Category Archives: Cemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

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in the tributary Ashop valley led to the abandonment of the other three dams, Hagglee, Ashopton and Bamford, which were superseded by a single huge reservoir, contained by a dam at the next available nick-point, Yorkshire Bridge.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

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2016 The Derbyshire Derwent Valley tour, with text, photographs, maps 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.

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 were 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.

Burning issue

Woking Crematorium

Woking Crematorium

In Victorian times there was huge controversy about cremation.  Utilitarian and sanitary arguments against burial were opposed by intransigent clergy. The Bishop of London, John Jackson, complained that cremation would “undermine the faith of mankind in the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and so bring about a most disastrous social revolution”. The Bishop of Manchester, James Fraser, responded that God would have no more difficulty resurrecting ashes than dust, or “bodies which had passed into the structure of worms”.

The very occasional cremations that came to public knowledge caused great scandal – Honoretta Brooks Pratt illegally cremated in 1769, Captain T B Hanham who built a private cremator for his wife, his mother and ultimately himself in Dorset – until the wildly eccentric Dr William Price’s cremation of his five-month-old son Iesu Grist in 1884 led to Mr Justice Stephen’s ruling that cremation was not an offence “provided no nuisance was caused”.

The Cremation Society built the first cremator in Britain at Woking in 1879, originally little more than a furnace with a 42ft chimney. They hesitated to use it until the legal ambiguities had been resolved, and the first cremation on the site, 71-year-old Mrs Jeanette Pickersgill, took place on March 26th 1885.

Thereafter a small number of cremations were carried out each year, and in 1891 a chapel and reception rooms designed by Edward Channing Clarke were added in a comfortable thirteenth-century Gothic style that was intended to reassure mourners and hide the functionality of the machinery within.

The relationship between Woking Crematorium and the nearby Brookwood Cemetery was fraught with ambiguity. The Cremation Society bought the land from the London Necropolis Company, but through a third party so that the cemetery company could dissociate itself. Yet in due time the London Necropolis Company provided funeral facilities, including trains from Waterloo, and sold plots for the burial of ashes.

Similarly, the vicar of St Peter’s Church, Woking, Rev Frederick J Oliphant, made an enormous fuss when the crematorium was first proposed, yet by 1889 the Rev William Hamilton, vicar of St John the Baptist, Woking, was conducting frequent funeral services at the crematorium for a fee of one guinea a time and also burying cremated remains in the churchyard at St John’s.

Woking Crematorium is still in use, its buildings cherished for their atmosphere and historical significance, its grounds a beautiful and extensive garden of remembrance:

Cremation is now by far the most prevalent form of disposal of the dead: in 2012 only a quarter of disposals were burials.

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

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

Some mother’s son

Unknown serviceman's grave, Kirk Patrick Churchyard, Isle of Man

Unknown serviceman’s grave, Kirk Patrick Churchyard, Isle of Man

My friend John pointed out to me, in the Manx churchyard of Kirk Patrick, a grave to an unknown serviceman, with the motto “Some mother’s son”, a white marble cross inscribed “British – unidentified – interred 27th Feb 1918” and, in tiny lettering at the foot, “Erected by Florrie Forde, 1927”.

Very little seems to be recorded of the circumstances of this story. Florrie Forde (1875-1940) was a hugely famous music-hall singer, Australian by birth, who dominated British variety theatre from the beginning of the twentieth century until the start of the Second World War.

She kept a cottage on the Manx coast at Niarbyl, where this unidentifiable but clearly British serviceman was washed ashore.

Rather than allow him to be buried in obscurity, Florrie wanted to make sure he had a grave, if not a name, as his unknown mother would have wished.

Florrie was entertaining troops when she died in 1940, and her passing was commemorated by the poet Louis MacNeice in ‘Death of an Actress’: