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
James Brooks (1825-1901) Architect. A former vice-president of the Royal Institute of Architects (RIBA) whose reputation was based on his designs for his hugely successful London Churches in the Victorian period (“Mr Brook’s Churches“). Popularly known as a prolific and influential High Church Gothic Revivalist, his work was much praised by architectural historians.
In his hands, notes the Historian, James Stevens Curl, “the Gothic became sublime in its aesthetic”.
One fine local example of his ‘noble and lofty’ designs from 1881 is now the Bible Tabernacle Church, Algernon Road (from 2003) which was formerly known as (Anglican) Church of the Transfiguration until 1940 . After the war it became St Barnabas Church for the Deaf and Dumb.
Antoinette Cauvin, known as Madame Sorgue ( 1864-1924). Cauvin was dubbed the “most dangerous woman in Europe” because of her role in spreading the ideas and methods of French anarcho-syndicalism throughout Britain and Europe.
She headed the women’s hunger march on Tower Hill in London during the 1912 Dockers’ strike and also took part in the agitation during the Tonypandy miners’ strike 1910-11. In March 1915, she attended the funeral of the Cuban anarchist writer and intellectual Fernando Terrida Del Marmol which took place in Ladywell cemetery.
Also present at the interment was the well known Italian Anarchist, Errico Malatesta( d.1932). One of Terrida Del Marmol’s former classmates and close friends was later to become the French prime minister Louis Barthou, whose assassination in Marseille in 1934 alongside King Alexander I of Yugoslavia during his state visit, was captured in one of the most dramatic newsreels moments of the 20th century.
Jesse Saxby (1842-1940), Shetlands first children’s writer. Henry Gordon Edmondston Saxby (1860-1933) was the son of the prolific children’s author and folklorist Jessie Margaret Edmonston Saxby and Dr. Henry Linckmeyer Saxby, an ornithologist best known for his work in the Shetland Islands and the posthumous author of ‘The Birds of Shetland. His grandfather was the meteorologist, Stephen Martin Saxby.
The famous 1869 Canadian tropical cyclone (which pre-dated the practice of naming hurricanes) was given the name “Saxby” in his honour.
Henry Jnr. who worked as a stockbroker’s agent was married to an Ada Marter Furniss (d.1922) and the couple had two children. For a time they lived at 39a Algiers Road, Ladywell.
Lawson Akhurst Smith (1885-1918), the Chief Examiner at the Office of the Admiralty and Marine Affairs. Tooting born Lawson was married on 10 May 1910 in Ticehurst, Sussex to May Elizabeth Gilruth (b.1884), from Islington. The young couple settled into a new married life in leafy Algiers Road near to Hilly Fields and most likely Lawson used nearby Ladywell Station to commute to his position at the Patent Office.
At the outset of World War One, he enlisted with the Queen Victoria Rifles (QVR) of the London Regiment and was sent to the front, and most likely saw action at the Battle of Arras. This British offensive lasted five weeks through April and May 1917, but accounted for almost 300,000 casualties on both sides.
By July 1917, Lawson had been sent home and discharged from service. Tragically, whilst recovering from ‘Shell Shock’ at High field (Golders Green) he apparently jumped from the French windows in his bedroom, a height of between 30 and 40 feet. Lawson’s death certificate listed the cause of death of ‘suicide whilst insane’. He is buried at Orpington All Saints Churchyard.
Although he was commemorated on the Board of Trade’s War Memorial in 1923, as well as the Patent Office’s memorial before that in 1919, he was not recognised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
When Department of Trade & Industry staff began researching the men on the Board of Trade memorial, it was noticed Lawson was not recognised by the CWGC. A submission was placed to have him recognised in 2007. This was initially refused before finally being accepted later in the year.
Father Stephen Spillane (1914-1945) Priest. Just before 11.00pm, on the March 2 1945, two months before VE Day and the end of the Second World War, a V2 rocket struck the pavement near to the Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Bermondsey, destroying the priests’ house and killing the three priests inside.
Father Spillane (photo top left) aged 31 years was one of those who lost their lives. The Spillane family lived at 96 Chudleigh road.
A local milkman called Ted Hemming crawled through the debris as part of the Heavy Rescue Squad. For his bravery he was later awarded the George Cross. Father Spillane is buried in Brockley cemetery.