Thursday, 22 June 2017

Sleeping with the alien Portuguese: Henry Fielding (1707-1754) Cemitério dos Ingleses, Lisbon

…… ‘neath the green Estrella trees
No Artist merely but a MAN
Wrought on our noblest island-plan
Sleeps with the alien Portuguese

Austin Dobson:  From verses read at the unveiling, by the United States Minister, the Hon.  Mr. J. Russell. Lowell, of the Bust of Henry Fielding by the Sculptor Miss Margaret Thomas in the Shire Hall Taunton.

Austin Dobson had it wrong, Henry Fielding does not sleep with the alien Portuguese. They, católicos to a man, would not be caught dead in the Cemitério dos Ingleses on the Avenida de Álvares Cabral, a heathen burial ground reserved for protestantes, judeusagnósticos and atheists. He shares his final resting place mainly with his fellow countrymen and a smattering of Germans, Dutch and other northern Europeans.  He was born in 1707 in Somerset and grew up in Dorset but he was one of London’s greatest citizens and the fact that he died and was buried in Lisbon does not stop him being one of the London Dead.  I had wanted to pay my respects at his memorial for some time, something that should have been relatively straightforward as I regularly visit Lisbon. But somehow whenever I resolved to make the trip to the cemetery something went wrong; I missed buses, got caught in downpours of monsoon like ferocity on the streets of Lisbon, turned up in the afternoon when the cemetery was closed, or lost my way in a tangle of side streets and alleyways.  This year I was determined to make sure there would be no mishaps and as soon as I was off the first easyjet flight of the day from Luton airport and out of customs I hailed a cab and had them take me straight to the cemetery. 

Walter Scott called Fielding the father of the English Novel (an honorific Defoe and Richardson might both have taken issue with) and Edward Gibbon said that Tom Jones “will outlive the palace of the Escurial, and the imperial eagle of the house of Austria” (the second part of his prediction has already been true for the best part of a century though the Escorial still stands firm). On the other hand Dr Johnson took Hannah Moore to task when she quoted from some “witty passage” in Tom Jones and expressed his shock “to hear you quote from so vicious a book. I am sorry to hear you have read it; a confession which no modest lady should ever make. I scarcely know a more corrupt work."  He also called Fielding a blockhead, and when Boswell demurred furiously elaborated “what I mean by his being a blockhead is that he was a barren rascal!"
"Will you not allow, Sir, that he draws very natural pictures of human life?" Boswell mildly countered.
"Why, Sir, it is of very low life,” Johnson thundered, ”Richardson used to say, that had he not known who Fielding was, he should have believed he was an ostler. Sir, there is more knowledge of the heart in one letter of Richardson's, than in all Tom Jones.”  Coleridge didn’t agree with either Johnson’s love of Richardson or his disdain for Fielding “What a master of composition Fielding was! Upon my word, I think the Oedipus Tyrannus, the Alchemist, and Tom Jones, the three most perfect plots ever planned. And how charming, how wholesome, Fielding always is! To take him up after Richardson, is like emerging from a sick room heated by stoves, into an open lawn.”

Leaving aside his literary achievements (he wrote for the stage as well as fathering the novel) Fielding is best known for his job as a Bow Street magistrate. In this capacity he was notable for his objections to public executions (the public nature of them being the cause of his opposition rather than the execution itself, which, like congress with serving girls, he had no particular issue with as long as it was decently carried out in private), his role in the formation of the Bow Street runners (in the early days, a wholly inadequate force of 6 which has multiplied, over the intervening two a half centuries to 32,000 with apparently little effect on the crime rate), his incorruptibility (in terms of monetary bribes) and his nepotism in job sharing his job over his blind half brother John.   

The marriage registry at St Benet Paul's Wharf showing Fielding's second marriage to Mary Daniels
Fielding’s first marriage, in 1734, was to Charlotte Craddock at their local church in Somerset. It would have been a completely happy marriage if four of the couples five children had not adopted the habit of dying in infancy and Charlotte, no doubt heart sore and broken willed, chosen to follow them at a relatively early age.  There is no reason to doubt that Fielding’s grief was both genuine and profound despite his seeking solace in the bed of Mary Daniel, his wife’s lady’s maid (who since the death of her mistress probably didn’t have much else to do).  The liaison was presumably satisfactory in every respect because Fielding decided to make Mary his second wife. They married on November 27, 1747 at the church of St Benet Paul’s Wharf. According to the 1904 DNB “their first child was christened three months afterwards. Lady Louisa Stuart reports that the second wife had been the maid of the first wife. She had ‘few personal charms,’ but had been strongly attached to her mistress, and had sympathised with Fielding's sorrow at her loss. He told his friends that he could not find a better mother for his children or nurse for himself.” Fielding did not share the view that his wife lacked personal charms; during the next five years she fell pregnant every year, only her husband’s ill health finally putting an end to the begetting of further Fielding offspring.

Hogarth's unflattering portrait of Fielding
By 1752 failing health and premature middle age forced Fielding to resign his position as magistrate and retire to Ealing where the gout and dropsy undermined his constitution so badly that by the summer of 1754 newspapers were reporting his death and then having to print hasty retractions; the Derby Mercury of the 21st June for example “we have the Pleasure to assure the Publick, that the Report of the Death of Henry Fielding, Esq; inserted in an Evening Paper of Thursday, is not true, that Gentleman's Health being  better than it has been for some Months past.”  Fielding was not put out by rumours of his demise; he was in such a poor physical state that he himself commented that “my face contained marks of a most diseased state, if not of death itself. Indeed, so ghastly was my countenance that timorous women with child had abstained from my house, for fear of the ill consequences of looking at me.” Knowing that if he did nothing the rumours could well become true he decided to leave Ealing and move south to a sunnier climate. He originally hankered after Aix-en-Provence but as gout had left him unable to walk and made carriage rides agony he cast around for someone reachable by ship and settled on Lisbon.

