Until We ‘Meat’ Again: the Life and Times of Sheffield Butcher Joseph Innocent Howard

The following is an extract from the first chapter of a planned work arising from the lives and stories encountered in preparing stones of interest for the @AGraveAnnounce account. As such, it is considerably longer than a standard post. It is my intention that the piece will be further honed and refined before forming part of a more extended study. As ever, all feedback is gratefully received! 

Joseph Innocent Howard

The final resting place of Joseph Innocent Howard at City Lane Cemetery, Sheffield. ©A Grave Announcement

This is the tomb of the majestically named Joseph Innocent Howard, a civic-minded butcher and popular local man who became something of a celebrity in the steel-towered conurbation of Sheffield. Slumbering amidst the throng of sepulchres marshalled on the hillside of the municipal cemetery on City Road, this raised ledger monument, in blushing pink granite, lies resolute and unyielding, towering over the urban greenery of the metropolitan skyline. An immaculately chosen site for a nineteenth-century businessman whose life revolved around the city, this particular burial ground was especially popular with the burgeoning ranks of the nineteenth-century lower middle-classes in Victorian society, solid and respectable folk who had climbed the ladders of prosperity, aspirational workers who sought to overcome their humble origins, even in death. Here, then, Joseph would spend his eternal rest rubbing shoulders with his fellow citizens of merit in perpetuity, interred in a locale where his status was continuously reinforced by virtue of his sepulchral companions. The cemetery reflected the genteel lives of the well-heeled in microcosm. To be seen to be deceased in such a place was to loudly proclaim one’s own affluence, to announce one’s estimable reputation to posterity. It was thus a fitting end for this proud and driven man.

Joseph Innocent Howard was born on the 1st of December, 1843, in the small market town of Bawtry in Doncaster. His unusual middle name, a moniker befitting the birth of a new baby, had been his mother Mary’s surname prior to marriage. His father Charles Howard was a successful self-employed joiner, employing, in 1851, two men and two apprentices. The family lived at 43 Scot Lane, both residing and working at this address situated on what served as the local high street. Joseph had three older brothers, all of whom would become carpenters, following in the footsteps of their father. In addition, there were four younger siblings of school-age. A fourteen-year-old servant, Hannah Hatfield, hailing from a village in Nottinghamshire, completed the household.

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1851 census entry recording the members of the Howard household © Findmypast

Amidst the family’s wood-working proclivities, it was to be expected that Joseph would hone his skills in the trade, seeking out a traineeship before eventually aiding his father in gainful employment. Conversely, when he had reached early adolescence, Joseph embarked upon a butchery apprenticeship. As before, he continued to live at Scot Lane, where he can be found as a seventeen-year-old in 1861, employed in a shop in the local area. Joseph’s ambitions, however, were rather grander than a commercial position in a relatively modest location. Sheffield, a city only around twenty-two miles away from Bawtry, loomed on the horizon, its merits no doubt further expounded upon by his father’s employee John Allwood, a man who had been born there and was a member of  the household. Like many before him, then, Joseph left home to seek his fortune.

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1850 OS Map of Yorkshire depicting Bawtry, with Scot Lane in the right-hand corner © National Library of Scotland

His grand ambitions of a successful life in Sheffield butchery began with an apprenticeship to a Mr Holmes in the West Bar area of the city. Sadly, this mentor of Joseph’s subsequently died, leaving him to search for another appointment. Shortly afterwards, he found his feet again with a Mr William Cooper. The two entered into a partnership and opened premises situated at 74 South Street, a central quarter of the city known for its lively retail trade, later renamed the Moor. At this location, meat was sold both to private consumers and wholesale enterprises, catering for every client.

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The Moor area of Sheffield © Picture Sheffield

Business was booming. Yet, self-employment was not without its hardships. In 1869, Joseph and William were involved in litigation over a disputed account, claiming £25 (c. £1565) for unpaid goods from fellow butcher Thomas Hollis. An employee of the latter, James Sneesby, had purchased goods for which payment had not been forthcoming. The case hinged upon the avowals of the two parties: the plaintiffs claimed that Sneesby had acted with his employer’s full knowledge, the defendant that the man had placed the order without explicit permission. The court found in favour of Thomas Hollis. The proceedings had been a lively affair during which ‘great excitement was manifested by the butchers,’ as each protested most ardently as to the course of events. The animation was such that the judge was driven to quip that as ‘the attorneys, barristers, and witnesses seemed to be excited,’ it was his fervent hope that ‘it would not extend to himself.’

Cooper and Howard 1869 litigation

A report on Joseph’s disputed account in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (13/02/1869) ©British Newspaper Archive

During the mid- to late-nineteenth century, when widespread mechanisation and rapid industrialisation threatened to upturn the economic and social foundation of British trade and manufacturing, responding to an accelerating demand for products, many sectors, especially those dependent upon smaller businesses, attempted to resist such changes. In the realm of butchery, such forces, coupled with pressure from social reformers, saw growing calls for the establishment of slaughterhouses as independent entities beyond city limits, a move which resulted in the construction of a number of sizeable meat markets away from the urban sprawl which prepared and sold carcasses. Such adaptions, however, promised to have a direct impact on self-employed meat-sellers who butchered animals on site. In Sheffield, rumblings amongst the city’s butchers grew more pronounced as those involved in the industry sought to maintain their right to address all aspects of the killing and preparation of animals in their own facilities. In order to combat such proposed modifications, business owners plying the trade banded together in 1870 to form the Sheffield Butchers’ Association. Joseph was one of the founding members and served for many years on the general committee, almost always attending the annual meetings. As the organisation took shape, a social calendar developed for subscribers to mingle with fellow tradesmen, including opportunities for socialising with locally and regionally important figures such as the city’s mayor and its parliamentary representatives in order to lobby for influence. Indeed, in 1893 the inaugural ‘Annual Ball’ took place in the Cutlers’ Hall, its proceeds going to the body’s benevolent fund and certain medical charities. This evening of dancing was supplemented by an ‘Annual Dinner,’ held at the same venue, an event which seated around 250 people. Delegates from the butchering associations of other cities were also in regular attendance. It was a swanky affair. Clearly, then, the meat-sellers of the city organised their business and social lives around this professional body and Joseph was no exception. From the very start, even whilst only  a tradesman of small means, he sought to extend and advance his offering with the support of a circle of contemporaries.

