Monday, 26 September 2016

Wild Scenes at Willesden New Cemetery

A New Cemetery for Willesden  Dr Hoffmann, from the Home-office, attended at the Willesden Vestry-hall yesterday for the purpose of hearing objections to an application made by the Willesden Burial Board 'for permission to purchase upwards of 20 acres of ground near the Jews' Cemetery, for the parish of Willesden. Most of the members of the Burial Board were present besides members of the Local Board. Mr Tilley, solicitor, in making the application, quoted figures to show the necessity for a new burial ground, the population of the parish having nearly doubled itself since 1881 when it was 27,000. There being no opposition Dr. Hoffmann said he would recommend the granting of the application.
Morning Post - Tuesday 14 August 1888

The 26 acre Willesden New Cemetery opened in 1891 boasting a pair of ‘Pont Street Dutch’ chapels. At the stone laying ceremony so beloved of local worthies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries members of the Burial Board witnessed a scroll bearing their names and a copy of the previous days newspaper placed into bottles and buried beneath the foundation stones of the chapels. They then retired to a marquee to drink a number of toasts proposed by Mr F.A. Wood, a local antiquary who was standing in for the absent vicar. Mr Wood was, he said, not sure how to propose the toasts as “’success to the cemetery’ would look like as though he wanted the cemetery filled as soon as possible.” The Burial Board spent £20,000 on setting up the cemetery including the cost of the land and of building the chapels (these were demolished in 1986). According to Hugh Meller in ‘London Cemeteries’ over 80,000 burials have taken place and “in an attempt to create room for further burials, graves now fill one of the main paths which resemble a marble traffic jam. As an alternative solution, towards the back of the cemetery earth has been piled up to provide space for yet more.” In this crammed space the council still insists on using mechanical diggers to excavate new graves, much to the outrage of cemetery users:

A grieving son has slammed Brent Council, claiming they have showed disregard for the dead by employing digger truck drivers who are desecrating graves in a cemetery. Maxwell Glengall has told the [Kilburn] Times that the trucks are continuously driven around and over graves in Willesden New Cemetery as they try to dig new spaces. But he says they are carelessly knocking off parts of headstones and even driving over graves, due to overcrowding…. Mr Glengall, whose mother has been buried in the cemetery since July 2012, added that he was also concerned at the dirt tracks being left by the diggers which have made much of the area inaccessible…..“I’m very worried that my mother’s grave is going to be badly treated and worry about those people who have gone to visit their loved ones and found damage to their graves. How must they feel? Is this how council cemeteries are run? I thought it was at least 100 years before a site was retired for re-use. How can it have gone so far downhill?”  A spokesman for Brent Council said they “sincerely regretted any upset” but that they were similar to all other councils in using diggers to excavate graves. He added that it was “a much safer option for staff” and saved time.” (Kilburn Times, March 2013)

Other notable events in the cemeteries history include the funeral of the Australian cricketer Albert Edward Trott in August 1914 who at the age of 41 shot himself at his lodgings in Denbigh Road, Harlesden. Trott is supposedly the only batsman to have hit a ball over the Lords Pavilion during a match. Like his older brother Harry, who captained Australia in the 1896 test tour, Albert suffered from mental illness. At his inquest his landlady, with whom he had lodged for two and a half years, testified that on the day of his death he had sent for a sleeping draught to a local chemist as he had not slept all night but the chemist refused to serve it. She had heard a noise from his room and when she went to investigate found him lying on his back with a bullet wound in his right temple and a revolver in his hand. On a scrap of paper he had written a last will and testament; ‘Drawers and wardrobe to Mrs - , photos and drawers for Mrs— Clark Street, Victoria, Australia.' The MCC paid for his funeral.

According the newspapers there were wild scenes at the funeral of Mrs Ada Petchey and her 2 year old daughter when a crowd of nearly 500 women turned up baying for the blood of Mr Petchey the deceased’s husband. The two women had died from gas poisoning at their lodgings and at the inquest it was revealed that Mr Petchey had left his wife and child without money after a quarrel and hadn’t returned home until he read of their deaths in the papers. An hour before the funeral crowds began to gather at the top of Tubbs Road in Willesden where the funeral cortege was due to start its journey to the cemetery. A crowd gathered around the mourning coach trying to get hold of Mr Petchey who had to be protected by the police and the undertaker’s men. A large crowd of women booed and hissed as the cortege got under way and at the cemetery Mr Petchey was barracked and verbally abused by a seething mass of incensed women who, unable to get at him because of a cordon of police officers, resorted to hurling clods of earth at him as he tried to get away.
Willesden was the burial place of Elsie Cameron in January 1925. Elsie had been murdered by her lover Norman Thorne at Crowborough in Surrey in what the newspapers dubbed the chicken run murder. Thorne was a Sunday school teacher from Kensal Green who met typist Elsie in 1917. When he lost his job as an engineer he used his savings to set up as a poultry farmer in Crowborough. He tried to break his romantic entanglement with the older Elsie several times but without success. When she claimed to be pregnant he snapped and apparently strangled her. His version of the story was that she had hung herself. He claimed that he had panicked and decided to get rid of her body by dismembering it with a hacksaw and burying it on the farm. Not surprisingly the jury did not believe him. Elsie was buried on Monday 26 January with large crowds gathering at the cemetery to see the funeral. Cemetery officials locked the gates to prevent access to the private funeral and so the curious stood twelve deep outside the Wesleyan Chapel and lined the road into the cemetery. Amongst the floral tributes were a wreath from Thorne’s parents and another which seemed to be from the murderer himself, “Till we meet again, Norman” being the message on the card. Elsie did not rest long in her rave, four weeks later in what one newspaper called a “weird scene” she was exhumed. The exhumation began shortly before midnight under the strictest secrecy, in a sharp wind on a bitterly cold and frosty night. It took several hours to dig out the freezing grave and the coffin was not opened until first light. The exhumation had been carried out at the request of Thorne’s legal representatives. As well as Scotland Yard and the accused’s pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, England’s most famous forensic pathologist was also present. He gave evidence for the crown at Thornes trial. The poultry famer was hanged at Wandsworth prison in April that year, still protesting his innocence.        

Saturday, 24 September 2016

The Georgie Girl who Died on Honeymoon; Georgina Robinson (died 1965) Willesden New Cemetery

I was unable to find out any more than was revealed in the epitaph (inscribed with a heart with G inscribed on one side and M on the other) about this rather sad memorial.  

Georgina “Georgie” Robinson, nee Owen
Killed in a road accident – France
4th September 1965
Returning from honeymoon
Two weeks before this day of sadness
We’d stood together in joy and gladness
Our life together was at the start
Too soon came true “Till death do us part”
Your Loving husband Maurice
A smile for all, a heart of gold
No one on earth her place could hold
Never selfish, always kind
These are the memories she left behind

Sadly missed – Mum and sister June

Sunday, 18 September 2016

"Let me have your wife's head and I will give you a pound." How a tooth extraction which went wrong led to a strange dispute between the surgeons of St. Thomas' Hospital and a sailor man.

Crude techniques could lead to serious complications in early 19th century dentistry 
Wednesday 3rd December 1817. Christopher Smith, wine merchant, former radical member of Parliament for St. Albans and the newly elected Lord Mayor of London took his seat as magistrate and judge in the Lord Mayor’s Court in Mansion House. The Lord Mayor had the powers of a magistrate but as few of them had any legal training or background the average Mayor, as a commentator in the Monthly Repository put it, had to “pretend to be a judge, by being the mouthpiece of certain dicta spoken in his ear as he sits, by a salaried lawyer, called a town clerk or city solicitor.” The writer went on to decry the farce by which the Lord Mayor’s were “as gilded speaking trumpets for the use of that legal oracle Mr. Hobler.” The formidable James Hobler, fluent in French, Spanish, German and Latin, noted for his wit and intellect, a "fine, tall, upright, powdered-headed gentleman of the old school, always neatly, though somewhat eccentrically dressed, in a closely buttoned-up black coat, drab breeches and gaiters” had been legal clerk to the Mayor for more years than anyone could remember and would remain in office until his death in 1843.   Successive Lord Mayors were ephemeral annuals briefly flowering in the presence of that hardy annual Mr Hobler. Boz adroitly captured the atmosphere of mutual admiration that flourished between the Mayors and their clerk; "the Lord Mayor threw himself back in his chair, in a state of frantic delight at his own joke; every vein in Mr. Hobler's countenance was swollen with laughter partly at the Lord Mayor's facetiousness, but more at his own; the constables and police officers were (as in duty bound) in ecstasies at Mr. Hobler and the Lord Mayor combined; and the very paupers, glancing respectfully at the beadle's countenance, tried to smile, as even he relaxed." Whether Dickens was exaggerating can be judged from the scene that unfolded in the Mansion House on that Wednesday morning in December 1817.

Mr Hobler liked to be prepared and it was his habit to run through the list of applicants and litigants waiting to see the Mayor and carry out a preliminary interview before allowing them into the courtroom.  If Mr Hobler’s extensive experience led him to believe that there was not much in the way of wayward behaviour that he had not witnessed he was to be startled out of his complacency that morning.  A sailor, “a decent looking young man” according to more than one newspaper, presented himself in some agitation wishing to ask the Mayor to intervene with the surgeons of St Thomas Hospital. When Mr Hobler learnt the particulars of the case he could scarcely believe his ears. Once the initial astonishment had worn off Mr Hobler no doubt rubbed his hands together gleefully at the reaction the case would provoke in the new Lord Mayor. The sailor was ushered into the court and told to explain to his Lordship what assistance he required. 
“I would humbly request your Lordship to compel some hard hearted fellows in the Borough to surrender my mother’s head,” said the sailor.
“Your mother's head! For the love of God, is it separated from the body?” barked Sir Christopher.

Portrait of Mr Hobler
“Yes, my Lord, they cut away the head, and told me I might have the body if I pleased. Accordingly I took the body, but I can’t bear to think of leaving the head behind, and I hope your Lordship will see it delivered to me, “said the sailor, quite calmly.
“This is the most strange thing I ever heard of,” Sir Christopher muttered, almost to himself before turning to Mr Hobler and adding “For God’s sake, is the man serious in saying that his mother has lost her head ?”   
“The case is not without foundation my Lord” Mr Hobler said archly before explaining that the sailor’s mother had died some days before in St. Thomas’ Hospital.
“Ahhhh,” said the Mayor, the penny finally dropping, “then, it is of the surgeons of St. Thomas' you complain?”
“Yes, my Lord, of the butchers there. They are willing to let me do what I please with the body, but are determined to keep the head for themselves as a curiosity, for poor mother died of a toothache.”
“Of toothache?” said Sir Christopher, sensing a looming opportunity to exercise his wit and make Mr Hobler laugh, “This is still more extraordinary. I have certainly heard that the most effectual way of curing the toothache is by cutting off the head, but I never before heard that such a complaint would cause death.”  Mr. Hobler, displaying not the slightest sign of amusement and addressing the Mayor as though he were a half wit, began to laboriously explain to the explain the circumstances of the case.
“My Lord,” he said, “the young man means that his mother died in consequence of bungling attempts to extract a tooth, her gums were so lacerated by the operation that gangrene took hold and death soon followed. She was taken to St. Thomas’ Hospital, where the surgeons, no doubt finding that the case presented great novelty, asked for and obtained leave to examine the head.”

