Friday, 22 July 2022

The Corn Cutter of Broadway; Dr. Issachar Zacharie (1826-1900) Highgate East Cemetery

It isn’t the most spectacular of monuments but amongst the plain grey headstones the polished pink granite memorial with its masonic symbols does stand out and snag the attention long enough for you to read the inscription:

In Loving Memory Of Issachar Zacharie M.D. First Grand Supreme Ruler Of The Masonic Order Of The Secret Monitor Within The British Empire Who Died On September 18th 1900 Aged 73 Years – Sempre Fidelis.   This memorial Of Their Lasting Esteem & Regard Was Erected By The Members Of The Order

Issachar Zacharie was a bit of a con man and quite a successful one. For a start he was not entitled to use the appellation of MD, he was not a doctor and although in his later life newspapers often described him as an Orthopaedist, he was nothing more than a humble chiropodist, a cutter of corns and trimmer of toes according to the less polite American newspapers. His most famous client was Abraham Lincoln and the two men struck up something of a rapport. In early 1863 Lincoln told the Canadian Christian mystic and Zionist Henry Wentworth Monk that “…I myself have a regard for the Jews, My chiropodist is a Jew, and he has so many times “put me upon my feet” that I would have no objection to giving his countrymen a “leg up”…” The esteem in which Lincoln held Zacharie ruffled feathers in Washington; US newspapers were particularly scathing, as reported here by The Belfast News-Letter on 13 October 1864:  

Then we have had a more sanguinary scandal in New York city. The other day one Doctor Issachar Zacharie, a corn cutter in Broadway, quarrelled with his partner and brother chiropodist, Mr. Samuel Barnett. Barnett drew a revolver, and shot Zacharie through the jaw. The wounded man is out of danger; the assailant is out on bail; and the affair will be probably arranged, and never heard of in a criminal court; but the opportunity was too rich a one to be neglected by the World. It found out that Doctor Issachar Zacharie was the confidential friend and bosom companion of his Excellency Abraham Lincoln; that he was the ami de la maison at the White House, and that by means of his influence over the President he had carried on a regular trade in pardons and releases, notably in the enlargement of one Mr. Mordecai, who was sitting for his sins, not, as he should have done, in the gate, but in the inner hold of a military prison. "Many a time," thundered the World, "has the President of the United States left a Cabinet Council to indulge in an hour's sweet converse in the parlour with this contemptible toe-nail trimmer." It seems beyond a doubt that this Dr. Issachar Zacharie was at one period a person of some note at the Republican Court, for he was appointed by special edict ‘Chiropodist-in-chief to the army,’ and was permitted to strut about in an absurd military uniform! You will pardon this note of exclamation, for this is certainly the first time that I, or probably anybody else, heard of an army in the field having bunions. What a treasure Dr. Issachar Zacharie would have been to the rebels in their corn-cutting expedition in the Shenandoah last July.

A carte de visite produced for Zacharie by Turner and Killick of 17 Upper Street, Islington

Zacharie was born in Chatham in 1846, the son of Jewish immigrants from Prussia. By the age of 10 his father had apprenticed him to a physician but a few later, in the mid 1840’s the whole family upped sticks and moved on again, this time to the United States.  By 1846 he was treating toes and pulling teeth in Baltimore but was soon setting on professional tours to other major cities across the US. He gulled his clients with fraudulent endorsements from more famous medical men including one from Sir Astley Paston Cooper which claimed that Zacharie had studied chiropody under him and that the famous surgeon considered “him to be fully competent to perform the duty of a Chiropodist upon all who may favor him with their patronage”. Sir Astley had supposedly dated the endorsement 27 June 1837 which would made have made Zacharie astonishingly precocious as he would only have been 10 at the time.  In 1860 he published “Surgical and Practical Observations on the Diseases of the Human Foot”, the composition of which gave him little trouble as he simply plagiarised the entire tome from an identically titled book by John Eisenberg (and from whom he had also filched the idea of fake celebrity endorsements). When the American Civil War broke out Zacharie wrote to the US Secretary of War suggesting the creation of an elite corp of chiropodists would help keep the Unionist Army on its feet. Stanton rejected the idea but as he needed his own corns cutting summoned Zacharie to the war office. He was so pleased with the results of the consultation that he introduced Zacharie to a fellow martyr to bunions, the President. The rest, as they say, is history. Zacharie somehow charmed his way into Lincoln’s good books and into a position of power and influence way beyond that merited by even the most expert use of nippers and clippers, files, probes and rasps. He was sent on sensitive diplomatic and spying missions deep in Confederate territory in New Orleans and Virginia. He backed Zacharie to be the Chiropodist General to the US Army even though the army had neither before nor since felt the need  for this particular role within its ranks. In 1865 Zacharies stellar American career came to an end when John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in the head at the Ford’s Theater.    

