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Thursday, 11 October 2018

Charlotte Mary Mew (1869 –1928)

(originally published 01 May 2018)

As LGBT History month draws to a close, today we celebrate Charlotte Mew, a writer and poet whose original, emotionally intense work packed a punch that belied her diminutive physical stature.  Her fans included Virginia Woolf, who described her as the “world’s greatest poetess” while another admirer, Thomas Hardy, said she was, “far and away the best living woman poet, who will be read when others are forgotten”.

Add Illustration by Ellie Foreman-Peck from 03 June 2013 issue of the New Statesman

An Imp with Brains” - Catherine Dawson Scott

One of Charlotte’s best known works, The Farmers Bride, is included in the GCSE English Literature syllabus and poetry lovers on the tube might have noticed Sea Love featured on TFL’s Poetry on the Underground.  Her talents even earned her a blue plaque outside the home she grew up in on Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, yet her simple headstone lies toppled over on its back in a quiet section of Hampstead Cemetery, echoing the themes of loneliness and isolation that featured so frequently in her writing.

Charlotte Mew as painted by Dorothy Hawksley © National Portrait Gallery, London

Joy Grant’s Harold Monro and the Poetry Bookshop described a tiny, witty and thoroughly unique woman who rolled her own cigarettes and brandished her umbrella as though it were “a weapon against the world” but who possessed a charmingly self-deprecating sense of humour - when asked if she was Charlotte Mew, she drolly responded, “I am sorry to say I am”.

Was this humour countering the loss of nearly her entire immediate family before she was 30 and the string of romantic rejections from the women she fell in love with?  I believe it was.  After all, she experienced more hardship in her life than most are equipped to deal with.  A woman after my own heart, cemeteries also featured in her work, most notably In Nunhead Cemetery and Jour des morts 'Cimetière Montparnasse', the latter of which was set to music.  Her dark sense of humour was evident when telling her favourite joke about a hearse-driver who ran over a man, killing him, causing a passer-by to shout out, “Greedy!”

By around 1915/1916 Charlotte stopped writing stories and essays to focus almost solely on poetry and while celebrated by her famous fans, her work was largely ignored by the public at the time.  In 1928 Charlotte Mew poured herself a glass of Lysol and drank it, so ending her own life the year after losing her last remaining sister.  As is so often the case, her genius was only appreciated retrospectively.

Adventures of a Country Home (originally published 17 May 2018)

 Today’s blog is a departure from the usual

The Hayes positively radiates history. 

It’s a gorgeous old mansion that could easily double as the set of a whodunit murder mystery, with links to St Pancras Station and which was also the site of a daring wartime escape!

Built by Francis Wright as a wedding gift to his son, Fitzherbert (as one does), construction commenced in the 1860s and the sprawling home was finally completed in 1909.  Francis was a forward-thinking industrialist with interests in the Butterley Company, an iron production company responsible for the first Vauxhall Bridge over the Thames.  Butterley also extracted coal and was producing enormous amounts of the stuff by 1862. 

Wright was savvy and realised the Midland Railway Company, also under his directorship, had no direct route into the increasingly congested Euston Station and was in dire need of expansion.  So the Midland Railway purchased land north of the Regents Canal (flattening Agar and Somers Towns, considered two of the worst slums in north London, and clearing St Pancras Churchyard in the process) to construct a goods terminus and in 1868 secured the contract for designing and creating the roof of St Pancras Station.  It’s hardly surprising that the beautiful blue arched ribs of St Pancras and the arches in the conservatory of The Hayes bear a resemblance - they were both created by Wright’s Butterley Company.

 Fitzherbert resigned from the Butterley Company due to ill health and retired to the coast where he died in December 1910.  His son, Henry, lived elsewhere and it was around this time that a fledgling company, First Conference Estate Limited, a collective of Christian societies and organisations, just happened to be looking for a site similar to the permanent venues used for Christian student conferences in the US. 

The Hayes was perfect for the company’s needs and was purchased from Henry for £11,500, a fraction of what it cost to build, with parts of the original house redeveloped to have additional accommodation facilities.  Henry was appointed director of the company and there he remained for the next 12 years.  Business was good until the outbreak of WWI when the site was used as army barracks and residence for evacuees from two London girls’ schools. Post-war, the company expanded - purchasing property in Hertfordshire to add to its portfolio, extending its services to host functions like wedding receptions. In 1920 Henry severed the Wright family’s connection with The Hayes after he resigned.

