Locals are mourning the loss of a beloved tree which has stood at the centre of Highgate Cemetery for nearly 200 years.
The majestic Cedar of Lebanon has been in the middle of the site’s west side since its inception in the 1830s, bearing witness to hundreds of burials in that time.
Despite best efforts to keep it alive, the mighty cedar has been condemned by tree surgeons, amid fears it could collapse.
The decision was eventually made to cut it down, in what one trustee compared to the feeling of losing a “much-loved relative”.
Dr Ian Dungavell, chief executive of the Friends of Highgate Trust, told the Standard: “It was a bit like switching off the life system on a much-loved relative. This tree has seen so much.”
Staff at the cemetery had started to notice fungus on the tree, which has survived a lightning strike and deep winters throughout its life.
Experts were called in, who said that large sections were beyond saving.
Dr Dungavell said they “did not want to believe” the report but took the decision to trust the experts.
One tree surgeon involved in cutting the Cedar down even visited the site to bid farewell to the tree before work commenced to remove it.
Meanwhile, volunteers were invited to visit and to witness it in its final days before it was felled.
“For any tree it’s upsetting if its been around for that period of time,” said Dr Dungavell, referencing the other longstanding trees at the site.
“It’s hard not to anthropomorphise them, to think, ‘what have they seen?'”
Sheldon Goodman, a tour guide and curator of the Cemetery Club website, also expressed his sadness at the situation.
“I’m a cemetery lover so the precedence this tree had is amplified in me, but knowing it’s fate, although unavoidable and necessary, doesn’t dispel that a little bit of London’s history is dying with it. You watch from the sidelines, powerless to do anything,” he told the Standard.
“Seeing the circle without the Lebanon would be like seeing Pisa without the tower, or Sydney without the bridge. The architecture becomes a nonsense without it.”
Mr Goodman said the Cedar deserved recognition as a famous tree of London, as he felt it was somewhat a “hidden secret”.
“It’s a guardian that has fallen on its sword and it’s silently watched over the fortunes of the cemetery for so many years; to see it succumb to disease and a climate it hadn’t really evolved for is such a shame,” he said.
The Cedar of Lebanon is based above the Lebanon Catacombs, which contain a number of burials in lead-lined coffins.
It is described as being like a “giant bonsai”, due to its unique placement and was part of the site when the land was part of Ashurst House, which was sold in 1830.
Dr Dungavell said a collapse would have been “horrific”, if branches had fell and smashed into them.
As well as being a constant presence in the cemetery and viewed by thousands of visitors in person, the tree has also been seen on screen.
Most recently it featured in the film Hampstead, with Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson sharing a picnic underneath its towering branches.
The west side of the cemetery is the site of hundreds of burials, including the private tomb of late music star George Michael.
Each side of the cemetery attracts thousands of visitors each year, with large numbers visiting the east side to see the final resting place of philosopher Karl Marx.
Here’s another interesting piece from the BBC news website on murder memorials dating from the early 19th century. They are usually found in country areas as the victim and murderer would often be known to the community.
By Natalie GriceBBC News
26 October 2018
Wandering around the picturesque cemetery at St Catwg’s church in Cadoxton, Neath, a first-time visitor might be startled out of their gentle stroll by the stark message on top of one tall, weathered stone – MURDER.
This memorial in south Wales is one of a handful of “murder stones” erected around the UK, the majority over a period of about 100 years, to commemorate violent deaths that shocked the local communities.
The Cadoxton stone is dated 1823, and recounts the death of Margaret Williams, 26, who was from Carmarthenshire but was working “in service in this parish” and was found dead “with marks of violence on her person in a ditch on the march below this churchyard”.
Miss Williams’ story, such as is known from contemporary reports, tells of an unmarried young woman who had been working for a local farmer in Neath when she became pregnant.
She had declared the father of the child was the farmer’s son, and when her apparently strangled body was discovered head down in a watery inlet in marshes near the town, he was the prime suspect.
But whatever local opinion may have believed, there was no evidence to tie him or anyone else to the crime, and her murder remained unsolved.
However, the murderer was left in no doubt as to the feelings of the local community after this stone, part gravestone and part warning, was erected over poor Margaret’s body.
Giving the details of her fate and the date of her death, the stone, erected by a local Quaker, continues: “Although the savage murderer escaped for a season the detection of man yet God hath set his mark upon him either for time or eternity, and the cry of blood will assuredly pursue him to certain and terrible righteous judgement.”
