Category Archives: Cemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Hong Kong hero

Hong Kong Cemetery:  grave of Driver Joseph Hughes GC

Hong Kong Cemetery: grave of Driver Joseph Hughes GC

Understandably, Remembrance brings foremost to British minds and hearts the two World Wars and the conflicts within living memory – particularly the Falklands, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In fact, British servicemen and women have given their lives in every year but two since 1945:

One such I found when I explored the vast cemetery in the centre of Hong Kong.

On March 21st 1946 Driver Joseph Hughes of the Royal Army Service Corps was driving his three-ton lorry of ammunition and explosives when it caught fire.

Joseph Hughes tried desperately to remove the burning netting covering the load of munitions, and then he tackled the blaze with a fire extinguisher.

He survived the explosion but died of his wounds two days later.

He was awarded a posthumous George Cross, because his sacrifice was not in the face of an enemy but was nevertheless an act “of the greatest heroism [and] most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger”.

Not much seems to be known of Joseph Hughes, who came from the Glasgow Gorbals and would have been about twenty-four years old:

We honour such heroes, who are trained to run towards danger when the rest of us would run away, among all those who have given their lives in military service.

Zion Graveyard


There’s not a lot left of the vibrant community that existed in Sheffield’s Lower Don Valley until the late 1950s.  Two ancient structures – Carbrook Hall and Hill Top Chapel – survive from the seventeenth century.  There are some twentieth-century buildings, such as Banners Department Store and the former Adelphi Cinema.  Other, less prepossessing buildings have become significant simply because they survived – a number of banks and pubs, two Burton’s tailors, a chapel, a swimming baths and a library.

In a corner behind the remaining shops on Attercliffe Road is a historic discovery.

Parallel to the main road runs Zion Lane, a narrow alley still paved with bricks and stone setts.  It takes its name from the former Zion Congregational Church, a place of worship since 1793, the site ultimately occupied by a grand Romanesque chapel with a tower and spire, opened in 1863.

Inevitably, as the houses were cleared in the 1950s and 1960s the church became unsustainable. The building was sold in 1976 and the church became a furniture store until it burnt down in 1987 and was afterwards demolished.  The Zion Sabbath School across the lane survives as a motor-repair business.

Through all this, in the graveyard behind the church generations of Attercliffe people slept undisturbed.  I photographed it in 1977, and another photographer recorded it in 1994, when it still looked like a burial ground.  Eventually it became a jungle.

The graveyard still belongs to the United Reformed Church, which needs to divest itself of the responsibility.  A sharp-eyed member of the Friends of Wincobank Hill, an energetic conservation body operating a couple of miles away, spotted the sale notice, which led to the formation of the Friends of Zion Graveyard who have cleared sufficient clutter to reveal that this place is freighted with historic significance.

Among the graves so far uncovered and identified are Mark Oakes (died September 19, 1856) – assayer, refiner and crucible maker, John Pearson of Hall Carr House (died January 14th 1877) – whose daughter Martha was assistant organist to Zion Church, buried with his wife and sister in an elaborate grave marked with iron posts and railings, and Jonathan Wood (died October 20th 1848), – owner of Wood’s (or Bridge) Foundry, member of the Zion Church choir, and his wife Catherine Wood (died September 12th 1873) – buried with their two infant children in an tomb surrounded by iron railings that were once painted gold, and two other children with the same family names, aged one year and two months, close by.

Most important of all, the Friends have located the family vault of the Read family.

Joseph Read (1774-1837) established the Sheffield Smelting Company (which is still in operation as Thessco Ltd) at Royd’s Mill, Washford Bridge, half a mile away from the Zion Church.  They lived at Wincobank Hall.

One of his daughters, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887), was a notable anti-slavery campaigner who with her sister Emily Read was a founder-member of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society and its successor, the Sheffield Ladies Association for the Universal Abolition of Slavery.

Another of his daughters, Elizabeth “Eliza” Read (1803-1851), married William Wilson (1800-1866), a nonconformist Radical who was chairman of the Nottingham Anti-Slavery Committee.

Their son, Henry Joseph Wilson (1833-1914) was the “stern and uncompromising” Liberal MP for Holmfirth (1885-1912).

