Ain’t It Grand To Be Bloomin’ Well Dead – Cemetery on Film

‘Some people there were praying for me soul
I said, ‘It’s the first time I’ve been off the dole!’
Look at the mourners, bloomin’ well sozzled
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!’

One of the most striking things of ‘The London Nobody Knows’, one of the best films about London that has ever been made in my opinion, is that it mixes a worms eye view of a war battered city with the slow influence of the hedonism of 60’s free love, expertly directed by Norman Cohen.  You get the sense this is Victorian London on its uppers and it’s fate is sealed by the unstoppable juggernaut of progress. The best part for me is the clip shown above – this is Kensal Green Cemetery approaching the ruinous state that befell many of its sisters in the same decade.

Looking like a set to a gothic horror film, the segment follows a visit from host and actor James Mason to an undertakers in Islington (which is now a Barclay’s bank). Soundtracked to a mournful version of Leslie Sarony’s take on the traditional ‘Ain’t it Grand to be Bloomin’ Well Dead‘, a song where the deceased comes back from the hereafter and laments at how disrespectful his own funeral is, shots of the tomb of William Mulready RA, Naval Commander Charles Spencer Ricketts and Major General the Hon Sir William Casement (member of the Supreme Council of India) show a part of London as yet untouched by restoration, a need to preserve or any kind of affection, really.

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The cemetery is vast at 72 acres, with little space between graves

The film itself is based on a series of books and articles by Telegraph journalist Geoffrey Fletcher, which he also illustrated himself. An ardent sentimentalist (a characteristic I identify with completely), he sought to preserve the fabric of London, which he felt was under threat from the wrecking ball.

Mason, in the televisual version, deftly guides us through this cacophony of London life, its characters and quirks – never being reticent about his own opinions of the massive construction projects that were happening at the time (pointing to Faraday House with his umbrella, remarking that London had a remarkable opportunity to rebuild and then proclaiming ‘ICK’). The cemetery shot (and the film) has inspired not only myself but other people such as Tim DunnA Gentle Author, as well as more modern takes such as alternative dance band Saint Etienne, who kicked off their London film trilogy with Finisterre.

From the location in Kensal Green it’s clear the filmmakers probably spent about half an hour in the same spot – close to where the Willy Wonka of Bayswater is buried – and then probably toddled off to film the next bit. Later on, James Mason scares the bejesus out of the homeowner who owns the now long demolished house where Jack the Ripper victim number 2, Annie Chapman, was discovered.

‘Look at the neighbours, bloomin’ delighted
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!’

I sing a very decent version of ‘Ain’t it Grand…’ 🙂

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Posted in History, Introduction, London, opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Talking Heads

by Sheldon

Sat quietly in his wooden box, within the hallowed halls of a leading London University, is an aged gentleman. His wide brimmed hat and slightly battered jacket betrays the fact that he is a man from another time, watching over students going about their daily business.

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What you see is not the whole man; however. This is just a collection of bones and a wax head. It is often said this man was the founder of the University in which he sits – a claim in itself which isn’t strictly true; he bought a share of a thousand when it was founded – but many of his ideals, principles and beliefs are carved into the very fabric of the building which is more than a place of study; it is also his tomb.

Jeremy Bentham was a child prodigy. Hailing from a wealthy Tory supporting family, he began to study Latin at the age of three. Studying to become a Lawyer, his frustration with the complexity of the profession led to him lead the way for legal and social reform. He was one of the contributors to the Thames Police Bill of 1798 which led to the creation of what is now known as the Thames River Police and was also a very early supporter of suffrage and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

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Bentham willed his body to be publicly dissected by his friends and laid out detailed plans on how he wanted his remains to be dressed in his own clothes. From his death in 1832 to 1850 he was in the care of his friend-cum-dissector Dr Thomas Southwood Smith until he donated Bentham’s skeleton remains to the University, where he was conveyed to meetings just as we would have done in he was still alive. ‘Present but not voting’ is a famous written record to Bentham in such situations.

