Friday, 28 September 2018

Hung, flayed and crucified; the gruesome fate of James Legg (1731-1801)

In May the Royal Academy finally opened the doors to its £56 million redevelopment to the public. The event received much coverage in the media including terrestrial TV news coverage. I was watching it on Channel 4 news which took you on a tour of the new gallery spaces, the new bridge linking Burlington House with the Burlington Gardens building, the refurbished vaults and the new auditorium. They were interviewing someone, possibly Tim Marlow the RA’s recently appointed Artistic Director; I wasn’t really listening because my attention was transfixed by something in the background to the interviewee’s head shot. A life size model of a man being crucified. Some change in my demeanour, a shifting forward in my seat, widening of the eyes, a sharp intake of breath, I’m not sure what, alerted my wife that that I was taking more than usual interest in the programme.

“What is it?” she asked. I pointed to the crucifixion behind the interviewee’s neatly trimmed hair.

“That’s James Legg, the Chelsea pensioner, who was executed for murder then handed to the anatomists, who crucified him in an experiment then flayed his corpse and made a plaster cast…” I told her. She rolled her eyes and went back to leafing through her magazine, taking no further interest in the subject. I was much more interested in the 200 year old plaster cast than I was in the £56 million refurbishment of the Royal Academy. James Legg normally languishes in the RA’s vaults, seen only by students. He has occasionally been put on public view over the last two centuries but his public appearances are normally pretty brief and I have never managed to catch one of them. From the news report he looked to be on prominent display. I went to see him this week, the first opportunity I have had since seeing the news item in May, and didn’t even bother looking round the new gallery spaces, the new bridge or the new auditorium. I only had eyes for James.          

On October 28 1801, 70 year old Chelsea Pensioner James Legg was convicted of the murder of fellow pensioner William Lambe at the Old Bailey. The only witness to the murder was Lambe’s wife. She told the court that she was surprised that Legg, whom she had known for years, had shot her husband with a pistol because “I took him to be a very solid man, for he washed his own linen, cooked his own victuals, and took the sacrament regularly…” But on the morning of October second, in the common room of the Royal Hospital Mrs Lambe got up a little before seven to find Legg walking about “swearing, and quite in an ill humour, I thought; I asked him what was the matter, when he began to swear the more, and said, I will turn you out of the room, if you speak another word.”  William Lambe was still in bed, perhaps Legg’s threats to his wife woke him up for when she opened the door to their room he was just getting up. Legg brushed past her and put a pistol into his hand. Still half fuddled with sleep Lambe, according to his wife “took it, turned it about, and looked at it, and said, what is this for; the room was dark, and then he threw it into the common room; my husband had just put on a little flannel waistcoat, and stood up against the door.” Legg rushed up to him and fired his own pistol into Lambe’s chest, killing him immediately; “he endeavoured to call my name, but could not…” said Mrs Lambe pathetically. Legg seemed to be challenging Lambe to a duel, newspapers reported that he had said “You must get up and fight me,” as he threw the gun at Lambe but when the pistol was examined later it was found to be primed with gunpowder but to contain no bullet.

A Chelsea Pensioner in uniform

None of the witnesses at the trial had any idea why James Legg would want to kill William Lambe. When questioned Charles Coates, another pensioner and one of the first on the scene after the shooting told the court “I said, good God, why you have killed him, he is quite dead, how could you do so; he (Legg) paused, and said, I gave him a pistol in his hand, to come out and fight me like a man, he would not, but threw it down, then I fired….” The newspapers had reported that the two men had been at loggerheads over the coal ration but this seemed a poor motive for murder. So senseless did the killing seem that some witnesses suggested Legg was out of his mind.  Joseph Ryland, a tobacconist, swore that Legg did not seem in his right senses “This year past, he used to buy tobacco of me; one day, about half a year ago, he talked very wild, and said he was going to have a company, and be in commission afresh, under Lord Cornwallis in Ireland.” Ann Grant a nurse at the Old Infirmary testified “the prisoner was in the hospital, under my care, from the beginning of the year to the 10th or 11th of May; and, during that time, I saw a very great change in him, which I never saw before; a lowness, a melancholy and deranged state; knowing him so long, I took the opportunity of asking him what was the matter with him, and the reason of his melancholy; he told me his mind was confused; that he had no rest night or day; that he was hurried from place to place, and could not tell what he was doing; and I really was afraid he would make away with himself.” Mr Justice Heath was not swayed by this thin evidence of insanity and finding Legg guilty condemned him to death by hanging and, once dead, to anatomisation by the surgeons.

There was great public interest in James Legg. The Morning Post reported the scenes at Newgate Chapel the following Sunday when the condemned sermon was due to be read:

On Sunday morning a great number of persons attended the Old Bailey chapel to hear the condemned sermon. The principal objects of attraction were Smith, the pretended Parson, and Leigh, the Chelsea pensioner, both capitally convicted last week... The price of admission was at first a shilling; it soon rose to two shillings, and shortly after to three. From the increasing demand for places, and the affluent appearance of the visitors, the door keepers now thought they might sport box prices, and were on the point of demanding a crown a-head but unfortunately the place by this time was completely full, and the reflux of a disappointed tide put an end to any further solicitation for admittance. Still, however, numbers hovered about the place, waiting to receive an account of what passed within from their more lucky friends. From this state of suspense and expectation they were relieved much sooner than they could have had reason to hope. No condemned sermon was preached, the unfortunate objects of their curiosity did not appear in the Chapel, and the audience were dismissed after a short prayer. This disappointment was followed with loud murmurs against the Chaplain, and loud demands to have their money returned and, strange to tell, many Gentlemen did not leave Newgate without actual compulsion. 

The condemned sermon being read at Newgate Chapel

The same newspaper also gave a full account of the execution the following day:

Yesterday morning, a few minutes after eight o’clock, James Legg, the Chelsea pensioner, and Richard Stark, who were both convicted of murder at the present Old Bailey Sessions and ordered for execution were launched into eternity, opposite the debtors door of Newgate amidst the execrations of many thousand spectators who were assembled as early as half past seven o'clock, to witness their behavior at the place of execution.

Legg’s manner was as unconcerned during his confinement in the condemned cell as on his trial…. Throughout the whole of his confinement, he betrayed no fear of death, was always collected; and when he was about to ascend the scaffold, he took Mr. Kirby by the hand, and said, "I mind this no more than I would entering the field of action”. He afterwards shook hands with all around him, and turning to his companion Stark, who was weeping bitterly, said, 'Be a man, and die with spirit." He made use of many other exhortations, and so far succeeded as to make Stark hold up his head. Before they were turned off, Legg looked around, bowed to the populace, smiled, and appeared quite unconcerned. After hanging the usual time (an hour), their bodies were carried to the dissecting-room on Saffron-hill and this day they will be exhibited for public inspection. Legg was in the 25th regiment of foot about sixteen years, was born in Shropshire…. His appearance was prepossessing, an open countenance, about six feet one inch high.


The intention of the court was that Legg should be publicly dissected but the corpse was claimed by a staff surgeon at the Chelsea Hospital, Joseph Constantine Carpue, who had agreed to take part in an unusual experiment at the request of three prominent artists, Thomas Banks, Richard Cosway and Benjamin West.  All three were Royal Academicians; West was in fact the second President, having taken over the position left vacant on the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Banks was a celebrated sculptor, Cosway a portrait painter and the Anglo-American West a painter of historical subjects. These three distinguished men had been debating for some time the questionable anatomical accuracy of crucifixion scenes. They approached Carpue to help them determine the exact effects being nailed and hung from a cross would have on the human body. Conducting the experiment on a live human being would be likely to land them all in serious trouble so they settled on the next best option, experimenting with a fresh corpse.

Thomas Banks
Benjamin West
Richard Cosway

According to Carpue, Legg’s body was removed to a temporary building “erected near the place of the execution; a cross provided. The subject was nailed on the cross; the cross suspended…the body, being warm, fell into the position that a dead body must fall into…When cool, a cast was made, under the direction of Mr Banks, and when the mob was dispersed it was removed to my theatre.” Carpue then flayed the crucified corpse, removing every shred of skin and subcutaneous fat to expose the muscle beneath. Banks made another plaster cast of the body, a classic ecorché. Both casts were later displayed in Banks studio, creating huge public interest before being moved to the Royal Academy where the sculptor hoped they 'might be useful to the Students of the Royal Academy & also to the professor of Anatomy at the time of his giving his lectures as they may be mov'd from the Antique Academy to the Lecture room & back again with very little trouble'. In the 1820’s they were moved to Carpue’s own museum of anatomy. St George’s Hospital inherited the two casts from Carpue and during the First World War the ecorché ended up back at the Royal Academy. The other cast has been lost.

James and friends, now apparently on permanent display in the Royal Academy vaults

Friday, 21 September 2018

Deer stalking at Brookwood Cemetery

Visiting Brookwood Cemetery I did not expect to spend almost as much of my time deer stalking as grave hunting. It had been a last minute decision to go to Woking; I’d actually planned to spend the afternoon at Kensal Green. I had wanted a day off work but couldn’t get the morning because of a meeting I absolutely had to attend. On the way to the office I received a message saying the meeting was cancelled, my boss let me take the whole day off and I swiftly rejigged my plans to take advantage of the extra half day. It was a glorious late summer day. The sun was shining in a cloudless blue sky but luckily a breeze kept the temperature from rising too steeply.  I wasn’t really suitably dressed for a day out in the country, being in a black pin stripe suit. In the cemetery I could have easily been taken for an undertaker I suppose.

Uniquely I think, in Britain at least, Brookwood has its own train station, reached directly from Waterloo (making my way to the train I was swimming against the tide of commuters pouring along the platform on their way to their offices, shops and other places of relentless wage slavery). I was only the only person who got out there. The cemetery is huge and not quite what I expected. I’ll write about it in another post. Just before lunchtime whilst I was taking photos of a mausoleum, from the corner of my eye I caught something moving swiftly out of clump of bushes. I looked up to see the back end of a roebuck disappearing amongst a group of tall headstones. I was mildly surprised but not tempted, at that point, to try and follow. An hour later I was sitting on a tree stump in the sunshine, my jacket off and draped over a funeral urn, eating a sandwich when I saw the deer trot briskly over the road in front of me and take cover under some trees. I stuffed the last of my sandwich in my mouth and threw on my jacket before setting off in pursuit. I cornered my quarry standing next to a road sign announcing St Chads Avenue. As I crept up, telephoto in trembling hand, he watched me nonchalantly over his shoulder, even letting me take a couple of shots before bounding off. For the rest of the afternoon our paths crossed at various times and when they did I trailed my fleet four footed acquaintance as best I could. He gradually started to get used to me I think. He certainly realised I didn’t move quickly enough to pose any sort of threat. He wasn’t dealing with a young Finn Mac Cool who could outrun a deer and wrestle them to the ground before finishing them off with his knife.  After a while he didn’t even bother running from me. When he was tired of my presence a brisk trot was enough to leave me gasping for breath in his wake. But he was pretty tolerant and would stand there watching me creep up on him, nose and scut twitching in unison, posing when I paused to take pictures. In the late afternoon two deer broke across the path in front of me. I thought they were two does at first but 10 minutes later I stumbled across the roebuck in the company of a doe so I must have been mistaken. She took off as soon as she caught sight of me but he stood his ground, allowing me to get my best picture of the afternoon (the one at the top of this post if you aren't sure which one I'm referring to).

Roe deer are not unusual in cemeteries either in the UK or in the United States. In the UK they have been spotted in cemeteries from Sussex and the South coast all the way up to the Glasgow Necropolis. Old cemeteries with their patches of woodland mixed with carefully maintained lawn make ideal habitats. Flowers left on graves are an added attraction. Roe deer love cut flowers, particularly roses. In some places they are considered a pest because of their pilfering of funeral flowers.   In Dufftown, in Moray, home of the Glenfiddich distillery, residents are furious with the local roe deer who brazenly filch flowers from Mortlach cemetery. Some of them demand that the local council take tough action the borough’s cervids. Miss Ross, the village florist (Rustic and Roses on Fife Street), says that her customers “come in and tell us with disappointment that flowers bought from us have been eaten, sometimes on the day they have been put down. It is very upsetting, and it costs a lot of money.” She has been using a special spray on her floral tributes, meant to deter rabbits but so far it has been a losing battle. Moray council has however responded to the clamour for action from the community.  A spokeswoman confirmed that requests for teeth proof metal cages to protect floral tributes can be made through local funeral directors and will be supplied free by the council.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Charity Begins at Home; Miriam Levy (1800-1850), Jewish Cemetery, Brady Street

James Aspinall Turner MP: “All that you infer from this transaction is, that Mr. Levy is a very sharp man of business?”
George Ramsay, Assistant Director of Stores and Clothing: “Very.”

Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the State of the Store and Clothing Depôts at Weedon, Woolwich, and the Tower (1859)

This is the only memorial singled out for attention in Brady Street in the London East volume of Pevsner’s Buildings of England.  The cemetery is, according to Pevsner, “crowded with mainly later Victorian monuments, some of considerable lavishness (e.g. that of Hannah Levy, c1850)…" Although he seems to have muddled up Miriam Levy and Hannah Rothschild, the date indicates that he is definitely referring to the Levy memorial. In truth the monument erected by the middle class rag merchant Moses Levy for his wife is considerably more lavish than the relatively plain identical double chest tombs of the multi millionaire banker and financier Nathan Meyer Rothschild and his wife Hannah. Sharman Kadish in Jewish Heritage in Britain (2006) points out that the memorial has “a very rare Jewish example of a bust of a woman: Miriam, wife of Moses Levy, identified as Miriam Levy 1801-1856, a welfare worker who opened the first soup kitchens in the East End. Her tomb is in the form of a square obelisk with four faces, decorated with figurative reliefs.” We know very little about Miriam Levy but whenever she, or the memorial, is mentioned it is obligatory to say that she was a welfare worker who opened the ‘first kitchen for the poor in Whitechapel.’ Some extend her charity work to ‘the sick and mothers in confinement’, quite possibly assuming she was also responsible for the founding of the former Jewish Maternity Hospital in Spitalfields, popularly known as Mother Levy’s nursing home. In fact there is little evidence to suggest that she was a charity worker, and the respected Cemetery Scribes website, which has investigated the claims remarks that ‘her much vaunted connection to the founding of the Jewish Soup Kitchen still eludes us.’ As the mother of ten children who died at the relatively early age of 50 it is difficult to imagine her ever finding sufficient time to spare from the demands of husband and offspring to feed or nurse the deserving poor of Whitechapel.

The inscriptions on the memorial are in English and Hebrew. The much eroded English is just about decipherable:  Beneath this monument .. deposited the remains of Miriam the beloved wife of Moses Levy Esquire of [L]..[r]oke Terrace, Notting Hill ....... who .. her .. life .. on the .. of November AM ..[5]. 561[6] in her fiftieth year of her age. This monument is erected by her disconsolate husband may her soul rest in peace.
The Hebrew Inscription (courtesy of CemeteryScribes) is a little more effusive and interestingly contains a discrepancy in her age with the English version: 'The tombstone of a pleasant woman; beloved of her husband and of her children too [alt. and a jewel to her children]; departed her home to the deep distress of the husband of her youth and all her family; she is Miriam bat Mr. Yekutiel, the wife of Mr. Moshe bar Eliezer; passed away on Monday 2nd Kislev and buried on Wednesday the 4th inst.; and her husband ,descendants and all her family will deeply mourn for; and "the days of her life" were fifty five years.'
Moses Levy was born in Aldgate c1790, the son of Eliezer and Rosetta Levy who were almost certainly born somewhere in Eastern Europe. Moses was in his fifties before he appears in civic records. In the 1841 census he gives his occupation as rag merchant and he lives with his wife (whose name was recorded as Mary) 9 children (Hannah, Israel, John, Rosetta, Isaac, Sarah, Lewis, Isabella and Rebecca) and one, overworked, servant, Martha Dunstan, in Gravel Lane, E1. As Moses’ business premises are known to have been at 109 Gravel Lane it seems likely that the family effectively lived ‘above the shop’. By the time of the 1851 census there had been something of a miraculous change in fortune for this Jewish East End family. 4 of the children were no longer living with their parents and Miriam had given birth to another daughter, Matilda, in 1844. Moses’ now gave his occupation as the respectable sounding Government Contractor rather than rag merchant and the family was living at Highbury House in Lavender Hill, a house large enough to be called a mansion, in what was then the Surrey countryside. The 3 live in servants now included a coachman!  

How did Moses change his fortunes around? On 28 June 1858 the Tory MP  for Chippenham, Henry George Boldero, an ex army man who was still referred to by Hansard as Colonel Bordero, stood up in the House and ‘humbly addressed’ Her Majesty (in the form of Her Government) to institute a Royal Commission looking at the War Department’s clothing establishment at Weedon.  One of the scandals of the recently ended Crimean War had been the inadequately clothed soldiers and the suffering caused as a result during the severe winter weather conditions in the Caucasus. Formerly regimental Colonels had been responsible for kitting out their own troops with funds supplied by the army. Almost all of them took a cut, larger or smaller, from the money that was supposed to be used for their solder’s kit. A new system was introduced after the war with the Government taking charge of procurement. Unfortunately the new arrangements seemed as prone to financial leakage and irregularities as the old and no doubt Colonel Boldero was pleased to be able to outline the intelligence he had received about the behaviour of War Department Officials, particularly the Assistant Director of Stores and Clothing at Weedon Army Barracks and Government contractors. The substance of Colonel Boldero’s allegations were that George Ramsay, the Assistant Director, was disposing of ‘surplus’ stock to contractors at a loss to the army which then bought back some of the same stock making a double loss for the army and an instant profit for the contractor and, by implication, George Ramsey himself.   According to Hansard he told the house “during the years 1856–7, 800,000 pairs of boots had been received at Weedon, and that 170,000 pairs had been disposed of, but where they had gone to it was impossible to ascertain. A person named Levi, who had made a large fortune, and who was rather shy about coming forward to give evidence, had stated that he had bought 50,000 pairs, and that he had paid for them at an auction at the rate of only about 5s. 5d., notwithstanding that they had cost the Government from 8s. 6d. to 8s. 9d. per pair. Those boots bought at 5s. 5½d. had been resold to persons who were in the habit of contracting for the army, and one of the witnesses who had been examined had honestly stated that he had supplied five militia regiments with some of the boots thus cheaply purchased, and that the Government had paid for them at the rate of 12s. a pair.”   

