Friday 23 September 2022

Drive your cart and plow over the bones of the dead; the display of human remains in museums


With my new found in South American mummies I decided to revisit the remains of ‘Guimaral’ at the Wellcome Collection, which, very handily, is just a brisk 20-minute walk from my office along the traffic fumes of Euston Road.  I have seen him before, and he is very memorable, but nevertheless I was keen to get reacquainted. It was a Thursday evening and the Wellcome was quiet; despite the proximity to my workplace I haven’t been back there since the ending of Covid restrictions. On the ground floor everything seemed pretty much as it was back pre-pandemic except that the Blackwells book store behind the café has disappeared and the security staff seem to have lost any interest in checking bags. But on the second floor there have been some unexpected changes; ‘Guimaral’ had once reigned as the undisputed draw of Medicine Man, the Wellcome’s tribute to its founder Henry Soloman Wellcome but at the place he had lived since the gallery opened in 2007 all I found was an empty display case. A notice informed me that the “naturally preserved or ‘mummified’ body of a young man who died approximately 600-800 years ago” had been removed from being exhibited as a result of “changing ethical standards around displaying human remains and in light of work reviewing whose perspectives receive prominence in our collections.” The notice made clear that until now the Wellcome regards itself as having “prioritising the gaze of science and museum visitors over the burial intentions of the culture of origin.” Even worse the mummy had been obtained in the 1920’s at “a time when human remains were often acquired for anthropological study, including to support the development of racist scientific theories about supposed racial hierarchies.” Having voiced concerns about the burial intentions of the culture to which the mummy belonged the Wellcome then has to admit that it does not actually know what his cultural origins are; “we will research this man’s geographical and cultural origins,” they say “in order to inform appropriate future care.” Until the museum can establish this the mummy will presumably remain in storage, an object too controversial to be seen by the general public.

How very different things were back in 2007 when the Wellcome Collection opened in its new building. James Watson (of DNA fame) presided over the opening ceremony and the Guardian reported on 17 June that “Britain's newest national museum - dedicated to medicine and its impact on life - will open its doors this week to reveal some of the strangest artefacts connected with human anatomy: a blade from a French guillotine, a robot used in the sequencing of the human genome, an Andy Warhol painting of the heart, a Chinese torture chair and a 14th-century Peruvian mummy.” Clearly the desiccated Peruvian (if that is what he is) was a major element of the Wellcome’s modern take on the Wunderkammer and one that was no different from anything else in its list of oddities, a guillotine, a robot, a painting, a chair and a dead Latin American.  Shortly after the opening the Naked Scientists Blog (01 July 2007) visited Medicine Man and spoke to staff about public reaction to the collection. Visitor Services Assistant Brittany Hudak told them that “I think that so far people have tended to gravitate towards the Peruvian Mummy, or even people coming in the door have asked ‘where's the mummy?’  Which goes to show that the fascination of the mummified body is apparently still alive and well.” Ken Arnold, the Head of Public Programmes for the Wellcome added “This is a mummified male figure in a sort of foetal position with its very delicate skin draped over the skeleton.  It's between five and seven hundred years old.  One of the things that I'm sure intrigued Wellcome is that fact that actually this is completely naturally preserved.  It's simply wrapped in textiles and then dried.  It shows that the people who did this had a strong understanding of how to preserve biological material.  Also, of course, what we're able to do now is apply modern scientific techniques to study objects like this.” In fifteen years the Peruvian mummy has effortlessly changed status from star attraction to bone of contention along with the Shuar tsantsa, often called a shrunken head, which lived in the display case opposite. Both have been removed from display until the Wellcome decides what to do with them.