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I looked at the clothes that he wore in life and wondered where he was buried; before quickly coming to my senses are realising what a stupid thing to think.

On October 2nd, in the Octagon Gallery of UCL, his original head – long since separated from his body after a bodged attempt at preserving it – will be joined by another severed noggin. A white bearded gentleman who sold his extensive collection of paraphernalia from Ancient Egypt would go on to become an integral part of the Universities collection. From that head, in life known as Flinders Petrie, too came key aspects in furthering the development of field excavation and a sequence dating method for reconstructing the history of ancient cultures. He also dabbled in eugenics.

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What does it mean to be human? is a new exhibition at University College London that examines: what does the scientific interrogation of our dead bodies tell us about how we think about ourselves? After extracting the DNA from these long-dead men, how does Science mediate the dilemma of death?

This kind of thing is right up my street – men who should by rights be nothing but bone and dust at this point are physically here in front of us, telling us their life stories and are exhibited with thought provoking exhibits such as funeral cards, the last pictures of some Victorian luminaries (such as Francis Galton) and what makes human human, with specimens from our closest relatives and ancestors explaining the story.

The exhibition has a number of events happening over the next few months, which is worth checking out!

What does it mean to be human? runs from the 2nd October 2017 to the 28th February 2018. The Octagon Gallery, Wilkins Building, UCL, WC1E 6BT. Nearest tube is Warren Street.

Posted in Biography, Heritage, History, LGBTQ, London, Visits | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Murder on the Piccadilly Line

by Sheldon

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Gloucester Road Tube Station. The eastbound platform of the Piccadilly Line. You don’t know it, but you’re actually stepping into a crime scene. Being London, that’s hardly surprising. But the crime that happened here was inexplicable in the sense that there was no known motive, no witnesses and no clue. The story starts here, but ends a few stops away, down a path in Brompton Cemetery.

It’s Friday 24th May 1957. The station was quiet. The clock struck 10:19pm.

The train arrived on the platform and the passengers of the middle carriage, like all the other carriages, disembarked to carry on with the rest of their evenings. Thirteen people were in that carriage. One would not live to see the following day.

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Gloucester Road Tube Station in 1957. © British Newspaper Archive 2017.

Emanuel Olu Akinyemi, one of the three members of staff on duty at the time, heard a scuffle coming from the stairs which lead down to the platform level. He was used to such noises – it usually meant some tearaway was sneaking up the neighbouring staircase so they would avoid having to pay a fare. As Akinyemi approached the source of the disturbance, the scuffling stopped. ‘Bandit!’ wobbled a voice, somewhat weakly, somewhat panicked.

Rather than finding a young scallywag playing the fool, Akinyemi found a tall lady with white hair in her early 70’s, slowly approaching the lift. Sensing frailty, he extended his arms to guide her to the lift. It was when he noticed blood pouring from her chest that he realised something was terribly, terribly wrong.

‘I have been knifed’, she gasped.
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countess2All she can muster are the words ‘Bandit’ over and over again, as Akinyemi escorts her to the lift, putting her in the care of the station master and locating the nearest telephone so that 999 can be called. A passing police officer accompanies her to St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington where, en route, she utters her last words. ‘I was on the platform and I was stabbed’. She dies shortly afterwards. Examinations revealed she had been stabbed five times; one wound was straight through her heart.

A tattoo on her forearm with the numbers ‘44747’ instantly betrayed her past.

This was the murder of Countess Teresa Łubieńska.

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Łubieńska’s end was remarkable. Despite the police conducting eighteen thousand interviews,  not a single lead was found. There were allegations that people were keeping schtum and withholding information: when you find out more about the Countess, perhaps you can piece together the reasons why. You could argue that a modern equivalent can be found in the case concerning the death of Alexander Litvenko.