“I never had a notion of leaving any part of my mother in their hands!” interjected the sailor. He told Sir Christopher that he had had his mother’s body at home two days and it would stay there until the surgeons yielded up the missing head and he could bury her complete.    
“They certainly are not justified in detaining the head, and should have restored it to you after it had served their professional purposes,” Sir Christopher remarked.
“I suspect that the professional purposes of the surgeons will not be answered until the head is in pickle,” observed Mr Hobler.
“This is indeed a very indefensible practice; besides it will terrify the relatives of patients who die in the hospital, by giving them reason to suppose that when they are following the deceased to their graves they are following bodies without heads, or heads without bodies.” A medical man who happened to be present asked for leave to speak and when this was granted argued that in this situation the interests of science were paramount adding “for my part, if I was going off with a disorder little known to practitioners, I would not care into how many pieces I was cut for the benefit of science.”
“And yet,” said Mr Hobler to Sir Christopher “although it is the common talk of physicians, I never knew one of the profession who had any inclination to have his bones dangling in an anatomy-room, or his head in a bottle.”
“There may be cases of the kind which are concealed in consideration of the prejudices of the weaker sex,” said the physician mysteriously.
“l don't know how we can prosecute resurrection men for stealing dead bodies, if such practices are allowed. Something of this kind is more distressing to the feelings than a church-yard robbery!” said Sir Christopher, “Our habits are such that cannot endure the burial of a body piecemeal. Even in the field of battle we should endeavour to collect the mangled limbs of a friend before we could think of covering an atom of him with earth. At home, then, where the rites of sepulture are attended to scrupulously, it is barbarous to mangle a body and torture the feelings of a son by keeping the head of his mother for exhibition.”

The physician then began to argue the particulars of the case, making it clear in the process that he knew far more about it then anyone had hitherto suspected. He told that court that as a consequence of the gangrene the head had swollen to a “most enormous magnitude and was actually too large to be placed in the coffin with the body.”  He suggested that “the manner in which it might have been prudent to act, would have been to substitute the head of another body, which would be just as useful, at the same time that the imposition would he very excusable, and no detection could take place.” What the hospital would have done with the other headless body, he did not say. The Lord Mayor fulminated against this rather alarming proposal which had been put forward in the name of prudence. 
“The surgeons are highly reprehensible in detaining the head,” he said, “it is notorious that those disturbers of the dead called resurrection-men, who are in many cases robbers of the living, are in the habit of serving the hospital with subjects, and it would now appear as if the surgeons intended to vie with them in their trade against which the public has so great a horror.”
After a final plea from the sailor, who said that “I will go to the hospital, and stay there until my demand is agreed to, whatever reception I shall meet with, even if they were to take it into their heads to cut off my own,” the Lord Mayor ordered Cartwright the marshal to go with the sailor to St Thomas’ and demand the return of the head. i nan, attend the seaman to St. Thomas’s, and inquire the cause of the conduct complained of. An hour later Cartwright returned alone to report what had happened.  The surgeons had explained that the sailor’s father had sold the head to them for a pound. He said the poor son acknowledged he had been present when the bargain was made, but he abhorred the proposal of disposing of the head at any price. In order to satisfy the Lord Mayor that proper arrangement had been made about the head, the principal surgeon sent word that he would wait upon his Lordship the following morning. And there, as far as know, the matter ended.  

(This post is based extensively on an account entitled ‘Strange Case’ which appeared in many British newspapers during December 1817)

I originally thought this was a depiction of a dissection given that the lady on the table seems to be under little restraint for an operation being carried out before the introduction of anesthesia. The rather crude removal of the leg seems inappropriate for a dissection and entirely in keeping with the butchery of surgery. And then I noticed one of the medical gentleman holding the ladies hand, presumably to comfort her, which implies, despite her rather relaxed attitude to having her leg hacked off, that she is still alive.  

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Vagrant monkeys, stewed cat and the heart of a dog - from the casebook of the Solomon of Marlborough Street; Sir George Farrant (1770-1844) Kensal Green Cemetery

DEATHS - Dec 15 (1844) In Upper Brook St Grosvenor sq aged 76 Sir George Farrant of Northsted House, Chelsfield, Kent a Justice of the Peace for that county and a deputy Lieutenant of Middlesex. He was the eldest son of George Binstead esq afterwards Farrant by the daughter and sole heiress of Godfrey Lee Farrant esq principal Registrar of the Court of Admiralty. He was called to the bar at the Inner Temple Nov 25 1825 he practised as a special pleader and went the Western circuit. He was unmarried.
 Gentleman’s Magazine January 1845

The Portland stone Farrant mausoleum in Kensal Green is a grade II listed Egyptian revival tomb built in 1844 by the architects J. Bedford of 256 Oxford Street. According to English Heritage it has “battered sides with cavetto cornice. On the west side is a pylon-shaped doorcase (door blocked) with winged disc and the cornice on this side has stylised hieroglyphs and a stylised head. On the south side is a pylon-shaped inscription panel flanked by inverted torches. It is surrounded by stone railings in matching idiom.”

Sir George Farrant was the hard working magistrate at Marlborough Street Police Court. We know relatively little about his private life, his obituaries in the newspapers are all extremely brief, quite ironically given that in his professional role his name featured regularly in the press.   Marlborough Street, along with Bow Street, were probably the busiest courts in the country and Sir George’s cases were frequently noteworthy enough to make the papers. He was a painstaking magistrate who seemed determined to get to the bottom of every matter brought before him, no matter how trivial. His patient questioning often drew unexpectedly piquant details from the accused, plaintiffs or witnesses and court reporters gathered at his sessions knowing that he was capable of transmuting the most unpromising case into journalistic gold dust. Police magistrates dealt with the full gamut of human misbehaviour from basest criminality, greed, and lust to stupidity, recklessness and folly, the perpetrators coming from all sections of society from the highest echelons of the aristocracy to the lowest reaches of the urban poor.  Sometimes the crimes committed were so outrageous that the newspapers, despite reporting the case, refused to say what the actual offence was; in 1825 the Sussex Advertiser reported that “Sir George Farrant and Mr. Connant were occupied for a considerable portion of the day in the investigation of a case which involved, perhaps, as much of human depravity as can well be imagined, and considerably more than can venture to pollute our columns by detailing in full........” The paper went on to recount how John Grossell Muirhead, Esq., said to be brother-in-law to the Duke of Atholl, “a very venerable and genteel-looking man, apparently about 65,” approached a sixteen year old boy outside a print shop, inveigled him into a nearby coffee shop where he plied him with cider and biscuits before showing him a book containing “a number of prints of the most indecent and shocking nature, and ....after exposing, many of these prints to him, the prisoner took hold of his hand — (Here the witness described what we cannot.)”