This unsolved killing is unusual in the history of the surviving murder stones in that the murderer escaped justice. Most of the other memorials are to people whose killers were quickly detected, sentenced and dispatched via the gallows.
Dr Jan Bondeson, a retired senior lecturer at Cardiff University and a consultant physician, has made a study of the history of crime alongside his medical career and has written a number of books on the subject.
He became interested in murder stones after editing a book which featured them.
He said: “The murder stone in Cadoxton is the only one in Wales. There are plenty of them in England.
“There was an instinct for the local people to erect them. There was a strong instinct to commemorate a tragic murder.”
Dr Bondeson has documented several further murder stones across the English counties, and one early example of the type in Scotland.
One murder stone has been immortalised by no less a writer than Charles Dickens himself. In the novel Nicholas Nickleby, the eponymous hero walks through the ominously named Devil’s Punch Bowl at Hindhead in Surrey.
There, he and his companion come across the real-life stone marking the 1786 murder of a man known only as the Unknown Sailor.
The unnamed man was en route to his ship in Portsmouth when he visited a local pub in Thursley. There he fell in with three fellow sailors, and paid for their drinks and food before leaving with them.
The sailor was repaid for his generosity in the following way: They “nearly severed his head from his body, stripped him quite naked and threw him into a valley”.
The three did not get far. The sailor’s body was found soon after, and James Marshall, Michael Casey and Edward Lonegon were chased and captured after trying to sell the dead man’s clothes at a pub.
They were hanged from a triple gibbet near the murder scene, and the unknown man was buried in Thursley with a stone paid for by local people.
But the local mill owner, James Stillwell, went a step further. He placed a stone in Devil’s Punch Bowl itself, with this grim warning to future generations:
“ERECTED, In detestation of a barbarous Murder, Committed here on an unknown Sailor, On Sep, 24th 1786, By Edwd. Lonegon, Mich. Casey & Jas. Marshall
“Who were all taken the same day, And hung in Chains near this place, Whoso sheddeth Man’s Blood by Man shall his, Blood be shed. Gen Chap 9 Ver 6”
Dr Bondeson said the majority of the stones appeared around the 1820s, adding “That was the high level for the erecting of murder stones. All of them are in the country – none are in urban areas.”
Elizabeth – Bessie – Sheppard was just 17 when she set out from her home in Papplewick, Nottingham, on 7 July 1817, to seek work as a servant in Mansfield, seven miles away. She found a job, but she never found her way back home, because on her return journey, a travelling knife grinder found her.
Charles Rotherham, a man in his early 30s, had served as a soldier in the Napoleonic wars for 12 years before beginning this new stage in his life.
He was seen on the road coming from Mansfield after drinking several pints where his path crossed Bessie’s.
Her severely battered body was found in a ditch by quarrymen the next day. Her shoes and distinctive yellow umbrella were missing and there was evidence her attacker had tried to remove her dress but had failed.
Rotherham had sold Bessie’s shoes and was on his way to Loughborough when he was arrested. He confessed to the crime and was returned to the scene where he showed a constable the hedge stake he had used to kill Bessie.
Like all murderers at the time, Rotherham swung for his crime. Local people, outraged by the attack, banded together to raise money for a stone to commemorate Bessie, which was placed on the site where she was attacked.
Bessie’s stone simply honours the memory of the dead girl, but another stone erected to a female victim of violence has more of a moral tone, seemingly warning women against certain behaviour as much as expressing anger with the killer.
“As a warning to Female Virtue, and a humble Monument to Female Chastity: this Stone marks the Grave of MARY ASHFORD, who, in the twentieth year of her age, having incautiously repaired to a scene of amusement, without proper protection, was brutally violated and murdered on the 27th of May, 1817.”
The story behind Mary Ashford’s death and its aftermath is one which left a permanent mark on English legal history.
She had gone to a dance in Erdington, Birmingham, with her friend Hannah Cox, whom she planned to stay with overnight before returning to her place of work at her uncle’s house in a neighbouring village.
At the dance, she met a local landowner’s son, Abraham Thornton, and later reports confirmed the pair spent most of the night dancing together and having fun.
When they left the dance, Mary told her friend she would spend the night at her grandparents’ home – possibly a ploy to spend more time with Thornton – and Mary and he went off together.
Mary returned to Hannah’s house at 4am, changed her dancing clothes for her working clothes, collected some parcels and set out for her uncle’s home.
About two hours later a labourer found a bundle of clothing and parcels on the path leading to Mary’s home. The alarm was raised and her body was found submerged in a water-filled pit.
An autopsy showed she had drowned and had been raped shortly before her death.
People believed Thornton, having been rebuffed by Mary during their hours together, had lain in wait for her to return home and raped her before throwing her into the pit to drown.
He was duly arrested and tried, but a number of witnesses placed him at another location at the time of Mary’s death and he was acquitted.
But the story does not end there. Mary’s brother William Ashford began a private prosecution under an obscure ancient law, which allowed relatives of murder victims to bring an “appeal of murder” following an acquittal.
Thornton had a surprise up his sleeve though. In response, he demanded a trial by combat as was his right under that law, under which he could legally have killed Ashford, or if he defeated him, gone free.
Ashford was much smaller than Thornton, and declined the battle. Thornton was a free man, and the case was swiftly followed by a change in the law in 1819, banning such appeals and therefore trial by battle.
Other victims include:
William Wood, of Eyam, Derbyshire, murdered by three men who robbed him of £100 in 1823 – his head was “beaten in the most dreadful manner possible”. Two men were caught, one escaped justice. A permanent memorial was erected over 50 years after the crime after earlier versions were destroyed or removed, which showed the strength of feeling still present in the community about the murder.
Father and son William and Thomas Bradbury, who were brutally attacked in William’s pub The Cherry Arms, known as Bill O’Jacks locally, on 2 April 1832 in Greenfield, Saddleworth. Their unsolved killings were recorded on a stone which noted their “dreadfully bruised and lacerated bodies”.
The Marshall family – the “special horror”, as noted in The Spectator at the time, of the Denham murders in Buckinghamshire, where a family of seven including three young girls were beaten to death at their home attached to their father’s blacksmith’s premises. The youngest, Gertrude, four, was found still clutched in her grandmother Mary Marshall’s arms. Killer John Jones was found a few days after the killings on 22 May 1870 and speedily tried and executed. They are buried in one grave in St Mary’s Church, Denham, where the original worn murder stone has been supplemented by a modern plaque to remember the victims.
The last word goes to those who chose to commemorate Nicholas Carter, a 55-year-old farmer from Bedale, Yorkshire, killed by a farm labourer as he rode home from market.
The stone laid at the murder site in Akebar – later to become a Grade II listed monument which hit the headlines earlier this year when it was badly broken in a car crash – had a very simple message, along with the date of his death, May 19, 1826.
Among the epitaphs displayed on the side of St Stephan’s church in the town of Braunau am Inn on the Austrian-German border, there is a large stone relief of a man with an unusually long beard stretching down past his feet. At first glance it might seem a bit outlandish, but it’s a fitting monument to an important man who was killed by his own facial hair.
The likeness is that of Hans Steininger, a 16th-century burgomaster (town mayor) of Braunau am Inn, who’s since become somewhat of a folk figure. Much about his life and role as a leader have not survived the centuries since his death, but his incredible beard, which is said to have been over four and a half feet long, looms large in the town’s cultural memory.
Steininger was a popular mayor, serving multiple terms, but in 1567, he met an ignominious end. On September 28 of that year, there was a large fire in the town that caused a general panic. Steininger usually kept his prodigious beard hair rolled up and stuffed in a pocket, but during the commotion he was running around with it hanging free. In the midst of the chaos, he managed to step on his own beard, sending him tumbling down a flight of stairs and breaking his neck. Killed by his own beard.
The full-body illustration at the church shows Steininger’s beard bifurcated into two scraggly strands, stretching down past his feet. And tucked away in the local district museum is the town’s most hirsute artifact: the 450-year-old beard of Steininger.
After his death, Steininger was honoured with the aforementioned epitaph, but that’s not all. Lest the years of work it must have taken for him to grow his beard be lost, the long length of facial hair was cut off and preserved separately, becoming an important town heirloom.
Over 450 years after Steininger’s death, his beard survives, currently on display at the District Museum Herzogsburg in Branau. The artifact has since been authenticated and chemically preserved so that future generations can continue to appreciate this sensational local story.
Today, Braunau am Inn is most often remembered as the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, but for understandable reasons, the local tourism board seems more keen to celebrate the mayor who was killed by his own beard. There have even been tours of teh city given by a Steininger re-enactor decked out in a flowing fake beard. Hopefully no costume version will ever prove as deadly as the original.
One of the most poignant stories from Netherne Cemetery is that of Jean Barboni. He was an 8 year old who died in the hospital in 1915 and whose death haunted his nurse, Elizabeth Martin, for the rest of her life. Ms Martin’s niece, Edith Kelly, contacted her local paper to share her aunt’s memories and her own outrage at the then state of the cemetery. Elizabeth had shared her still vivid memories of Jean with Edith 30 years later after his death. She had devotedly nursed Jean who was born with what we would now call learning difficulties but then was classed as mentally defective. Edgard Barboni, his father, was an officer in the French army and a physicist engaged in top secret chemical warfare work during the First World War. They had had another little boy named Pierre and were finding it difficult to cope as Jean required specialist care. Eventually he was admitted as a private patient in a house for the ‘mentally subnormal’ as the Victorians classed him at Netherne. Edith discovered, through her aunt’s diaries that she had always felt that she had contributed to Jean’s death by allowing him to be put in a pauper hospital, Netherne, where he contracted TB. After Jean’s parents returned to France with Pierre Elizabeth tended Jean’s grave until her own death. Edith was quoted as saying
‘ For as long as I could remember, she regarded him as her own child. I suppose the emotional involvement must have been that much greater because the parents were in France and possibly never visited the grave again.’
As I left the cemetery and walked back around the border of the field again I noticed the large number of flints on the ground. I was tempted to take one home as a souvenir but it was too heavy. However, the local flints provided inspiration for a Netherne patient, Gwyneth Rowlands, who painted faces, usually of women directly onto the ones that she found in the fields around the hospital. She might have even found some in this very field.
Sadly, I could discover very little about Gwyneth, despite her work being on display at the Wellcome Collection recently. She was admitted as a patient in 1946 and stayed there for 35 years probably until it closed in the 1990’s. But on a recent visit to the Wellcome Collection Reading Room I spoke with one of the volunteers, Rock, who told me that Gwyneth may still be alive and she had been in contact with a staff member up until 3 or 4 years ago. She is considered to be part of the Outsider art movement. Gwyneth’s technique was to paint directly onto the flint using watercolour, indian ink and varnish.
Art therapy which subsequently became part of the Outsider or Art Brut movement began at Netherne in 1948 when the pioneering Edward Adamson (1911-1996) became the first artist to be employed full time as an Art Director.
He formed a huge collection of over 4000 pieces of artwork which is now housed at The Wellcome Collection in London. He believed that the creation of art was a healing process especially for those who could not speak or express themselves in any other way. However, Adamson wasn’t a teacher or someone who used the artworks as a diagnostic tool. Instead his approach was as a facilitator artist. He worked at Netherne until his retirement in 1981. Art therapy was also called ‘psychiatric art’ . The Outsider Art movement is concerned with artists who are outside the mainstream, usually self-taught and often living within institutions. It often has no meaning except to the artist themselves although the raw power and emotion of some of these artworks can be really impressive as with Gwyneth’s flint heads.
As I walked over the top of Farthing Downs later on that afternoon heading for Sunday afternoon tea and cakes at Chaldon church I saw the cemetery on the opposite slope. I hoped that it would always be surrounded by large green fields and that its incumbents would always rest in peace under the chestnut trees and wildflowers.
I first visited Netherne Hospital cemetery on an overcast day in May 2007. It’s located at the edge of a large farmer’s field and is a broad, sloping strip of land bordered on three sides by huge, majestic, spreading horse chestnut trees. You can look across the cemetery to the local beauty spot Farthing Downs in the distance. The trees were luxuriantly leafy on my visit and the graveyard certainly looked more appealing than in the photos I’d seen of it on an urban explorer’s website. He had visited it in January when it looked very desolate and forgotten. But on that day in May I saw large white candles of horse chestnut flowers in abundance as I peered through the two elegant, probably Victorian, iron gates. Once they must have had Netherne Asylum in large iron capital letters over the top of them but now only ‘NETH’ remained. They were almost being engulfed by large branches and leaves trying to force their way through. ‘Someone will steal them for scrap.’ I thought to myself as I pushed one of the gates open and entered.
Inside Nature had taken over with a thick carpet of green brambles and undergrowth covering the entire site and it looked as if no one had been there in a very long time. Without the gates the cemetery would have just looked like a fallow field. It was impossible to see any monuments or memorials but I did find a raised concrete plinth in which 2 tombstones and a smaller Book of Life memorial had been inserted possibly to preserve them. The Book of Life was dedicated to a 7 year old named Betty Trotman and I wondered why a child was buried here. Little did I know as I closed the gate behind me that it would take me nearly 10 years to find out.