Her murder sent shock waves through London society. Never mind the fact it happened in a busy London Underground station, it happened at a time when the death penalty was being re-examined to determine its value to the justice system. British Pathé produced this short film the same year, which also goes on to detail other murders of the year and it does seem 1957 saw a peak in homicides.

The Countess was no ordinary old lady, either. She was born into an aristocratic family in Poland, marrying Count Edward Łubieński in 1902. She was an active member of the Polish Red Cross, serving with the 14th Regiment of Jazlowiec Uhlans, who at one point served alongside the Red Army in Kuban, southern Russia, in the First World War.

Her fighting spirit was tested during the German occupation of Poland during the Second conflict that came twenty years later. Both Soviet and Nazi forces caused huge suffering to the Polish people during these years and it was women like the Countess who gave many a glimmer of hope. Her flat in Warsaw was used as a base for for clandestine meetings of the Polish resistance; however, she was betrayed to the Nazi’s in 1942 and eventually taken to the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp via Auschwitz. In a situation where many of us would probably fall apart, Łubieńska’s assistance and support to other prisoners was ‘almost legendary’ and her life was saved after two years in confinement by the Swedish Red Cross liberated her and many others from the Gas chamber.

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It is cruel to think that London, which she fled to in the aftermath, would be the place where she would meet her dreadful end. Never one to dwell on her past misfortunes, she promptly set up the Police Association of Ex-political Prisoners in German Concentration Camps to help those affected. Despite the war being over, one wonders if the Countess ever felt safe once peace was declared.

Her funeral was well documented. Taking place in Brompton Oratory, Polish speaking police officers mingled in the congregation to see if the perpetrators would reveal themselves. A requiem mass was sung and the three medals that she earned for courage and valour in life rested atop her coffin, on a plump cushion. Her final journey took her underneath the Bath stone arch of Brompton Cemetery, to an area just to the right of the main path; mourned by several hundred people.

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At the graveside. Laying to rest an unsolved mystery. © British Newspaper Archive 2017.

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To walk past her grave today, there is little to indicate the remarkable strength and character of the lady buried six feet beneath the weathered marble slab. Buried not far from another powerful woman – Emmeline Pankhurst – as a campaigner, Auschwitz survivor and victim of a terrible crime – no justice was served to Countess Teresa Łubieńska.

All photos (unless otherwise stated) Sheldon K Goodman, 2017.

Posted in Biography, History, London, Murder, Railway, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Forgotten Heir

Our post today is by fellow blogger Charlotte, better known as A Peace of London! Charlotte is a blogger and history nerd on a mission to find quiet, cultured and unusual corners of London. Find her on Instagram @apeaceoflondon.

The cemeteries and burial grounds of Britain are filled with ‘what-if?’s. Each headstone, tomb and unmarked grave is a reminder of lost potential, of chain reactions cut short and countless questions about what might have been.

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A portrait of Arthur Tudor, circa 1501. 

This is an idea that is difficult to escape when you visit the tomb of Prince Arthur Tudor, first husband of Catherine of Aragon and now best known as the ill-fated older brother of Henry VIII.

Arthur’s body now rests in Worcester Cathedral, a few feet away from the elaborate tomb and chantry chapel that bears his name. Standing at the entrance to the chantry chapel — on the steps worn down over centuries of use — it’s hard not to think about what might have been.

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If Arthur had lived long enough to take the throne from his father Henry VII, we wouldn’t have had Queen Mary I, Queen Elizabeth I or King Edward VI. Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard might have lived to relative old age, having been married to men with no convenient access to a team of executioners.

Indeed — assuming Catherine had given Arthur the heirs that she couldn’t give his brother — Henry Tudor would have gone down in history as King Arthur’s handsome younger brother rather than the tyrant we know now.

Similarly, the reformation in England might have taken a different course, possibly never even catching on under the rule of King Arthur. The fate of this Tudor heir had a profound impact on millions of lives.

But that’s enough of the backward-prophesying. Let’s focus on what actually happened for a moment…

After his sudden and untimely death at Ludlow Castle, Arthur’s body lay in state for three weeks before being moved to the church of St Laurence in Ludlow for mass. Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey — restored to favour after supporting Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth — acted as chief mourner. The coffin then proceeded through Bewdley to Worcester, where it could be laid to rest.

Arthur’s widow Catherine was not present at the funeral, possible because she was also taken ill at the same time as her husband. However, no members of his close family were in attendance either, suggesting that the threat of contagious disease in Worcester was too great to risk any more royal blood. Instead, it was up to over 1,000 others to mourn the loss of this precious heir in person.

The funeral was an incredibly emotional affair. The bishop of Lincoln, William Smith, could apparently barely speak for crying and ‘he had hard heart that wept not’.

But the loss of an heir to the Tudor succession cannot have been the only thing causing the heightened emotion. For many of Arthur’s closest companions, his death signalled an end to their own careers in the court; those who had forged professional links with the prince in anticipation of his taking the throne found their efforts wasted.

Not that Henry VII would let anyone forget that he had produced two male heirs and married one of them to another descendant of Edward III. An inscription on the tomb reads that Arthur was the first begotten son of the ‘right reknowned’ King Henry VII. More explicit are the emblems on the two-storey chantry chapel (thought to be built two years after the funeral) which demonstrate the Tudor propaganda machine in full swing:

  • The white rose for Arthur’s mother Elizabeth of York.
  • The red rose of Lancaster to mark Henry VII’s claim to the throne (through Henry VI, the half brother of his father Edmund Tudor).
  • The Tudor rose — a symbol of the union between Lancaster and York.
  • A pomegranate for Catherine of Aragon and a sheath of arrows for her mother Isabella of Castille — both women were descendents of Edward III with a stronger claim to the English throne than the Tudors.
  • The white greyhound of Richmond for Arthur’s grandfather Edmund Tudor, who was the earl of Richmond.
  • The Beaufort portcullis for Arthur’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry VII and wife of Edmund Tudor).
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© Bob Embleton 2016

Arthur’s tomb continued to hold significance further into the Tudor dynasty; his niece Queen Elizabeth I visited Worcester Cathedral among great fanfare 17 years into her reign. Although we might wonder whether Elizabeth was secretly considering what else might have been as she climbed the steps to her uncle’s memorial, since — had he lived to take the throne from her grandfather — Elizabeth would never have lived to take it herself.

Sources and further reading:

Prince Arthur’s Funeral: Ceremony, Despair and Shifting Politics in 1502 (On The Tudor Trail)
Guest post: The Death of Prince Arthur (Tudor History)
Prince Arthur’s tomb (The History Jar)
Royal Visitors (Worcester Cathedral)
Discovery of Grave May Solve Mystery Death of Henry VIII’s Brother (Telegraph)
Prince Arthur: 1486-1502 (Worcester Cathedral Library blog)
https://tudorstuff.wordpress.com/2009/11/29/prince-arthur/

Posted in History, Lost, People | Leave a comment

Do Animals Mourn Us?

By Sam

Right, dear reader, prepare yourself for a beast of a post (pun most certainly intended).

For some people, losing a pet can be as devastating as losing a human member of the family. Londoners lacking gardens could lay their beloved animals to rest in Hyde Park’s pet cemetery or Ilford Animal Cemetery. In the gardens of Marlborough House (now home to the Commonwealth Secretariat) a semi-circle of tiny headstones memorialize Bonny the Bunny, Caesar, Togo, Marvel and Poor Little Boxer et al, all of whom were once adored pets of Queen Alexandra. The Tower of London has one of the oldest pet cemeteries in the country and people have been known to inter their pets’ bodies with their own after death.

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Pet Cemetery at Marlborough House

They provide companionship, have been known to detect disease and have even saved us from danger. So it’s hardly surprising that their loss affects some people so acutely. While certain animal species are known to mourn their own, what of those who appear to mourn the loss of a human?

Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms” – George Eliot

Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier, famously mourned his human friend John Gray for 14 years until his own death, while Hachikō (an Akita) waited patiently at the station for owner Professor Ueno daily for nine years after the professor died. But is the phenomenon really as it appears?  Are pets genuinely saddened at our passing or do they merely pick up on an emotionally charged event, which we humans then anthropomorphise to make our own mortality more palatable? Sentimentality aside, some pets don’t mourn but rather eat their owners after death. Make your own mind up with these intriguing and curious tales (tails?!) from various newspaper archives.

Man’s (and Woman’s) Best Friends

In February 1924, 11-year old Vera Hoad left her Chichester home for a music lesson. A “good obedient girl, a proper home bird”, Vera attended her lesson and left around 18h40 but was never seen alive again. Her snow-covered body was discovered three days later in a Graylingswell field where she’d been murdered. The little girl’s funeral was an emotionally charged affair attended by thousands. Those unable to fit into the packed church spilled outside singing hymns while local shops and houses drew their blinds out of respect.

As the service began, mourners noticed a brown dog slink up the aisle toward the trestles holding Vera’s coffin. One of Vera’s schoolmates called out, “Oh, it’s Vera’s Tango!”  Tango was Vera’s favourite pet and had escaped the family home unnoticed to follow his young mistress’ funeral cortege to the church. The dog regularly accompanied Vera on walks and had helped search for her while she was missing.  At the mention of his name Tango turned, whimpered and then returned his gaze upward to the small coffin, tail wagging. He was picked up and removed by the verger, who put him outside the vestry door, but Tango made his way back up the aisle and sat beneath the flower-covered coffin once more.

When a journalist from the Sunday Post interviewed the Hoad family in March 1924, he reported, “Whilst we were talking my attention was drawn to Tang [sic], Vera’s pet dog, who, disconsolate at the loss of his little mistress, was whining piteously. Since Vera had been missing he had hardly touched any of his food, and with canine instinct he seemed now to realise the awfulness of the tragedy”.

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Vera Hoad

Vera Hoad Illustrated Police News Thursday 13 March 1924

Illustrated Police News Thursday 13 March 1924

In June 1942 a number of Australian papers reported that Nicky, a crossbred black Pomeranian, followed the hearse containing the body of his owner, Sevestiano D’Andrea, who’d been murdered in his Newtown grocery store. As the hearse sped up, so did Nicky and he was picked up by mourners making their way to Botany Cemetery for the service. The dog remained by the graveside throughout the ceremony and refused to budge, whimpering for the rest of the day. He then disappeared and didn’t return home.

That evening, agonized howls and whimpers were heard by residents living near the crematorium building. This went on night after night. Two local women, concerned by what was obviously a deeply distressed creature, entered the cemetery in the early hours of the fifth morning to find Nicky lying in front of the crematorium. He was weak and starving. One of the women reported, “He was stretched out, with his nose between his paws, and took no notice as we approached.  When I patted him he looked up with bewildered brown eyes, and cried. He was so sad Jeannie and I cried too. My tears were dropping on him as I carried him back to our house.  He made no attempt to resist, but refused food, and took no notice of our dogs“. Nicky was transported to his owner’s brother-in-law’s home but attempted to jump out of the moving car as it passed the cemetery where his owner, Sevastiano, had just been interred.

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The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner by Edwin Henry Landseer (1837)

Feathered Friends

From Sydney, Australia, comes the following story from December 1925 and is the only reference I could find involving a pigeon, however there are no names involved or even which hospital this incident is alleged to have occurred.

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The News (Hobart, Tas) Wed 23 Dec 1925

In Australia’s Northern Suburbs Crematorium, an astonishing sight met mourners attending the funeral of Captain John A. Johnson, former sea-captain, in July 1938. Ten wild birds flew into the chapel through beams of sunlight as Dr Johnson’s casket was being moved and “fluttering round the coffin, whistled joyously”. The birds continued this curious display for approximately a minute until the coffin was out of sight, before circling the catafalque and then upward to an architectural gap in the ceiling throughwhich they disappeared.

