In this final part of his fascinating series on neighbourhood notables, Mike Guilfoyle, vice-chair of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, tells the stories of a boxer, a novelist and the “grave crime” of 1894.
Errol Christie (1963-2017) Professional Boxer. The Leicester born, Coventry raised middleweight boxer moved to London in 1981 to further his boxing career, turning professional in 1982. The world-record holding amateur boxer – the only athlete in history to win 10 amateur titles – rose to prominence in the professional ring during the 80s and is credited with initiating the now-common pre-fight sparring scenes. His boxing profile grew although he never fulfilled his earlier promise as an amateur. But he did captain the England amateur boxing team from 1980-83 and also won over 30 professional fights during his career. It was the much publicised defeat in 1985 to Mark Kaylor in a British middleweight title eliminator at Wembley Arena, a fixture charged with much attendant racism and out of the ring thuggery that was the major setback in his career.
Errol tried his hand at being a market trader (Lewisham Market) and as a trainer for white-collar boxing (white collar professionals who were trained to fight for special events). He published a blistering memoir, No Place to Hide: How to Put The Black in the Union Jack, in 2010 which was long listed for the William Hill sports writer prize. He describes in the book how he was the victim of a wrongful arrest in Lewisham when he was mistaken for another suspect. After an altercation he was “placed in a police van that moved off at speed to Ladywell Police Station, eventually the van screeched to a halt, and the doors were flung open, ‘Get out’. ‘You put me in here’, I snarled. ‘You take me out.’” Following his release, no further action was taken! He was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and died at St Christopher’s Hospice, Sydenham in 2017 at the early age of 53. He is buried in Hither Green cemetery.
P C Wren, novelist (1875-1941) Deptford born Percival Christopher Wren was the son of a schoolmaster educated at West Kent School (now Prendergast School) before entering the Indian Educational Service, having studied at Oxford. For a time he was Headmaster of Karachi High School (now Pakistan).
He became a prolific writer, penning over 30 novels, but it was not until the publication of Beau Geste (1924), one of his many adventure novels based on the French Foreign Legion, that he achieved popular success. The book was later adapted for the silent film (1926) starring actor Ronald Colman and perhaps most memorably in the Paramount Pictures production of 1939 with Gary Cooper playing the part of Michael ‘Beau’ Geste.
He returned to England from India in 1917 after serving as Captain with the Poona Volunteer Rifles, to devote himself to writing. He died in Gloucestershire in 1941. As an interesting footnote, the artist Helen Mckie (d.1957) was the illustrator for the 1927 edition of Beau Geste (published following the success of the silent film) her parents are buried in Brockley cemetery.
William George Lemon JP (1831-1897) Barrister and the first London County Councillor for Lewisham. William began his career as a young evangelical scholar educating the sons of missionaries for careers overseas (one of his student’s was Robert Livingstone d.1864 during the American Civil War and was the son of the famous explorer David Livingstone.)
He was called to the Bar in 1866. He was also a fellow of the Geology Society and a Grand Rank Freemason. He was one of the earliest members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In the first elections to the newly formed London County Council in 1889 he was elected as a Progressive (Conservative) for Lewisham but lost his seat in 1892. William’s nemesis as a local politician was Theophilus William Williams, who became Lewisham’s first mayor before a spectacular fall from grace and suicide. In 1896 William spoke from the bandstand at the opening of Hilly Fields.
He died in Blackheath the following year and is buried in Ladywell cemetery. His daughter in law was Etta Lemon (founder member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) whose remarkable life and work features prominently in author Tessa Boase recent and critically received book, ‘Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather’ ( 2018)
John Stoward Moyes (1884 -1972) Australian Anglican Bishop and Author. John Stoward Moyes was born the son of a head teacher in Koolunga (South Australia) and educated at the University of Adelaide before being ordained in 1908. Between 1911 -1913 he was the Assistant Curate at St Mary’s Parish Church, Lewisham when the Vicar, later Archdeacon, was William Woodcock Hough (d.1934) whose personal influence and his time spent serving as a curate locally proved to be important in shaping his later work for the social gospel (Christian social engagement). His unpublished memoirs comment movingly on the poverty he encountered in his pastoral work in Lewisham.
Moyes returned to Australia following his tenure at St Mary’s and later became Archdeacon of Adelaide. He was an active opponent of the Vietnam War using his Episcopal influence in 1965 to pen an open letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. One of his brothers was the Antarctic explorer and Naval Officer, Commander Morton Henry Moyes (d.1981) and another, Alban George Moyes (d.1963), was a journalist and cricket commentator. He died in New South Wales in 1972.
William Woodcock Hough was married to Georgina Hough nee Druitt. Her brother Montague John Druitt committed suicide by drowning in 1888 having been dismissed from Mr Henry Valentines’ school, Blackheath, in unexplained circumstances. He was thereafter identified as one of the prime suspects in the Jack the Ripper murders. Henry Valentine (d.1912) is buried in Ladywell cemetery
‘Grave Crime recorded in Lewisham’ (1894) – from The Morning Post, Tuesday, September 11, 1894
Sarah Piper (aged 19) and Edith Hollidge (aged 14) were both servants working for families in Greenwich. They were seen by a witness at Lewisham (now Ladywell ) cemetery taking flowers (specifically China asters) from one grave and placing them on another.
At Greenwich police (later known as magistrates) court, Sarah Piper protested her innocence; she said she had not touched any flowers. Edith however, admitted her crime, saying “she did not see why one grave should have all the flowers”. The cemetery superintendent, Mr. J. William Bugg appeared to add the information that neither child had any relatives buried there. A widow then came to give evidence that her husband’s grave was frequently having the flowers she left there stolen, which must have been very upsetting for her.
The justice told Edith that her behaviour was ‘wanton mischief’ and fined her 5 shillings, Sarah was discharged without punishment.
Mr. John William Bugg (d.1915), for 30 years superintendent of Lewisham (Ladywell) cemetery, is buried in the family grave which is located in Ladywell cemetery close to the Dissenters Chapel (above). The last time I looked the only flowers growing nearby were wild ones!