Monthly Archives: April 2015

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.

Sheffield’s surviving cinemas 4: Manor Cinema

Former Manor Cinema, Manor Top, Sheffield

Former Manor Cinema, Manor Top, Sheffield

The most intriguing of all the surviving Sheffield picture-houses is the Manor Cinema (1927) at the top of Prince of Wales Road.

Like the Hillsborough Park Cinema this was until recently a supermarket, latterly operating as a Tesco. When you walked in off the street there was no hint that until 1969 it was an auditorium.

But the oddity about the Manor Cinema is that it was built into a steep hillside, and the street-level access led into a wide foyer and then into the circle. The stalls-area was downstairs.

Indeed, the Manor was unusual for having two balconies: the three tiers were described as saloon, first balcony and second balcony.

This was the work of Pascal Stienlet, who had previously worked in Sheffield at the Abbeydale Picture House (1920), which also stands on a sloping site and had a ballroom and billiard hall below the auditorium and stage.  He also designed the Majestic Cinema, Leeds (1922).

Before the Tesco store closed I was told that there was no access to the parts of the building that aren’t in practical use.  A Poundland store currently occupies an area equivalent to the original foyer.

Apparently, the last time the building was surveyed was when Tesco took it over in 2010.

It would be an interesting revelation to discover if, like the Hillsborough Park Cinema, anything of the auditorium remains.

Sheffield’s surviving cinemas 3: Hillsborough Park Cinema

Former Hillsborough Park Cinema, Middlewood Road, Sheffield

Former Hillsborough Park Cinema, Middlewood Road, Sheffield

Sheffield has two Grade II listed cinemas, the Adelphi and the Abbeydale. Of the others remaining, one of the best and most surprising survivals is the Hillsborough Park Cinema of 1921.

Its elegant brick and faience façade, vaguely classical but with mullion-and-transom windows, decorates the streetscape on the tram-route at Parkside Road.

An English Heritage inspector would no doubt turn up his or her nose at the place, because when you walk through the door you’re in a perfectly conventional Asda supermarket. There’s hardly any indication that this was once a picture palace.

But thirty-odd years ago, when the Sheffield journalist Steve McClarence and I went exploring for his ‘Sheffielder’ column, we were taken through a door back into the 1950s, climbed the staircase to the circle, and found ourselves on the balcony, devoid of seating but otherwise intact.

There was the proscenium, and the clock, and through the panels of the suspended ceiling that fills the void in front of the balcony, we could glimpse unsuspecting customers trundling their trolleys.

Back downstairs we tried to run a trolley by gravity towards the screen end, but the floor has been levelled.

We thought this rather a pity, though practical.