Rev. A. J. Parker had actually noticed the birds earlier, commenting “Before the service I walked out of the vestry, and my attention was drawn to a shrub which was covered with birds. I could not say what kind they were”. Later described by a witness as starlings, the display was strangely moving but even odder was the late Dr Johnson’s hobby: he’d been an avid bird lover who spent hours befriending and feeding flocks of sparrows, doves and starlings in his north Sydney garden.

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To be fair, both abovementioned incidents could easily be consigned to “File Under Strange Coincidence”, as could the next story, which involves winged creatures but not of the avian variety. This was widely reported in the Australian press (as well as the Nottingham Evening Post) from September to December 1930:

Bees at a Funeral Kalgorie Miner 27 Oct 1930
Back to birds, the Telegraph reported that Fred, an African Grey parrot, was prescribed a bird-friendly liquid version of Prozac twice daily help cope with the loss of his human owner George in November 2008. Animal experts believed Fred was traumatized by George’s disappearance and was suffering from separation anxiety, falling into a deep depression that caused him to pull his neck feathers out and bob his head up and down in distress. Channel 4’s programme Special Needs Pets later reported that after treatment, George’s wife, Ruth, had to carry Fred around the house to show him that George was no longer there.

Feline Friend?

Cats being generally aloof and marching to the beat of their own drum, it was a surprise to absolutely no one that I found no references to them mourning people (if anyone knows of any stories, feel free to post in the comments section). However I will include the story of the south London Cemetery Cat (reported in the Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative, 12 January 1933) because everyone likes a good Cemetery Cat, don’t they? The enormous feline lived in the churchyard of Eltham Church and, black with white paws, he looked suspiciously like the cat belonging to a man buried in the same churchyard some time before (yup, the cat attended the funeral service in case you were wondering).

Despite being re-homed, Cemetery Cat returned repeatedly to the churchyard and began attending the funerals of complete strangers, watching over the coffins as they were lowered into the earth, escorting the mourners back to the cemetery gates and then disappearing into the undergrowth. One mourner visiting her family grave in the same churchyard ensured that a regular supply of meat and fish were left for Cemetery Cat.

(For the record, I’m not suggesting Cemetery Cat was mourning the dead and suspect he remained purely because the cemetery was his personal amusement park complete with the feline version of Deliveroo. I just liked the story)

Horses

In January 2017, 34-year old Wagner Figueiredo de Lima died following a motorcycle accident. Wagner was a semi-professional cowboy in his native Brazil and had an incredibly close bond with his faithful horse, Sereno, winning numerous shows together. By all accounts, Wagner and Sereno were best friends, with Wagner even sacrificing personal items so that he could afford Sereno’s food. When Wagner’s brother, Wando, brought Sereno to the funeral the horse became visibly distressed, whinnying, shaking his head and swishing his tail as the eulogy was read. He then walked up to the hearse and placed his head on his old friend’s coffin, as if the full emotional comprehension that Wagner had passed had hit home.  Wando said, “It was if the horse knew what was happening and wanted to say goodbye.”  Various postings of the video has been viewed millions of times on Youtube.

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While I keep an open mind about animals mourning us, part of me believes that they do. The case I found the most compelling of all these examples is Sereno the horse who, by gently laying his head upon Wagner’s coffin, appears to genuinely feel the loss.

All comments welcome, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Posted in Animals, History, opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Importance of Being Bristol

Today we welcome Mark to the Cemetery Club fold! Mark is a lover history and works with the public, in low-level conservation and performs public presentations such as behind the scenes tours and lectures.

Hello! Welcome to stage 1 of the masterplan to encourage Sheldon to move to Bristol. We all know Sheldon likes graves, graveyards and burial grounds and fortunately for Bristol, we have many here!

Hooray!

So, what better way to entice him here than lay a trail of well-carved, tombstone-y breadcrumbs all the way to the West Country.

