Mike Guilfoyle, vice-chair of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries and a local historian, reveals the stories of some of the people – the rich and famous as well as the poor and long forgotten – who had links with our neighbourhood
Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) – Born in Manchester, his father was a temperance reformer who travelled all over Britain and Ireland, taking his son with him. It is perhaps ironic that Joseph Blackburne became famous for his hard drinking of whisky while giving simultaneous chess exhibitions. At 21, he set a world record for such exhibitions, competing against 12 club players simultaneously, and he continued to perform “blindfold” into his sixties. He died at his residence at Lewisham on September 1, 1924 at the age of 82. His funeral took place at Ladywell Cemetery on September 4, 1924. It is estimated he played over 100,000 chess games in his career, more than any other chess player. He participated in 53 national or international tournaments in 53 years of international play. Once while competing on the continent he was detained as a French spy at the time of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. His nickname in England was “Prince of Tournament players.” And more menacingly ‘The Black Death’! His local club was St Mary’s Institute, Ladywell, which he used to walk to from his home in nearby Sandrock road. For chess devotees – Tim Harding’s 2015 biography of Joseph Henry Blackburne is likely to be the definitive account of his life.
Alan Jerrard VC (1897-1968) – Jerrard was born at born at 13 Vicar’s Hill; his father was a mathematics master at nearby St Dunstan’s College. He was a member of 66 Squadron (Royal Flying Corps) based in northern Italy in 1918. On 30 March when in his nightwear, he and two other pilots were involved in a dogfight with at least 19 enemy planes. He shot down three enemy planes while the other two pilots shot down a further three between them and also launched an attack, flying as low as 15 feet. Jerrard was forced to crash land and was taken prisoner. When his bulky suit was removed his Austro-Hungarian captors were surprised to find he was in his pyjamas. While still being held captive, Jerrard was awarded the Victoria Cross. The citation said he had displayed “bravery and ability of the very highest order”. He escaped from a prisoner of war camp in Salzburg and died at his home in Lyme Regis, Dorset, in 1968.
Thomas W. Sanders F.R.H.S. (1855-1926) – Thomas William Sanders was the father of amateur gardening as we know it today. He worked on the gardens of Versailles and later edited the ‘Amateur Gardening’ magazine from 1884 for 40 yrs. He wrote many books that have been treasured by gardeners up and down the country, such as the ‘Sander’s Encyclopaedia of Gardening’ in 1895, dealing with plants only, running to 19 editions by 1931. He was also appointed Knight first class of the Royal order of Vasa in 1906, by Sweden for being ‘of high esteem and greatly respected by his colleagues in the agricultural press. He was also a member of the Linnean society in London. He lived at 124 Embleton Road from 1896 until his death at the age of 71 in 1926. The house was bombed during the Second World War. He is buried in Hither Green cemetery.
Constance Mary Knight –Married Harry Price (1881-1948), the Father of Modern Paranormal Research. Described as a ‘wealthy heiress ‘of Adelaide Avenue, Constance married Harry Price, in August 1908. At the time it was pointedly observed that he had ‘wooed and wed’ her, becoming overnight a man of leisure! The Knight’s affluent family background stemmed from the business dealings of Constance’s grandfather Robert Henry Knight, a London perfumer and property owner. Her father, Robert Hastings Knight, is buried in Ladywell cemetery. Harry Price became famous worldwide for his ghost busting investigations. He made his name exposing fake spiritualists. The investigation for which he is now best-remembered is of Borley Rectory, “the most haunted house in England”. Harry Price was portrayed by Rafe Spall in ITV’s 2015 drama ‘Harry Price: Ghost Hunter’.
Stephen Gabriel Dadd (1894-1915) – Dadd was from an artistic family, his father, Stephen T. Dadd (d.1917) was a painter who specialised in dogs. His great uncle was the famous artist Richard Dadd (who having murdered his father died in Broadmoor Hospital in 1886). A natural athlete, his true interest was in sculpture having had a bust of his sister Elfrida accepted by the Royal Academy in 1912. His work Lions and Prey was posthumously exhibited at the academy in 1916. Before the war, he earned a living as an arts teacher. Upon joining the Royal Naval Division in 1914, he was posted to Benbow Battalion and in March 1915 he sailed for Gallipoli where he was killed in action. A Goldsmith student, he was a member of Lewisham Swimming Club and competed at Ladywell Baths which was the home pool for the Club. One of his brothers, Julian died of wounds on the Western Front and the War Poet, his fellow officer and friend Siegfried Sassoon, later bequeathed Richard Dadd’s most famous 1864 painting’ The Fairy Fellers Master Stroke ‘ ( see below ) to the Tate Gallery, in memory of the Dadd brothers and their sacrifice. The Dadd’s lived on St Margaret’s road, off Adelaide avenue and the family grave is located in Ladywell cemetery.