His teetotal, non-smoking younger brother, John Wycliffe Wilson JP (1836-1921) became Lord Mayor of Sheffield (1902) on condition that alcohol should be banned at the Town Hall during his term.  As Chairman of Sheffield Board of Guardians he instigated the development of cottage homes for orphaned children.

Henry Joseph Wilson’s son, Cecil Henry Wilson (1864-1945) was Labour MP for Attercliffe (1922-1931 and 1935-1944).

In this nonconformist, Radical, individualistic town, this self-made dynasty is working-class aristocracy and Mary Ann Rawson’s campaigning career entitles her to national recognition.

Their unassuming, long-forgotten burial place deserves to be treasured and celebrated.

It commemorates what made Sheffield.

Bell-mouth spillway

Bell-mouth spillway, Ladybower Reservoir, Derbyshire

Bell-mouth spillway, Ladybower Reservoir, Derbyshire

One of the best free shows in the Peak District National Park, in rainy seasons, is the bell-mouth spillway beside the A6013 road that skirts Ladybower Reservoir, the biggest of the three Derbyshire Derwent valley reservoirs.

The original Derwent Valley water scheme of 1899 envisaged six reservoirs but only two of these, Derwent and Howden, were built.

The engineer, Edward Sandeman, pointed out that repositioning the Derwent Dam slightly further upstream would dispense with the need for the top dam, Ronksley. Geological problems in the tributary Ashop valley led to the abandonment of the other three dams, Hagglee, Ashopton and Bamford, which were superseded by a single huge reservoir, contained by a dam at the next available nick-point, Yorkshire Bridge.

This great dam, named Ladybower after a local farm, was begun in 1935.  It drowned two villages, Derwent and Ashopton, and was so badly needed that construction continued without interruption throughout the Second World War.

It was opened by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on September 25th 1945. Designed by G H Hill & Sons of Manchester, and constructed of earth around a clay core by Richard Baillie & Sons, East Lothian, the dam is 416 yards across.  Its trench and embankment required 100,000 tons of concrete, 1,000,000 tons of earth and 100,000 tons of puddled clay.

Unlike its predecessors at Derwent and Howden, which spill their excess water over the stone sill of the dam, at Ladybower the dam has a clay core and a grassed slope downstream.

The overflow water is directed into two bell-mouth spillways, which from above look for all the world like plugholes, but are actually shaped like ear-trumpets, 80 feet across at the rim, tapering to a 15-foot pipe that emerges at the foot of the embankment.

This footage brings the still picture to life:  In-depth explorations can be found at and

Graceland Cemetery: Clara Eliza Getty

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago:  Clara Eliza Getty mausoluem

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago: Clara Eliza Getty mausoluem

If you have the money and you want a mausoleum you might as well go to the best designer in town.

Henry Harrison Getty (1838-1919), the Chicago lumber baron (not related to the more famous oil-rich Getty family), commissioned Louis Henry Sullivan to design a family mausoleum after the death of his wife Clara Eliza Getty (1843-1890).

Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) is one of the three greatest architects who worked in the city in the aftermath of the catastrophic fire of 1871.  With his business partner Dankmar Adler (1844-1900), his pupil Frank Lloyd Wright and the distinctive Romanesque-revival architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1866), Sullivan rose to the challenge of building quickly and building big to rebuild the devastated centre that we now call The Loop.

Sullivan and Adler were particularly adept at using the new steel-frame construction to contrive new stylistic rules to make sense of the changing proportions of the high buildings that became known as “skyscrapers”, such as their Auditorium Building (1889).

But Sullivan could work exquisitely on a small scale, and his Getty Tomb in Graceland Cemetery is a gem.

Sullivan is the modern originator of the expression “form follows function”, which he himself drew from the Roman author Vitruvius – “firmitas, utilitas, venustas” – “solid, useful, beautiful”.

So Clara Eliza Getty’s tomb combines immaculately plain ashlar with a delicate pattern of octagons in which is set a fine Romanesque doorway of plain stonework finely decorated, that frames delicate bronze doors by Yale & Towne.

The sides of the mausoleum echo the doorway with semi-circular bronze windows.