1) Rajah Rammohun Roy – died 1833, buried at Arnos Vale in 1842
We’ll start with the most famous (and the biggest) – Sheldon and I both met this gorgeous hunk of stone when we got our tour of Arnos Vale Cemetery earlier in the summer with Janine. Careful readers will know exactly what I’m talking about because Sheldon already wrote briefly about this’un in his blogpost, ‘Big, Fat Goths explore Arnos Vale’

Ahem.

Anyway, Roy was a Hindu reformer who came to England and specifically Bristol in 1831 because he’d met Mary Carpenter on her Indian travels. Unfortunately he wasn’t here very long before he caught contracted Meningitis and died in 1833.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 – BristolIcarus

His body was originally buried in the grounds of Stapleton Grove, but 9 years later his followers and dedicants started building the distinctive Chattri in the prime spot in Arnos Vale Cemetery (which was only 5 years old in 1842).

The memorial is a place of pilgrimage for those who admire Roy’s modernising hand in Indian Society and he’s well-represented in the city too. A statue erected outside City Hall to commemorate Indian Independence and a portrait so large that it had to be hung on a stairwell (because it won’t fit the height of any gallery in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery) was hung in 1831.

2) Amelia B Edwards – died 1892, buried at St Mary’s Church, Henbury
One of my great favourites is the grave of Amelia B Edwards. Can you guess what Ms Edward’s career might have been about?

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tw: @nickuae, https://twitter.com/Nickuae/status/779650090591981568

Ding ding ding, correct, she was a well-renowned and accomplished Egyptologist (and traveller and journalist and novelist – who ever said a portfolio career was a millennial invention?)

Edwards first travelled to Egypt in 1873-74 and recorded travelling South from Cairo in a work called ‘A Thousand Miles up the Nile’ which became a best-seller.

Buried next to Edwards is her romantic partner and cohabitant, Ellen Drew Braysher. Earlier in her life, Amelia Edwards was married in the church, standing at the altar, by the vicar to Ellen Gertrude Byrne, who … er … happened to already be the vicar’s wife. It is understood (though obviously not well recorded) that the three lived in a relationship for some time.

The grave is the Braysher family plot in the churchyard, which already featured the obelisk, but after Edwards was buried there the Ankh was added.

PS. There’s a rumour that she also kept a mummy in her wardrobe. ❤

3) Scipio Africanus – died 1720, buried at St Mary’s Church, Henbury

You don’t get to talk about Bristol and history in the same blogpost without making reference to slavery. This is the grave of Scipio, which is also in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Henbury.

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CC BY-SA 2.5 – William Avery

Scipio was born in 1702 in West Africa, was sold into slavery and became the property of Charles William Howard, Earl of Suffolk. Unlike most enslaved Africans, Scipio took the opposite route round the transatlantic trade triangle and was brought to Bristol because the Earl of Suffolk lived at the Great House in Henbury. He died aged 18 and his grave stands out in the graveyard for it’s brightly painted surfaces (most recently repainted in 2007) (and because it has a footstone as well as a headstone, but that’s just by the by).

The text on the grave is pretty much the only documentary evidence we have of Scipio, which tells us that he converted to Christianity while alive. Unfortunately he doesn’t even feature in the burial registers for St Mary’s church, Henbury.

Kate Malone (off the telly), Bristolian* and world-renowned potter, used the angel on Scipio Africanus’ grave in her design for the ceramic ‘fountain’ on display in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (and the bronze version in Castle Park)

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CC BY-SA 2.0 – Rob Brewer

*She was born in London but I was born in Milton Keynes and am Bristolian, so shush.

4) The Church Cat, buried at St Mary Redcliffe churchyard in 1927

Whenever I take people round St Mary Redcliffe and it’s churchyard we hunt for this little grave marker for the Church Cat. I have checked the burial registers and there’s no mention of a burial, but clearly someone cared very much for a cat which for 15 years made ‘the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England’* it’s home. Awwwww.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 – Motacilla

*QE1 may or may not have said this. But she famously may or may not have said it, so it gets quotation marks.