Sheffield Butchers' Association

By 1871, Joseph and William still retained the shop on South Street. Indeed, the former is to be found listed there on the census of that year. Interestingly, his thoughts had turned to family – his younger brother Charles, aged 23, had been brought over from Bawtry to serve as Joseph’s assistant. They were joined by their sister Anne and a twenty-year old apprentice William Sim Cobb. In this environment of bustling activity, the Howards plied their butchering trade beneath a new banner – the Howard Brothers.

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1871 census entry depicting the incipient butchery business, Howard Brothers © Findmypast

The incident with the unpaid goods was not to be the duo’s only brush with the authorities. In June 1876, the Sheffield newspapers were excitedly preoccupied with a ‘horse-taming spectacle,’ an episode of terrible equine abuse after which a man named George Laycock had been convicted for having ‘unlawfully an cruelly illtreated [sic] a mare by galvanising the same.’ Laycock, served with a fine of fifty shillings and costs, duly appealed against the judgement. Events had taken place as follows. In March of that year, the accused had issued the inhabitants of Sheffield with invitations to bring their horses to the Queen’s Ground so that he might cure any ‘vices’ with which the animals might be afflicted. Admission was subject to charge. Joseph and William, clearly intrigued by the proposition and fond of this particular horse, sent an assistant, Henry Lewin, to bring her to the field where she underwent Laycock’s treatment, a form of electrification. Led by a boy in the employ of the butchers, the mare was tied to a post before her hind legs were affixed to wires protruding from a ‘magnetic machine.’ Current was then applied, generated from a ‘galvanic battery.’ The creature, unsettled, dislodged the attachments in her jostling, moving one such cable to the bit in her mouth. Despite this disarray, the procedure was not halted. Electricity was applied again. The horse, immediately beginning to show signs of visible distress, ‘reared, fell back on its haunches, and then rolled over on the ground, where it lay, panting, sweating, and in evident agony.’ Even at this point, the current was not removed. When it finally ceased, the animal, bleeding from the mouth, had to be ‘roused with a stick.’

The supposed cure was an abject and cruel failure. Indeed, the uncontrolled kicking for which the horse was brought to Laycock resumed as soon as she was led away from the area. As the legal representatives of the appeal’s respondent stated, the horse had ‘no doubt been cruelly treated and subjected to unnecessary pain.’ An eyewitness, Mr J. Pendleton concurred, telling the court that ‘it appeared to be in great agony. It panted and heaved, and the ‘”sweat”‘ was conspicuous on it.’ He added further that ‘the mare suffered greatly whilst under the treatment, and he did not consider it a humane method of dealing with the case.’

Laycock advert 1877 Derbyshire Times

George Laycock’s advertisement for ‘horse taming by electricity,’ printed in the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald (20/01/1877). ©British Newspaper Archive

When Joseph’s employee, Henry, was called upon to speak, he informed those present that his manager’s sibling, Anne Howard, had directed him to take the mare to Laycock for this supposedly restorative purpose following a recommendation. Despite having essentially agreed with the preceding assessments, Henry did go on to claim that the horse, formerly a ‘notorious kicker’ was now ‘a good deal quieter.’ This verdict was supported by a letter from Joseph and William stating that ‘since being operated on’ the mare had been much more placid. The reader is left with the feeling that the butchers were desperate to remove this potential stain from their reputation, resorting to the only possible solution to limit the damage to their business, namely continued affirmations of the animal’s subsequently improved conduct and attestations to its lack of suffering. Yet in reading the statements of the other witnesses and the comments of counsel, one cannot but starkly recognise the act of abuse perpetrated in this instance and the transparency of the hastily arranged ex post facto defence. Bewitched by the latest treatment arriving in town, Joseph’s sister had proposed and promoted the horse’s visit to Laycock, one clearly experimental in nature. Whilst we must be careful not to make anachronistic determinations as to the case, it seems patent that the butchers were aware of the nature of the therapy and mindful of its potential for harm. The bench, however, were not convinced. Citing supportive testimony from veterinarians approving of the practice and other witness statements attesting that the current was applied only for a very few seconds, they reached the verdict on appeal that there had been ‘no cruelty.’ The conviction which had first been brought by the Sheffield Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was quashed. Nevertheless, the association of the Cooper and Howard business with this insalubrious episode was fixed and, in the minds of many of the citizens interested in the case, was likely rather tarnished.