Sir George as painted by Henry Wyatt in 1831
Sir George often managed to turn even his more mundane cases, such as bigamy ((“a young fellow, apparently scarcely out of his apprenticeship, was brought before Sir George Farrant, charged with intermarrying with Elizabeth Fry, a pretty woman, who in every sense of the word may be said to have made a very bad choice,” North Devon Journal October 1827) or assault into something slightly out of the ordinary;  The Stamford Mercury of Friday 24 June 1825 reported that “The Right Hon. the Earl of Harborough, and John Bailey, Esq., appeared before Sir George Farrant, the Sitting Magistrate, upon a warrant, charged with grossly assaulting Richard Addison, a watchman, on his duty.—Addison deposed, that on Sunday morning, between the hours of one and two, he observed two gentlemen whom he did not know coming down Bond-street, hallooing and calling out "Hip, hip," in a very boisterous manner. He desired them to be quiet, as by the noise they were making they were disturbing the inhabitants, when Lord Harborough desired him to mind his own business.” The two intoxicated gents then ran and the watch set off in pursuit. They caught up with them outside a coffee-room where “Lord Harborough and Mr. Bailey instantly, called out a rescue, on which the coffee-room was filled with gentlemen, and a fight took place betwixt them and the watchmen; during this time witness was dragged to the back of the house by Lord Harborough and Mr. Bailey, and his Lordship and some gentleman called out for the poker, which having got, be began to beat him severely with it over his head, and Mr. Bailey began to strike him with his clenched fists between his eyes.”  

After dealing with the errant aristocracy Sir George had to turn his attention to the vagrants and vagabonds at the other end of London’s social spectrum. The Morning Advertiser reported in December 1826 on the case of “Eleanor Webster, the blind beggar-woman of Saville-passage, who... was yesterday again brought before the sitting Magistrate at this Office (Marlborough Street)  charged as a vagrant upon the same grounds as before, namely, standing in Saville-passage with her hand extended an attitude of supplication for charity. It appeared that Mr. Wield, a solicitor, who resides in the passage, and near whose door the old woman takes her station, has been much annoyed by her presence there.” Mr Wield apparently began to regret his action in complaining about the blind beggar woman and asked Sir George not to send her to the house of correction. Sir George acquiesced, warning her that “if again she should ever brought to this Office upon a similar charge, she might make her mind upon severe punishment, whoever the sitting Magistrate might be.”  He then let her go.

A detail from the mausoleum
Members of the public often applied to the magistrates for advice. The triviality of some of some of these applications for advice clearly irritated the magistrate, as seen in a story in the Cork Constitution in August 1828 “On Saturday a Scotch Member Parliament applied to Sir George Farrant for advice how he should act with his landlady who had agreed for a specific weekly sum to cook his dinners, but in his bill furnished him with a separate account for coals. Remonstrating with his hostess, she said that dinners could not be cooked without coal, and that unless he paid the money she should keep his trunks. The Magistrate said he could nothing in the matter, and the Member of Parliament departed, declaring that in future, he would get his dinners ready cooked.” At other times he could be much more sympathetic as reported by the London Evening Standard in a heart-warming story in October 1827:

This Day, a young man, a native of Africa, dressed in blue livery, whose buttons were ornamented with a crest, applied to Sir George Farrant for advice, under the following circumstances : — He stated he was a native of Africa, but had been in his infancy transplanted from his native land to the West Indies, where he was sold; he had subsequently been purchased by a military gentleman who, a few months since, arrived in England, and was at present residing near Queen-square. He attended him in the capacity of a servant, but of late his master kept him without a sufficiency of victuals, and a few days since he asked for some money, when his master asked him how he dared to ask for any, for he had purchased him, and he, therefore, continued to be his slave. Sir G. Farrant. — There are no slaves in this country; you must go to Queen-square office, and make your complaint. Applicant — Thank you, sir; me is no slave then, sir; master is wrong. When the poor fellow left the office apparently overjoyed with his information.

Marlborough Street Police court as it looked in 1847, shortly after Sir George's death 
In June 1832 The Morning Post recorded the shocking story of two young ladies brought up in front of Sir George by the Watchmen for wearing Gentleman’s trousers beneath their voluminous Victorian skirts. The magistrate showed the wisdom of Solomon in making his final judgement in this outlandish case:

MARLBOROPGH-STREET. Two fashionably-dressed females were charged under the following curious circumstances:—A watchman deposed, that between mid 11 o’clock Wednesday night they were parading and down Regent-street, annoying every female they met, by carrying a portion of their dresses under their arms, and displaying each a pair of gentlemen’s trowsers. He desired them to behave more properly. This they refused to do, and he, in consequence, took them into custody. Sir George Farrant. What have they done with the trowsers? —Watchman. They have them on.
Sir George. Were they ladies’ or gentlemen’s trowsers? —The Females said, they were gentlemen’s trowsers.
Sir George. Then shew them. —The Females, with deep suffusion on their faces, here lifted up the lower part of their garments, and displayed each a very pretty ankle, surmounted a pair of gentlemen’s trowsers.
Sir George. What! had you been to Masquerade? — They replied in the negative, saying, that they had only put them on for a lark.
Sir George. Come, go home, and take off the trowsers; for no person will like to enter the lists with any Females who wear the breeches. The Females then thanked the Magistrate, and walked out the Office with the trowsers on.

Sir George found himself intervening in the relationship between man and animal more frequently than magistrates have to do today. In February 1829 the Spectator reported  how a “miserable looking foreign lad and his monkey” were brought up before Sir George by one Webb, the Inspector of Nuisances, accused of begging in St James. Soft hearted Sir George speculated that perhaps the boy did not realise he was committing an offense to which Webb, the Inspector of Nuisances, responded that he certainly did realise because he was an old hand at it. Sir George changed tack, wondering what would happen to the monkey if he committed the boy, “It is no use to send him to the house of correction, you must get an act of Parliament to authorise these animals to be sent to the Zoological Garden!” This line of exculpation was thwarted by Cheddle, a Constable of the Mendicity Society who chimed in that “Oh, your worship, the Zoological Society are very happy in accepting them."
"What!  Have they had any presents of this description sent them before?" Sir George asked.
“Yes,” said Cheddle, “they have had several monkeys and a porcupine sent them from Hatton-garden, by the Magistrates: and the Society has expressed their thanks for the present. After the porcupine was sent there, one of our men saw an Italian begging for upwards of five weeks."
"Then I suppose you intended making the Zoological gardens a house of correction for monkeys?" Sir George commented sardonically.
"It is the intention to send all there in future,” said Cheddle smugly. Sir George turned back to Webb and demanded to know if he was certain that the boy was begging for money. Webb admitted that he had not seen him actually receive any alms at which Sir George said, triumphantly, “Aye, the Zoological gentlemen will not get the monkey this time then." He told the miserable looking foreign lad that he was free to go but warned him not to get caught begging again.