An endorsement for Zacharie, this time a real one, written by Abe Lincoln himself

By the early 1870’s Zacharie had apparently forgotten that the post of Chiropodist General to the US Army did not exist and billed Congress $45,000 for his services in the non-existent role in which he claimed to have treated 15,000 soldiers. The claim was rejected and he returned to England in umbrage in 1874. He took premises at 80 Brook Street near Grosvenor Square and placed adverts in the major newspapers claiming to be a foot surgeon and late chiropodist general to the United States Army and inviting anyone suffering from corns, bunions, enlarged joints and nails penetrating the flesh to come and be cured. He also set up The Secret Monitor, a branch of the Free Masons, through which he again appears to have achieved some measure of power and influence, according to the Daily Telegraph & Courier of 22 June 1899:

Although the title of the Order of the Secret Monitor sounds very cabalistic and recondite, it nevertheless simply means a modem off-shoot of Freemasonry. It only dates back to 1887, but already it has several well-known members the craft, and its present Grand Supreme Ruler is ! the Earl of Warwick. It hold its annual convocation of Grand Council last evening in the Hotel Cecil, at which his lordship presided, and at this particular meeting the custom elect, instal, and proclaim the Grand Supreme Ruler for the year, the rand Treasurer, and appoint and invest the now Grand Officers. The result of this convoca- tion, far regards officers, was that the Earl of Warwick again became Supreme Ruler, and that next in rank him was Dr. Issachar Zacharie. Judge Philbrick, Q.C., the Earl of Halsbury, Dr. Muglistoa, Mr. C. E. Keyser (High Sheriff of Berks), Deputy-Inspector General Dr. Belgrave Ninnis, Mr. Frederick West, Judge James Copley Moyle, Mr. George Richards (Transvaal), and many others received Grand Office.” Benevolence, the groat principle of Freemasonry, is not forgotten in this degree, and mot ion was on the business paper to support the Secret Monitor Benevolent Fund Festival in the autumn, at which the presence of ladies is to be invited.

Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper of 03 October 1880 describes a domestic incident which must have taken Zacharie right back to the days of the Civil War: 

SLAPPING THE FOOTMAN. At the Marlborough- street police-court, on Friday, Catherine Keats, cook, was brought before Mr. Mansfield on a warrant charged with assaulting Henry Smith, a lad of colour, footman, both in the service of Dr, Issachar Zacharie, orthopedist, 80, Brook-street, Hanover- square. Complainant stated that as he was going to lock the area gate, it being his master's orders that it should be fastened at night, the prisoner said she was the mistress of the house, and would not have it locked. On complainant telling her that he would not acknowledge her as the mistress, she struck him several times, and took up a knife and said she would rip him up. The housemaid got between them, and the matter ended. One of the blows the prisoner gave him caused his ear to bleed, and he had been a little deaf ever since. Some further evidence having been given by the housemaid, the prisoner said the footman accused her of being drunk, and she slapped him, but did not use a knife. Mr. Mansfield fined the prisoner 20s.

Friday, 15 July 2022

Master Masons and Rear Admirals, Indian Chiefs and Housebreakers, Armed Robbers and Odd Fellows, All Welcome at St John's Burial Ground, Horseferry Road, SW1

ST. JOHN'S BURYING GROUND, Westminster, is very spacious and overcrowded; the churchwardens have been obliged to give up a part of the ground, for the interment of the poor, which had formerly been set apart, for the more fortunate. The soil here is very damp, and, at a shallow depth, the water flows in abundantly; the depth of the graves varies from four to eight feet.

George A. Walker Gatherings from Graveyards (1839)

So populous was the parish of St Margaret in Westminster that it was divided in 1727 by the creation of the new parish of St John the Evangelist. The church has an unusual design of four towers and is known as Queen Anne’s footstool as legend has it that when the architect Thomas Archer asked her majesty how she would like the church to look, the petulant queen, keen no doubt to get rid of the tiresome old architect and get back to romping with Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill, kicked over the stool she was resting her heels on and told him “Like that…” It didn’t appeal to Dickens; in Our Mutual Friend, he describes it as "appearing to be some petrified monster, frightful and gigantic on its back with its legs in the air", which makes it sound more Gothic than Baroque. Roque’s map of 1746 shows that the church had quite an extensive churchyard, Mrs Basil Holmes in London’s Burial Grounds (1896) says that it “used to extend, at the beginning of the century, for some distance on the south side of the church, but was thrown into the road. Now all that remains is a very small bare enclosure, not ¼ acre in size, railed in round the church.” Even at its most extensive the churchyard was not big enough to provide enough burial spaces for the teeming parish it served. The vestry acquired additional land for a burial ground on what was then Market Street but is now the lower end of Horseferry Road. The new ground was consecrated by Dr Joseph Wilcocks, Dean of Westminster, on 29 July 1731 but soon had its own capacity issues.  One ten-year period saw 5,126 graves dug and the parish was soon reduced to desperate remedies to try and create more space for interments including adding additional earth on no less than three occasions and raising burial fees to prevent "low fees attracting interments from other parishes." Despite being extended in 1823 it was closed in 1853 by the Government on the grounds of having become a great public nuisance. 