Laycock Appeal

Laycock’s verdict overturned (Sheffield Daily Telegraph 30/06/1876)  ©British Newspaper Archive

Howard Horse Laycock 1876

The newspaper listed the many cruelties inflicted upon Joseph’s mare (Sheffield Daily Telegraph 30/06/1876)  ©British Newspaper Archive

Despite the potential damage to character involved in such legal troubles, Joseph continued to expand, taking full advantage of the help provided by his brother, as  demonstrated on the 1881 census. By this time he had parted ways with his former associate William, striking out independently. Whilst he remained at South Street supported by three assistants in their twenties, Charles was entrusted with the management of a second branch of their meat-selling business, located at 90 West Bar. Now married to his wife Elizabeth and with new-born baby Florence, Charles was ably assisted by two associates. In total, therefore, the Howard Brothers now provided employment for five individuals across two sites. The pair were making a name for themselves, refining and honing their offering in a city brimming with competition. At this stage, therefore, the brothers sought to develop the family aspect of the business still further. Their nephew, Harry Howard, aged 13, had moved to Sheffield from Norfolk for the purpose of gaining butchery experience. Upon completing his apprenticeship with his brother, he later became an assistant at the South Street site.

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The 1881 household of Joseph Innocent Howard. © Findmypast

Joseph’s interests did not only lie in the meat-selling industry. He had remained in touch with his old partner William Cooper and the two made use of their former enterprise to involve themselves in the local community. Whilst trading together, the men had made a number of joint investments in Sheffield land. As a result, a field was loaned out for the Whitsuntide celebrations in 1881 to a group of children from the Sunday school attached to the now demolished St. Paul’s, a chapel of ease to Sheffield Parish Church – now the cathedral. The intention was that the space would be used for sports and games. So grateful were the assembly for this benevolence that they only adjourned ‘after cheering the gentlemen who had lent the field.’ The timing of this largesse also points to another facet of Joseph’s character: his religious bent. For many years, he served as a sidesman, a public-facing position involving duties similar to that of an usher, in the church noted above. His disciplined business life was complemented by ready adherence to the rigorous stipulations of the life of a practising Christian.

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Engraving of St.Paul’s taken from Edward Blore’s The History of the City of Sheffield 1843-1993 (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

The growth in demand for meat for the urban middle classes in the 19th century gave rise to expanded trade networks, facilitated by technological change. The urban butcher kept one eye trained on the livestock commerce of the hinterlands, making use of a nexus of contacts to ensure supply. Joseph Howard was one such figure, carefully and skilfully navigating cattle markets in the hope of a bargain. He was a shrewd negotiator, often relying on his business acumen to make himself a good deal. As a result, he was a trusted individual in the local community and the meat-selling industry. Indeed, following the death of cattle dealer J. W. Dickinson in 1881, Joseph was selected, in company with a number of other men, to be a member of a ‘committee of inspection’ entrusted with ensuring that the liquidation of the deceased’s estate took place without incident, reimbursing his creditors.

As we have seen above, this diligent and economic business practice, however, did not always proceed without incident. In 1882, an article in the newspaper records the conclusion of legal proceedings brought by Frederick Langley, a ‘licensed victualler,’ against butchers George Lister and Joseph Howard. The two were fined six pounds and four shillings as ‘compensation for damage caused to his [Langley’s] property by reason of two bulls being negligently driven on the 4th of January.’ The matter was as follows. Lister had sold the two creatures to his fellow meat-seller at Wakefield market. The animals were taken by train ‘en route for Sheffield,’ stopping at Bridgehouse to be collected by a drover and brought to the city. Disaster befell the man when the bulls, which were ‘very wild,’ greatly disturbed the plaintiff and his wife by ‘rushing into the bar, where they knocked all the things about, breaking decanters, glasses, &c., of the total value of £6. 4s.’ Having been eventually subdued, the animals were brought to Joseph’s shop on the Moor to be slaughtered. It proved to be an expensive transaction for the Howard Brothers.

Howard Bull Brawl

Joseph’s taurine skirmish as covered in the Sheffield Independent (24/06/1882). ©British Newspaper Archive

Such outlays notwithstanding, Joseph’s profits continued to grow, permitting more long-term investments. A couple of years after his brush with the law, the butcher made a successful bid upon 12 acres of Nottinghamshire grassland known as Far New Close, a deal made after he had ‘knocked down’ the auctioneer to the rate of £77 per acre. At the same time, he made a second purchase of another 17 acres of adjacent land – the unsurprisingly named New Close – for the sum of £56 per acre. It was not only the vending of meat per se that made the acquisition of these assets possible. Monies were also pouring in from another venture, a concern whereby every part of the slaughtered animal would be made to work for revenue. This was the Sheffield Butchers’ Hide & Skin Company and Joseph had been involved with the project since its incorporation in 1869.

Hide and Skin Company Manager Advert

Advertisement for a manager to oversee the new Sheffield Butchers’ Hide and Skin Company (Sheffield Independent 18/12/1869) ©British Newspaper Archive

The meat-sellers of the city, joining forces, had established this enterprise to complement their butchering efforts. It proved to be so successful that the Sheffield iron and steel industry were said to be have become nervous eyeing this threat to their commercial dominance. Indeed, in 1875, the Hide & Skin Company paid the handsome dividend of 25 per cent to its shareholders whilst simultaneously returning one per cent to its customer base and maintaining a sizeable balance. The business took on many contracts throughout the city, supplying a plethora of the by-products of butchery, including large amounts of fat, employing many in the area in its factories. Joseph was voted a director, a position to which he was frequently returned by investors and his fellow members of the board. In 1877, together with the latter, he was offered a ‘very cordial vote of thanks,’ receiving the sum of £50 as a reward for his stewardship. It was not only a lucrative appointment, but a sign of his social ascendance within the city, from mere tradesman to respectable businessman. By now, everyone who was everyone in the world of meat, in addition to a number of the great and the good of Sheffield itself, knew the Howard name. Only one area of his life still remained unfulfilled.

