Friday, 25 January 2019

" grows late boys, let us dismiss...."; Captain Matthew Flinders (1774-1814), St James burial ground, Hampstead Road

Flinders' coffin plate photographed in situ by archaeologists from the Museum of London

Below is a post I originally wrote almost five years ago when construction work on the HS2 high speed rail link was just starting. This morning I opened my copy of the Times (the online version of course, I can’t remember the last time I handled a real newspaper) to see the headline HS2 takes bones of explorer Matthew Flinders on an adventure and read that the team from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) working on what was the old burial ground of St James, Hampstead Road had, against all the odds, actually succeeding in locating the mortal remains of Captain Matthew Flinders thanks to his funeral director having the foresight to secure an almost incorruptible lead coffin plate bearing his name to the lid of his coffin. The discovery was actually made on the 15th January but a news black out appears to have been maintained for the last nine days to ensure that its eventual release comes at a time when it will have maximum impact – the eve of Australia Day. Virtually every news outlet in the UK and Australia seems to have picked up on the story. At the time of my original post rumour had it that Flinders was probably buried beneath Platform 15 of Euston Station but unfortunately this turns out not to have been the case. The human remains gathered by the archaeologists from the 40,000 burials at St James will all be reinterred in consecrated ground; whether any special provision is made for Captain Flinders has not yet been made clear. Perhaps he will end up in Westminster Abbey?
Ernest Scott in his 1914 ‘Life of Captain Matthew Flinders R.N.’ (from which I took almost all the details below of Flinders’ death) mentions that “Flinders died at 14 London Street, Fitzroy Square, and was buried in the graveyard of St. James's, Hampstead Road, which was a burial ground for St. James's, Piccadilly. No man now knows exactly where his bones were laid. (The vicar of St. James's, Piccadilly, who examined the burial register in response to an enquiry by Mr. George Gordon McCrae, of Melbourne, in 1912, states that the entry was made, by a clerical error, in the name of Captain Matthew Flanders, aged 40.)”. The burial register for St James is now on line courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archive and as you can see below the vicar was quite correct, Flinders surname is recorded as Flanders.
Flinders entry from the burial registry of St James Westminster with surname incorrectly given as Flanders

My original post:

According to the Australian press today (28.02.14) Network Rail management have been engaged in “high level talks” to discuss what they will do in the event that construction work at Euston on the the HS2 high speed rail link accidentally exhumes anyone originally interred in St James burial ground.  They are especially worried if the exhumation is of Captain Matthew Flinders of the Royal Navy who was buried there in 1814. The possibility of some JCB accidentally digging up the explorers bones comes on the 200 anniversary of his death and at a time when a statue of him will be erected on the mezzanine floor of the new station concourse.

Captain Matthew Flinders RN
Flinders is not well known in England. In Australia he is a national hero with almost a hundred memorials to commemorate him and his achievements. In the UK there is just one memorial to him, a relatively recent statue erected in his home town of Donington in Lincolnshire. As a boy he read ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and conceived a desire to run away to sea which he put into practice by joining the Royal Navy at the age of 15. He served under Captain Bligh on the second Breadfruit expedition (the one after the Bounty). He made several voyages to Australia and the quality of his surveys brought him to the attention to the gentlemen of the Royal Society, particularly Sir Joseph Banks. In 1801 Flinders was given command of HMS Investigator. Over the next two years he circumnavigated Australia exploring and surveying almost the entire coastline. By the time the expedition was over and Flinders had returned to Sydney on June 9 1803, his ship was a virtual wreck and was judged to be unseaworthy and condemned.  He tried to return home on HMS Porpoise but the ship was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef and he had to return to Sydney in the ships cutter. His next attempt to get home in a 29 ton schooner the Cumberland was even more disastrous. The boat was in such poor condition that he had to stop in Mauritius for repairs. The island was controlled by the French who had been at war with the British since May. The Governor of the island immediately arrested Flinders and requested instructions from France about what to do with the British captain.  He was not released until 1810, spending 6 and a half years on Mauritius.

