West Norwood Cemetery’s Musicians

Bob Flanagan. The Friends of West Norwood Cemetery 1998.

Bob Flanagan has done it again, with a magisterial, extremely well-researched, and readable volume of many of those with musical connections, buried at Norwood.

The depth of his knowledge is remarkable: how would anyone know that a picture of Frederick Gye, the original owner and promoter of Covent Garden Opera, is to be found in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News for 7th December 1878? Or again, we find from a footnote that the address where Alexander Lee died: 6 Newton Terrace, was a terrace of 8 houses, with 6 Newton Terrace becoming 14 Montford Place in 1885, has now been demolished, and its site is now covered by the Beefeater Gin Distillery. That must have been an hour’s work for just one footnote! And such curiosities emerge from local history: in Anerley, for example, there was an Anerley Musical Society, of which Charles Cellier was conductor. Not much work for him nowadays! The remarkable Catherine Lucette appeared under no less than five alternative names, though she restrained herself by only marrying two husbands.

Sir August Manns, who conducted the Crystal Palace Orchestra for decades, still has a fine monument. But the importance of people like Frederick Gye makes it even more tragic that so many of their tombstones – 24 of those in this booklet – have been destroyed, mainly by Lambeth Council. We know this because in most cases Eric Smith recorded the inscription on the monuments in the 1970’s, before their disappearance.

A few suggestions for improvement are not intended to detract from an outstanding piece of work. The booklet often cross-references to itself, or adds useful information about where relations are buried, if not in Norwood. Yet strangely, when the author mentions prominent theatrical people buried at Norwood, such as Osbaldiston and Davidge, there is no mention that these are well covered in the Friends’ other booklet on the Music Hall.

While one can see the reason for adopting an alphabetical list, perhaps it would make a slightly more user-friendly book if it listed, first, those whose monuments do survive, and then, those that do not. Admittedly, it is only chance that determines the difference, but it is far easier to make up ones own tour, using the map provided, if one can concentrate on surviving monuments. It would then also be easier to see which of those whose monuments have gone, really deserve a replacement: such as Mr. Gye, or indeed Richard Limpus, who founded the Royal College of Organists. At least there is a plaque to record James Cook: the first Dick Deadeye in HMS Pinafore. Talking of which one might have been inclined to include W. S. Gilbert’s ancestors in the main text, rather than tucked away in an Introduction which is often read last, if at all.

Most people – perhaps particularly cemetery friends, as we are probably less shockable than most – like a good scandal. The private life of Mrs. Harriet Waylett seems to have been adventurous (and sometimes riotous) and although it is technically accurate to quote, in small print, the exact words of the Rev. Richardson writing in 1855, it would be a lot more fun, and more readable, if her private life had been summarised in modern English. But these are small cavils. The author, and his skilful illustrator, must be congratulated, as must be the Friends, for adding another excellent booklet to their range.

© The Norwood Society, Registered Charity 285547

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