Skeletal remains; one of 20,000 in storage at the Museum of London (photo Amanda Ruggeri)

It was in 2000 that Tony Blair and Australian premier John Howard, issued a joint statement pledging to increase repatriation of Indigenous Australian human remains back to their communities, saying that “the governments recognise the special connection that indigenous people have with ancestral remains, particularly where there are living descendants.” At the time, under English law, national museums were banned from permanently giving up anything in their collections, a position which effectively nullified the joint statement. In 2004 the Labour Government passed the Human Tissue Act, prompted by a scandal at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital where medical staff had stored body parts from dead children without their parent’s permission. The Act contained a clause allowing nine, named national museums the power to transfer human remains less than 1,000 years old out of their collections “if it appears to them to be appropriate to do so for any reason”. Since then, the nine named institutions have received many requests for the repatriation of human remains from Governments and communities around the world, and have had to wrestle with the ethical issues raised by the acquisition and storage of the dead. In a UCL blog written in 2017 Julia R Deathridge ponders the question ‘should human remains be displayed in museums?’ “In the past human remains were regularly collected from excavation sites and displayed in museum cases with little thought put into the person that they once were. However, feelings towards the use of human remains in the UK have begun to change in recent years.” She points to the 2005 Department for Culture, Media & Sport Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums and says that since then “human remains have been given a unique status within collections and are no longer treated as objects.” It is a refrain you often hear in the argument – human remains are not the same as other objects, their status is completely different. But is that right? And what would the dead themselves have wanted? Would they want to be on display in a museum, would they have given their consent? Professor Geoffrey Scarre of Durham University thinks not; in a 2003 article on ‘Archaeology and Respect for the Dead’ in the Journal of Applied Philosophy he argues “it is fairly certain that an Egyptian pharaoh would not have wished to be translated from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings to a glass case in the British Museum… Ancient Egyptians took very seriously the issue of their welfare after death. For Egyptians of all ranks, one of the main tasks of this life was to make suitable preparations for the prosperity in the next…” I am sure that is all true but the real question for me is should we care what the dead want? Should the wishes of the dead take precedence over the wishes of the living?

In a response to Deathridge’s blog the artist Susan Elaine Jones wrote “I feel the importance of displays of human remains is invaluable. The last hundred years may be unique in human history in terms of not seeing human remains and engendering a culture of death denial. Historically, attending death beds, visiting church ossuaries and saintly relics and dissections for public education (not just behind closed doors of medical schools) all took their turns in human history of displaying the dead and helping the living come to terms with their mortality. It seems a peculiarly modern whim that the only way to show respect is to hide our dead. With death happening in hospitals rather than at home, and a culture of closed coffins, it isn’t surprising that the public have to turn to displays in museums, Body Worlds, and even death awareness events such as Dying for Life to be able to look their inevitable future of death in the face, and so make the most of their lives. For all these reasons, I would argue strongly that most displays of human remains are both essential and respectful.”

Whilst I agree with Jones’ view there is no getting away from the fact that the acquisition and display of human remains in museums was often (but by no means exclusively) underpinned by a world view that viewed non-European cultures as other and inferior. The issue of whether human remains should or should not be displayed in museums is therefore contaminated by questions of racism and exploitation. The two issues can be unravelled – Gunther Van Hagen’s Bodyworld exhibitions elicit their own share of controversy but the dead all consented to be on display. Personally I don’t see why human remains should not be on display but I have no religious or spiritual beliefs and I think only human arrogance makes a human corpse a special or privileged object. All flesh is grass. As Blake said; “drive your cart and plow over the bones of the dead.”

Friday 16 September 2022

'The temptations of a passion contrary to reason....'; John Child, 2nd Earl Tylney (1712-1784), St Mary the Virgin, Wanstead

The Earl's heart, shipped to England in a jar, still waiting for admittance to the family vault


No one seems to be quite sure where the body of John Child, the 2nd Earl Tylney, lies. He died in Naples on the 17th September 1784 and it would seem logical to have buried him in the English cemetery there which had been interring his compatriots since 1726. But there is no record of his grave there. The year before his own death, he had been with his nephew, Charles, in Rome when he died of malaria. Charles was buried in the eternal city’s English Cemetery and perhaps Tylney’s body was taken to Rome and he was buried there? Again there is no record. He is sometimes said to have been laid to rest at the antico cimitero inglese degli Livorno, the old English burial ground at Leghorn. This would be wonderfully ironic, as he would have been buried just a few yards away from the Scottish novelist Tobias Smollett who died in Tuscany in 1771 and whose grave is at Leghorn.  Smollett, whose undisguised gusto for the seamier side of life earned him the sobriquet the Learned Smelfungus from Laurence Sterne, had, in Roderick Random, caricatured Tylney as Lord Strutwell, an aristocrat who was “notorious for a passion for his own sex”.  Whilst Tylney’s name does appear on a tombstone in the cemetery it is not his own, but belongs to his nephew. The inscription is in Latin - losiae Child Iuveni Suavissimo lohannes Comes Tylney Patruus maerens posuit anno MDCCLXXIV; Josiah Child, the sweetest young man, Earl John Tylney mournfully laid him to rest in the year 1774.  We may be unsure of the whereabouts of the Earl’s body but we know exactly where his heart is; following the instructions in his will, it was removed and sent to England in a glass jar, to be buried with his ancestors in the family vault in the crypt of St Mary the Virgin in Wanstead. His dead relatives seem not to have been keen to receive him; 238 years later his dessicated cuore, in its sealed Murano glass vase, stands forlornly atop a pile of paving slabs and a broken font in the corridor of the crypt, still waiting admittance to the vault. His name and dates have been inscribed on the huge memorial slab that seals the entrance to the Child/Tylney tomb but his mortal remains stay firmly outside, given the cold shoulder for over two centuries. 

Under normal circumstances John Child would not have inherited his father’s title. He was born in 1712, the third son of Richard Child the 1st Earl Tylney. His two older brothers had both predeceased their father and so it was John who became the 2nd Earl in 1750 and inherited the magnificent Palladian mansion of Wanstead House when the 1st Earl died. He was educated at Westminster School and at Christ Church in Oxford. In 1734 his father stood down as an MP from his Essex seat to allow the 22-year-old John to stand in his place. The voters were not impressed and humiliatingly he was not returned. He seems not to have embarked on a grand tour after leaving university; perhaps his father was anxious about letting him out of his sight after losing his two elder brothers. He does not seem to have started his travels until he became Earl in his own right.   On 6 December 1751 the Derby Mercury reported that “on Wednesday an Express arrived at the seat of the Hon. Mr. Child, at Walthamstow, which occasioned a Report that the Earl of Tylney was one of the four English Gentlemen lately robbed and murdered, as they were travelling from Mantua to Turin.” Despite family anxieties the Earl was alive and well and determined to continue his peregrinations on the continent. His love for Italy would have been some consolation for him when, in the early 1760’s he was forced to flee abroad to escape the repercussions of being caught in flagrante with a pair of handsome footmen. Or at least that is what Jeremy Bentham believed; in his manuscript essay Pederasty, written in 1785, a year after the Earl’s death, he writes about Smollett’s portrayal of Lord Strutwell and comments; Much about the time when this novel was published a Scotch Earl was detected in the consummation of an amour after the manner of Tiberius with two of his servants at the same time. The affair getting around, he found himself under the obligation of going off to the Continent where at the close of a long life he died not many years since. In the margin of his manuscript Bentham identifies the ‘Scotch Earl’ as ‘Lord Tylney’.

John Child, 2nd Earl Tylney, seated centre, with his gentleman friends at Sir Horace Mann's house in Florence, detail from a picture by Thomas Patch (c1765)

In Italy he set himself up in Florence in a ‘pretty house and a small garden where he has a great quantity of golden pheasants’ according to one contemporary. William Beckford, a fellow exile fleeing from disapproving English attitudes towards homosexuality, approved of Tylney’s  ‘fine house all over blue and silver, with stuffed birds, alabaster cupids, and a thousand prettinesses more...’ but Robert Harvey, a Norfolk gentleman, ‘could not avoid thinking of his superb palace on Epping Forest and comparing it to his neat but small house here.’ Tylney was, he lamented ‘an unhappy man who could not resist the temptations & instigations of a passion, contrary to reason & at which nature shudders.’ He did not live in permanent exile and seems to have travelled back to Wanstead from time to time, continuing to take an interest in the affairs of the estate and to commission works, including the grotto, in the gardens and grounds. In August 1763 Aris's Birmingham Gazette reported on an expensive purchase for Wanstead; “the French King for Want of Money, refused lately to purchase an elegant Piece of Tapestry that was made for him. It was afterwards purchased by Earl Tylney for £2500”.  Much as he seems to have loved the estate and despite, or perhaps because of, the extravagant spending on the house the Salisbury and Winchester Journal reported in August 1772 that rumours of Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester “having purchased the Earl of Tylney’s seat upon Epping Forest, is absolutely without foundation.” The newspaper went on to claim that “the Earl cannot sell it without the concurrence of the heir at law, Sir James Long, which has been often solicited, and as repeatedly refused.”

In The English Way of Death (1991) Julian Litten gives a fascinating account of a masquerade supposedly organised by Tylney in 1768 in the grounds of Wanstead House;

“Many lights appear in the trees and on the water. We are off and have great excitement fishing up treasure… tied to bladders. His Lordship is hailed from the shore by a knight, who we are told is King Arthur, have you the sacrifice my Lord, who answers no, then take my sword and smite the water in front of the grot and see what my wizard has done, take also this dove and when asked, give it to the keeper. Off again to some distance from the grotto, the lights are small and the water still, the giant eagle appears and asks, have you the sacrifice, no my Lord answers, so be it and disappears in steam.

His Lordship smites the water with King Arthur’s sword, all the company are still, a rumble sucking noise comes in front of the opening of the grotto the water as if boiling and to the horror of all the company as though from the depth of hell arose a ghastly coffin covered with slime and other things. Silence as though relief, when suddenly with a creaking and ghostly groaning the lid slid as if off and up sat a terrible apparition with outstretched hand screeching in a hollow voice, give me my gift, with such violence, that some of the company fell into the water and had to be saved and those on the shore scrambled in always confusion was everywhere. We almost fainted with fright and was only stayed from the same fate by the hand of his Lordship, who handed the keeper the dove the keeper shut its hand and with a gurgling noise vanished with a clang of its lid, and all went pitch. Then the roof of the grotto glowed two times lighting the water and the company a little, nothing was to be seen of the keeper or his coffin, as though it did not happen. [sic!]”

Litten speculates that King Arthur’s words ‘see what my wizard has done…’ are a coded reference to John Joseph Merlin, the only man in London who had the technical ability to create such an extravaganza of automata and special effects. Litten’s source note for this story is almost as intriguing as the story itself; “I am indebted to Stuart Campbell-Adams for this quotation, said to have come from the journals of an Italian noblewoman who had spent some time at Wanstead House, Essex. His information is that these notes were rescued from the Tylney papers either by a maid or a relative of Catherine Tylney Long (Hon. Mrs Long Wellesley) prior to many of the records being burnt.” A 2019 report on the Wanstead Park grotto prepared for the City of London corporation by Alan Baxter Ltd gives the above quote in full whilst noting “the dubious provenance of the source, coupled with the chronology of Lord Tylney’s time in Italy, casts doubt on its veracity. However, it has been reproduced here, heavily caveated, because it offers a flavour of the possible, theatrical uses for the Grotto.” Sally Jeffrey in The Gardens of Wanstead (1999) has similar doubts. She also quotes the passage in full but adds a footnote “the description has not been checked, since I have so far failed to locate Stuart Campbell-Adams who provided the information to Julian Litten. Any information on this source would be gratefully received”. I think I did manage to trace Stuart Campbell-Adams to an address in Walthamstow, but unfortunately, he died in 2016. We may never get to the bottom of this mystery.