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Joseph and Elizabeth’s wedding certificate, dated to the 28th of December, 1886 (©British Newspaper Archive)

In 1886, a few days after Christmas, Joseph married Elizabeth Wainwright, a dressmaker twenty years younger than himself. Their wedding certificate (reproduced above) shows the two signatures of the couple, solemnifying their union in the eyes of God and their family, looking to the future. Elizabeth’s father William, named on the document as a yeoman, enjoyed modest success as a farmer, working 4 acres in Haxey, Doncaster, a town around eleven miles away from Joseph’s childhood home in Bawtry. It is therefore not inconceivable to surmise that the two met through a local connection of some description, perhaps facilitated by familial ties. Despite Joseph’s patent emphasis on kinship in his business life, there were to be no offspring from this union. As ever, his focus remained keenly trained upon his shops. It is for this reason, then, that, a few years later, the tainted meat scandal so occupied his thoughts and his commercial activities. He devoted himself wholeheartedly to averting a disaster whose roots lay in the turmoil of the past.

Eight years earlier, the passage of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill by the Conservative government had caused great consternation amongst the butchers of Sheffield. This decree had been passed in response to the liberal environment of agricultural trade generated by the early to mid-nineteenth century’s emphasis on deregulation in such matters. Indeed, such was the light touch in these matters that little attention was given to the relationship between live imports and the spread of animal disease. The cattle plague of 1865 put paid to this hands-off approach, as the epidemic –  the infectious viral disease rinderpest – ripped its way through agricultural communities. The devastation brought about great legislative change. Such was the concern for the risk posed to public health in the consumption of contaminated meat that policies were subsequently introduced excluding living beasts from transportation and containing those diagnosed with the contagion through mandatory slaughter and quarantine procedures. Indeed, it was not only rinderpest that posed a threat to the health of the nation, but pleuropneumonia and foot and mouth caused great anxiety. In this climate of fear, the 1878 governmental act endowed inspectors with the power to take restrictive measures where necessary, often resulting in the killing of imported animals at the ports. Whilst the British farming industry saw this development as something of a victory for their own interests, the meat-selling community viewed the initiative as obstructive to their way of doing business, especially as regards the live slaughter of animals on the premises. Civil war broke out amongst the rearers and traders of meat. As such, when the butchers of Sheffield met to discuss the impending regulations enshrined within the new Bill introduced into the House of Lords by the Duke of Richmond, they ‘decided unanimously to oppose the measure.’

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A typical 1865 Cattle Plague notice from Hartlepool limiting the movement of animals. ©Hartlepool History Then and Now

A meeting of the Sheffield Butchers’ Association was held in the Smithfield Hotel, a red-brick building in the vicinity of the now closed Alexandra Theatre. Members were disgruntled, angrily complaining that they had not been able to present their comments on the new law to the Cattle Plague Committee established for such a purpose, whilst ‘agriculturalists and men in office under the Government gave nearly the whole of the testimony obtained.’ Inconsistencies were observed and derided: it was considered to be unfair that the authorities forced cattle to be slaughtered at the dockside, but permitted ‘lean and dairy stock’ to enter the country following a period of quarantine. The man in the chair, Councillor Woodcock, the President of the Association, used his position to urge the assembled butchers to take action, citing a recent regional gathering in Leeds whereby delegates resolved to appeal to the government for reconsideration. He asked his listeners to consider whether ‘a petition should be sent up from Sheffield or a deputation appointed to go up to London.’ Simultaneously, the public must be made aware of the ramifications of the restrictions, insofar as they would have to ‘bear the brunt of the increased prices.’ The passionate speeches of butchers in attendance at the meeting were recorded in the newspapers, comments railing against the political machinations responsible, asking why the principle of free trade, as far as cattle are concerned, had been summarily withdrawn, and condemning the government’s adherence to ‘landed interests’ over the good of the country. It was a lively affair, with tensions running high. Ultimately, it was agreed that both a public meeting would be held and the memorial adopted by their fellow butchers at the assembly in Leeds be ratified and dispatched to the House of Lords, a document which called the attention of the latter to three issues: the inconsistency in the treatment of dairy and fat cattle, the slaughtering of animals from countries unaffected by any of the contagious diseases, and the legislation’s likely destruction of British cattle trade with the Continent. Having reflected upon such matters, the Sheffield Butchers’ Association would ask the peers to remove a clause from the Bill in order that imported animals proved to be free from contagion on the dockside might be transported inland to be killed and sold. Joseph, heavily involved with these issues and eager to facilitate the lifting of the restrictions, was present at this high-spirited gathering. Indeed, he was even selected to be part of a new committee designed to take an overview of the implementation and effect of the legislation in Sheffield proper.

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At the same time, the Sheffield Butchers’ Association made the decision to lobby the local member of parliament, Anthony John Mundella, a Liberal. Whilst Joseph did not participate in these discussions, he would have been very interested in the outcome. The result was that the politician agreed to approach the relevant committee on behalf of the businessmen, prevailing upon the legislators to amend the Bill in line with the revisions suggested above. Mundella tirelessly worked to represent their interests, forming a body of opposition against the government. Such were his efforts that he was successful in making sure that the decree was redrafted, particularly in regard to the defeat of the proposals surrounding the compulsory slaughter of imported animals. In August 1878, a vote of thanks to the MP was even passed, demonstrating the gratitude of those involved in the meat-selling industry of Sheffield for his ‘firm, assiduous, and successful action.’ Mundella stated his especial pleasure in receiving this tribute from a professional body whose members were accustomed to differ politically from his own. He went on to detail the importance of the butchery business to Sheffield, expressing his own appreciation of the trade with words which must have resonated with Joseph:

‘You are a class, a very important class of the community, and have a great function to perform. You distribute to the community one of the first necessaries of life, and any interference with a trade like yours would have had, in my opinion, a most disastrous tendency.’

The crisis was averted. Imported animals were to be allowed to enter the country. The butchers of Sheffield could continue their business without interruption. The atmosphere was celebratory, the looming threat of disease seemingly removed from consciousness. Indeed, throughout the 1880s, Joseph and Charles poured forth all their energies into the business, taking advantage of the redrafted regulations in making regular purchases at the regional cattle markets, buying in particular a great deal of fat stock. Whilst the menace of contagion had receded, growing pressure on the issue of the abolition of private slaughter-houses worried many in Sheffield, especially towards the end of the decade. For now, such abattoirs would be permitted to exist if appropriate measures of sanitation were taken. Simultaneously, the city would be asked to consider the erection of several improved slaughter-houses throughout as opposed to one centralised site. This would facilitate ready usage of the facilities by smaller businesses. The relationship between established local trade and the improvements necessitated by the forces of industrialisation continued to be tested, with neither side willing to yield. Into this climate, the blight of tuberculosis brought, again, the issue of diseased meat to the forefront. Joseph found himself on the frontline. 

NPG D43513; Anthony John Mundella ('Statesmen, No. 99.') by James Jacques Tissot

An illustration of Anthony John Mundella MP in the Vanity Fair issue of the 9th December, 1871 (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

In September 1889, two carcasses were seized by the Medical Officer of Health and subsequently condemned by the magistrates as ‘diseased and unfit for the food of man,’  suffering from tuberculosis. The butchers were unhappy at this turn of events, arguing that, although there was evidence of the contagion, one of the carcasses remained edible given that  the flesh beyond the diseased section was untainted. Two veterinarians also certified that the meat was ‘fit for consumption.’ A strength of force was clearly required. The Sheffield Butchers’ Association arranged a meeting at the Albert Hall, attended by around four hundred of their body. Joseph was present as a member of the ruling committee. Great anger was expressed towards the medical official as desirous of condemning any meat which showed the slightest sign of the disease. Tensions were already running high following recent events in Glasgow where a man was prosecuted for selling diseased meat. This had become something of a test case for the issues at hand, with butchers making the case that they were unable to ascertain contagion upon purchase, that meat affected with the primary form of the disease remains edible, and, lastly, that to condemn flesh on the basis of a medical officer’s word alone is unjust.  ‘The butchers of Sheffield are in revolt,’ cried the London Daily News. Amidst the solutions sought, the suggestion of one individual, Edward Lister, was greeted with approbation, that a jury of three butchers and one veterinarian be appointed to consult on the matter of affected carcasses with the officer, and that appropriate compensation be offered to the butcher to mitigate the loss caused by enforced slaughter. The tradesmen wanted to ‘have a voice’ on the matter and it was decided that a deputation, a so-called ‘butchers’ jury,’ would be dispatched to the city’s Health Committee to plead their case for a ‘more rigorous and thorough inspection of foreign meat.’ Joseph and his brother Charles were both honoured in being chosen as two of those few who would join this party. The meeting drew to a close, ‘the largest gathering that ever took place’ of Sheffield butchers.

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Butchers organise a meeting of unprecedented size to address the growing crisis of diseased meat (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 25/09/1889). ©British Newspaper Archive

Despite the provision of the results of scientific testing and documents attesting to the success of butchers’ juries in other areas, the Health Committee declined the request, citing the authority granted to the medical officer by the Public Health Act of 1876. All was not yet lost, however. The men had also decided to call upon their old champion, Anthony Mundella, to assist them in obtaining an interview with the Minister for Agriculture, a Mr. Henry Chaplin. This having been arranged, Joseph was again one of those approached for this purpose, such was his reputation amongst his peers for his keen diligence and quiet assiduousness. The meeting was set for the 24th April, 1890. Prior to that, a gathering was to be held at the Great Bull Hotel in Wakefield on the 1st of April at 4,30pm of the representatives of butchers across the north of England, from Yorkshire, Lancashire and even Durham. ‘Do not fail to attend,’ the missive warned. The delegates strategised and sought tactics for best promoting their interests. At this stage and for some unknown reason, Joseph withdrew from proceedings. Perhaps the limited space generated by the sizeable regional interest in the planned discussions proved a barrier, or perhaps he simply wanted to focus on trade. Nevertheless, the fate of the business hinged upon the desired outcome and it must have been a very tense spring for the Howard brothers. 

Unexpectedly, the issue suddenly disappears from the newspapers, the trail running cold. Consultation of the speeches recorded in the parliamentary record Hansard makes it clear that little of concrete import emerged from the meeting. In comments given by Henry Chaplin on the subject of tuberculosis, he informs Parliament that he ‘received a large and important deputation’ where he ‘stated the views of the Board of Agriculture very fully.’ One concession was made in that he assured those who had attended this gathering that the government would not object to the offering of appropriate compensation to butchers whose animals were condemned and slaughtered. An inquiry was launched, an exploration of the issues which was overshadowed by yet another emergent crisis.

