Friday, 29 June 2018

Stealing a complexion denied by nature - Joseph Paul Crocker (1834-1869), Brompton Cemetery

DEATH OF ONE OF THE CHRISTY MINSTRELS —the well frequented Hall of these minstrels was dark and silent last night on account of the lamented death of Mr. Henry Crocker, who died yesterday afternoon, after a painful illness of nearly two years' duration, at the age of thirty-five. Mr. Crocker was one of the joint proprietors of the Christy Minstrels, and a performer in the original company. He was a favourite with the public, and his loss will be deeply regretted by a large circle of friends who esteemed his private character.
London Daily News - Saturday 18 December 1869


We know very little about J.P. Crocker of the Christy Minstrels. When he died the London Daily News couldn’t even get his name right – he was certainly no Henry. Other newspapers at least had his initials down correctly, JP, even if they weren’t sure what they stood for. The Examiner said that he was “a robust healthy man”, which seems unlikely, given that he had just died of tuberculosis. He had been ill for two years and had not set foot on the stage for at least 12 months. Joseph Paul Crocker was born somewhere in the United States in 1834 and came to England with his close friend and associate George Washington Moore in 1859. Both men had been members of Christy’s Minstrels in New York but for some reason decided to leave the States to follow J. W. Raynor and Earl Pierce to England where they had set up ‘Raynor & Pierces Christy Minstrels’ and performed to great acclaim at the St James Hall in the West End. Both in the United States and in England troupes of Christy’s Minstrels replicated by binary fission, prolifically splitting up and taking on new members, with all descendants claiming to be the original and genuine. Edward Pearce Christy, the founder of the group, fought several legal battles in the States to retain control of his name and in England the battle to be known as the genuine Christy’s Minstrels also ended up in the courts. John Edmund Quick, a 26 year old pretender, was prosecuted in 1868 for stealing £200 worth of handbills from the St James Theatre and, after carefully excising the name of the proprietors, using them to advertise an inferior and ersatz version of the Minstrels in Banbury. JP Crocker was one of the proprietors of the St James Hall troupe of Christy’s Minstrels along with George Moore.  Frederick Burgess, who later took over after Crocker’s premature death, was the manager. Moore and Crocker were both performers. Crocker was a tambourine player and eccentric dancer whose performances evoked roars of laughter according to the London Evening Standard in a contemporary review which also said that he exhibited a “marvellous command of his bodily muscles in a thick shoe dance.” I could only find one picture of him, a drawing in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of September 1893 showing him made up for the stage, produced almost a quarter of a century after his death. The inscription on Crocker’s grave in Brompton Cemetery reads “Sacred to the memory of JP Crocker of the Christys Minstrels, St James Hall, who departed this life 17th December aged 35, buried 23rd December, 1869. This memorial is dedicated to his lasting memory by Fannie Crocker and his late colleagues G Washington Moore, Frederick Burgess and the members of the Christys Minstrels in affectionate remembrance and as a tribute to one whose kind heart endeared him to all who knew him. Years of sickness affected not his courage or rich vein of genial humour.”

