Monday, 26 September 2016

Wild Scenes at Willesden New Cemetery

A New Cemetery for Willesden  Dr Hoffmann, from the Home-office, attended at the Willesden Vestry-hall yesterday for the purpose of hearing objections to an application made by the Willesden Burial Board 'for permission to purchase upwards of 20 acres of ground near the Jews' Cemetery, for the parish of Willesden. Most of the members of the Burial Board were present besides members of the Local Board. Mr Tilley, solicitor, in making the application, quoted figures to show the necessity for a new burial ground, the population of the parish having nearly doubled itself since 1881 when it was 27,000. There being no opposition Dr. Hoffmann said he would recommend the granting of the application.
Morning Post - Tuesday 14 August 1888

The 26 acre Willesden New Cemetery opened in 1891 boasting a pair of ‘Pont Street Dutch’ chapels. At the stone laying ceremony so beloved of local worthies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries members of the Burial Board witnessed a scroll bearing their names and a copy of the previous days newspaper placed into bottles and buried beneath the foundation stones of the chapels. They then retired to a marquee to drink a number of toasts proposed by Mr F.A. Wood, a local antiquary who was standing in for the absent vicar. Mr Wood was, he said, not sure how to propose the toasts as “’success to the cemetery’ would look like as though he wanted the cemetery filled as soon as possible.” The Burial Board spent £20,000 on setting up the cemetery including the cost of the land and of building the chapels (these were demolished in 1986). According to Hugh Meller in ‘London Cemeteries’ over 80,000 burials have taken place and “in an attempt to create room for further burials, graves now fill one of the main paths which resemble a marble traffic jam. As an alternative solution, towards the back of the cemetery earth has been piled up to provide space for yet more.” In this crammed space the council still insists on using mechanical diggers to excavate new graves, much to the outrage of cemetery users:

A grieving son has slammed Brent Council, claiming they have showed disregard for the dead by employing digger truck drivers who are desecrating graves in a cemetery. Maxwell Glengall has told the [Kilburn] Times that the trucks are continuously driven around and over graves in Willesden New Cemetery as they try to dig new spaces. But he says they are carelessly knocking off parts of headstones and even driving over graves, due to overcrowding…. Mr Glengall, whose mother has been buried in the cemetery since July 2012, added that he was also concerned at the dirt tracks being left by the diggers which have made much of the area inaccessible…..“I’m very worried that my mother’s grave is going to be badly treated and worry about those people who have gone to visit their loved ones and found damage to their graves. How must they feel? Is this how council cemeteries are run? I thought it was at least 100 years before a site was retired for re-use. How can it have gone so far downhill?”  A spokesman for Brent Council said they “sincerely regretted any upset” but that they were similar to all other councils in using diggers to excavate graves. He added that it was “a much safer option for staff” and saved time.” (Kilburn Times, March 2013)

Other notable events in the cemeteries history include the funeral of the Australian cricketer Albert Edward Trott in August 1914 who at the age of 41 shot himself at his lodgings in Denbigh Road, Harlesden. Trott is supposedly the only batsman to have hit a ball over the Lords Pavilion during a match. Like his older brother Harry, who captained Australia in the 1896 test tour, Albert suffered from mental illness. At his inquest his landlady, with whom he had lodged for two and a half years, testified that on the day of his death he had sent for a sleeping draught to a local chemist as he had not slept all night but the chemist refused to serve it. She had heard a noise from his room and when she went to investigate found him lying on his back with a bullet wound in his right temple and a revolver in his hand. On a scrap of paper he had written a last will and testament; ‘Drawers and wardrobe to Mrs - , photos and drawers for Mrs— Clark Street, Victoria, Australia.' The MCC paid for his funeral.

According the newspapers there were wild scenes at the funeral of Mrs Ada Petchey and her 2 year old daughter when a crowd of nearly 500 women turned up baying for the blood of Mr Petchey the deceased’s husband. The two women had died from gas poisoning at their lodgings and at the inquest it was revealed that Mr Petchey had left his wife and child without money after a quarrel and hadn’t returned home until he read of their deaths in the papers. An hour before the funeral crowds began to gather at the top of Tubbs Road in Willesden where the funeral cortege was due to start its journey to the cemetery. A crowd gathered around the mourning coach trying to get hold of Mr Petchey who had to be protected by the police and the undertaker’s men. A large crowd of women booed and hissed as the cortege got under way and at the cemetery Mr Petchey was barracked and verbally abused by a seething mass of incensed women who, unable to get at him because of a cordon of police officers, resorted to hurling clods of earth at him as he tried to get away.
Willesden was the burial place of Elsie Cameron in January 1925. Elsie had been murdered by her lover Norman Thorne at Crowborough in Surrey in what the newspapers dubbed the chicken run murder. Thorne was a Sunday school teacher from Kensal Green who met typist Elsie in 1917. When he lost his job as an engineer he used his savings to set up as a poultry farmer in Crowborough. He tried to break his romantic entanglement with the older Elsie several times but without success. When she claimed to be pregnant he snapped and apparently strangled her. His version of the story was that she had hung herself. He claimed that he had panicked and decided to get rid of her body by dismembering it with a hacksaw and burying it on the farm. Not surprisingly the jury did not believe him. Elsie was buried on Monday 26 January with large crowds gathering at the cemetery to see the funeral. Cemetery officials locked the gates to prevent access to the private funeral and so the curious stood twelve deep outside the Wesleyan Chapel and lined the road into the cemetery. Amongst the floral tributes were a wreath from Thorne’s parents and another which seemed to be from the murderer himself, “Till we meet again, Norman” being the message on the card. Elsie did not rest long in her rave, four weeks later in what one newspaper called a “weird scene” she was exhumed. The exhumation began shortly before midnight under the strictest secrecy, in a sharp wind on a bitterly cold and frosty night. It took several hours to dig out the freezing grave and the coffin was not opened until first light. The exhumation had been carried out at the request of Thorne’s legal representatives. As well as Scotland Yard and the accused’s pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, England’s most famous forensic pathologist was also present. He gave evidence for the crown at Thornes trial. The poultry famer was hanged at Wandsworth prison in April that year, still protesting his innocence.        

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