In the 1890s, the Howard brothers were extremely active in business, recorded at numerous cattle markets where they made a number of savvy purchases. It was this mode of acquisition which led to the opening of a dispute between the market in Retford and the butchers of Sheffield, difficulties amongst which both Joseph and Charles found themselves. The problem centred upon ‘luck money,’ a sum acting as informal insurance between buyer and seller as an assurance that the goods are genuine and in decent condition. The meat-sellers of the city, supported by those from Doncaster and other surrounding areas, refused to purchase animals from these sales unless such monies continued to be offered. This demand caused great indignation amongst those involved in agriculture in the region who considered the charge as a form of blackmail facilitating the enormous profits of the butchers, as opposed to their own paltry earnings. They refused to comply. Agriculturalists at Doncaster, Lincoln and Rotherham added their own vetos to the mix. Relations between the two parties broke down to such an extent that they were forced to enter mitigation, presided over by the Duke of Portland with Charles selected as official spokesperson. Unfortunately, whilst other areas fell in line, the deadlock at Retford could not be broken, despite Charles’ best attempts at presenting a convincing argument. The Sheffield Butchers’ Association therefore decided to finance the opening of a new market at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, and a company was formed to oversee its establishment. Charles and Joseph played a key role in this new venture, representing their Sheffield brethren at the venue’s opening. Their nephew Harry also came to join them, resident with Joseph at South Street where he was now serving as a fully trained butcher’s assistant.

Cattle Market Tring 1890

A cattle market held at Tring in Hertfordshire c.1890 ©National Education Network

A few years later, the markets of Rotherham and Worksop added their veto to the mix. Charles, now Secretary of the Sheffield Butchers’ Association, was again put forward as their representative, chosen to meet with a similar representative of the other side. In a meeting held in the Lion Hotel in Worksop, Charles argued the case of his fellow butchers, holding fast to their interests. According to the Sheffield Evening Telegraph, he claimed that ‘the granting of the bequest would result in increased competition and the material improvement of the market.’ Ultimately, his words swayed those who had initially been opposed to the ‘luck money’ charge. Worksop voted overwhelmingly to pay. Charles was triumphant. It was another victory for the Howard name.

As the century drew to a close, Joseph’s shop on South Street was booming – his nephew Harry had been joined by another, Joseph Cartwright Howard, and two further assistants, one of whom was his wife’s brother, Walter Edward Wainwright. Charles’ branch was also performing well and his family had grown considerably. Joining his wife Elizabeth and eldest daughter Florence were four further children, a teenage apprentice, two servants and his widowed mother-in-law, Mary Brookfield. He must also have now begun to keep his own cattle, perhaps for usage within the shop, as we find Charles listed as a farmer in addition to his customary trade. The future looked brighter than ever. It was not to last. The shadowy figure of the grim reaper came to pay a visit to the Howards. The blow was sudden, a tragic strike of fickle fate, an unforeseen agony.

Howard Brothers Butchers 1897

South Street decorated for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1897 with Joseph’s shop on the right. If you look closely, you can just discern the ‘Howard’ name as printed upon the store. ©Picture Sheffield

By the year 1901, the Howard brand had undergone further expansion following the opening of a third branch with nephew Harry at the helm as butcher, now operating independently. The shop was situated at 88 Sandford Grove Road in the leafy ward of Ecclesall Bierlow. The other locations continued to trade successfully. It was therefore all the more distressing when Joseph dropped dead of a massive and fatal heart attack at his residence and shop on South Street on the morning of the 12th of January, aged only 57. Although he had been suffering from some recent cardiac issues,  he had been seen on the previous day in the city ‘in his usual health’ and his passing was a ‘great surprise to his family and friends.’ The Sheffield newspapers bewailed his loss, lamenting that ‘a well-known and much respected figure has been removed from local circles.’ An obituary delineated his rise from apprentice to businessman, noting ‘his keen interest in everything appertaining to the welfare of the city.’ Through his activities with the Sheffield Butchers’ Association as a ‘prominent member’ who ‘worked hard in the interests of this organisation’ and his array of shops, Joseph was ‘well-known to almost all old Sheffielders and to many of the younger generation.’ Indeed, as the newspaper asserted, ‘his death will be deeply regretted.’ His absence would be sorely felt. The funeral was arranged a few days later, to be held on Wednesday the 16th in the afternoon at Sheffield Intake Cemetery, now known as City Road.

Funeral Hearse Sheffield 1901

A typical turn of the century Sheffield funeral hearse ©Picture Sheffield

The funeral was very well-attended, a tribute to Joseph’s impact upon his adopted city. Indeed, many prominent Sheffield organisations sent representatives. An enormous number of his fellow butchers also paid their respects. In a mark of his benevolence and his acts of civic goodwill, the proceedings also featured ‘many poor people who had benefitted from Mr. Howard’s kindness in the past.’ Joseph had always been ready to help with funds or facilities. He was a man upon whom one could always rely for assistance, for help in extricating oneself from a scrape. Such was the nature of the eulogies given in his favour, during a service presided over by the Revered J. Gilmore at St. Paul’s Church, where for many years Joseph worshipped and held a lay position. Afterwards, his coffin bedecked with wreaths was laid upon the hearse and the funeral cortege travelled to the cemetery proper. The Revered Gilmore read the service as Joseph’s body was interred and he became one, appropriately, with the earth of Sheffield.  Amongst the mourners were his widow Elizabeth, two of his brothers including Charles, three nephews of whom Harry was one, a sister- and brother-in-law. The event was covered in the newspaper.

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The funeral of Joseph Innocent Howard as detailed in the Sheffield Independent (17/01/1901) ©British Newspaper Archive

Joseph’s capital upon his death was very considerable, a sum amounting to £30,211. This was the equivalent of around 2.3 million in today’s money and included the likely proceeds of the sale of the deceased’s property and land, assets including two farms near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire and a sizeable amount of Sheffield land which was to be liquidated at auction. As this process took longer than expected, it was not until October 1902 that a notice appeared in the city’s newspapers requesting that those with claims against his estate make contact with the solicitors acting for his executors, one of whom was his nephew Harry Howard. Clearly, there had been some overvaluation in Joseph’s affairs, likely due to difficulties in selling the above assets, as, in April 1903, his will was resworn in the amount of £25488, still an enormous sum equating to around 2 million pounds. Joseph had risen from apprentice to wealthy businessmen, securing a commercial presence throughout the city. He lived and died in prosperity.

