Mike Guilfoyle, vice-chair of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, on J B Buckstone – a 19th century actor, playwright and comedian who was a favourite of Charles Dickens. His son became famous for his 1901 stage play ‘Scrooge’.
Located in quiet obscurity by one of the inner pathways in Ladywell cemetery lies the cruciform headstone of one of Charles Dickens favourite comic actors, John Baldwin Buckstone (often shortened to J.B.Buckstone) long associated with London’s Theatre Royal, Haymarket.
Born in Hoxton in 1802 and educated at Walworth Grammar School he turned to acting and toured with a travelling troupe before his first London appearance at the Surrey Theatre in 1823.
From 1827-1833 he was engaged as the leading comedian at the Adelphi Theatre and first appeared at the Haymarket in 1833.
Following an unsuccessful visit to America in 1840 he returned to the Adelphi in London to write and star in his own plays. Under his management from 1853–1877, the Haymarket became the premier comedy theatre of the period.
In 1873 he introduced the idea of matinee performances starting at 2pm. The company at the Haymarket disbanded in 1877 and he found himself in indigent circumstances.
He died in Sydenham in 1879 at the age of 77 years.
Sightings of his resident if not so sinister ghost have been seen by stagehands, standing in the wings of the Haymarket, especially during comedy performances.
In 2009 it was reported that the actor Patrick Stewart had seen his ghost during a performance of Waiting for Godot.
For readers eager for fuller biographical information on this remarkable 19th century actor, playwright and comedian, a link to a narrated podcast from 2019 (one of 12 podcasts on cemetery notables free to listen to) is available here London Epitaphs 10. JB Buckstone by Tempest Productions
But what of the link to Charles Dickens most famous festive novella from 1843 -‘ A Christmas Carol’ ? J.B.Buckstone’s son ,John Copeland Buckstone (1859-1924) was an English stage and film actor of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, who was most famous for his 1901 stage play Scrooge, which was the basis for the first film version of A Christmas Carol in the same year.
John Copeland Buckstone appeared in several early silent British films, including David Garrick (1913) and Scrooge (1913), starring the famous Music Hall actor, Seymour Hicks as Ebenezer Scrooge, who became for many years the quintessential Scrooge (before Alistair Sim! and appeared in the first ever “talking” version in 1935.
So on Christmas morning why not embrace the message of Dickens’s “ghostly little book”, and treat family and friends and maybe a passing stranger to a heartfelt rendition of Tiny Tim’s immortal exhortation – God Bless Us, Every One?