A detail from Sir George's mausoleum

Sir George’s most bizarre cases often involved animals. In September 1827 the Morning Advertiser reported that as soon as he took his seat the previous morning Sir George had been handed a letter from one of the Overseers of the Poor for the Parish of St James. The letter explained that the Governor of a farmhouse in Islington where the parish were accustomed to lodge such paupers as required country air or for whom they did not have accommodation in the parish, had been forced to turn out three male paupers for conducting themselves in “a violent and riotous manner, smashing all that came in their way, threatening the lives of the other paupers, and of the officers and servants of the place, and had actually killed a favourite cat.” The Parish Overseer suspected that the three men would show up at Marlborough Street to complain of their treatment and wanted Sir George to be in full possession of the facts before they appeared. “Scarcely bad the Magistrate finished the perusal of this letter, when in marched to the office the three worthies alluded to, and sure enough to make a grievous complaint against the governor; but, on their announcing themselves and their business, they were surprised find that the Magistrate was already in possession of their history.”  The three men denied all the charges against them and alleged that the conflict with the governor had arisen when they had demanded food “as they were without a hit to eat, so that they were often driven to the utmost extremity; one instance of which, they were compelled Thursday night last to kill one of the farm house cats and eat it for their suppers; as a proof of which, one of them held up to the Magistrate the rope with which they hung the cat, while second displayed the blade, and the third a thigh-bone the poor animal which they said they had picked. Sir George Farrant asked them if they had eaten the cat alive, or in raw or dressed state They said; they first hung it with the rope produced, and then boiled it in a pipkin; after which they made their supper off it. Sir George asked if they were sure it was a cat, for he could scarcely believe it—perhaps it was a rabbit which they thought proper to call a cat? They assured his worship it was not rabbit—it was nothing else but one of the governor’s cats. They had nothing given to them since, but were turned out of the house without any reason, except eating this cat to allay their hunger. The Magistrate said, it as a strange business, and ordered the paupers to be taken for the present into the town workhouse; and that the governor of the farm house should attend to explain their marvellous account of this cat transaction.”

Zoophagy featured in another case heard the same month by Sir George, though this time it was a dog on the menu. John Enright was brought up before Sir George for assaulting a 70 year old widow called Mrs Alsop of 77 Davies Street, Berkeley Square. The Windsor and Eton Express takes up the story: “Mrs. Alsop said, that on Monday morning her little spaniel had a bone on the step of the door, over which the wife of the prisoner passed, when the animal snapped at her foot. In the afternoon, the prisoner came to the house in a violent rage, and demanded to see the owner, when witness went to the door with the spaniel under her Arm; she told him, if his wife had sustained any harm, she would send a doctor to her, or pay for medical advice; but the prisoner, without a reply, seized the dog from her, tore the back of her hand in doing so and raised his arms above his head, dashed the spaniel on the stones, and then jumped upon it till he killed it. He then left the house. She came to the office afterwards to know what she should do.” It was while the distraught Mrs Alsop was at Marlborough Street seeking advice on what to do about the murder of her little spaniel that the story took a really bizarre turn. John Enright returned to 77 Davies Street and demanded that the servants handed him over the carcase of the dog. The intimidated domestics did this and then Enright “drew a knife from his pocket, ripped up the belly of the dog, and cut out the heart, which he took away with him... Sir George asked the prisoner what was his motive for killing the dog. “For fear it should he mad,” said the fellow. Sir George told him that would be no preservation to his wife, as, supposing it to be so, the mischief was done. The dog was proved to be a harmless one, and the lady had offered to pay a doctor; therefore he had nothing to fear. “But for what did you again to cut out the heart of the dog ?" asked Sir George. Enright — To give, it to my wife. Sir George.— To give it to your wife! What did »he do with it ? Enright.— She ate it. I cooked it for her. Sir George.—Ate it! Did she know what she was eating? Enright.—No, she did not. I gave it for fear of her going mad. Sir George said he had never heard anything so brutally superstitious and ordered the prisoner find good bail for the assault, and told Mrs. Alsop he hoped she would prosecute him for his brutality.”

And finally, a scene from the Jeremy Kyle Show, reported in the Morning Advertiser of 6 June 1826: MARLBOROUGH-STREET.—Yesterday a meager half animated looking shoemaker, named Thomas Evans, was brought from the watch-house of St. Ann’s Parish, Soho, in company with a smart comely married woman, named Mulhern, before Sir George Farrant, the former charged with occupying the place of Mrs. Mulhern’s husband, in the affections and bed of that lady on Sunday night, and the latter charged with over hospitality in giving part of her bed to the shoemaker, the exclusion of her lawful husband. The husband Mr. Mulhern, who is gentleman’s servant, and a very fine looking young man, being sworn, stated, that he and his wife have lodged for some time past with their only child, at a house in Compton-street, Soho, where Mr. Thomas Evans, translator, “or mender of old shoes, also unfortunately happens to be a sojourner. There was no particular intimacy or acquaintance between the parties, nor did he, the husband, even suspect Mr. Evans. About two o’clock yesterday morning witness returned home, after being engaged as usual all the previous day with his master’s family, and to his astonishment and horror, entering his apartment, where his wife was in bed, he found Mr. Thomas Evans fast locked in her arms. He was unwilling to disturb their repose abruptly, or, at all events, until had some other witness to the fact of his wife’s incontinence. He therefore went out and quietly brought a neighbouring watchman, to whom he exhibited unequivocal proof of Mrs. Mulhern’s frailty, and Mr. Evans’s nocturnal gallantries. He then gave both the violators of his bed into the watchman’s custody, and had them conveyed to the watch-house, there to pass, in separate cells, the remainder of the night. The watchman said that he could fully confirm Mr. Mulhern’s complaint of his wife’s infidelity, at least far as appearances go; and moreover he said, that a more impudent woman, after detection in such a situation, never could have existed at any period in the world. Mr. Thomas Evans, who, either from the effects of love or of mending shoes, or of fright, seemed scarcely able to keep his legs in a perpendicular position under him was asked by the Magistrate, what explanation he could give for hiss very immoral and improper intrusion into the complainant's bed ? Mr. Evans said, the fact was, that Mrs. Mnlhern had for some time past made love to him, in such a bewitching and seductive way, that on Sunday night, when she gave him a direct invitation to her bed, no man could resist Mrs. Mulhern’s winning ways, and that was all he had to say. Mrs. Mulhern said, on her own part, that she thought she had a right to dispose of herself and her bed as she thought proper, without any busybody troubling themselves about her; and as for Mr. Mulhern, she had very Little of his society: she supposed he amused himself elsewhere; he gave her very little support. Mulhern, the husband, said that nothing could equal the falsehood and Ingratitude of his wife; as to not supporting her, he declared that he has always given her the greater part of his earnings for the support of herself and his child. Sir George Farrant said that it was a grievous thing for the young man to tied to such woman, but a Magistrate had no power to interfere. He would, however, advise the husband to advertise the woman’s conduct, so as to prevent her getting credit on his account. The parties were then discharged. Several respectable persons attended, who spoke in the highest terms of the husband’s character.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