When he finally returned to England he was in poor health. He spent the next few years writing an account of  his last expedition “A Voyage to Terra Australis.” The proofs of his book were brought to him on his deathbed but he was already unconscious and never saw them. He died at home, 14 London Street, Fitzroy Square on the 19th July 1814 at the age of 40. His wife was at his bedside and his two year old daughter and a family friend in the next room. His wife had laid the proofs of his book on the bed so that he could touch them and shortly before he died he started back into consciousness for a few seconds and called out hoarsely for “my papers” before falling back into his pillow and dying. A friend who wrote an account of his death has different last words, supposedly muttered to a doctor who was attending him; “but it grows late boys, let us dismiss…” He was buried in the burial ground of St James, Hampstead Road, a chapel of ease for St James, Piccadilly. The site of grave quickly became lost, even to the family. His daughter later wrote that her Aunt Tyler had gone looking for “his grave, but found the churchyard remodelled, and quantities of tombstones and graves with their contents had been carted away as rubbish, among them that of my unfortunate father, thus pursued by disaster after death as in life.” What caused such chaos in the churchyard is not known. Further burials were forbidden by the Metropolitan Interment Act of 1853 and the burial ground was closed. In 1883 an acre of the churchyard was sold to the London and North Western Railway for £8000 for the Euston Station extension. The rest was initially lad out as gardens and then later turned into a car park for the nearby Temperance Hospital. The 1791 burial chapel eventually became a parish church in it’s own right but by 1954 the number of parishioners had fallen to an extent that forced the church authorities to unite the parish with that of St Pancras. The church was closed and demolished in 1964.  
St James and the tollgate, Hampstead Road

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

The Convergence of the Twain; J. Bruce Ismay (1862-1937) Putney Vale Cemetery

And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.
Thomas Hardy

Within a hundred yards of each other at Putney Vale are buried two of the 51 victims of the sinking of the Marchioness in the Thames in 1989 and one of the 700 or so survivors of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. J. Bruce Ismay was no ordinary survivor of the tragedy though; his father had founded the White Star Line in Liverpool in 1845 and in 1899, following the old man’s death, Ismay became the Chairman of the company. In 1902 he sold it to JP Morgan and Co in return for becoming the President of the International Mercantile Marine Company, the holding company that controlled White Star and many other shipping lines. In 1907 Ismay commissioned Harland & Wolff to build three luxury liners, the Olympic, the Titanic and the Britannic, in response to the competition posed by Cunard’s recently completed Lusitania and Mauretania. The Olympic was the first of the trio to be completed, her maiden voyage took place in June 1911. The Titanic was the second to be built in Harland & Wolff’s Belfast shipyard, it’s first (and of course last) voyage started on 10th April 1912 in Southampton. Ismay occasionally accompanied new White Star ships on their maiden voyages and took the fateful decision to be present at the launching of their latest and most magnificent vessel.  The story of that voyage is too well known for me to need to retell it here; the supposedly unsinkable ship met the iceberg on the night of 14th April and went down in less than 3 hours; 1500 people died because there were not enough lifeboats and the band played on until it sank beneath the icy waves of the north Atlantic.

20 minutes before the Titanic sank Ismay climbed into the last lifeboat.  As far as public opinion went, the only honourable course of action for him to take that night would have been to go down with the ship. The official British enquiry exonerated him, but of course no one would have expected anything else, the establishment merely looking after one of its own;   "Mr. Ismay, after rendering assistance to many passengers, found "C" collapsible, the last boat on the starboard side, actually being lowered. No other people were there at the time. There was room for him and he jumped in. Had he not jumped in he would merely have added one more life, namely, his own, to the number of those lost,” was the enquiry’s conclusion on his conduct. He would never be forgiven for saving himself and would find himself branded the Coward of the Titanic for the rest of his natural life and his reputation tarnished beyond the grave.  Following the disaster British and American newspapers (particularly the Hearst papers) vilified him for leaving women and children to drown on the foundering ship whilst escaping.   Rumour enlarged his part in the disaster by claiming that the reason for the collision was that he had ordered Captain Smith to conduct speed trials; this particular version of events became the basis of the plot of the 1943 Nazi propaganda film about the Titanic in which Ismay, and the British establishment, were the villains and the hero an upright, noble and fictitous German first officer who denounces Ismay at the official British enquiry. All subsequent films about the disaster portray him in an entirely negative light. Following the disaster he spent the rest of his life maintaining an understandably low profile and trying to come to terms with the traumatic event in which he had played such a key part and trying to justify the entirely understandable desire not to die alongside the other victims. 

Ismay’s very unusual memorial in Putney Vale cemetery was originally three stones representing the prow, mast and stern of a ship. The upright slab representing the prow is inscribed on one side with a verse from the King James version of the Epistle of James 3;4;

Behold also the ships which though they be so great,
and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about
with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

On the other side is a lattice pattern of curved and straight lines. The central stone, the mast, is a chest tomb with sailing ships carved on its sides and a compass at one end. There is something crude, almost primitive about the decoration; in ‘The Art of Memory’ Richard Barnes says that “on seeing these rough cuts my first thoughts were of scrimshaw designs marked with blackened cuts on whalebone and walrus tusk.” The final stone, the stern, is a stone bench carved with a rough pattern representing plants and a verse from Elizabeth Barrett Browning on the back rest;

The little birds sang East, the little birds sang West
And I smiled to think God’s greatness flowed around our incompleteness,
Round our restlessness, his rest.