So, there we have it – a few snapshots of the death-based wonders of Bristol. There are of course more, because I am not all-knowing, but these are some my favourites.

Other than peppering the blogpost with a few Zoopla ads and revelling in the gasps as Sheldon sees the Bristol rent costs compared to London prices, I’m not sure what else I can do… now, to write the next blogpost to convince the next London friend to move to Bristol!

Posted in Biography, Bristol, History, India, LGBTQ, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Highgate?

by Sheldon 

Highgate Cemetery is asking for ideas on how to be a sustainable place of burial for years to come.
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This is important for many reasons. Firstly, it’s easily the best known Cemetery in the UK and the fact its publically seeking opinion on its future is big news.
Secondly, because of its age, the board are clearly aware that the space needs to be better managed. Not only in terms of flora and fauna – I suspect the excellent work at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and their recently renewed (and well deserved) Green Flag award influenced the need to address it in this consultation, as well as its historical appearance. Once finely manicured with stunning views of London, once boasting beautiful views of St. Paul’s Cathedral in a backdrop with beautiful trees; now rampant Ash and Sycamore seedlings have created a wild forest, to the extent that some memorials are being damaged by nature. The document below also assesses the viability of its prime function; to act as a place of burial for the deceased. Space is finite and burial pressures are in danger of returning to levels not seen in London since the 1830’s. Highgate is not exempt.
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© Christina Owen 2016

Thirdly, influenced by the likes of Arnos Vale Cemetery and Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, the visitor experience is being considered. Arnos Vale has done great work in this regard and is now more popular as a place of marriage than burial. Will this involve a greater role for the likes of me and Sam, promoting the heritage and the people there; changing the perception of cemeteries as places where memories go to fade? Or reinvigorate them as places just as important as a maternity ward; people museums where history, heritage and culture can be offered to school groups, visitors and the casually interested?
The likes of Brompton Cemetery and West Norwood Cemetery with their Heritage Lottery Funding show that there is a thirst for the more educational side of things and need to invest in infrastructure now to ensure survival in the following years. Brompton is clearing out its redundant West catacomb to create a Columbarium similar to that seen in City of London Cemetery and Crematorium.
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© Nick Richards 2015

Fourthly – and I do wonder if they have the balls to experiment with this – the survey looks quite candidly at how we interact with the dead. Grave re-use is a contentious issue but feasibly, if we still want burial or cremation, we need to make the most of the designated area we already have. New cemeteries like Kemnal Park or Forest Park Crematorium will be rare in the coming years.
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Graves for Ashes – smaller, more compact – the future? Could this be at Highgate?

It’s interesting that Highgate is researching a ‘lease’ model, where burial spaces are given for a set amount of years and then reused if the family do not wish to extend the claim they have – which is common-place on the continent – compare to the ‘ashes in Urns’ concept that the brochure references, found in Begraafplaats & Crematorium Westerveld. This will obviously keep the Cemetery open for longer, and much like a museum give a ‘dynamic’ to the ‘exhibits’. From a heritage stand point this may create a problem, but I think a model like this is the only way forward, unless we completely change the way we interpret (historic) cemeteries and what they should be. Will Highgate do the unexpected and experiment?
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© Nick Richards81

With the likes of notables such as Alexander Litevenko, George Michael and Karl Marx almost Disney-fying the cemetery, will a tussle between visitors and mourners escalate?
What would you suggest to keep Cemeteries open, to promote the lives of those buried within and maintain vital open spaces and green lungs in an increasingly urban landscape? Highgate have a real chance in changing things for the better here so I’d be interested to see the outcomes of this survey. I’d love to read your comments below because ‘how to solve a problem like a full cemetery’ is an issue that will not be going away any time soon.
*cracks fingers*
Posted in Crematorium, Heritage, History, opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments