This is a more unusual symbol although hands often feature as motifs in cemeteries usually in the more familiar clasped hands..
The Pointing Finger is usually one finger, the index one, pointing upwards or downwards. On the three that I saw, it was the right hand that was being depicted with the remaining fingers and thumb turned down into the palm. I have yet to see the downward pointing version but rest assured that it doesn’t indicate that the departed is going ‘down below’ or to Hell. Instead it can signify an untimely, sudden or unexpected death. As you’ve probably already guessed, the upwardly pointed finger is meant to reassure the grieving family that their loved one has ascended to Heaven and has received the reward of the righteous.
However, I found these three lovely examples in Beckenham Cemetery during a recent visit, much to my surprise, and they made me wonder why it isn’t more popular. In all of these the pointing finger and hand are surrounded by flowers.
The first one is to John James Lumsden who died on 25 November 1903 aged 63. It’s very well carved with a daffodil on one side of the hand and two sprays of Lily of the Valley flanking the hand. When I first saw it, a thick branch of ivy obscured the flower on the other side of the daffodil. But on a return visit in January 2017 the branch had been trimmed back and a rose with one full blown bloom and a bud was now visible again. The bud is significant as it often appears on childrens graves to symbolise a life unlived, that never fully bloomed and was ‘nipped in the bud.’ But not on this one.
In floriography or the language of flowers the daffodil is an important representation of resurrection.This is because of its association with Easter, rebirth and renewal. The Lily of the Valley is also associated with Spring as its month is May. Other qualities that the Lily represents are chastity, purity and the return of happiness. It’s mentioned in The Song of Solomon 2.1
‘I am the rose of Sharon
And the lily of the valley.’
There’s also the legend that Mary’s tears turned into the lily of the valley at the exact spot when she cried at the Cross so an alternate name for the flowers is ‘Mary’s tears.’ The Lily is also meant to have healing powers and has other nicknames such as ‘Jacob’s Tears’ and ‘the ladder to heaven’.
This is to Charles Henry McKay who died on 1 November 1910 at only 23 and was the only son of Charles and Ellen McKay as it states on the epitaph. Although the flowers surrounding the pointing finger and hand are the same here as on Lumden’s, on this one they are more stylised and 2D. They would have mourned his short life and unfulfilled ambitions. So there is an added poignancy to the rosebud as his was a life cut short. There is also the word ‘GONE’ carved on the cuff of the hand which emphasises that he has gone to a better place. It really stood out amongst its neighbouring grey stones so it may have been recently cleaned or restored.
There is a third memorial featuring the pointed finger which is in the same style as Lumsden’s but not as well kept. .This was to ‘Will, eldest son of William and Sarah Greenfield. Born 10 December 1874 died 1 August 1905’
Again, another memorial to a life cut short as Will died aged only 31.Three other members of the Greenfield family are also commemorated on the headstone.
To our eyes they could be seen as sentimental but I found them very touching with their aim to comfort those left behind through the use of flowers.
But here’s a mystery from my own local churchyard:
This is to a woman who died at 38 called Georgiana Margaret Barns and it has a pointing finger on the headstone. But instead of pointing upwards or downwards, it’s pointing to the left and apparently into thin air. The hand appears to have a woman’s lacy cuff and I noticed that, although her husband’s dates are also recorded, he isn’t actually buried there. Instead he lies in Hilderstone churchyard in Stafford. He died at 76 nearly 20 years after his wife. Is the finger pointing towards his resting place? Is it a personal symbol known only to them? I found a few details about them online but not much more so I am intrigued and mystified by this one.
I have to admit that The Pointing Finger symbol does remind me a little of a palmist drawing of the hand but in the ones that I’ve seen it’s also very decorative and moving.
The second inquest began on 11 July 1876 and lasted 5 weeks. It was a public sensation and finally ended Florence’s doomed attempt to regain her place in respectable society. Only men and boys were allowed into the inquest as the details revealed were considered to be so shocking.
Both Florence and Mrs Cox spoke of Bravo’s controlling and bullying nature which was countered by family and friends who described him as good-natured and happy.
The affair between Florence and Dr Gully became public knowledge because of the inquest and the papers of the day revelled in it while ostensibly taking a moral high ground. The fact that she had enjoyed it and that it had been common knowledge throughout the area enraged the public and she was soon being pilloried. Much was made of its adulterous nature and the disparity in their ages – he was 67 to her 25. The Times dubbed Gully as her ‘lean and senile seducer’ whereas in fact he was described as being charismatic with Charles Darwin calling him ‘a friend.’ He was quickly discounted as a suspect as he had not been anywhere near the scene at the time.
Florence was questioned repeatedly about the affair until she finally broke down and tried to demand that the Coroner protect her from what she called ‘the impertinent’ cross examining.
‘I refuse to answer any more questions about Dr Gully!’ she shouted at one point to Joseph Bravo’s solicitor. ‘This inquiry is about the death of my husband and I appeal to the jury as men and Britons to protect me.’
Dr Gully described the persistent questioning as ‘a gross impertinence’ and publicly denied any involvement or knowledge of Charles’ murder. Gully was now looking at the very likely destruction of all that he had built up – his good name, his practice and his clientele. The novelist George Eliot, who had been one of his patients, had described him as a ‘quack’. But Gully was very advanced for his time in his use of mesmerism to induce sleep and clairvoyance to diagnose internal conditions. These ideas may seem a little quaint to us today, as X-rays replaced clairvoyance, but they did indicate the way in which medicine might go. He had had a huge practice at Malvern between 1842-1871 but the inquest ruined him.
Joseph Bravo’s solicitor attempted to salvage Charles’ reputation by trying to prove that he had known nothing of Florence and Gully’s affair when he had married. Otherwise he would have been revealed as a mere fortune hunter who saw a wealthy widow with a dubious reputation as easy prey. But to no avail – Florence’s pre-nuptial confession proved otherwise.
The Times, somewhat sanctimoniously, declared the affair as ‘the most disgusting exhibition to have been witnessed in this generation.’ It was as if Florence and Gully were on trial and that Charles’ murder was a sideshow.
But the inquest was against the background of the role of women in Victorian society and Florence had been a rebel. At the time women had no rights and were expected to be only domestic goddesses; sexless, devoted to others and with no other outlets in their lives. However, thinkers such as William Acton thought differently and Gully himself saw womens neuroses as an unconscious response to the pressures of their lives and wrote ‘all these pressures are worsened by their boredom and lack of sexual satisfaction.’ This was very advanced for the time.
Florence, by contrast, ran her own household and managed her own financial affairs. She was independent of her parents and so could make choices which might have been denied to other women. She had been estranged from them when she left Ricardo and during her affair with Gully and seemed willing to accept this as the price of having her own life. However, her desire to be accepted into society again via marriage to Bravo was to bring about her downfall.
Middle-class Victorian women were fascinated by the sensational murder trials of the day and there were several prominent cases featuring wives who were accused of murdering their husbands or lovers – for example, Adelaide Bartlett, Madeline Smith and Florence Maybrick. They saw their own situations reflected in these women who had been driven to take action to take control of their lives.
At the end of the inquest the jury’s verdict was:
‘We find that Charles Delaunay Turner Bravo did not commit suicide, that he did not meet his death of misadventure, that he was wilfully murdered by the administration of tartar emetic. But there is insufficient evidence to fix the guilt upon any person or persons.’
The jury were all male and may have thought that a woman couldn’t be a murderess or there just wasn’t enough hard evidence to enable them to point the finger at anyone. No-one was ever charged with Charles Bravo’s murder although there has been much speculation even to this day.
Florence sold the Priory and parted with Mrs Cox. She died less than 2 years later at Southsea where she was living under the name of Florence Turner. She died of alcoholism although the verdict at her inquest was ‘Death by Misadventure’. Florence’s exact burial place at Challow is unknown.
Florence’s family of wealthy Scottish landowners were utterly ruined, both financially and socially, by the scandal.
Mrs Cox died in 1913 aged 90 from ‘exhaustion’. She returned to Jamaica after inheriting an estate and properties there valued at £7000 which was a large sum at the time. She returned to England and was buried in Hither Green Cemetery. However, her grave is unmarked although the plot is registered. She had received death threats during the second inquest so maybe someone thought that she knew more than she was saying.
Dr Gully survived Florence by 5 years and died on 5 March 1883. He stayed in Orwell Lodge near the Priory with his unmarried sisters. But Susanna, his daughter, refused to have anything more to do with him. The Malvern Clinic closed in 1913 and is now a hotel. Dr Gully’s grave location is unknown as he was buried in secret.
Mrs Bravo supervised the building of a large stone surround over Charles’ grave at West Norwood and died a year later of grief.
Griffiths the coachman was quickly discounted as a suspect and faded from events.
Now only Charles himself still has a tangible reminder of this case which continues to fascinate. But the inscription is now almost unreadable and, from the path, appears blank. It’s as if everyone involved with the case just wanted to vanish from the world, such was the scandal, and eventually even Bravo’s stone may vanish into thick, encroaching vegetation or fall by subsidence leaving no reminder of him.
My own theory is the one proposed by Professor Mary Hartman in which she proposes that Bravo’s death was a tragic accident. Florence was recovering from a second miscarriage and a third pregnancy could have killed her. Charles, however, wanted to resume marital relations as soon as possible as he wanted an heir and this determination does indicate a ruthless streak in him. Florence knew where the antimony was kept and may have slipped it into his water jug to make him unwell so as to avoid having sex with him. Unfortunately on this occasion she got the dosage wrong as 3-4 grains were sufficient to make him ill and he’d taken 30-40 grams which was 10 times the lethal dose. It was noted that Florence seemed extremely agitated on the night of 18 April 1876 as events unfolded – did she suddenly realise what she’d done? 9 years later Adelaide Bartlett used chloroform to avoid conjugal relations with her husband and it may have been a common method employed by wives but not usually with such lethal results.
I visited The Priory prior to writing this post and in Florence’s time it must have appeared very imposing. At the time of Bravo’s murder it would have been surrounded by fields and on its own plot but now it seemed to be almost cowering between the newer houses and car parking that have sprung up around it and the unappealing line of large rubbish bins lined up in front of it. The Priory’s white walls and battlements contrasted with the blue sky as I tried to imagine the chaos and terror on that April night in 1876 as Bravo lay there, dying in extreme pain, in the shadowy candlelit rooms.
It was a tragic event for all concerned and one can only hope that they all now rest in peace.
This now almost illegible tombstone is the only visible reminder of one of the most notorious and still unsolved murder cases of the 19th century. It ruined reputations, destroyed great families and most of the chief suspects lie in unknown, unmarked graves such was the shame in being connected with it.
It’s the last resting place of Charles Delaunay Turner Bravo who died of antimony poisoning on 21 April 1876 aged 30. It took him nearly 3 days to die an agonising death as the poison was so lethal. The memorial was erected by his sorrowing mother who died a year later of grief. I first saw it on a guided tour of West Norwood when the guide indicated it and mentioned the name. It’s now set back from the path and jostles for space with the other memorials and monuments that have grown up around it as if hiding it. In fact I had to wait until the winter die-back to be able to avoid the clinging embrace of long barbed tentacles of brambles and have a closer look. I could just about see his name on the memorial but the stone surround that was originally around it has long since collapsed.
This is the story of one of the notorious cases of the 19th century set against a background of money, womens rights or lack of them, and society’s punishment for those who transgress the rules.
It began on the night of 18 April 1876 after the Bravo household had retired for the night at the Priory on Bedford Hill near Balham. At this time it was surrounded by fields and all would have been quiet. Suddenly the night was disturbed by Charles Bravo, the head of the household, shouting ‘Florence! Florence! Hot water! Hot water!’ before collapsing and vomiting. 2 doctors were then called to the scene and so events began. He had, as was his custom, drank water from his jug before retiring but on this night someone had added 30-40 grains of antimony, a deadly poison which is derived from tartar emetic. Antimony has no taste in water and is an unusual method of killing someone. It began by eating its way its way through his intestines which virtually disintegrated and his stomach. After 3 days his central nervous system began to fail and Bravo knew that he was dying. He managed to make a will in his wife, Florence’s favour which was witnessed by one of the doctors and the butler before being pronounced dead at 5.20am on 21 April.
It was a long and painful death and the post-mortem gave the cause of death as ‘heart failure from the effect of the poison on his central nervous system’. Incredibly it was first considered to be a suicide but I would have thought that there are far less painful methods. However the police soon decided that it was murder and soon began looking for suspects. These were:
Florence his widow: She and Charles had married on 7 December 1875 at All Saints Church Kensington and it has been rumoured that she may have already been pregnant as the marriage was brought forward and she had a miscarriage very shortly afterwards. It hadn’t been a happy marriage as she had already fled to her parents after 3 months alleging domestic abuse. She had had quite a colourful and somewhat provocative life prior to her marriage. Florence had been widowed before after her first husband, Captain Alexander Ricardo died in a Cologne hotel room of alcoholism in 1871 after 6 years of marriage. She had persuaded him to give up his Army career and he struggled to establish another one before taking to the bottle. However he left her £40,000 which was a huge sum when the average working man earned £30 p.a.
Unusually for the time, she was now an independently wealthy woman and soon established her own household at The Priory. She met Dr James Manby Gully when she took the ‘water-cure’ at his hydrotherapy clinic in Malvern. He had known her family for over 30 years and was the celebrity doctor of his day with several famous clients including Tennyson. He was in a miserable second marriage to a Mrs Kibble who was 17 years older than him and from whom he was legally separated. Nevertheless he and Florence embarked on a scandalous affair which made them notorious throughout the neighbourhood. Gully took a house on Bedford Hill Road, Orwell Lodge, which was conveniently near The Priory for secret trysts. As a result Florence was ostracised by local society as people refused to call. However she considered Gully to be ‘the cleverest man I have ever met.’ But she still yearned to be part of society again and after Gully performed an abortion on her the affair ended.
The only way that she could be admitted back into society and be reconciled with her parents was through marriage. She and Charles were introduced by Mrs Cox, her companion who knew his family. There has been a suggestion that he was a fortune hunter and certainly no gentleman would have considered marrying someone with her reputation. It was a marriage that proved to be a disaster.
Mrs Jane Cox – She was a widow with 3 young sons at school and was employed by Florence as her ‘lady’s companion’ at The Priory. Mrs Cox had married in Jamaica and had returned to England after her husband had died. She had been privy to Gully and Florence’s affair and local shopkeepers had refused to serve her. She had jet black hair and an olive coloured complexion which had led to rumours that she had ‘coloured blood.’ She was facing dismissal by Bravo who was on a mission to reduce household expenses and she was poor to say the least. She didn’t want to be unemployed and destitute. There was also her behaviour during Bravo’s protracted death agonies. She told one doctor that he had swallowed chloroform whereas Bravo recovered consciousness long enough to refute this and instead claimed that he’d taken laudanum due to pain in his lower jaw. Mrs Cox then confused matters more when she told the second doctor, Harrison Royes Bell, that Bravo had also told her that ‘I have taken poison don’t tell Florence.’ One wonders if Bravo was in any fit state to confide this and it sounds as if Mrs Cox was trying to create a cover-up. She had also received a bottle clearly marked ‘Poison’ from Dr Gully after he’d vowed never to speak to her again.
Griffiths – the coachman – He had already been dismissed by Bravo two weeks before the wedding and as a result had lost his tied cottage. Griffiths had been heard making drunken threats in the Bedford Hotel on Bedford Hill in which he claimed that Bravo would be dead within a few months. He kept antimony in the coach house to which the entire household had access. A series of very insulting anonymous letters were received at The Priory over Christmas in which Charles was accused of being a fortune hunter and these stopped after Griffiths took a job in Kent.
Dr James Manby Gully: He was never a serious suspect although if Bravo had died then perhaps his affair with Florence could resume. He publicly denied any involvement in the murder.
And what of Charles Bravo himself?
He was born in 1845 and was the only son of Augustus and Mary Turner. Augustus died when Charles was small and Mary married a wealthy merchant, Joseph Bravo, who was 15 years older than her. He’d made his money from fruit and tobacco and was well-off. After studying at Kings College, London Charles was called to the bar in 1868 and took on his stepfather’s surname when he was 23. But he wasn’t well off and was merely ‘jogging along’ on £200 p.a. This wasn’t the life that he craved.
Both he and Florence had something that the other wanted – she had money and he could give her respectability. Florence confessed all of her affair with Dr Gully pre-marraige and Charles admitted that he had supported a woman who had had his child in Maidenhead for 5 years.
But money was already an issue between them prior to marriage as Florence had invoked the right to keep her fortune after marriage. Until 1870 this would automatically have gone to Bravo but now women could keep any assets they brought into the marriage as long as a legal settlement confirming their intention to do so had been ratified in court prior before the union had taken place.
When Charles discovered this he had threatened not to go through with the marriage so she compromised by giving him The Priory’s lease and its furnishings, make her will in his favour and in return she would retain control of her money. Already he seemed to be after her money and displaying his domineering, ruthless side. However Bravo was determined to be in charge and decided to reduce household expenses by dismissing staff which Florence hated. It was also a subtle way of controlling her by getting rid of a support like Mrs Cox and her horses which she loved.
The first inquest was held on 28 April 1876 and concluded that Charles had died from the effects of poisoning but did not know who administered it. This was considered unsatisfactory. The stage was now set for the second 5 week public inquest which would change the lives of Florence, Dr Gully and Mrs Cox forever.
Firstly, Happy New Year to my readers and happy symbol spotting!! This month I have two symbols for you to read about.
I first saw this symbol during a visit to Beckenham Cemetery. It’s a less well-known symbol and stands for victory or truimph over death. It has, from earliest times, been a symbol of leadership, distinction and royalty. A variety of saints also wore crowns to indicate that they were either a martyr or of royal blood. Also, according to Julian Litten, it is ‘The Crown of Life’ which is a reward for those who stayed faithful until death. There are 3 biblical quotes which illustrate this:
Interestingly enough, J C Cooper says that it is also ‘an architectural emblem of the celestial world and form the point of exit from this world and entry into the divine.’ So the crown has several interesting connotations.
In the Jewish faith it’s known as ‘The Crown of Good Name’ which alludes to the deceased as being of ‘exceptionally noble character.’ However, it can also be a representation of the head of the family or of a household.
This eye-catching example comes from Beckenham Cemetery.
This example comes from Brompton where it is at the top of a very ornate and beautiful memorial. This is a radiate crown and, according to J C Cooper, it can represent ‘ the energy and power contained in the head which was regarded as the seat of life-soul, …an attribute of sun gods,….of supernatural people and the points of the crown symbolise the rays of the sun…’ or it may just be an attractive decorative device.
Crown of thorns:
This is a variant on the crown as it is a representation of suffering, passion and martyrdom. It’s based on the ‘crown plaited by the soldiers and imposed upon Jesus during his trial before Pontius Pilate’ according to Julian Litten. J C Cooper asserts that this was a ’parody of the Roman Emperor’s crown of roses’. The soldiers then mocked Jesus by kneeling in front of him and hailing him as ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ A potent emblem of royalty and power had been turned into one of pain and degradation. But the crown of thorns is a prelude to Jesus being given a far worthier crown in Heaven. This is confirmed in Hebrews 2:9: “
But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honourbecause of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone”
In a famous painting of the executed King Charles 1, the Eikon Basilike, he has abandoned his earthly crown, the symbol of majesty, for the crown of thorns that he is holding in his hand as a representation of his suffering.
On another recent return visit to Beckenham cemetery in order to research symbols I discovered some more mosaics on memorials. They were mainly small colourful crosses, either at the corners of a memorial or, in the case of one larger cross, the centrepiece of the epitaph.
This is the simple but moving Denson memorial. It’s dedicated to Gladys Winifred and baby Mary who were ‘the well beloved wife and daughter of Percy Clifford Denson. The scarlet cross really stood out amid the other plainer granite tombstones. The verses that surround the cross read:
There is no death an angel shape
Walks over the earth with silent tread
He bears our best love thins away
And then we call them dead.
Born into that undying life
Thy leave us but to come again
And ever near us though unseen
The dear immortal spirits tread
For all the boundless universe is life
There is no dead’
This has been adapted from the well know 19th century poem ‘There is no Death’ by John Luckey McCreery (1835-1906) although it has been mistakenly credited to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It was written in 1863 and, in 1893, McCreery wrote to an Iowa newspaper to remind readers that it was his work.
This is the poem in full with the relevant quotations from the Denson epitaph marked in bold:
There is no death! The stars go down
To rise upon some other shore
And bright in heaven’s jewelled crown
They shine for evermore
There is no death! The dust we tread
Shall change beneath the summer showers
To golden grain or mellow fruit
Or rainbow-tinted flowers
The granite rocks disorganise
To feed the hungry moss they bear:
The forest leaves drink daily life
From out the viewless air.
There is no death! The leaves may fall,
And flowers may fade and pass away –
They only wait, through wintry hours,
The coming of the May.
There is no death! An angel form
Walks o’er the earth with silent tread
He bears our best-loved things away,
And then we call them “dead”.
He leaves our hearts all desolate –
He plucks our fairest, sweetest flowers,
Transplanted into bliss, they now
Adorn immortal bowers.
The bird-like voice, whose joyous tones
Made glad this scene of sin and strife,
Sings now an everlasting song
Amid the tree of life.
Where’er He sees a smile too bright,
Or soul too pure for taint of vice,
He bears it to that world of light,
To dwell in Paradise.
Born unto that undying life,
They leave us but to come again:
With joy we welcome them –the same
Except in sin and pain.
And ever near us, though unseen,
The dear immortal sprits tread,
For all the boundless universe
Is Life –there is no dead!
This is one of a pair of gold crosses that are on either side of Harold Chenowith’s (1898-1934) tombstone.
And more golden crosses on each of the corners of Ada Gregory’s monument. She died in February 1939 but her husband, Thomas, who was killed in action in November 1917 is also commemorated here. As the final line of the epitaph states ‘ Reunited.’
Finally, this is a vase which has been incorporated into the headstone of Margery Alice, ‘beloved wife of Frank Thompson, who ‘passed peacefully away on 6 October 1934 aged 39.’
These mosaics decorations all seem to date from the 1930’s and so are pre-Second World War. So far I have been unable to discover the reason behind the vogue for this embellishment and so I will continue to look for them whenever I visit a cemetery.
Five child angels, their faces turned to each other, framed by small wings, except for one that was staring out at me, I wanted to reach out and touch them but didn’t want to damage them. They formed a roundel at the centre of a tall cross with the phrase ‘And with the morn those angel faces smile’ inscribed at the base of its stem. I was on a tour of Beckenham Cemetery when I first saw them.
Our guide didn’t comment on them but the monument is in a prominent place on the main road through the cemetery and I often wondered about this pretty and poignant memorial.
On a visit to Highgate East in 2014 I found another example but on a smaller scale on a tombstone in the name of Alfred Hack and dated 1956. There is a distinctly 1930’s look about the angels from their hairstyles.
I also found another version which featured cherubs faces instead of childrens on a visit to Knebworth this summer.
Then , on a more recent visit to Beckenham Cemetery, I found another similar one which was only a short distance away from the first. In this the child angels seem to have more definite, individual faces and the one that has her head towards the viewer is looking down instead of outwards. Now I wanted to find out more about the quotation and the angels and my research led me to a Victorian hymn that was sung on the Titanic at its final service on board and by the inmates of Ravensbruck concentration camp as the S.S led them in. The ‘angel faces’ is a quotation from ‘Lead, kindly Light’, in fact it’s the penultimate line and like ‘Rock of Ages’ it caught the mood of its time.
These are the lyrics:
‘Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not for ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead thou me on,
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.’
However, the writer John Henry Newman (1801-90), always refused to reveal the meaning of the ‘angels faces’ or what the ‘kindly light’ actually was.
Originally a poem, it was written by Newman in 1833. He was then a young theologian and Anglican vicar and was going through a challenging time in his life. Struck down by a fever which nearly killed him while travelling in the Mediterranean, Newman’s servant was so convinced that he would die that he asked him for his last orders. But in his autobiography, Newman told him ‘I shall not die, for I have not sinned against light’.
Newman recovered but that wasn’t the end of his troubles. Desperate to return to England he then took a boat from Palermo to Marseilles only to end up stranded and becalmed in the Straits of Bonifacio. Exhausted and frustrated Newman wrote the poem, ‘The Pillar of the Cloud’ that, in 1845, became ‘Lead, Kindly Light’. Newman was not happy about this as by then he’d converted to Catholicism and hymn singing wasn’t included as part of divine service. He went onto become Cardinal Newman, one of the most important figures in English Catholicism, and also an important writer. In 1900 Elgar set Newman’s poem ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ to music.
‘Lead, Kindly Light’ has struck a chord with those in danger or about to enter the endless dark realm and needed the comfort of a light leading their way through it. Miners awaiting rescue from deep underground during the 1909 Durham mining disaster sang it as did the passengers on one of Titanic’s lifeboats when the rescue ship, Carpathia, was sighted the morning after. It caught the Victorian mood perfectly as did ‘Rock of Ages’ and Queen Victoria asked for it to be read as she lay dying. It also inspired a celebrated painting by the Scottish artist, Sir Joseph Noel Paton in 1894 in which the angels are pensive young woman.
But why did one line from this song inspire two monuments in Beckenham Cemetery and one in Highgate East? I noticed that both of the Beckenham monuments were on children’s graves and that the carved angels were also children. Perhaps the mourning relatives left behind may have wanted the consolation that their beloved children would be waiting for them when their time came.
The first one is the Foster family monument. The epitaph is now virtually unreadable but I could make out the name ‘Francis Frederick’ carved along the base. There are two inscribed ‘Books of Life’ placed on top of the grave. One is dedicated to John Francis Foster and Alice Gladys Alice Chapman and the other is dedicated to John Francis Foster and Alice Emma Foster.
The second one is the Pace family monument and is to the two daughters of Henry William and Elizabeth Pace. These were Lilian Alice who died in 1888 and Grace Irene who died in 1903. Strangely enough they both died at the same age and Elizabeth herself is commemorated here as she died at 33 in 1912.
This is the one in Highgate East dedicated to Alfred Hack and dated 1956.
So, a line from a hymn that even its writer was unsure of its meaning, became a symbol of comfort to sorrowing families.
However the symbol has been adapted to feature cherubs as in St Mary’s, Knebworth’s churchyard. These are on the tombstone of the Lutyens family’s nanny, Alice Sleath.
But I am indebted to Douglas Keister’s Stories in Stone for the possible origins on the image of the angels.
The composition of the five heads may have been adapted from a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA entitled ‘Heads of Angels Miss Frances Gordon’ which was painted during July 1786 – March 1787. The sitter was the then 5 year old Frances Isabella Keir Gordon (1782-1831) who was the only daughter of illustrious parents. They were Lord William Gordon (1744-1823) and his wife Frances Ingram (1761-1841), second daughter of Charles, 9th Viscount Irvine (1727-78), who were married on 6 March 1781. Her uncle was Lord George Gordon (1751-93), whose political activities had sparked the anti-Catholic riots of 1780.
Frances’ mother outlived her by 10 years and the painting was then presented to the National Gallery. It was enormously popular and was reproduced on numerous decorative items and photographic reproductions such as ‘The Cherub Choir.’
And so a poignant and powerful symbol was created from the combination of a great painting, an inspirational hymn and Victorian taste and led to these three lovely memorials to much missed children.
NB-please click on images without an obvious caption and it should come up. Please let me know if it doesn’t.
It’s always the little bright patch of colour that catches your eye. In a sea of grey Portland stone, black, grey or, for the more adventurous, pink granite or terracotta, the sun always catches a small mosaic. They aren’t plentiful but most large Victorian cemeteries have a couple or two if you know where to look.
Most have survived very well and mostly seem to date from the 1920-1930’s. However, there is one in St Mary Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green which is on a 1950’s tombstone and is religious in nature.
Mosaics and me
When I visited Venice I explored San Michele cemetery, its Isle of the Dead, and, despite not having much time, saw some lovely examples. It was my first experience of seeing mosaics in situ since a school visit to Lullingstone Roman Villa. These are two examples from Venice;
An older mosaic on a monument dating from the 19th century. copyright Carole Tyrrell
A modern mosaic on a memorial. copyright Carole Tyrrell
In the same year I also visited Aquileia which is in Northern Italy near the Slovakia border. Once a thriving Roman port it is now 10km from the Adriatic Sea. The Romans left many artefacts including a necropolis which is now surrounded by back gardens and the celebrated mosaic floor in the Cathedral.
Visitors can admire the detailed and colourful figures of birds, fish, reptiles, women and fishermen amongst others from an elevated glass walkway over the floor. Here are a bison and an octopus from the floor:
So it was exciting to be able to go mosaic spotting in the UK and West Norwood Cemetery has a wonderful and large example in its Greek Necropolis. The delicacy and beauty of these creations must be time consuming and expensive so we should appreciate the ones that we have.
On my list to visit – Rudolf Nureyev’s tomb.
I am indebted to Rod Humby from the Joy of Shards website for kindly giving me a link to one of the most spectacular mosaic memorials of all – Rudolf Nureyev’s tomb in Sainte Genevieve des Bois Russian Cemetery, Sainte Genevieve des Bois France. It has a mosaic Oriental carpet draped across it. Nureyev was an enthusiastic collector of beautiful carpets and antique textiles and so it seems fitting that one protects him in his eternal sleep. It was designed by the sculptor Ezio Frigerio who had worked with Nureyev for many years on designing ballet sets.
‘The word ‘mosaic’ is as you might expect, Italian in origin. It derives from the Latin ‘mosaicus’ which in turn comes from the Greek ‘mouserus’ or belonging to the Muses and so artistic.’ (reproduced by kind permission)
According to Wikipedia mosaics are:
‘a piece of art or image made from assembling small pieces of coloured glass, stone
or other materials. They are usually made of small flat, roughly square, pieces of
stone or glass of different colours, known as tesserae.’
Again from The Joy of Shards
‘Mosaics were first created roughly 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia which included what are now Iraq, Syria and Kuwait. At first they were simple and consisted of pushing terracotta cones point first into a background as decoration. In the 8th century pebble pavements appeared which incorporated differently coloured stones to create patterns. But it was the Ancient Greeks, flowed by the Romans who began to incorporate pictures and patterns into their designs. ‘
(reproduced by kind permission)
Irano-Romano floor mosaic detail from Palace of Shapur 1 at Bishapur. In public domain in USA – shared under Wiki Creative Commons
Cone mosaic Uruk Mesopotamia 3000 BC. Pergamon Museum. Shared under Wiki Creative Commons licence.
Mosaic making flourished throughout the Byzantine Empire from the 6th-15th century and soon spread throughout East and Western Europe. Ravenna in Italy was its centre of mosaic making from the 6th century and pieces still survive in place such as The Great Palace in Constantinople, now Istanbul.
The Christian and Islamic faiths have also used mosaics extensively in their basilicas and mosques. These include the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and the Great Mosque in Cordoba. Ely Cathedral also boasts a mosaic floor in one of its chapels. There are also notable examples in Venice’s St Mark’s and also on the islands of Torcello and Murano. The Jewish faith also used mosaics to embellish their synagogues.
Mosaics fell out of favour and were replaced by paintings around the time of the Renaissance. But they enjoyed a revival in the 19th century as the Victorians re-discovered them. Westminster Cathedral is a fine example and is decorated in the Byzantine style.
This one is from St Saviour and St John Baptist and Evangelist Roman Catholic church in Lewisham High Street and dates from 1919. It’s over the entrance but I was unable to find out the name of its creator.
This lovely one is from Salisbury Cathedral and features an exquisite border of passionflowers around an 1894 memorial.
The Bettinelli grave in St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery features the colourful head of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns and is very striking.
Most of the mosaics that I’ve seen appear to have worn very well with only a few tesserae missing here and there. However, there is one in West Norwood’s Greek section in which the tesserae have completely vanished leaving only a ghostly outline of the figures. There is however, a plain blue mosaic slab beneath it.
This is another from the Greek Necropolis; the Maria Michalinos monument and is based on a stele discovered at a site near Athens and displayed at the British Museum. It features a seated woman dressed in classical dress looking at a jewellery casket held by a servant.
I am compiling a gallery of these little jewels whenever and wherever I find them and here is a selection so far:
The two masks of comedy and tragedy, or Sock and Buskin as they are also known for reasons I’ll explain later, are not often found in cemeteries. And as you might expect, when they are there’s a theatrical association.
But what is the history behind this two faced symbol and how did these icons from Ancient Greece come into Victorian cemeteries?
It began with the custom of actors wearing masks, an essential part of the performance, in early Greek theatre. It was a vital part of Greek culture and civic pride. However, Comedy and Tragedy were viewed as completely separate genres and no plays ever combined them.
This genre began in Athens around 532 BC with Thespis, the earliest recorded tragic actor. He was known as ‘Father of Tragedy’ and it has been suggested that his name inspired the English term, thespian, for a performer.
Muse of Tragedy:
Melpomene is the Muse and is often depicted holding the Mask of Tragedy. She often also holds a knife or club and also wears the ‘cothurni ‘or buskin boots that elevated her above other actors. She was a daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne as was Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, and there were also 7 other daughters who were all Muses.
After the defeat of Athens by the Spartans in the Peleponnesian War and the subsequent decline in its power, comedy became more important than tragedy. I imagine that people wanted some relief after a protracted war and these were comic episodes about the lives of ordinary Greek citizens. Maybe they were similar to today’s comedy sketches. Greek comedy is reputed to have had a major influence on Roman humour as well. Perhaps they had an early version of Up Pompeii…..
Muse of Comedy:
She is called Thalia but can also be sometimes spelled as Thaleia and is depicted holding the Mask of Comedy in one hand. She’s generally depicted as a young woman crowned with ivy. Thalia wears the thin-soled shoe known as the ‘sock’ from the Latin soccus. It may seem strange but it’s the footwear of the two Muses that led to them being called ‘sock and buskin’.
And so both Comedy and Tragedy became two sides of the theatre world.
They were seen as one of the iconic conventions of classical Greek theatre and date back to the time of Aeschylus (525-456 BC) commonly considered to be the father of Greek tragedy. The Ancient Greek term for mask is ‘prosopon’ or face. There are paintings on vases, such as the 5th century BC Pronomos vase, depicting actors preparing for performance with masks. However none have survived due to the organic materials from which they were created such as stiffened linen, leather or cork with wigs of human and animal hair. After the performance they were dedicated at the altar of Dionysus.
It was mainly the chorus that used masks on stage of which there could be up to 12-15 members. Masks created a sense of unity when representing a single character or voice. They always created a sense of mystery and were also a method of disguise. The actor would use the mask to totally immerse himself in his role and become someone else. It also allowed him to appear and reappear in several different roles instead of only being seen as one character. The exaggerated features of the mask also enabled audience members who were sitting at a distance to see characters emotions.
I have found four monuments featuring Tragedy and Comedy each in differing styles, in London Victorian cemeteries: Fred Kitchen in West Norwood Cemetery with a link to Charlie Chaplin. There are two in Brompton Cemetery: Gilbert Laye and Augustus Henry Glossop Harris’s elegant monuments and the exuberant Andrew Ducrow tomb in Kensal Green.
Fred Kitchen (1872-1951):
The graceful Kitchen memorial was recently restored by the Music Hall Guild of Great Britain & America in March 2016 with the Heritage Lottery Fund’s support. It almost dazzles under a summer sky. Both Fred and his father, Richard (1830-1910) rest here and note the broken column on which the Sock and Buskin are placed. This denotes that the head of the family as a broken column indicated that the support, or head of the family, rests here.
Fred came from a theatrical family in that his father, Richard, was the Ballet Master and Dancer at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Fred worked mainly in the music halls which were considered a low form of entertainment but many famous comedians learned their craft in them. He was discovered by the legendary impresario, Fred Karno, while playing in a production at Glasgow’s Princess Theatre. It was the stuff of showbiz legend, or cliche depending on your point of view, as Fred was standing in for the chief comedian and so, as a result, a 50 year career theatrical career began. From 1897-1910 Fred was a member of Fred Karno’s Army along with such legends as Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. Kitchen had a unique style which featured a splayed walk as he had flat feet and scruffy costume. Chaplin later admitted that this had influenced or he had simply ‘borrowed’ it for his iconic tramp character. In 1913 Fred appeared in a Royal Command Performance for King George V and continued to work until 1945 aged 73. But the music hall circuit was beginning to vanish but his son, Fred Kitchen Jr, continued the family tradition in film and theatre.
Gilbert Laye (1855-1826) – Brompton Cemetery
This is a striking memorial with ‘Comedy & Tragedy’ of either side of a stylised young woman who is holding what appears to be a lyre. There isn’t much known about Gilbert Laye, the incumbent, and I could only find one credit for him online. This was as the director of ‘My Lady Molly’ at Daly’s Theatre on New York’s Broadway. It was a musical comedy and opened on 5 January 1904 and closed on 16 January 1904. He was also briefly the manager of the Palace Pier in Brighton. Both he and his wife, Evelyn Stuart were known as struggling minor actors/ However, she was known as a respected provincial Principal Boy. However, it was their daughter, Evelyn Laye (1900-1995) who became a huge star on stage in musical comedy roles. She made her stage debut in 1915 and acted until well into her nineties. Evelyn worked with Noel Coward and made her first appearance on Broadway in 1929 in his Bitter Sweet. However, her parents disapproved of her first marriage to
actor Sonnie Hale in 1926 which ultimately ended in divorce when he left her for actress Jessie Matthews. Evelyn attracted public sympathy over this with the divorce judge branding Matthews ‘an odious creature.’
Augustus Henry Glossop Harris (1852-1896)
This is a very sophisticated monument with a barefoot mourning woman in robes and her hair tied back resting one outstretched arm on the cenotaph. In vintage photos, the other is raised towards a bust of Harris which tops the plinth. However, the bust is no longer in place and neither is the hand that seemed to stroke it. There are three people commemorated on the monument: Augustus himself, his wife Florence Edgcumbe and their daughter, Florence Nellie Cellier. None of them appear to be buried in Brompton as Augustus died at Folkestone and Florence’s ashes were scattered elsewhere. Florence remarried after Augustus’s death so she may actually be buried with her second husband.
Augustus was a British actor and impresario who came from another theatrical family. Born in Paris his father was a dramatist, Augustus Glossop Harris, and his mother was Maria Ann Bone, a theatrical costumier. The Brompton Augustus Henry was known as ‘the Father of British pantomime’. He co-wrote and produced scripts for large scale pantos that were performed at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane every Christmas. They attracted a popular cast including the legendary Dan Leno. Augustus was also involved in local politics and, in 1890, represented the Strand division in the London County Council. In 1891 he was appointed a sheriff and was also knighted. He married Florence Edgcumbe Rendle in 1881 and after his death she remarried and died in 1914.
Florence Nellie Harris Cellier was their daughter. She married Frank Cellier in 1910 and divorced him in 1925. He was an actor who both appeared and directed in numerous plays and acted in Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps’ in 1948.
‘Comedy and Tragedy’ lie beneath a laurel wreath and violin on top of a carved cloth at the base of the cenotaph.
On one of the most desirable and prominent plots in Kensal Green Cemetery lies Andrew Ducrow. To call his blue painted tomb flamboyant is an understatement although the 19th century magazine ‘The Builder’ described it as a piece of ‘ponderous coxcombry‘ . It was supposedly created for his first wife but as the epitaph states
‘Within this tomb erected by genius for the reception of its own remains are deposited those of Andrew Ducrow’
It’s a feast of symbols ranging from 4 Egyptian style 4 sphinxes and columns on the mausoleum and a Greek style roof. A relief over the door depicts Pegasus, the winged horse and a weeping woman in Grecian dress with ‘Comedy and Tragedy’ beside her on clouds.
A pair of gloves and hat lie almost just discarded waiting for their owner to don them again on part of a broken column. There’s also beehives, shells, flowers and downturned torches. Two angels flank the now bricked up entrance which are the closest to any Christian symbolism.
However, Pegasus and an urn decorated with horses heads and garlands are not just mere emblems but direct references to Ducrow’s profession which was as a renowned circus performer. He was known as the ‘Father of British Circus Equestrianism’. Modern day horse acts owe a huge debt to him as he created many horse feats and acts that are still in use today. For example, his most famous act ‘Courier of St Petersburg’ is still performed to this day at equestrian events. In this a rider straddles 2 cantering horses while other horses bearing the flags of the countries through which a courier would pass on his way to Russia passed between his legs.
Ducrow owned a circus called Astley’s Amphitheatre and had learned his skills from his Belgian father who had emigrated to England in 1793. However, Ducrow also had another act that attracted and thrilled audiences. This was the ‘plastique’ or physique performances in which he and his sons would wear ‘fleshings’ or flesh coloured body stockings and pose on white stallions as they carried them around the amphitheatre several times. It must have been quite a sight to see under the lights and it’s a shame that no-one has yet attempted to revive it. There was a black performer in the company called Pablo Fanque who is mentioned in the Beatle Sgt Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band track, ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite’ which is one of my favourites.
As you can imagine Ducrow and his company were incredibly popular but bad luck dogged him. The Amphitheatre burned down 3 times and after the last one in 1841 he had a nervous breakdown. He died soon after in 1842 and the Amphitheatre and circus were taken over by others who had worked with him.
The substantial church of St Leonards at Streatham could almost be seen as God’s’ traffic calming measure as it makes the drivers on the busy Streatham High Road inch past its walls. But once inside St Leonards churchyard the noisy flow seems to fade to a hum and you can appreciate a church which has had a chapel on its site for over 1000 years.
I was on a guided tour organised by the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery and our guide was John Brown who had an obvious affection for St Leonards.
The first church was built in 1350 and the lowest part of its tower still stands. St Leonards was then rebuilt in 1778 and altered again in 1831 when the nave was completely rebuilt and a crypt created. During the 1860’s a chancel was added. But, on 5 May 1975, disaster struck when a fire completely destroyed the interior. It was then re-designed and St Leonard’s now has a whitewashed interior within its 19th century walls. This has created a wonderful backdrop on which the surviving wall tablets and memorials are well displayed. An inspiring blend of the ancient and new.
We began by exploring outside and stopped to admire the tower which is known as Sir John Ward’s Tower . According to John, it has the highest oak tree between the Thames and Croydon growing halfway up it. The tower is built from Surrey flint and is topped by a modern spire dating from the 1841.
The churchyard contains over 250 memorials dating from the 18th century with the last burial in 1841. Part of the graveyard was bombed during the 2nd World War and, as a result, has been landscaped to create a Garden of Remembrance. John revealed that some of the burials had only had a wooden graveboard which had long since disintegrated.
St Leonards was a very fashionable church during the 18th and 19th centuries and, as a result, a chapel of ease dedicated to All Saints was built in a nearby road. Alas, even God was expected to adhere to the rigid class system of the time as the local gentry worshipped at St Leonards and their servants would attend their own service at All Saints. Dr Johnson and James Boswell are known to have visited the church. This may be one of the reasons that there are several prominent local people buried in the churchyard. John pointed out some of the more illustrious tombs; Merian Drew, the lord of the manor and his daughter Jane Agnes Fisher, George Pratt of Pratts Department store in Streatham and the Colthurst family member who had owned Coutts bank.
William Dyce, the Pre-Raphaelite painter and polymath, lies under a broken cross. He designed the florin coin and was a much in demand portrait painter. Amongst his many achievements were the frescoes in the robing room of the House of Lords although they remain unfinished. He also painted another celebrated fresco for the House of Lords, ‘The Baptism of Ethelbert’. My own favourite of his paintings is ‘Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858’ with its haunting, melancholy atmosphere and muted colour palette. He was also a churchwarden at St Leonards and was responsible for designing the chancel in 1863. Dyce’s ‘Madonna and Child’ of 1827 featured on the Royal Mail 2007 Christmas stamps. Robert Garrard, the royal jeweller s also lies here and there was a flat, plain slab on the grave of one of novelist Trollope’s nephews who was the owner of the building firm, Trollope and Colls. I also admired the small sculptures of angels on the Montefiore monument. There were also several tombstones dating back to the 1700’s with a scattering of skull and crossbones.
A large monument had been made from the wonder material of the 19th century, Coade Stone. A Mrs Coade, invented it but for a long time the recipe was lost. However it and the techniques for producing the stone have now been rediscovered and a new range of Coade sculptures are currently available.
We then followed John inside to admire two 17th century imposing and magnificent monuments in the porch. The striking Massingberde memorial commemorates a London merchant and Treasurer of the East India Company who died in 1653. The two figures facing each other symbolise the triumph of life over death. The dramatic Howland monument was erected by a grieving widow, Elizabeth, to her husband John who died in 1686 and features a brooding skull and several cherubs.
At the top of the chancel by the altar were the Thrale monuments. These were to Henry Thrale and his mother-in-law, Mrs Salusbury. Henry, who is also commemorated by the nearby Thrale Road, was a wealthy brewer and MP. He and his wife, Hester, entertained the well -known movers and shakers of the day including Dr Johnson and James Boswell. There were two epitaphs written in Latin by Dr Johnson and a beautiful tablet by John Flaxman is set into the wall. It has three female figures on it which were reputedly carved from the life. One of them is Sophia Hoare. John Flaxman (1726-1803) was a prolific sculptor of funerary monuments, mainly in the Classical style, and his work can be seen in Westminster Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral as well as many churches.
A somewhat dog eared and damaged figure lies on top of what looks like a table tomb. This is what’s left of an effigy of Sir John Ward in his armour. Colin Fenn of FOWNC has compiled a list of helpful notes to accompany the reconstruction drawing of it and estimates the figure as dating from 1350-1380. Sir John fought with the Black Prince at Crecy and, in the modern Streatham stained glass window, he appears holding a model of the first, 14th century chapel that he built. The rest of the window records the history of Streatham and St Leonard’s and is well worth seeing. It’s by John Hayward as all the stained glass within St Leonard’s.
There are more intriguing memorials in the Chapel of Unity and John drew our attention to Edward Tylney’s. He was the Master of Revels, under Queen Elizabeth 1 and King James 1, and who put on plays and other entertainments for the Court. He was renowned for being vain and had the memorial created during his lifetime which is why there is a blank space for the date of his death in 1610. But there is another version in which the mason was so relieved at Tylney’s passing that he omitted to add the date of his death. Nearby is William Lynne’s affectionate tribute to his wife, Rebecca which dates from Cromwell’s reign. Part of it reads: ‘
‘Should I ten thousand yeares enjoy my life I could not praise enough so good a wife.’
The oldest inscription, dated 1390, was below the altar and is a small brass plate which asks for prayers for the repose of a long past rector, John Elsefield.
Then we descended the spiral staircase to the crypt. This was an unexpected surprise. Although not as extensive as West Norwood or Kensal Green it was still impressive and atmospheric with incumbents in their loculi.
Loculus which is Latin for ‘little place”, plural loculi, is ‘an architectural compartment or niche that houses a body, as in a catacomb, mausoleum or otherplace of entombment’ Wikipedia
The crypt is laid out with 2 corridors and the gated individual family vaults lead off them. Some contained entire families including the Thrales. John showed us one in which the loculus had been bricked up as the occupant had been buried in only a shroud. This was Mr Costa, a silk merchant, who left instructions that every pauper who carried his coffin was to be given a guinea. Needless to say, his coffin was carried by many poor men and so his wealth was redistributed. Only the undertaker was left empty-handed. There’s also two earls who ended up down there whilst visiting Streatham but I don’t think that the two events are connected.
The crypt was rebuilt in 1831 and was used as an air raid shelter during the 2nd World War during which time an experiment was carried out to determine the depth of the charnel pit under the flagstone floor. The measure went down as far as it would go which was 20ft but the pit extended far below that. More recently it became the home of a local tramp called Black Tommy who had his mail delivered there. One wonders with whom the postmen would have left large packages when Mr Tommy was out.
As a finale, John showed us the substantial headstone of the local ratcatcher which proved that he was certainly busy, successful and appreciated. Sadly, the epitaph appears to have completely vanished. Afterwards a couple of us strolled about the churchyard reading the fine epitaphs on several memorials.