Rather surprisingly Lord Palmerston’s Whig administration listened to Colonel Boldero and appointed a three man Royal Commission to look into the “state of the Store and Clothing Depôts at Weedon, Woolwich, and the Tower.”  The chairman was Henry James Selfe, barrister, metropolitan police magistrate, and, in his spare time, a dedicated chess player supported by James Aspinall Turner a Manchester cotton manufacturer, Whig MP and amateur entomologist. Turner’s close cross examination of Moses Levy was reported in detail in the Times and other newspapers. In his evidence he reported that he was living at 2 Stanhope Terrace, Hyde Park, and confirmed that his place of business was 109 Gravel Lane, Houndsditch.  He was asked about the purchase of 20,000 pairs of boots which it was claimed he had bought in 1856 from Weedon and which had then turned up at the Tower of London having been bought back by the army in November and December 1856. Moses denied having bought any army surplus boots in 1856 but said that he had bought a consignment of boots that had come from Deptford in July 1857, which he had sold onto a Mr Shaw, and which may perhaps had been purchased by the army from him.  He admitted that he sometimes made mutual arrangements with other contractors not to bid for certain consignments, effectively eliminating competition and keeping the price low. Though he denied buying boots at the Tower he admitted buying 20,000 yards of Oxford Gray cloth at 2 shillings 8 pence a yard from a friend who had bought at 2 shillings 7 and a half pence a yard from the army. He then sold it on to Gilpin the army clothier in Northumberland Street at a price ‘he was not dissatisfied with.’ He did not see anything wrong with the transaction, ‘it was very good cloth and ought not, in his judgement, have been sold. He did not see why the War Department authorities could not have made use of it.’  Mr Turner, the Cotton manufacturer, remarked that the impropriety was not in the witness who bought the cloth, but in it having been to the Tower for sale in the first place. Mr Selfe, who clearly fancied himself a wag, said that the cloth ‘was such as might have been available for the Irish people if it had not been made into trowsers for soldiers.’ The court dutifully laughed, perhaps even Moses raised a smile. After some further questioning by the Chairman during which Moses insisted that he had always bought his goods from the army ‘fairly and honestly in open competition’ and that he ‘was sometimes a loser and at others a gainer’ from his business dealings with the war office. No action was ever taken against him.

I found one other reference to Moses Levy of Gravel Lane in the newspapers. In July 1858 the Nottinghamshire Guardian ran the following intriguing piece:
The London Old Clothes Market.— Mr. Moses Levy of Gravel Lane, Houndsditch, London, has written the history of the Old Clothes .Market, about which the common council of the city have lately made so much noise. Mr. Levy states that this famous mart has existed upwards of a century; but that a few years since, in order to protect the poor dealers from the inclemency of the weather, he was induced by several benevolent members of the Hebrew race to erect a covered building for the use of these small traders in cast off garments, and the mart was removed from Petticoat Lane. Mr. Levy believes there is no discredit attached to the proprietorship of this famous institution; and having incurred a heavy risk in its construction, he does not think he ought to be deprived of the results of what the guardians of public morality lately viewed as a social convenience. He says: — "There are many ‘vested rights’, neither so well founded nor so necessary to the community, concerning which the common council have called out very loudly lately ; but he hopes it will not be forgotten that there is a class of persons— nay, if you so please, the lowest of the low— for whom such a market is — sad though it be to say so — an actual necessity . How the poor live, and how they are clothed, is one of the mysteries of London life. That mystery is solved only by those who are compelled to know thoroughly the Clothes Market in Houndsditch."

