Although possibly viewed by some as a bit of a macabre topic, this week’s London Shoes took me off to one of London’s lesser known public cemetery’s – but one which holds a whole wealth of significant connections to London and particularly the East End’s history – This visit also, and quite unintentionally on my part, brought my attention to a particular event in the City’s history that I wasn’t fully aware of – and could well be a blog in its own right at some in the future.
The destination for this week’s topic is the “East London Cemetery” in Plaistow, London E13 !!!
The East London Cemetery is situated in the London Borough of Newham, and was founded in 1871 for the specific purpose of meeting the increasing demand for burying folks from the City and the surrounding east end of London.
The cemetery covers approximately 33 acres and has two ‘Gothic’ styled 19th century chapels where services are conducted.
The East London Cemetery is noted locally for its ‘family/community’ values, and it is not unusual for generations of families to be buried there close by each other.
Notable memorials include:-
>“The Princess Alice” disaster <
There is a commemorative plaque to those killed in the SS Princess Alice, of 1878.
The Princess Alice was a passenger paddle steamer, which was sunk as a result of a collision with a coal transportation barge on the Thames, nearby to North Greenwich pier– a tragedy that resulted in the loss of over 650 lives, which today still stands as the greatest loss of life in any Thames shipping disaster.
It is claimed that ‘Elizabeth Stride’ (keep a mental note of that name), one of the victims of Jack the Ripper, survived the disaster, though her husband and children were killed.
>“The HMS Albion” tradegy <
There is a large ship’s anchor on the memorial to those tragically killed at the launch of HMS Albion in 1898.
The ship itself was built at the ‘Thames Iron Works’ – where my beloved West Ham United was founded and formed (e.g. hence the battle cry …‘Come on You Irons’). The claret and blue of the ‘Hammers’ kit is actually the colours of the shipyard and the crossed riveting hammers on the club crest indicate the link to the shipyard.
When the ‘Albion’ was launched on 21 June 1898; a wave created by Albion’s entry into the Thames caused a viewing platform from which 200 people were watching, to collapse into a side creek, and 34 people, mostly women and children, drowned in another one of the worst disasters in Thames history
>The “Silvertown explosion” <
A commemorative grave represents the disastrous ‘Silvertown’ explosion of 1917 where a TNT plant exploded damaging up to 70,000 properties in the area, killing 73 people and causing over 400 casualties.
>Commonwealth Service Personnel<
A total of 244 Commonwealth service casualties from WWI WW2 are buried in this cemetery
There is a Screen Wall memorial, close to main drive listing all Commonwealth servicemen & women whose graves could not be marked by headstones
There is a ‘Collective Grave’ memorial panel listing civilian victims of World War II air raids buried within the grave – which includes some victims of the Bethnal Green Tube tragedy.
As well as the above, the East London Cemetery is also the resting place of loads of tv and stage actors – who people of my generation will remember with fondness – for example:-
>Jack Warner –who played the legendary ‘Dixon of Dock Green’
>Queenie Watts –who starred in many Carry On films and tv dramas
>Michael Barrington – who played the hapless Governor of Slade Prison in ‘Porridge’
>Leslie Dwyer – who played the child hating ‘punch & judy’ children’s entertainer in Hi Di Hi
>Tony Steedman – a renowned actor who played major roles in programmes such as The Sweeney, The Professionals, Minder, Coronation Street…and many more – and who had a starring role the film ‘Bill & Teds Amazing Adventure’.
As well as numerous ‘actors’ – the East London Cemetery is also the resting place of:-
Elizabeth Stride – a survivor of the ‘Princess Alice’ disaster mentioned earlier – but in historical terms, better known as the 3rd victim of “Jack the Ripper”.
Maurice Wragg – a Londoner and the only Englishman to be awarded the US ‘Medal of Honour’ for bravery, for his exploits in the American Civil War.
Terry Spinks – a ‘local’ boy and the youngest Briton ever to win an Olympic boxing gold medal when he took the flyweight title at the 1956 games in Melbourne at the age of 18.
However – there is one grave I found, that opened up a whole aspect of London’s history that I knew very little about.
Everyone is aware that throughout past centuries the “Tower of London” has acquired a gruesome historic past in terms of it being a place of torture and executions, particularly in relation to Royalty and Nobility – however, what is not so well known is that it was also the execution site in more recent times, of “11” German spies in WW1 during the years of 1914 to 1916.
These 11 executions were all done by a ‘firing squad’ and were conducted in a small firing range located on the perimeter of the Tower walls between Constable Tower and Martin Tower. This firing range was known as the ‘death shed’,– where the victims were strapped to the ‘killing chair’ before facing the firing squad. The ‘death shed’ was eventually torn down in 1969.
The most significant of these specific executions was probably that of “Carl Hans Lody” who, on the 5th November 1914, became the first person for more than 167 years to be executed in the Tower of London.
Lody, who spoke perfect English, had been conducting his spying activities in Edinburgh in August 1914 with instructions to monitor the Firth of Forth, a crucial anchoring place for loads of Royal Navy ships. He became a wanted man when his letters were seized by the mail interception service, which was set up by MI5 at the outbreak of World War 1.
Apart from being the first person to be executed at the Tower for over a century and a half, the other distinctive aspect about this event, (that has been documented in historic archives) – is the gentlemanly and dignified way in which ‘Lody’ conducted himself throughout his imprisonment and in particular the day of his execution.
The evening before his execution Lody wrote a letter to the commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards offering “sincere thanks and appreciation” for the care and “good fellowship” shown to him by his men – his granted ‘last wish’ was to shake the hands of his firing squad, and when he reached the military officer in charge of the execution party, he said “I suppose you will not shake hands with a German spy?” – “No,” the officer replied, “but I will shake hands with a brave man.”
The other 10 spies who were executed at the Tower and who were also laid to rest at the East London Cemetery were:-
Carl Frederick Muller – Executed 23 June 1915
Haicke Petrus Marinus Janssen Executed 30 July 1915
Willem Johannes Roos – Executed 30 July 1915
Ernst Waldemar Melin – Executed 10 September 1915
Augusto Alfredo Roggen – Executed 17 September 1915
Fernando Buschman – Executed 19 October 1915
Georg Traugott Breeckow – Executed 26 October 1915
Irving Guy Ries – Executed 27 October 1915
Albert Meyer – Executed 2 December 1915
Ludovico Hurwitz-y-Zender – Executed 11 April 1916
All these spies were buried in the East London Cemetery, Plaistow – where Carl Hans Lody’s grave is marked by a headstone placed by friends of the family.
The 10 other spies were interred in common graves that, over the subsequent years, have been reused several times over. A common headstone at the Cemetery, now commemorates their final resting place – although it has deteriorated considerably.
Having spent a peaceful day mingling with the departed – I popped in for the customary ‘cheeky ‘one – at one of the east end’s oldest hostelries ‘The Black Lion’, which is literally a 5min walk from the Cemetery. The pub is one of the oldest standing buildings in Plaistow, and was built back in the late 1700’s – and it has the historic reputation of being a regular haunt of the legendary highwayman Dick Turpin.
Anyway – hope you enjoyed this piece and its accompanying photos.