to believe him and dismissed the case – the chair of the magistrates even going so far as to say that if a woman lived with a man for 20 years she was entitled to use his name and call herself his widow. Captain Lancaster went back to Tenby in Wales where he owned a garage. Sidney March’s monument is probably one of the most famous funerary memorials in London but the Lancasters have fallen into obscurity and the old scandals are forgiven and forgotten.