How a Man may Owe his Life to Small Change and Spiced Gingerbread Nuts: Peter Burrowes (1753-1841) Kensal Green Cemetery

Peter Burrowe's portrait on his grave in Kensal Green

Even his tombstone gets his age at death wrong - widely reported
as being 90 when he died, he was in fact a mere 88

DEATH OF PETER BURROWES, ESQ. We have to announce the death of this venerable and distinguished patriot, which took place on Monday last, in Henrietta-street, Cavendish-square, London. Mr. Burrowes had lived much beyond the ordinary period of a long life, having reached his ninetieth year; and we, who had the pride and gratification of knowing him well, can say that not only did his faculties survive to the last, but that his feelings, towards his country and his friends, remained as warm as in the days of his vigorous manhood. It was but natural that such a man should be beloved—for the whole tenor of his life, in public and in private, was calculated to engage affection and admiration.  
Dublin Monitor - Saturday 13 November 1841

Peter Burrowes, the Irish patriot and lawyer, was born in Portarlington in 1754 and studied at Trinity College. He campaigned on behalf of Catholic emancipation and against the Union, was a fried of Wolf Tone and was the defence barrister for Robert Emmet who was executed in 1803 for high treason after leading an abortive rebellion against the British crown. He became a Londoner late in life, only moving to Cavendish Square in his 80’s for health reasons, mainly to consult an oculist. In his youth he was exceptionally vigorous; a story is told of his walking from Dublin to Portarlington, a distance of 40 miles, in one day and then of his dancing all night at a ball. He had a reputation for being absent minded, though this story, printed 6 years after his death in the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette (30 December 1847), implies that he was quite capable of taking advantage of this reputation when it suited him:

With a profound intellect, he was simplicity itself. He walked the earth neither seeing nor hearing anything around him. As he rolled his portly figure through the streets, his hands in his breeches pockets, and his eyes glaring on his oldest friend as if he had never seen him, it was plain to all men that Peter was in the moon. This absence was invincible, and sometimes produced the most ludicrous effects. One day, being counsel for a defendant in a case of crim. con.,(=criminal conversation – adultery) and intending to cast ridicule or something worse on his opponent, he thus broke forth with his most unmusical voice and gasping enunciation: But, gentlemen, did you observe the glowing description our young friend gave of the lady? With what gusto he dwelt upon each charm! May Heaven forgive me, but strange thoughts forced themselves uppermost! The couplet of the poet flashed on me as he proceeded “He best can paint a star, Who first has dipped his pencil in... ." He came to a dead stop—a roar from the bar broke upon the silence, when Peter, looking as if just awake, brayed out to his junior, “In the name of Providence, what are they all laughing at?" The old stop- the vacant stare—the earnest interrogatory —produced an effect which sets description at defiance.

That doesn't look like 10 paces to me; more like point blank.

In his early career he took part in a famous duel and had his life saved by the small change received from buying spiced nuts. The duel took place in 1794. Burrowes was one of a number of barristers acting for insolvent tenants of the Earl of Kilkenny who was, according to his own barrister Sir Jonah Barrington, ‘dreadfully tormented’ by the crowd of litigants and lawyers. The hot tempered Earl was driven to fury by his continual defeat in court, generally on technical grounds, and decided to seek an alternative means of redress “namely to fight it out muzzle to muzzle with the attorney and all the counsel on the other side.” The Earl challenged his chief persecutor, an attorney called Mr Ball, to a duel. Much to his chagrin though the Earl came off worst, failing to hit the attorney whilst taking two musket balls himself, the first, as related by the loyal Sir Jonah, “in his Lordship's right arm which probably saved the solicitor as his Lordship was a most accurate marksman”, and the second in the side. The Earl’s son, Somerset Butler, took over his incapacitated father’s plan and promptly issued a challenge to Peter Burrowes, the next most senior lawyer acting for his father’s tenants. Sir Jonah continues the story:

The invitation not being refused the combat took place one cold frosty morning near Kilkenny. Somerset knew his business well but Peter had had no practice whatever in that line of litigation. Few persons feel too warm on such occasions and Peter formed no exception to the general rule. An old woman who sold spiced gingerbread nuts in the street he passed through accosted him, extolling her nuts to the very skies as being well spiced and fit to expel the wind and to warm any gentleman's stomach as well as a dram Peter bought a pennyworth on the advice of his second Dick Waddy, an attorney, and duly receiving the change of a sixpenny piece put the coppers and nuts into his waistcoat pocket and marched off to the scene of action.  