Friday, 14 September 2018

The Jewish Cemetery, Brady Street, E1

‘The old Jewish cemeteries are small secretive places, a few acres hidden by high walls and locked doors, often cheek by jowl with new buildings and identified from outside only by the trees that overhang walls topped with broken glass. Brady Street is an oasis in a wilderness of East End urban desolation comprised of waste land and forbidding council flat blocks.’
Hugh Meller & Brian Parsons “London Cemeteries.”
I am not at all happy with the photographs I took on a recent visit to at the Jewish Cemetery in Brady Street, they are truly a substandard crop.  There are two reasons for my disappointment and I hold Louis Berk responsible for both.  Firstly my visit was short, coming at the tail end of a guided walk by Louis through Whitechapel. To be fair he allowed us to wander around the cemetery for much longer than the 20 minutes allotted in the walk timetable but it wasn’t enough for me. I can’t take photographs in a hurry, I need to wander around a site, gradually circling my subject until I find the right angle and then make increasingly miniscule and painstaking adjustments to angle, aperture, exposure etc until I think I might have done enough to get a decent shot. I often end up with 10 almost identical shots of the same subject but that’s the digital revolution for you; only professionals or the extremely wealthy could have afforded to be so meticulous in the age of the film camera. The time available during our visit to Brady Street was too short to indulge in photographic fussiness of this sort and therefore I am convinced I somehow managed to miss out on some great shots. The second reason for the dissatisfaction with my pictures is that last year Louis published a beautiful book of his own photographs taken during a five year project to document Brady Street. Even if I had five years I’m not sure I could come up with anything to rival Louis’ shots so maybe he did me a favour keeping the visit down to a mere 40 minutes.

I was grateful to get into Brady Street at all. These closed Jewish cemeteries in the East End can be difficult to access and I had long wanted to visit here and Alderney Road. In 1761 the New Synagogue helds its first services in hired premises in the Bricklayers Hall, Leadenhall Street. That same year the synagogue trustees leased a former brickfield in Ducking Pond Lane, Whitechapel for the sum of 12 guineas a year and opened the East End’s fourth Jewish Cemetery (the Velho cemetery in Mile End Road was opened by the Sephardi community in 1657, Alderney Road, the first Ashkenazi cemetery, was opened by the Great Synagogue in 1691, and the Novo Sephardi cemetery, also in Mile End Road, in 1733). Demand for burial plots was brisk and despite being extended in 1795 space quickly ran out. The cemetery managed to stay in use for close to a century by adopting the expedient of piling a four foot layer of earth to a large central section to allow additional burials (this solution to the problems caused by high demand and restricted space would also be used by both of London’s Catholic cemeteries).  The new area became known as the Stranger’s Mound as many of those buried there were not affiliated to any particular congregation.  The headstone from the older burial was placed back to back with the headstone from the more recent one (a precedent not followed by the Catholics).
The tombs of Nathan Meyer Rothschild and his wife Hannah can be seen at the back of this shot

