Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Always funny, but without being vulgar - Charles Herbert 'Clifton' Barritt (1869-1929), Hampstead Cemetery

You might imagine that an funerary monument in the form of a life size pipe organ could only cover the grave of a church organist or a classical musician with a soft spot for Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.  There is some evidence Charles Herbert Barritt (1869 – 1929, more generally known as Clifton Barritt) knew how to play a medley on the concertina but nothing to indicate that he was an organist. Clifton seems to have spent most of his life as a vaudevillian and music hall entertainer and his last years as a London publican.

Born in Manchester Clifton was already treading the boards in his early twenties. A notice in a Belfast newspaper describes an appearance at the Carnmoney Masonic Hall in September 1892;

Mr Clifton Barritt, who has already, obtained honourable distinction in Manchester and other English cities as a musical and humorous entertainer, secured fresh laurels by his really able rendering of a number of songs and sketches written 'and composed by himself. He succeeded in keeping his audience convulsed with laughter from beginning to end. "A Penny Buys the Article" and "At the Pantomimes" were amongst his best performances. Mr. Barritt is quite a young man. and a short time will, no doubt, suffice to bring him into prominence as a successful and talented humourist.

At Folkestone's Victoria Pier Clifton finds himself fifth on the bill to the Blue Viennese Band conducted by Herr Wurm, the renowned contralto  Miss Jessie Goldsack,  tenor Elliston Webb and harpist and vocalist Clare Palmer. 
Local newspaper notices chart a ten year career that took Clifton from Ulster to the Isle of Man, Reigate to Grantham and all points in between, Hastings, Skegness, Bedford, Aylesbury, Folkestone, Loughborough…..there seems hardly a pier or Free Trade, Masonic or Town  Hall stage that did not feature Clifton’s mellow baritone or perfect comic timing at sometime between 1892 and 1904. At the annual dinner of the Higham Ferrars Athletic Club in February 1902 a concert was held of which Clifton was “the chief artiste.” At the Aylesbury Printing Works Institute New Years Gathering on January First 1903 “Mr. Clifton Barritt was seen to advantage in his musical sketches, his imitations of farmyard animals, etc.. being particularly clever….. “ On St Patricks Day 1904 at Mr Cross’s Concerts in Manchester “the concert was interspersed with humorous; sketches of equally Irish extraction, by Mr Clifton Barritt.”

His best notice was featured in the Sussex Agricultural Express of 17 October 1903 for a concert held in Uckfield Public Hall; 

Mr. Barritt was responsible for the comic element. He showed how songs of the ephemeral type could be arranged by Sousa, Mendelssohn, and Wagner but was at his best in his imitations. He successively imitated a rusty phonograph, a violoncello (using Elgar's "Saint d'Amour), a clarinet, banjo, and finally two instruments together, the mandolin and cornet (in "Whisper and I shall hear' ). Again he showed "The charge of the Light Brigade' could be recited by people afflicted with various eccentricities. has a fund of racy anecdotes, and is always "funny without being vulgar."

This madcap eventually rejected his nomadic existence wandering the provinces of England and settled down. His eldest son Robert was born in 1900 and perhaps the presence of a child in his life made him decide to make Robert’s mother Hannah Harriet Law (known as Hattie according to the gravestone) an honest woman, though he took his time, not marrying her until 1906. The couple had two more children, Chilton and Constance, once Clifton had given up the stage. We know he was the publican of the Savoy Palace a pub in Savoy Street WC1 in 1911 because the whole family is on the census return for that year along with a potman, two barmaids and a children’s nurse. He went on to become the publican at the Blue Posts at the St Pancras end of  Tottenham Court Road from 1915 until his death in 1929 when his wife Hannah took over the running of the business. Clifton died at the age of 60 on 21 July 1929 at 71 Ladbroke Grove, W11 leaving a not inconsiderable legacy of  £11,631 3s 10d to Hannah.

In the bar at the Blue Posts - 1940 by Bayes.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The man who buried himself - Vital Douat, St Patrick's Catholic Cemetery, Leytonstone

St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Leyton

On Sunday 3 December 1865 the reverend Father McQuoid presided over what must have struck him as a unusual funeral at St Patrick’s Cemetery in Leyton. The deceased, a French wine merchant from Bordeaux called Vital Douat, arrived on an ordinary dray cart rather than a hearse, direct from train station. There was no undertaker (and consequently no help getting the heavy coffin down from the cart and into the chapel) and only one mourner, a mysterious foreigner who called himself Signor Bernardi who spoke almost no English.  Bernardi insisted that Monsieur Douat was buried with full Roman rites but as soon as the coffin had been lowered into the grave and the gravediggers started shovelling earth over it, he disappeared, never to be seen again. The Douat grave lay unmarked, unvisited and neglected for several months until the weeds had taken over the plot and Father McQuoid had forgotten all about the peculiar funeral. 

