Symbol of the Month – The Final Curtain

Full view of the impressive Raikes headstone, West Norwood Cemetery/
©Carole Tyrrell

The theatre is dark, the audience and backstage staff have all gone home or off to the pub and the final curtain has been brought down. The end of a show, the end of the evening and, in funerary symbolism, the end of a life.

This fine example is from West Norwood Cemetery where it commemorates the Raikes family.  Theatre was in their blood and so the sculpture of a theatrical curtain is very appropriate.

But curtains and draperies have always been associated with death and remembrance.  There is the old saying which is sometimes quoted on headstones and memorials that the deceased has ‘gone beyond the veil’.  An urn on top of a memorial will often have a sculpted piece of cloth draped across it which indicates the division between the living world and the realm of the dead.

In the 19th century and also well into the 20th century drapes were hung over mirrors with curtains and blinds drawn down at windows during the period of mourning. It was as if they were hiding death from the world or containing it within the family. On the Friends of Oak Grove Cemetery website they mention mirrors being covered with black crepe fabric in order to prevent the deceased’s spirit being trapped in the looking glass.

Parted curtains on a headstone to display a downturned dove and epitaph in the centre, Nunhead Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

Curtains also feature on headstones where they are depicted as parted in order to display a meaningful symbol or to draw attention to an epitaph that takes centre stage.  This example comes from Nunhead Cemetery where the curtains are parted to display a downturned dove which is a symbol of The Holy Ghost.

However the Raikes one is very obviously a theatrical curtain and it’s beautifully detailed.  They were powerful players in that flamboyant world and the curtain is a direct reference to this. For example, in 1889, they had Sir Edward Elgar and his new wife, Caroline, as guests in their house, Northlands in College Road, Dulwich.  This was just prior to his Salut D’Amour being performed at the Crystal Palace.

But the family home had a secret in its basement. This was where Charles Raikes (1879-1945) had constructed his own private theatre.  He lived there with his mother, Vera, (1858-1942) and two sons, Raymond and Roynon, from his former marriage. Roynon’s wife, Greta, and their daughter Gretha were also part of the household. Charles lived and breathed theatre and he was ahead of his time when he converted a large billiard room into the Northlands Private Theatre. Nowadays it would be a lavish home cinema with comfy seats and popcorn on tap with his own home movies onscreen.  He extended his pride and joy by removing a couple of inconvenient bay windows and then converting a coal cellar and wine cellar into dressing rooms. He was a talented scenic artist and stage carpenter and from 1924 – 1939 the Theatre put on nearly 23 productions a year to an invited audience. This was made up of the Raikes’ friends and relations and the actors and actresses friends as well. The lavish after show parties were renowned.

Charles’ sons continued the links to the entertainment world.  Raymond (1910-1998) became a professional actor in the 1930’s and played Laertes to Donald Wolfit’s Hamlet at Stratford upon Avon.

Raymond Raikes taken in 1945
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

However he eventually became a BBC producer, director and broadcaster. He won several awards over a long career which included pioneering the use of stereo sound in radio drama.  In 1975 he retired and is known as one of the three greatest radio drama producers. Roynon became a professional photographer specialising in theatre pictures and also as a stills photographer for the BBC. Greta, his wife, became a theatrical costumier and drama teacher and her daughter, Gretha, in turn became a speech and drama teacher. In a 1997 Dulwich Society article she was also credited with being the curator of the archives of the Northlands Private Theatre.

View of the curtains and the quote from the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam, Raikes headstone, West Norwood cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

The quotation below the curtain is from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  It comes from the 21st, 22nd  or 23rd stanza depending on which version you read.   This is the verse in full and is taken from the 1859 translation by Edward Fitzgerald

Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best

That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,

Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,

And one by one crept silently to Rest.

 

He saw them as a selection of quatrains or Rubaiyats that had been attributed to the Persian poet who was also known as the Astronomer Poet of Persia.  Although Fitzgerald’s translation was initially unsuccessful, by the 1880’s, it had become immensely popular.  It has influenced many creative people over the years including the Pre-Raphaelites and especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Oscar Wilde was also a fan and mentions ‘wise Omar’ in The Picture of Dorian Gray.   Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov, H P Lovecraft and Daphne Du Maurier are amongst many who may have borrowed a line a s a book title or used an Omar like figure within their works.  Interpretations of the Rubaiyat can be very free and as a result the quatrains can change their wording.  The underlying message of the Rubaiyat appears to be Seize the Day or Carpe Diem in Latin.  There are also several references to drinking with the implication that once drinking is over so is life.   But this particular line seems appropriate for its use on a headstone.

