Friday, 28 August 2020

The pious pelican and devoted mother of Highgate; Baroness Elizabeth de Munck (1767-1841) Highgate Cemetery

When the savage pelican resolves to give his breast to devour his young, having as witness only he who knew how to create such a love, in order to make men ashamed, although the sacrifice is great, this act is understood.

Comte de Lautréamont - Les Chants de Maldoror

As it is probably the only exemplar in a Victorian cemetery, guides at Highgate always point out the relatively modest memorial to Elizabeth de Munck who was interred here in 1841 just a couple of years after the cemetery opened. The motif of the pelican feeding her young with her own flesh or blood was once a common heraldic device and is a symbol of both maternal and christian devotion. The Physiologus, an early didactic Christian text written in Greek in Alexandria and hugely popular and frequently translated from the 5th century onwards, claims that the Pelican loved her young but when they flapped their wings in the nest and hit her in the face, she lost patience and pecked them to death. Smitten with remorse she cried over her dead chicks and struck at her breast with her bill until she bled. Immediately the blood touched her dead chicks they revived and came back to life. “In the same way, our Lord Jesus Christ's breast was pierced with a spear by the Jews,” says the author, “and blood and water flowed out, and revived the Universe, namely the dead. That is why the prophet said: ‘I resembled a desert pelican.’" 

In Pseudodoxia Epidemica (Enquiries into very many received tenets and commonly presumed truths, also known simply as Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Vulgar Errors) the ever sceptical Thomas Browne noted that in “first in every place we meet with the picture of the Pelecan, opening her breast with her bill, and feeding her young ones with the blood distilling from her. Thus is it set forth not onely in common Signs, but in the Crest and Scutcheon of many Noble families; hath been asserted by many holy Writers, and was an Hieroglyphick of piety and pitty among the Ægyptians; on which consideration, they spared them at their tables.”  In the version of the story he had heard it was serpents which had killed the pelican’s brood, making a slightly more credible version of the tale. Nevertheless he is not convinced; “concerning the picture, if naturally examined, and not Hieroglyphically conceived, it containeth many improprieties,” he says including it commonly being pictured as green or yellow when in fact the bird is white, being described as the size of a hen when it is as big as a swan, and being generally painted with a short bill “whereas that of the Pelecan attaineth sometimes the length of two spans.” He also points out that the feet are shown as like those of ‘fissipedes’, birds which have claws or feet divided when it fact it is web footed and, most remarkably of all, almost all images miss out the part “more remarkable then any other, that is, the chowle or crop adhering unto the lower side of the bill, and so descending by the throat; a bag or sachel very observable.” On the subject of the pelican’s crop Browne’s scepticism suddenly deserts him, it is, he claims “of a capacity almost beyond credit; which notwithstanding, this animal could not want; for therein it receiveth Oysters, Cochels, Scollops, and other testaceous animals; which being not able to break, it retains them until they open, and vomitting them up, takes out the meat contained. This is that part preserved for a rarity, and wherein (as Sanctius delivers) in one dissected, a Negro child was found.”

In Paulo Rego’s extraordinary image, a full sized pelican (very much larger than a hen), very naturalistically portrayed as white, with a bill of at least two spans, web footed and complete with capacious crop (absolutely nothing for Sir Thomas to complain of here) is seen perched on Jane Eyre’s lap who is leaning back with eyes closed and mouth wide open apparently about to receive nourishment from the pelican’s beak. This bizarre and powerful image is called ‘Loving Bewick’ and refers to a sentence in Jane Eyre when Jane says ‘with Bewick on my knee, I was then happy; happy at least in my way .’ Bewick is not a pelican but a book Bewick’s History of British Birds of which the young Jane loves the pages “which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of “the solitary rocks and promontories” by them only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape…” and the illustrations which include a “quite solitary churchyard, with its inscribed headstone; its gate, its two trees, its low horizon, girdled by a broken wall, and its newly-risen crescent, attesting the hour of eventide.” In her essay on Rego In an Artist’s Dream World Marina Warner observes that “in the print of Jane billing the pelican’s beak, Rego introduces a note of true sustenance: it is through the mind-food of books and pictures that Jane survives.”

Maria Caterina Rosalbina Caradori-Allan probably chose the pelican symbol for her mother's grave

We know little about Elizabeth de Munck. The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1841 tells us that “lately in Upper Norton street aged 74 Elizabeth Baroness de Munck” has died, “her body was buried at the Highgate Cemetery on the 29th May.” A few days later The Atlas of Saturday 12 June told its readers that “In consequence of the death of her mother, the Baroness de Munck, Madame Caradori Allan has been compelled to relinquish her engagements at several of the principal concerts of the season, including those of Lablache, Putter, Puzzi, &c.” Baroness de Munck’s daughter was Maria Caterina Rosalbina Caradori-Allan, a celebrated and successful operatic soprano who had been born in 1800 at the Casa Palantina in Milan. Her father was a member of the Alsatian lesser nobility, the Baron de Munck and “her mother whose maiden name was Caradori, was a native of St. Petersburg. Owing to her father's death she was forced to adopt music as a profession, though the only training she received was from her mother.” (DNB 1885-1900). If she really died at the age of 74 Elizabeth had Maria at the relatively late age of 33. Maria seems to have been her only child. After touring in France and Germany the opera singer and her mother were called to London for an engagement at the Kings Theatre in 1822 where Maria took the role of Cherubino in the Nozze di Figaro and earned £300 for the season. Mother and daughter settled in London, Maria marrying a Mr Allan who happened to be the secretary of the Kings Theatre and accepting a salary of £500 a year to sing. It must have been Maria who chose the new cemetery at Highgate as her mother's final resting place and who commissioned the handsome memorial with its pelican motif to acknowledge her mother's devotion to her life and career. Although she occasionally took engagements abroad Maria remained in England for the rest of her life, dying at Surbiton in 1865. Maria did not join her mother in Highgate – she was buried in Kensal Green, probably with her husband.   

Monday, 24 August 2020

A true sense of their mortal condition; the City of London Cemetery, Aldersbrook E12

All these cemeteries rightly have their constant visitors and sometimes their places in books on London but the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium at Manor Park (1856) should equally be visited. The contrast with Kensal Green at the other end of London is remarkable. The site iS flat, but planted with magnificent planes and one of its chapels is in a most elegant style of gothic, exceptionally good for cemetery architecture. Here the solid merchant worth of the City is symbolised by sheer weight of simple polished granite; there is no fantasy and the most remarkable tomb only has a life-size white marble Descent from the Cross, but there is a curious circus of huge granite books with cord markers, and another of passionate angels (the largest angel is elsewhere, on the tomb of the Elfes, monumental masons). There are also some special plots consecrated to the re-interment of the dead taken from some of the scandalous old City graveyards, A good solemn cemetery. 

Barbara Jones ‘Design for Death’ (1967)

The condition of the churchyards in the City of London was a national scandal by the start of the 1850’s. The City authorities had been slow to react to the threat to health that the overcrowded city churchyards represented; concern over intermural burials had resulted in the establishment of the ‘magnificent seven’ cemeteries in London starting with Kensal Green in 1832 and ending with Tower Hamlets in 1841 but in the City the authority of the Church of England went unchallenged and all attempts at burial reform were passively resisted. The City authorities were belatedly stirred into action when the 1852 Metropolitan burial act allowed the secretary of state to prohibit further burials in any churchyard or burial ground deemed a health risk anywhere in London. The act also made the Commissioner of Sewers a burial authority and so William Haywood, the City Surveyor, found himself given the job of finding a site for the City to open its own cemetery. Haywood’s report to the authorities called the city churchyards ‘overgorged’ and ‘disgusting’ and recommended the purchase of 200 acres of arable, pasture and meadow land at Aldersbrook to the east of London, between Manor Park and Ilford.  

Haywood’s proposition met with stiff opposition from some senior church members. Archdeacon Hale, a High Tory and staunch opponent of any attempt to disrupt traditional burial arrangements was particularly vocal. The Banner of Ulster found the Archdeacons attempts to thwart the opening of a new cemetery so ridiculous that it could only assume that the most reverend William Hale was joking “let the journalist relate how Archdeacon Hale jested with his clergy and hoaxed the City Commissioners of Sewers. It is, indeed, a pity that he did not find a more appropriate theme upon which to display his talent than the sepulchre. The mirth is rather ghastly; but, after all, there are few personages that excite more laughter in theatre than the gravediggers,” it remarked in 1855. The newspapers correspondent was exasperated that the Archdeacon’s objections were taken at all seriously and that William Haywood’s time was wasted having to respond to them. One of Hale’s objections to the new cemetery was that it was not divided into 108 compartments, each one allotted to one of the city parishes, “that all the parishioners, having lived together and traded together, may die together and lie together, and that none presume to mingle their dust with their neighbours of the next parish” the newspaper noted. Another objection to the cemetery was that dissenters should not be suffered to be interred with churchmen; “Excellent! Dissenter may to Heaven and the angels in company with Churchman, but he shan't to the grave and the worms.” His final objection was that there was no need for a cemetery, that the City’s churchyards still had plenty of room, were not overcrowded and were not a health risk, a demurral so risible that it drove the Banner’s journalist to a paroxysm of mockery; “so, far from being unhealthy to inhabitants in the houses around, they are rather the reverse; look at sextons, how old those men generally are; in fact, as the gravedigger says in Hamlet, ‘There is no ancient gentlemen but gardeners, ditchers, and gravemakers; therefore —no occasion for the Ilford Cemetery. Here he has risen to the height of his great argument, to the climax of his jest. It would appear that the only thing which prevents the authorities from taming our churchyards into a resort for invalids, such as Bath or Brighton, is the extreme difficulty, perhaps also the impropriety, of finding suitable amusements in their precincts. If people would only reconcile themselves to playing at bowls with skulls, and fencing with crossbones, and turning the tombstones into billiard tables, nothing can possibly more salubrious than a graveyard, especially a city one- Pray don’t mention the odours of the place; medicines are odorous, and the stronger the smell, the more potent the medicine, the more certain the cure. “Death is as natural as life;” therefore it is as good as life; it is, in fact, a form of life.”

Haywood’s chosen site at Aldersbrook was on the edge of Wanstead Flats, an area of what was, back in the Pleistocene when mammoths grazed the water meadows, the alluvial plain formed by the Thames. The course of the river has moved southwards by four or five miles over the last 100,000 years but the clay and gravel deposited by the river are well drained and are not too difficult to dig for graves. The land formerly belonged to the Manor of Aldersbrook; the manor house had been demolished by the most recent owner and the formal gardens dug up and converted to pasturage but the site still retained a farmhouse and a large pond. The Evening Standard noted that “the situation of the cemetery, though not picturesque, is nevertheless admirably well adapted for its purposes. It is flat, but at the same time well drained, the land being particularly fertile, which fact is amply testified by the unusually flourishing aspect of the recent horticultural improvements.” The owner of the land was the Earl of Mornington but the purchase was delayed because of a dispute between the Earl and his son about whether the profligate father actually had the right to sell. The dispute was eventually settled and the City Corporation bought the land in 1854. With Haywood in charge work on the site proceeded at a brisk pace; all existing buildings on the land were demolished, the lake was drained and drains and roads laid out. Two chapels were built, one Anglican and the other non-denominational, an impressive entrance was built on Aldersbrook Road along with lodges and houses for the staff.  The last features to be constructed in the impressive layout of the cemetery were the catacombs, built in their own valley and intended to be a centrepiece of the overall design. The draining of the lake had created a natural amphitheatre and Haywood utilised this to create the catacombs. They were not a commercial success though as the initial enthusiasm for catacombs which had led to their construction in most of the new garden cemeteries had worn off by the time City of London opened in 1856. They became more important as a landscape feature and a promenading spot than as a place of burial and were never more than half filled.  

Although the cemetery opened for business in June 1856 consecration was delayed until November of the following year as the Bishop of London was unwilling to go through with the ceremony unless all 108 parishes were in agreement (Archdeacon Hale had clearly got to him). Many of the parish priests were concerned at the potential loss of income but it soon became obvious that most of their flock didn’t care if the cemetery were consecrated or not and were quite happy to be buried there regardless. The clergy bowed to the inevitable and on Monday 16 November 1857 the consecration ceremony took place with all due pomp and circumstance as The Evening Standard described the following day:

Yesterday the new cemetery at Little Ilford, which has just been completed by the burial board of the City of London, was consecrated with the usual ceremonials by the Lord Bishop of London…. At about eleven o'clock in the morning the Lord Mayor, accompanied by a large proportion of the aldermen and common councilmen, arrived at the ground, and, in company with the committee of the burial board, received the Bishop of London on his arrival, a little before twelve; soon after which the procession, consisting of the committee of the burial board and the choristers of St. Paul's; the chaplain of the cemetery, followed by the Lord Mayor and corporation of the City; the Bishop of London, accompanied by his chaplain, chancellor, registrar, and the clergy of the City of London, moved forward from the gate through the grounds to the church. Those composing the procession having taken their places in the church, morning prayers were read by the appointed chaplain of the cemetery, the Rev. Mr. Taylor, the first and second lessons being taken from, the 23d chapter of Genesis and the 19th chapter of St. John. During the service the 39th and 90th Psalms were chanted by the choir. At the conclusion of the service the commission of the burial board was read by the registrar, when the Lord Mayor presented the authorisation of the corporation for the consecration to the bishop, after which the authorisation was read aloud, and subsequently signed by the bishop. The procession again formed, and proceeded out of the church in the same order, and passed through the ground to be consecrated, the choir chanting the 16th and 49th Psalms. The procession then again returned to the church, when the chairman of the burial board presented the deed of conveyance to the bishop, who then offered up the final prayer. The procession again formed outside the church, when three verses of the 39th Psalm were chanted by the choir.

To show there were no hard feelings the Bishop delivered one of his better sermons:

The service having concluded, the Lord Bishop of London came forward and said, that on an occasion such as had brought them together he did not think they ought to separate without considering well the impressive and important ceremonial which they had assisted at. They had been assisting at the consecration of a metropolitan mausoleum, or city of the dead, as much as the busy throng which they had but recently left was a city of the living. The condition of man would indeed be dangerous in the extreme if it were not that God is continually giving him warning that the state of security in which he reposes cannot last for ever. In assisting at the consecration of this city of the dead they were irresistibly reminded that the great and busy throng which filled the streets of London must in a few years become its inhabitants. It had been an ancient and a holy custom to bury the dead within and in the immediate vicinity of the churches, in order that the survivors might in times of prayer be reminded of the uncertainty of their condition. This it had recently been considered necessary for the health of the public to discontinue, but at the same time it was thought right to embellish the cemeteries wherever they were placed, in order to induce people to take their recreation in them, that a true sense of their mortal condition might at least occasionally be brought to their minds. A slight collation was provided by the corporation for those present, which was under the admirable superintendence of Messrs. Staples.

For the members of the Improvement Committee of the Commissioners of Sewers the annual inspection of the Cemetery proved to be a popular event (certainly more popular than the annual inspection of drains and sewers would have been) involving as it did a leisurely drive down to Little Ilford along the Mile End and Romford Roads in the company of the incumbents and churchwardens of many of the city parishes. July was the month chosen for the inspection and the inspection party generally left the Guildhall at 1.00pm in six open carriages. The party would arrive at the cemetery sometime after two and would be met at the main gate by the Superintendent, Mr. Stacey, Mr. Haywood, the Engineer to the Commissioners of Sewers, the Reverend J. F. Taylor, the Chaplain of the cemetery, and the Reverend Mr. Hibbitt, the Rector of Little Ilford. The Committee would inspect the books and the cemetery plans in the lodge and would then visit the chapels and catacombs and then do a round of the cemetery grounds. Having found everything in the most perfect order and having worked up quite an appetite during their drive down and perambulation of the grounds the entire party would be driven to the Castle Hotel in Woodford where a five-course dinner would be served. (see London City Press - Saturday 14 July 1866). 

In January 1900 the Corporation was presented with a bill to build a crematorium at the cemetery. The idea was controversial and the aldermen instinctively backed away from such a radical proposal. The following year the idea was debated again this time the Sanitary Committee were charged with considering and reporting on the most suitable sight to potentially construct a crematorium within the grounds of the cemetery and to submit plans and estimates for the work. It took until October 1903 for the Corporation to pluck up enough courage to pass the plan and agree to the building of the first municipal crematorium in the country at a cost of £7000. The crematorium was completed the following year (costs having, of course, gone over budget) and in December 1904 the Essex Newsman was able to report that “the Home Office has approved the scale of fees which the City Corporation has prepared in connection with the new crematorium the City of London Cemetery, Ilford, recently erected at a cost of nearly £10,000. The cost of cremation has been reduced to four guineas, which fee includes an urn for the reception of the cinerary remains. These will be kept for twelve months, and if not claimed and removed they will be buried in a portion of the cemetery which been set apart for the purpose.” The cost of cremation was later reduced even further to £3 16s 6d and the cremation services offered by the cemetery heavily advertised in the local press; an indication perhaps that take up of the service was not as brisk as the corporation would have liked. 

Ironically overcrowding of burial space has once again become an issue, this time in the ‘new’ cemetery. The Guardian reported in September 2000:

Something is stirring amid the reverential quiet of the City of London cemetery at Manor Park, the country's largest burial ground. Hushed tones and respectful silences may be the usual mode of behaviour, but Ian Hussein, director of the city's cemeteries, can barely contain his frustration. A suspicion he has been harbouring for years is rapidly becoming a crisis, but he believes few in power are listening to his warning: we are running out of space to bury the dead.

Mr Hussein was keen for the Government to change the law to allow existing graves to be reused:
Since the 1970s they have been permitted to reclaim plots after between 50 and 100 years, and to exploit any grave spaces within them that were never used. But archaic laws - dating from an era when grave robbing was rife - mean they are banned from disturbing any bones below. This renders impossible their preferred solution, "lift and deepen", in which an old grave is reopened, the remains removed and reburied more deeply, leaving space above for the newly deceased. It is already an accepted practice in much of Europe. "You can disturb human remains in this country for any reason you care to name - housing development, shopping complexes, road widening, you name it," said Mr Hussein, whose organisation has for years been buying back plots it is banned from redigging. "But the one thing the government will not allow is for graves to be disturbed for the purposes of creating more graves." Nor, he adds, should talk of a crisis be lightly dismissed. "Death is, after all, one subject which affects everyone in the end."

The law was changed. You can now purchase a used grave in the City of London Cemetery and be buried on top of the old occupant. If the monument on the grave is not of historic significance or does not occupy a key position in the cemetery landscape you are allowed to reuse it, turning it around and inscribing the new deceased’s details on the unused face of the grave stone. If the monument is historically significant or occupies a key position in the landscape you may add a small plaque to the existing details.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

"The great work of diffusing Anglo-Saxon energy throughout the globe..."; Captain Mayne Reid (1818-1883) Kensal Green Cemetery

THE Wild West fiction of Captain Mayne Reid (1818–1883), translated and simplified, was tremendously popular with Russian children at the beginning of this century, long after his American fame had faded. Knowing English, I could savor his Headless Horseman in the unabridged original. Two friends swap clothes, hats, mounts, and the wrong man gets murdered—this is the main whorl of its intricate plot. The edition I had (possibly a British one) remains in the stacks of my memory as a puffy book bound in red cloth, with a watery-gray frontispiece, the gloss of which had been gauzed over when the book was new by a leaf of tissue paper. I see this leaf as it disintegrated—at first folded improperly, then torn off—but the frontispiece itself, which no doubt depicted Louise Pointdexter’s unfortunate brother (and perhaps a coyote or two, unless I am thinking of The Death Shot, another Mayne Reid tale), has been so long exposed to the blaze of my imagination that it is now completely bleached (but miraculously replaced by the real thing, as I noted when translating this chapter into Russian in the spring of 1953, and namely, by the view from a ranch you and I rented that year: a cactus-and-yucca waste whence came that morning the plaintive call of a quail—Gambel’s Quail, I believe—overwhelming me with a sense of undeserved attainments and rewards).

Vladimir Nabokov ‘Speak Memory’ Chapter 10

DEATH OF CAPTAIN MAYNE REID. The death of Captain Mayne Reid is not the premature end of a career, for the literary activity of the author of the " Scalp Hunters " practically ceased some years ago. It is no discredit to a man to say that at the age of 67 he has written himself out. Though a cripple, Captain Mayne Reid was a familiar figure in one of the numerous local Parliaments in London, and, in spite of his infirmity, he did not look like a man who had nearly reached the end of the allotted span of existence. Captain Mayne Reid must have enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that though his hand had lost its cunning, and he was no longer able to weave stories of breathless adventure as successfully as of old, his early books were still precious to the schoolboy. Few writers have made a more vivid impression on the juvenile mind, and there can be little doubt that to Captain Mayne Reid's novels many a man owes the impulse which led him as a lad to seek a life of adventure beyond the seas, and to take his share in the great work of diffusing Anglo-Saxon energy throughout the globe. It cannot, of course, be said that Captain Mayne Reid was gifted with brilliant imagination or with great literary power.

South London Chronicle - Saturday 27 October 1883

DEATH OF CAPTAIN MAYNE REID. Captain Mayne Reid, the well-known novelist, died at a late hour on Monday, at his residence, Maida Vale. He had been ailing for the last two years, and was in his sixty-seventh year, but died in harness, having half completed a new work. Men of the Time says that Capt. Mayne Reid was a native of the North of Ireland, and paternally descended from one of the pioneers of the Ulster Plantations." He was born in 1818, and educated for the Established Church. A taste for travel and adventure induced him, in 1838, to set out for Mexico, without any very definite aim. On arriving in New Orleans, he went on two excursions up the Red River, trading and hunting in company with the Indians, and afterwards made other excursions up the Missouri and on the prairies, where he remained for nearly five years. He afterwards travelled through almost every State in the Union, and these journeys, with his previous experience in the backwoods, acquired that knowledge of character and incident displayed his writings. In 1845, when war was declared between the United States and Mexico, Mayne Reid, who had devoted himself to literature, obtained commission in the United States' army. He was present at the siege and capture of Vera Cruz, and took active part in various encounters, led the last charge of infantry at Churubusco, and the forlorn hope at the assault Chapultepec, where he was shot down and reported to be killed. For his gallantry at Chapultepec Captain Reid was honourably mentioned in the despatches. At the close of the Mexican war he resigned his commission, and 1849 organised a body of men in New York to proceed to Hungary, to aid in the struggle of that country for independence. On reaching Paris he received the news of the total failure of the Hungarian insurrection. Captain Reid repaired to London, where he once more devoted himself to literature.

Manchester Evening News - Wednesday 24 October 1883

What manner of man Mayne Reid was, the following sketch of his career will show. Mayne Reid, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was born in the north of Ireland in 1818, and died in London in 1883. His father naturally desired that his eldest son should become a minister like himself; but it was found that the young man's inclinations were altogether opposed to this calling. He yearned to travel; and when the opportunity of visiting America came, it was "without a sigh that he beheld the hills of his native land sink behind the black waves, not much caring whether he ever saw them again." In America Mayne Reid had the most varied experiences. He encountered bears and buffaloes on the prairies; he met Indians on the war path with their trophies of scalps; he trapped, he hunted, he rode. Moreover, he kept store, drove niggers, and taught a school. Then be drifted into journalism, which he gave up in order that he might join the army. He obtained a commission in the New York Volunteers, the first regiment raised in New York for the Mexican War, and in December, 1846, sailed for Vera Cruz.

Pall Mall Gazette - Thursday 17 July 1890

No man could have been better qualified to recount thrilling adventures in America in the days when Indian warfare was a more serious business than it is now. Captain Mayne Reid began life by roving about Texas with his life in his hand, and that hand against every Mexican he met. His contempt for Mexicans, who were contemptuously called "Greasers", is vigorously expressed in several of his books.

South London Chronicle - Saturday 27 October 1883

Before the war was over, Mayne Reid was reported to have died of his wounds. "Gone!" exclaimed a young poetess of Ohio, in some verses written and recited at the time:-

Gone to his dreamless sleep;
And spirits of the brave,
Watching o'er his lone grave,

But Mayne Reid hadn't gone. He stayed in the City of Mexico, and made love to the fair Mexican ladies, by whom he was called "Don Juan de Tenoris." He must have been a captivating young gentleman, or an American journalist (one of those gentlemen who eschew exaggeration) would not have described him as a "mixture of Adonis and the Apollo Belvedere with a dash of the Centaur."

Pall Mall Gazette - Thursday 17 July 1890

THE CAPTAIN AND HIS CHILD WIFE. We cannot conclude this notice of Mrs. Reid's book without making some reference to Captain Mayne Reid’s "child wife " - that is, to herself. She was not more than fifteen when she married. Reid met her at an aunt's house, and, although she was scarcely thirteen, he fell in love with her at first sight. She resembled the Zoe of his "Scalp Hunters," he said. But " Zoe” did not take kindly to the "middle-aged gentleman" as she called him, and it was two years before they were married. "Her aunt was greatly astonished at hearing the news of the marriage, as she was daily expecting her niece's arrival en route for school." In fact, Mrs. Reid was generally thought by strangers to be the captain's daughter.
Pall Mall Gazette - Thursday 17 July 1890

'Osceola the Seminole' comes to a harrowing end in Mayne Reid's book

CAPTAIN MAYNE REID. The Times cannot take Captain Mayne Reid seriously as a novelist. His books will hardly live, even among the favourites of schoolboys; and if they do, it will be rather as fairy tales than as literature. There is a vast difference, for example, between his work and that of Fenimore Cooper, with whom it is natural to compare him.… We do not ask for this kind of work in Mayne Reid. Look to him neither for character nor for nature, nor for imagination in the strict sense of the term; but only for a kind of barbarous invention, and for a power of painting in coarse, effective colours, like the colours of a scene-painter, the deeds of savage heroes, bad and good. When he tried to write a novel of a sober kind the attempt was a ludicrous failure; the measure of his powers was reached when he had described his Spanish Indians, their loves and hates, their wild lives and violent deaths in the forest or on the prairie. Of his class of writers, he was certainly the best; and those who have read him as boys will not allow their maturer critical judgment to condemn him altogether.
St James's Gazette - Wednesday 24 October 1883

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Où fut inhumé Henri Forestier (1775-1806)?

You get some interesting requests for help when you write a cemetery blog. In February last year I received the message below on Facebook:


Sorry for my English, I'm French.
I write to you hoping that you will help me. I am a historian, and I am a specialist of a French general, Henri Forestier, who died in London in September 1806. He was buried in the St-Gilles-in-the Fields Chapel. I think it's the chapel built in 1803 in the cemetery of St. Pancras. I am looking for information about this chapel, and in particular the date of its destruction and what was done of the tombs in the chapel. Do you know where I can find this information? Thank You

Frédéric Augris

I had never heard of General Henri Forestier and I had never heard of a chapel in the St Giles burial ground on Hampstead Road. My initial response to Frédéric was that as far as I was aware there had never been a chapel in the St Giles’ portion of the St Pancras burial ground. Frédéric rather than just giving up on me as someone who clearly didn’t know what he was talking about, responded by sending me incontrovertible proof that there had indeed been a chapel belonging to St Giles on the Pancras Road. Once my eyes had been opened I started to see the chapel everywhere including places where it had previously escaped my notice like the famous illustration of the railway works that took place in the St. Pancras burial ground and on an early image of the Burdett Coutts memorial.  Maps from the 1840’s onwards show the Chapel standing opposite Goldington Crescent in the site now occupied by the Gardener’s cottage. I started to get intrigued by this hitherto unheard of mortuary chapel and by the fate of Frédéric’s missing general. 

The now demolished Chapel of the St Giles burial ground can be seen to the right of the tripod
A few google searches gave me the broad outline of the royalist general’s life, his intriguing connection with one of the most celebrated society beauties of the day Leonor de Almeida Portugal, the Marquesa de Alorna and Countess D’Oeynhausen and his mysterious death in London in 1806.  He was born in the village of La Pommeraye in the Pays de la Loire region around 1775. Not much is known of his parents, not even their names, but Henri did have several brothers including one who was the parish priest of La Pommeraye. In 1793 the clergy were required to swear an oath of allegiance to the new Civil Constitution of revolutionary France. 153 of the country’s 160 bishops refused to take the oath and about half of the country’s parish priests. Wholescale persecution of the church followed causing much resentment in the Vendée and other parts of the Pays de la Loire. When the National Constituent Assembly instituted nationwide conscription later in the year to bolster troop numbers in the revolutionary wars, resentment in the Vendée boiled over into open armed resistance when volunteers formed the Royal Catholic Army. A short but ferocious counter revolutionary civil war broke out in the Vendée and the 18 year old Henri threw himself into combat with enormous zeal and, judging by his meteoric rise through the ranks of the catholic army, a good deal of innate flair. His initial promotion was as secretary to the general staff, shortly afterwards to second in command of the cavalry and then to its head, in June 1793 following the battle of Saumur. He took part in several further battles including commanding the left wing at the assault on the garrison of Renne. When the Army of Anjou sued for peace with the government in 1796 Henri was sent to London to continue the struggle against the Republic by clandestine means.  By 1799 he was back in France getting himself seriously wounded in an ill judged second rebellion and forced into hiding until 1801 when he briefly reappeared in Paris only to refuse Napoleons peace offers. A wanted man in France he escaped first to Spain and then to London. In 1803, entangled now in a plot to oust Napoleon subsidised by the British Government known as L’affaire des plombs he travelled to Portugal and then overland to France. Unfortunately, the French ambassador in Lisbon had gotten wind of the plot and Henri narrowly escaped capture. He was sentenced to death by a court in Nantes, in absentia, in November 1805 but by this time he was back in London probably living with his mistress the Countess D’Oeynhausen at an establishment popular with French emigres, the Sabloniere Hotel in Leicester Fields.  

The alluring Countess of Oyenhausen-Grevenburg, Leonor de Almeida Portugal de Lorena e Lencastre
Quite where Henri met the fascinating Countess is not known, (she was 25 years older and had two daughters not much younger than him) but he had visited Lisbon, where the Countess was born, and Madrid, where she lived, in the course of his travels.  Leonor de Almeida Portugal de Lorena e Lencastre, to give her full name, was born in 1750 into one of the wealthiest and most illustrious noble families in Portugal, the Tavoras. The power and wealth of the family proved to be its undoing as the clan fell foul of King Jose I’s autocratic prime minister,  Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the Marquis of Pombal. Leonor’s maternal grandmother (after whom she was named) was the mistress of King Jose and therefore both she and her compliant husband, were form royal favourites. On the night of 03 September 1758 the king was returning home from an assignation with Dona Leonor when his coach was attacked by three pistol wielding ruffians and he was shot in the arm. The prime minister took personal charge of the investigation into what he immediately claimed to be an assassination attempt (rather than a bungled robbery of the kings unmarked carriage), tracked down the three gunmen and tortured a confession out of them that the powerful Tavora family were behind a plot to murder the king and put the Duke of Aveiro on the throne. Leonor was just 8 when her grandmother and grandfather were publicly tortured and executed and the rest of the family imprisoned.  Leonor spent 19 years a prisoner at a convent in Chelas where she passed her time reading Voltaire, and writing; her first book was published in 1772 and was called Poemas de Chelas after her place of confinment. Leonor was released in 1777 on the orders of the new queen Maria I who also encouraged her marriage to the Count of Oyenhausen-Grevenburg in 1779. The following year Leonor moved with her husband to Vienna where she attended Mozart concerts, met Madame de Stael and took up painting. Her husband was recalled to Portugal in 1785 and in 1790 he was made Governor General of the Algarve. In 1793, at the age of just 54, he died and his widow retired to the countryside of the Ribatejo to devote herself to the education of her 6 young children. The death of her family and the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars led to her fleeing Portugal and taking up residence in London where she was eventually to take up with Henri.

The grave of Leonor Countess de Oyenhausen on the cemetery of Prazeres in Lisbon
Frédéric thinks it is likely that Henri and Leonor were cohabiting at the time of his death in 1806. The sudden demise of an apparently healthy 30-year-old who kept close company with an older femme fatale inevitably led to rumours, one of which was that Leonor had poisoned him. Documents show that Leonor paid for Henri’s funeral and that Henri made Leonor’s youngest son his heir. Theoretically he didn’t have much money of his own to leave but he happened to be in possession of substantial funds from the British Government, money intended to promote the fight against Napoleon. Henri’s associates tried to wrestle the money away from Leonor but with apparently little success. They were reduced to pleading with the British Government to intervene. One of Henri’s former subordinates, the Chevalier de Saint-Hubert wrote to William Windham (from his prison cell in Nantes) that Leonor was an “execrable woman whom he (Forestier) had had the misfortune to know in Portugal, who had seduced him and who, having become his concubine, had during his long illness squandered the greater part of the sums he had in his hands and who still wanted to seize the rest under the pretext of a marriage that never existed. This contemptible creature after the death of her victim, because it was she who led him to the tomb as much to satisfy her lewdness as to seize his remains…” It was another of Henri’s former associates who started the poisoning rumour at about the same time. Henri, his constitution possibly fatally undermined by lubricity or poison (or both) died on 14 September and was buried, according to the parish register of St Giles-in-the Fields (where he is recorded as Alfred Henry Marquis De Forestier, a very sudden elevation to the French nobility) on 19 September in the ‘Chapel Vlt’.  Charles McCarthy the verger who kept the registers seems to have had a system of his own devising which he used to record the location of the burials.

A very busy parish, St Giles had several burial grounds, including the churchyard, the new burial ground on Pancras Road, and the work house burial ground. The new ground was acquired in the late 1770’s as the churchyard became overcrowded, though burials continued in the churchyard well into the 19th century (“Mr. Walker, speaking of the St. Giles' Churchyard in London says, ‘in less than 2 acres it contains 48,000 bodies.’ A London churchyard is very like a London omnibus. It can be made to carry any number. If there is no room inside - no matter, there is always plenty of accommodation outside. The same with a London churchyard - number is the last consideration. There are three things, in fact, which are never by any accident full. These are: The Pit of a Theatre, an Omnibus, and a London Churchyard. The latter combines the expansiveness of the two former, with the voluminousness of the Carpet Bag.” Punch 1849). Large numbers of the parish poor ended up living and dying in the workhouse on Shorts Garden which had its own burial ground. In his “Saint Pancras Past and Present” published in 1874 Frederick Miller describes the origins of the new cemetery:

Adjoining the old churchyard [of St. Pancras] is the Saint Giles-in-the-Fields Cemetery. An Act for providing a new burial ground for the Parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields and for erecting a chapel thereon, was passed in the year 1803.  About three acres and a half of ground, known as the Adam and Eve Tea Gardens, adjoining St Pancras Old Church was purchased; part was enclosed for the purposes of the churchyard, and the remainder was, on the 23rd November 1803 demised by the trustees for a term of 61 years. On Sept 12 1805 the chapel was consecrated by the Bishop of London, the ground having been consecrated in June 1803. His Lordship was pleased, said a newspaper writer at the time, to signify his approbation of the neat manner in which the chapel was furnished and fitted up.

Another rare view of the demolished chapel
To avoid confusion between the various burial grounds the verger carefully noted in the register where each burial took place; OG for old ground i.e. the churchyard, NG for the new ground on Pancras Road and WHP for the work house paupers. There are just two mentions of the ‘Chapel Vlt’ in the register and then a handful of burials coded PCV which must mean Pancras Chapel Vault. The other reference to the vault comes in an unusually voluble entry in February 1805 "Revd Daniel Parslow - late curate of this parish, he officiated at the consecration of the new Chapel vault at St Pancras of which he laid the first stone and was the first buried therein aged 38. He broke a blood vessel in his head, while preaching on 03rd February 1805." Daniel Parslow left a widow and 10 children when he died of an aneurysm in the pulpit that February. The rector of the parish was John Buckner, the Bishop of Chichester, and he got up a subscription for the relief of his curate’s family – he raised almost £8000.  Mrs Parslow was thus relieved of the burden of producing more children and of supporting her existing ones by her husband’s premature demise. The potent curate seems to have been interred in the vault before building work on the new chapel had finished; according to the Star of Friday 13 September;

The chapel belonging to the parish of St. Giles in the Fields, situate near Pancras Church, being completed, was consecrated yesterday, with all due solemnity, by the Lord Bishop of London in the presence of the Churchwardens, Trustees and other principal inhabitants of the parish. 

Henri Forestier died a year and a day after the consecration of the new chapel. During that first year no one else had joined Daniel Parslow in the vault. Once Henri once is laid to rest in the vault that is the last we know about the whereabouts of his body. In the following years there were a few other interments in the vault but it was never a hugely popular burial place – perhaps the fees were prohibitive. The Chapel was demolished at some point in the second half of the 19th century but we have no idea what happened to the handful of bodies entombed in the vault. 

An inset from a map of the parish of St Giles-in-the-fields dated 1829 showing the burial ground and chapel in St Pancras 
The two adjacent burial grounds of St Giles and St Pancras were almost certainly closed for further burials in 1854 following the passing of the Metropolitan Burial Act two years earlier.  The chapel may have stood unused for a while before being converted to a school. It was certainly in use as school by the late 1860's as newspapers give accounts of penny readings. It is still a school in 1874 when Frederick Miller writes 'St Pancras Past and Present':

The St Giles Cemetery Chapel, which met with the approval of Bishop Porteus nearly seventy years since, has now become the School house of Old St Pancras Church and the public for a season were invited weekly to listen to Penny Readings.

In 1877 the St Pancras and St Giles cemeteries were reopened as public gardens (see Preserving God’s Acre). The Chapel and houses along Pancras Road were the western boundary of the garden. In 1881 the guardians of the St Pancras Workhouse bought Cooks Terrrace, the row of houses to the left of the chapel (from the road) and in 1889 the Midland Railway purchased land from the east of the churchyard and the vestry used the money to buy the houses to the right of the chapel. In 1890/91 the workhouse demolished Cooks Terrace and built the hospital block that still stands there today. At the same time the vestry demolished the houses standing to the right of the chapel and remodelled the gardens. We can’t be sure but it seems likely that it also demolished the chapel and built the gardeners cottage on the site of the chapel at around the same time. The bodies that were buried in the vault must have been removed at some point between deconsecration of the chapel in the 1850/60’s and it’s final demolition in the early 1890’s. The burial society of St Giles could have decided to remove the bodies at any point in the forty years between closure of the cemetery and demolition of the chapel. But where would they have sent them? Unlike most London churches St Giles-in-the-fields never cleared out it’s crypts so never seems to have forged the relationship other churches did with one of the new cemeteries that had sprung up on the outskirts of London. If they did get the bodies removed to a new cemetery which one would it have been? Hanwell? Brookwood? St Pancras in Finchley?  Did they simply move the bodies from the Chapel Vault to their own crypt at the main church?