Meanwhile, in Paris, the widow of Vital Douat presented herself at the office of the Insurance Company where her husband had assured his life for 100,000 francs just a few months before. The Insurers were presented with copies of the English death and burial certificates and a claim was lodged.  The Insurers were suspicious; after Monsieur Douat had taken out his life policy he had returned to Bordeaux and declared himself bankrupt. Investigation by the local fiscal authorities soon revealed the bankruptcy claim to be fraudulent and Douat had fled the country. The Insurers contacted Scotland Yard with their suspicions and the case was assigned to Sergeant Nathaniel Druscovich.

The Moldovan Detective Druscovich
Druscovich had been born in the parish of St George-in-the-East on the notorious Ratcliffe Highway in the east end of London in the 1840’s, the son of a carpenter from Moldova. He spent some of his childhood in Romania and spoke English with a noticeable foreign accent all his life. For this reason Scotland Yard often gave him their ‘foreign’ cases and so the thin file on Vital Douat landed on his desk to investigate. Druscovich soon discovered that on arriving in London Douat had booked himself into Fords Hotel in Manchester Street, Marylebone under the name Roberti. While there be had convinced a French waiter to sign the name Dr Crittie to a forged death certificate which he claimed was to be used to play a prank on a friend of his who never replied to his correspondence. The certificate said that one Vital Douat had died of an aneurism of the heart on 20 November. This certificate was presented to the Registrar of Deaths at Plaistow on 1 December by Douat (who was now using the name Bernardi), the body supposedly lying at 32 Anne Street, E13. The same day Douat presented himself at St Patrick's Cemetery and purchased a burial plot from the sexton and ordered a grave to be dug.

Druscovich then picked up the trail in the Mile End Road where Douat, now using yet another alias, Rubini, had bought a heavy ready-made coffin from an undertaker, asking for it to be adapted by the addition of extra lead lining and the handles to be placed at the ends of the coffin in the continental manner rather than at the sides in the English way. Two days later Douat/ Roberti/ Rubini/ Bernardi appeared again at the undertakers, paid for his coffin, hired two labourers to help him transport it and made his way to Shoreditch Station where he took the train to Leyton and had himself buried at St Patrick's. Druscovich had enough information to request an exhumation certificate from the Secretary of State for Home Affairs and a few days later accompanied by his boss, Inspector Williamson, two of the witnesses who had seen Douat whilst in London, and a doctor the small party made their wayto Leyton to dig up the coffin. In the event neither the witnesses nor the services of the doctor were required because once the coffin had been disinterred and unscrewed it was found to be completely empty. A warrant was issued for Douat’s arrest but by this time he was no longer even in Europe. Having decided it would be safer to remove himself as far away from the continent as possible until his insurance claim was sorted out he had sailed to the United States sometime earlier.

Vital Douat at work sealing his own coffin in an illustration from "A Sleuth and a Mystery Coffin: Another True Story of the Master Detectives of Scotland Yard" published in the Chicago Tribune, Dec 4, 1927
Douat was arrested at Antwerp on his return from the United States. Whilst in Belgium he was tried for further crimes of forgery, including burning a ship in order to claim the insurance and, shockingly, condemned to death once convicted. By March 1867 the hapless Douat (surely the most incompetent white collar criminal of all time?) had had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment and had been extradited to France to face fraudulent bankruptcy and forgery charges there. This was widely reported in the press:    

GETTING OFF LIGHTLY! A convict condemned to death in Belgium, whose sentence had been commuted to hard labour for life, has just been delivered up to the French authorities. His name is Vital Douat, of Panillac, in the department of the Gironde, and he was formerly a wine merchant in Bordeaux. He was condemned to death by sentence of the 13th of November last at Antwerp, for having in that city, where he had taken refuge in the false name of Willis Romero Donatry, wilfully set fire to certain combustibles for the purpose of burning one or more ships, being also convicted of forgery. He is now about to take his trial in France for fraudulent bankrupt, and for the forgery of bills of lading to the value of nearly a million of francs. His position is somewhat strange, for he escapes from a sentence of hard labour for life to undergo trial which can entail at most hard labour for a definite period, and should he be acquitted, which is not, however, very likely, there seems to be no way by which he can be given up again to the Belgian authorities for crimes committed in Belgium.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Leytonstone