On the 3rd August the Oxford Journal reported that “a few Days since Henry Fielding, Esq; and his Family embark'd for Lisbon, in order to use the Baths for the Recovery of his Health; and not for the South of France, as mentioned in some of the Papers.”  Fielding had been trying to leave for Lisbon since June 26, the day he left Ealing on an excruciating two hour coach ride to join his ship, The Queen of Portugal, at Redriffe (Rotherhithe). On his own admission he “presented a spectacle of the highest horror. The total loss of limbs was apparent to all who saw me, and my face contained marks of a most diseased state, if not of death itself….. In this condition I ran the gauntlet (so I think I may justly call it) through rows of sailors and watermen, few of whom failed of paying their compliments to me by all manner of insults and jests on my misery.” For the five or six weeks Captain Richard Veale piloted his ship at an agonisingly slow pace down the Thames, into the estuary and then round the south coast, always hugging the coastline and waiting for a decent breeze to fill his sails. Fielding passed his time writing a diary that was published posthumously as ‘The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon.’ Fielding may have been dying but he did his best to keep up his spirits and produce the sort of good humoured, rollicking prose in which he had written Tom Jones.  He failed. Unsurprisingly he struggled to make light of incidents such as having to call a doctor to drain his stomach of ten quarts of dropsical fluid. 

Fielding portrays Captain Veale as something of a martinet, a man very prone to standing upon his dignity. Not brutal, as many ships officers were in those days, but certainly unyielding and a little harsh except when it came to the ship’s cats. The dying Fielding wasn’t without a certain degree of sympathy himself when a kitten fell overboard:

A most tragical incident fell out this day at sea. While the ship was under sail, but making as will appear no great way, a kitten, one of four of the feline inhabitants of the cabin, fell from the window into the water: an alarm was immediately given to the captain, who was then upon deck, and received it with the utmost concern and many bitter oaths. He immediately gave orders to the steersman in favour of the poor thing, as he called it; the sails were instantly slackened, and all hands, as the phrase is, employed to recover the poor animal. I was, I own, extremely surprised at all this; less indeed at the captain's extreme tenderness than at his conceiving any possibility of success; for if puss had had nine thousand instead of nine lives, I concluded they had been all lost. The boatswain, however, had more sanguine hopes, for, having stripped himself of his jacket, breeches, and shirt, he leaped boldly into the water, and to my great astonishment in a few minutes returned to the ship, bearing the motionless animal in his mouth. Nor was this, I observed, a matter of such great difficulty as it appeared to my ignorance, and possibly may seem to that of my fresh-water reader. The kitten was now exposed to air and sun on the deck, where its life, of which it retained no symptoms, was despaired of by all.

But the cat lived, for the moment, “to the great joy of the good captain, but to the great disappointment of some of the sailors, who asserted that the drowning of a cat was the very surest way of raising a favourable wind.” Having survived a dunk in the ocean the cat that “could not be drowned was found suffocated under a feather-bed in the cabin. I will not endeavor to describe [Captain Veale’s] lamentations … than barely by saying they were grievous, and seemed to have some mixture of the Irish howl in them.”

Lisbon cats proving cemeteries are much safer places than ships for the average feline
The Queen of Portugal finally docked at Lisbon at the beginning of August 1754.  Approaching Lisbon on the river Tagus Fielding thought that it looked “very beautiful at a distance”; but was quickly disillusioned “as you approach nearer… all idea of beauty vanishes at once.” Soon he was calling it the “nastiest city in the world”. The blistering heat of August did nothing to mend the writers ailing constitution, just the opposite in fact, he was soon feeling worse than ever. Within two months he was dead, though the contrary British press, once keen to record his premature demise, perversely reported him as returning to full health under the Portuguese sun. On the 22nd October the Leeds Intelligencer (now there is an oxymoron for you) told it’s readers that “Letters by the last Mail from Lisbon advise, that Henry Fielding, Esq; is surprisingly recovered since his Arrival in that Climate. His Gout has entirely left him, and his Appetite returned.” He had actually died on the 8th of October and had been interred in the only possible burial ground for a protestant foreigner, the English Cemetery. His death left his wife penniless and she returned to England without arranging for a headstone or any other grave marker for the great author.

If Mary Daniel did not make arrangements for a headstone perhaps someone else did. Early accounts of the grave are conflicting as to whether there was a marker or not. In 1772 Richard Twist visited the cemetery and wrote that “the great author of Tom Jones (...) is here interred without even a stone to indicate that here lies Henry Fielding”, while Nathaniel Wraxall in the same year claimed to have found a headstone “nearly concealed by weeds and nettles”.  Twist also pointed out that the unmarked state of the grave was a national scandal as foreigners could not believe that “this [is] how the British honour their best and brightest” while the monied but otherwise undistinguished Portugal traders  filled the cemetery with “marble monuments with long, pompous, flattering inscriptions” to themselves and their wives.  Some of Fielding’s foreign admirers even proposed taking action themselves; the French consul  Chevalier de Meyrionne started one scheme in 1776 but was recalled to France before it could be completed and Dom Joâo de Braganza, the uncle of the Portuguese Queen and founder of the Lisbon Academy, tried to raise a monument with a learned Latin epitaph by the Abbé Correa de Serra but had to abandon the plan in the face of opposition from the catholic clergy.  It was the British Chaplin, the Reverend Christopher Neville who in 1830 finally raised the necessary cash from Fielding’s admirers to raise the large, but rather uninspiringly designed, monument that now stands over his burial place (or perhaps stands over his burial place; Wordsworth’s daughter Dora Quillien wrote in 1846 that “the exact spot where Fielding was buried (…) is not known. His monument (…) is on a spot selected by guess. The bones it covers may possibly have belonged to an idiot.”)  The massive chest tomb surmounted by an urn is very typical of the early 19th century and is not even enlivened with a portrait though there is an interminable Latin epitaph which starts ‘‘Henrici Fielding a Somersetensibus apud Glastoniam oriundi’. By the 1880’s newspapers were reporting that the tomb was being neglected by the guardians of the cemetery. The following report from the Pall Mall Gazette was reprinted verbatim in many provincial newspapers:

THE TOMB OF FIELDING. It appears that the English cemetery Lisbon is in a state of disgraceful neglect. Here, as everyone knows, Henry Fielding is buried, and here, as everyone does not know, cartloads of the bones of British soldiers collected from the battlefields of the Peninsular War, were deposited after 1810. The tomb Fielding, so a recent visitor writes to the Times, is entirely overgrown, and even the inscription is in places obliterated. This is certainly not as it should be, and if the English residents in Lisbon have not sufficient patriotic piety to tend Fielding's tomb, it devolves on literary England to see that it be rescued from its present state of neglect. Might not Mr Robert Buchanan at once advertise "Sophia" and express his gratitude towards Fielding by trimming and whitewashing his monument as he has trimmed and whitewashed "Tom Jones?" It would be a graceful act of expiation.  ( 01 December 1886, Dundee Evening Telegraph)

From an articles in THe Sphere, 1907

Eighteen months later the Illustrated London News was disputing these stories and claiming that the tomb was still the scene of veneration for the famous author:

MARCH 17, 1888 THE PLAYHOUSES A few months ago there was a discussion about the condition Henry Fielding's grave in the Protestant cemetery at Lisbon. Some officious person wrote to the papers that it was shamefully neglected; but it all turned out to be ridiculously untrue,' for the grave is of solid stone— perennius —and it is surrounded flowering shrubs and mournful cypresses, and the English ladies who visit Lisbon never fail to scatter roses on the solid sarcophagus containing all that is left of the author of “Tom Jones” and Joseph Andrews." Illustrated London News - Saturday 17 March 1888

Certainly no one can complain these days, the cemetery in general and Fielding’s tomb in particular are immaculately kept. Make sure you visit if you are ever in Lisbon. 

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The King of Little Italy: Luigi Fraulo (1857-1914), St Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green

British imperial servants serving in the distant scattered territories of the empire must have been avid for even the most trivial scraps of gossip about life back in London. News that merited only cursory mention or at most a few lines in the British newspapers might find itself extensively reported in the Straits Times of Singapore or the Hawera & Normanby Star of New Zealand.  The death of Luigi Fraulo, honorifically either King of Clerkenwell’s Little Italy or the King of Ice Cream, depending on which newspaper you read, was an example of the sort of story which seemed to interest the consumers of news in the provinces or the colonies more than your genuine jaded Londoner.  The capital’s newspapers confined to a one line notice of his death and a brief paragraph on his interment, noting that the “funeral took place this afternoon of Luigi Fraulo, the Italian ice-cream king. The cortege passed along Oxford-street, and the hearse was entirely covered with flowers. Between forty and fifty carriages followed containing compatriots of the deceased.” The Straits Times on the other hand published what amounted to a full obituary. 

 According to the Straits Times Luigi was from Ravello in southern Italy and was 21 when he emigrated to London. He arrived in Clerkenwell with a single £10 note (the proceeds of selling his Italian wine business) and died at the age of 57 leaving an estate valued at over £15,000. His £10 note was used to hire himself a barrow and set himself up as an ice cream man. He was a good salesman and his carefully husbanded profits were enough to eventually allow him to launch a new business as a supplier of raw materials to the ice cream producers. Opportunities to expand were limited however by an expensive crucial ingredient – ice. In those pre-refrigeration days ice had to be imported from Scandinavia and the ice business was controlled by a cartel of ice merchants who kept supplies limited and prices high. Luigi had enough capital to risk chartering a ship and importing ice on his own account. Initially his customers were his compatriots in the gelato business but as he seriously undercut his competitor’s prices he soon found himself importing vast quantities of ice from Norway and supplying the hotel and club trade. He became wealthy and influential and, according to the Straits Times, something of a padrone to the London Italian community: “a good number of the tradesmen in ‘Little Italy’ owed their start in business to him. Every compatriot in trouble or difficulty appealed to him and never in vain. He was always ready with sound advice and practical aid. He acted as arbitrator in family and business disputes, he transacted the legal business of ‘Little Italy,’ he helped everyone, and the neighbourhood is nearly inconsolable in its loss.”

If the Straits Times is correct and he was 21 when he emigrated then he arrived in England around 1878. He appears in the 1881 census living at 28 Eyre Street Hill in the household of Panteleone Manzi, general merchant, along with his brother Salvatore. By the time of the 1891 census, when he was 33, he was head of household and recently married to Annie, who was 10 years younger than him, and they already had their first child Salvatore. Luigi’s mother Eugene was living with them along with Salvatore and a couple of cousins who helped out in the business. The family were living at 8 Eyre Street Hill, the Clerkenwell Street that is a continuation of Leather Lane on the far side of the Clerkenwell Road; Luigi was still living here when he died in 1914. Luigi went on to have 9 children; Salvatore, Alfonso, Luigi, Maria, Pantaleoni, Anna, Rosario, Margherita and Giuseppina. Luigi’s brother Salvatore seems to have been his constant companion, never married and always lived with him at Eyre Street Hill.

Ice cream vendor in Italian village costume
The image of Salvatore as a respectable father and family man is slightly tarnished when you look at the way he is reflected in the stories published in the London newspapers during his lifetime. In August 1887 the Islington Gazette, under the headline ‘ITALIANS IN DISPUTE’ reported that the 31 year old Luigi found himself in Clerkenwell County Court being sued for £8 8s by one Eugenie Borro of Fleet Row , Eyre Street Hill. Borro was an employee of Luigi’s who claimed he was owed the money as back pay. He claimed to have left his employment in Luigi’s business and gone to Paris but had come back at his boss’s request and under the inducement of an increase in his wages to £1 10s a week.  Luigi denied begging Borro to come back to his old job or offering him an increase in wages. He told Judge Eddis that in fact he taken him on again out of compassion and had been forced to sack him when he refused to do his work. The Judge awarded £4 to Borro, reflecting his old rate of pay, but deducting 12 shillings that Luigi had lent him. In  February 1892 Luigi found himself in the dock for a crime assured to outrage English sensibilities – maltreatment of a horse. The Islington Gazette once again:

A VETERINARIAN SEVERELY CENSURED. At the Guildhail Police Court, Baseliga Amonda, 31, Eyre Street Hill, Clerkenwell, carman, was charged with cruelly working horse while lame. —Luigi Fraulo, provision merchant, of the same address, was brought up for causing the horse to be so worked —Mr. Savournin, veterinary surgeon, stated that the sores on the animal were very bad, and had not been attended to. —Mr. J. Baxter, M.R.C.V.S., was called for the defence, and stated that the horse was fit to work in its present condition.—Alderman Renals: I know something about horses; but I never hear d such a statement from a veterinary surgeon. I shall fine you, Amonda, 40s for taking the horse out, and the owner £5 and costs, or a month, and if comes here again will assuredly go to prison. I wish to say that, as long as I sit on this bench, I hope I shall not hear such evidence as one veterinary surgeon has given. It is a disgrace to the profession.

In January 1894 21 year Giovanni Agabba appeared at the Old Bailey accused of feloniously wounding Brassi Lutschia with intent to do him grievous bodily harm. Luigi, who wasn’t even called as a witness, was mentioned frequently during the trial. Agabba was accused of slashing Lutschia across the arm with a razor during a quarrel involving up to 15 drunk people outside Mr Prole’s shop on Eyre Street Hill. Almost all of the Italian witnesses, and the defendant, had to have their evidence interpreted for the court.  Many of the witnesses said Lutschia was a ’bad character’  and seemed to sympathetic to the young razor wielding hooligan on trial. Lutschia, who was an ice cream vendor, had a hard time in the witness box despite being the injured party.  Although the questions he was responding to are not given in the official record of the trial it is quite clear from Lutschia’s answers what the defending barrister was trying to imply about his character and his relationship with Luigi: “I do not carry a knife or a razor—the razor which the prisoner used was not taken out of my pocket—I have never been accused of stabbing a man—I have got no money, and never paid any to settle out of Court three charges of stabbing—my friends have only paid money for me once when I was accused of stabbing, and I was charged innocently—I was bound over to keep the peace for six months—Fraulo, who was with me before it began, has not paid money to prevent my being prosecuted—he is at his house now—it is not true that the prisoner's brother and I were quarrelling and fighting with knives.” Sadly Luigi did not appear as a witness. Agabba was found guilty by the jury but with a recommendation for mercy to the judge. He was given three months hard labour.

Luigi was back in court in May 1901 but this time he was the plaintiff. The Islington Gazette, loudly proclaiming ITALIANS SEEK LITIGATION, reported that he was suing Thomas Falco, a boot maker of Clerkenwell Close, for £23 9s owed for rent and provisions supplied since 1891. Falco counterclaimed for £34 saying that Luigi owed him 30 shillings a week for 6 years for repairing horse harnesses. Falco called a large number of witnesses (all of whom required interpreters) to back his story. Luigi called one William Downs, a saddler and harness maker, (and who presumably did not require an interpreter to give his evidence) to testify that he had been carrying out harness repairs on behalf of the plaintiff since 1890. The judge was not impressed  by Falco’s witnesses and found for Luigi, ordering Falco to pay £1 a month until the dent was cleared. 

Harvesting ice for the frost trade
Luigi’s final brush with the law came in February 1909 and was reported in the Evening Standard. Bedesta Toguolini boot and shoe maker of Mount Pleasant, Clerkenwell sued Luigi for £50 damages for alleged breach of covenant for quiet enjoyment of his rented premises. The paper explained that:

Mrs. Tuguolini and her husband were formerly tenants of a house in Mount  Pleasant, of which the defendant was the landlord. When the premises adjoining were let as a club they could never get any sleep Saturday and Sunday nights. Piano playing and dancing went on till six o’clock in the morning. Gambling was also carried on there and the witness spoke to other causes of complaint. Screams of ‘murder’ were sometimes to be heard, and on one occasion after a row the witness picked  up the razor produced.  Another witness said that on Sunday afternoons the people attending the club used to amuse themselves in the yard. It seemed to be an over flow meeting (laughter). The dancing was downstairs and the upstairs room was Monte Carlo. A police-sergeant’s evidence showed that there was a considerable amount of drunkenness amongst the girls frequenting the club as well as among the men.

Luigi denied that any ‘disgraceful behaviour’ went on at the club but the judge was having none of it. Neither was he having any nonsense about a £50 claim for damages – he awarded the plaintiff £15 from which he deducted Luigi’s £10 counter claim for rent arrears. The Tuguolini’s probably didn’t blow their £5 compensation down at the Italian social club. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

To the crow, the spoils; to the maggot the fat pickings

Taken in Valentines Park in Ilford, a short distance from where the fox skull was dug up.  The skull was dirty but had all its teeth when we found it but unfortunately for some reason once it was washed virtually all the teeth fell out.  
I was walking the dog in Valentines Park in Ilford on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, downy clouds raced across a bright blue sky and the park was full of people.  I saw a starling fledging launch itself from the plane trees, on what was quite possibly its first flight, and plunge clumsily into the tennis court, crash landing on the tarmac, apparently without hurting itself. It was about to take off again when a circling crow suddenly swooped out of nowhere and grabbed it in its beak. Before the crow could make a clean getaway with his prey he found himself being dive bombed by two frantic starling parents. Momentarily distracted the crow let go of the young bird and it struggled free, taking another heavy bump onto the tarmac. Screeching with terror the fledgling’s powers of flight suddenly improved and it took off like an arrow, unfortunately straight into the wire mesh netting of the tennis court. It crawled under the netting, just as the crow returned and was about to grab him for a second time. If he thought he had escaped he was wrong, he took off for the trees but was intercepted in mid air by the crow, who sailed gracefully onto a patch of grass before calmly trying to beat the fledgling’s brains out on the ground. The starling parents continued to frantically swoop and dive over the crow as he battered their child to death but he paid them no attention now. When I chased him off he cawed in angry frustration after perching in a nearby tree and watched me attentively with greedy eyes. I picked the fledgling up, it was warm and almost weightless in my hand but still alive. Its beak was wide open and it was breathing heavily but it couldn’t move, its neck had been broken. I put it back down on the ground and as soon as I walked away the crow came back to finish the job he had started.  It took him less than a minute to butcher and devour the fledgling, consuming every scrap of flesh and bone but leaving the feathers neatly scattered in a circle. Within a hundred yards, men played football, children gleefully played on the swings and people strolled the paths, all oblivious to the drama of life and death that had just taken place. 