The crowded cemetery finally closed for burials in 1857 and remained quietly undisturbed and slowly returning to wilderness for over a hundred years. In the 1980’s Tower Hamlets Council began eyeing up any unused plots of land in the borough that looked like that they may have redevelopment potential.  Four acres of walled off brambles, sycamores and  crumbling headstones within a stones throw of the Mile End Road were crying out to be cleared, levelled and have apartment blocks built on them. Brady Street was saved by Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild, one time Labour party peer who later worked for Margaret Thatcher’s government, ex MI5 man, Cambridge Zoologist, head of research at Shell and old friend of Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess and Kim Philby (the rumours that he was the ‘fourth man’ in the Cambridge spy ring were scotched when it became clear that that title belong to Blunt, and the speculation that in that case perhaps he was the ‘fifth  man’ similarly died when MI5 belatedly admitted that that was John Cairncross. Eventually it had to be accepted that there might have been at least one person who joined MI5 during the war who didn’t end up spying for the Russians and that that person may well have been Victor Rothschild).  L.B. Tower Hamlets were planning to serve a compulsory purchase order to force the United Synagogue to sell the burial ground as it had not been used for 100 years.  When Victor Rothschild died in 1990 he became the first burial in the cemetery since 1857 and effectively prevented redevelopment of the site for at least another 100 years. His pink granite tomb stands next to his ancestors Nathan Meyer Rothschild and his wife Hannah.    
The grave of Solomon Hirschel
Among the prominent memorials in the cemetery is that of Rabbi Solomon Hirschel, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain from 1802 until his death  in 1842. He was a great friend of Nathan Meyer Rothschild according to Bell’s Weekly Messenger who ran short piece on the pair in August 1836;
The late Mr. Rothschild’s manner of evincing kind feelings towards Soloman Herschel, the Grand Rabbi of Duke’s-place had something in which was both singular and whimsical. When any good speculation was afloat, Mr. Rothschild deposited on Dr. Herschel’s account a certain sum, proportionate to his own risk, and whatever percentage or profit accrued therefrom was carried by him to the Rabbi, to whom he gave a full and true account, even to the utmost fraction, the Millionaire, on such occasions, invariably dined with the Levite, and the day was usually passed by the two friends in innocent hilarity and pleasing conversation.
The Rabbi presided over his friends funeral obsequies when he died of an infected abscess in 1836. Rothschild was fabulously  wealthy (some estimate his fortune to be worth the equivalent of around $450 billion today – though these estimates always have to be taken with a pinch of salt) and his funeral was spectacular.  According to the newspapers “among those present on this solemn occasion was every Hebrew of any respectability in the metropolis, as well as several merchants of eminence in the City, “ and “at least 10,000 persons assembled during the procession.” This set off from St Swithins Lane, close to the Bank of England, at 1.00pm on Monday 1 August, headed by a party of city police 4 abreast with a mounted inspector bringing up the rear.  Next came the beadles of the various synagogues and the hearse and forty mourning carriages containing members of the extended Rothschild clan and their Jewish associates. There were a further 35 carriages belonging to the Lord Mayor and Sheriff of London, foreign ambassadors and British noblemen.  As the procession reached the East End it was joined by numbers of silent children from the Jews Orphan School and the Jewish Free School, staff and patients from the Jew’s Hospital. At Brady Street the funeral service was conducted by Mr Aarons, the burial ground rabbi and by Solomon Hirschel who delivered a eulogy in English.  According to the Bucks Herald:
The body was then removed towards the grave, which near the North West corner of the burial-ground. It is built of brick, is only five or six feet deep, and nearly square. The outer coffin is considerable size, and somewhat different in shape to those generally made in this country. It is made of fine oak, and so handsomely carved and decorated with silver handles at both sides and ends, that it appeared more like a cabinet or splendid piece of furniture than a receptacle for the dead. A raised tablet of oak on the breast is carved with the family arms of the deceased. From its great weight (it was said nearly a ton,) some difficulty was experienced in lowering it into its resting place. This, however, was accomplished, and the four sons of the deceased, performing the last melancholy ceremony of acknowledging the judgement death, which is done throwing three handfuls of earth into the grave and on the coffin, were very much affected, so much so that they were obliged to be supported in its performance.

The Cheltenham Journal and Gloucestershire Fashionable Weekly Gazette of Monday 28 November 1842 carried a quite detailed account of the funeral of Rabbi Herschel:
On Monday, Oct. 31st, Rabbi Solomon Herschel, Chief Rabbi of the German and Polish Jews in England, expired at his residence in Bury-court, St. Mary-axe, after a long and severe illness. He had been confined to his house for the greater part of the two last years of his life, in consequence of an accident which he met with about two years ago, by which his thigh was dislocated…. his mortal remains were deposited in the Jews' Burial ground, in North-street, Mile-end-road. At ten o'clock the body was removed from his late residence, and conveyed on a bier to the synagogue adjoining, where it was received by the Rev. S. S. Ashur, the principal reader, attended by the several readers of the different synagogues of the metropolis. The synagogue was crowded to excess by the most wealthy and influential members of the Jewish persuasion, all of whom were most anxious to offer this last tribute of respect to the worth and talents of the deceased. On the entrance of the hearers with the body, the Rev. S. S. Ashur, commenced the service by saving "This the gate of the Lord into which the righteous shall enter," and preceding the body towards the holy ark, chanted the 15th Psalm. The bier having been deposited front of the ark, the Rev. gentleman, assisted by the choir and the congregation, read the following Psalms, viz., 17th, the 23rd, the 49th, and the 44th Psalms. At the conclusion of this part of the ceremony, the bearers commenced removing, the body for conveyance to the burial ground, during which the reader pronounced several verses  from the Old Testament, and as they drew near the door of the synagogue, said, " Behold his bed, which Is Solomon’s, three-score valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel, they all hold swords  being expert in war, every man hath his sword upon his thigh, because of fear in the night" and concluded with, "The Lord bless thee, and ke ep thee, the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious onto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." ….The hearse, containing the body , was followed by upwards of 100 carriages filled with the friends of the deceased, and other members of the Jewish persuasion. The private carriages of the Lord Mayor, Mr. Baron Rothschild, Sir Moses Montefiore, and several other gentlemen, closed the mournful cavalcade. On the arrival of the procession at the burial-ground, the body was deposited on a bier at the centre of the synagogue, attended by six boys, holding lighted wax tapers, three on each side the coffin. The Rev. S. S. Ashur, with the other readers, then placed themselves at the feet, and when the whole were commenced reading extracts from the Old Testament after which they performed various circuits round the bier, chanting the 91st Psalm after every circuit. The body was then conveyed to the burial-Ground, preceded by the readers, and the boys holding the lighted candles, and finally deposited in a brick grave, about seven feet in depth, situate about the centre of the ground, and the ceremony being completed, the whole of the friends and attendants retired.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

