It’s Christmas in Heaven

by Sheldon

And so closes another year. A year that seems to have robbed us of more heroes and icons than usual. Our post detailing the loss of Bowie, it seems, was a warning call for 2016 – Prince, Muhammed Ali, Gene Wilder – all people who have massively influenced culture in the past few decades, whose legacies our children can only experience through Youtube and the history books.


Taken from the Illustrated London News, 1881 – ‘God’s Acre’, a term we got from Germany, showing a family decorating a tree atop a Child’s grave. 

One thing I’ve been keeping an eye on through my Cemetery travels is how people remember their loved ones at Christmas – and how, even months later, those same wreaths, bows and flowers still adorn a grave, long after the chill of winter has given way to the warmth of Summer. My family is no exception to this rule – presents are exchanged, flowers are laid, thoughts go back to Christmas past when my Nan wented my cousin Sian’s Barbie quite badly, because it was dressed all in pink – In the middle of September it is not uncommon to see a festive reminder amongst the stones.

Below is a collection of images I’ve collected over the year where Christmas seems to be very much alive by the time June, July and August come around. Have you seen any other examples of this? Share your photos!


I wish all the readers of Cemetery Club a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  The Blog shall be taking a bit of a time out after the festive period so I can focus on other projects for a while – never fear, we’ll be back refreshed, recharged and uncovering more stories beneath the stones in 2017.

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Ashes to Ashes

by Sheldon

As the world goes mad and Summer has made way for Autumn, on a rare day off I decided to have a stroll around North London, in a haven of peace and tranquility. And it wasn’t around a Cemetery. I know, I know. Considering that 75% of us decide to be cremated nowadays, I thought I’d take a slight tangent from graveyards and have a look around the the cremation world’s equivalent to Highgate. Ivor Novello, Sigmund Freud, Enid Blyton- they’re all here.


Golders Green is just as pristine now as it was when its gates first opened in 1902. Designed by Sir Ernest George and his partner Alfred Yeates, the former being the same architect who designed Claridge’s Hotel. Founded by Sir Henry Thompson, the surgeon to Queen Victoria, its unveiling was a slightly delayed response to the fact that many northern cities already had crematoria of their own. If you were a Londoner and wanted to be cremated, the nearest facility available was in Woking.

Thompson, a pragmatist stated ‘those cemeteries won’t be able to cope forever and cremation is more hygienic anyway’ [sic]. Opening in stages as funding became available for each section, another Victorian talent was put to good use here – William Robinson, a landscape gardner who championed the ‘English Country Garden style’ rather than formal, ordered planting which was common in many parks and public gardens at the time.


Crematoriums aren’t the first place you’d think such an impressive Mausoleum would be found, but that’s exactly where you’ll find this architectural masterpiece, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the man who designed the Cenotaph, country houses up and down the land and a large part of Delhi.

Lutyens was commissioned to build this mausoleum in 1914 upon the death of Florence Philipson. Florence, then a Mrs Woodard, hailed from California and met her husband, Ralph, aboard a ship in 1907, marrying in the Church of Ascension on Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street in New York a year later. Ralph was a coal magnate from Newcastle and once their honeymoon to Canada had ended, they settled in London where they settled by way of Mayfair and then latterly, 74 Portland Place, London. Sadly she died six years later; the fact Lutyens was approached for this tomb gives a pretty good indication as to how distraught he must have been at losing his wife.

Roses were originally supposed to be planted behind the latticed stonework and a dish in the central atrium would have collected rainwater, as it was intended to be open to the elements. Peer through the door and you can see them, side by side, on a pedestal in Alabaster urns.



In the main cloister, two comedy legends reside in wall nooks side by side. Bud Flanagan, best known to people of my generation as the man who sung the theme tune to Dad’s Army, but to older generations known as a great vaudeville entertainer and comedian. Born by the name of Charles Reuben Weintrop in Whitechapel, his interest in performing stated at a young age as one of his first jobs at the tender age of ten was as a callboy at the Cambridge Music hall.