WWII is when The Hayes’ history gets really interesting.  The site was acquired by the War Office and was initially used to accommodate British troops but was later converted into a “Detention Camp for Aliens”. 

It then became a POW encampment for German air force officers known as Camp 13.  Two of its first “enforced guests” were Luftwaffe Major Heinz Cramer and fighter pilot Franz Von Werra, the latter of whom had previously escaped from Grizedale Hall in the Lake District by climbing over a wall during exercises.

Unsurprisingly, the prospect of escape came up again and the pair recruited another three men to join them: Walter (Manni) Mannhart, “Doc” Wagner and Hannes Wilhelm.  The five prospective escapees even earned a rather droll nickname courtesy of Von Werra: “Die Swanwick Tiefbau AG” (“The Swanwick Construction Company”).  In November 1940, they began digging a tunnel from the Garden House, depositing the superfluous sand and clay anywhere they could to avoid detection. 

They dug for over a month and on 20 December 1940, finally broke through the soil behind a tree to freedom. But their collective relief was short lived as all five men were eventually caught and returned to Camp 13 and later transferred to Canada, where Von Werra finally did evade his captors by jumping from a train and eventually crossing the border into the U.S. His exploits were immortalised in the 1957 film “The One That Got Away”, starring Hardy Krüger.  The tunnel is still in existence but isn’t accessible and in the 1990s, one of the original German POWs, returned to The Hayes for an emotional visit.  Heinz Mollenbrok, a Luftwaffe pilot, said,
“It was the best place in the world during the war… it’s the first time I have been here in over 50 years but when I looked up and saw the building, I instantly recognised it.  I saw the window of the room I stayed in”.
The Hayes is now a conference centre and the original house is flanked by two magnificent Cedar of Lebanon trees, commonly imported as status symbols in the gardens of stately homes.  And something I especially liked is that the area surrounding the lake is now a memorial garden (below) with plaques and ashes interments of now deceased staff members who worked there so tirelessly over the years.

Many thanks to Olive and Joe from The Hayes for enduring all my questions.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Do animals mourn us?

Right, dear reader, prepare yourself for a beast of a post (pun most certainly intended).

For some people, losing a pet can be as devastating as losing a human member of the family. Londoners lacking gardens could lay their beloved animals to rest in Hyde Park's pet cemetery or Ilford Animal Cemetery. In the gardens of Marlborough House (now home to the Commonwealth Secretariat) a semi-circle of tiny headstones memorialize Bonny the Bunny, Caesar, Togo, Marvel and Poor Little Boxer et al, all of whom were once adored pets of Queen Alexandra. The Tower of London has one of the oldest pet cemeteries in the country and people have been known to inter their pets' bodies with their own after death.

Whole Cemetery edited
Pet cemetery at Marlborough House

They provide companionship, have been known to detect disease and have even saved us from danger. So it’s hardly surprising that their loss affects some people so acutely. While certain animal species are known to mourn their own, what of those who appear to mourn the loss of a human?

"Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms" - George Eliot

Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier, famously mourned his human friend John Gray for 14 years until his own death, while Hachikō (an Akita) waited patiently at the station for owner Professor Ueno daily for nine years after the professor died. But is the phenomenon really as it appears?  Are pets genuinely saddened at our passing or do they merely pick up on an emotionally charged event, which we humans then anthropomorphise to make our own mortality more palatable? Sentimentality aside, some pets don't mourn but rather eat their owners after death. Make your own mind up with these intriguing and curious tales (tails?!) from various newspaper archives.

Man’s (and Woman’s) Best Friends

In February 1924, 11-year old Vera Hoad left her Chichester home for a music lesson. A “good obedient girl, a proper home bird”, Vera attended her lesson and left around 18h40 but was never seen alive again. Her snow-covered body was discovered three days later in a Graylingswell field where she'd been murdered. The little girl’s funeral was an emotionally charged affair attended by thousands. Those unable to fit into the packed church spilled outside singing hymns while local shops and houses drew their blinds out of respect.

As the service began, mourners noticed a brown dog slink up the aisle toward the trestles holding Vera’s coffin. One of Vera’s schoolmates called out, “Oh, it’s Vera’s Tango!”  Tango was Vera’s favourite pet and had escaped the family home unnoticed to follow his young mistress’ funeral cortege to the church. The dog regularly accompanied Vera on walks and had helped search for her while she was missing.  At the mention of his name Tango turned, whimpered and then returned his gaze upward to the small coffin, tail wagging. He was picked up and removed by the verger, who put him outside the vestry door, but Tango made his way back up the aisle and sat beneath the flower-covered coffin once more.

When a journalist from the Sunday Post interviewed the Hoad family in March 1924, he reported, “Whilst we were talking my attention was drawn to Tang [sic], Vera’s pet dog, who, disconsolate at the loss of his little mistress, was whining piteously. Since Vera had been missing he had hardly touched any of his food, and with canine instinct he seemed now to realise the awfulness of the tragedy”.
Vera hoad
Vera Hoad
Vera Hoad Illustrated Police News Thursday 13 March 1924
Illustrated Police News Thursday 13 March 1924

In June 1942 a number of Australian papers reported that Nicky, a crossbred black Pomeranian, followed the hearse containing the body of his owner, Sevestiano D’Andrea, who’d been murdered in his Newtown grocery store. As the hearse sped up, so did Nicky and he was picked up by mourners making their way to Botany Cemetery for the service. The dog remained by the graveside throughout the ceremony and refused to budge, whimpering for the rest of the day. He then disappeared and didn’t return home.

That evening, agonized howls and whimpers were heard by residents living near the crematorium building. This went on night after night. Two local women, concerned by what was obviously a deeply distressed creature, entered the cemetery in the early hours of the fifth morning to find Nicky lying in front of the crematorium. He was weak and starving. One of the women reported, “He was stretched out, with his nose between his paws, and took no notice as we approached.  When I patted him he looked up with bewildered brown eyes, and cried. He was so sad Jeannie and I cried too. My tears were dropping on him as I carried him back to our house.  He made no attempt to resist, but refused food, and took no notice of our dogs". Nicky was transported to his owner’s brother-in-law’s home but attempted to jump out of the moving car as it passed the cemetery where his owner, Sevastiano, had just been interred.

The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner by Edwin Henry Landseer (1837)

Feathered Friends

From Sydney, Australia, comes the following story from December 1925 and is the only reference I could find involving a pigeon, however there are no names involved or even which hospital this incident is alleged to have occurred.
News Hobart Tas Wednesday 23 December 1925
The News (Hobart, Tas) Wed 23 Dec 1925

In Australia's Northern Suburbs Crematorium, an astonishing sight met mourners attending the funeral of Captain John A. Johnson, former sea-captain, in July 1938. Ten wild birds flew into the chapel through beams of sunlight as Dr Johnson’s casket was being moved and “fluttering round the coffin, whistled joyously”. The birds continued this curious display for approximately a minute until the coffin was out of sight, before circling the catafalque and then upward to an architectural gap in the ceiling through which they disappeared.

Rev. A. J. Parker had actually noticed the birds earlier, commenting “Before the service I walked out of the vestry, and my attention was drawn to a shrub which was covered with birds. I could not say what kind they were”. Later described by a witness as starlings, the display was strangely moving but even odder was the late Dr Johnson’s hobby: he’d been an avid bird lover who spent hours befriending and feeding flocks of sparrows, doves and starlings in his north Sydney garden.


To be fair, both abovementioned incidents could easily be consigned to “File Under Strange Coincidence”, as could the next story, which involves winged creatures but not of the avian variety. This was widely reported in the Australian press (as well as the Nottingham Evening Post) from September to December 1930:

Bees at a Funeral Kalgorie Miner 27 Oct 1930

Back to birds, the Telegraph reported that Fred, an African Grey parrot, was prescribed a bird-friendly liquid version of Prozac twice daily help cope with the loss of his human owner George in November 2008. Animal experts believed Fred was traumatized by George’s disappearance and was suffering from separation anxiety, falling into a deep depression that caused him to pull his neck feathers out and bob his head up and down in distress. Channel 4’s programme Special Needs Pets later reported that after treatment, George’s wife, Ruth, had to carry Fred around the house to show him that George was no longer there.

