Saturday, 18 February 2017

Ale, Sodomy & the Noose; Sir John Gurney (1768–1845) St Pancras Old Churchyard

The chest tomb of Sir John Gurney in St Pancras churchyard has its inscription turned towards the hedge which surrounds it, as though somehow ashamed of the identity of its owner. As well it might be, Sir John was the man responsible for the execution of James Pratt and John Smith, the last men hung in the United Kingdom for the crime of sodomy. Sir John was born in Walworth, London in 1768 the son of a parliamentary stenographer. He was a bright boy, educated at St Paul’s School, who was determined to become a lawyer.  His training seems to have been mainly practical, accompanying his father in his duties at court, and he was called to the bar at Inner Temple in 1793. As a barrister he defended Arthur O’Connor on charges of high treason and took part as junior in the state trials of Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke, and John Thelwall in 1794 treason trials. He was not a Kings Counsel until 1816 and his greatest moment as a prosecutor was in 1820 when he procured the conviction of two of the Cato Street Conspirators. The Dictionary of National Biography, which does not mention his sentencing of Pratt and Smith, sums up his professional career; “he was a good criminal lawyer, though not deeply learned, and was an independent and acute, but severe and somewhat harsh judge.” 

In August 1835 unemployed 32 year old James Pratt, a married man with two young daughters who lived in Deptford, and 34 year old labourer John Smith were caught in flagrante engaging in anal sex in the room of 68 year William Bonill in Southwark. The full wrath of the law fell on the two men who were thunderously charged with the capital offence of sodomy, James Pratt “not having the fear of God before his eyes, nor regarding the order of nature, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, then and there, to wit, on the same day ..... feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and against the order of nature, was consenting to and did permit and suffer the said John Smith ....feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and against the order of nature, to have a venereal affair with him.... and then and there carnally to know him.. and.. to commit and perpetrate the said most detestable, horrid, and abominable crime (among Christians not to be named) called buggery, to the great displeasure of Almighty God, to the great scandal of all human kind... and against the peace of our lord the king, his crown and dignity.” The hapless William Bonill was said to have “feloniously and maliciously did incite, move, procure, counsel, hire, and command the said John Smith and James Pratt the felony aforesaid”; a lesser but still very serious charge.

Sir John Gurney in the guise of happily married family man

The trial was held on September 21st with Sir John Gurney the presiding judge. The evidence against the three men was provided by William Bonill’s landlord, George Berkshire and his wife and the policeman who had arrested them at the Berkshire’s instigation. George Berkshire told the court that he lived at 45 George Street, Blackfriars Road where he kept a coal shed and horses for hire. William Bonill had been his lodger for about thirteen months. At four o’clock on the 29th August James Smith came into the shop and inquired after Bonill. Berkshire let him through and Smith went down the passage and opened the private door at the rear of the premises to allow in Pratt who went immediately up the stairs to Bonill’s room with Smith following. Berkshire went out into the backyard where the stable had a loft above it. He told the court that he removed a tile to get a view of Bonill’s room where he saw “Bonill sitting on one side of the window and Smith on the other, looking out of the window and talking together – after a few minutes I saw Pratt come and put himself down on Bonill's knee.... he then rose up, as if pushed by Smith, and placed himself on Smith's knee; and there I saw him for five or six minutes.” Feeling cramped under the eaves peering out of a hole in the tiles Berkshire climbed down and went back inside. He told his wife what he had seen and then went into the back room to have his tea. Five or ten minutes later his flustered wife fetched to look through the keyhole in Bonill’s door where he saw “Pratt laying on his back with his trowsers below his knees, and with his body curled up & his knees were up – Smith was upon him – .. Smith's cloths were below his knees.” He was asked if he had seen any motion. “Yes; the motion of the body, and a great deal of fondness and kissing,” he replied. “I put my shoulder against the door, and burst the catch of the latch from the door, opened it, and saw Pratt and Smith – Pratt said, "Oh, my God, we are caught," or, "caught at last," I will not swear which....he exclaimed very bitterly to me for mercy – they pulled their clothes up as quick as they could, and both fell on their knees, and offered me their purses, and begged hard for me to let them go.” William Bonill was not in the room, he returned shortly afterwards with a jug of ale. “He seemed surprised at seeing me there,” said Berkshire, “and asked what was the matter – I called him an old villain and said, ‘You know what is the matter; you have been practising this in my place for some time past.’” The shocked Bonill tried to calm the situation down and suggested Berkshire join them in a drink. He told them he would not drink in such society and went to the nearest station house to fetch a policeman, Robert Valentine.

Valentine told the court that he had taken the two men into custody and immediately carried out an examination of their linen; “I found the linen of Smith in a very dirty state in front – the back part of his linen was clean,” he testified, “It appeared to me dirt from the fundament.” In contrast Pratt’s linen was clean at the front but the back “was in a very foul state – it appeared a different matter from Smith's, of a sort of slimey, glutinous nature, and rather yellow.” Judge Gurney asked “did it resemble the seed of man?” to which Constable Valentine answered in the affirmative. “Was it in a wet or dry State?” the Judge quizzed the policeman further. “In a wet state,” said Valentine, “it appeared to be recently done.” The three men were not allowed to give evidence in their own defence though six witnesses were called to give evidence as to the good character of James Pratt but it did him no good; the jury found all three men guilty and Judge Gurney sentenced James Pratt and John Smith to death and the 68 year old William Bonill to 14 years transportation.

Sir John the 'severe and somewhat harsh' hanging judge
The only hope for the condemned men lay in the royal prerogative to commute death sentences to lesser sentences of imprisonment our transportation. While they waited the Kings decision they remained at Newgate, separated from the other prisoners for their own protection because of the nature of their offences. Whilst there they were visited by a young reporter, Charles Dickens, who wrote up his visit in a piece entitled “A Visit to Newgate”, published the following year in ‘Sketches by Boz’. The warder who showed Dickens around did not rate the chances of Royal clemency for Pratt and Smith very highly, the “two had nothing to expect from the mercy of the crown; their doom was sealed; no plea could be urged in extenuation of their crime, and they well knew that for them there was no hope in this world. 'The two short ones,' the turnkey whispered, 'were dead men.'” Their anguish was palpable; Dickens reports passing by their room twice and seeing them immobile and apparently frozen in despair in exactly the same positions both times. On Friday 20 November Charles Law, the then holder of the ancient legal office of Recorder of London, made a trip to Brighton to report to the King, William IV, and the Privy Council on all the prisoners who had been capitally convicted at the September and October Sessions of the Central Criminal Court; over 20 cases of men condemned to be executed. After much deliberation His Majesty commuted all the death sentences to transportation except for James Pratt and John Smith, “upon whom the law is left to take its course, and who were ordered for execution” the following week.  

Many newspapers ran reports of the execution of the two men, none of them mentioned the ‘unnameable offence’ for which they were to hang. This is from the Surrey Advertiser of Friday 04 December 1835;

Execution.—On Friday morning, at the usual hour, the sentence of the law was carried into effect upon James Pratt, aged 32 and John Smith, aged 34, who were convicted at the September Sessions of the Central Criminal Court, of a capital offence. The Sheriffs arrived at Newgate about half past seven o'clock, and immediately proceeded to visit the prisoners, whom they found engaged in prayer with the Rev. Mr. Cotton, the Chaplain of the gaol, and Mr. Baker. Both the culprits appeared in a very weak state, and when eight o'clock, the hour of execution, arrived, it was found necessary almost to carry them from their cells to the Press-room. Pratt, especially, appeared dreadfully weak and dejected. While Smith was being pinioned, Pratt appeared to suffer dreadfully. His groans resounded through the prison, and while he was pinioning, repeatedly exclaimed, "Oh, God, this is horrible, this is indeed horrible." He at this time was so weak, that the executioner's assistants found it necessary to hold him in their arms to prevent him from falling to the ground. All the preparations having been completed, the melancholy procession proceeded to the scaffold, and in the room leading from the debtor's door, as it is called, the ceremony of delivering the prisoners to the Sheriffs of Middlesex, was performed by Mr. Cope, the Governor of Newgate. Smith was the first who ascended the scaffold, and immediately afterwards Pratt was also assisted the steps, and placed under the beam. The necessary preparations having been performed, the bolt was drawn, and after a very short struggle the culprits ceased to exist. Pratt was a married man. The other culprit was single. On Thursday night Pratt was visited by a Dissenting Minister, to whom he eventually confessed his guilt.

William Bonill was transported to Australia where he died in Tasmania in 1841 at the age of 74. Baron Gurney died, after a long and distinguished career, at his house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1845 at the age of 77. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Dead Romantic – Til Death do us part. A Valentine's Day Special

Is there anywhere more romantic than a cemetery? The London Dead celebrate Valentines Day by remembering the great love stories behind some of the city’s best memorials and graves.  

1. Emma Jones, died 1842. Kensal Green Cemetery

Victorian celebrity chef Alexis Benoit Soyer’s ostentatious display of grief for his 29 year old wife Emma Jones stands opposite the Upper Gate in Kensal Green Cemetery, a few yards away from the endless traffic and scurrying pedestrians on the Harrow Road. Its size and position demand attention even during the day but by night when it was first built, it was illuminated by gaslight, and must have been a truly uncanny sight for anyone who peered in through the cemetery railings into the dark and deserted burial ground. Emma was an artist and her husband displayed her palette and brushes like holy relics in a glass fronted niche at the back.
Alex and Emma married in 1837 at St George’s Hanover Square. In 1842 Emma was pregnant for the second time, having lost her first baby through a miscarriage. Alex was away in Brussels on business when London suffered an unusually intense summer storm with torrential rain and thunder and lightning all day. Emma reacted badly to the continual rumble and roar of the thunder, appearing agitated and nervous. Eventually she retired early to bed where she was discovered dead by her maidservant two hours later. Alex was distraught when he heard the news. His immediate reaction was to try and stab himself. His Belgian friends wrestled the knife off him and dragged him into the garden where it took them two hours to calm him down. He never forgave himself for his absence from home and never really recovered from the death of his young wife. He tried to buy back all of her paintings that had been sold so that he had every single one of her works (many people would not part with them however) and he commissioned the impressive funeral monument to her at Kensal Green. He was buried with her when he died in 1858.
2. Florence Philipson, died 1914. Golders Green Crematorium
The Philipson Mausoleum was built by Ralph Hilton Philipson (1862-1928) for himself and his wife, Florence. Clearly viewable through the door their ashes stand side by side on a pedestal inside the mausoleum, contained in two rose coloured alabaster urns, which seem to be wrapped in Clingfilm.
Ralph Philipson was born in Newcastle, the eldest son of a coal magnate who was educated at Eton and Oxford and trained as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn (but was rich enough never to have to bother practicing). He was a sportsman, an amateur cricketer and tennis player and he was a lover and patron of the arts. Ralph seemed a confirmed bachelor but in 1908 at the age of 46 he married the 32 year old Florence Woodward, a Californian heiress, in New York after meeting her the previous year aboard an Atlantic cruise liner travelling between Europe and the States.  After a honeymoon in Canada the couple returned to London moving in to 74 Portland Place, close to Regents Park. There were no children but Ralph was devoted to Florence and was devastated when after just 6 years of marriage she died at the age of 38. Even for a wealthy man the mausoleum he commissioned is grandiose;  Edwin Luytens was already a well known architect when Ralph asked him to design the mausoleum and his services would not have come cheap.

A few years later Ralph married again, to Maya Stuart King, the widow of Baron Knoop, a Russian textile millionaire. Maya was of Hungarian descent and had a romantic and artistic temperament. The Baron was considerably older than his wife and very possessive but young women wear out old men quickly and he died in 1918 leaving her comfortably off as long as she did not remarry (old men’s jealousy lasts longer than life it seems).  When Maya was 47 she met the incredibly wealthy 61 year old Ralph; the Baron’s mean attempts to control her from beyond the grave by disinheriting her in the event of a new marriage no longer mattered and the couple married in 1922. In December 1928 Ralph contracted a severe case of food poisoning and died. He had left instructions for his body to be cremated and his ashes placed with his first wife’s in the Mausoleum at Golders Green. Maya never got over her husband’s death and wore mourning  for the rest of her life.
3. Marthe Josephine Besson, died 1908. Highgate Cemetery

Up a steep and neglected muddy side path in Highgate East Cemetery, hidden amongst the undergrowth and surrounded by toppled and leaning gravestones, you will find this striking monument to a Victorian businesswoman. The inscription reads:  

In loving memory of
Marthe Josephine Besson,
daughter of Gustave Besson
of Paris and London
and beloved wife of Adolphe Fontaine.
Died 15th Sept 1908, aged 56 years.
Her great talents and untiring energy gained the praise of the foremost masters in the musical world.

It looks like a touching tribute from a grieving husband and one could lazily assume that Adolphe and Marthe were mutually devoted and lived long and contentedly in conjugal bliss. But one would be wrong. 12 years earlier Adolphe was trailing through Europe after Marthe and her Spanish lover accusing her of stealing his fortune, trying to have her arrested by Scotland Yard and generating a scandal that he must still have been trying to live down when he instructed A. MacDonald & Co. Ltd of Euston Road to produce his wife’s funeral monument.  Marthe became pregnant by her Hispanic paramour, Señor Alcaraz, and gave birth to a son Frank. Tragically Señor Alcaraz committed suicide when Marthe was arrested and made to return to England to stand trial on criminal charges of stealing from her husband. More details of this story here and here.
4. George William Lancaster, died 1920. East Sheen Cemetery

GeorgeWilliam Lancaster from Wigan in Lancashire was a successful mining engineer and colliery owner with interests in the Welsh and Kent coalfields. Despite taking George’s name and being buried with him Louisa Mary Lancaster was most definitely not his legal wife and was in fact a divorced woman.  Divorces were still relatively rare in 1896 when Mr Edwin Charles Jones  petitioned the courts in Bristol for a divorce from his 35 year old wife. Jones had married Louisa Mary Wilkinson in 1883 and the couple had three children. Jones had been employed in his father’s ironmongers business but his father’s death had left him jobless and rather “badly off”. To improve his situation Jones had moved his family to London where he opened a small tobacconist’s in Finsbury Park. The business was not a success and unemployed again Jones moved back to Bristol to live with his mother until he could find other employment. When he did find a job and wrote to his wife to join him in Bristol she refused. From the children’s nurse Jones discovered that his wife was frequently visited by George Lancaster, generally at her home but on at least one occasion spending the night at the Grosvenor Hotel. The nurse was produced as a witness and told the court that the children called the co-respondent ‘Uncle George’. The judge granted Jones a decree nisi with costs and custody of the children.

At the time of the divorce George Lancaster was already living apart from his wife Emily in Acton. The separation was never formalised and he remained married to Emily until his death in 1920. By the time of the 1901 census he was living at Greenford Hall in Middlesex with Louisa listed as his wife along with their two young daughters. George was a successful business man and when he died he left a fortune worth £504,880.0s3d of which the lions share was bequeathed to Louisa under her maiden name of Wilkinson. His wife had been left a mere £700 annuity. Sidney March’s monument is probably one of the most famous funerary memorials in London but the Lancasters have fallen into obscurity and the old scandals are forgotten.

5. Georgina Robinson, died 1965. Willesden Cemetery

I am unable to find out any more about this sad memorial other than what is revealed in the epitaph (inscribed with a heart with G engraved on one side and M on the other);   
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

6. Herbert William Allingham, died 1904. Kensal Green Cemetery
The interesting detail on Herbert William Allingham’s memorial is the figure of his German wife, Fraülein Alexandrina Von der Osten,  reclining on a large cushion, clutching a bunch of lilies in her right arm, a loyal lap dog laying on her left, apparently on her death bed. She died in January 1904 after being an invalid for several years. Her husband died barely ten months later in November, committing suicide in a hotel room in Marseille at the age of 42.
Allingham was a talented doctor and teacher who worked at St George’s Hospital and was also Surgeon to the Household of King Edward VII and Surgeon in Ordinary to the Prince of Wales (later King George V).  As well as practicing and teaching he wrote several well regarded books and articles on surgical procedures. In 1903 he was operating on a ‘puzzling rectal condition’ when he gashed open his thumb. The mysterious rectal condition soon explained itself when the patient developed the unmistakable symptoms of syphilis. Much to Allingham’s disgust he developed the same symptoms a few days later.
When his beloved wife died early the following year Allingham’s grief gradually froze into incurable depression. In November, heartbroken and syphilitic, the doctor set off on a long holiday to Egypt in a forlorn attempt to cheer himself up. In Marseille he succumbed to despair after an evening of enforced jollity dining with friends at the Hotel du Louvre. Alone he returned to his room to compose a letter of apology to the hotel manager for any inconvenience caused by using his establishment as a place to die before injecting himself with a fatal overdose of morphine. His body was found next morning by the hotel staff.
7. Lucy Renaud Gallup, died 1883. West Norwood Cemetery
She died young and had beautiful eyes; that is obvious from the photograph of her probably taken when she was in her mid twenties, shortly after her marriage in 1870 to Henry Clay Gallup. Henry must have loved the portrait as he had it reproduced on porcelain and set on her grave; a very novel practice in the 1880’s. 130 years later the ceramic plaque is still in excellent condition and Lucy Renaud’s lovely eyes continue to regard us rather hauntingly as we pass by her tomb.
Lucy was born on 10 June 1847 and was baptised at St Luke’s in Chelsea. She was married in the same church, four days after her twenty third birthday, to the 35 year old American Henry Clay Gallup. Henry had been born in Stonington, Connecticut in 1834, and worked as a travelling agent selling patent medicines for the New York firm of Jeremiah Curtis & Sons. When he was made a partner he was sent to London to set up a European branch of the business to be called the Anglo American Drug Company. In 1881 Lucy and Henry were living at 39 Marine Parade, Brighton with their six year old son, Henry Junior.  In the census returns for that year Henry lists himself as a retired merchant.  Less than two years later Lucy was dead at the age of just 35. Henry was distraught and only lasted another couple of years himself, dying in 1885 at his home, Preston House, Upper Norwood, leaving an estate valued at £131,947 14s 9d to his 11 year old orphaned son.
8. Evelina Rothschild, died 1865. West Ham Jewish Cemetery

Ferdinand James Anselm Freiherr von Rothschild was born in Paris in 1839 of the Viennese branch of the Rothschild family. In 1865 he unquestioningly took up the family tradition of endogamy by marrying his cousin Evelina, the daughter of Baron Lionel de Rothschild and his cousin Charlotte Rothschild (née Rothschild) of the Neapolitan branch of the family. Far from being just a dynastic alliance Ferdinand truly loved Evelina. The couple took a long honeymoon travelling in Europe and within a few weeks of their return Evelina discovered, to Ferdinand’s great joy, that she was pregnant. Eight months later, at the age of 26, she was dead. Following a railway accident she had gone into premature labour, giving birth to a stillborn child and then herself dying. Ferdinand never got over his grief. He commissioned the elaborate mausoleum where her name, Eva, is endlessly repeated as a decorative motif in English and Hebrew letters. He also endowed a hospital for sick children in Southwark in her name. When his father died in 1874 he liquidated his £2 million share in the family bank, gave up business and bought a rundown estate in Buckinghamshire from the Duke of Marlborough. On the estate he built a stately home where he lived for the rest of his life with his unmarried younger sister Alice. He never remarried and despite his famous hospitality he often dined on cold toast and water while his guests were being served lavish meals. Shortly before he died he wrote to his cousin Lord Roseberry “I am a lonely, suffering and occasionally a very miserable individual despite the gilded and marble rooms in which I live.” When he died in 1898 he was finally reunited with his young wife and was interred by her side in the mausoleum.
9. Martha Gall-Bianchi, died 1936. Hampstead Cemetery
The splendid Grade II listed Art Deco Bianchi memorial was created by Cesare Bianchi for his wife Martha who died in 1936 giving birth to their second child Robert. The memorial is set in a large triangular plot that had wrought iron railings and a gate until they were stolen by thieves in 2011. A futurist angel stands with wings outstretched over a gateway inscribed with the name Bianchi. On either side of the gateway are carved relief panels, one showing Martha ascending to heaven accompanied by wingless angels and the other showing Martha and Cesare, apparently reunited in the afterlife, sitting on a bench with Martha finally cradling the baby she presumably never got to hold before she died. 
Martha and Cesare were born within a few months of each other; Martha, one of 9 children, in the small town of Insch near Aberdeen in 1897, and Cesare in 1898 in the village of Cernobbio on Lake Como in northern Italy. He first came to England in 1913 but as an Italian national was recalled to Italy after the outbreak of the First World War to serve in the Alpine Brigade of the Italian army as an interpreter. When the war ended Cesare returned to Britain and found work at the Palace Hotel in Aberdeen where he met Martha Gall. The couple were married in 1921 and had their first child Patricia the same year. Later they moved to London, where Cesare eventually became Head Chef at the Café Royal.  The family were living in Lawn Road in Hampstead when Martha tragically died in childbirth in 1936; the baby survived only to lose his father before he was 10. At 11.30am on March 8 1945, a V2 rocket hit Smithfield Market. The rocket breached the market buildings and punched through the floor, entering into the subterranean railway tunnels beneath before exploding. The huge explosion, heard all over London, created a huge crater into which the market buildings collapsed. 110 people died, not just market workers but women, many of them with their children, who were queueing to try and buy from a consignment of rabbits that had gone on sale that morning. Cesare was amongst the dead and if that wasn’t bad enough for the Bianchi children, so was Mary their aunt. The victims of the rocket attack were all buried at the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park; contrary to Cesare’s wishes he was not able to join his wife in the Hampstead grave.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Savage God - Al Alvarez (Bloomsbury £9.99)

The old Penguin edition - the latest Bloomsbury paperback has a rather uninteresting illustrationless blue cover 

Al Alvarez’s book on suicide ‘The Savage God’ had a profound personal impact on me when I read it in the early 1980’s. The study was originally published in 1971 but has aged reasonably well for the most part. Alvarez’s discussion on what he calls the four great fallacies of suicide gives a flavour of the book; the fallacies being that the young are more prone to killing themselves than the old, that unrequited love is often a cause, that the weather somehow exerts a malign influence over the mind of the would be suicide and that certain countries make a national habit of doing away with themselves. On the fallacy of age he says “it used to be thought…that suicide was inextricably linked with young love. The paradigm was Romeo and Juliet – youthful, idealistic and passionate. Yet statistically, the chances of Romeo and Juliet succeeding in taking their own lives are far smaller than those of King Lear…..the incidence of successful suicide rises with age and reaches its peak between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-five.” He adds that suicide attempts peak between 25 and 45. As for “the suicidal great passion. It seems that those who die for love usually do so by mistake and ill luck. It is said that the London police can always distinguish, among the corpses fished out of the Thames, between those who have drowned themselves because of unhappy love affairs and those who drowned for debt. The fingers of the lovers are almost invariably lacerated by their attempts to save themselves by clinging to the piers of the bridges. In contrast, the debtors apparently go down like slabs of concrete, without struggle and without afterthought.” On the claim that “suicide is produced by bad weather” he quotes an early eighteenth century French novel that begins; ‘In the gloomy month of November, when the people of England hang and drown themselves.’” He points out that there are two annual peak in suicide rates; one is at Christmas (that period of forced jollity is enough to drive the most strong minded of us to seriously consider putting an end to it all) and the other is spring which does not always bring the expected improvement in mood hoped for by the depressed and despairing and leads some hopeless individuals to take their own lives. As for ‘suicide as a national habit,’ the French, as in the passage quoted above, regarded suicide (along with flagellation) as an English vice. In the early 1970’s when Alvarez was writing (and perhaps nothing much has changed with regard to this particular trope) we thought it was the Swedes who killed themselves in their thousands during their unending long winter nights. Alvarez points out that the highest national suicide rates, at the time, were in fact Hungary, Finland, Austria and Czechoslovakia.  In 2012, according to the World Health Organisation, Hungary had slipped to 16th in the world suicide rankings, Finland to 33rd, the Czech Republic to 42nd and Austria 54th. Today's suicide hot spots are Guyana, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, South Korea, and Sri Lanka. Poverty is cited for the high incidence in Guyana, the totalitarian regime in North Korea it (in South Korea the elderly kill themselves, not because of liberal democracy, but because of poverty and the breakdown of traditional family support) and in Sri Lanka the suicide rate is highest amongst the relatively young, 15-44 year olds. I suppose no one should be looking for a useful discussion of social trends in a 40 year old book. Alvarez’s examination of psychological theories is almost as redundant as his musings on the sociology of suicide. An entire, tedious, chapter is devoted to weighing up the pros and cons of Sigmund Freud’s and Melanie Klein’s versions of the death instinct; maybe my younger self found this stuff gripping but psychoanalytic theory now seems as outdated as alchemy.