Wanting to explore the world, he walked from London to southampton at the age of fourteen where he falsely claimed to be an electrician so he could get work aboard a ship, absconding when it docked at New York. Holding several jobs, he joined a Vaudeville show which toured the united states in 1914. Returning home to enlist as the Great War broke out, it was whilst he was serving in the Royal artillery that he met Sergeant major Flanagan, whose name he adapted into his stage name.

Pairing up with Chesney Allen, they became one of the greatest double acts in the country. During the war, their lighthearted songs often reflected the experiences of people living under war conditions, most notably, ‘Underneath the arches’. As a sidenote, his grandson Joe, also has a very popular Twitter account chronicling East end history.

Bernie Winters, who would regular perform with his brother Mike. Later he performed with his dog Schnorbitz and became a regular on gameshows such as Give Us  Clue where he would impersonate Bud Flanagan.


One of the most stirring things there is the Hall of Memory. Split over three floors and opening in 1938-9 as a second columbarium, each wall has various nooks of differing sized filled with boxes and urns of cremated remains. Some have picture frames of the deceased and little tokens left by their families; a can of beer, a teddy bear, a lottery ticket – some of these items had been there for decades

In more recent times many legands have been cremated or remmebered here – Marc Bolan, Tubby Hayes, Keith Moon – but perhaps the best known is Amy Winehouse, who tragically died of alcohol poisoning just as she was beginning to sort herself out after a long history of inner demons and substance abuse. Here she is in Abney Park metaphorically buryinfg her heart in the stirring video for Back to Black:

Whilst I prefer an old fashioned Cemetery, Golders Green (with its vibrant colours of orange, yellow and red) provided a welcome setting to learn about people long passed and a place to relax and enjoy nature.

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A Story of Selflessness in the Shadow of war

By Sheldon

As we pause and remember the sacrifices made all those years ago, here’s a true story that I often tell as part of my Tower Hamlets Cemetery tour. This story of heroism from a legend on the Battlefield deserves a special mention. page_break_1_by_animagirlfs-d6tm05v

Ten years since the last shots were fired in the Great War, the bustling traders of Burgess Street in Limehouse were readying themselves to adhere to the two minutes silence on Armistice Day that would honour their fallen friends, brothers, sons and husbands.

11am came around soon enough. Flat caps were removed and people, bowing their heads in silence, paused their busy lives. One of the street vendors was Arthur Lovell, a costermonger whose remarkable achievements in the War had already made him a hero.

Arthur was one of the Old Contemptibles – he was one of the first volunteer soldiers who went out with the first battalions in 1914. This fabled group he was part of were a remarkable bunch, in that they saw the entire war from start to finish and somehow managed to survive. Wounded twice, both times he returned to fight alongside his comrades. His final battle was at Mons.

As the silence ended, he looked up, paused and was about to resume selling his stock of fruit and veg when he saw little Rosie Wales playing in the street. Perhaps his soldier reflexes were heightened because he also saw that she was directly in the path of an oncoming steam lorry.

Quick as a flash, Arthur ran into the road, pushing the her to safety of the pavement. A selfless sacrifice that saved her life but at the cost of his own. The steam lorry instead collided with Lovell – poor Rosie Wales, alongside his eldest son, could do nothing but helplessly watch from the pavement. Lovell died in hospital later that day.

The story hit the national news and Lovell was rightly regarded as a hero.

A week later Arthur was given a full military funeral – and the crowds which jammed the streets of the East End dwarfed even those who had turned out for Armistice Day a week before.


The story didn’t end there. At the funeral, the Bishop of Stepney recounted a strange tale from the days after Arthur’s death.

‘Last night there came to his house’, said the Bishop, ‘a man who had been attracted by the name and asked if he could see the body. This request was obliged: “I thought so. This man saved my life out in France during the war. I have not seen him since then until tonight.”

Arthur had saved the man’s life by lending him his own gas mask during a gas attack.

Arthur was buried with full military honours and thousands lined the route, bringing the traffic to a halt once again. At the scene of his death, the gun carriage, bearing his coffin, came to a halt, and a wreath was brought forward.

Then the carriage went on, followed by a costermonger’s cart organised by Arthur’s mates and piled high with chrysanthemums, orchids and most poignantly, poppies.