Henry Harrison Getty was laid to rest with his wife, and in due course their only daughter Alice (1865-1946) joined them.

Frank Lloyd Wright said of the Getty Tomb, “Outside the realm of music, what finer requiem?”

Golders Green Crematorium

Golders Green Crematorium, London

Golders Green Crematorium, London

Cremation became a legal and practical alternative to burial when the Cremation Society inaugurated their Woking Crematorium in 1885, but the practice remained expensive and practically difficult while Woking remained the only crematorium in the country.

Commitals remained in the low hundreds per annum, peaking at 301 in the year 1900. By the start of the new century crematoria had begun to appear in the north, in Manchester (1895), Glasgow (1895), Liverpool (1896) and Hull (1901).

The Cremation Society had attempted to find a site in London for some years before they bought a twelve-acre site at Hoop Lane, Golders Green, directly across the road from a recently opened Jewish cemetery.

Golders Green Crematorium opened in 1902, designed in red brick by Sir Ernest George (1839-1922) and Alfred Bowman Yeates (1867-1944). Not only was this the first crematorium in the metropolis, but it was the first anywhere in Britain designed by architects of national repute.

From the start its policy was secular – rites of any religion, and none, were and are acceptable – and the Lombardic Romanesque style was deliberately unecclesiastical. Furthermore, the garden layout designed by William Robinson (1838-1935) looked as little like a Victorian cemetery as possible.

The facility gained popularity, and its existence was influential in making cremation the preferred means of disposal in the UK. In 2013, 74% of funerals were cremations.

Cremation gradually became respectable, rather than radical. The first member of the royal family to be cremated was Princess Louise Margaret, Duchess of Connaught and Strathearn (1860-1917), Queen Victoria’s daughter-in-law. Her ashes were transported from Golders Green to the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore in an urn inside a conventional coffin.

After the actor Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905) was cremated before burial in Westminster Abbey, the Dean and Chapter moved to a policy whereby burials in the Abbey had to be preceded by cremation to save space. The only exception is the Percy Dukes of Northumberland, who are still free to use their family vault in the Abbey for burial if they wish. A parallel rule was adopted by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Reading the memorial plaques in the cloisters at Golders Green makes one wonder who wasn’t cremated there.

The most recent well-known funerals there have included John Inman (1935-2007), Michael Foot (1913-2010), Amy Winehouse (1983-2011), Peter O’Toole (1932-2013) and Doris Lessing (1919-2013).

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

One of the Met’s finest

Monument to PC William Frederick Tyler (c1878-1909), Abney Park Cemetery, London

Monument to PC William Frederick Tyler (c1878-1909), Abney Park Cemetery, London

Abney Park Cemetery, in Stoke Newington in north London, is the nineteenth-century Campo Santo of the Dissenters, freighted with ministers, missionaries and other dignitaries from the Congregational, Baptist, Methodist and Salvation Army denominations.

It was laid out as a garden cemetery on land that has strong associations with seventeenth- and eighteenth-century nonconformity.

In particular, the long-term residence of the great hymn-writer, Dr Isaac Watts (1674-1748), stood on the site and though he is buried at Bunhill Fields in Islington, his statue stands at the centre of the cemetery. It was sculpted by Edward Hodges Baily RA FRS (1788-1867), who also carved the statue of Lord Nelson that tops the column in Trafalgar Square.

Abney Park was a particularly desirable place for nonconformists to be buried because, for the first forty years after it opened in 1840, its peculiar legal status meant that burial fees were not paid to the local Anglican clergy – a great bugbear for non-Anglicans almost everywhere else.

Perhaps the most evocative monument of all in the cemetery commemorates PC William Frederick Tyler (c1878-1909) who was shot dead in the spectacularly desperate Tottenham Outrage.

Two armed Latvian anarchists, Paul Helfeld and Jacob Lepidus, set out to steal the wages (amounting to about £80 in coin) from the factory where they worked. They were pursued by officers from the nearby police station.

In the chase that followed, Helfeld and Lepidus used their guns freely, and Helfeld shot PC Tyler in the head when asked to surrender.