'Sinners prepare to meet your judge!'; Sarah & John Wheatly (died 1790 and 1823), Bunhill Fields

The Grade II* listed Swithland slate headstone of Sarah and John Wheatly of Ave Maria Lane, EC4 is unusual, perhaps unique, in London; in the midlands however there are thousands of them. It was produced in 1790 and has the original elaborate mason’s signature; J. Winfield of Wimswould (now generally spelt Wymeswold) along the bottom edge.  In his book Of Graves and Epitaphs Kenneth Arthur Lindley notes that ‘the proximity of Swithland and its beautiful slate and the genius of native craftsmen have made Wymeswold churchyard one of the finest in England.’  The town was a centre for production of finely crafted slate products which included sundials, clockfaces, milestones, fireplaces and thousands of headstones. The slate came from quarries in the Charnwood Forest area of Leicestershire and was finely grained, allowing for sharp, detailed, carving. It is a very durable material, making this one of Bunhill’s best preserved memorials.  The lettering and carving are almost pristine, as crisp now as they would have been when John Winfield first chiselled them out 220 years ago.  

Historic England’s official listing of the memorial says that “slate from the Midlands began to be available for use in London in the later C18 due to the growth of the canal network,” implying that the memorial made its way sedately to London along the various braches of the Grand Union Canal but this can’t be correct. When John Winfield completed the headstone in the early 1790’s the canals were not yet built and it must have come the 112 miles from Leicestershire packed carefully in straw on a horse drawn cart.
John Wheatly presumably had Leicestershire connections and either he or Sarah (and quite possibly both) may well have grown up there. When his wife died he commissioned John Winfield to produce this beautiful headstone with its elegant lettering and inset roundel .  As well as such well worn metaphors of mortality as a skull and crossbones (with the word 'mortality' helpfully inscribed across the top of the cranium), a cross, an anchor, a snuffed candle, an urn (‘dust to dust’) a scroll (‘ashes to ashes’) we also have a globe with the words ‘the great globe itself shall dissolve’ which is, of course, a quote from Propero’s speech at the end of ‘The Tempest’:
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind: We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The headstone is divided into two equal columns, the one on the left initially being left blank for John Wheatly’s details to be added when he eventually died. The right hand column contains Sarah Wheatly’s details in a variety of flowery and ornate scripts and contains a short devotional verse:
Sinners prepare to meet your judge, your God
His Throne approacheth w[ith] Faith in Jesus Blood
Redemption's only Price, Man's ransom paid
Long in Affliction's Night my Soul allay[e]d:
Triumphing in his Cross, her house of Clay
Now cheerful quits for realms of endless Day

The verse seems to be an original composition albeit cobbled together out of a variety of well worn biblical phrases, perhaps John Wheatly fancied himself a poet? His own epitaph simply records his name and dates of birth and death in a simple copperplate script as though no one could really be bothered to think of anything more to say about the old man when he finally died at the age of 84 in 1823. We don’t know much about John Wheatly. He was a newsvendor who lived at 4 Ave Maria Lane and he was a subscriber to Paul Wright DD’s resoundingly titled The Christian's New and Complete British Family Bible, being a New, Clear, Full, and Universal Exposition and Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. Containing the Whole of the Sacred Text of the Holy Bible, as Contained in the Old and New Testaments, with the Apocrypha, at Large. Illustrated with Most Valuable Notes and Annotations, Theological, Critical, Moral, Divine, Historical, Geographical, Systematical, Biographical, Practical, Admonitory, Chronological and Explanatory.  The Wheatly's son Edward took over the family business when John grew too old and infirm to carry it on himself. Other than that his life is a cipher.  
Ave Maria Lane by the way is a street to the west of St. Paul's, an extension of Warwick Lane between Amen Corner and Ludgate Hill.  Tradition has it that on the feast day of Corpus Christi, monks would hold a procession to St Paul’s setting off from Paternoster Row chanting the Lord's Prayer (Pater noster being the opening words of the Latin version of the prayer).  They would reach the final "Amen" as they turned the corner into Ave Maria Lane which to this day is still known as Amen Corner  after which they would chant the Hail Mary, which of course in Latin is Ave Maria.