In 1880 a committee of local ratepayers was appointed to look at converting the disused burial ground into a public garden in order to bring an end a row with the vestry about a proposal to build a mortuary on the site. When Horseferry Road was widened the strip across the front was surrendered without protest but a public mortuary was too much for the ratepayers. Luckily the Duke of Westminster stepped in and “most liberally offered the parish the freehold of a site in a retired position more suitable for the purpose, at the back of the Penitentiary, and within a short distance of the burial ground.” The vestry accepted the site offered by the Duke at the back of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon prison and allowed the burial ground to be repurposed as a garden. The headstones and chest tombs were cleared away, lawns and flower beds were laid and in 1885 the new garden was opened by the Duke. A decade later Mrs Basil Holmes commented approvingly “it is neatly kept by the vestry, and much frequented.” It still is. The lay out is pretty much as it was back in the 1880’s, a shelter in the centre has been replaced by a fountain but otherwise it is neat and well kept by the council. When I was there small children raced around the fountain on bicycles and a boy in his early teens languidly pushed himself around the boringly flat terrain on a skateboard. Dog walkers exercised their canine companions whilst smokers sat on benches puffing away contentedly. It was the early evening so they all looked like local residents; there wasn’t an office worker in sight (they were all around the corner packing out the Marquis of Granby on Romney Street). It is not obvious that the garden was once a burial ground and that there must be 20 or 30,000 people mouldering away beneath the manicured lawns and the paving slabs. The paving looks suspiciously like chopped up old headstones; at the sides of the park there definitely are old headstones being used as paving slabs, the inscription on one reads “In memory of Benjamin, John and Sally the infant children of William and Mary Ginger of this parish, Also of Mary their daughter wife of the Revd. William Hughes who died 6th April 1799 aged 33 years.”  Ledger stones are set up against the walls of the neighbouring buildings. “I think the best way of disposing of tombstones is by putting them against the walls,” wrote Mrs Basil Holmes, “in St. John’s Garden, Horseferry Road, they are cemented into an even row against the wall, and look as if they would last for ever.” Personally, I wish they had just left them where they stood. Thank God only half of Bunhill Fields was cleared to create a large lawn and the rest was left to let us see what these tiny crowded grave yards looked like. When I think of the destruction wrought by the Midland Rail Company, Baroness Burdett Coutts and the vestry of St Pancras on Old St Pancras and St Giles burial grounds I could weep.  Apart from the ledger stones cemented into the walls and the headstones being utilised as paving there are just two tombs left in St John’s, an anonymous chest tomb surrounded by black metal railings and the grade II listed memorial to Christopher Cass. 

J.E. Smith in St John the Evangelist, Westminster: parochial memorials (1892) says “On the east side of the ground stands an unsightly monument in granite, clumsily inscribed in huge letters to the memory of “Chr"- Cass, Master Mason to His Maj.'s Ordnance.  Died Apl.  21, 1734.  Aged 58."  He was employed on the construction of St.  John’s Church, and on several of the other churches built by Queen Anne’s Commission. He was also one of the original vestrymen appointed by the Commission.” The Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851 has further details of Christopher Cass and says that he was a “conspicuously successful master mason whose team worked in London, Cambridge and at a number of large country houses.” They add;

He died in London and was buried in the cemetery of St John, Westminster, under a heavy granite monument inscribed ‘Chr. Cass, master-mason to his Maj. Ordnance. Dy’d Ap. 21, 1734’. In a report to the RIBA ‘On the Mechanical Processes of Sculpture’ Charles Harriott Smith suggested that this monument was one of the earliest works in England to be executed in granite, and that ‘its mouldings, though such as would now be considered rude in form and execution, were highly esteemed in his (Mr. Smith’s) boyhood’ (Builder,1851, 215). In his will Cass originally expressed a wish to be buried in a vault beneath the portico of St Martin-in-the-Fields, but he substituted St John’s burial-ground in a codicil. To Edward Strong II, ‘my friend and benefactor’, he left £50, declaring that he owed him what ‘I and my family, under the good providence of God, have’. He named Andrews Jelfe his executor, and bequeathed him 100 guineas. Thomas Gayfere received £20 and ‘all his wearing apparel, linen and woollen of all kind’.