And so the curtain has bene brought down on the Raikes family but, as I took my photos, I thought I detected a faint smell of greasepaint and the appreciative sound of applause……

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

 https://aeon.co/ideas/how-the-rubaiyat-of-omar-khayyam-inspired

 sleepinggardens.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/fridays-funerarysymbols

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubaiyat_of_Omar_Khayyam

schoolworkhelper.net

https://artofmourning.com/2010/11/14/symbolism-sunday-drapery/

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám Summary – eNotes.com

https://www.enotes.com/topics/rubaiyatomarkhayyam

https://dulwichsociety.com/2017-winter/1578-brief-encounter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Raikes

www.suttonelms.org.uk/raymond-raikes.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubaiyat_of_Omar_Khayyam

 

 

Advertisement

Symbol of the Month – Mizpah

A close-up view of the MIZPAH on Emma Williams headstone.
©Carole Tyrrell

This month’s symbol features a single word, MIZPAH, but it is a term and an emblem of an emotional bond that goes beyond the grave. However, it doesn’t appear to be a common symbol and so far I have only discovered three instances of in in nearby cemeteries.

I often used to see Mizpah inscribed on old fashioned jewellery such as brooches during the 1970’s and ‘80’s when browsing  in charity shops and jumble sales. At that time I thought that it might have been Hebrew, or a similar language, and might have stood for Mother.

However, during this year’s Open House I visited St Nicholas church in Chislehurst as I’d read somewhere that Napoleon III was buried there.  Alas, it was the wrong church and he has long since been re-interred elsewhere. However, on a churchyard tour that afternoon, led by Peter Appleby, I finally learned what it actually signified as he indicated Mizpah on the Campbell monument.  He said that it came from an Old Testament phrase ‘I will set around you a mountain which will keep you and protect you.’ I haven’t been able to find this particular Biblical quotation although Psalm 27.5 seems to be the likeliest source.

The word appears in the Old Testament in Genesis 31:49 :

‘And Mizpah, for he said, the Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of another’s sight.’  King James Bible

In other words the one left behind is still protected and watched over even though their loved one has gone.  The touching link between two people or an entire family who have been separated by death or another force.

But there is another version, according to Wikipedia, in which it’s claimed that Mizpah stands for ’Lord watch over me’ and relates to the story of Jacob and Laban. Jacob fled with from Laban’s house in the middle of the night with all of his earthly possessions including animals, wives and children and Laban was soon in pursuit.  But the two men came to an agreement and built a watchtower or Mizpah.  This would be a border between their respective territories and neither would pass the watchtower, which was reputed to be merely a pile of stones, to visit the other to do evil. God would be the only witness to their pact and would protect one from the other.  Today a modern village stands on the supposed site called Metullah which means lookout.

However I prefer the more poignant reference to the affectionate ties between the departed and the bereaved and the wish to leave them with the feeling that they were still being supported and protected as exemplified by the one simple word.

MIZPAH jewellery is still available and is often in the form of a coin shaped pendant, cut in two, with a zig-zag line bearing the words that I quoted in the first paragraph.

Here are two examples that I found online; one is vintage and the other is contemporary.

This first example is from Beckenham Cemetery and the Victorian epitaph is an affectionate tribute to a much loved and missed wife, Emma.

The second is from the Campbell monument in St Nicholas churchyard.  The Celtic cross above the grave has strapwork made from entwined snakes, themselves symbols of eternity and mortality.  The Campbells had two famous sons; Sir Malcolm Campbell and his son Donald.  Note the small motif of a bluebird in one corner above the epitaph.  This was the name of the vehicles on which both Sir Malcolm and Donald achieved several world speed records during their lifetimes. Donald was tragically killed in 1967 when another world speed record breaking attempt on Coniston Water went tragically wrong and both he and Bluebird sank the bottom of the lake.  It wasn’t until 2001 that his remains were discovered and buried in Coniston cemetery.  Nick Wales, his son, maintains the grave and also holds the world record for the fastest lawnmower. He has also tested a new Bluebird over Bewl Water.

The final one is a modern version, again from Beckenham Cemetery, and is edicated to a Kathleen Sabine and dates from 2000.

A modern version dating from 2000, the Sabine memorial, from Beckenham Cemetery/ Note that it’s on a Book of Life.
©Carole Tyrrell

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

http://biblehub.com/genesis/31-49.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mizpah_(emotional_bond)

http://www.helenalind.com/mizpah.htmlhttp://mizpah.biz/what-does-word-mizpah-mean

http://mizpah.biz/what-does-word-mizpah-mean

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/mizpah/

 

More peacock splashes of colour amongst the grey and the black – mosaics from Beckenham Cemetery

 

This vase with mosiac decoration has been incoorporated in the headstone to Margery Alice Thompson in Beckenham Cemetery. ©Carole Tyrrell
This vase with mosiac decoration has been incoorporated in the headstone to Margery Alice Thompson in Beckenham Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

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.’

This is the Ada George memorial and dates from 1939. ©Carole Tyrrell
This is the Ada George memorial and dates from 1939.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

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.’

This vase with mosiac decoration has been incoorporated in the headstone to Margery Alice Thompson in Beckenham Cemetery. ©Carole Tyrrell
This vase with mosiac decoration has been incoorporated in the headstone to Margery Alice Thompson in Beckenham Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

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.

 

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1932&context=annals-of-iowa

http://funeralhelper.org/there-is-no-death-john-luckey-mccreery.html