© Bruce Fisher, from Find a Grave, 2015. 


A public service led by Countess Haig six months later unveiled a picture and memorial to Lovell which is still there – it’s n the foyer of the Bromley Town hall in Bow. His grave however, paid for by public subscription, is unremarkable, broken and lost amidst a sea of other granite and limestone graves under the watchful canopy of the only woodland in Zone 2.

One of the men who survived but died for the ideals of a conflict whose legacy we remember today.

References and Source Material

The British Newspaper Archive – The Sheffield Independent, Tuesday November 20th 1928
East London History



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Soul Cakes

by Samsoul-cakesFollowing our “All Hallows Eve by Lamplight” tours of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park on Saturday evening, we’ve had a couple of requests for the Soul Cakes that we gave out during the tour.  Knocking on doors for soul cakes was the precursor to modern day trick or treating and was often accompanied by a song:

“Soul! Soul! Soul cake!
Please good Missus, a soul cake!
Apple, pear, plum or cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all”

The following recipe will need to be tweaked for dietary requirements (that goes without saying) but here you go – an authentic Victorian recipe that perhaps one or two of the people we talk about on our tour around Tower Hamlets Cemetery ate themselves.

Happy baking!

Soul Cake Recipe (makes 14-16 biscuits)

  • Ingredients:
  • 340g plain flour (sifted)
  • 170g granulated sugar
  • 170g butter (softened and chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 large egg (beaten)
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C and grease 2 flat baking trays with the leftover butter.
  2. In a bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together well (flour, sugar and spices).
  3. Then rub in the chopped butter until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.  Add the beaten egg and white wine vinegar and mix with a wooden spoon or knead until the dough is firm.
  4. Wrap in cling film or place in sealed container and refrigerate for 20 mins.
  5. Flour surface and roll out dough to ¼ inch (6mm – 7mm) thick and cut out rounds using a large cookie cutter.
  6. With a cylindrical chopstick or wooden skewer, gently press a cross shape into the top of each round (don’t press too hard or the cookie dough falls apart).
  7. Place rounds onto the baking tray and bake at 200C for 15 – 20mins until golden.

The ending biscuit has a ginger snaps/shortbread similarity and is utterly delicious. So delicious that after our tours on Saturday a number of people got in touch saying that they’d made their own! Here’s Jacquitravels last night getting into a Great British Death-Off with the recipe:

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Celebrate All Souls with these tasty treats – lets us know how yours turn out!

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The Tiger Who Came to Tea 

by Sheldon

This Saturday sees the first of our three dates of our most popular tour embrace the season of All Souls. Celebrating the lives of long gone Londoners,in a cemetery 31 acres in size is contained roughly the population of the London Borough of Newham. Here’s someone we’ll be resurrecting by the flicker of lamplight – an extraordinary man and an extraordinary animal. 

Imagine, being nine years old, amidst the grubby streets of London, looking into the piercing eyes of a beast more at home in the forests of India rather than the East End of London.

Charles Jamrach was unloading some Leopards in the yard of London’s most unusual shop – an emporium of exotic animals. Starting his career dealing in shells and bird skins, he inherited the business from his brother, who had moved from his native Germany to London a few years previously. Clients included the London Zoological society, to who he provided a Snake and a Hippo, and even celebrities – Dante Gabriel Rossetti purchased a Wombat for his menagerie in Chelsea, which was christened ‘Top’ – whose death a few years later he felt acutely.


Contemporary print of the inside of Jamrach’s shop -taken from the Illustrated London News.

An almighty crash alerted him to something being amiss. A Tiger, which was caged nearby, with the full force of its hind legs had smashed its way out of its den and had decided to go exploring. Making its way into the street, it finds the amazed and terrified boy in the street. Unlike Calvin and Hobbes, this was not destined to end in friendship.


Striking him firmly with his paw, the Tiger clearly thinks he’s come across an easy lunch. Just as it licks its lips and prepares to open its jaws (its tongue extending seven inches) a man blasts out of 164 Ratcliffe Highway and throws his arms around the Striped bastard’s throat.