I took this picture of a dead dog fox laying by the side of the road a few streets away from us. Apart from its fur being matted after a night out in the rain it looked in good condition and there were no visible signs of injury. It must have been side swiped by a car and then crawled to the side of the road to die. The Council street cleansing depot is a hundred yards away but the bin men drove past this for three or four days before someone finally bowed to the inevitable and removed the corpse. Urban foxes thrive in this area, mainly by raiding my dustbin as far as I can see. I like to see them but a lot of people regard them as pests because they rip open plastic bin bags looking for meals, crap on people’s driveways and dig out pointless burrows in gardens. They also make quite a racket, particularly during the mating season when randy vixens screech, squall and cry until a dog fox gives in and inseminates them. Sometimes hidden in the undergrowth in the park the dog comes across dead foxes in various stages of decomposition.  No one removes them and they decay quickly, insect scavengers and bacteria competing to gorge on the rotting flesh. Even the bones disappear within two or three weeks leaving just the inedible fur.  

This is a dead rabbit in the churchyard at East Horndon.  From a distance the rabbit looked like it had only recently died. Closer up it was mass of maggots. I had often wondered why dead rabbits and hares are frequently found with no eyes, as though someone had neatly removed them. Seeing this I realised that the answer is that flies lay eggs on the still moist eyes and the hatching maggots eat them. If an animal has died of natural causes and there is no other way into the corpse the eyes probably become the easiest route. Mouth and anus are small and probably clutched shut by rigor mortis and the skin is tough and dry and not an obvious place for a fly to lay its eggs.  The sockets were a seething mass of wriggling maggots and no doubt they were starting to chomp their way into the rest of the body cavity.

I don’t find mice repugnant the way many people do but, sadly, I realise that you can’t allow them to have the freedom of your house. If they move in you have to move them out. Being stubborn animals who are reluctant to leave that generally means having to kill them. I don’t like poisons because they crawl away and die in agony in nooks and crannies where you can’t get at the corpses and who wants a house that stinks of dead mice? I find glue traps are very effective at catching them but, unless you are cruel and throw them in the bin still alive, you have to kill them. This photo was taken while the mouse was still alive. Once I had my shot I bashed his head in with a half house brick I keep for mouse killing. Someone I used to work with told me that her dad owned a dry cleaners in Canning Town when she was a kid. He used glue traps for mice and was also reluctant to throw them in the bin alive. So he would careful fold them the traps and then call his kids in and make them dance a jig on them.  

I was on the outskirts of Epping Forest in the grounds of Copped Hall when I came across this. A deer had been trying to leap a barbed wire fence and managed to get one of its hind legs entangled. Efforts to disentangle itself seem to have resulted in it twisting the wires together into a lethal knot. The deer either fatally injured itself in its attempts get free, died of exposure in the cold before Christmas or starved to death when it had eaten all the grass within range. The carcass was fairly whole but there seemed to be little inside the body cavity, something seems to have eaten it. Foxes? I find dead animals much easier to take photos of than live ones, immobility being a big help in setting up a shot.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Quite Decent, Mr Kozderka - the astonishing life of Ivan Blatný (1919-1990)

In the observation ward of Claybury Hospital
  I read the Coming of the Bill.                          
Ivan Blatný - Nastoupit v rad

A portrait of Blatny taken at Ipswich in the late 1980's by Jerry Bauer

The 35 year old Ivan Blatný was admitted as a long term patient in 1954to Claybury Asylum in Woodford Bridge. The prematurely middle-aged Czech with the strong mittel-European accent was in poor physical as well as mental health.  He was thin, frail and undernourished, had a serious chest infection and was limping from an untreated ingrown toenail. The psychiatrist who admitted him noted that the poet had been brought into the hospital by friends on whose floor he had been sleeping for the past few months. He had been making a precarious living for two or three years working for the BBC World Service and Radio Free Europe and publishing a few verses in an anthology of poets in exile. His homesickness and natural timidity kept him isolated and he only mixed in the émigré community. As a result of this and despite a natural facility for languages (he knew Esperanto, German, Italian and Spanish as well as Czech) after six years in England his spoken English still wasn’t fluent. It wasn’t his first stay in a mental hospital – the doctor would have seen from his records that he had been originally admitted to Friern-Barnet in 1948 and transferred later that same year to Claybury. When the door of the ward closed behind him it was to be for the last time, Ivan Blatný was never to live outside an institution again. He spent the next 36 years living at Claybury and other hospitals in Essex and East Anglia.         
The three year Ivan Blatny

Ivan was born in Brno in 1919 and came from an artistic background. He was precociously intellectual and by the age of 9 he was entering into literary contests and was learning Esperanto and German and travelling across Europe with his parents. In 1930, when he was eleven, his father became ill with a pulmonary infection that was eventually diagnosed as tuberculosis and died shortly afterwards. The family were left in straitened circumstances but coped until three years later when Ivan’s mother contacted hepatitis and also died. The devastated Ivan moved in with his maternal grandparents and poured out his feelings in verse. He later attended the Faculty of Arts at Masaryk University reading Czech and German, for a few months in 1939 before the Nazi Reich Protectorate closed down all places of higher learning.  With nothing better to do Ivan took over his grandfather’s opticians business in the centre of Brno. For the next 6 years he devoted himself to myopia, astigmatism and poetry. He contributed regularly to magazines and published works written in collaboration with the Bohemian Jewish poet Jirí Orten as well as three collections of his own poems. Jirí Orten was Ivan’s best friend but on his 22 birthday, the 30th August 1941, he left his apartment in Prague to buy cigarettes and was knocked down by a German ambulance.  He was refused admission to the first hospital he was taken too because he was Jewish and died two days later. The stress of living under Nazism led to Ivan’s first breakdown for which he was hospitalised briefly. In 1946 Ivan joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.
Claybury Hospital, Woodford Bridge