Cass’s widow survived him and died in 1742. Andrews Jelfe, writing in that year to William Dixon, tells him that ‘Mrs. Cass was buried last week. She had left all her part to Mr. Bright, a young lawyer, who married her daughter’.

The gardens with the Cass Memorial from Mrs Basil Holmes London's Burial Grounds (1896)

There is a large damaged and weathered ledger stone cemented to the north wall which carries the name of Admiral Ommanney and his wife Martha. A visitor to the gardens on 30 June 1923 reported the full inscription to Notes and QueriesHere lieth the Remains of Rear Admiral Cornthwaite Ommanney who died the 26th day of March 1801 aetat 65. Also the Remains of Martha Ommanney his widow who died on this 18th day of March March 1813 aetat 65. Likewise Edmund Woods Ommanney their grandson, son of Henry Manaton and Ann died 19th May, 1813, aged 2 years... On 27 March 1937 another correspondent noted that “one of the most interesting of the memorials was badly broken in moving it, involving the loss of part of the inscription to Rear-Admiral Cornthwaite Ommanney (died 1801). Fortunately this inscription had already been placed on record in ' N. and Q.' of June 30, 1923.”  Rear-Admiral Cornthwaite Ommanney was born in 1736 in Portsea, Hampshire. He was commissioned lieutenant in the Royal Navy on 22 August 1758 and promoted to commander in 1765. He commanded the HMS Zephyr, Otter, Panther and the Tartyr and saw active service in Newfoundland and in New York in 1776 participating in the campaign to recapture the city from the rebels. He became a superannuated rear-admiral in 1794 and died on 26 March 1801, ‘sincerely lamented by all his acquaintance’.

Both Holmes and Smith mention that the burial ground supposedly contains the remains of an Indian Chief. This story turns out to be true. The burial took place just two years after the grounds were opened. I found the following in the Newcastle Courant of Saturday 10 August 1734:

On Friday last dy'd of the Small-Pox, at his Apartments in the Little Ambrey, Westminster, one of the Indian Chiefs, Brother to the Queen, who was lately brought over by James Oglethorpe, Esq; The particular Manner of burying him in the Burial Ground of St. John the Evangelist in the Horseferry Road, according to the Custom of the Kings and Inhabitants of the Karakee Creeks, was as follows, viz. the Deceased being sewed up in two Blankets with one Deal Board under and another over him, and tied down with a Cord, was placed upon a Bier, and carried to the Place of Interment, and laid in the Earth without any Ceremony, his Cloaths, a Quantity of Glass Beads, and some Pieces of Silver, were thrown into the Grave, it being the Indian Custom to bury all their Effects with 'em.

James Oglethorpe was a soldier, a Member of Parliament and the founder of the colony of Georgia. He paid a visit to England in 1734/35 bringing with him a delegation of Creek Indians and their chief Tomochichi, who had been invited by the Georgia trustees to be present during the formal ratification of their treaty with Oglethorpe.   An oil painting by William Verelst, now in the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, shows Oglethorpe presenting the Yamacraw Indians to the Georgia Trustees on July 3, 1734. Perhaps the man who was buried in St John’s was amongst the group depicted in the painting. If so he was dead and buried just five weeks later.

Other interesting funerals which took place at the burial ground included Charles Cartwright who had been executed at Hertford for a robbery (in which no one died – punishments were harsh in the early nineteenth century). It was reported in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser of 18 August 1824: 

Monday, Cartwright, who had been executed at Hertford, for the robbery at Mr. Gordon’s, was buried in St. John’s Burial Ground, Westminster, with “Gypsy Nan," for the Chief Mourner. The deceased was not much above 19 years of age; who the Chief Mourner was may be imagined. An immense crowd followed the corpse, consisting of an appalling assemblage of those who are not held in too much esteem by the world’s law; however, the Queens Square Police Officers, &c were on the ground, and all went off very orderly.

And then there was James Lawns, a burglar, reported in the Morning Post of 02 August 1832:

DEATH OF A NOTORIOUS HOUSEBREAKER - On Saturday last, at an early hour in the morning, James Lawns, a noted "cracksman" in Westminster, well known to the police, was attacked with the cholera in the streets. He was taken home to his lodgings in Union-court, Orchard-street, and was attended by several medical gentlemen but without success. Lawn has frequently been in custody, and, for the last few years, is supposed to have been concerned either directly, or indirectly, in the greater part of the burglaries which have been committed in the metropolis. On his death being made known, his companions in crime raised a subscription to bury him, and on Monday afternoon the funeral took place. A fellow named Ned Nix, was the chief mourner; and the corpse was followed to St. John's burial ground, Westminster, for interment, by upwards of 500 of the most notorious thieves and vagabonds in the metropolis, many of whom shed tears.