The Tiger gasps as this plucky man wrestles it to the ground, tripping it over and trying valiantly to distract the creature from its prey. Colleagues of Jamrach’s pour out from the emporium and seek to placate the Tiger by with a Crowbar, of all things – certainly not the kindly treatment given to the escaped Gorilla a few days ago from ZSL – giving it ‘three tremendous blows over the eyes’. A crowd gathers round this spectacle.

‘Nothing to see here’ says the man, awkwardly dusting himself down before checking that the boy is alright. The Tiger is dragged back to the shop and the gathered onlookers gaze at each other in amazement. Charles Jamrach. The man who choked a Tiger.

By Matt Brown. From the Londonist Flickr pool.

Jamrach’s infamous Tiger lives on in a sculpture by Tobacco Dock, that captures the shocking moment where boy and beast first laid eyes on each other. Yet Jamrach, who had to pay £300 compensation to the injured boy’s father, lies beneath a plain headstone in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, alone, with no indication on his contribution that he had to the people of London and their love of seeing exotic animals.

So what became of the Tiger and what other animals did Jamrach import? Find out this weekend as we guide you around one of London’s most peaceful cemeteries – the only woodland in Zone 2.  The first two dates have sold out but space in Halloween night remain – tickets are available here! 

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Hilda & Gilbert; Tales from Streatham Cemetery

by Sam

It’s a pleasure to contribute to the Cemetery Club’s blog!  For my first post, I’m not going to venture into the history of London’s cemeteries and the ever-growing need for burial space. I don’t need to, as this topic has already been covered in the excellent existing posts by Sheldon, Christina and Caroline.


Crocuses in October?

Instead I’m going to offer up two interesting characters I came across whilst researching Streatham Cemetery (located in Tooting and not to be confused with Streatham Park Cemetery, which I’ll be covering in my next blog). Sheldon and I only located one grave of the two people I’ll be writing about but we still enjoyed an excellent outing to a thoroughly lovely and well-maintained cemetery.


A rather unconventional entertainer was interred at Streatham Cemetery on a dry and mild New Year’s Eve day in 1936.  A special platform was erected at the edge of the 4ft wide grave, the largest ever dug at the cemetery, and an additional six cemetery staff members were needed to help ease the huge coffin onto the pall. Surrounded by her fellow circus performers who came to pay their respects, this was the final resting spot of Mrs Hilda Wilson, 1936’s self-proclaimed “World’s Fattest Woman”.

Tod Browning’s film “Freaks” had provoked such public revulsion four years earlier but, even before that, the British and American public had already bought into question the morality of these once hugely popular ‘freak shows’.  By the 1920s and 30s, the silver screen began eclipsing the allure of the circus with its featured human oddities and freak show audiences dwindled.


Could this downturn in popularity have prompted 63-year old Hilda Brown to relocate from Berlin to try her luck at the Fun Fair in London’s Haymarket in mid-December 1936?  A living exhibit, she was 5’3” but weighed in at 46 stone with a waist that was 3 yards in circumference.  The widow of fellow carnival attraction John Wilson (a.k.a. “The English Giant”), Hilda had arrived in England only a fortnight earlier – no doubt she considered her fellow performers the closest thing she had to friends and family.

Travelling around London was problematic for Hilda, as the standard English rail carriages simply couldn’t accommodate her and she was forced to commute in the guard’s van.  While appearing at the Fun Fair on that fateful December day, Hilda collapsed and never awoke.

In death it reportedly took eight men to carry her body to the mortuary where it was determined that a pituitary gland disorder was responsible for her size, putting such strain on her 23oz heart that it could no longer support her frame.  The cause of death was recorded as “myocardial degeneration and adeposis”. Rather dramatically, the funeral very nearly didn’t take place as Hilda’s financial interests were still tied up in Germany, but luckily Hilda’s circus family generously chipped in to defray the cost of her burial.




Captain Gilbert Mapplebeck, image from Great War London.