Christy’s Minstrels, formed by Edwin Pearce Christy in 1843, were the best known of the original wave of blackface performers that emerged in the United States in the decades before the civil war.  In 1847 they performed at a benefit concert for Stephen Foster in Cincinnati; this was the start of a close working relationship with the composer. They later specialised in performances of his songs and he even granted them the exclusive rights to his ‘Old Folks At Home’ (aka ‘Swanee River’). Christy popularised three part minstrel shows which started with a ‘walkaround’, the entire company marching onstage and singing and dancing their way through an opening number, before sitting in a semi circle to exchange banter with the Interlocutor the master of ceremonies. Minstrel shows had several stock characters, the slave Jim Crow and the dandy Zip Coon (whose signature song had the familiar chorus ‘O Zip a duden duden, zip a duden day’) and the inseparable pair Tambo and Bones. JP Crocker, the portly tambourine player was Christy’s Tambo and GW Moore its Bones. This review of Christy’s Minstrels in the London Evening Standard of 19 September 1865 gives a detailed account of their London shows:  
The entertainment given last at the lower room, St. James's Hall, is certainly one the best and diversified of the kind have seen or heard on any former occasion. It opens with a painting called Christy's Magnificent Diorama, in two parts, the first part descriptive of the outward voyage of the Great Eastern for New York, which arrives in time for the passengers to witness a performance of the “Christy’s Minstrels” at the Royal Academy of Music, New York ; the second part illustrating a journey down South, through Washington to a plantation in Dixie's Land, where the Southern “darkies” are beheld in their glory. After the dioramic exhibition there is a concert interspersed with sundry displays of Ethiopian wit between the Bones of the company, Mr. E. W. Moore and the tambourinist and eccentric dancer, Mr. J. P. Crocker, which creates roars of laughter. The diorama is followed by a new Christy's extravaganza, entitled Hair Brushing by Patent Machinery supported by Messrs. J. P. Crocker, E. W. Moore, and J. Ritter; to which succeeds an original sketch, by Mr. E. W. Moore, called The Breakneck Act, characters by Messrs. Moore and Crocker; concluding with Christy’s popular burlesque The Rival Darkies, parts sustained by Messrs  J.Ritter, L. Ludlow, Moore and Crocker. The Rival Darkies and Break-neck Act, if we remember rightly, are old friends; but Hair Brushing by Patent Machinery is new to London audiences. Performances by the Christy's Minstrels'’ without singing to many may appear uninviting; but the burlesque and extravaganza are exceedingly amusing, and all three were received last night with roars of laughter. Perhaps a more extraordinary entrance on the stage was never conceived than that of Mr. G. W. Moore, in the Break-neck Act, in which is made to bound into a room through the window, fall from height of some six or eight feet, and turn a somersault  on the stage. Mr. Moore is wonderfully active, besides being the most energetic and skilful of “Bones” and is, to boot, a first-rate comic singer. But the activity of the company is no means absorbed in the person of Mr. Moore. Mr. J. P. Crocker exhibits a marvellous command of his bodily muscles in a thick shoe dance, and Mr. J. Ritter (the champion!) in the Attakapas Jig—a sort of double-shuffle dance—displays an amount of terpsichorean agility quite out the common way. It is, however, in the musical line that the Christy Minstrels’ especially excel. There is not a weak hand in this company, vocal or instrumental. The band is composed of a violin, violoncello, cornet and harp— sufficient for their purposes their ensemble playing is literally irreproachable. Their solo playing, too, is more than creditable... The “Christy Minstrels” have announced the present as “positively their last season in London prior to their return to the United States.”

Minstrel shows proved to be even more popular in England than they were in the United States. The Christy’s Minstrels run at the St James Hall lasted for almost 40 years, from 1865 to 1904. George Moore never went home to the States; he died in London at the grand old age of 89 in 1909 and was buried a short distance away from his friend JP Crocker in Brompton Cemetery. The appetite for racist tomfoolery the pair planted in the English became an enduring legacy; 100 years after the Christy’s opened at St James Hall we were still lapping up blackface and Stephen Foster songs in the form of the hugely popular Black & White Minstrel Show. By 1964, when 73 million Americans were tuning into the Ed Sullivan Show to see the Beatles, 21 million Brits regularly tuned into the BBC to watch the Black and White Minstrels. I was one of them. As a kid I loved them. I loved them so much my parents took me to see one of the 6477 theatre shows the Minstrels put on between 1962 and 1972 when they weren’t making TV shows (a run which put them in the Guinness Book of Records at one time as the stage show seen by the largest number of people). We only had a black and white television and I was totally unprepared for the spectacle of the Black & White Minstrels in colour; the female dancers (who were not in blackface) whose dresses were technicolour southern belle taffeta confections and the Minstrels themselves strutted the boards in metallic gold frockcoats and top hats. Inevitably I grew up and as a teenager in the Seventies the Minstrels fell off my radar which had become more attuned to the likes of David Bowie and Led Zeppelin. I was quite startled to discover that they carried on broadcasting until 1978, well after the Sex Pistols had disbanded and the Ramones and Siouxsie and the Banshees had found chart success. Looking back at my childhood, sometimes it seems like I was born in 1860 rather than 1960. The swinging Sixties never really arrived in the South Yorkshire pit village I grew up in but the Victorians and Edwardians were still clinging on for grim death. Patronising racist stereotypes abounded, not just blackface minstrel shows on Saturday night TV; I loved ‘Song of the South’ when my uncle took me to see it at the Pavilion cinema in Attercliffe, Sheffield. The films best known song is, of course, ‘Zip-a-dee-doo-dah’ whose chorus is a rephrasing of Zip Coon’s ‘Zip a duden duden, zip a duden day’. I think I was already heavily into Enid Blyton’s retelling of the Brer Rabbit stories before I saw the film. In school the Stephen Foster songbook was well thumbed and we often gathered around the piano to trill "I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee, I'm going to Louisiana, my true love for to see" leadenly accompanied by the teacher. And of course there were the Golliwogs that you could collect if you saved the tokens from Robertson’s jam (the company stopped using Golliwogs in its advertising only in 1988 and stopped putting Gollys on its jam jar labels in 2001!) and the Golly that leered at you from the wrapper of Blackjack chews. There were the Tarzan films I adored where a white man marooned in Africa who was brought up by apes manages, somehow, to learn to speak impeccable English, live in a treehouse, cover up his genitals and generally learn to be more civilised than the benighted natives who were utterly beholden to the witchdoctor and died in their hundreds whenever there was a fight. And ‘Daktari’ and ‘Cowboy in Africa’ where the white people drove around in Land Rovers, wore safari suits, lived in ranch houses and were the constant focus of attention while the natives wore loincloths, lived in mud huts and were the comic interludes or a dangerous threat according to the diktat of the storyline.
Dubious 60's shenanigans