In March 1948 the poet had a stroke of luck when he was offered a place on a three man cultural delegation from the Czech Writer’s Syndicate to London. He defected the moment he arrived in the UK, resigning his membership in the Communist Party and his place in the Writer’s Syndicate and sending his membership papers back to the respective organisations in the post. On the day after his arrival he turned a talk he was scheduled to give on the Czech service of BBC radio into a denunciation of the Communist authorities.  The Czech authorities were furious and reacted by declaring him a traitor, banning his work and confiscating his property in Brno.
Blatny in Brno as a young man

Within a few months of his defection the stress of living as a refugee and the virulence of the Czech authorities reaction led to another breakdown.   For the next six years he was in and out of hospital; during periods of remission he worked sporadically as an External co-worker for the BBC World Service and Radio Free Europe, learnt Spanish and Italian and continued to write poetry. But by 1954 when he was admitted to Claybury for the last time his illness conspired to rob him of his poetic gift. He fell into a 15 year silence that was to last until the late sixties. The young writer seemed to be totally forgotten, his work banned in his homeland where many believed him to be dead anyway, doubly locked away from the world, inside a profoundly disruptive mental illness and inside the asylum, terrified of KGB spies amongst his friends and acquaintances in the émigré community. His isolation seemed complete. But at least one group of people still remembered him and still took a keen interest in is welfare. When the archives of the Czech state security services were opened following the velvet revolution there was a substantial file on Blatný (codename NEWT) which included a top secret plan to bring him back to Czechoslovakia. A Major Kolarik was to visit Blatný at Claybury and try to entice him home. The visit was not a success; Major Kolarick informed the Security Services that the poet was "in fact insane".

Following this visit even the Czech State Security Services lost interest in him. For the next eleven years Blatný lived quietly at Claybury with no contact with the outside world. In February 1969 he received his first visitor from Czechoslovakia since Major Kolarik. His cousin, Dr. Jan Šmarda had succeeded in tracing him and visited him in secret. In June he received another visitor from his hometown, a high school teacher, Vladimír Bařina. Bařina was an admirer of Blatný’s work who brought news from Brno, greetings from some of his old friends and poems from Klement Bochořák. The visit and the interest shown in his poetry seems to have stimulated him to start writing again.

Over the next eight years he wrote continuously, both in Czech and English and guarded his manuscript’s jealously in a cardboard box. The hospital staff still regarded his work as the scribblings of a lunatic and threw them away if they were given the opportunity. This work would no doubt have all been lost in time if Blatný had not been transferred in January 1977 to St Clement’s Hospital in Ipswich. A nurse working at the hospital, Frances Meacham, visited Brno later that year to stay with a friend who had served with her in the RAF medical corps during the Second World War.  During her visit she met, by complete coincidence, Vladimír Bařina who also introduced her to Jan Šmarda. The pair begged her to take care of Blatný and to keep them informed of how the poet was. With this began an extraordinary collaboration between the nurse and the patient that lasted until Blatný’s death in 1990.

Frances Meacham encouraged Blatný to put together a collection of his writings and she sent these to the famous Czech novelist Josef Skvorecky in Toronto. In 1979 these were published as Stara Bydliste (Former Homes) by the Skvorecky’s famous émigré publishing house 68. This was his first book for 32 years.  Its success encouraged Ivan to put together another book almost immediately which was published as samizdat in Czechslovakia in 1982 and then again by the Skvorecky’s in 1987. Pomocná s˘kola Bixley, Bixley Special School, was Blatný’s most unusual work, written almost as much in English as in Czech with the odd dash of German, French and Esperanto.
Blatny with Frances Meacham, 1980's

Blatný published no more after Pomocná s˘kola Bixley. In 1990 Vaclav Havel paid his first official visit to the UK. Frances Meacham presented him with a letter from Blatný offering him his congratulations and informing him that he will remain in Britain. Five months later he became seriously ill with emphysema and on the 5th August he died in Colchester General Hospital.  Later that day the Czechoslovak ambassador announced that Blatný was considered to be a Czechoslovak citizen at the time of his death. Following the cremation of his body his ashes were flown back to Brno and, in an official ceremony, they were placed alongside his father’s in the Central Cemetery. Father and son rested side by side for the first time in 60 years.    

On the 28th October 1997 Vaclav Havel announced that the Za zasluhy medal for merit would be awarded to Ivan Blatný in memoriam, “for outstanding artistic work.”

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Victory over Blindness - the funeral of Sir Arthur Pearson, 13 December 1921, Hampstead Cemetery

The choristers from the Royal Normal School for the Blind at Sir Arthur's graveside
Sir Arthur Pearson died on Thursday 9 December 1921 and was buried the following Tuesday, 13 December. Despite the speed of his interment his funeral was attended by over 1500 people, around a thousand of whom were blind and came from all over the country. 200 Guardsman volunteered to act as guides, collecting blind mourners from all the main London stations and accompanying them to the funeral in Hampstead. According to The Illustrated London News of 17 December “preceding the coffin was a Boy Scout bearing a floral Union Jack on a staff topped by a dove and the letters V.O.B – the initials of Sir Arthur’s slogan: ‘Victory Over Blindness’” One of the officiating clergyman was blind and choristers from the Royal Normal School for the Blind sang at the graveside. The ILN article features a series of fascinating photographs of this most unusual funeral. Interestingly Blind Veterans UK, which Sir Arthur founded in 1915 as the Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Care Committee, continues to hold an annual ceremony in his honour at Hampstead Cemetery.