On 23 September 1823 the Morning Advertiser reported the funeral of Henry Davy, Odd Fellow (who lived in a Pineapple, but not under the sea):

Funeral of an Odd Fellow. —On Sunday afternoon a crowd of parsons assembled in Pine Apple-court, and Castle-lane, Westminster, to witness the funeral procession of Henry Davy, an Odd Fellow. About four o’clock the avenues leading to the spot where the corpse lay were blocked up with spectators, and considerable curiosity was excited in the neighbourhood by the novel appearance of those belonging to the St. Luke’s, St. Peter’s, and St. James’s, arriving, wearing their several orders, insignias of office, and carrying the banners of the respective Lodges; in the former the deceased was a brother, six whom supported the pall. The procession moved slowly through the principal streets, towards St. John’s Church, a band of music playing at intervals sacred tunes with the drum muffled. On arrival of the corpse at St. John’s New Burial Ground, Horseferry Road, the coffin was lowered into the grave, and the funeral service read, after which the band stood forward and played the Evening Hymn; on its conclusion the earth was thrown in, and the remains covered. A vast concourse of persons collected, and the novelty of the sight was much noticed. The procession returned in the same order, and soon after dispersed.

And finally George Edmonds, military bandsman, the best performer on the French horn in Europe, reported in the Perthshire Courier of 19 September 1823;

On Thursday afternoon, at four o’clock, was interred in St John's burial ground, Westminster, the mortal remains George Edmonds, one the band the Coldstream, or Second Regiment of Foot Guards, with grand military honours, far surpassing anything of the kind witnessed in Westminster for several years. The deceased was considered to be the best performer the French horn or bugle in Europe, had the honour of being privately introduced, and having played for the King, all the Royal Family, and most of the distinguished Nobility and Gentry, and had frequently attended private parties, till his fame had spread all over the kingdom.

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Let me clip your dirty wings; William Henry Harding (1843-1878), Brompton Cemetery

Don't let him out of the cage! A parrot's bid for freedom leads to death for his erstwhile rescuer

A parrot on Sunday escaped from a house in Dean's- yard, Westminster, and flew as far as St. John's burial ground, where it alighted on one of the trees. A reward being offered, William Harding, a mason's labourer, of Horseferry-road, procured a ladder, and placing it against the tree on which the parrot was perched ascended it. He left the ladder and held on one of the branches which broke, and he fell head foremost on the edge of a tombstone with such violence that death was instantaneous.

Globe - Monday 01 July 1878

I am embarrassed to admit it but my initial reaction on reading of William Harding’s death was to laugh. The laconic version of the dead workman sketch in the Globe bears too close a resemblance to one of Wile E. Coyotes looney tune misadventures with Roadrunner not to raise a snigger; the breaking branch, the falling ladder, William’s stunned stare meeting impassive psittacine gaze whilst suspended mid-air for the split-second it always seems to take for gravity to start operating in Warner Brother cartoons.  And then the irony of braining yourself on a tombstone whilst in pursuit of a parrot. It is one of those ridiculous Victorian deaths, one to rival Henry Taylor getting himself killed by a coffin in Kensal Green or the poor Hickman’s managing to accidentally poison the entire family at Sunday lunch with arsenic stored in a flour bag.  A less frantic version of the same events in the York Herald of 3rd July, whilst still steeped in bathos, manages to at least sound like a misfortune;

SHOCKING OCCURRENCE IN WESTMINSTER. Yesterday morning the particulars of a shocking accident were forwarded to Mr Bedford, the coroner. During Sunday a valuable parrot effected its escape from a house in Deans-yard, West- minster, and flew as far as St. John's burial ground, which is situated between Horseferry-road and Page-street, where it alighted on one of the trees. A reward was offered for the capture of the bird, and many ineffectual attempts were made to regain it. The parrot still remaining at the spot, a man named William Harding, a mason's labourer, of 52, Horseferry-road, about eleven o'clock on Sunday night procured a ladder, and placing it against the tree on which the parrot was perched, ascended it. In order to get within reach of the bird, he left the ladder and held on by one of the branches, which broke with his weight, and he fell headforemost on the edge of a tombstone, with such violence that death was instantaneous. His body presented a most sickening appearance, the head being completely battered in. Deceased, who was about forty years of age, leaves a widow and five children.

