They lie amongst us - part 2

Friday 11 October 2013

In what sounds like the opening line of a rather off-colour joke, there is a Jewish cemetery, predominantly Muslim cemetery, a public sector and a private sector cemetery all within Forest Gate.

In June we published the first of a two part look at Forest Gate's local cemeteries, and their occupants, featuring the largest - The City of London Cemetery.  In part 2 we look at the other, smaller, four of them.

As we have previously indicated, Forest Gate became a growth area for cemeteries in the middle of the nineteenth century, as inner London burial grounds became overcrowded and couldn't cope with the metropolis' rapidly expanding population and when public health concerns lead the government, and others, to look to provide burial grounds away from heavily populated areas.

Cheap, available land and recently developed good and fast rail links to inner London made Forest Gate an obvious location for the capital's dead.

The array of what was built and later developed in our area is fascinating.

West Ham Cemetery, Cemetery Road

This is the area's third oldest cemetery, having been established in 1857, the year after the City of London's inauguration (see June).
A West Ham Burial Board was established, as a result of the 1850's Burial Acts to secure a plot for a local publicly owned burial ground. It proved difficult for the Board to obtain enough land at a suitable price, but they eventually succeed in persuading Samuel Gurney, of the Quaker family - related to the Frys,  to sell them 12 acres, in 1857.  

This was extended to 20 acres in 1871.

West Ham Cemetery, Cemetery Road
There are three sections to the cemetery, covering  consecrated, unconsecrated and Muslim areas. A small low brick wall separates this burial ground from the West Ham Jewish Cemetery- see below.

It is a rather undistinguished cemetery, with few distinctive features or monuments, or very notable people interred.  It does, however, provide a last resting place for the bodies of five disaster victims.  They were:

George and Catherine Bennett. They were two of the 550 people who drowned when the pleasure steamer The Princess Alice sank, following a collision, on the Thames, in 1878.  

Part of the hull of the Princess Alice,
 after its 1878 sinking - scene of death
 of George and Catherine Bennett
Frederick Sells and Henry Vickers. They were two of the firemen killed in the Silvertown munitions factory explosion, which killed 69 people and injured 390 others in 1917.  A procession a quarter of a mile long followed their hearses to their funerals.

Albert Wardale was drowned in the Egypt, which sank in 1922, with the loss of 96 lives and over £1,000,000 gold and silver bars.

There are 214 war graves, from both World Wars, and various war memorials in the cemetery.

Manor Park Cemetery, in Sebert Road
This is a privately-owned cemetery, and unlike many other similar burial grounds, is well maintained by the owners/management company - which has run it since its original construction 140 years ago.

It occupies 50 acres and was established in 1874. The chapel was built in 1877, but was hit by a bomb in 1944; so it was rebuilt in 1955, when a crematorium was added to its east side. It is very much a locals' cemetery. It  counts a Victoria Cross holder, a royal nanny and a Ripper victim among its occupants.

They are:
John Travers (Jack)Cornwell (1900 - 1916). Manor Park resident Cornwell is the cemetery's most famous occupant.  He is the country's third youngest Victoria Cross holder, which was awarded posthumously to him, for his bravery as a 16-year old at the Battle of Jutland. The epitaph on his headstone reads "It is not wealth or ancestry but honourable conduct and a noble disposition that maketh men great".

Jack Cornwell VC - 1900 - 1916,
 Manor Park cemetery's most
 celebrated occupant
The gundeck on which Cornwell
 perished, at the Battle of Jutland
Annie Chapman (1841 - 1888). She was the second victim of Jack the Ripper. Although murdered in Whitechapel the police and her family wanted a private no-fuss funeral, so chose the Manor Park Cemetery, some distance from her residence, the scene of the crime and the mortuary in which she had been kept. She was buried in an unmarked public grave, the site of which, apparently, has subsequently been reused for another burial.