Friday, 15 June 2018

The blind poet; John Heath-Stubbs (1918-2006), Kensal Green Cemetery

Mr. Heath-Stubbs as you must understand
Came of a gentleman's family out of Staffordshire
Of as good blood as any in England
But he was wall-eyed and his legs too spare.

Amongst the more learned persons of his time
Having had his schooling in the University of Oxford
In Anglo-Saxon Latin ornithology and crime
Yet after four years he was finally not preferred.

In his youth he would compose poems in prose and verse
In a classical romantic manner which was pastoral
To which the best judges of the Age were not averse
And the public also but his profit was not financial.

Now having outlived his friends and most of his reputation
He is content to take his rest under these stones and grass
Not expecting but hoping that the Resurrection
Will not catch him unawares whenever it takes place.
John Heath Stubbs - Epitaph

Born on 09 July 1918 in London, the poet John Heath-Stubbs died on Boxing Day 2006, aged 88 at his flat in Bayswater. The Church Times reported that his parish priest (from St Matthews in St. Petersburgh Place) brought him communion the day before his death (on Christmas Day?) and reported “that the poet’s mind was undimmed, and he was still giving out erudition.” Sadly his poem ‘Epitaph’ was not used as the actual epitaph on his slickly polished marble headstone in Kensal Green Cemetery. 
The tall, gangly youth with extreme short sight, peering into a book (or a manuscript...whilst smoking a cigarette)
He suffered from problems with his eyes from the age of 3 and after a lifetime of gradually deteriorating eyesight became completely blind just before he reached his 60th birthday. As a teenager his vision was poor enough for him to be sent to Worcester College for the Blind. Despite his disability he was a brilliant scholar, a polymath and an expert of The Golden Bough; he graduated at Queens College Oxford.  His obituary in the Independent says he was “then a tall, gangly youth with extreme short sight, peering into books. Friends found the sight of him in summer, holding on to the riverbank while his punt moved slowly but surely downstream, transforming him from an arch into a splash, unforgettably funny. Little by little he became completely blind, so that if he was reciting his poems to an audience he might by misjudgement turn and address them to the wall.”
Heath-Stubbs was that very rare thing, a professional poet. Most of his income may have come from his academic posts but these were almost all granted to him because of his status as a poet. In the Guardian Jonathan Fryer wrote:  

Though curious to discover new ideas, he was not a good listener and could be unbridled when his hackles were raised. He sometimes lost his temper even with close friends, though he would usually ring them the following morning to apologise.
John could be found in many of Soho's notorious drinking-holes in the 1950s and 1960s, and his own little basement flat in west London was a model of bohemian squalor. Fiercely independent, he lived on his own and insisted on cooking for his guests - surprisingly well, though both the floor and the ceiling showed evidence of mishaps.

