Monday, 13 February 2017

Dead Romantic – Til Death do us part. A Valentine's Day Special

Is there anywhere more romantic than a cemetery? The London Dead celebrate Valentines Day by remembering the great love stories behind some of the city’s best memorials and graves.  

1. Emma Jones, died 1842. Kensal Green Cemetery

Victorian celebrity chef Alexis Benoit Soyer’s ostentatious display of grief for his 29 year old wife Emma Jones stands opposite the Upper Gate in Kensal Green Cemetery, a few yards away from the endless traffic and scurrying pedestrians on the Harrow Road. Its size and position demand attention even during the day but by night when it was first built, it was illuminated by gaslight, and must have been a truly uncanny sight for anyone who peered in through the cemetery railings into the dark and deserted burial ground. Emma was an artist and her husband displayed her palette and brushes like holy relics in a glass fronted niche at the back.
Alex and Emma married in 1837 at St George’s Hanover Square. In 1842 Emma was pregnant for the second time, having lost her first baby through a miscarriage. Alex was away in Brussels on business when London suffered an unusually intense summer storm with torrential rain and thunder and lightning all day. Emma reacted badly to the continual rumble and roar of the thunder, appearing agitated and nervous. Eventually she retired early to bed where she was discovered dead by her maidservant two hours later. Alex was distraught when he heard the news. His immediate reaction was to try and stab himself. His Belgian friends wrestled the knife off him and dragged him into the garden where it took them two hours to calm him down. He never forgave himself for his absence from home and never really recovered from the death of his young wife. He tried to buy back all of her paintings that had been sold so that he had every single one of her works (many people would not part with them however) and he commissioned the impressive funeral monument to her at Kensal Green. He was buried with her when he died in 1858.
2. Florence Philipson, died 1914. Golders Green Crematorium
The Philipson Mausoleum was built by Ralph Hilton Philipson (1862-1928) for himself and his wife, Florence. Clearly viewable through the door their ashes stand side by side on a pedestal inside the mausoleum, contained in two rose coloured alabaster urns, which seem to be wrapped in Clingfilm.
Ralph Philipson was born in Newcastle, the eldest son of a coal magnate who was educated at Eton and Oxford and trained as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn (but was rich enough never to have to bother practicing). He was a sportsman, an amateur cricketer and tennis player and he was a lover and patron of the arts. Ralph seemed a confirmed bachelor but in 1908 at the age of 46 he married the 32 year old Florence Woodward, a Californian heiress, in New York after meeting her the previous year aboard an Atlantic cruise liner travelling between Europe and the States.  After a honeymoon in Canada the couple returned to London moving in to 74 Portland Place, close to Regents Park. There were no children but Ralph was devoted to Florence and was devastated when after just 6 years of marriage she died at the age of 38. Even for a wealthy man the mausoleum he commissioned is grandiose;  Edwin Luytens was already a well known architect when Ralph asked him to design the mausoleum and his services would not have come cheap.

A few years later Ralph married again, to Maya Stuart King, the widow of Baron Knoop, a Russian textile millionaire. Maya was of Hungarian descent and had a romantic and artistic temperament. The Baron was considerably older than his wife and very possessive but young women wear out old men quickly and he died in 1918 leaving her comfortably off as long as she did not remarry (old men’s jealousy lasts longer than life it seems).  When Maya was 47 she met the incredibly wealthy 61 year old Ralph; the Baron’s mean attempts to control her from beyond the grave by disinheriting her in the event of a new marriage no longer mattered and the couple married in 1922. In December 1928 Ralph contracted a severe case of food poisoning and died. He had left instructions for his body to be cremated and his ashes placed with his first wife’s in the Mausoleum at Golders Green. Maya never got over her husband’s death and wore mourning  for the rest of her life.
3. Marthe Josephine Besson, died 1908. Highgate Cemetery

Up a steep and neglected muddy side path in Highgate East Cemetery, hidden amongst the undergrowth and surrounded by toppled and leaning gravestones, you will find this striking monument to a Victorian businesswoman. The inscription reads:  

In loving memory of
Marthe Josephine Besson,
daughter of Gustave Besson
of Paris and London
and beloved wife of Adolphe Fontaine.
Died 15th Sept 1908, aged 56 years.
Her great talents and untiring energy gained the praise of the foremost masters in the musical world.

It looks like a touching tribute from a grieving husband and one could lazily assume that Adolphe and Marthe were mutually devoted and lived long and contentedly in conjugal bliss. But one would be wrong. 12 years earlier Adolphe was trailing through Europe after Marthe and her Spanish lover accusing her of stealing his fortune, trying to have her arrested by Scotland Yard and generating a scandal that he must still have been trying to live down when he instructed A. MacDonald & Co. Ltd of Euston Road to produce his wife’s funeral monument.  Marthe became pregnant by her Hispanic paramour, Señor Alcaraz, and gave birth to a son Frank. Tragically Señor Alcaraz committed suicide when Marthe was arrested and made to return to England to stand trial on criminal charges of stealing from her husband. More details of this story here and here.
4. George William Lancaster, died 1920. East Sheen Cemetery

GeorgeWilliam 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 and was in fact a divorced woman.  Divorces were still relatively rare in 1896 when Mr Edwin Charles Jones  petitioned the courts in Bristol for a divorce from his 35 year old wife. Jones had married Louisa Mary Wilkinson in 1883 and the couple had three children. Jones had been employed in his father’s ironmongers business but his father’s death had left him jobless and rather “badly off”. To improve his situation Jones had moved his family to London where he opened a small tobacconist’s in Finsbury Park. The business was not a success and unemployed again Jones moved back to Bristol 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 Jones 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.

At the time of the divorce George Lancaster was already living apart from his wife Emily in Acton. 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. George was a successful business man and when he died he left a fortune worth £504,880.0s3d of which the lions share was bequeathed to Louisa under her maiden name of Wilkinson. His wife had been left a mere £700 annuity. 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 forgotten.

5. Georgina Robinson, died 1965. Willesden Cemetery

I am unable to find out any more about this sad memorial other than what is revealed in the epitaph (inscribed with a heart with G engraved on one side and M on the other);   
Georgina “Georgie” Robinson, nee Owen
Killed in a road accident – France
4th September 1965
Returning from honeymoon
Two weeks before this day of sadness
We’d stood together in joy and gladness
Our life together was at the start
Too soon came true “Till death do us part”
Your Loving husband Maurice

6. Herbert William Allingham, died 1904. Kensal Green Cemetery
The interesting detail on Herbert William Allingham’s memorial is the figure of his German wife, Fraülein Alexandrina Von der Osten,  reclining on a large cushion, clutching a bunch of lilies in her right arm, a loyal lap dog laying on her left, apparently on her death bed. She died in January 1904 after being an invalid for several years. Her husband died barely ten months later in November, committing suicide in a hotel room in Marseille at the age of 42.
Allingham was a talented doctor and teacher who worked at St George’s Hospital and was also Surgeon to the Household of King Edward VII and Surgeon in Ordinary to the Prince of Wales (later King George V).  As well as practicing and teaching he wrote several well regarded books and articles on surgical procedures. In 1903 he was operating on a ‘puzzling rectal condition’ when he gashed open his thumb. The mysterious rectal condition soon explained itself when the patient developed the unmistakable symptoms of syphilis. Much to Allingham’s disgust he developed the same symptoms a few days later.
When his beloved wife died early the following year Allingham’s grief gradually froze into incurable depression. In November, heartbroken and syphilitic, the doctor set off on a long holiday to Egypt in a forlorn attempt to cheer himself up. In Marseille he succumbed to despair after an evening of enforced jollity dining with friends at the Hotel du Louvre. Alone he returned to his room to compose a letter of apology to the hotel manager for any inconvenience caused by using his establishment as a place to die before injecting himself with a fatal overdose of morphine. His body was found next morning by the hotel staff.
7. Lucy Renaud Gallup, died 1883. West Norwood Cemetery
She died young and had beautiful eyes; that is obvious from the photograph of her probably taken when she was in her mid twenties, shortly after her marriage in 1870 to Henry Clay Gallup. Henry must have loved the portrait as he had it reproduced on porcelain and set on her grave; a very novel practice in the 1880’s. 130 years later the ceramic plaque is still in excellent condition and Lucy Renaud’s lovely eyes continue to regard us rather hauntingly as we pass by her tomb.
Lucy was born on 10 June 1847 and was baptised at St Luke’s in Chelsea. She was married in the same church, four days after her twenty third birthday, to the 35 year old American Henry Clay Gallup. Henry had been born in Stonington, Connecticut in 1834, and worked as a travelling agent selling patent medicines for the New York firm of Jeremiah Curtis & Sons. When he was made a partner he was sent to London to set up a European branch of the business to be called the Anglo American Drug Company. In 1881 Lucy and Henry were living at 39 Marine Parade, Brighton with their six year old son, Henry Junior.  In the census returns for that year Henry lists himself as a retired merchant.  Less than two years later Lucy was dead at the age of just 35. Henry was distraught and only lasted another couple of years himself, dying in 1885 at his home, Preston House, Upper Norwood, leaving an estate valued at £131,947 14s 9d to his 11 year old orphaned son.
8. Evelina Rothschild, died 1865. West Ham Jewish Cemetery

Ferdinand James Anselm Freiherr von Rothschild was born in Paris in 1839 of the Viennese branch of the Rothschild family. In 1865 he unquestioningly took up the family tradition of endogamy by marrying his cousin Evelina, the daughter of Baron Lionel de Rothschild and his cousin Charlotte Rothschild (née Rothschild) of the Neapolitan branch of the family. Far from being just a dynastic alliance Ferdinand truly loved Evelina. The couple took a long honeymoon travelling in Europe and within a few weeks of their return Evelina discovered, to Ferdinand’s great joy, that she was pregnant. Eight months later, at the age of 26, she was dead. Following a railway accident she had gone into premature labour, giving birth to a stillborn child and then herself dying. Ferdinand never got over his grief. He commissioned the elaborate mausoleum where her name, Eva, is endlessly repeated as a decorative motif in English and Hebrew letters. He also endowed a hospital for sick children in Southwark in her name. When his father died in 1874 he liquidated his £2 million share in the family bank, gave up business and bought a rundown estate in Buckinghamshire from the Duke of Marlborough. On the estate he built a stately home where he lived for the rest of his life with his unmarried younger sister Alice. He never remarried and despite his famous hospitality he often dined on cold toast and water while his guests were being served lavish meals. Shortly before he died he wrote to his cousin Lord Roseberry “I am a lonely, suffering and occasionally a very miserable individual despite the gilded and marble rooms in which I live.” When he died in 1898 he was finally reunited with his young wife and was interred by her side in the mausoleum.
9. Martha Gall-Bianchi, died 1936. Hampstead 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 their second child Robert. 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 and Cesare 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. 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 Café Royal.  The family were living in Lawn Road in Hampstead when Martha tragically died in childbirth in 1936; the baby survived only to lose his father before he was 10. At 11.30am on March 8 1945, a V2 rocket 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. The victims of the rocket attack were all buried at the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park; contrary to Cesare’s wishes he was not able to join his wife in the Hampstead grave.

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