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The West Bar branch of the Howards’ butchery shops (third from the left). ©Picture Sheffield

The passing of the founding member of the Howard group of butchers did not lead to the cessation of their activities, although the men never again saw the kind of wealth associated with Joseph. Harry was installed at 74 South Street, where he took over from his uncle in keeping the shop trading at a roaring pace, aided by two assistants. His wife and sister-in-law, in addition to two servants, made up the household. Charles also continued to operate his part of the business from West Bar until his death in retirement in 1923, leaving around £3833 (c. £111,000). One of the men’s two other nephews, having gained an enormous amount of experience, left the area in pursuit of an independent position. Walter Edward Wainwright, whose uncle through marriage was Joseph, set up shop in nearby Barnsley with his wife and daughter. There was a sad end for the remaining nephew, however. Joseph Howard Cartwright died a year after his uncle in 1902. This tragic news notwithstanding, it is overwhelmingly clear that provisions had already been made for Joseph’s vision, constructed upon a foundation of kinship, to continue to prosper. Indeed, that the familial aspect of the Howard brand had become multi-generational can be seen in a gesture of Charles, having named his two eldest sons Charles and Joseph. History could repeat itself. Both boys trained as butchers and embarked upon a career trading in the industry in Sheffield. Like father, like son. It was a poignant affirmation of the ties of blood upon which their fortune and reputation had been founded.

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The probate notice of Charles Howard in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (31/12/1923) ©British Newspaper Archive

As a stalwart purveyor of meats in the city for decades, the Howard name had become a byword for business acumen and excellence. In addition to the reputation garnered from such a practice, the role had also brought the family considerable wealth. They had come a long way from the days of that small market town of Bawtry. Important and celebrated within the city, they formed a part of the fabric of life, solid and respectable representatives of the emergent middle classes, prosperous businessmen with influence to wield. As these individuals rose within society, it became increasingly clear that your background was not necessarily your destiny. The ladder to riches could be mounted by all, provided one had the wherewithal to scale the heights.

As the 19th century drew to a close and the death of Victoria brought great uncertainty to her citizens, it was patent that the rise of such skilled entrepreneurs, bolstered by the changing shape of commerce, was here to stay. The middle classes had grown fat upon the upward mobility of these new members. There were, however, more radical societal developments to come. As the Edwardian period ushered in the deceleration of the forces of industrialisation, focus turned to social reform and the nature of political representation. Change was in the wind.

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A Grave Announcement (@AGraveAnnounce)

Bibliography

The following items proved enormously helpful in providing general background information on the butchery trade and relevant legislation:

A. B. Erickson, ‘The Cattle Plague in England 1865-7,’ Agricultural History 35.2 (1961), 94-103. 

J. R. Fisher, ‘The Economic Effects of Cattle Disease in Britain and Its Containment, 1850-1900,’ Agricultural History 54.2 (1980), 278-294.

K. Waddington, The Bovine ScourgeMeatTuberculosis and Public Health18501914 (Rochester, 2006)

Websites

The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). Accessed August 21st, 2019.

Findmypast (https://www.findmypast.co.uk). Accessed August 19th, 2019. 

Graces Guide (https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Main_Page). Accessed August 25th, 2019. 

Hartlepool History Then and Now (https://www.hhtandn.org). Accessed August 27th, 2019. 

Hansard (https://hansard.parliament.uk). Accessed September 2nd, 2019. 

Picture Sheffield (http://www.picturesheffield.com). Accessed September 10th, 2019.

God’s Little Acre(s): Highgate Cemetery West – Part 1 (Long Read)

Far spread below doth London wear,
Its cloud by day, its fire by night–
Yet scarce with heavenly presence there
Shrined in the smoke or pallid light.
Incessant troops from that vast throng
Withdraw to silent colonies;
Where houses, lo, are fair and strong,
Though ruins, all that dwell in these.
Yet, ‘neath the universal sky,
Bright children here too run and sing,
Calm verdure waxes green and high,
And grave-side roses smell of Spring.

In Highgate Cemetery, William Allingham (1850)

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Highgate East (Image © A Grave Announcement)

Last night I dreamt I went to Highgate again: the creeping foliage of its lingering woods, the wealth of stones arrayed like a clamouring crowd, the quiet tittering of its avian population, its wildflowers dotted in a universe of stars. Seemingly labyrinthine paths meander through the arboreal canopy, a profusion of markers wind their way towards the horizon, throngs of personal stories gathered about the woods, quiet voices softly speaking both the death and victory of time. It is an affecting sort of place, the kind of site at which your heart beats with wonder at the very act of passing through. As the genealogical adage attests, we are always only passing through. In Highgate, this transience is written into our shared history, carved into the stones of those who have gone before, families occupying that very ground from the dawn of the Victorian era to the technological jungle of our own period. 

In early nineteenth century London, burying the dead was a dark and grotty business. As the population of the city swelled from around 1 million to 2.3. million souls, the growing urban sprawl, in addition to the associated trend for interment within the city limits, gave birth to overflowing graveyards riddled with disease and putrefaction. These unsanitary conditions were even said to contribute to the outbreak of illness in surrounding dwellings. Worse still, decaying matter was known to leak into the water supply. There were even reports of sewer rats desecrating bodies. All was disarray. Burial grounds were ransacked, cadavers taken away to be sold illegally for medical purposes. Corpses were routinely dismembered in order to increase space for further committals. Gravediggers commonly worked in conditions so cramped that recently interred bodies were violently disturbed. These were grisly and unregulated places. Horrifying scenes of putrefaction. Those who had passed on were clearly unable to rest in peace. Something had to be done to ameliorate the atrocity of the prevailing sepulchral practices.