Feline Friend?

Cats being generally aloof and marching to the beat of their own drum, it was a surprise to absolutely no one that I found no references to them mourning people (if anyone knows of any stories, feel free to post in the comments section). However I will include the story of the south London Cemetery Cat (reported in the Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative, 12 January 1933) because everyone likes a good Cemetery Cat, don't they? The enormous feline lived in the churchyard of Eltham Church and, black with white paws, he looked suspiciously like the cat belonging to a man buried in the same churchyard some time before (yup, the cat attended the funeral service in case you were wondering).

Despite being re-homed, Cemetery Cat returned repeatedly to the churchyard and began attending the funerals of complete strangers, watching over the coffins as they were lowered into the earth, escorting the mourners back to the cemetery gates and then disappearing into the undergrowth. One mourner visiting her family grave in the same churchyard ensured that a regular supply of meat and fish were left for Cemetery Cat.

(For the record, I'm not suggesting Cemetery Cat was mourning the dead and suspect he remained purely because the cemetery was his personal amusement park complete with the feline version of Deliveroo. I just liked the story)


In January 2017, 34-year old Wagner Figueiredo de Lima died following a motorcycle accident. Wagner was a semi-professional cowboy in his native Brazil and had an incredibly close bond with his faithful horse, Sereno, winning numerous shows together. By all accounts, Wagner and Sereno were best friends, with Wagner even sacrificing personal items so that he could afford Sereno's food. When Wagner’s brother, Wando, brought Sereno to the funeral the horse became visibly distressed, whinnying, shaking his head and swishing his tail as the eulogy was read. He then walked up to the hearse and placed his head on his old friend’s coffin, as if the full emotional comprehension that Wagner had passed had hit home.  Wando said, “It was if the horse knew what was happening and wanted to say goodbye.”  Various postings of the video has been viewed millions of times on Youtube.


While I keep an open mind about animals mourning us, part of me believes that they do. The case I found the most compelling of all these examples is Sereno the horse who, by gently laying his head upon Wagner's coffin, appears to genuinely feel the loss. I'm also particularly intrigued by Capt John Johnson's starlings - was their fluttering around his coffin merely a strange coincidence or had they come to say their final goodbyes?  

All comments welcome, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Ladora, the Queen of Fire

I finally got round to finishing off my mini bio on Ladora, Queen of Fire, originally posted on Cemetery Club's website on 08/03/2017 - you can read about her here.

I'm looking forward immensely to posting about my next little project, which has been an enormous amount of fun to research.  In the meantime though, I'll be posting something great on behalf of Rowan Lennon which, while not a historical biography, it's a most interesting piece.  More to follow soon!


Monday, 17 October 2016

Tales from Streatham Cemetery

Hi folks,

Below is the first blog post I recently contributed to Cemetery Club. I opted not to venture into the history of London’s cemeteries and the ever-growing need for burial space.  I don’t need to, as this topic has already been covered in the excellent existing posts by SheldonChristina and Caroline.

Instead I've posted mini biographies about two of the interesting characters I came across whilst researching Streatham Cemetery (located in Tooting and not to be confused with Streatham Park Cemetery, which I’ll be covering in my next blog). Sheldon and I only located one grave of the two people I’ll be writing about but we still enjoyed an excellent outing to a thoroughly lovely and well-maintained cemetery.

Hilda Wilson
A rather unconventional entertainer was interred at Streatham Cemetery on a dry and mild New Year’s Eve day in 1936.  A special platform was erected at the edge of the 4ft wide grave, the largest ever dug at the cemetery, and an additional six cemetery staff members were needed to help ease the huge coffin onto the pall. Surrounded by her fellow circus performers who came to pay their respects, this was the final resting spot of Mrs Hilda Wilson, 1936’s self-proclaimed “World’s Fattest Woman”.
Tod Browning’s film “Freaks” had provoked such public revulsion four years earlier but, even before that, the British and American public had already bought into question the morality of these once hugely popular 'freak shows'.  By the 1920s and 30s, the silver screen began eclipsing the allure of the circus with its featured human oddities and freak show audiences dwindled.

Could this downturn in popularity have prompted 63-year old Hilda Brown to relocate from Berlin to try her luck at the Fun Fair in London's Haymarket in mid-December 1936?  A living exhibit, she was 5’3” but weighed in at 46 stone with a waist that was 3 yards in circumference.  The widow of fellow carnival attraction John Wilson (a.k.a. “The English Giant”), Hilda had arrived in England only a fortnight earlier - no doubt she considered her fellow performers the closest thing she had to friends and family.
Travelling around London was problematic for Hilda, as the standard English rail carriages simply couldn’t accommodate her and she was forced to commute in the guard’s van.  While appearing at the Fun Fair on that fateful December day, Hilda collapsed and never awoke.
In death it reportedly took eight men to carry her body to the mortuary where it was determined that a pituitary gland disorder was responsible for her size, putting such strain on her 23oz heart that it could no longer support her frame.  The cause of death was recorded as “myocardial degeneration and adeposis”. Rather dramatically, the funeral very nearly didn’t take place as Hilda’s financial interests were still tied up in Germany, but luckily Hilda’s circus family generously chipped in to defray the cost of her burial. 
Captain Gibb Mapplebeck

Picture from Great War London

Gilbert “Gibb” William Roger Mapplebeck’s only calling was to be a pilot.  Even before the devastating outbreak of WWI Gibb had already learned to fly, earning his Royal Aero Club’s flying certificate at the tender age of 19. Following his father’s career path as a Liverpool dentist was not on the cards for Gibb who, at 6'3", was “possessed of a personal charm that endeared him to many”. Within the next two years, Gibb’s skill and courage made him a real life 'Top Gun' who enjoyed such distinctions of flying in the RFC’s seminal reconnaissance mission in August 1914, and later becoming the first pilot to bomb enemy lines in Flanders.
Not long afterwards, Gibb had the dubious honour of being the first British pilot to be injured in aerial combat. During a 6,000ft dog fight, he was hit by the rifle bullet of a German plane which sliced through the back of his right thigh, exiting the inner thigh and grazing his groin.  Against all odds, Gibb managed to reach British lines before lapsing into unconsciousness as the plane slowly filled up with his own blood.  Excellent medical care (involving multiple surgeries) and sheer force of will ensured his survival and 22-year old Gibb was awarded a DSO in the New Year’s Honours.
In March 1915 he spearheaded the first ever nocturnal air raid ever undertaken but things didn’t go according to plan.  Shot down over Lille and ensuring his survival only by burning what remained of his plane, Gibb laid low in a wood for three days before finding sanctuary in an abandoned house, sustaining himself only with the chocolate he carried with him.  Once again though, Lady Luck was on Gibb’s side – he happened to speak fluent French and charming the locals, he disguised himself a peasant as he made his way through France back to England, all while tearing up his own Wanted posters issued by the enemy.  Eventually passing through Holland to return to London, Captain Mapplebeck arrived on 4th April, presenting himself at Farnborough later the same day.  The man was unstoppable!

Gibb’s reputation as a daredevil preceded him and he performed mid-air tricks and stunts which sometimes got him into a spot of bother with his superiors (on one occasion he was disciplined for looping the loop in his plane.  As one does).  Whether or not this ‘devil may care’ attitude contributed to his death, we’ll never know.  On Tuesday 24th August 1915, Gibb was stationed in Kent testing a Morane Saulnier Type N “Bullet” fighter plane when, to the horror of witnesses, the aircraft banked, made a sharp right turn and then nose-dived straight into the ground.
Captain Gibb Mapplebeck was killed on impact, two days short of his 23rd birthday.  The Board of Inquiry found that “the accident was due to the machine ‘spinning’ on a heavily banked turn, the pilot not having sufficient height to regain control before hitting the earth.” Gibb’s possessions were returned to his family and he was buried with full military honours in Streatham Cemetery at 11h45 on Saturday 28th August 1915.
So highly regarded were her son’s heroics that his mother received personal condolences from Lord Stamfordham on behalf of King George V himself.  The message read, “His Majesty knows what gallant and distinguished services he has rendered during the war, and deeply regrets that a young life of such promise should have been thus cut short.”
Hilda and Gilbert - we salute you.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

"All Hallows Eve by Lamplight" guided tour of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

Hi everyone,

Join The Cemetery Club (as recently featured on BBC's Inside Out) for a very special tour of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park on Sat 29th October 2016!  Join us on our most atmospheric historic guided walk yet as we take you around by lamplight to celebrate the lives of the cemetery's "permanent residents" who've come before us.