On the verge of total blindness - Heath-Stubbs in 1978 by Nigel Foxell
Some of his poetry is astoundingly beautiful, as in these lines about the swift;
There is no creature (except, perhaps,
The angel) so wholly native to
The upper air. His tiny feet
Cannot walk on ground, can cling only.
The wisps and straws he needs to build his nest
He snatches in mid-air. He even sleeps
Borne up by the rising thermals.
This black screamer, rushing at evening
Above our cities, is kin
To the tropical humming-bird, who can fly backwards
Out of the great flower-bells
In the Amazonian forest.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Mausoleums of St Mary's, Kensal Green

in 2008 Hugh Meller (or maybe Brian Parsons) couldn’t help referring in ‘London Cemeteries’ to the mausoleum in St Mary’s that was being used as a wood shed by the grounds staff. I presume this is the same mausoleum shown in my photo from December 2013 (above) though by the time I took my picture the contents included rubble and traffic cones as well as fallen branches and discarded wooden crosses. Perhaps this is why the staff are anxious about photography in the cemetery, particularly photography likely to find its way onto social media.
St Mary’s has an unusually large number of mausoleums for a moderately sized cemetery. This may be partly due of the relatively large contingent of wealthy Spanish and Italian immigrants buried here in the late 19th and early 20th century but Kensal Green next door also has a hefty complement of late Victorian ‘golden age’ mausoleums. For those not aware, mausoleums are purpose built buildings containing tombs or coffins. The word comes from the Ancient Greek Μαυσωλεον (Mausōleîon), the famous Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the burial place of the Persian Satrap of Caria (in modern Turkey), Mausolus who died in 353BC. The original mausoleum was one of the Seven Wonders of the World listed by Antipater of Sidon in 140BC. The 45 metre high tomb suffered the same fate as six of the seven wonders and was eventually destroyed by earthquakes and human cupidity but it lasted longer than most – there were still recognisable ruins in the 15th century when the knights of St John used them as a quarry to mine for raw materials when building Bodrum castle. The knights also decorated the castle with ancient sculptures from the mausoleum and these were later rescued by the British Consul. Marble blocks from the mausoleum excavated by Charles Thomas Newton  for the British Museum in 1857 were shipped to Malta where they caught the eye of a Royal Navy engineer and were used to construct a dock in the Grand Harbour to the east of Valetta. There is no evidence to suggest that at anytime in its unfortunate history the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was ever used to store traffic cones.     

The Misa Mausoleum, built in 1870 for Manuel Misa y Bertemati, the Conde De Bayona and Marques De Misa, is a small gothic mortuary chapel in the central part of the cemetery. It has a steeply pitched roof with fish-scale tiles and metal cresting, heavily damaged stained glass windows in the side and rear walls and a tiled path, enclosed by fine iron railings, leading up to the entrance. Manuel Misa was born in 1815 in Bayona, in the northern Spanish province of Galicia. His family were of partly Italian descent and made their living from mercantile trading. Manuel studied law at the University of Santiago de Campostella and then joined his brother in the Sherry business in Jerez. Manuel travelled the world helping to build the family’s sherry business and in the 1860’s he moved to London where he eventually married an English woman Helena Busheroy Blake. The couple had two children. The sherry business flourished and Misa, along with Gonzalez Byass and Domecq, became one of the great bodegas, exporting 1,400 butts of sherry in just one month in 1873 (that’s 2800 hogsheads of wine if you were wondering, or 798,000 litres). Manuel Misa became immensely wealthy and was honoured twice by the Spanish crown, first in 1875 when he was made Conde de Bayona and again in 1889 when he was made a full grandee, the Marques de Misa. Misa contributed substantially to the fund for the building of Westminster Cathedral and when he died in 1904 he left his palatial home in Belgrave Square to the Spanish Government which uses it to this day as the Spanish Embassy. 

The notice on the rather damaged door of the Misa Mausoleum is interesting in refering to the building as a mortuary chapel. Strictly speaking the mausoleum ins't a mausoleum at all as there are no coffins. Manuel Misa's remain are probably in a vault below the building. This is true of all the mausoleums in St Mary's that you can actually see inside. A 'true' mausoleum stores the coffins above ground within the mausoleum itself. Even if the coffins have been removed there are tell tale coffin shelves along the walls.  

The internal view of the mausoleum makes it clear there are no coffin shelves. It is in need of a little care and attention - paint is peeling inside and out (see below) and much of the stained glass is badly damaged which lets the elements in to cause further havoc.   