Preliminaries being soon arranged, the pistols given, ten steps measured, the flints hammered and the feather springs set, Somerset a fine dashing young fellow full of spirit, activity and animation gave elderly Peter who was no posture master but little time to take his fighting position:- in fact he had scarcely raised his pistol to a wabbling level, before Somerset's ball came crack dash against Peter's body! The halfpence rattled in his pocket: Peter dropped flat; Somerset fled; Dick Waddy roared “murder” and called out to Surgeon Pack. Peter's clothes were ripped up and Pack, secundum artem, examined the wound, a black hole designated the spot where the lead had penetrated Peter's abdomen. The doctor shook his head and pronounced but one short word “mortal!” - it was, however, more expressive than a long speech. Peter groaned and tried to recollect some prayer if possible or a scrap of his catechism; his friend Waddy began to think about the coroner; his brother barristers sighed heavily, and Peter was supposed to be fast departing this world (but, as they all endeavoured to persuade him, for a better); when Surgeon Pack, after another exclamation taking leave of Peter and leaning his hand on the grass to assist him in rising, felt something hard took it up and looked at it curiously; the spectators closed in the circle, to see Peter die; the patient turned his expiring eyes towards Surgeon Pack, as much as to ask is there no hope, when lo! the doctor held up to the astonished assembly the identical bullet, which having rattled amongst he heads and harps, and gingerbread nuts, in Peter's waistcoat pocket, had flattened its own body on the surface of a preserving copper, and left His Majesty's bust distinctly imprinted and accurately designated in black and blue shading on his subject's carcase. Peter's heart beat high, he stopped his prayers and finding that his Gracious Sovereign, and the gingerbread nuts, had saved his life, lost as little time as possible in rising from the sod on which he had lain extended; a bandage was applied round his body, and in a short time Peter was able (though of course he had no reason to be over willing) to begin the combat anew.

Peter in mid life success, a judge in the Insolvent Debtor's Court
Matters did not end there. The Earl of Kilkenny, having recovered from his two bullet wounds, took up the challenge against the next of the lawyers in the lists against him, this time getting the better of his adversary. The duels could have continued indefinitely but when the Earl told another of his sons. Captain Pierce Butler, to issue a challenge to the next lawyer, one Dicky Guinness, Dicky sensibly took the matter to court and to avoid incarceration the Kilkenny’s reluctantly had to desist from trying to kill the entire staff of the Dublin circuit. The duel wasn’t Peter’s last close call with a bullet. The Dundee Courier in May 1913 (news takes a long time to reach that far north), ran the story under the headline ‘Bullet As Lozenge’:

Peter Burrowes, the well-known member of the Irish Bar, was on one occasion counsel for the prosecution at an important trial for murder. Burrowes had a severe cold, and opened his speech with box of lozenges in one hand and in the other, the small pistol bullet by which the man had met his death. Between the pauses of his address he kept supplying himself with a lozenge. But at last, in the very middle of a highfalutin' period, stopped. His legal chest heaved, his eyes seemed starting from his head and in a voice tremulous with fright he exclaimed “Oh!!I!! Gentlemen, gentlemen! I've swallowed the bullet!” 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

A want of honour in her own conduct led to this fatal catastrophe; Harriet Shelley (1795-1816) St Mary's, Paddington Green

On the 13th December 1816 the corpse of a heavily pregnant 21 year old woman was quietly buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Paddington Green. If there were any mourners they failed to tell the parish clerk that Harriett Smith, as she was listed in the burial register, was not the deceased’s real name. Her body had been pulled out of the Serpentine three days earlier and a hurried inquest convened at the Fox and Bull alehouse the morning after the grisly discovery.  The jury had heard from the dead woman’s landlady that she was of solitary habits, afflicted with melancholia and visibly in the family way. John Gell, the coroner, made a terse statement saying  ‘the said Harriet Smith had no marks of violence appearing on her body, but how or by what means she became dead, no evidence thereof does appear to the jurors.’ The jury came quickly to what was, under the circumstances (Harriett had clearly killed herself), the compassionate verdict of “found dead in the Serpentine River”.  The death was widely reported in the newspapers but perfunctorily, for the most part in a couple of sentences:  Tuesday a respectable female, far advanced in pregnancy, was taken out of the Serpentine River, and brought home to her residence, in Queen-street, Brompton, having been missing for six weeks. She had a valuable ring on her finger- (Cheltenham Chronicle, Thursday 19 December 1816). The Times added a few, coldly dismissive, details; A want of honour in her own conduct is supposed to have led to this fatal catastrophe, her husband being abroad.  Harriett’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, was not abroad (though he had been recently in Geneva), he was in Bath when the news reached him of his wife’s death. He rushed back to London to begin a bitter legal battle for custody of his children.

Harriett Smith in the burial register of St Mary's, Paddington Green

Harriett Smith was born Harriet Westbrook in August 1795, the daughter of a tavern or coffee shop keeper, who sent his daughter to be educated at a boarding school in Clapham. One of her school friends was Hellen Shelley who introduced her to her older brother, Percy Bysshe Shelley. The poet swept the schoolgirl off her feet and in 1811, when he was 19 and she just 16, persuaded her to elope with him to Scotland where the couple married, to the consternation of both their families. The marriage did not last and seems, for the most part, not to have been happy.  The pair had their first child, Ianthe, in June 1813, by which time Shelley was spending as much time away from home as possible. The couple remarried in London in March 1814 dispel any doubts about the legality of their Scottish union. At the time of their remarriage the couple were more or less estranged but the ceremony brought about a temporary thaw in their relations, enough for Harriet to become pregnant again. Shelley’s description of the act of making love with Harriet made it clear the relationship was doomed; "I felt as if a dead and living body had been linked together in loathsome and horrible communion."   By July Shelley was gone for good, having eloped again, this time with Mary Godwin. There were no further reconciliations, temporary or otherwise.  Their second child, Charles, was born in November, and Harriet moved back to her parent’s house with her two young children where she stayed quietly for the best part of two years. In September 1816, leaving the children with their grandparents, she moved out to lodgings in Hans Place, Knightsbridge where rumour had that she took a Guards Officer from the Chelsea Barracks, a Major Ryan, as her lover. She disappeared on or around the 9th November and was not seen again until the morning of 10th December when John Levesley, a Chelsea Pensioner, who was making his way to Kensington across Hyde Park,  spotted her body floating on the waters of the Serpentine.

