Saturday, 19 June 2010
Harrow Road, London, W10 4RA
THIS EVENT HAS TAKEN PLACE
A party, thirty to forty strong, made up of STR and Irving Society members visited the Cemetery of All Souls at Kensal Green in June. The visit was arranged in conjunction with The Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery. A Special publication entitled Their Exits Š A Select and Biographical List of Actors, Writers and Literary Figures of Note Buried or Commemorated at the Cemetery of All Souls at Kensal Green had been edited specially for members by Henry Vivian-Neal.
Members were informed that during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, as the populations in London and other major cities expanded, burial became problematic, as churchyards became over full and public health was threatened. Additionally, new graves were regularly disturbed and bodies removed by 'resurrection men' to provide cadavers for anatomical dissection and study; in an attempt to combat these outrages burial grounds were provided with watchmen who guarded new graves overnight: however, they were not always very alert and were subject to bribes.
Kensal Green Cemetery came into being with the consecration of forty-eight acres in 1833. The aim was to create landscaped gardens that were beautiful and most importantly secure: behind the high walls entombment was possible in mausolea and catacombs in addition to burial in the ground. Seven acres were set aside for Dissenters, and an additional twenty-two acres were purchased in 1854. The Cemetery was founded by George Frederick Carden (1798-1874) who had been influenced by the model of the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The architect largely responsible for the design of the cemetery and its buildings was John Griffith (1796-1888). All Souls at Kensal Green was the first of seven joint-stock cemeteries that encircle London: the others are to be found at Norwood, Highgate, Nunhead, Abney Park, Brompton and Tower Hamlets.
The visit was lead by three very well-informed Friends and a number of buildings, grave sites and memorials were visited. The tour began at the Anglican Chapel and proceeded down narrow steps into the impressive Catacomb B vaults, still in use, with space for one thousand coffins: Catacombs A and Z are now sealed. The magnificent Catafalque, which retains its 1840s hydraulic pumping equipment, was seen in its lowered position. From here this magnificent object can be raised from the vaults through an opening in the floor of the Anglican Chapel. In the brick-lined vaults the coffins 'are laid in bays on stone racks in numbered loculi; some with elaborate grilles covering the ends, some without. Several of the loculi are sealed with stone tablets and a few with glass windows'. Here with the many lie Macready and his family, William Creswick, Catherine Stephens, and the 'ballet-girl' Clara Webster who died in 1844 after her dress caught fire during a performance at Drury Lane.
In its first years the cemetery got off to a slow and difficult start but its fortunes improved following the first royal burial, that of Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, K.G. (1773-1843), sixth son and ninth child of King George 111 and Queen Charlotte: it was observed that this 'could do nothing but good and raise the tone of the cemetery'. After Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral Kensal Green cemetery became the place to be laid to rest. Among the many graves and memorials seen during the afternoon were those of Wilkie Collins, Ducrow, Isabella Glyn, the Grossmiths, Charles and Fanny Kemble, Sara Lane, Carlotta and Rose Leclercq, Charles James Mathews with his second wife, Lizzie Davenport (Lizzie Weston USA), Pinter, Rattigan, Thackery, Toole, Trollope, and Vestris. Other memorials to be identified within the cemetery include those of James Albery, the fencing master Angelo, Balfe, Hezekiah Bateman, Boaden, Arthur Bourchier, John Braham, the Brunels, Decimus Burton, Ada Cavendish, John Cooper, John Forster, John Pritt Harley, Leigh Hunt, Liston, Maclise, Mayhew, Mrs. Mountain, the publisher Murray, and Charles Selby.
Members felt concern about the poor state of some of the memorials - important inscriptions worn away by time and weather, vandalised stones, or damage incurred during WW2. Particular concern was felt regarding the memorial plaque naming Macready and his family. Formerly it was placed in the North Colonnade (situated above Catacomb B) but it was fragmented during WW2 bombing. The pieces are stacked tightly against a wall in Catacomb B with many other similar casualties: these plaques and their inscriptions at present are mostly obscured. Above ground Madame Vestris's headstone is absent bar a few inches of its damaged base. All that remains to cover her is a flat and partially sunken anonymous stone: her husband Mathews's ledger stone is close by. It seems a sad neglect that such a vital, innovative and popular actress is now in an unmarked grave. Another significant grave marked by a ledger stone is that of Charles Kemble which he shares with his daughter, Fanny Kemble: the elements have quite smoothed the lettering away and their names are virtually undecipherable. There are many others stones where inscriptions are very difficult to read, while other stones are damaged or broken. The Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery have over the years painstakingly cleared, identified and recorded many of these historic graves and they are to be warmly congratulated.
The occasion provided an absorbing and at times a moving experience. The Irving Society was able to point out the now unmarked grave of Anna Cora Mowatt, the American actress, to the Friends and her name will recorded in future guide publications. Members of both organisations were extremely grateful to their guides for their knowledge, kindness and unerring navigation around the cemetery. The visit concluded in a relaxed manner with tea and biscuits and much energised conversation.
Henry Vivien-Neal, Ed., Their Exits ŠA Select Alphabetical and Biographical List of Actors, Writers and Literary Figures of note Buried at or Commemorated at the Cemetery of All Souls at Kensal Green (The Friends of Kensal Green, 2010)
Curl, James Stevens, Kensal Green Cemetery (Phillimore, 2001)
The Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery, Paths of Glory, or, A Select Alphabetical and Biographical List, Illustrated with Line Drawings of their Monuments, of Persons of Note Commemorated at The Cemetery of All Souls at Kensal Green (The Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery, 1997).
Related STR Pages
General Events Programme
12th July 2010