Marvel as the lamplight flickers over the graves of heroes, villains and mavericks as we simultaneously step back in time to explore Victorian customs associated with Hallowmas, and taste authentic Soul Cakes, made from a recipe from the time of old Queen Vic herself. It’ll finish on a song, too – a long forgotten ditty that many of the people buried here would have known and sung themselves.

With a choice of two time slots, the tours will commence at the War memorial, by the Soanes Centre. Please wear suitable footwear and wrap up warm... All Hallows Eve can be chilly!

Please see visit EventBrite for more information and to book your places.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Lives of Highgate’s Lost Girls by Rowan Lennon

In 2014 Sam Perrin and I co-authored an article about Highgate's Lost Girls, the mainly teenage prostitutes buried in an unmarked grave in Highgate Cemetery West, who were inmates of Park House (known as the Highgate Penitentiary) which stood on North Hill where Hillcrest Estate now stands.  The Penitentiary opened in 1856 by the London Diocesan as a charitable trust to rescue girls from poverty and prostitution.
The Victorian vice trade operated on an almost industrial scale with certain brothels and keepers immune from the law and protected by the highest levels of society, the police and politicians.  In 1856 the age of consent was 12 and was later raised to 13 in 1875, and then 16 in 1885 due to the exposure of child prostitution by W.H Stead in the Pall Mall Gazette.  The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon is still the most compelling and powerful piece of journalism and a landmark in the popular press that changed the law and the public perceptions of the vice trade.  The trade constantly needed a supply of fresh young girls and Mrs Jeffries, a notorious brothel keeper and white slaver gave evidence to Stead.  The girls were often recruited from the country, lured to London on the promise of work and taken to brothels.  Many children were taken from railway stations by ‘kindly old ladies’ who offered to ‘mind the children’ while parents were busy.  Some were drugged and transported in coffins to France.
The girls who ended up in the Penitentiary came from all over the country.  Naïve girls were lured to London and the only escape from the life on the streets was the Penitentiary and others like it.  They stayed two years learning life skills and conditions were strict but fair.  There were those for whom the prospect of life without the routine of the Penitentiary was unbearable: in October 1883, 17-year old Penitentiary inmate Ellen Keating attempted suicide by choking herself to death rather than face expulsion following a perceived misdemeanour.  Others who passed through the Penitentiary emigrated, some married and led respectable lives while others reverted to their old ways.  Prostitutes often described themselves as dressmakers and many dressmakers were involved in the vice trade by supplying dresses to brothel madams.  The average life span of a street prostitute was seven years.
So what of the lost girls?  I have been researching their lives.  We will never know the details of their downfall or how they became ensnared into the vice trade.  Their lives were anonymous, their backgrounds mundane (with one exception, Rosetta Edward).  It has been difficult to find information on the girls with as they have common surnames.  They all died horribly of tubercular-related illnesses at the Penitentiary, a condition resulting from poverty and starvation, and were all representatives of a wider problem in the nineteenth century.  Emma Jones, born in Sawbridgeworth Herts, was the first occupant of the grave in 1862.  Her age on the census of 1861 was just 11 years old while living in the penitentiary and she passed away at age 12.  Was this child a victim of the white slave trade?  I have been so far unable to verify her birth or death.
We have Anna Williams, who was 15 when she died in 1869.  A country girl, her father Charles was a cow keeper (deceased) and Anna suffered from tuberculosis and later died of pneumonia.  The life of Caroline Rhodes yields more information: she was born in the Union Workhouse in Walsall, Staffordshire in 1855 to father William Rhodes, a butcher, and mother Elizabeth (formerly Harrison).  To be born in a workhouse suggests great poverty in spite of her father’s trade.  He died in 1860 when she was just five, which lead to even greater hardship.  In the census of 1861 she was living with her 29-year old mother and two sisters (Anne, two, and Emily, 11 months) at the butchers shop in Upper Market Street, Walsall.  By 1871 she had disappeared entirely, presumably swallowed up by the great city, before ending up in Highgate destitute and ill.  She died in 1874 of tuberculosis and softening of the lungs at age 19.  21-year old Emily Potter died in 1878 of acute tuberculosis.  Her father, Thomas, was a labourer.  Harriet Smith died age 17 in 1880 of tuberculosis and pneumonia.  Her father Daniel was a hay binder.  Frances Illiffe died age 15 in 1881 of scrofula, tuberculosis and meningitis.  Born in Croydon in 1866, we have a glimpse of her in the 1871 census living at Rose Cottage with her 35-year old father and siblings, (Louisa 12, Arthur 10 and Minnie, eight). Her father John was a gardener and had been widowed that same year.  How did this child end up on the streets with a fate so different from her siblings?  Maud Clabby, daughter of Patrick, a soldier, was born in Guernsey and died in age 18 of tuberculosis and pneumonia.
Rosetta Edward died age 20 in 1900, her cause of death tuberculosis of the lungs and intestines and peritonitis.  She came from a fascinating and well-recorded family: born on 10 October in the district of St Savour, Southwark, her father (Andrew Duthrie Edward), a compositor, married Annie Rosetta Amelia Belasco at St James, Clerkenwell, in September 1879.  Annie was the daughter of Joseph Belasco, a clerk and a member of a colourful Sephardic Jewish family that included a popular actor, David James, co- founder of the Vaudeville Theatre, who was a cousin of her grandfather and Georgian boxer Abraham Belasco.  There were a couple of less salubrious relatives who had been in trouble with the law for running gambling dens and brothels.
Rosetta’s mother Annie died of tuberculosis age 25 at her father Joseph’s house when Rosetta was just three, no doubt a very traumatic moment for a child so young.  It is possible she was sent to live with a foster couple up north following the death of her mother and a census entry suggests she was returned to her father on his remarriage in 1886 in Camberwell to Frances Miriam Gunner, the daughter of printer William Gunner.  Rosetta is entered on the school records of Goodrich School, Dulwich, where her birth year is noted as being 1882 instead of 1880, deducting two years from her age - she was eight, not six.  Andrew is mentioned in electoral rolls in 1890/1 and also in the 1891 census, where he was noted as living with Miriam, 23, and Rosetta, 10, at 4 Vicarage Rd.  Andrew was 33-years old and owned a printing and publishing company called Photophane where he’d developed a ground breaking lithographic process for printing high quality books with photographic reproductions of great detail that did not fade.  Despite this innovative technique, the Photophane Printing and Publishing Company was dissolved and struck off the companies register in July 1890.  That did not hamper Andrew’s entrepreneurial skill and in 1891 he went into business with prominent Australian Mr H Glenny, a Justice of the Peace and writer under the name of Silverpen, of Ballerat, Victoria.  A gossip column in the Daily News of 19 August mentioned Glenny acquiring the patent rights to a new printing process called Photophane, for which a fledgling company was being formed.  The next record of Andrew is on a ship The Orizaba bound for Melbourne on 11 September 1891 travelling with Mr Glenny.  Had Andrew abandoned his family for a new life in Australia or did he promise to make his fortune and return?   An article in the Australian Daily Telegraph dated 27 February 1892 describes the development of the Photophane Company in Melbourne by Andrew Duthrie Edwards of London, who claimed he devised the process in 1887.  No death certificate for Andrew has been found in England or Australia but Frances remarried in 1894, describing herself as a widow.  She gave birth to a boy, Gordon, on 1 July 1892, claiming he was Andrew’s son, but Andrew was in Australia - her marriage may have been bigamous. Whatever the complications of her father and stepmother, it is clear that Rosetta endured a disrupted childhood and might not have gotten on with her stepmother.  Many middle class girls became victims of the vice trade.  It was no respecter of background, and the poor girls who lie in Highgate are the forgotten victims of a despicable trade.

Rowan Lennon © 2016