Netherne was sited at Hooley in Surrey and was originally known as the Surrey County Asylum or Netherne Asylum before being renamed Netherne Asylum.. It closed in the 1990’s along with the other large asylums and hospitals in the county. Surrey has always been seen as an affluent region with its exclusive golf clubs, Tudorbethan stockbroker houses and the rolling hills of the green belt. But it has another, less publicised claim to fame. For over a century at least it was also home to several lunatic asylums originally intended for paupers and also homes or children with learning difficulties. It was felt that the incurable or mentally ill might improve if taken out of the city and into what was then countryside.
The creation of the asylums also reduced the workhouse population as they were designed for paupers. Cane Hill in Coulsdon, Netherne in Hooley, the Epsom cluster, Earlswood in Redhill and St Lawrence’s Hospital in Caterham were amongst them. Iain Sinclair in his book, London Orbital, described them as mandalas of madness. All now gone; either demolished or converted into upmarket housing estates.
In 2007 Netherne Hospital as it later became known was still in the throes of being transformed into an instant village; Netherne on the Hill. The developers later stated that they were ‘leaving the cemetery well alone and allowing the wildlife to take over.’ It would be another three years before relatives of those buried there would start to come looking for their last resting place. At that time I had no idea that there were 1350 people buried there and that these included children, ex-soldiers, epileptics, the elderly as well as the mentally ill and those who had nowhere else to go. The people buried in the cemetery seemed to be as anonymous in death as they had been in life apart from the memorials embedded on the plinth.
The cemeteries and burial grounds attached to these asylums and hospitals can be difficult to find. Often the markers on the graves have gone and so there’s no sign of their original purpose and as a result they can often become overgrown and look abandoned. For example, in 2000 the Somerset & Bath Lunatic Asylum, or the Mendip Hospital as it later became, burial ground in Wells was put up for sale by the NHS as a freehold development opportunity. Nearly 3,000 people, patients and staff, are buried here with the last burial having taken place in 1963. The grave markers had long since been removed. However there was a public outcry from the local populace, some of whom may have had relatives living or working in the hospital and they formed a group to stop it. There is a now a thriving Friends of Mendip Hospital Cemetery group and so the burial ground looks safe.
I started researching the cemetery and discovered that asylums had a varied population. In Rachel Lichtenstein and Iain Sinclair’s book Rodinsky’s Room they go in search of a man, David Rodinsky, who vanishes suddenly from a room above a back garden synagogue in Spitalfields and discover that he ended up in Warlingham Hospital, another Surrey asylum, where he died. They speculated that his Eastern European Jewish scholarly background and language of codes and cabbalism may have led to him ending up there as it would have been incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with it. Other patients may have suffered from what we now term learning difficulties which the Victorians classed ‘idiots’. There were also the elderly with dementia or people with degenerative diseases such as syphilis.
The soldiers appeared in asylums after the First World War when the authorities devised a scheme to treat the almost half a million wounded and shell shocked soldiers. This involved decanting the current patients elsewhere and then re-designating the asylums as ‘war hospitals’. By 1920 over 250,000 soldiers had been treated with 9% of them with psychiatric problems. It saved lives but caused upset and distress to the decanted patient population. However, not only soldiers were admitted to the ‘war hospitals’ but also their families.
There was an asylum in every county and in 1914 there were 102 in the UK with a total population of 108,000 men, women and children living within them – some permanently. The sexes were strictly segregated and only met at events such as dances or sports days. Men usually worked on the hospital farm and women in the laundry or kitchen. Women could be admitted as a result of having an illegitimate baby, rape or post-natal depression. Asylums were often overcrowded and an epidemic such as flu could kill many patients.
I’d read on the urban explorer website that Netherne that there had been a campaign by a local amateur historian to have the cemetery cleared and accusing the developers of neglect. It was time for a return visit especially as my research had enabled me to put names to some of those buried there and their poignant, often heart-breaking stories.
Once Spring has sprung it brings with it the start of the Cemetery Open Day season. What better way to spend your time on a sunny day than out in a cemetery?
In London, with the Magnificent 7, it kicks off with Nunhead’s cross between a village fete and a knees-up followed by Brompton, Kensal Green and Tower Hamlets.
However, the Open Days are not, as you might be thinking, an opportunity for cemetery volunteers to measure you up for an eternal des res . But, instead, they’re a good opportunity to wander round and explore. Now you have an excuse to visit that cemetery that you’ve always been meaning to go and have a look round but were worried that you weren’t quite Goth enough.. , There will be undoubtedly be a nice cuppa on offer, the opportunity to go on a tour or just admire the scenery. Each cemetery has its own unique atmosphere and little gems to discover .
Sadly neither Brompton or Kensal Green are holding Open Days in 2017 (boo!) but it’s not only the Magnificent 7 that have them. In 2013 I attended the Friends of Streatham Cemetery’s Open day. Unfortunately for them it rained all day. But there was a newly reopened derelict chapel to explore, interesting angels to see and some excellent refreshments. In the 1990’s Brookwood Cemetery near Woking held an Open Day at which Highgate sold chocolate covered marzipan coffins shaped biscuits on their stall – well worth the trip alone.
So why not support your local cemetery and go and have a look round when you see the Open Day posters on display. . You never know, you might find a long lost relative in the undergrowth or a lovely piece of cake in the refreshments section.
This is a slightly revised article I wrote for the Friends of Kensal Green’s magazine, Th e Telemon, on my fond memories of previous Kensal Green Open Days.
‘Only 50p.’ said the earnest young Goth at the entrance gate as he offered me a small red plastic coffin. Inside was a pastel coloured candy skeleton in pieces. How could I resist such a bargain?
This souvenir was offered at one of the first Kensal Green Open Days that I attended in the mid 1990’s. I was a little overawed by the cemetery at first as I walked along the main avenue, past the Casement Turks, the four angels and the Princess Sophia’s bathtub – sorry I mean sarcophagus. Kensal Green felt like a huge film set as the avenue swept up to the dramatic Anglican chapel and colonnades. In the courtyard behind the chapel was a flock of glamorous Goths roosting like exotic birds of paradise. In contrast, there were waiters bustling about serving strawberries. I felt that they set the tone but, alas, although the Goths are still visible, the waiters are not.
However, each Open Day has had its own highlights and special memories; a man in period costume enthusiastically riding a penny farthing bicycle around the chapel, Goths peering out from colonnade columns or posing over in the terraces and atmospheric tours of the catacombs, now sadly closed for restoration. The ebony clad throng may have decreased over the years and Medusa, as Aspasia Broome’s heavenward gazing figure was known, has lost her crown of dead tree branches but the Open Day is a permanent fixture in the London cemetery calendar.
One of the most memorable was in 2013 when I encountered this exotic creature in the doorway of an Egyptian influenced mausoleum as I made my way up the main avenue. I assumed that he was wearing a mask but I never saw him take it off so who knows….There was also a wonderful display of vintage cars that year which drove around the cemetery in a stately parade. An old-fashioned pick-up truck announced itself as ‘The Final Cruise’ and carried a black coffin in the back. Several appeared to date from the ‘60’s and came from the USA. Others had been decorated with skulls and signs. It was an impressive sight to see so many in one place.
In fact, the cemetery has been used for filming. My younger sister used to live in the Harrow Road opposite the cemetery and often saw film crews inside in the early morning mists. So it was a real treat when, in 2014, Peter Fuller led the Theatre of Blood tour. I couldn’t miss this one as it’s one of my favourite films. A much loved 1970’s camp horror and film classic with its tongue firmly in its cheek, it told the story of the Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart who apparently commits suicide after receiving bad reviews. If every actor di that we wouldn’t have many left. The much missed Vincent Price played Edward with his customary joie de vivre, sinister air and obvious enjoyment.
But he’s isn’t really dead and exacts an inventive and gruesome revenge on his critics with his devoted daughter, Edwina, played by Diana Rigg. The deaths all have a Shakespearean theme and several key scenes were actually filmed in the cemetery. Peter led us round some of them. We were a motley crew of Goths, film fans and Theatre of Blood devotees as we sat on the chapel steps and read the Shakespearean quotes used in the film. We looked down along the main avenue where one of the critics had been dragged by a horse, the colonnades where Carol Browne and Ian Hendry, two of the film’s stars, had chatted and the Sievier monument where Diana Rigg had mourned her father. Peter related several anecdotes about the film and revealed that it was on this film that Coral and Vincent’s love affair began which eventually led to the breakup of his marriage. They married after his divorce and then entered their ‘kaftan period’. This sounded too horrible for words and I had to go and have a restorative cup of tea.
On one Open Day I was leaving after a lovely day exploring and discovering the shrouded angel on the Gardner memorial only to find that the Ladbroke Grove entrance was locked and closed. I immediately turned around and headed for the West entrance which I hoped was still open. As I hurtled along, a middle aged Goth couple were also heading in the same direction. The male Goth said enthusiastically to his partner ‘If we’re locked in do you fancy sleeping in a mausoleum?’ She replied emphatically, ‘No.’ and quickened her pace. I felt a little disappointed as they had plenty of choice and a mausoleum motel did sound appealing.
Sadly there isn’t an Open Day in 2017 but I still have my little plastic coffin as a memento. Whenever I look at it I remember young girls in Victorian costume, the gleam of a chrome skull on a radiator grille and the best 50p I’ve ever spent.
My local allotments are very popular and there’s always half a dozen people working away and getting their hands dirty. They’re watched closely by birds looking for worms in the dug over soil before swooping down for their meal. In summer the allotments burst forth with vegetables: lines of runner beans, rows of cabbages , lettuces and flowers and the occasional fox can be seen strolling through at dusk.
But, if you walk up the slope towards the chain link fence that divides the allotments from the park, you’ll come to a large stone plinth at the top. It nestles amongst the trees that have grown up around it. On one end there is a sculpted swag containing roses for remembrance so it once had a farh more illustrious past. I first saw the plinth from the other side of the fence while on the Kelsey park Woodland Trail looking for fungi to photograph. I wondered what it was. It was far too grand to be an allotment user’s display or flower pot stand. Maybe a small statue had been on top and had since disappeared as the empty pedestal was now in no man’s land. The plinth has also puzzled and intrigued the casual passer-by, dog walker and jogger as they go past. The local legend was that it marked the burial site of a horse which belonged to ‘one of the Burrell girls.’
But it wasn’t until I started researching this article that I managed to source a contemporary engraving of the plinth dating from the 1790’s which was entitled ‘Patch’s tomb’ that I had any evidence for the story. At last I had a name for the incumbent. It looks very grand in the picture with an elegant urn on top which is being admired by a fashionably dressed gentleman with an equally well dressed couple nearby. The perspective looks a little strange as the tomb looks larger than the onlookers. This was a serious monument both in cost and the determination to remember Patch. The location, on a small slope, was no idle choice and can be seen from the lakeside path 150 yards away below if you know where to look. Trees and vegetation have grown up on the small hill obscuring the tomb so it’s much easier to see during the winter die-off.
The Burrells were a prominent, land-owning family in Beckenham during the 16th -19th centuries and some of their descendants are still in the area. They have left a fine collection of monuments in the local church, St George’s.
The Burrells were also connected with Kelsey Park in Beckenham in that the site once formed part of Peter Burrell III’s 600 acre estate and it was a Burrell who built the first manor house there. Confusingly, there were four Peter Burrells and, after exploring their various family lineage, I decided that one of Peter Burrell III’s four daughters was probably the most likely owner of Patch. He also had a son who, strangely enough, became Peter Burrell IV but more of him later. The third Peter Burrell (27/08/1724 – 06/11/1775) was a politician and barrister and in 1748 he married Elizabeth Lewis, daughter of John Lewis of Hackney. There seem to be no pictures of him in existence and, instead, photos of Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s ex-butler popped up!
Peter Burrell III was called to the bar in 1749, became MP for Launceston in Cornwall 1759-1768 and then MP for Totnes in Devon from 1774 – 1752. In 1769 Burrell was then appointed the Surveyor General of the Land Revenues of the Crown. So he was an ambitious man with considerable connections and wealth. He was also involved with other prominent local land-owning families in Beckenham such as the Cators after whom Cator Park is named. Burrell’s estate in Beckenham is now buried under roads and desirable detached houses with large gardens. But there is a local road called Burrell Row after the family. Peter Burrell I purchased the first Kelsey Park House and estate in 1690. It was extended several times as can be seen in the 1790 watercolour and then became incorporated into the far grander, rambling Victorian Scottish baronial style mansion which replaced it. The original house was a square, modest house which had several later additions.
The four daughters were:
Elizabeth Amelia (1749-1837) – married a gentleman from Cambridgeshire. Richard Henry Alexander Bennett
Isabella Susanna (1750 – 1812) – married Algernon Percy, Ist Earl of Beverley, ancestor to the Dukes of Northumberland
Frances Juliana (1752 – 1820) – In 1779 she married Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland
Elizabeth Anne (1757 – 1837) – She married twice – firstly to Douglas Hamilton, 8th Duke of Hamilton and then secondly, to Henry Cecil, 1st Marquess of Exeter.
Marriages at that time were rarely for love but mainly for the joining of great houses, the exchange of land and also heirs. Frances had eleven children and Isabella had seven who all went onto more illustrious marriages and careers.
The Burrell girls seem to have been the ‘It’ girls of their day with their brilliant marriages into the aristocracy. Peter Burrell IV, the son, achieved even more dizzying heights as he became the Lord Chamberlain of England and the 1st Baron Gwydir of Gwydir Castle.
But it’s the eldest one, Elizabeth Amelia, who may have been Patch’s owner. Peter Burrell III built a house for her on his Kelsey estate where she lived with her husband, Richard Bennett. He was the MP for Newport from 1770-1774 but didn’t seem to have the same illustrious career as his father-in-law and the notes on his political career are brief. Elizabeth would have seen Patch’s last resting place from the house every day of her life as a reminder. I haven’t been able to find a picture of Elizabeth as it would have been interesting to see what she looked like. There’s no clue on the contemporary engraving as to the architect of the tomb and I wondered if Burrell paid for it or did Elizabeth?
So was Patch a young girl’s pet or a teenager’s source of freedom? We’ll never know and I was unable to source any pictures of Patch. It may seem strange to us to lavish such attention and money on a horse’s memorial. But in those days a horse almost certainly gave its owner a certain amount of freedom and independence. An earlier form of horsepower and being a good horsewoman at the time was a major attribute.
I like to think that, maybe when Kelsey Park’s closed and the lights have all gone out in the surrounding houses and apartment blocks, a spectral galloping can be heard. A passing badger or fox may prick up their ears at the sound as a young girl shouts ‘Hi, ho Patch and awaaay!’
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.
This is the last of the trio and, in contrast to the ones in West Norwood, wasn’t designed by Harold Peto. He had left Peto and Geoge by then and it has been suggested that the building was actually designed by an anonymous assistant who worked from previously rejected designs. It’s very different from the other two, both in style and decoration. It was built in 1901 to house the coffin of Mrs Laura Stearns. She died in 1900 and came from Twickenham. William Chillingworth, her father, is buried next to her in his own vault.
He was a wine merchant and they owned Radnor House in Twickenham. It was known as Pope’s House as it was built on the site of Alexander Pope’s original house. It no longer exists as it was demolished in 1940 after being hit by a bomb. There seems to be no mention of a Mr Stearns. In the 1930’s Mrs Stearns’ coffin was removed from the mausoleum by her relatives and interred behind it.
The interior was never finished which is why it is so plain. However, 20 years later, an anonymous builder glazed it with bland tiles. There are two simple, unadorned stone coffin shelves set into each of the side walls. A trefoil shaped window on the back wall lets light in as the side windows are blocked up.
The mausoleum is decorated in the Romanesque style. This is an architectural style of medieval Europe which possibly dates from the 10th century and was characterised by the use of semi-circular arches. It was used extensively throughout Europe and in Britain is referred to as Norman Architecture. The word ‘Romanesque’ originally means descended from Roman and most surviving examples are on churches.
It is also characterised by its use of columns and, on the Stearns vault, we can see that the two small ones on either side of the entrance are carved with birds etc in a medieval style. The carvings are very tactile and I can never walk past within wanting to touch them. The side window columns are also patterned but not as beautifully as the entrance ones. Romanesque was also a highly decorative style as can be seen from the arched bands of stylised leaves over the entrance.
The 19th century saw a Revival of Romanesque although it was decried by some writers as ‘barbaric ornament.’ The Natural History Museum in London is highly decorated in Romanesque Revival style and is well worth seeing.
It’s the only surviving mausoleum within Nunhead Cemetery and, although a tree tried to grow through it while the cemetery was abandoned, it’s still in good condition. When I first visited Nunhead in 1989, it was rumoured that the only person who now rested within the mausoleum was a passing tramp. It now has a wrought iron gate to protect it.
Nunhead Cemetery, An Illustrated Guide by The Friends of Nunhead Cemetery . 1988, FONC Publications, London
The terracotta trio are all so different and unique and all three are Grade Ii listed and although, in comparison to other mausoleums such as Highgate’s Beer vault and Hannah Portnoy’s vast Egyptian Revival sepulchre in Brompton, they are relatively modest. However, I feel that they deserve their own special place in 19th century English funerary architecture..