Gilbert “Gibb” William Roger Mapplebeck’s only calling was to be a pilot.  Even before the devastating outbreak of WWI Gibb had already learned to fly, earning his Royal Aero Club’s flying certificate at the tender age of 19. Following his father’s career path as a Liverpool dentist was not on the cards for Gibb who, at 6’3″, was “possessed of a personal charm that endeared him to many”. Within the next two years, Gibb’s skill and courage made him a real life ‘Top Gun’ who enjoyed such distinctions of flying in the RFC’s seminal reconnaissance mission in August 1914, and later becoming the first pilot to bomb enemy lines in Flanders.

Not long afterwards, Gibb had the dubious honour of being the first British pilot to be injured in aerial combat. During a 6,000ft dog fight, he was hit by the rifle bullet of a German plane which sliced through the back of his right thigh, exiting the inner thigh and grazing his groin.  Against all odds, Gibb managed to reach British lines before lapsing into unconsciousness as the plane slowly filled up with his own blood.  Excellent medical care (involving multiple surgeries) and sheer force of will ensured his survival and 22-year old Gibb was awarded a DSO in the New Year’s Honours.


In March 1915 he spearheaded the first ever nocturnal air raid ever undertaken but things didn’t go according to plan.  Shot down over Lille and ensuring his survival only by burning what remained of his plane, Gibb laid low in a wood for three days before finding sanctuary in an abandoned house, sustaining himself only with the chocolate he carried with him.

Once again though, Lady Luck was on Gibb’s side – he happened to speak fluent French and charming the locals, he disguised himself a peasant as he made his way through France back to England, all while tearing up his own Wanted posters issued by the enemy.  Eventually passing through Holland to return to London, Captain Mapplebeck arrived on 4th April, presenting himself at Farnborough later the same day.  The man was unstoppable!

Gibb’s reputation as a daredevil preceded him and he performed mid-air tricks and stunts which sometimes got him into a spot of bother with his superiors (on one occasion he was disciplined for looping the loop in his plane.  As one does).  Whether or not this ‘devil may care’ attitude contributed to his death, we’ll never know.  On Tuesday 24th August 1915, Gibb was stationed in Kent testing a Morane Saulnier Type N “Bullet” fighter plane when, to the horror of witnesses, the aircraft banked, made a sharp right turn and then nose-dived straight into the ground.

Captain Gibb Mapplebeck was killed on impact, two days short of his 23rd birthday.  The Board of Inquiry found that “the accident was due to the machine ‘spinning’ on a heavily banked turn, the pilot not having sufficient height to regain control before hitting the earth.” Gibb’s possessions were returned to his family and he was buried with full military honours in Streatham Cemetery at 11h45 on Saturday 28th August 1915.


So highly regarded were her son’s heroics that his mother received personal condolences from Lord Stamfordham on behalf of King George V himself.  The message read, “His Majesty knows what gallant and distinguished services he has rendered during the war, and deeply regrets that a young life of such promise should have been thus cut short.”

Hilda and Gilbert – we salute you.

Posted in Biography, History, London, Military, War | 2 Comments

At the Sheffield General

Today we welcome Gina Bond to our merry band of Cemetery aficionados. Gina studies Human Osteology for her Masters & Funeral Archaelogy; she also works in school/college engagement and volunteers for the Pathology Museum. We venture up north to Sheffield, where the a graveyard that holds the remains of the founder of Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts rests…

I was recently asked to start contributing to this fascinating blog and I jumped at the chance! I felt it was right to make my first blog post about one of my favourite places in the city, Sheffield General Cemetery.


Since moving to Sheffield, I have visited the General Cemetery numerous times, with friends and family, in snow and in sun (the snow was the best!). I even made the Cemetery a big part of my Masters dissertation. It’s a place full of grandeur and interesting stories – there are many books on the residents and I suggest you go pick up a few!- and it’s somewhere I feel content and peaceful. I understand that Sheffield isn’t always a place that people chose to visit or know very much of, I mean I didn’t until I moved there! I felt it was best to put the cemetery in to context and explain how it fits in with Sheffield’s rich history.

The city of Sheffield is well known for its steel industry and in the 19th century, it became one of the fastest growing cities in the United Kingdom. In fifty years (1801-1851), the population of Sheffield grew from 45,758 to 135, 310 people. There was a need to find new burial space and the outbreak of Cholera within the city of Sheffield only confirmed this.  400 individuals who succumbed to the disease had to be buried within a pit above the city.


Contemporary print of the Cemetery in its early days.

A group of Non Conformists created the General Cemetery Company in 1834 and a Sheffield based architect won a competition to design the burial ground. The completed Cemetery was opened in 1836. Classical and Egyptian influences are noted throughout the cemetery and can clearly be seen for example, on the Gatehouse. The Gatehouse has a classical revival influence and with its location above the River Porter Brook, it has been suggested that it was placed there to make reference to the crossing of the River Styx for the Greek afterlife.

Mary Ann Fish, a 24 year old bookkeeper’s wife, was the first burial within the cemetery grounds. It took another six years to bury another 999 individuals. This number may have been lower than expected due to the number of burials still taking place in Churchyards within the centre of Sheffield. Once the Burial Act of 1852 was passed and city centre burials were stopped, the General Cemetery saw rise of interments from 400-500 annually, to almost triple that number between 1855 and 1860.


Now open! Original advert for the opening of the Sheffield general Cemetery on Saturday 6th August, 1836, taken from the Sheffield Independent. © The British Newspaper Archive

The General Cemetery Company gained 5 shillings per pauper burial, and it was these burials that saved the business in the first few years. Many large plots had been dug out previously and the largest contained 96 individuals, including 15 from the workhouse and ten children. Catacombs were incorporated into the slope to the left of the Gatehouse.

These were not as popular as the General Cemetery Company has hoped and in the first 10 years of them opening, only ten internments took place. It may have been because of the price (£5.0s.0p.) but it may have also been because they were an almost anonymous form of burial which did not match the Victorian need for ostentatious display.


Newly renovated Noncomformist Chapel which will be open for public events very soon!

The Nonconformist Chapel, situated on the other side of the cemetery, close to Cemetery Road, was also designed with a Classical influence, often being described as “Egypto-Greek”. It was built solely for the purpose of funerals, but often held Sunday services. In recent excavations, burial vaults were found under the Chapel and many unusual things were discovered…but that’s for another blog post!

The Anglican Church was designed by William Flockton and has a neo-Gothic style. The Anglican side of the Cemetery was a big contrast to the Nonconformist side; burials were set out in rows upon rows, with gravestones lined up, instead of large monuments on winding paths.


Mark Firth’s elaborate memorial

By the 1900’s, burials within the Cemetery slowed down due to a number of reasons. There was a gradual increase in the number of cremations taking place, space for burials was getting smaller and people started to live slightly longer as health bettered. The last burial took place in 1978, within one of the vaults and there is a final number of 87,000 burials at the Cemetery. In 1980, the City Council cleared 7,800 gravestones from the Anglican side of the Cemetery. The cleared space became a Conservation Area in 1986.


© British Newspaper Archive

Since 1989 the Friends of the General Cemetery have been running events for the public, including regular historical tours, conservation work days and family activity days. Currently, the Sheffield General Cemetery Trust has been granted funding to restore the Nonconformist Chapel and this restoration is almost completed! This space is looking to be used to increase engagement opportunities with the public and also can be rented out for exhibition space, parties or even Weddings, if that takes anyone’s fancy – I’d definitely consider it!

So that was a very whistle stop tour of the history of the cemetery that I hold dear in my heart. I wanted to keep this first post very general as I’d like to write separate posts about the weird and wonderful stories that this Cemetery holds in the future!

Pictures 1, 3, 5 & 6 © Gina Bond 2016. 

References & source material

Horton, J., 2001. Remote and Undisturbed: A Brief History of the Sheffield General Cemetery. 1st ed. Sheffield: Unicorn Press.
Rugg, J., Stirling, F. & Clayden, A., 2014. Churchyard and Cemetery in an English Industrial City: Sheffield, 1740-1900. Urban History, 41(4), pp.627-646.
UK Government, 1855. An Act Further to Amend the Laws Concerning the Burial of the Dead in England, London.: UK Government.
The British Newspaper Archive.
Posted in Heritage, Restored, Visits | Tagged , | 1 Comment