Monday, 30 October 2017

'The Apostle of Peace'; Henry Richard (1812-1888) Abney Park Cemetery

Since Lytton Strachey punctured the reputations of his ‘Eminent Victorians’ it is impossible to accept at face value the assessments made on their distinguished contemporaries by Victorian opinion makers.  Apparently bereft of anything resembling a flaw, of vices, of sex, selfishness, the hagiographic accounts of the lives and deaths of the Victorian great and good do not portray anything that the early 21st century would recognise as a normal human being.  It is difficult to take an interest in these starched and stuffed but completely flavourless individuals.  According to the South London Press of 25th August 1888 Henry Richard “was born Tregaron, in Cardiganshire, in 1812. His father was Ebenezer Richard, a preacher of great repute in the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist body. The son early developed an inclination to follow his father’s profession, and when he left his Welsh grammar school he was educated for the ministry in the Congregational College Highbury. At an early age became minister of the Marlborough Chapel in the Old Kent-road, which flourished under his pastorate. During his ministry there Mr. Richard threw himself heartily into the cause of peace, and entered upon the duties of secretary to the Peace Society.” His duties as secretary to the Peace Society kept him employed for the best part of 40 years. In 1868 he became the Liberal MP for Merthyr Tydfil. The paper also fondly remembered his oratorical style, claiming that “at many South London ‘Liberation’ meetings he has been listened to with keen interest. His speeches were weighted with solid fact and close reasoning. Profound earnestness was their prevailing characteristic, an attribute that does not belong to mere ear tickling oratory; but underneath this gravity of style there was in Mr. Richard a fountain of humour which now and then would bubble up in the midst his serious speeches and startle his audience into laughter. This mixture of earnestness and sedate fun made him a favourite with popular audiences, with whom he also obtained great credit for his aptitude at Scriptural illustration and quotation.”

Portrait in the South London Press
The Victorian press was much keener than todays to give detailed accounts of the death of a worthy; again from the South London Press:
The deceased, who was his seventy-sixth year….had been in failing health for some time.…  For the past two years he had been subject to angina pectoris, and had been cautioned against undue excitement. Since the rising of Parliament he and Mrs. Richard had been staying with Mr. Davies —Mr. Colman, M.P. for Norwich, being among the guests. On Monday night there was dinner party at Treborth, during which Mr. Richard appeared to be in his usual health, but shortly afterwards he complained of faintness, and Mrs. Richard was summoned. At eleven o’clock the deceased retired to bed. Dr. J. Roberts, Menai Bridge, and Dr. Richards, of Bangor, were sent for. Shortly before their arrival, however, he said that he felt very ill, and turned over and expired. The doctors certified as to the cause of death, and so an inquest was not necessary.

From his place of death in Wales Henry Richard was brought back to London to be buried. The Cardiff Times, apparently mourning a national hero, devoted almost 5000 words to his funeral obsequies  (under the headline ‘An Impressive Ceremonial’:
Mr Henry Richard resided at 22, Bolton Gardens, South Kensington, one of the quiet aristocratic-looking buildings typical of the locality, and here since last Wednesday his body has reposed. It was cased in a leaden shell, which was enclosed in a massive oak coffin, with ornate brass mountings. A large burnished plate, topped by a perforated cross, bears the plain inscription ‘HENRY RICHARD. Born April 3rd, 1812. Died August 20tb, 1888.’ The coffin was placed in the library, where its presence was a mournful commentary on the shelves of standard books and works of reference, which showed signs of the care and attention bestowed on them during his lifetime by their gifted and cultured owner. Piled high over the bier, and littered over the purple pall, which fell in graceful folds from the head of the coffin, were a very large number of wreaths and other floral tributes of affection for and respect to the memory of the deceased gentleman. These were beautiful in the extreme. The Carnarvon Reform Club sent what must be regarded as the largest and most varied wreath.
A view of the Richard monument from the Graphic of November of 23 November 1889
The newspaper was impressed by the cemetery:
A more beautiful spot than Abney Park Cemetery could hardly be found in London, for the wealth of foliage and the neatly kept flower beds formed over and around the graves contrast with much effect with the handsome and costly monuments which deck the undulating slopes. Some of these are veritable works of art, containing statuary and other pieces of sculpture of great merit. Indeed the whole appearance of this burial ground is very suggestive of a French cemetery, notably Pere le Chaise, in Paris where sedulous attention to and lavish expenditure upon the graves and tombs of departed friends is held to be of great importance, a duty imposed upon the living which by no means must be neglected… Close to the south gate of the cemetery, in the shade of some fine chestnut and yew trees, was the spot selected for the final resting-place of the departed Welsh patriot. On all sides are lying famous and well known men connected with the Congregationalist communion. Brilliant divines and prosperous laymen, members of Parliament and gifted professional men—they are all gathered in one sad and solemn brotherhood of the grave.
The service was conducted in Abney Congregational Church on Stoke Newington High Street rather than in the Cemetery Chapel:
A strong posse of police from the 18N division under the command of Inspector Holland and Sargeant Trudgett, preserved order with ease and facility , and without their services the crowd of sightseers who had collected in Church-road North could not have been restrained from filling the seats in the church or unduly pressing round the grave. Punctual to the appointed hour, the hearse and mourning coaches arrived, and the coffin, which was quite covered with the wealth of wreaths and andother flowers, was carried into the church by six bearers and placed on a large catafalque, covered with a purple cloth, which was erected in front of the lofty reading desk. The relatives of the deceased followed.  Succeeding them came representatives of the political associations and educational and other bodies with which Mr Heenry Richard was identified so prominently during life but as no regular procession was formed those present simply congregated inside the Church. Inside the chapel the scene was very awe-inspiring and, at the same time consolatory. It was something to have lived a life which was an example of the truism that “Virtue alone outbuilds the Pyramids”…. Through the stained-glass windows of the church came a soft, mellow light which toned down the sombre effect of the funeral garments of the congregation and made golden and crimson and blue diamond shaped patches on the walls and pavement.
Henry Richard’s Portland stone and pink granite memorial was paid for by public subscription and designed by Mr E.J. Physick who also carved the marble medallion attached to the front elevation. The ceremony for the unveiling in November 1889 was attended, according to the Graphic, by about 1000 people.

E.J. Physick's medallion portrait of Henry Richard - the nose appears to have lost as a result of vandalism

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington

The Venezuelan electronica and hip hop musician Alejandro Ghersi, better known by his stage name Arca, lives in Hackney and found at least some of the inspiration for his latest album, according to the Guardian earlier this year, in Abney Park. He enthused about the cemetery’s ecosystem to the interviewer; “they don’t chop down a tree there if it dies,” he says “they just leave it to rot, which allows for different fungus and plants and insects to thrive there, so there’s that poetry of death being allowed around death and the organic textures of decomposition that are much more beautiful than any other kind of texture.” The cemetery’s other big attraction for the 27 year old is the gay cruising scene. He explained to the Guardian, “most of the men that cruise at Abney Park are older, from a different generation, before you could hook up with apps. It’s just so beautiful, looking someone in the eye. I have such beautiful interactions with all kinds of men that I would never meet normally, if I wasn’t there all the time.” When Alejandro is locked in an embrace with a beguiling stranger, in the undergrowth, losing himself in the poetry of sex and death, he likes to imagine that the cemetery’s occupants look on approvingly. After all Abney Park is a non conformist cemetery “where outcasts and misfits have been buried for hundreds of years” he says. English is a tricky language always waiting to trap the unwary non native speaker. Abney Park’s non conformists are not the outcasts, misfits, and outsiders Alejandro imagines; they are the Methodists, Baptists, and Salvationists whose most outrageous acts of rebellion were not to join the established Church of England. The inhabitants were probably far more pious and conventional than the average person buried at any of the other magnificent 7 cemeteries. Every other grave seems to belong to a dissenting minister, a lay preacher, missionary or philanthropist. The cemeteries most celebrated burial is the founder of the Salvation Army. No one buried there is smiling kindly at grown men engaging in sexual activity with other men in the bushes. If it were physically possible to turn in ones grave the non conformists of Abney Park would be rotating like rotisserie chickens at the shenanigans that go on above ground.  In truth the cruising these days is so discreet as to be barely noticeable and the cemetery’s once louche atmosphere has mellowed considerably. In the early nineties it could be quite an alarming place with not only the cruising but the drug taking and street drinking brigades also out in force.    
The Cemetery Chapel - Grade II listed, designed by William Hosking, built by John Jay and opened in May 1840
Stoke Newington still had a village atmosphere when the cemetery opened in 1840 in the grounds of Abney House, once the home of the former Lord Mayor of London Sir Thomas Abney. The area was revered by dissenters because of its connections to Dr Isaac Watts the poet and hymn writer.  Watts attended the Dissenting Academy in Stoke Newington and then after a short break away to live and work in London, returned to live there for the rest of his life, first in the house of the Hartopp family in Church Street where he worked as a tutor and then at Abney House to keep Sir Thomas’ widow company when her husband died. A small platform of stamped earth with a headless classical statue in the most distant corner of the cemetery remains dedicated to him; a plaque claims it was the “favourite retirement of the late Isaac Watts”.  With its strong dissenting tradition and its location on what was then the outskirts of London, Abney Park seemed the ideal site to found a non denominational cemetery when it became clear that Bunhill Fields was finally filled to capacity. It was opened by the Abney Park Cemetery Company under the auspices of the London Missionary Society in 1840. The park already had a famous arboretum and the new owners, inspired by Mount Auburn cemetery in Massachusetts, commissioned George Loddiges, a Hackney nurseryman, to lay out and plant the cemetery to increase the number of plant species on display. 2500 shrubs and trees were planted and carefully arranged around the perimeter of the cemetery in alphabetical order starting with an Acer (a maple tree) and finishing with a Zanthoxylum (the American Toothache Tree). The owners hoped the cemetery would prove to be an educational attraction as well as a popular burial site.  By the 1880’s the company shed its association with religious dissent and became a purely commercial organisation operating not only Abney Park but sister cemeteries at Chingford Mount and Hendon Park.

Isaac Watts (1674 to 1748) is actually buried in the non conformist Bunhill Fields but his statue presides over Abney Park Cemetery which was partly built on land belonging to Abney House, the home of Sir Thomas Abney
My favourite new story about Abney Park was reported in the Aberdeen Evening Express in 1885 under the headline Startling Discovery at a Grave:
On the twelfth inst. an infant, aged three months, whose parents live at Hillside Road, Stamford Hill, London, was seized with convulsions, to which it apparently succumbed. The body was conveyed to Abney Park Cemetery on Saturday for interment. While the coffin was being lowered, however, a child's cry was heard and then another, and the coffin was drawn up again. On being opened the infant was found to be alive. It was taken home, and is now recovering.
Tonight the Lion sleeps on Abney Parks best known memorial; the grave of Frank Bostock (1866-1912) famous menagerie owner.
A gorgeous motor-car used by a firm for advertising purposes, decked with a driver and a footman in gold laced uniforms, was speeding along Stoke Newington Road on Tuesday afternoon when the machinery suddenly gave a sharp crack and broke down. The liveried attendants were obliged to descend from the vehicle and push it slowly along from behind. A number of cabmen in the neighbourhood promptly entered into the humour of the situation, and formed themselves into a procession, one of them performing an imitation of a Dead March on an old trumpet which he had picked up somewhere. Abney Park Cemetery was not far distant. The spectacle afforded much amusement to many observers.
Reynolds's Newspaper - Sunday 03 January 1897

Autumn in the cemetery.
Influenza is still very prevalent in Hackney, Stoke Newington, Islington, and South Hornsey, and it is remarked that doctors and undertakers are the busiest men in the district, The latter, in many instances, are working night and day. During last week the staff of grave diggers at Abney park Cemetery were further increased, and the number of funerals which daily pass along Stoke Newington road  is simply enormous when the fact that the cemetery is a private one is considered. On Saturday Coroner Macdonald was informed of a sad case of suicide. The wife of Edward Smith, aged 61, was carried off by the prevailing epidemic about a week ago.  This so preyed on Smith's mind that on Wednesday he cut his throat with a razor.  He was removed to the German Hospital, and died on Friday.
Bristol Mercury - Monday 01 February 1892

An Interesting case of Longevity:  On Tuesday last the mortal remains of the late Mary Hillum, the oldest inhabitant of Stoke Newington, were committed to the grave in Abney Park Cemetery. The Rev. Jobn Jefferson, the venerable minister of Abney, Park Chapel, of which the late Miss Hillum was a mem bar, officiated, and the event brought together a large concourse of the inhabitants of the village. After reading the portions of Scripture usually selected for funeral services, the Rev. John Jefferson made a brief address on the personal history and character of the deceased. He described her to be a person of pure and simple tastes, and unaffected manners, known in the village for her good sense and earnest piety years before a large proportion of his present hearers were born. By the kind providence of God she had been spared to see her 100th year; she was, in fact, 105 years of age in February last. Hers had been a useful but not an eventful life. The house at the corner of Albion-road, in which she resided, was the only home she ever had in this world. She was born there, and there she died, and during upwards of a century-indeed, from the day of her birth to the day of her death, she had never once slept out of that house. Her journeyings to and fro in times gone by were limited to Enfield on the north, and the Elephant and Castle on the south; and in the days when she was in the full activity of life, the suburbs of London wore very different aspects to those they wear now. To the remarkable changes which had taken place during the past 25 or 30 years she was a stranger; and, as might be expected, what little she learnt by reading of the changes that were taking place only served to engender in her mind a distaste for all modern improvements.
North Wales Chronicle - Saturday 08 October 1864

Sunday, 15 October 2017

199 Cemeteries To See Before You Die - Loren Rhoads (Black Dog Publishing £14.99)

A bucket list of cemeteries? It doesn’t sound like a potential bestseller but Hachette imprint Black Dog Books has lavished enormous care on the production of ‘199 Cemeteries To See Before You Die’ launching it at the start of the Christmas market publishing season, apparently confident that they have a sure fire stocking filler on their hands.  The title is great but why 199? There must be an arcane art to choosing the number of items to include on lists of this sort. No one is actually going to do, visit, read, see (or whatever) everything on a bucket list so overinclusion seems to be an accepted part of the process. 1001 is apparently a customary number for rock albums and Arabian nights. 100 seems to be appropriate for  anything expensive (like visiting exotic places) so 200 sounds about right for cemeteries which amongst all their other multifarious merits are pretty cheap places to visit, with no entrance fee (generally speaking,  though there are some dishonourable exceptions, Highgate) gift shops, or overpriced on site catering.

Loren Rhoads was the publishers inspired choice to write the book and is probably uniquely qualified for the job. Loren is a San Francisco based writer and taphophile who acquired her graveyard fixation during an enforced stopover in London with her husband in 1991. Browsing in WH Smith’s in Victoria Station she came across a copy of Highgate Cemetery; Victorian Valhalla featuring John Gay’s celebrated photos of the cemetery. On the last day of the unexpected break they abandoned plans to visit the Tower of London and set off for Highgate instead and so, as she later wrote “on a bitterly cold January day during the first Gulf War, Highgate Cemetery was where our cemetery adventures began. Since then, we’ve visited graveyards from San Francisco to Singapore, Prague to Paris, and all across the USA.” Loren’s impressive list of publications include ‘Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries’ and ‘Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel’, she is a regular contributor to a variety of magazines and for a decade edited the cult magazine Morbid Curiosity which dedicated itself to true first person accounts by ordinary Americans of life’s edgier moments. She currently edits the blog Cemetery Travel.

Loren doing what she likes best - cemetery travelling
Before we go any further, in the interests of transparency, I need own up to having written a post on Loren’s blog about the cemitério do Alto de São João in Lisbon. This led to Loren including the said cemetery in 199 Cemeteries and a request from the publisher to use one of my photos of it in the book. It can be found on page 145, reproduced the size of a commemorative postage stamp (one of the few serious editorial mistakes by the team which assembled the book, I can’t help feeling). For the publication rights to my picture I received $100 US (and yet to be paid if anyone from Black Dog is reading this) and a free copy of the book.  I also get mentioned on the Special Thanks page as someone who expanded Loren’s list of cemeteries to be included. Having said all this nothing which follows is remotely influenced by my very small and tangential involvement in the project.

This is a book aimed at the American market and so 100 of the 199 cemeteries featured are in the States or Canada and the rest of the world is represented mainly by places where Americans are likely to travel with Europe getting the lion’s share of the non US attention (62 of the remaining 99) and Africa and Australia barely getting a look in. Most of the burial places listed are cemeteries but there are a small number of churches and archaeological sites in the non US sections including Westminster Abbey, Sutton Hoo, the Pyramids and the Valley of the Kings, Petra and the beehive tomb in Mycenae. The cemetery movement in the US has almost as venerable a history as its European counterpart (Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts opened a couple of years before Kensal Green and was an influence on the design of Abney Park) and there is a glorious variety to its burial places that is probably unrivalled anywhere else in the world. There are pioneer and cowboy graveyards in the western states, large Victorian garden cemeteries in the eastern, French inspired Saint Louis and Metrairie in New Orleans, Spanish colonial and Hollywood glamour in California, there is even, uniquely, an undersea cemetery at the Neptune Memorial Reef in Key Biscayne, Florida. The book features every cemetery you would expect it to, Highgate, Brookwood, Pere Lachaise, Poblenou, Recoleta, San Michele in Isola, the Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Staglieno, Mount Auburn, Forest Hills but also many that you will never have heard of – the Merry Cemetery in Romania anyone?  

My photo of the cemetery do alto de Sao Joao in Lisbon, belatedly getting the space it deserves.
Loren’s book is full of fascinating insights into the places we create to house our dead. She doesn’t have much space to describe her chosen burial places but manages to produce lucid sketches in 200 or so words that evoke their history and ambience. At the very least she manages to whet the appetite to find out more which is probably the most you can hope to achieve in a whirlwind tour like this. 199 Cemeteries is a handsome volume, beautifully illustrated with at least one photo of each cemetery featured. It is well set out, easy to read, pleasing on the eye and like little Jack Horner’s pie, impossible to thumb through without pulling out a plum. If you know anyone with even a mild case of taphophilia 199 Cemeteries would make a great Christmas stocking filler.