The Emmet Mausoleum was built in 1919 by the American born Major Robert Emmet DSO, for his son who had died in 1915 of typhoid whilst serving in the British army. The ornate octagonal gothic structure, built of Portland stone, was designed by William Henry Romaine-Walker, who designed Stanhope House on Park Lane. Despite being the proud descendants of Robert Emmet the famous Irish patriot father and son both served in the Warwickshire Yeomanry in the First World War though only Major Emmet, the father, saw active service. Lieutenant Emmet, the son, died before getting the opportunity to go to the front line, perhaps because he changed regiments to the Life Guards shortly after the outbreak of hostilities. The Irish newspaper, the Weekly Freeman's Journal of Saturday 13 November 1915 reported the details of the funeral:

Emmet Great-Great Grandnephew.  The death has taken place in London of Lieutenant Robert Emmet, of the Life Guards, a great grand nephew the famous Irish rebel of the same name. Lieutenant Emmet, who was only in his eighteenth year, was the son of Major Robert Emmet, the son of Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, of New York, who has been settled in England for a number of  years past, having houses in London and Warwickshire. At the beginning of the war Major Emmet, who up to that time had been in civilian life, became naturalised as a British subject, applied for commission, and is now serving in Gallipoli. His son, though only eighteen years age, followed his example, and was with his regiment when he contracted an attack of typhoid, to which after three weeks he succumbed in a London nursing home. He was a most promising young officer, and  his death is deeply regretted by his fellow-officers and the men of his regiment. He was buried with military honours on Tuesday at Kensal Green Cemetery, the coffin being borne on a gun-carriage, and escorted through the streets by a contingent of the regiment. 
The Memorial Service. Prior  to the funeral a Requiem mass was celebrated at the Jesuit Church, Farm street, the Right Rev. Dr. Mostyn, Bishop of Menevia at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. About 300 officers and men of the 1st Life Guards were present, including the Commanding Officer, Sir George Holford, and Major General Sir Francis Lloyd. The band of the regiment, under the direction of Mr. Miller, played Chopin’s funeral March, and the trumpeters at the conclusion the ceremony played the “Last Post” and the 'Reveille.” The music during Mass was sung by the Farm Street Boys Choir, conducted by Mr. J. Farren. A R.C.M.

The inscription on the altar in the Ortelli mausoleum reads:

"In memory of Commendatore John Ortelli (late of Hatton Garden). Born 1830, died 1st Nov. 1898, buried in Appiano, Italy. Founder of the Hospital for Italians in Queen Square, WC, President of the Italian Night School, first Associate of the Italian Benevolent Society, an ardent lover of his country and admirer of England and a true friend to the poor."

The Ortelli's came from the lake Como region in northern Italy and had first emigrated to England in the 1790's. The family became quite prominent in the barometer manufacturing industry. John Ortelli (whose Italian name was Giuseppe, though he preferred to be known as the anglicised John even when in Italy) was a looking glass manufacturer based in Hatton Garden who became extremely wealthy. In 1864 he founded the Ospedale Italiano, the Italian Hospital, in Queens Square with the donation of two adjacent houses. These were later demolished and replaced with a purpose built hospital on the same site. This still stands, at number 40 Queens Square and bears an ornate plaque with the founders name. The hospital was closed in 1990 but the building was acquired  by Great Ormand Street Hospital for use as office accommodation.

These pictures were taken before the recent restoration of the Grade II listed Campbell Family Mausoleum. The collapsing marble tiles, leaks in the gilded ceiling and rampant buddleia have all been sorted out by a specialist restorer and now the place looks as good as it did in 1904 when it was first built. The neo byzantine mausoleum was designed by CHB Quennell for the family of John Davies Campbell who was born in Manchester in 1831. Campbell emigrated to Peru in the 1850’s where he became a speculator in nitrates for use as fertilisers in the form of saltpetre and guano (bird shit).  He partnered with another British expat, Joseph Outram to form the company Campbell and Outram which exploited the nitrate deposits of the Atacama desert. Campbell became a wealthy and powerful man, he was the mayor of the enticingly named nitrate port of Pisagua and married a Peruvian, Delmira Vargas. He died in 1878 and was buried beneath an impressive tomb in the town cemetery of Tacna. After his death Delmira took her husbands money and ran to where she had probably been hoping he would take her since the early days of her marriage; London.  Neither she nor the children ever seem to have returned to Pisagua or Tacna. All of them were buried in mausoleum at St Mary’s.