Earl Tylney's desiccated heart can be just about made out inside the patterned glass.
And another mystery to finish from the Dublin Evening Post of Saturday 05 February 1780, a four legged bird, a harbinger of the Earl’s imminent death?

A few days ago, a very extraordinary and uncommon bird was shot in the Earl of Tylney’s park at Wanstead, Essex. It has four legs, which are placed diametrically opposite each other; its size is something less than that a goose. It is web-footed like a duck, with this difference, that the web is quite black, but as fine in texture as the wings of a bat; its neck is prodigiously long, very small, and something resembling an eel; with very remarkable eyes, which are extremely small; and its bill or beak of an uncommon form. It has certainly the most beautiful plumage that ever was seen, being tinged over with almost every colour that is seen in the feathered tribe.

A prodigiously long, eel like neck and fabulous multicoloured plumage?  Part of me really wants to believe in this fabulous creature but another part of me just wonders if the huntsman had never seen a cormorant before? The iridescence on the feathers might well be startling if you have never seen it close up.  

Friday 9 September 2022

The ghosts of St Mary's churchyard, Wanstead E11


If you believe that sort of nonsense there are at least four apparitions that haunt the churchyard at St Mary’s in Wanstead, though two of them are a double act, so perhaps they only count as one?  The dullest, in hue at least, is the grey lady who has been unsuccessfully scouring the churchyard on moonless nights for at least a hundred years, looking for her missing husband. Gray ladies are, of course, ten a penny and no one pays much attention to her. There is a skull and crossbones headstone for a Thomas Turpin in the churchyard; the occupant is reputed to be Dick Turpin’s uncle. The housebreaking, highway robbing 18th century thug supposedly visits his uncle periodically though without Black Bess, which is quite unusual for a sighting of Britain’s busiest ghost. If you don’t see him in Wanstead then you need to take yourself off to St George’s Field in York, close to where he was executed in 1739. He can also be found haunting various pubs including the Bell Inn in Cambridgeshire, The Chequers in Bickley in Kent, and the Old Swan in Milton Keynes, where you at least can get a decent pint of beer while you wait for busy Dick to show up. If you still don’t have any luck, try the Bath Road at Longford, the deserted village of Stretton Baskerville in Leicestershire, Stubbings in Berkshire, Edlesborough in Buckinghamshire, Hounslow Heath, Traps Hill in Loughton, or Garswood near St. Helens. There are more but I can’t bring myself to list them all; Turpin really is Britain’s most unquiet spirit.

The third ghost, definitely my favourite, is a skeleton who wheels a coffin loaded onto a handcart around the burial ground.  Some say he is looking for his wife but if that is the case why is he pushing a coffin? Is he going to put her in it? Doesn’t he realise he is too late? At some point in his circumnavigation of the churchyard he passes an ornate tomb where a white lady (fully fleshed) emerges and embraces him. Some say that the corpse of the lady in white was stolen by body snatchers but this does not make the meaning of the pantomime with the skeleton any clearer. 

The grave of Thomas Turpin, allegedly uncle to dastardly Dick, Essex's most famous thug

There has been a church on the site of St Mary’s for at least 800 years; the first record of the parish dates from 1208.  Some of the memorials in the churchyard predate the current church; the oldest headstone is for James Waly who died in 1685. The new church was built between 1787 and 1790, the architect was Thomas Hardwick. JMW Turner was briefly in the employment of Thomas Hardwick and his boss sent him off to Wanstead to produce a watercolour of the old church before it was demolished. Turner’s picture shows a square towered church surrounded by a churchyard filled with headstones and chest tombs. A gravedigger stands waist deep in a half excavated grave observed by a gentleman in a bright blue frock coat, black felt hat, breeches and white stockings who leans casually on his walking stick. The new church Pevsner described as being “worthy in its appearance of the noble aspiration of the mansion." The mansion has, of course, been long demolished but the elegant Georgian church is now Grade I listed. 

