Buckingham Road cemetery is unkempt and dilapidated though not, as many disused London cemeteries are, wildly overgrown and returning to a state of nature. It perhaps has more than its fair share of vandalised graves, dozens of memorial stones in some parts of the cemetery have been toppled, altar tombs have been demolished and most of the few statues are missing limbs, wings or heads. When local residents and cemetery users complained to Redbridge Council in 2017 about neglect of the site claiming it was potholed, strewn with litter, beer cans and the remains of arson and fly tipping, a spokesman for the council responded by telling the local paper that the cemetery “is squarely in the middle of the borough’s rough sleepers and street drinking hot spot. Redbridge police, our own enforcement officers as well as the rough sleepers outreach team visit regularly to offer help and to keep order.” The council was, the spokesman promised, going to fix fences and repair paths and access roads as well as clearing up the rubbish “however carrying out this work is made difficult with the number of rough sleepers on site and the area needs to be cleared of litter and drug paraphernalia in advance.” Although there was evidence of at least one rough sleeper when I was there last week, the unruly hordes of down and outs cluttering up the place a couple of years ago seem to have largely moved on.
At around 1.00am on the 9th September 2010 police were called to reports of an injured man on Ilford High Road, close to the cemetery. They found a badly beaten 58 year old Git Singh unconscious on the pavement. Following another call at 3.30am they picked up 43 year old Harteerth Singh outside the cemetery, also with serious injuries. Later that morning, when it was light enough, the police returned to the area to search for evidence of the vicious attacks on the two homeless men. This time they found they found the corpse of 31 year old Harbarjan Singh who had died of horrific head and neck injuries inflicted with a blunt, heavy instrument. The two injured men soon recovered sufficiently to be able to identify their attacker, 57 year old Jaswinder Singh of Town Road, Enfield. The three men slept rough, sometimes in the cemetery, sometimes in a car park belonging to nearby business premises. A few before the murder the three men had been involved in an altercation with Jaswinder outside a supermarket. Being outnumbered he had been at the receiving end of a beating that day and had sworn vengeance. Shortly before midnight on the 8th September he had tracked the three down to the cemetery and bludgeoned them with an iron crow bar while they slept. Jaswinder was an illegal migrant who had entered the UK from India in 1995. He had previous convictions and served prison sentences for violence in the UK and Germany. Authorities made four unsuccessful attempts to deport him back to India after each conviction but he was back in gaol for another offence before the deportation order came through. “You are obviously a man with a tendency to explosive and eruptive violence, quite disproportionate to any perceived provocation,” said Judge Richard Hone at Jaswinder’s trial at the Old Bailey. He gave him a life sentence, specifying a minimum term of 24 years.
On the 24th January 2018 Ilford police were called to A-Z Furniture and Carpets on the High Road by 31year old shop worker Imran Muhammed. A surprisingly calm Muhammed, who was bleeding from lacerations on his forearms, told police that he had been robbed in the shop and slashed with broken glass by a group of unknown men. Something did not quite add up for the investigating detectives and their suspicions only increased a couple of days later when the wife of the 49 year old shop manager, Seyed Khan, reported her husband missing since the evening of the 24th. He had left his South London home in Thamesmead at 5.00pm to go to the shop and had not come home that night. Police soon found Khan’s car parked nearby on the High Road and a check of his phone records showed that he had made a call on his mobile at 6.55pm probably from the shop. Muhammed claimed that he had never shown up for work that evening. Khan’s wife told the police that he had told her that he suspected one of the shop staff was stealing money and that he intended to sack him. On the first of February the police began a thorough search of the local area using tracker dogs. Buckingham Road Cemetery was a 10 minute walk away from the shop and it was there that the dogs found Khan’s body hidden in undergrowth. When questioned Muhammed immediately admitted murdering Khan. He told the police that he had killed his boss with an axe after he had made sexual advances towards him. He said that Khan had tried to rape him on more than one occasion and had also tried to blackmail. That night he snapped and cleaved his skull open with an axe. He had then put in the body in a supermarket trolley from the nearby Aldi, covered it with an offcut of carpet and wheeled it up the road to the cemetery where he had hidden it amongst some bushes. He then returned to the shop, cleaned up and painted over the bloodstains on the wall, and then cut his own arms with a broken bottle before calling the police to tell them that the shop had been robbed. When detectives checked Muhammed’s internet browsing history they discovered that four days before the attack he had searched google for ‘how to kill a man with a punch, ‘how to kill a man with a hammer’ and ‘brain injuries’. The Old Bailey jury refused to believe that Khan, a father of four, had sexually attacked Muhammed and convicted him of murder.
Buckingham Road is one of the few cemeteries in the capital missed from that otherwise meticulous and exhaustive work of reference Hugh Meller and Brian Parson’s ‘London Cemeteries’. The reason for its absence is probably a certain ambiguity over its status; is it a cemetery or merely an overextended churchyard? Ilford became an independent parish from neighbouring Barking in 1830 and the new parish church of St Mary’s Great Ilford built the following year to a design by James Savage. The church had a small churchyard which was used for burials and which quickly became filled when the population of the parish began to grow at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1880 the parish established a burial board which bought vacant land behind the church and laid out a new cemetery, including a chapel (since demolished). The first burial took place on 4th September 1881. The cemetery was initially separated from the churchyard by a brick wall but this too has been demolished. There are few distinguished people buried in the cemetery. Sir Peter Griggs, a local householder who laid out much of Ilford’s new estates in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and became the town’s first MP has the tallest memorial surmounted by an angel (well out of reach of even the most determined vandal). The artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare is buried in his father’s grave (more of him another day) and the bird illustrator John Gerrard Keulemans is buried in an unmarked grave.
A toppled grave in the centre of the cemetery marks the final resting place of 45 year old George Ward, ‘a devoted husband, a loving father, a faithful friend’ who died August 17 1928 at Ilford train station. George had worked for WH Smith’s since 1897 and was manager of the station bookstall when he died. The Essex Newsman of 25 August takes up the story:
ILFORD RAILWAY TRAGEDY. SMITH'S MANAGER KILLED. Mr. George Ward, aged 45, of Madras Road, Ilford, who had been manager of Messrs. W. H. Smith and Son's bookstall at Ilford station for years, was knocked down and killed by a train last Friday. Mr. Ward was married man. He was crossing the line to open a stall on the other side of the station, and apparently did not notice the train coming. Dr. Ambrose held an inquest at the Ilford Town Hall Tuesday, and in returning verdict of Accidental death. said: Familiarity breeds contempt, and after twenty-seven years of dodging across the line he tried to get across and was knocked down."