Wednesday, 27 November 2019

The four dead sisters and the photographer; Alexander Julius Henry Friedmann (1836?-1904) burial place unknown

'Four nuns laid out in caskets' courtesy of the George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY14607

The spectacle of four dead nuns neatly laid out in their coffins rather grabs the attention. Or so I found when I was scrolling through recent posts from The Victorian Book of the Dead a few months ago. Do you know it? Chris Woodyard of Haunted Ohio issues a constant stream of Twitter and Facebook posts featuring a miscellany of funeral and death related links culled from the web; antique coffins, post mortem photos, newspaper clippings, objet d’art, mourning clothes, hearses, and a myriad of other items calculated to whet the morbid appetite. A faded sepia photograph from the George Eastman Museum showed the four nuns in laundered habits and pristine wimples laid out in their coffins in a orderly row on a trestle table with four wax candles in brass holders burning at each corner and surrounded by living flowers in plant pots. As the only story I know involving four dead nuns is the  wreck of the ‘Deutschland’ I couldn’t help thinking that the four sisters could well be Barbara Hultenschmidt, Norbeta Reinkobe, Aurea Badziura and Brigitta Damhorst, who drowned aboard the foundering ship, were buried in St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Leytonstone and commemorated in Gerard Manly Hopkins famous poem. Chris unfortunately didn’t have any details of who the nuns were and neither did the George Eastman Museum which simply records their exhibit as ‘Four nuns laid out in caskets’, an albumen silver print of a photograph taken by H. Friedmann circa 1865.  It says its provenance is British and that it was purchased with funds from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, from the collection of Walter A. Johnson. I had never heard of the photographer but there is an inscription on the reverse of the photo: ‘H. Friedmann / PHOTOGRAPHER / 50 THE GROVE / STRATFORD / & / at Leytonstone.’ This clinched it; the funeral  service for the four nuns, conducted by Cardinal Manning no less, took place in the St Francis of Assisi church at 160 The Grove, Stratford and this is where H. Friedmann must have taken his photograph, probably just before the funeral service was held on 13 December 1875.   

When I searched for other photos of the four nuns in their coffins all I could find was a small grainy black and white shot taken from the same angle as the Eastman Museum photo but featuring a priest and two live nuns in addition to the four dead ones. It looks as though H. Friedmann exposed at least two plates that day. I was intrigued by H. Friedmann – who was this Stratford based photographer? Web searches revealed relatively little – samples of his work turn up from time to time on e-bay where they can be bought for £2 or £3. I found  a few standard studio portraits, one of a couple (woman standing behind seated man, of course), an old lady holding a book, a young man with carefully slicked down and side parted hair and a young woman in pearl earrings who appears to be dressed in mourning with a rather splendid ruffled crepe hat with what could be a dyed ostrich feather twined around the front. The reverse of one of these photos (‘The Negative is preserved and duplicates may be had at any time’) tells us that Henry Friedmann of 126 The Grove, Stratford, London E was an ‘Art Photographer’. It isn’t much of a photographic legacy to have left but the picture of the nuns of the Deutschland is hitherto unknown as far as I can tell. With a little more forensic digging around in newspaper archives and in birth, marriage and death records and census returns a more rounded picture emerged of this obscure Stratford photographer. 

Henry Friedmann was born, according to census returns, in Austria around 1836. At that time the Austrian empire included parts of modern day Germany, Italy, Serbia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland as well as Austria. I could only find one, unfortunately indecipherable, reference to Henry’s hometown which seems to say Whyan. No such place seems to exist (perhaps it is meant to be Vienna?) and so his exact origins remain a mystery. His parents, who named him Alexander Julius Henry Friedmann were Michael and Rebekah and they probably brought their family to England sometime in the 1840’s. The earliest record I can find of Henry in the UK is a baptism record dated December 13 1859 from Christ Church, Spitalfields (the now demolished Watney Street church rather than Hawksmoor’s masterpiece) when the 24 year old was working as a hairdresser and living in Canon Street. It is an unusual age at which to get baptised; perhaps the family was Jewish. The spelling of his mother’s first name is and the area they were living in had a large Jewish population. The reason for Henry’s conversion was his marriage; this took place a couple of days later in the same church to 16 year old Emma Hoggett, who had been born in St Werburgh’s in Derby but who was now living with her ironmonger father William and mother Rosana in Old Gravel Lane in Wapping.