“A scruffy closely packed cemetery sited on the edge of the Central Line. Few trees and the lack of coherent landscaping contribute to its desolate appearance. It was opened to cope with the nineteenth century population explosion in Hackney which increased from 18,000 in 1861 to 125,000 in 1875. The tombstone names indicate the Roman Catholic status of the cemetery, most are Irish, Italian, and Polish. 168,000 burials have been recorded and to cater for the continuing demand the land is being reclaimed by adding a six feet deep layer of earth over old graves.”
Meller & Parsons – “London Cemeteries.”

It was opened in 1868 and is one of only two Roman Catholic cemeteries in London (the other being a sister cemetery in West London, St Mary’s, Kensal Green).  Buried somewhere here are Mary Jane Kelly, one of the Ripper's victims, Timothy Evans who was convicted and hanged for the murders at 10 Rillington Place but subsequently pardoned when the real murderer was discovered to be John Christie, and four of the five nuns who were killed in the wreck of the Deutschland in 1875.  
On 31 May 1896 Lloyds Weekly Newspaper reported on the funeral of the three children of an Irish dock worker, Patrick Sullivan, killed by smoke at a house fire in Aldgate.

“Yesterday the three little girls who were suffocated at 4, Little Somerset Street, AIdgate, were buried at the Roman Catholic cemetery at Leytonstone. The children were named as Katherine Sullivan, aged six; Johanna, aged three, and Ada Mary, aged one year and six months. A representative of Lloyd's saw the bodies in their coffins, and beyond a discolouration over the upper lip of the eldest child there were no indications of violent death. There was a profusion of flowers in the humble room, the gifts of neighbours, and Mrs. Brown, the florist of Globe-road, Mile-end, sent three beautiful floral crosses, with a kind note to Mrs. Sullivan. Each coffin lid, in addition to the name of deceased, had a raised white metal cross. For some time be- fore the procession started both Little Somerset - street and Mansel - street, alike exceedingly narrow, were blocked with spectators. The coffins were laid on an open car, and the flowers piled on its roof. Two coaches followed containing parents and relatives. The cortege reached Leytonstone without incident. At the cemetery the chaplain met the bodies, which were carried into the pretty little chapel, and at the altar and afterwards at the grave went through the Office for the Dead. There was a large assembly at the cemetery.”

In 1895, in an incident similar to a better known one at Kensal Green Cemetery, 38 year old Joseph Dennis, an undertaker's assistant “dropped dead in the Roman Catholic cemetery at Leyton, on Thursday last, whilst carrying a corpse to the grave. Lawrence Doyle stated that he was one of the mourners at the funeral. The deceased was one of the bearers, and had gone some yards towards the grave when witness saw him give a lurch and become unsteady. Witness rushed forward just in time to prevent the coffin falling, as the deceased fell forward on the gravel. The medical evidence showed that death was due to sadden failure of the heart.”

Friday, 6 February 2015

Tapped 66 times of 240 gallons of water - Dame Mary Page (1672-1728), Bunhill Fields

Sir Gregory Page was a wealthy London merchant and shipwright and the M.P. for Shoreham in West Sussex.  He inherited his fathers brewery in Wapping but made his fortune in the East India trade, eventually becoming a director of the East India Company. He died  an immensely wealthy man in Greenwich in 1720 leaving his eldest son £700,000 and his wife and other children £100,000. He was buried in Greenwich but his ‘relict’ (i.e. wife who survived her husband) Mary Page, daughter of Sir Thomas Trotman of London is buried at Bunhill Fields, though like her husband she also died at Greenwich. The couple married in 1690 when he was 21 and she was 18 and they had four children, two girls and two boys. Her rather plain chest tomb is famous for the following inscription: 

Relict of Sir Gregory Page, Bart.
She departed this life March 4 1728, 
in the 56th year of her age.

And on the other side:

In 67 months she was tap'd 66 times
had taken away 240 gallons of water 
without ever repining at her case 
or ever fearing the operation.

240 imperial gallons converts to about 1,100 litres. Her contemporaries believed she suffered from dropsy but she is now widely acknowledged as being the first recorded case of Meigs syndrome (“In medicine…is the triad of ascites, pleural effusion and benign ovarian tumor (fibroma),” according to Wikipedia….)