The death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis - a perennially popular exhibit at Tate Britain

The book opens and closes with personal memoirs.  The opening is a rather harrowing account of the last days of Sylvia Plath; Alvarez knew both the American poet and her husband Ted Hughes and last saw Sylvia alive on Christmas Eve 1962. The events of that night are mired in controversy as Alvarez’s obvious feelings of guilt and vague explanation of “responsibilities I didn’t want” in relation to Plath have led to speculation that he either rejected sexual advances from her or accepted them – either way he is seen as being in some way implicated in her death. Ted Hughes was furious that Alvarez published details of Plath’s suicide but ultimately his account of her suicide, fascinating as it is, answers none of the questions that have been endlessly raked over since her death. The book closes with a revealing and thought provoking account of Alvarez’s own suicide attempt. Literature is Alvarez’s vocation and the best pages in the book, apart from the opening and closing memoirs, are his discussions on suicide in literature from the classic texts of Seneca and Cicero to his own generation of poets and their immediate forbears Robert Lowell and John Berryman. There is an excellent examination of suicidal themes in the work of John Donne (“For Donne, however, suicide seems not to have been a question of choice or action but of mood, something indistinct but pervasive, like rain. After a certain point, a kind of suicidal damp permeated his life”), and absorbing accounts of the suicide of Thomas Chatterton and the attempted suicide of William Cowper.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Italian Job (Anarchy In The UK); Emidio Recchioni (1864-1934) Kensal Green Cemetery

On the 4th June 1932 a pair of bored policemen stopped and searched a 25 year old working man, Angelo Sbardellotto, in the Piazza Venezia in Rome simply because they didn’t like the look of his face. In one of his pockets they found a Swiss passport, a circumstance they found vaguely suspicious. As they continued their search through his other pockets they found first a pistol, further fuelling their mistrust, and then, abolishing suspicion in an instant and replacing it with cast iron certainty, not one but two unexploded bombs.  Sbardellotto was taken to police headquarters where fists, boots and truncheons soon got him to reveal that he was planning to assassinate no less a person than il duce, Mussolini himself, and the names and addresses of his accomplices. During his two day trial, which started on the 11th June and inevitably resulted in a guilty verdict, journalists remarked particularly on his simian appearance, his low forehead and his ‘surly and sinister’ looks. Sentencing was deferred to a Special Tribunal which sat on the 16th June and ordered the death penalty for the failed assassin. At dawn the following day at Bretta Fort in Rome he was shot in the back by a platoon of Militia. His last words before receiving a fusillade between the shoulder blades were ‘Long live Anarchy!’  One of those named in Sbardellotto’s blood spattered confession as soliciting and funding the assassination attempt was a certain Emidio Recchioni, a respectable 68 year old living in London and running an Italian delicatessen at 37 Old Compton Street in Soho.  The Fascist authorities were unable to act against a British passport holding ex patriate but word of Recchioni’s supposed involvement in the Mussolini plot was leaked to the press and on the 11th November the Daily Telegraph printed a story naming him. Further stories followed and in June 1933 an outraged Recchioni sued the Daily Telegraph for libel. The Gloucester Citizen of Tuesday 04 July 1933 tells the full story:


A plot to assassinate Mussolini led to a libel suit against Lord Camrose in the King's Bench Division today. The plaintiff was Mr. Emilio Recchioni, of Old Compton-street, London, W.1, and he sued Lord Camrose, as representing the Daily Telegraph, in respect of certain statements which appeared in that newspaper. Mr. Maurice Healy, K.C., for Mr. Recchioni, said that last year, a man named Sbardelotto was arrested in Rome. He was supposed to have been found lurking with bombs to throw at Signor Mussolini. He was condemned to death and executed. Last November the 11 the Daily Telegraph published a message from its own correspondent in Rome headed “Anti-Fascists in London." It referred to a confession by Sbardelotto and added “according to this the plot matured in Brussels and Paris, while the money (about £35) was provided through the agency of a man named Recchioni, who is said to be a prominent member of a group of anti-Fascists in London." Mr Healey said that the defence was that these statements did not refer to the plaintiff, and that the words did not bear the meaning Mr. Recchioni attached to them.

Not Ashamed To Be Anti-Fascist Mr. Recchioni had lived in this country for many years, and, latterly, had become naturalised. He was managing director of the Italian Produce Co., of Soho, and the Carrara Marble and Granite Company. Mr. Healy said that there would be evidence that Mr. Recchioni's family were the only bearers of that name in London. "The truth is," he added, "that Mr. Recchioni is a strong anti-Fascist, and is not ashamed it." But it was one thing to be an opponent of a particular political party, and quite another thing support it by methods which were against the laws of God and man and were despised by all decent people.

King Bomba - Recchioni's legendary deli
Black Looks The moment the article appeared, Mr. Recchioni began to receive ‘black looks’ from everyone. Things were scrawled on the shutters of his shop, there were insulting remarks, people passing him the street turned their heads away, and when he went to a cinema people turned and said, “What cheek for a man like that to come in here." Business people wrote asking that his accounts should closed, money was sent back from charities to which he had subscribed, and finally the Italian Chamber of Commerce here wrote him for an explanation. Indignant at the treatment he had received Mr. Recchioni resigned from the Chamber, but that did not prevent them from solemnly expelling him from membership.

Obscure Paragraph On June 27. in the Daily Telegraph, an 'obscure paragraph’ appeared to the effect that "Recchioni, whose name was mentioned in connection with the plot against Mussolini, had been excluded from membership of the Italian Colony in London.”  If the libel had appeared in certain journals a great deal of harm might not have been done, but the Daily Telegraph was a serious organ of public opinion, and shunned sensationalism. Yet, as far he was aware, it had not published a single word to correct the mischief.  Mr. J. G. Trapnell, K.C., cross-examining Mr Recchioni : “Have you described the Fascists' methods as ‘Fascist rascality’?” - It is a fact. They are against freedom. I have taken this action against the Daily Telegraph because it is a free paper in a free country, Mr. Recchioni added. No evidence was called for the defence. The jury returned a verdict for Mr. Recchioni, with damages at £1,750.

Emidio Recchioni photographed in the prime of life
£1750 was a substantial amount in the 1930’s and the supposedly defamed shopkeeper must have been particularly pleased with the outcome of the trial given that every single word in the article was true. The mild mannered Italian salami seller was not merely a prominent anti fascist, he was a committed anarchist who, contrary to what his counsel had said in court, was perfectly willing to support his cause “by methods which were against the laws of God and man and were despised by all decent people.” Quite why the Daily Telegraph failed to put up any defence remained a mystery until the files on the case in the national archive were opened in the late 1990’s. These revealed that when the Telegraph approached Special Branch for assistance before the case reached court the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner blocked any attempts to help the newspaper. The fragile coalition National Government was in power and they were concerned about the possible political fallout from revelations that Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald’s socialist past had involved a potentially embarrassing friendship with an Italian Anarchist. A newspaper search would have given the Telegraph’s barrister something to counter the barefaced lies of Signor Recchioni who was certainly no novice when it came to organising assassination attempts. For example,   the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser reported on Tuesday 10 July 1894:

Rome, Monday. It is announced from Ancona that the police have succeeded arresting a well known Anarchist named Recchioni on suspicion of being an accomplice of the man Lega, who made the attempt on the life of Signor Crispi. Two other Anarchists, also believed to be accomplices, are still at liberty.

On June 16th 1894 the Italian Prime Minister had been returning home from lunch on the Via Gregoriani in Rome when 26 year old Paolo Lega had tried to shoot him as he sat his carriage. The pistol misfired and before Lega had time to draw and aim his second pistol the coachman had jumped on him causing a second shot to fire wide. Lega was tried and received a prison sentence of 20 years and 17 days. Recchioni and two others were arrested and tried as accomplices but acquitted on 30th November 1895. Despite the acquittal two days later Recchioni was put under house arrest before being transferred to the prison colony on the Tremiti islands.

Paolo Lega attempts to assassinate Premier Francesco Crispi in Rome, 1894

Emidio Recchioni was born in Russi, 8 miles southwest of Ravenna in 1864. He had worked on the railways and fallen under the influence of older anarchist colleagues. He became an activist who was regarded by the police as the anarchists “most active and influential propagandist.” He worked on several anarchist newspapers using the pen names of Rastignac and Nemo. He spent several spells in prison and in 1899 he left Italy and moved to London where he worked as a shop assistant, coal merchant and wine seller. In 1909 he opened his famous Italian grocery in Old Compton Street, King Bomba where his clients availed themselves of such exotica as tinned tomatoes, olive oil, salami, parmesan, prosciutto and torrone and later diversified into importing marble and granite from Carrara. The profits from his business enterprises went into financing anarchist activities. He married in 1911 and had two children, Vera and Vero, his son, a friend of George Orwell, later anglicised his name to Vernon Richards and became a well known left wing writer.  The family lived above the delicatessen and the flat above the shop was also the centre of a vigorous anti fascist movement which used a masonic lodge I Druidi as a cover for their activities. These most definitely included violent resistance to the Italian fascists. The fascists responded in kind – following the Daily Telegraph story two thuggish looking fascist foot soldiers appeared at King Bomba and threatened Recchioni with a firing squad a la Sbardellotto. The indomitable old anarchist produced a pistol and promised them a bullet each beneath their Neanderthal brow ridge if they didn’t quit his premises; they quit.

Recchioni was involved in various other attempts to assassinate Mussolini, financing the entry into Italy of a hired assassin to kill the dictator, plotting an attack in Geneva with Camillo Berneri and when that failed coming up with another plan to bomb, by plane, il duce’s villa in Rome. The plots were as ingenious and unsuccessful as the various CIA conspiracies to murder Castro. In 1933 Recchioni developed cancer of the throat and in 1934 he went to Paris to undergo an operation. He died in the operating theatre at the hospital of Neuilly-sur-Seine on the 31st of March. His body was brought back to London by his family. The inscription on his tomb at Kensal Green reads: ‘Only a handful of earth and ashes, but impregnated with the spirit of a man who lived, suffered, and deserved well of mankind. He knew no fatherland but the world, no family but the human race, no religion but love. No tomb can prison his soul. From such rare spirits must spring the roots of a society worthy of memory in which life will be worth living.’

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sex, Lies & Parchment; The Pepys' Motet - Benjamin Till; Elisabeth (1640-1669) and Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) St Olaves, Hart Street

Elizabeth's (sic) entry in the burial register of St Olaves, Hart Street

The entry in St Olaves’ burial register for November 13 1669 read:  “Elizabeth wife of Samuel Pepys, Esqe, one of his Matis  Comission rs  of ye navy, obit X Novem r , & buryed in ye Chauncell viij instant.”   Elizabeth was only 29 when she died unexpectedly of typhoid fever; her death left her husband shocked and bereft. He commissioned an elaborate and costly memorial with a bust of his young wife leaning out as if to watch over him as he sat in his pew (perhaps even Samuel was aware that he was  one of those errant husbands who needs to have a close eye kept on him). Her unusually long epitaph reads:
Wife of Samuel Pepys who serves the Royal Navy

Elisabeth Pepys
She was educated first in a convent, and then in a seminary of France.
She was distinguished by the excellence of both at once,
Gifted with beauty, accomplishments, tongues,
She bore no offspring, for she could not have borne her life.
At length when she had bidden this world a gentle farewell,
After a journey completed through, we may say, the lovelier sights of Europe --
A returning pilgrim, she took her departure to wander through a grander world.

The 15 year Elizabeth de St Michel married Samuel Pepys at St Margaret’s in Westminster in December 1655. Despite taking place in a church this was a civil ceremony; the religious ceremony had probably taken place in October shortly before the bride’s birthday. Samuel always fondly remembered his wedding day and Elizabeth’s petticoat trimmed with gold lace. She was from a poor Huguenot family (her penniless relatives later became a source of friction between husband and wife) but at the time of the marriage the 22 year old Samuel was almost as impoverished as his wife. The couple separated temporarily in the early days of their marriage, possibly became of Samuel’s jealousy, an episode he didn’t like to be reminded of. At the time the up and coming Naval administrator started his diary the couple were living together again. During the ten year period of the diaries Elisabeth is mentioned no less than 2022 times. ‘My wife’ must be the single most common phrase in his million word epic; despite his obsessive philandering Pepys clearly loved Elisabeth.

The man himself, Sam Pepys
In 1669, shortly after failing eyesight forced him to bring his diary to a close, Samuel took Elisabeth on a tour to France and probably the Low Countries. Elisabeth came back from the trip ill; the sickness worsened rapidly leaving her husband frantic with worry. On 2 November he wrote to a close friend to apologise for failing to get in touch since his return from the continent:   “I beg you to believe that I would not have been tens days returned into England without waiting on you, had it not pleased God to afflict mee by the sickness of my wife., who, from the first day of her coming back to London, hath layn under a fever so severe as at this hour to render her recoverie desperate; which affliction hath very much unfitted me for those acts of civilities and respect which, amongst the first of my friends, I should have paid to yourselfe.”  On 10 November Elisabeth died, leaving her workaholic husband so stricken with grief that he failed to attend his office or deal with any Navy Board business for four weeks. Five months later, in May 1670 he wrote to a Captain Elliot apologising for failing to thank him for his help in an election: “I beg you earnestly to believe that nothing but the sorrow and distraction I have been in by the death of my wife, increased by the suddenness with which it pleased God to surprise me with therewith, after a voyage so full of health and content, could have forced me to so long a neglect of my private concernments; this being, I do assure you, the very first day that my affliction, together with my daily attendance on other public occasions of his Majesty’s, has suffered me to apply myself to the considering any part of my private concernments.” A man of Pepys passion and amiability was never going to spend the rest of his life alone (and he was only 36 when Elisabeth died) and he later met and lived with Mary Skinner. Despite living as his wife until his death Pepys never regularised Mary’s position and Elisabeth remained his one and only legal spouse. He also made sure that when he died at Clapham in 1703 his body was taken back to the city and buried with Elisabeth at St Olaves, “in a vault by ye communion table,” according to the burial register.

Samuel's 1703 entry in the burial register

306 years after his death the authorities at St Olave’s commissioned Benjamin Till (composer of the impressive ‘London Requiem’) to write a piece of choral music to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Pepys first putting pen to paper. Never a man to do anything by halves, Benjamin came up with a six movement, 40 voice motet (according to Merriam-Webster a motet is ‘a polyphonic choral composition on a sacred text usually without instrumental accompaniment’)  producing a piece of music so complex it took him almost six years to get it all recorded. He says;

I can’t even begin to explain how proud I am of this recording. It took four years to record and studio sessions happened as and when we could afford them. We ran quizzes to pay for extra studio time. The music is daring and incredibly complicated and we spent over 200 hours mixing the piece. It’s recorded unlike any other classical piece of music with each of the 20 singers individually close-mic’d in separate recording booths. The singers on the album come from every conceivable vocal tradition from gospel and folk through to musical theatre and opera. The work itself is a fusion of different forms of music. Sound engineer, Paul Kendall has an astounding ear for detail, and the work is best heard whilst wearing headphones for the full unique, engulfing sonic experience.

The words to the motet are all Pepys’ own, drawn from the diary so that the motet is, for my money, the most concise and entertaining abridgement you can buy. I don’t know if the composer read the entire opus cover to cover or, Jack Horner like he just stuck in a thumb to pull out the plums, but it is a brilliant selection with set pieces covering the plague and the great fire (and Deb Willets) and an extraordinary collage of words depicting the rest of Pepys’ life.  The first movement starts with words from the very first entry of the diary; “My wife after the absence of her terms for seven weeks gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year she hath them again.” As in the diaries Elisabeth’s unnamed presence (she is always ‘my wife’) looms large over the Motet (and as for the thwarted hopes of pregnancy, Pepys felt strongly enough about his childlessness to mention it on Elisabeth’s epitaph). My own, personal favourite quote concerns an argument over a dog presented to Elisabeth by her wastrel (but well loved) brother Balty; “my wife and I had some high words upon my telling her that I would fling the dog which her brother gave her out of the window if he pissed the house any more.”

Words and music gel perfectly in the motet. One man’s words sung by so many different voices could become confusing but the words are skilfully chosen and the music so skilfully done that it never threatens to become a cacophony; the man shines through the words and the words glow in their musical setting. As in the diaries all human life is here and the music complements the changes of mood and tempo from low comedy to high tragedy. My favourite movement is number 5, ‘Deb Willets’ which cleverly sets the scene with a vignette of Pepys the sex pest “St. Dunstan’s Church, where I heard an able sermon of the minister of the place; and stood by a pretty, modest maid, whom I did labour to take by the hand and the body; but she would not, but got further and further from me; and, at last, I could perceive her to take pins out of her pocket to prick me if I should touch her again — which seeing I did forbear, and was glad I did spy her design.” After this timely reminder that Samuel was a man willing to take the liberties he felt his sex and position in society entitled him to we get the story of his romance with his wife’s servant girl Deb from the day she calls him back from the office to see her pretty new maid to his increasingly bold attacks upon her virtue that culminate in the famous, and still shocking, episode when Elisabeth stumbles upon her husband and maid in a compromising position; “after supper, to have my head combed by Deb., which occasioned the greatest sorrow to me that ever I knew in this world, for my wife, coming up suddenly, did find me imbracing the girl con my hand sub su coats; and endeed, I was with my main in her cunny. I was at a wonderful loss upon it, and the girle also.” The music for this episode is as sexy, sleazy and painful as the events it accompanies, at times with an irresistible swing, swelling in full throated, joyful climax or descending into stammered, staccato justifications and excuses.  Pepys was a great music lover and it is hard not to wonder what he would make of his most private words and thoughts being set to music – personally I think he would be immensely gratified. And I think he would adore the Motet, even if it is rather modern for his tastes.

According to the fount of all knowledge (Wikipedia) “the late 13th-century theorist Johannes de Grocheo believed that the motet was "not to be celebrated in the presence of common people, because they do not notice its subtlety, nor are they delighted in hearing it, but in the presence of the educated and of those who are seeking out subtleties in the arts." So are you common? Or are you cultured? Pepys Motet can be purchased as a digital download from Amazon and itunes or, if you would like a tangible rather than a virtual copy, on CD from the composer. There are no discounts for buying two CD’s but I would have no hesitation in recommending that you get yourself a copy of the ‘London Requiem’ while you are at it.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Batman of Rorke's Drift and the Australasian Impostor; Arthur Howard (1851-1935) Brockley& Ladywell Cemetery

He must have thought that any part he played in the war against the Zulus had long since been forgotten. It certainly would never have occurred to him that he was in any way newsworthy and if he hadn’t been blind the 79 year old Arthur Howard would have been astonished to see a story about himself widely reported in the newspapers. Not least because it was his death on another continent that was making the news and, as far as he was concerned, aged and decrepit he may be but he was still alive and still living at 7 Harton Street in Deptford and was definitely not dead on the other side of the world in Sydney; 

A RORKE’S DRIFT HERO. Death of Natal Battle Survivor. SYDNEY, Monday (Reuter).—The death is announced of Mr. Howard, an Englishman aged 74, a survivor of the battle of Rorke’s Drift. Mr. Howard arrived in Australia in 1908. As recently as Friday he complained of an assegai wound received in the fight. In addition to Neuville’s famous picture of the defence of Rorke’s Drift, the Sydney Art Gallery has a picture showing Mr. Howard assisting and carrying a wounded man from a blazing hospital.
Portsmouth Evening News - Monday 10 February 1930

When word got out that Reuters was wrong a reporter from the Daily Mirror turned up at Deptford to interview the old war hero. "I have been living in Kent for 40 years, and never have been to Australia." be said to the reporter. "As you can see, I am quite alive. How the Sydney Art Gallery can have a picture of me leaving the burning hospital shouldering a man I cannot understand. It was as much as I could do to leave the building myself when the Zulus burned it, without carrying anyone. There were only 86 of us. And I cannot think of another Arthur Howard among the number." Arthur charitably assumed that it was a case of mistaken identity but there are a couple of details in the original Reuters’ report, the claim that Arthur had arrived in Australia in 1908 and that he had been complaining of an old Assegai wound as recently as the previous Friday, make it more probable that the news agency had been unwittingly duped by the death of an imposter.  Fake survivors of the heroic action were not uncommon; there were at least three known cases for example of impersonators who claimed to be John Williams, the only survivor of the battle to be awarded a Victoria Cross. A man convicted at Tredegar Court of burglary sought the mercy of the court saying he was the John Williams, the Rorke’s Drift survivor fallen on hard times (but received 14 days hard labour when his deception was discovered). Another man arraigned at Cardiff for theft also claimed to be Williams and said that if convicted he would lose his army pension; the sympathetic magistrate let him off with a caution and the malefactor promptly disappeared causing a minor scandal which the real Williams was obliged to clear up by getting a notice printed in the paper protesting his innocence.  In Australia the ersatz Arthur Howard presumably got away with 22 years of bragging about being one of the hopelessly outnumbered heroic 150 who had seen off 4000 Zulu warriors and had uncountable pints of warm beer bought for him by admiring Aussies after he showed them his appendectomy scar and gave them some cock and bull story about how he thought he had breathed his last when the biggest, toughest and strongest warrior of the whole lot drove his razor sharp assegai up to the hilt into his belly. No one had the faintest idea that he was a lying pommy bastard until his death was reported in the papers and over in Deptford the real Arthur Howard came forward to express his surprise at finding out that he had died in Sydney. 
The real Arthur Howard was born in 1851 in Eynsford, Kent, the son of an agricultural worker.  When he left the village school he worked on local farms eventually becoming a groom. At the age of 20 he decided to enlist and joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery at Woolwich Barracks. His military records show that he was just under 5 foot 7 and weighed a very modest 10 stone despite his muscular development being noted as good. He was posted to Newcastle in 1872 where he was admitted to military hospital for 10 days suffering from syphilis, presumably caught from some good time Geordie girl on a drunken night out on the town. In 1875 he was posted to Ireland and in 1877 he was transferred to the 5th Brigade as servant and batsman to Major Arthur Harness (the Major would have called him Howard and he would have called the Major Sir, preventing the confusion that sharing the first name Arthur could have caused in a more democratic institution).  In 1878 Arthur and Arthur found themselves aboard HMS Dublin Castle and on the way to active service in South Africa in the 9th Cape Frontier War and the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.

Plan of Rorke's Drift showing position of hospital 
Following an order to move up country to Rorke’s Drift Arthur the batman, our Arthur, was admitted to the small hospital suffering from fever. During the legendary defence of the mission station Arthur was in the north-west corner room of the hospital with Gunner Evans and a borrowed rifle. The two soldiers took pot shots from the veranda and the window at the mass of Zulu warriors who had gathered in front of the building. When the Zulus set fire to the hospital roof the two gunners were forced to flee the burning building. Arthur, unfortunately, turned the wrong way when they ran out of the front of the hospital and found himself confronting a horde of enraged Zulu warriors. Left with little choice he leapt the defences and crawled into undergrowth where he found himself surrounded by dead horses, the victims of the first onslaught by the Zulus.  His greatest anxiety, he said later, was to hide the red stripes of his overalls which he thought might give him away even in the darkness. He also had a close call when a stray bullet mortally wounded a wandering pig. The dying animal, squealing piteously, settled down amongst the dead horses and expired very slowly and noisily, almost giving Arthur’s position away. Miraculously he managed to remain undetected until the following morning despite being almost trampled on several times during the night by successive waves of attacking and retreating Zulu’s.  Rorke’s Drift wasn’t the last action Arthur saw; he was also present at Ulundi, the last battle of the Zulu War. 

Sydney Art Gallery's painting of the defence of Rorke's Drift by Alphonse de Neuville
In October 1879 the Arthur returned to England on HMS Edinburgh Castle and was posted to Hillsborough Barracks in Sheffield. Whilst up north he met a pantry maid called Frances Bird who he brought back to London with him when he was transferred to the Cadets Academy in Woolwich. The couple were married in 1882 and had a daughter, Elsie, the following year. Elsie was barely six when her mother died in 1889 and was sent to live with relatives in Sheffield. The following year Arthur obtained his discharge from the army so that he could be with his daughter and was granted a pension of 11 pence a day. He moved briefly to Sheffield but then brought Elsie back to Woolwich where he had found a job at the Royal Arsenal as an ammunition case examiner and lodgings at Parry Place in Plumstead.  He died on 15th July 1935 at St Alfege Hospital in Greenwich; his death certificate stating that he died of senility. He was buried in Brockley Cemetery in an unmarked grave paid for by his Deptford landlord Walter Tanner. The headstone that now marks the grave was unveiled at a special ceremony in September 2012 presided over by the Mayor of Lewisham and HRH Prince Shange of Zululand following a campaign by Corporal Bugler Tim Needham of the Royal Marines to memorialise the graves of the defenders of Rorke’s Drift.