24 year old Henry Friedmann's baptism record
Henry and Emma's marriage record
The newly married couple moved to St George Street, E1 after the wedding and had their first child, a daughter named Emma after her mother, a year later. Their second child, this time a boy named Julius after his father, was born in 1862. We lose sight of the family from the 1861 census until September 1867 when a story in the Essex Standard abruptly shines a revealing light into the state of Henry’s marriage and his family life. The newspaper headline reads ‘Melancholy Suicide’ and the story is of an inquest held in Chigwell into the death of Elizabeth Moore, a young woman who had been a servant in Henry’s household in Victoria Park and then had moved into lodgings in Chigwell. Mrs Darby, Elizabeth’s landlady, told the coroner that Elizabeth lived with Henry as his wife. Henry, who gives his profession as photographer, told the inquest that on Saturday 8th September he had been out with Elizabeth to High Beech in Epping Forest. When they came home he instructed his mistress to get some tea and insisted on her drinking some with him. Reluctantly she did but she refused to eat. He told her he would return on Sunday morning and bring some meat with him but she said that she would never do anything for him again. He asked if she were going to leave him to which she answered “You will see.” Henry told the inquest that he was separated from his wife but despite this quite possibly returned home to Victoria Park that night when he left Elizabeth in Chigwell. According to Mrs Darby, Elizabeth seemed unwell and low spirited. At a quarter to eleven Elizabeth said goodnight to her landlady and went upstairs to bed. A few minutes later Mrs Darby heard an unusual noise and ran upstairs to find Elizabeth “undressed, in bed and insensible.” There was a small glass bottle near the bed. By the time medical help was summoned Elizabeth was dead. Mr Thomas Lewis, a surgeon was summoned from Loughton; he performed an autopsy on Elizabeth and found a fluid smelling like prussic acid in her stomach. The glass bottle by her bedside, he said, contained cyanide of potassium, “three grains of which in a solid state would produce death.” Elizabeth had left a note for Henry which was read out in court:

Dear Henery,— forgive me if this should give you pane— but I do not think it will after what you said this evening— you are verry unhappy, i now hope i ham going you will be happy with those that you love, you will see my mother and tell her from me about her unhappy girl ; praps a tear she may shed but you will not think it. But i forgive you. kiss the dear children for me and ask emer to forgive me the rong I have done her, and i hope you will make amends for all. Dear henery my eyes are blinded with tears that i can say no more now, but pray for me. From your unhappy but true, E.

The jury, after as is customary on these occasions “some deliberation” returned a verdict of ‘Death from taking cyanide of potassium, while in a state of temporary derangement.’ With astonishing alacrity poor Elizabeth was buried the next day, Monday 11th September, in the churchyard of St John the Baptist in Buckhurst Hill. Shockingly, and this isn’t mentioned in the newspaper, according to the death register she was only 15 years old.  

The Grove, Stratford where Henry had his photography business
Any separation from Emma was shortlived; the couple had a daughter, Agnes, in March 1867 and another son Henry in 1870. At the time of the 1871 census the family were living in Leytonstone in Beaulah Terrace in Walthamstow. They had two more sons, Arthur in 1872 and Albert in 1874. The family probably moved to Stratford, to 126 The Grove, above Henry’s photographic  studio shortly afterwards. They were almost certainly there in 1875 when Henry took his pictures of the four dead nuns in St Francis’ Church. By the 1881 census the family had moved to 106 The Grove but Henry was still working as a photographer despite competition from at least two other businesses within walking distance of his premises. Over the course of the next decade Henry abandoned his career and his wife. In the 1891 census he was living at 2 Second Avenue, Manor Park with his 19 year old son Arthur and a servant, a young woman called Elizabeth Silverlock. Emma and the rest of the family were gone and Henry was now listed as a publican. A newspaper story of the same year says Henry was the landlord of the Earl of Essex at the corner of High Street North and Romford Road.  In a hint of things to come The Chelmsford Chronicle reported that Henry has been summoned for assaulting William Mayson. Henry told the court that Mayson had used bad language in the pub (shocking) “and had been a great annoyance.” He produced two witnesses to corroborate his story and the bench dismissed the case.  

In March the following year Henry was again in court, this time at the Stratford Police Court for disorderly conduct, using obscene language and causing a crowd to assemble. When asked how he plead he told the court “I think I had better plead guilty, so as not to go into the matter.” According to an account of the incident in the Illustrated Police News of Saturday 12 March, Henry had got into an argument with a Mrs Bennett who seems to have been the license holder of the Earl of Essex (though the address of the pub is given as Greenhill Grove where the only licensed premises is the William The Conqueror...) The argument may have started over Mrs Bennett’s refusal to serve him food or because he wanted to dismiss one of the staff and she was not agreeable. By ten past five Sargent Slatting from Forest Gate Police station arrived at the pub to find Henry “behaving in a very disorderly manner and making use of filthy language.” Henry was forcibly removed from the premises but tried immediately to re-enter shouting and using bad language and causing a crowd of curious onlookers to gather. Eventually losing patience Sargent Slatting arrested him and took him into custody. Henry told the magistrates that he was part owner of the pub and had papers to prove it. The magistrate told Henry he didn’t care and turned instead to Inspector Hunt, Sargent Slaterry’s superior, who told him that he had very many complaints of Henry’s conduct towards Mrs Bennett, to whom he was a considerable nuisance. Mrs Bennett was called and she confirmed that “she had to complain very much of the prisoner's conduct and his annoyance. He was constantly casting aspersions on her character and making utterly false statements.”  Henry told the magistrate that he had no choice but to throw himself on the mercy of the court, that he wished to considered as part master of the house and responsible to the brewers and distillers. The magistrates fine him 40 shillings plus costs and bound him over to keep the peace. 

In 1894 when Henry featured in another newspaper story, this time in the Coventry Evening Telegraph  of  23 February, he seemed to have given up on the Earl of Essex and was landlord of the Priory Tavern in Bromley-by-bow;

CAUGHT RED -HANDED. At the Thames Police Court Thomas McCarthy was committed for trial on the charge of stealing a watch and part of a gold chain, value £30, the property of Henry Friedman, of the "Priory" Tavern, Bromley. When the prosecutor was closing his house the defendant came up and snatched at his watch chain, getting the watch and part of the chain. He was caught after having put the watch on a window sill.

In May 1896 in was Arthur, Henry’s son, who was making headlines, in the South Wales Echo. Surely this exploit made Henry feel uncomfortable in recalling the death of 15 year old Elizabeth Moore almost 30 years earlier.

AN ILL-TIMED ATTEMPT AT SUICIDE -No Train Due for Twenty Minutes.  Arthur Edward Friedmann (27), a clerk, of second-avenue, Manor Park, was charged yesterday at the Stratford Police Court on remand of attempting to commit suicide. The evidence last week was that at 11 40 am on April 28th, the prisoner was at St. James's-s tree t Station, Walthamstow, with a Young lady, and suddenly he jumped on the line, lay down, and put his head on the metal rails of the down line.  Clark, the foreman porter, ran out to the prisoner, who, when lifted up, said, “Leave me alone I'm all right." At the station he said it was all through his girl. He was sober, but had been drinking. The young woman referred to, a Miss Emily Poplar, was now called on subpoena, and said that she was with the prisoner. She said he did not say what he intended doing, but she saw him get down and put his head on the metals. They had had as a little disagreement. —Mr E. R. Cook (chairman): You had a lovers’ quarrel, and he left you and did that? The witness Replied in the affirmative, and added that she knew that the prisoner was subject to fits, and a quantity of liquor made him excited. Mr O. C. Sharman, who appeared for the prisoner, said that no train was due for 20 minutes, and therefore in law there was no attempt to commit felony. The prisoner's friends were present, and would undertake to take charge of the prisoner, who had signed the pledge. The Bench told the prisoner that he had acted very foolishly, And after a further caution as to the future discharged him.

In 1895 Henry’s estranged wife Emma died in Poplar. At the time of the 1891 census she had been living in Wales, at 20 High Street, Chepstow in Monmouthshire with her older brother Charles who was a butcher, and his wife and their 6 children. Her widowed sister Monica was also living them. Henry was close by when she died. A story in the Chelmsford Chronicle of 10 December 1897 places him as the landlord of the Castle, a now demolished pub at 156 Leyton Road in Stratford;

At West Ham Monday James Godfrey, 38, labourer, of Bromley was charged with assaulting Henry Friedmann,  landlord of the Castle public-house, Leyton  road, Stratford, and also with assaulting Constable Rogers, 540 K, and with damaging a stone barrel of gin, valued £4 10s.—At about six o'clock on Sunday evening the prisoner entered the Castle, and created a considerable disturbance. He was sent to gaol for three months' hard labour.

According to the 1901 census Arthur had moved on but his youngest son Albert had moved in with him. It was still the obviously trusted Arthur who became Henry’s executor when he died on October 28 1904. His estate was valued at £3310 0s 6d. Disappointingly I have not been able to find out where he is buried. On September 14 1915, just over a year after the start of the Great War reliable Arthur changed his name by deed poll from the far too Teutonic sounding Friedmann to the much more acceptably English sounding Freeman. He left his roots completely behind when he moved south of the river to 25 Thurleigh Road, SW12, close to Clapham South tube. On the 3rd of June 1925 the 49 year old Brewery Clerk with the three storey terraced villa in suburban Wandsworth was granted the freedom of the City of London after declaring that he was not an Alien and was above the age of 21. Even so the clerk who completed the register felt it incumbent on him to note that in the deed poll Henry had been described as a Naturalised Englishman. Despite the lingering reservations about Arthur’s right to declare himself an alien the newly minted Mr Freeman was made a Freeman of the City. Henry would have been proud.   


  1. You put some work into that, only nuns graves I have seen are near convents, maybe these four were buried at one

    1. Hi Bill, they were indeed buried in the one grave, in St Patricks catholic cemetery in Leytonstone (where there are many other nun's graves as well, as it happens).