After a chase that involved two hijacked trams, a horse-drawn carriage and a milk cart, both robbers shot themselves:

PC Tyler was given a ceremonial funeral, and lies in Abney Park Cemetery: his monument, beautifully carved in white marble, shows his helmet and his cape neatly folded and carries his badge number.

Nearby lies the ten-year-old schoolboy Ralph Joscelyne who was caught in crossfire during the incident.

PC Tyler’s death and the bravery of his colleagues led directly to the establishment of the King’s Police Medal.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Emotive power

'Prince Consort', Crossness Pumping Station, London

‘Prince Consort’, Crossness Pumping Station, London

The Crossness Pumping Station, located in the midst of the treatment works that deals with all the sewage of South London, represents one of the most remarkable stories of the post-war industrial-heritage movement.

I first visited Crossness with a Matlock Travel Society group in 1987. Our Derbyshire coach-driver was astonished that we should travel all that way to have a sandwich buffet in a sewage works.

At that time the engines had been disused since the 1950s, left to rust, and prey to thieves and more than usually intrepid vandals. The lower levels of the engine house were filled with a hundred tons of sand and cement to prevent accumulation of methane. The degree of dereliction was spectacular.

The small group of enthusiasts from the Crossness Beam Engines Preservation Group talked hopefully of bringing the place back to life. It was, frankly, hard to believe.

In fact, Crossness has huge significance. John Yates, of the Historic Buildings Division of the Greater London Council, had written in his 1980 report, “The engines as they now stand reflect the best practices of mechanical engineering in two periods: first, the middle period of steam engineering, largely reliant upon cast iron, and the late period with steel a dominant material. They are certainly the largest surviving rotative beam engines in this country, and are probably the largest in the world. There is no other comparable group of engines in one house…”

In 1993, after protracted negotiations, the Crossness Engines Trust, which arose from the earlier Preservation Group, secured a long lease from Thames Water of the engine house and its immediate surroundings, and set about restoring Prince Albert, the last of the four engines to have operated in 1953.

There followed a ten-year saga of patient, unglamorous, physical restoration work, much of it carried out by a core team of not much more than a dozen:

By 2003 Prince Albert gleamed as good as new.

When the beam moved under steam for the first time in fifty years, grown men grew teary-eyed.

The power of live steam is emotional as well as physical. It makes the earth move.

Crossness Pumping Station features in Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Temples of Sanitation.  For details, please click here.

Graceland Cemetery: George Mortimer Pullman

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago:  George Mortimer Pullman monument

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago: George Mortimer Pullman monument

George Mortimer Pullman (1831-1897) was a great man who did great things, but he was not popular.

He first gained wealth as an engineer who specialised in moving and lifting wood-frame buildings. He made his fortune jacking up structures when the street-level was raised 6-8 feet to accommodate a sewage system in the low-lying delta of the Chicago River. His party-piece was the lifting of the six-storey Tremont House hotel while the guests remained inside.

His fame, however, rests on the development of the railroad sleeping car, which first appeared in 1864. Again, he pulled off a publicity coup by offering his “palace car” to convey the coffin of the assassinated President Lincoln to his burial in Springfield, Illinois, in 1865.

Pullman’s “hotels on wheels” gave middle-class riders a taste of high life, and rail passengers the world over benefitted from his invention of vestibules between passenger carriages in 1887.

His practice of hiring black men, emancipated slaves who had trained as housemen, to serve as highly skilled, disciplined and well-presented porters in his Pullman cars, is credited with helping to found the African-American middle-class, but the work was onerous and badly paid. The black historian and journalist Thomas Fleming remarked that being a Pullman porter was, paradoxically, “the best job in his community and the worst on the train”.

Even less visible was the smaller number of black women whom Pullman employed to take care of female passengers and their children.

The eponymous company town, Pullman, Illinois, begun in 1880 and designed by the architect Solon Spencer Beman (1853-1914), was an unashamed attempt to create a community of workers untainted by vice, political agitation or freedom of speech.

Crucially, the housing and the apparently generous civic facilities were intended to make a profit from the wages he paid his workers, and when Pullman felt compelled by a downturn in orders in 1894 to reduce wages and increase working hours, he saw no reason at the same time to reduce rents.

The resulting strike, which practically shut down the nation’s transport system, was quashed violently by federal troops provided by President Grover Cleveland.