The designer and creator of the memorial was the sculptor Alfred Gerrard whose best known work is the architectural figures on the London Underground Building in St James representing the winds (which also includes figures by Eric Gill and Henry Moore amongst others).  Gerrard had worked on a series of wooden panels featuring golden horses for the White Star Line. Ismay’s wife Julia seems to have commissioned the memorial and presumably she had met the sculptor when he worked for her husbands company. She was also buried here in 1963 when a ledger stone bearing her details was added to the assemblage between the chest tomb and the bench.   

Friday, 11 January 2019

Anna's Ashes; Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), Golders Green Crematorium

She may have been born in St Petersburg and died in the Hague but the great Russian prima ballerina was a local, living at Ivy House on North End Road, NW11 from 1912 until her premature death in 1931. Her final resting place at the Golders Green Crematorium is a stately 10 minute hearse drive away from her former residence. The niche that holds her urn, flanked by kitsch porcelain figurines of a ballerina and a swan, once also held a pair of her pink pointe ballet shoes but these were stolen by an opportunist thief visiting the columbarium. The position of the figurines in photographs appears immoveable so they may have been glued in place since the disappearance of the ballet shoes.  The urn lies in a double niche divided into two by a shelf. The urn below Anna’s belongs to her husband/accompanist/manager Victor DandrĂ©. A clause in his will almost led to their eternal separation when Anna’s remains were about to be repatriated to Russia.
Anna was on tour on the continent in the winter of 1930 when she caught a cold leaving a train in only her pajamas and dressing gown in the middle of a bitterly cold December night to investigate the cause of a delay. The cold turned first to flu, then pneumonia and pleurisy. The New York Times of January 23 1931 announced her death:
THE HAGUE, Friday, Jan. 23 -- Mme. Anna Pavlova, the greatest dancer of her time, died of pleurisy at the Hotel des Indes here at 12:30 this morning. The end came despite every effort of two Dutch physicians and her own Russian doctor, Professor Valerski, to save her.
Yesterday an operation was performed to withdraw water from one of her lungs. At 10 o'clock last night her condition was extremely serious and as a last resort it was decided to administer Pasteur vaccine. It came too late, however, for she was already sinking and she died soon after midnight.
Ill for Three Day: Mme. Pavlova, who died after a three-day illness with influenza and pleurisy, was 45 years old and lacked only eight days of being 46, as her birthday was Jan. 31. The dancer fell ill on Tuesday after she had come here on tour from Paris and at first it was believed that she merely was suffering from grip as the result of a slight cold contracted in Paris. Later the combination of pleurisy and influenza developed, which was complicated by a weakness of the heart. With the dancer at the end was her husband and accompanist, Victor d'Andre, whom she married in 1924.     
Anna and her pet swan Jack at Ivy House - 1920's.
60 years later, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, calls began for the return of the ballerina’s ashes to Russia. The initial calls came from a Dutch couple Jean Thomassen and Ine Veen who started an international action to require the crematorium to send Pavlova’s remains back to Russia to be interred in the Novodevichye Cemetery in Moscow in the company of a large number of cultural luminaries including Chekov, Bulgakov, Bely, Prokofiev, Eisenstein and Gogol. When the Thomassen’s wearied of the battle their place was taken by Valentina Zhilenkova and her Anna Pavlova Foundation of Mercy, Yury Luzhkov the Mayor of Moscow and the Committee for Russian and Slavonic Art backed by the Russian Ministry of Culture. Although Pavlova had never expressed any desire for her mortal remains to be sent back to the motherland her husband’s will contained a clause which stipulated that her remains were to stay at Golders Green and could only returned to Russia if a formal request were made and the Russian authorities agreed to treat her remains with proper reverence. Although the crematorium was reluctant to lose one of its major stars relentless lobbying for a decade by the Russians finally led to a change of heart in 2000.  Earl Grey, chairman of the London Cremation Company, told journalists, “we consulted with all the necessary authorities and it has now been agreed that this is an appropriate time for the ashes to be transferred to the guardianship of the Anna Pavlova Foundation of Mercy in Moscow."
A date of March 2001 was set for the transfer and plans were put into place. A tomb was made ready in the  Novodevichye Cemetery, air freight arrangements made, and VIP’s, including the stars of the Bolshoi Ballet and senior politicians, were invited to a ceremony to welcome back Anna and Victor on 14 March. But even in Russia itself the plan was not unopposed. Anna’s niece Valentina Trifonova told reporters that the surviving members of the family could not "understand why her remains are being disturbed, or who stands to benefit from the ashes going to Moscow." The Russian culture minister, Mikhail Shvydkoy, whose ministry had previously supported the plan now suddenly had "grave doubts about the organisations which have initiated the burial of this great ballerina's remains. It is better not to touch people's ashes unless their express desire otherwise has been registered," he said, “"The people who have prompted this campaign refer to her last wishes but cannot produce any evidence that this is what she wanted. Moreover her husband, Victor Dandre, made no plans for a posthumous journey to Russia. Therefore the legitimacy of such a burial is dubious in the extreme." The cultural establishment of St Petersburg also strongly objected to the plan; Leonid Nadirov, the director of the ballet school from which Pavlova graduated in 1899, wrote to President Putin appealing to him to put a stop to the burial. Just a few days before the ceremony was due to take place the Moscow authorities suddenly announced that they had withdrawn permission for Anna’s ashes to be returned to Russia. She remains, with Victor, at Golders Green.  

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

A Christmas Eve visit to Kensal Green Cemetery

Unlike Ebenezer my employer allows us to put down our quills, stopper the ink wells, switch off our laptops and knock off work early on Christmas Eve. Instead of heading back home into the bosom of my family I normally, if the weather is halfway decent, head off to a cemetery instead. It’s a traditional thing to do at Christmas after all, ask Dickens; Ebenezer visited one with the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and found the experience transformative. When I worked in Vauxhall Brompton Cemetery was my preferred spot but now I work in Kings Cross Kensal Green is just a few stops away via the Metropolitan and Bakerloo lines. You can’t loiter for hours on a December afternoon just a few days after the winter solstice, the sun sets at just before 4.00 and the cemeteries close their gates at 4.30.

The cemetery was busier than I had ever seen it before on a weekday.  Christmas is the closest we get to having a day of the dead in the UK.  Many people feel the urge to visit departed relatives, even if they have ignored them all year.  Many cemeteries, including Kensal Green, even open on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, though generally only in the mornings. There was a steady stream of visitors, generally arriving by car, almost always clutching some floral tribute and never staying more than 10 or 15 minutes.  I noticed a middle aged man and a couple of young women lurking in the gloom behind John St John Long’s tomb on Central Avenue where Harold Pinter’s grave is to be found. Pinter died of cancer ten years previously to the day, 24 December 2008 and his visitors could have been relatives, friends or admirers. After standing in respectful silence for a few minutes they left, picking their way through the mud and puddles, in the direction of the exit. 

Ring necked parakeets
As the sun began to set the other visitors gradually melted away leaving me in the company of the crows.  I stood watching a half dozen of them bounding across the turf, pausing  from occasionally to cock their heads from side to side, minutely examining the ground first with one eye then the other, in the perpetual pursuit of something edible. When I left the crows a fox crossed the path in front of me, turning its head momentarily to glance in my direction before disappearing into a thicket of gravestones. In the Scotsman of December 1945 a reader recalled spotting a deer here in the closing months of the war, near to the Robert Owen monument. The cemetery authorities apparently knew about the deer and assumed it was a stray from a park; nowadays the nearest deer would be in Richmond Park which is quite a distance for a deer to stray. In the bare trees some increasingly loud squawking began to drown out the cawing of the crows and marked the presence of something far more exotic than a deer. With the sun halfway below the horizon the trees were already in shadow and it was hard to make out any details of the dozens of birds screeching in the leafless branches. But then another wave of them arrived, flying above the crown of the trees and high enough for their vermilion beaks and coral green plumage to catch the dying sunlight; ring necked parakeets. At dusk in autumn and winter these avian invaders from the Indian subcontinent gather in large flocks, known as ‘pandemoniums’, to roost together in noisy conviviality. These roosts can be up to a thousand birds strong but the one in the cemetery wasn’t as large as that. There were easily a couple of hundred though, arriving in waves 30 seconds to a minute apart, each new group of arrivals setting off more ear splitting screeching.  A breeding colony of Psittacula krameri were first reported in Surrey in the 1960’s and since then their range and density has spread to include almost the whole of London. The London population is supposedly increasing by 30% a year and they are so common now in fact that they are often referred to as ‘posh pigeons’. They love cemeteries; I’ve spotted them in Lewisham, Abney Park in Hackney, and the City of London Cemetery in Ilford as well as Kensal Green. But I’d never seen quite so many together in one place or been subjected to so many of them making their raucous racket at the same time.  
The tomb of William Holland (died 1853) funeral director

The memorial of HRH Princess Sophia (1777-1848), the twelfth child of George III and Queen Charlotte
The tomb of William Mulready (1811-63).