Probably the most bombastic monument in Kensal Green Cemetery is that to Andrew Ducrow (1793-1842), the equestrian owner of Astley’s Amphitheatre in Lambeth.
Ducrow’s entry in Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Ducrow] likens his stage act to the modern-day Chippendales, because he and his sons dressed in flesh-coloured body stockings and posed on the backs of white stallions.
Even though Astley’s burnt down three times, Ducrow was clearly worth something. His plot in Kensal Green Cemetery is in a prestigious location near to the Duke of Sussex, and his monument cost £3,000. Built initially for Mrs Ducrow, its design by George Danson is a ponderous mix of classical and Egyptian motifs, originally coloured and surmounted by a statue of Hygieia, goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation.
The inscription, which Ducrow clearly wrote, declares that the tomb was “erected by Genius for the reception of its own remains”. It was described in the contemporary periodical The Builder as “ponderous coxcombry”.
The real genius of Astley’s Amphitheatre was, of course, its founder, Philip Astley (1742-1814). In many ways he is the originator of the modern circus, because he was the first professional trick-rider to perform in a circle, though he never used the Latin term “circus” or the English “ring”, but called it a “ride”. He introduced clowns and acrobats into his show to extend and vary the performance.
Most significant of all, he determined that the diameter for the circus ring, as we now call it, should be 42 feet, for that caused a cantering horse to lean at the optimum angle for a man to stand on its bare back.
Now that‘s genius.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.
The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2015 Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.