A Guardsman leads a group of blind mourners through Hampstead Cemetery
Arthur Pearson was born in Wookey, Somerset in 1866 where his father was curate. He was educated at Winchester College and after leaving school became a journalist on Tit-bits magazine. Although he always kept his hand in at journalism and writing, (going on to produce such classics as ‘Handwriting as an Index to Character’ under the pseudonym Professor P R S Foli) he became most successful as a publisher, opening a publishing firm in 1890, branching out into periodicals and newspapers and creating the Daily Express in 1900. Among his publishing highlights was ‘Scouting For Boys’, written by his friend Lord Baden Powell. The Daily Express was an innovative publication, printing news rather than advertisements on its front page, being the first newspaper to carry a regular crossword puzzle and featuring gossip, sports and women’s features. One of the first features in the paper was the explorer Hesketh Hesketh-Pritchard’s series of reports on the uncharted interior of Haiti where English readers heard for the first time an account of voodoo. The series was so popular that as soon as Hesketh Hesketh-Pritchard returned from the Caribbean Pearson sent him off again on an expedition to track down the giant ground sloth of Patagonia (he arrived 10,000 years too late, which in geological time scales is like arriving on the platform to see the train pulling out, as Bruce Chatwin would have known, being the owner of a mysterious swag of ground sloth pelt which is made much of in the opening pages of ‘In Patagonia.’)

Sir Arthur's coffin on its way to the graveside
In the 1900’s Person began to suffer with glaucoma. Despite undergoing an operation in 1908 he eventually lost his sight completely, his son telling the inquest into his death that his “sight began to fail in 1913. It came on gradually, not suddenly, and from 1914 he had been unable to distinguish light or darkness.” He remained an active and independent individual despite his disability and as he gradually relinquished his business interests threw himself into philanthropy instead becoming president of the National Institution for the Blind in 1914 and founding the Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Care Committee in 1915. He died on Friday 09 December 1921 at home 15 Devonshire Street, Marylebone, after slipping in his morning bath, gashing open his head and drowning.  The inquest was held by the West London Coroner H. R. Oswald the next day and reported in detail in many newspapers in their evening editions, including the Yorkshire Evening Post of Saturday 10 December. The main witness was Sir Neville Pearson, the dead man’s son. He told the coroner that “he last saw his father alive on Thursday night about 11 o'clock, and he was then in good health and spirits. He had followed his usual occupation during the day, and had been to the theatre in the evening. Physically, his father was a strong and well built man. It was his custom to take a bath every morning in his dressing-room.”  The account continues:

The principal mourners, Lady Pearson and the deceased's son Sir Neville Pearson
Portrait of Sir Arthur
TRAGEDY DISCOVERED. On Friday morning, about a quarter nine, Sir Arthur's secretary, Miss Campbell, told witness she had found him lying face downwards in a bath of water. As Sir Arthur had not come down to breakfast at half-past eight, Miss Campbell had gone to discover the reason for his non-appearance. Witness went up and saw his father in the bath. Sir Arthur s head was thrust down between the shoulders, and the water was bloodstained. His head was completely submerged. There were bloodstains on the nozzle of the tap. Only the previous day Sir Arthur mentioned that had once before slipped in his bath. If he slipped and fell forward in the bath his head would strike against the nozzle. Witness presumed that his father had been in the position in which he was found for about half an hour. Naomi Alice Glennie, head parlourmaid at 15 Devonshire Street, said she called Arthur at half-past seven on Friday morning, and took him a cup of tea. He seemed exactly the same as he always was, and inquired about the weather as usual. Sir Arthur always prepared his own bath.

Miss Amy Campbell, the secretary, said Sir Arthur was always very independent and did not let people help him. He preferred to do things for himself.  Sir Milson Rees, medical practitioner, said he was called by telephone and found Sir Arthur in the bath face downwards, with his head submerged. Death had taken place quite recently. There was a wound of about an inch in length between the temple and the forehead on the right side. It was exactly such a wound as would have been caused  by falling against the nozzle of a tap. It was obvious that Sir Arthur slipped in the bath and in falling struck his head. A man with sight could have recovered himself. He was evidently stunned.

The Coroner said enamel baths were slippery and such accidental falls were often heard.

A general view of the funeral showing the size of the crowd

The article in the Illustrated London News

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The final resting place of the great and the good; Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green Road, NW6

"Ever hear about the aviation pioneer kidnapped (and then worshipped) by cannibals?" Me neither but on the 24 June I will find out because I have booked myself onto the Cemetery Club’s tour of Hampstead Cemetery. I don’t normally go in for guided tours, particularly of cemeteries, as one of the things I most value about them is the chance to get away from the rest of humanity (the living ones at least) and experience a bit of solitude. I am going to make an exception though because I recently saw Cemetery Club founder Sheldon Goodman speak at an event at the University of Greenwich and he was very good.  To get myself in the mood I had a look through the photos I took on my one and only visit to Hampstead on a dull and miserable mid December day back in 2013 to see if I had managed to take anything worth posting.

Hampstead is a 26 acre, late Victorian cemetery, consecrated by the Bishop of London in November 1876, and now run by Islington and Camden Cemetery Services. The Hampstead Burial Board acquired the original 20 acres occupied by the cemetery in 1874 for £7000 when it became clear that the churchyard of St James was almost full and would soon run out of space. The site was surveyed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette and then laid out and planted for £2500 and a further £4843 spent on the building of the lodge, chapels, railings and gate piers. 30 gardeners were originally employed to keep the cemetery looking its best. Despite a further 5 acres of land being acquired in 1901, 60,000 people are interred here and the cemetery is full and no longer open for new burials. The catchment area for the cemetery has always been reasonably affluent and as a consequence there are some very interesting memorials and a relatively high number of notable burials. The Bianchi memorial is the jewel in the crown but the Barritt organ is also justly famous and the Fletcher memorial at the back of the chapels is quite spectacular. Notable burials include Kate Greenaway the illustrator, Henry Irving the actor, Joseph Lister the pioneer of antiseptic surgery and Marie Lloyd the music hall star.

The cemetery chapels with porte-cochère
Looking through the newspaper archives to see if there were any interesting stories about the cemetery and  there were the usual crop of suicides, sudden deaths and grave robbings but also, in the Ballymena Observer of Friday 09 May 1913, an ‘exciting incident’ (according to the paper) at the cemetery gates when a bulldog attacked one of the horses drawing a hearse. As the funeral procession was about to turn into the cemetery the dog leapt at the horse “and seizing it by the leg brought it heavily to the ground. In its struggles to free itself the horse pulled down its fellow, and for some time the confusion was such that all efforts to get the bulldog were unavailing. A young woman to whom the latter belonged eventually managed to grip its collar, but it was only after the animal had been stunned with a heavy piece of wood that his jaws could be prized apart and the horse released.” The horse was badly injured and no doubt the bulldog nursed a headache for a day or two after being walloped with a log.  

The wonderful Bianchi memorial
Cemeteries are a favoured spot for suicides and Hampstead is no exception.  The cemetery was less than a decade old when it had its first suicide. The Globe of 19 February 1884 reported on the inquest held at the Reading Room of the Hampstead Workhouse into the death of Alfred Pierpoint Chambers, 89 years old of Clapham Road. His body had been found on the previous Thursday morning by one of the grave diggers on the grave of his wife; the jury heard evidence that he had been seriously affected by her death. The post mortem revealed that Alfred’s quick, but undoubtedly painful, death was the result of taking Potassium Cyanide. The jury’s verdict was suicide whilst of unsound mind. Alfred was buried with his wife.  The following year another inquest was held at the workhouse on another cemetery suicide. The deceased was a 39 year old, Henry Butterworth, a chemist on Tottenham Court Road. Henry had left for work on the Thursday morning but then his wife received a telegram from him saying that he had gone to Hampstead “to see our Fred”, this being the name of their only child who had died three or four years before. Worried about his state of mind – he had been low in recent months and was drinking rather more than was good for him – Mrs Butterworth contacted the Police. Later that afternoon a policeman called at the house to break the melancholy news that her husband had been found dead on the grave of their child. The post mortem revealed that Henry had taken a fatal dose of Prussic Acid, another form of cyanide. Verdict – committed suicide whilst of unsound mind.

Isabel White Wallis, wife of Edward White Wallis who was for 48 years the secretary of the Royal Sanitary Institute
And then in December 1892 yet another inquest looked into the death of Edward Cornelius Scanes, a tinplate worker of 77 North Street, Marylebone. His son told the jury that “owing to his wife's health and mind not being very good his father had been upset of late, and it had been noticed that he was low and desponding. He had on several occasions disappeared for some days. On Monday he went away, and on Wednesday witness heard his father had been found dead on a grave at Hampstead Cemetery.” Robert Dickens, a labourer, testified that he had been walking through the cemetery when he saw Edward lying across a grave and “on going to him found that he was dead, and noticed that he had shot himself in the chest, while a revolver was lying near his right side.” The police constable who had been summoned to the scene found three letters near the grave; the coroner read one of them out to the court ''From dad — Good-bye, Will. Good-bye, wife. Dear mother, good-bye. My watch is for my son. Please, wife, not to follow my body to the grave. Good- bye. My poor head is very bad." The jury returned a verdict of temporary insanity.  (Morning Post - Saturday 24 December 1892).

Death in the cemetery was not just the result of suicide. 60 year old Margaret Alice Forbes of Palace Garden Terrace, Kensington collapsed whilst visiting her father’s grave in May 1934 and died before she could be taken to hospital. In 1901 61 year old Robert McLean, a “tall, stalwart man” who was a constable of the Metropolitan Police and had been a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary  was employed by the cemetery on Saturdays  “for the preservation of order and the protection the graves.”  He was found dead by colleagues after suffering an apoplectic seizure.  Another cemetery employee, 54 year old general labourer John Henry Smith, died in 1940 not at work but at his home in Selig Avenue, just off the Edgware Road, along with his wife, both dying of injuries to their throats and chest. Their 22 year old daughter had injuries to her throat and wrists – presumably she had been arguing with her father and he became physical, murdered him and her mother.

Clifton Barritt's upright organ
Grave robberies? Herbert Walter Watson, 47, was charged with stealing a bronze crucifix from the cemetery in June 1922 and fined 40 shillings. Detective Parfield of the Metropolitan Police told the court that when he had searched Watson’s room it contained a large number of figures of Christ, wreaths and crosses for which the defendant had no other explanation than “he suffered from a nervous complaint and could not account for what he had done, and had no remembrance of entering the cemetery.” William Alexander Cochrane was not so lucky when he appeared at Hampstead Police Court in 1927. Cochrane was the superintendent of the cemetery with 35 years service when he was dismissed for embezzling two sums of money from Hampstead Borough Council, £5 2 shillings on one occasion and 15 shillings on a second. The court sentenced him to 3 months and 6 months for the counts of fraud, both sentences to run consecutively. In recent years the cemetery has been plagued by thieves who steal irreplaceable brass memorials to melt them down for scrap metal. A beautiful bronze figure by Sir William Gascombe John on his wife’s tomb was stolen from Hampstead in 2001 but later recovered. It was removed to East Finchley Cemetery for safe keeping but despite being kept under lock and key in an outbuilding was stolen again in 2006. It remains missing and has most likely been smelted. In 2011 the Bianchi grave was targeted with the cast iron gate going missing first and then the wrought iron railings. The following year cemetery management stepped up security measures including dog patrols and closing time sweeps of the cemetery to check gangs of metal thieves weren't hiding away waiting for it to shut before helping themselves to more memorials. The more recent crash in scrap metal prices has probably done more to preserve the cemetery's security than any of the other measures taken.