Before she killed herself who wrote a final letter to her older sister Eliza and to Shelley. To her sister she said: When you read this letter. I shall be no more an inhabitant of this miserable world. Do not regret the loss of one who could never be anything but a source of vexation & misery to you all belonging to me. Too wretched to exert myself lowered in the opinion of everyone, why should I drag on a miserable existence embittered by past recollections & not one ray of hope to rest on for the future? The remembrance of all your kindness which I have so unworthily repaid has often made my heart ache.   She pleaded with Shelley to leave Ianthe with her sister and suggested he contented himself with Charles, their infant son: My dear Bysshe let me conjure you by the remembrance of our days of happiness to grant my last wish – do not take your innocent child from Eliza who has been more than I have, who has watched over her with such unceasing care. Do not refuse my last request – I never could refuse you & if you had never left me I might have lived but as it is, I freely forgive you & may you enjoy that happiness which you have deprived me of. There is your beautiful boy. oh! be careful of him & his life may prove one day a rich reward...... My children I dare not trust myself there. They are too young to regret me & ye will be kind to them for their own sakes more than for mine. My parents do not regret me. I was unworthy your love & care. Be happy all of you. so shall my spirit find rest & forgiveness. God bless you all is the last prayer of the unfortunate   Harriet S–––

In the week before Christmas the weather turned colder and less than a fortnight after Harriet’s bedraggled body had been fished from the water of the Serpentine the river froze over. The London Courier and Evening Gazette of Monday 23 December 1816 described a very different scene in the Royal Park:

Yesterday the Canal in St. James’s Park, and the upper part the Serpentine in Hyde Park, was frozen sufficiently to afford a few boys an opportunity for skating. The margin of the ice was thronged with elegant female pedestrians, who dashed along in their winter fur pelisses and crimson morocco half boots, active as Scandinavian dames, or the buxom daughters of Russia. Their bloom of health was increased by the frosty air and the general appearance of the fair leaders of winter fashion enlivened the surrounding prospects of leafless branches, burdened with snow, and the dreary waste. Black velvet hats with steel buckles and feathers in front, were much worn. The pelisses in general were bordered with fur six inches deep, which appeared a good imitation of ermine. The boots were crimson, purple and Russia leather, laced in front with silk, and ornamented with fur of various sorts. Two or three of the boys on the canal broke the ice and fell in, but were taken out unhurt.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Modern funeral music: The London Requiem by Benjamin Till (Hind Style Records 2012)

‘I was struck by the simplicity of so many gravestones and how they are dominated by clichés. Then I thought about the difficulty of expressing all the love and emotion those inscriptions try to summarise. The epitaphs are the ultimate tweet – just a few words to sum up the feeling of an entire life.’
Benjamin Till

Composer Benjamin Till is the current John Cage Memorial Random Composer Award holder, which sounds impressive until you realise that the award is exactly what it says it is, randomly awarded, by chance, once a year with the only qualifying criteria being that the lucky winner drawn out of the hat “must be a real person...  If the winner is found to be sufficiently inhuman, a second winner will be selected.” Prestigious as the random John Cage Memorial Award undoubtedly is, Till is probably better known for “Our Gay Wedding: the musical” a programme for Channel 4 in which he turned his marriage, (on March 29 2014, the first day gay marriage become legal in the UK) to long term partner Nathan Taylor, into a musical featuring a duet from the two groom’s mums, a ballad version of ‘A Little Respect’ by Andy Bell from Erasure, a singing Jon Snow, and narration from Stephen Fry. The ceremony was held and filmed in the neglected Alexandria Palace Theatre. The Guardian’s Review said “as a musical, Our Gay Wedding wasn't perfect, but as a wedding it was better than perfect. It was fabulous.” The programme was nominated for a BAFTA and a Rose D’Or and won a Prix Italia and a Grierson award for most Entertaining Documentary.

Sealed with a kiss - Benjamin and Nathan on the hill at Ally Pally 
As well as weddings Till has funeral’s on his CV. The London Requiem was premiered on the 29thh September 2012 at the derelict chapel in Abney Park Cemetery, North London. Like “Our Gay Wedding” the London Requiem features a number of unexpected celebrity appearances including Matt Lucas, Tanita Tikaram, Maddy Prior (of Steeleye Span), Sir Arnold Wesker (with whom Till has previously collaborated several times) and Barbara Windsor. The latter in particular was thrilled to take part as she explained to the BBC; "When you get to my age, I'm 74 and I've experienced a hell of a lot, you don't get many firsts.  Well, I've sung in a requiem. Even the word is daft for Barbara Windsor to be saying.” Added to the Latin of the traditional requiem mass are sung epitaphs culled from a trawl of 20,000 headstones across London’s cemeteries. Till himself remarked how dominated by cliché epitaphs are but his musical settings breathe new emotional life into oft repeated sentiments. The recording features a choir, multiple solo singers (some professional, some not), the Balanescu Quartet, and a number of other musicians playing the modern classical piece. Introit begins with the sound of traffic and Big Ben tolling midnight to establish the requiem's London credentials, soon joined by the choir of the Rebel Chorus and swelling strings raising the question “for what is death?” I am not really sure what I expected from a modern classical piece from the holder of a John Cage award; I think I was half prepared for discords, dissonance and disharmony but the Requiem is a long way from being a cacophony. I love every single track on the CD and find the music incredibly moving, so much so that the first time I listened to it I found tears welling up in my eyes a couple of times. Other parts send the odd shiver or two down my spine. It is almost impossible to pick favourites in such a well integrated composition but if I had to pick something to play on Desert Island Discs I think I would be torn between Pie Jesu and In Paradisum.

The derleict chapel at Abney Park Cemetery
The London Requiem is available on itunes and excerpts from the premiere at Abney Park can be watched on YouTube. But if you like your music delivered physically rather than virtually the CD is no longer available on Amazon and you will have to send a cheque for £14.00 to Mr Till himself as he seems to be now the sole supplier. Who knows how many, or how few, CD's he has left stored in the spare bedroom; if you don’t buy now you may miss your chance forever to own a copy of this sublime piece of music.