William's burial record at Brompton Cemetery

William Henry Harding died on Sunday 30th June and was buried the following Saturday, the 6th July, in a common grave in Brompton Cemetery. The officiating clergyman was the Rev. Nathaniel Liberty, chaplain to the cemetery and to the Brompton Cancer Hospital (3 years later he buried George Borrow). The burial records confirms William’s address as 52 Horseferry Road but gives his age as 35 rather than the 40 reported in the newspapers. With a full name, an address, an accurate year of birth and a household containing a wife and five children I thought it would be relatively easy to track down records relating to the family.  There were more William Hardings than I imagined living in Westminster and just across the river in North Lambeth, but none of them lived at 52 Horseferry Lane or had 5 children living with them in the 1871 census. It transpired that William had a complicated, rather tragic, family life which took me some time and effort to unravel.

On census returns William Henry Harding gives 1843 as the year of his birth and says that he was born in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields. His father Henry was a coachman but I wasn’t able to trace a baptism record for him or find out the name of his mother. In his early twenties he began a relationship with Sophia Ann Mary Cutler. Sophia was the same age as William and like him from Westminster, she was the second of five daughters born to Samuel and Fanny Cutler who lived in Clarks Cottages in Causton Street, just off of the Vauxhall Bridge Road. Sophia’s father was originally from Birmingham, a maker of military ornaments, but her mother was another Westminster native. William and Sophia evidently got on well, in February 1865 the pair were planning to get married as they had the banns read by the vicar at St. John the Evangelist in Smith Square. Perhaps the couple quarrelled because the wedding did not go ahead. But they then must have made up as the banns were read again in September the same year. The argumentative pair must have fallen out again because once more the actual wedding did not take place. Whatever the cause of the disagreement it did not keep them apart for too long; by January 1869 they were living together in Little Chapel Street Soho and proudly having their two daughters, Frances and Elizabeth (named after Sophia’s sister and her aunt) baptised at Christ Church on Broadway (destroyed in the blitz and now the site of Christ Church Gardens on Victoria Street). The following year another daughter, Jane Mary, was baptised at St Margaret’s, the church that stands in the shadow of Westminster Abbey. By the time of the 1871 census William and Sophia had moved out of London and were living in Trowbridge in Wiltshire with 5-year-old Elizabeth and 11-month-old Jane. Frances has disappeared, and has, as was all too common in the 19th century, most likely died. And then, very unexpectedly, the following year Sophia is admitted to Westminster workhouse taking with her not two but five children. There are no children’s names recorded in the workhouse records but her next of kin is given as her mother Frances Cutler of 19 Tufton Street. There had clearly been another break up with William but where had the additional three children come from? We simply don’t know. As always the rift between the couple was temporary and in 1873 theyr were back together again and this time finally going through with the wedding. They were married on 30 November 1873 at St Mary at Lambeth, the church next door to Lambeth Palace which is now the Garden Museum. Both were living at Mill Street in Lambeth. Almost exactly nine months to the day after the wedding Sophia and William celebrated a double first, the birth of their first legitimate child and first son, who was, of course, named William Henry after his father. The family were living at 77 Berwick Street and William père was listed as a Masons labourer. They had another son in 1877, Alfred Samuel, who seems not to have been baptised.  The family now had the 5 children mentioned in the newspaper reports of William’s death. With 5 children and a wife to support it is no surprise that William was prepared to scale ladders in a dark burial ground to try and rescue a parrot with a price on its head.

William and Sophia's marriage record at St Mary at Lambeth

William’s death was a disaster for the family; in straitened economic circumstances she was unable to support the five children and keep the family together. On December 21st 1879 she baptised another child at St John the Evangelist giving her address as 23 Romney Street and declaring William to the father despite him having died almost 18 months earlier. She told the vicar that her son, Leonard Joseph, was born on the 21st January which, if true, would have made it possible for William to be the posthumous father. As she did not go on to either have any other children or to remarry or live with another man, it seems likely that she was telling the truth and that at the time of William’s death she was three months pregnant. The records of the Westminster workhouse tell a sad story of increasing poverty and desperation on the part of Sophia. In October 1878 she had been admitted to the workhouse with just her two youngest children, two-year-old Alfred and the still unbaptised baby Leonard. The following month Alfred and Leonard were both left separately, and alone, at the workhouse. Whatever hardship and deprivation the family were going through proved too much for Leonard, he died in March 1881 and like his father was buried at Brompton Cemetery. In that year’s census Sophia was living at 19 Tufton Street, her mothers address, with Alfred. The only trace we have of the other children at this point is Elizabeth who is listed in the census as an inmate at the Sudbury Hall Home for Girls, on Harrow Road.  In 1887 Sophia is admitted to Westminster workhouse again this time in the company of 13-year-old William; Alfred has disappeared. They gave their address as 10 Wood Street.  In the 1891 census when William was 15 and Sophia 48, they were living at Lion Buildings in Tufton Street. He was working as errand boy, and his mother as a seamstress.  By June that year Sophia was back in the workhouse, this time ominously admitted as a lunatic. William ended up as an inmate at a boy’s home at 164 Shaftesbury Avenue. We glimpse him again in 1894 when he admits himself to the workhouse and we see 58-year-old Sophia on the 1901 census living at New Compton Street and still giving her occupation as seamstress. Alfred, although apparently given up by his mother before he was 10, was still alive in in 1902 when he married Eliza Thelner at St John the Baptist in Great Marlborough Street but after this, we lose sight of both him and his mother. 

The ordnance surveyof 1890 shows how small the area was in which William and Sophia spent their lives, St John's Gardens is the burial ground where William died and the map shows Horseferry Road, Tufton Street and Romney Sreet, all places where they had lived. 

The 30-year-old William Henry, William and Sophia’s first son, was married on August 7 1904 to 36-year-old widow Annie Sophia Murray, living in Cleveland Street Fitzrovia.  By the time of the 1911 census the couple were living at 62 Welbourne Road in Tottenham. They had no children and William was an out of work carman. During the first world war William joined the Army Service Corp. His records show that he was still with Annie and the couple had a daughter named after her grandmother, Sophia. William died in October 1916, his death registered at Edmonton. Did little Sophia ever know that her grandfather had died trying to save a parrot?

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

"Firmly in the second division"; Wimbledon Cemetery, Gap Road SW19


Gap Road Cemetery, say Meller and Parsons haughtily, “must be placed firmly in the second division.” The use of the word ‘firmly’ is interesting, as though poor Wimbledon might be guilty of getting ideas above its station and needs to be sternly reminded that it is not a cemetery worth anyone going out of their way to see. It was originally opened as a 20-acre site in 1877; “Two Gothic Chapels, each with a small broach spare, were by Sir Banister Fletcher and the ground ‘laid out’ for £6,000, but it is not a very distinguished complex and rather spoiled by a glass roof mortuary placed squarely in the middle,” they say in ‘London Cemeteries’. They go on to complain that the best memorial, the Cooke mausoleum has attracted vandalism and is now “in a sorry state” and that the prime grave plots near the paths “have all been cornered by local dignitaries, mayors and local councillors of the Borough”. I was there a couple of years ago on a bright, sunny October day with the temperature in the low 20’s – it didn’t seem so bad to me. There are a lot of angels and unusually, an Ankh memorial for local doctor James Milward who died in 1917. There are few persons of note buried here though somewhere in its extended 28 acres is the grave of poet Eliza Cook which I have been promising myself to try and find. 

Complaints about the cemetery apparently started early. A disgruntled ratepayer from Wimbledon wrote to the Surrey Comet on 10 April 1877, complaining bitterly about cemetery mud;

Sir,—l was glad to find that the suggestion in your columns that planks should be laid from the pathways to the open graves in this cemetery had been attended to by the authorities. I would submit, however, that on very damp days (it is doubtful if we have had many days of any other kind since the opening of the cemetery) that there should be a little more liberal supply of boards at the grave. The boards on the day I saw them held about 10 people. If one of the mourners had stepped off the mound, he or would have been ankle deep in slough. Something has certainly been done in the right direction but a little more is needed for the comfort of those whose sorrow, not pleasure, induces their attendance. The Burial Board, I feel confident, have but one desire, and that is to minister to the convenience and comfort of the parishioners. I hope therefore when next I stand by the side of a grave it will not be in the sticky mud, but, if a damp day, upon a parish board, the expense of which the vestry assuredly will never grudge. I am, &c. RATEPAYER Wimbledon April 10. P.S. —How will gravestones when erected retain their perpendicular in the present state of the soil?

The mire in the cemetery was not the only bone of contention amongst the ratepayers of Wimbledon. The annual Easter vestry meeting held on the evening of the 3rd April 1877 in the church hall had been unusually well attended and noisy almost to the point of rowdiness. The meeting started with the vicar, the Rev. Haygarth, taking the chair and having one of his churchwardens, Mr Stride, explain that the annual accounts were not quite ready to be audited and suggesting that another meeting be held in 3 weeks’ time to examine them. The vicar then announced the appointment of a new churchwarden. So far, so good. But when Mr Stride moved, and Colonel Cole seconded that Mr Arthur Harmer be appointed sexton, all hell broke loose. Mr Scott, backed by Mr Paxton, said that as the churchyard was about to be closed there was no necessity for a sexton. Someone suggested a compromise, make the cemetery superintended the Sexton. This proposal was howled down as being completely inappropriate. Colonel Cole, having proposed Mr Harmer for Sexton then began to argue that the post was purely for the churchyard and that the burial board, responsible for the cemetery, could not interfere in the freehold of the churchyard which belonged to the vicar. “Would you allow the burial board to dig in your garden?” he asked “It is your freehold for the time being – at least I hope it is!”  The proposal to appoint a sexton was voted down by 40 votes to 33. The unstated issue, as was often the case in these sorts of disputes, was the church’s right to charge a burial fee in the cemetery. Despite the vote of the Vestry the Vicar went on to appoint Mr Harmer as Sexton and also authorised him to collect burial fees. Two years after the vestry meeting the burial board felt obliged to put a notice in the Surry Comet (19 April 1879) warning parishioners not to pay fees to the parish Sexton:

WIMBLEDON LOCAL BOARD. WIMBLEDON CEMETERY. SEXTONS FEES. IT having come to the knowledge of the Wimbledon Burial Board, that the Pariah Clerk (Mr. Arthur Harmer), has demanded, and in many cases, received Fees as Sexton, when Burials have taken place in this Cemetery. Notice is hereby given, that the Board has never authorised Mr. Harmer to receive such Fees, nor has or any other person, been appointed Sexton. It is therefore particularly requested that, if demanded, no such Fees be paid. By order W. H. WHITFIELD, Clerk. Wimbledon Burial Board Office 2nd April 1879

How the matter was finally resolved I don’t know but financial conflicts over fees between the parish and the management of the new cemeteries was not uncommon in 19th century London.  

The Glasgow Herald of 12 November 1900 gave more prominence to the Queen’s representative at a funeral in the cemetery than it did to the actual deceased, a table decker at the palace, a flunky whose job for almost 30 years was to set the table for Royal meals;

Mr Brook Taylor, one of the Queen's Gentlemen Ushers. represented Her Majesty at the funeral of the late Mr Kirby, which took place at Wimbledon Cemetery yesterday. Mr Kirby was in the Queen's service 56 years, and for the last 29 years was Her Majesty's principal table decker.

In the days when being alive at 100 was a very rare event indeed, the newspapers always loved a centenarian. Mrs Coke, the Leinster Reporter noted on 9 April 1904, came from a family of long-lived individuals;

Mrs Coke, of Hartfield-road, Wimbledon, died last week at the age of 101, and was buried in Wimbledon Cemetery on Saturday. She had lived in the reigns of five monarchs.  Up to April last she was able to do light household work and to sew, knit, and read Mr Bible. Her father died at the age of 101, and her mother was within three months of that age at her death. Mrs Coke leaves a son who is seventy-two, and a daughter-in-law who is seventy-four.

A couple of years later the Cheltenham Chronicle (14 April 1916) were reported the death of ‘the oldest farmers widow in England’;

DEATH OF A CENTENARIAN. The funeral of Mrs. Cordeaux, who was the oldest farmer's widow in England, took place at Wimbledon Cemetery on Tuesday. Mrs. Cordeaux died on the 4th inst. at her residence, Trevose, Worcester Park, and she was 103 years old. Deceased was possessed of wonderful faculties up till the last, and took great interest in Parliamentary matters, the doings of the Royal Family, and also local politics. Her memory was exceptionally keen, and she vividly remembered and related incidents of the Napoleonic wars and reminiscences of the time when there were taxes upon windows and saddle horses. The deceased and her husband, James Cordeaux, who was a well-known farmer, and died at Raynes Park in 1890, spent most of their lives at Lutterworth, Warwickshire, where they celebrated their diamond jubilee.

And finally, from the Sporting Gazette of Saturday 21 January 1882, the premature demise of an apparently well known coach guard;

COACHING NOTES. On Saturday morning last, Robert Rear. who has for many years been the well-known guard of the Windsor Summer and Ramsgate and Canterbury Autumn coaches, dropped down dead as he was going Into the yard by the side of his coach, at 7, Edgware-road; it may truly be said that he died In harness. A subscription has been started to defray the expenses of his funeral, and to give a helping hand to his widow and six little children, the eldest of whom is but thirteen years, and the youngest fourteen months. All coaching men knew him, and many thousands of passengers who have heard his stories and the sound of his horn will no doubt come forward to assist the widow and orphans in their dire distress. Major Dixon has opened a list at the Badminton Club and at the White Horse Cellars, where Mr Banks will receive any subscriptions, and we need only say that we shall gladly do the same, and all subscriptions sent to " The COUNTY GENTLEMAN" will be acknowledged in these columns. The funeral takes place to-day at Wimbledon Cemetery, at 12.30, when the Oatland Park Coach (Mr. Bonverie's) will not run its regular route, but wiII take down any coachmen and guards who wish to attend to pay a last tribute to one who was always civil and obliging to his passengers, and ready to give a helping hand to everyone.