Annie Chapman, 1841 - 1888,
 Jack the Ripper's second victim

Newspaper 'Wanted' notice,
 following Chapman's death, 1888

Mary Orchard (1830 - 1906). Orchard served as Princess Alice's (the person, not the ship!) children for forty years. Princess Alice was Queen Victoria's third child, and an unlikely supporter of women's rights. Orchard's monument was erected "in grateful memory by Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenberg, Elizabeth, Grand Duchess Sergius of Russia, Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and Alix, Empress of Russia". 
It is not recorded whether their devotion to Orchard stretched to attendance at her funeral.

Princess Alice, the person
 - Mary Orchard's employer
Woodgrange Park Cemetery, Romford Road
In contrast to Manor Park cemetery, this is a privately owned burial ground (owned by Badgehurst Ltd of Grays, Essex) which suffers much neglect and is in a sorry state. It is tucked away behind a Tesco convenience store and service station.

It was founded in 1890 and covers 28 acres. It has certainly seen better days and is a mass of undergrowth, bordered on one side by the chimney pot railway line.  It's gothic chapel, suffering from broken windows and in a general uncared-for appearance, was demolished in 2006.

The chapel at Woodgrange Park 
cemetery, demolished in 2006
The burial ground is the only one in the country to have an Act of Parliament devoted to it - the Woodgrange Park Cemetery Act 1993, achieved by the exertions of the Friends of Woodgrange Park Cemetery (
Their efforts were directed towards preventing Badgehurst from selling the land off for development; although largely successful, the Friends, however, have had to witness a section of the land being sold off for housing, with the 14,000 interred being moved elsewhere within the cemetery.

It has subsequently, effectively, become a Muslim cemetery, but remains in an untidy and scruffy state of repair.

There are a total of 287 World War 1 and 101 WW11 burials in the cemetery and an impressive war memorial, the details of which are meticulously detailed on the Friends excellent, though slightly dated, website.

There are no exceptional tombs. Its most notorious occupants are the five Iranian terrorists who were shot during the siege of the Iranian embassy in 1980.  They are buried in unmarked graves.

Its most distinguished internee is probably Frederick Charrington (1850 - 1936).  Charrington was a member of the well known family of brewers but became known as 'The Great Temperance Advocate" for his  vigorous promotion of abstinence.
Frederick Charrington (1850 - 1936),
 'The Great Temperance Advocate',
 born into a well-known brewing family
West Ham Jewish Cemetery, Buckingham Road
Although technically in Stratford, this cemetery adjoins, and has often been confused with, the West Ham cemetery, above. It was established in 1856, in the same year as Forest Gate's  first cemetery - the City of London (see previous article).                     
General view of the now partially
 closed West Ham Jewish cemetery
With the rapid decline of the local Jewish community, to which we will return at a later date, the cemetery has effectively been closed since 2002, although permission to visit can be obtained via the appropriate Jewish authorities.

Over 40,000 people have been interred here, and it hosts the graves removed when the Hoxton cemetery was redeveloped, in 1960.

The most prominent feature of the cemetery is the Rothschild's mausoleum, erected for Evelina Rothschild, who died in childbirth in 1866, by her husband Frederick.  The pre-eminent architectural critic Nicolas Pevsner describes this building as a "noble and notable exception" to the otherwise undistinguished structures in the cemetery, which he explains is "a domed building on a circular plan with Baroquizing Renaissance details, by Sir Digby Wyatt. The deceased's initials are cleverly entwined."

Evelina Rothschild's mausoleum,
 West Ham Jewish cemetery
There are five Commonwealth War Graves located within the cemetery (four from the first and one from the second World War).

In 2005 a number of monuments were destroyed and 87 graves were desecrated in what police described as an attack by anti-Semitic vandals.  The doors of the mausoleum were ripped off by iron bars and swastikas were daubed on some tombstones and cemetery walls.

With acknowledgements to London Cemeteries by Hugh Mellor, the Friends of Woodgrange Park Cemetery and Find A Grave  
 for the information in this article.

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