Four cemeteries were built in our area between 1856 (The City of London one) and 1890 (Woodgrange Park, on Romford Road). They sprung up in response to the rapid growth of London in the middle of the nineteenth century and the resultant chronic overcrowding of the old city church graveyards. Added to this were public health concerns and legislation about disease being spread by putrefying bodies in the over-crowded city.
Forest Gate was an ideal location. The area was developing rapidly, itself, because of the growth of railways and its proximity to the city. Added to this, land was relatively cheap here and of course the Romford Road was one of the major highways out of London, having been the route of the Roman London to Colchester Road.
The Victorian buildings in the cemetery are still in good condition, in what is the second largest London cemetery, after St Pancras and Islington. (see photo). The mastermind behind the cemetery was William Haywood, who earlier in his career had worked with the famous Joseph Bazlegette on the impressive Abbey House Pumping Station. His ashes lie in a Gothic mausoleum near the gates of the cemetery.
|City of London Cemetery|
The first burial took place in 1856 and over half a million have taken place since. One of the major early tasks was to accommodate the re internment of bodies from 22 City churches, which had either been demolished or suffered from serious overcrowding. A full list of these can be found in the splendid book London Cemeteries by Hugh Mellor, upon which some of this article relies.
Some of the noteworthy grave transfers include the communal plague pits, re interred remains from Christ's Hospital burial ground, Newgate Street, redeveloped by the Post Office in 1903 and the remains of Newgate prison burial ground, demolished in 1900 to make way for the Old Bailey.
Among the more striking constructions within the cemetery are the Haywood's monument, covering the re interred remains from Holborn churchyard, placed there in 1871.and the memorial to musician and music teacher Gladys Spencer (1931), with the figure draped over a piano.
|Haywood's monument, over re interred remains from Holborn churchyard|
Lieutenant George Drewry VC (1894 - 1918). George was very much a local boy, having been born at 58 Claremont Road, the son of Thomas and Mary. He attended Merchant Taylors' School in the City of London. He was 20 years old and serving as a midshipman in the Royal Navy on HMS Hussar when he won his Victoria Cross, during the Gallipoli Landings on 25 April 1915.
|George Drewry VC (1894 - 1918)|
|George Drewry's grave|
Elizabeth Everest (d. 1895) had been Winston Churchill's nanny,who contributed to the construct of her monument. Churchill's parents hired her to care for the young Winston, who called her "Woomany" (!).
He was later to say: "My nurse was my confidante. Mrs Everest it was who looked after me and tended all my wants. It was to her that I poured out all my troubles. She was his constant companion in childhood and they wrote to each other regularly while he was at school.
|Elizabeth Everest d 1895|
His son, Randolph, wrote in the first volume of the biography of his father, "For many years afterwards he paid an annual sum to the local florist for the upkeep of the grave."
|Elizabeth Everest's grave|
Percy Thompson (1890 - 1922) the husband of Edith Thompson, who with her lover, Frederick Bywaters was hanged for his murder, in a case that became a cause celebre. The Thompsons were married at St Barnabas Church, Manor Park in 1916. Edith became infatuated with Bywaters, a younger man, who soon moved in with the couple, and an affair commenced.
Following a violent confrontation between Percy Thompson and Bywaters over the affair, Bywaters was thrown out of the home and returned to sea, as a sailor, during which time he continued a "love letter" correspondence with Edith.
On Bywaters' return from sea, Percy Thomson was stabbed to death. Edith told the police that she felt Bywaters was the culprit and confided the details of their affair to them. Like Bywaters, she was arrested for the murder, but the only evidence against her was the love letters, which were offered as circumstantial evidence of her guilt.
|Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters|
The trial took place at the Old Bailey and Bywaters, while admitting his guilt pleaded the innocence on Edith. Ignoring her barrister's advice Edith gave evidence, where she proved to be an unreliable witness and was exposed for providing a tissue of lies. The couple were both found guilty and were sentenced to be hanged.
A million people signed a petition against her death sentence and she became the first woman to be executed in Britain since 1907, on 9 January 1923 in Holloway. The pair were executed simultaneously - he at Pentonville. Their bodies were buried in the respective prison cemeteries.
|Press cutting announcing hanging of Edith Thompson|
Thompson's executioner, John Ellis, later committed suicide, having claimed that Edith's execution had preyed on his mind and caused him to be depressed. Edith Thompson was one of only 17 women to have been judicially hanged in Britain.
Sgts Charles Tucker, Robert Bentley and PC Choate(all d. 1910). All three were shot dead by alleged Russian anarchists attempting a jewel robbery, in what became known as the Houndsditch Murders, in Aldgate, on 16 December 1910. Two of the perpetrators were later cornered and died in the infamous siege Sidney Street, when Home Secretary, Winston Churchill was photographed leading the police raid on the house where they were holed up.
|Memorial cards to Tucker, Bentley and Choate|
The Houndsditch murders, and woundings of other shot policemen, provoked national outrage and prompted a message from the King to the widows, reading: "The King has heard with the greatest concern of the murder of three constables belonging to the city Police, and he requests you to express to their widows and families his sincere sympathy and his assurance that he feels most deeply for them in their sorrow..."
|"State" funeral of murdered policemen at St Paul's|
Sir Herbert Wilcox (1892 - 1977) and Anna Neagle (1904 - 1986) Wilcox was a film producer, several of whose most successful films starred his wife, Anna Neagle. She was born Florence Marjorie Robertson on 20 October 1904 in Glenparke Road, Forest Gate. Her family later moved to Upton Lane. She attended Park Primary school. She became one of the biggest and brightest "film stars" of her day.
|Anna Neagle - 1904 - 1986|
We will return to more detailed accounts of the lives of some of the people in this feature in a later postings on E7-NowAndThen.