When George Pullman died in 1897, he was buried in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.  His elegant monument, a single Corinthian column, was designed by Solon Spencer Beman.

His family were so concerned that union members might defile his grave that he was buried in a lead-lined mahogany coffin, encased in a room-sized block of concrete, pinned down by railway rails and covered by another layer of concrete.

The forthright American journalist Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce commented, “It is clear the family in their bereavement was making sure the sonofabitch wasn’t going to get up and come back.”

No-one will ever exhume George Pullman in a hurry.


Graceland Cemetery: Victor Fremont Lawson

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago:  Victor Fremont Lawson monument

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago: Victor Fremont Lawson monument

As well as the ‘Eternal Silence’ figure for Dexter Graves, the Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft supplied the thirteen-foot granite statue of ‘The Crusader’ (1931) for a monument that carries no name, but only the motto “Above all things truth beareth away victory”.

This is the tomb of Victor Fremont Lawson (1850-1925), who ran the Chicago Daily News from 1876 to the year of his death and was a co-founder and first president of Associated Press.

The Chicago Daily News broke new ground by publishing concise stories and popular features, aiming for a wider readership than its rivals. It depended on Lawson’s business acumen and capital – derived from his father’s real-estate fortune – to support its low cover-price.

In journalism he was an innovator, developing the use of foreign correspondents, syndication and classified advertising. He made the Daily News a platform for advocating urban reform and improved civic infrastructure and services, particularly during the period of the World’s Fair of 1893 and the creation of the Chicago Plan of 1909.

Lawson was also a philanthropist, supporting such organisations as the Daily News Fresh Air Fund and the YMCA.

He was a member of the Chicago Commission on Race Relations which reflected on the city’s race riots of 1919. Its influential report, The Negro in Chicago: a study of race relations and a race riot (1922), was compiled by the Commission’s Associate Executive Secretary, Charles S Johnson:

The monument was commissioned by Victor Lawson’s younger brother, Iver N Lawson. The crusader, bearing his sword and shield, was intended to symbolise the campaigning spirit of the great journalist, businessman and philanthropist.

Graceland Cemetery: Dexter Graves

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago:  Dexter Graves monument

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago: Dexter Graves monument

One of three major Victorian cemeteries in Chicago, Graceland Cemetery (1860) is located alongside a railway line that brought mourners and coffins over two miles north from the city-centre, like Brookwood Cemetery in England and Rookwood Cemetery in Australia.

The original eighty-acre site was landscaped as parkland by Horace W S Cleveland (1814-1900), who had also designed Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at Concord, Massachusetts in 1855.

It was enlarged to the north-west and the east by the architect Ossian Cole Simonds (1855-1931), who also designed Lincoln Park on the site of the former City Cemetery which closed after the Civil War.

The Graceland Cemetery chapel, recently restored, was designed by the Chicago practice of William Holabird (1854-1923) and Martin Roche (1853-1927) in 1888.

The 119-acre cemetery continues to operate under the control of the not-for-profit Trustees of the Graceland Cemetery Improvement Fund. It is freely open to the public:

The most haunting of all the magnificent monuments in Graceland Cemetery is the tomb of Dexter Graves (1789 – 1844), with its bronze figure of ‘Eternal Silence’, the work of the sculptor Lorado Taft (1860-1936), cast by Jules Bercham of the American Art Foundry.

Originally the entire figure was painted black, and over the years the metal has oxidised to an eerie green everywhere except the face.

Dexter Graves was a member of an early contingent of Chicago settlers who, according to the inscription at the back of the monument, “brought the first colony to Chicago, consisting of 13 families, arriving here July 15, 1831 from Ashtabula, Ohio, on the schooner Telegraph.” A former tavern-keeper, Graves opened the Mansion House hotel on Lake Street, but died, soon after his daughters Lucy and Emeline, in April 1844.

Father and daughters were interred in the Chicago City Cemetery on North Avenue, and when that cemetery closed they were reinterred at Graceland.

It was Dexter Graves’ last surviving son Henry who, having no immediate heirs, commissioned the monument.

Henry Graves died in 1907, and the monument was in place by 1909.