The oldest newspaper story I could find mentioning the churchyard (apart from the graverobbers of 1824) was this from the London Mercury, 27 August 1837, about the overly hasty burial of an initially unidentified body found in Epping Forest:

SHOCKING OCCURRENCE — An inquest was held on Saturday evening last at the Eagle Inn, Snaresbrook, on the body of a gentleman of the name of Cooper, which had been found in a very decomposed state in Epping Forest. A lengthened investigation took place, but as no satisfactory evidence was produced the jury returned a verdict ‘that the deceased was found dead in Epping Forest, with a pistol wound through his body; but whether such was inflicted by his own hand or by any other party there was no evidence to the jury;' and the body was interred on the following morning in Wanstead churchyard without funeral rites. (There was nobody to pay the parson.)

In consequence of a letter written by Mr. Baker, a surgeon, and which appeared in some of the Sunday journals, the friends of the deceased called upon that gentleman, and on Sunday they proceeded to Snaresbrook for the purpose of identifying the body, but, to their great astonishment, they found that the inquiry had been held and the deceased interred; but, on the clothes being produced, the identification of the unfortunate gentleman was fully established. He was a single, man, and had held responsible situations under Government. He left his residence in Crown street, Westminster, on last Friday fortnight, at which time he was in a very low dejected state of mind, arising from his affections having been blighted. Soon after he absented himself his brother, who resides in the Regent's Park, received a letter from him (deceased), of which the following is a verbatim copy:

"Thursday Evening.  Dear Brother, I thought it best to send a few lines to you, so that you might break the melancholy news to my poor dear mother, who, I am afraid, will take it greatly to heart. I do indeed intend to make my exit. I have provided myself amply with the means to effect my purpose; it is, indeed, a premeditated act, and which I have contemplated for a long time; this is all owing to my dear Emma. I wrote to her, saying she would hear disagreeable news of me, but of what nature I gave her no reason to guess. Dear brother, support and strengthen our dear mother for my sake. So far from being dejected I feel quite happy respecting the change I am about to undergo. Farewell for ever.  F. Cooper"

The deceased was respectably connected. On Monday Mr. Baker, the surgeon, applied to the Lord Mayor for his opinion respecting the indecent manner in which the deceased had been interred.

Another body found floating in a pond on Wanstead Flats in 1856 was never identified. This is from the Essex Standard of Friday 08 August 1856;

An inquest was held on Friday last, before C. C. Lewis. Esq. at the Eagle Inn, Snaresbrook, touching the death of a man unknown, found dead in a pond at the rear of Clark's Buildings, Wanstead.— A witness having deposed to the fact of finding the body, the jury returned a verdict of "Found dead in a pond; but how deceased came to his death there is no evidence to show." The body is described as from 35 to 40 years of age. 5ft. 8in. or 9in. high, dark complexion, hair and whiskers; dressed in blue striped blouse, black waistcoat, cord trousers, blue striped shirt, cotton handkerchief, blue ribbed stockings, blucher boots, and black cap with peak. The body was interred the same evening in Wanstead churchyard.

A seaman’s funeral at the churchyard from the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette of Monday 16 January 1882:

The remains of Captain Sim, the much-respected veteran Mariner, aged 94 years, were conveyed to his last resting-place on Saturday in Old Wanstead Churchyard. Numerous friends (about 150) were there to pay their last tribute of respect; amongst them were many ancient Mariners—viz., Captains Carr, Mainland. M'lntyre, Price, Frost, Paddle, Ike; also Messrs. George Ward, Strang, T. B. Walker, Wilkinson, Sherman. &c. The deceased always took great interest in the Merchant Seamen's Orphan Asylum. The worthy Secretary and his wife, with 12 of the Seamen's orphans, were in attendance, the girls with baskets of white flowers to strew on the coffin; also some of his female attendants, one with an anchor of white flowers, and others with white wreaths of flowers. There were several mourning coaches and private carriages.

Another funeral, this one from the Leytonstone Express and Independent - Saturday 21 April 1883:

A TOUCHING SCENE—On the 10th inst., in the presence of as large an assemblage as has been seen since the death of the late rector, there was buried in Wanstead Old Churchyard, a young girl, Sarah Ann Smith, aged 15. who, with her parents was well known in Wanstead. She was a member of the Girls' Friendly Society. About 30 of her fellow members followed her to her last resting-place, all of whom bore some tokens of mourning and flowers. We understand that the circumstances of her death were very sad. She was living in Clapham and was killed by an accidental fall from a high window. Great sympathy has been felt for her parents who are much respected in the neighbourhood, where the deceased was born and brought up.

From the Staffordshire Sentinel of Tuesday 19 March 1929:

RAIL CRIME MYSTERY, Mrs. Winifred East, of Gordon Road. Wanstead. the victim of the London tram murder. whose decapitated body was found on the line at Kidbrooke. S.E. early last Thursday. was buried this afternoon in St. Mary's Churchyard. Wanstead. Scotland Yard officers to-day visited Swansea in connection with their inquiries into the mystery.

The Derry Journal of Monday 18 March 1929 gives more details of the circumstances surrounding Winifred East’s death:

WOMAN’S TERRIBLE DEATH, HEADLESS BODY FOUND London detectives are probing the mysterious facts connected with the death of Mrs. Winifred East (28), the wife of an auctioneer, whose decapitated body was found on the Southern Railway between Kidbrooke and Eltham. A young man who is known to have entered the carriage in which Mrs. East travelled, and left at a later station, is being sought the police. When the driver of the electric train had just passed Kidbrooke station he saw in the distance dark object lying between the two sets of rails. As he came closer, he saw that it was the decapitated body of a woman. He reported the matter to the stationmaster at Well Hall, the next stopping place. After establishing the woman’s identity, the police searched the train in which she was known to have left Barnehurst, and the discovery of number of her personal belongings under a seat were able to determine the actual compartment in which she travelled. The coach was run into a siding, and Supt. Brown and other C.I. D. officers made a close examination of the compartment.

The murder was never solved. 

And finally, a rather harrowing story which has nothing to do with the churchyard but occurred in the local area. It is a little masterpiece of stomach-churning concision from the Illustrated Police Budget of Saturday 21 January 1899. Whatever happened to poor Mary Bradord?:

Strange Affair at Wanstead. It reported from Wanstead that Mary Bradford, aged 26years, who has been employed as a kitchen maid at a large private residence in Cambridge Park, Wanstead, for about two years, complained to a fellow-servant on Friday of being unwell, and went upstairs, saying she would be down again directly. As she did not return, the other servant went to her bedroom door, which she found locked on the inside. Hearing a baby cry, she asked Bradford if she was better, and received a reply that she would be downstairs immediately. The girl left and returned to the kitchen, followed shortly afterwards by Bradford. The housemaid then left the kitchen and went to Bradford's bedroom, which she found in great disorder and confusion. On lifting the lid of an old deal box she discovered the dead body of a newly-born female child, wrapped in a coarse apron. Returning the kitchen, she taxed Bradford with being the mother, and it is stated that Bradford admitted that she was. and begged her fellow servant to “try and forget it.” and keep it quiet from the people of the house. The other girl, however, informed her mistress. A doctor was sent for, and it is alleged that stated he would communicate with the coroner for the district. At half past eight the following morning the housemaid took some breakfast to Bradford and on entering the bedroom was astonished to find the bed empty and the girl gone. The dead body of the child had also disappeared. The housemaid states that about a quarter of hour earlier she heard someone in the hall quietly, but took no particular notice of the fact. The police had made every inquiry, and although four days had elapsed no tidings of either the girl or the dead child had been discovered. How she could travel in her weak state of health, without attracting the attention of anyone seems marvellous. She had always stated that she had no friends or relatives in London, and it is surmised that she has drowned herself after disposing of the child’s body. It may be added neither the girl’s mistress nor her fellow-servants suspected her condition. A thorough search has been made throughout Wanstead Park and Epping Forest of all the bushes and ponds, but without result. The police are pursuing their investigations at all the workhouses and infirmaries, but up to the present are without a clue. It has been ascertained that about three weeks ago Bradford told her fellow servant that she had been married to engineer.

Friday 2 September 2022

A morning stroll amongst the tombs; Cemitério de Agramonte, Porto, Portugal

It was by complete accident but I could not have planned it better. We spent a couple of days in Porto as part of our holiday in Portugal and with only the haziest idea of the city’s geography, the hotel was booked because of its relative proximity to the city centre, not close enough to be disturbed by late night revellers but still within walking distance. When I wondered how far the nearest cemetery was from the hotel, Google maps told me that the Cemitério de Agramonte was a 290 metre, four minute walk. So on our first full day in the city I twisted my wife’s arm (metaphorically) into taking a morning stroll amongst the tombs and mausoleums. As we got ourselves ready to leave we watched the morning news on RTP and discovered that we had arrived in Porto on the very day that the heart of the former Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro I, preserved in a glass vat of formaldehyde, was being flown back to Brazil by military plane so that the dead monarch could take part in the country’s bicentennial independence celebrations. 

We arrived at the cemetery mid-morning but the temperature was already close to 30 degrees and Porto’s heat is significantly more humid than further south in Portugal. The sky was completely cloudless, blue scored by numerous vapour trails from the jets descending to land at Francisco Sá Carneiro airport. The sun was already high and the light, bouncing off white marble and grey stone, dazzling. Anything not facing into the sun lay in deep shadow so many tombs and memorials were difficult to photograph. My wife, although she is ten years younger than me, has reached that stage in life where the ages of the recently deceased are no longer decades older than her and she has begum to grow alarmed at the prospect of her own mortality. While I wandered the paths of the cemetery looking for interesting memorials, she quietly worked her way along the tombs calculating the ages at which the dead had died.  The results were not comforting. Her research revealed, she told me, that almost everyone died either when they were a child or in their 40’s and 50’s. I told her that surely this is what you would expect in a 19th century cemetery? Maybe the modern section would be more cheerful and provide better news about contemporary longevity? She wasn’t convinced and thoroughly disconsolate went to sit on a bench in the shade by the chapel to distract herself by scrolling though Facebook.    

Agramonte is a municipal cemetery, opened by the city council in 1855 in response to a cholera epidemic. Church burials were prohibited in Portugal in 1835 and the decree which banned them also obliged all municipal authorities to open a public cemetery in every city, town and village in Portugal, at least 143 metres away from residential arears and enclosed by a wall at least 2.25 metres high. There was widespread public resistance to the new law, protests became riots so violent that it brought the country to the brink of another civil war. Local authorities were not always quick to obey the new law or fudged it where possible. In Porto church authorities opened a private cemetery, Lapa, next to the church, in a bid to head off the threat from the local authority. The council allowed feelings to simmer down before they finally opened the first municipal cemetery, the Prado do Repouso in 1839. Demand for the municipal cemetery was so low that much of the land it occupied was leased out as a farm; for many years the authorities received more revenue from agriculture at the cemetery than they did from selling grave spaces. When Agramonte opened it was initially used to bury cholera victims and then became the place where the poor of Porto buried their dead cheaply. Its character changed in the 1860’s when the city authorities finally clamped down on private cemeteries. The catholic associations and brotherhoods demanded large private plots at Agramonte to replace their closed cemeteries. When the city council agreed the cemetery went through a rapid phase of gentrification, being landscaped, new chapels were built and suddenly the middle and upper classes of Porto were buying large burial plots on which they could erect mausoleums or excavate family vaults.