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Cemetery at Bunhill Fields, Finsbury, London, 1866 © Natural History Museum

In 1832, bowing to pressure from those seeking reform, an Act of Parliament was passed urging more burials outside London, seeking to promote the establishment of private cemeteries free from parish control. The construction of Père Lachaise in 1815 with its emphasis on a landscaped ‘garden’ layout, a space defined by artfully arranged plants and imposing architectural features, had a huge influence on the changing conceptualisation of the cemetery in this period, becoming something of a model for those following suit in the British capital. In the ensuing nine years after the above decree stipulated the incorporation of a General Cemetery Company ‘for the interment of the dead in the neighbourhood of the Metropolis,’ seven such sites were selected and developed, beginning with Kensal Green in north-west London. Dying was now reborn, interment made corporate property, as this General Cemetery Company inspired a number of other such enterprises, resulting in a wealth of new burial grounds over the next decade. These site were later gathered together beneath the informal nickname ‘The Magnificent Seven.’

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Part of the gatehouse at the entrance to the West Cemetery (Image © A Grave Announcement)

Highgate is a site of enormous proportions. Now divided into its western and eastern halves (see the forthcoming second part of this post), the former can only be entered via a guided tour (you can book online here). The imposing and turreted Gothic gatehouse through which one enters plays host to both an Anglican and Nonconformist chapel, whilst its arch proudly proclaims the ‘London Cemetery’ moniker of its founding company, formally established in 1836 in imitation of the aforementioned corporation at Kensal Green. The design apes that of a triumphal arch, as if heralding its own deathly boulevard, a via mortis, stygian thoroughfare penetrating the gloom. This is more apt than ever when one realises that, beneath the entryway, a tunnel was carved out to receive coffins for transportation via an hydraulic lift between the Anglican mortuary chapel and East cemetery expansion, a discreet passage for casket removal, slipping quietly beneath the carriage-laden and thronged street amidst services for the dead, a way to ensure that the body remained continuously within consecrated ground between ceremony and inhumation.

Once Upon a Midnight ‘Geary’

Stephen Geary (1797-1854) was appointed as architect for the original burial ground on the west where, in a fitting coordination, he was himself later interred. Geary had been a founder of the London Cemetery Company formed for the purpose of developing Highgate, and was thus a perfect candidate for bringing this sepulchral vision to life. To support his efforts, he employed James Bunstone Bunning as surveyor, later a City of London architect who designed who designed, inter alia, the City of London School, the City Prison and parts of Brunel’s Hungerford Suspension Bridge. In addition, David Ramsey, renowned for the beauty of his gardens, was brought on board as landscaper and nurseryman.

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James Bunstone Bunning, Illustrated London News (October 28th, 1865)

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Morning Advertiser (18.05.1836)

The team was now in place – next, the site. Seventeen acres of land on the slopes of Highgate Hill, originally belonging to Ashurst House and its estate, was purchased for £3500 (c. £211,500). It took three years of careful planning and execution to bring the project to completion, with a methodical approach to formal planting and configuration of the grounds, all accompanied by the grand architectural models of Geary and Bunning. Such was the ambitious scale of the undertaking that the London Cemetery Company even developed their own brickworks to ensure timely delivery.

In September 1838, an announcement was made in the Morning Post and elsewhere in the press, informing the residents of the city that ‘the Highgate Cemetery is finished and ready for Consecration.’ Once the latter had taken place, the first occupants could lay down to rest in sacred earth.

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The area was consecrated on the 20th of May, 1839, by the Right Reverend Charles James Blomfield, Lord Bishop of London, who swiftly dedicated the ground to St. James.

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Charles James Blomfield by Thomas Lawrence (St Edmundsbury Museums)

Blomfield was a former classical scholar known for his fierce debating skills in the House of Lords. In previous years, he had presided over a scheme to accelerate the building of churches in the capital with, according to his fellow churchmen, ‘almost superhuman exertions.’ He brought this ecclesiastical drive with him to the Highgate ceremonial, and, as a man with interests in the ancient world, must have been impressed by the sheer  splendour and scale of Geary and Bunning’s architectural foundation.

The cemetery’s land was partitioned in accordance with denomination – the Church of England received fifteen acres and the Dissenters, two.

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The Globe, 25.05.1839

The first burial took place six days later, on the 26th of May. Elizabeth Jackson, aged 36 and formerly of Little Windmill Street in Soho, had paid 3 guineas for the privilege of a Highgate interment. For a considerable period, however, Elizabeth’s grave stood mournfully bereft of neighbours – initial applicants to the cemetery were distributed throughout its acres, favouring lots away from the entrance and main paths proper.

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The Grave of Elizabeth Jackson © Bill Nicholls

Slowly and steadily, however, from this first quiet entombment of Elizabeth, West Cemetery became grandeur itself, a site bedecked with saxeous funerary monuments, pomp-laden announcement of magnificent ceremony, ever in flux, proliferating and gasping under the weight of its own departed. It was the place to be and the place to be seen to be dead, a fashionable funereal locus where the well-heeled flocked in their droves, enviously admiring each other’s passage into the earth. Highgate was on the map.

From its very inception, the London Cemetery Company advertised widely, building momentum around the idea of a Highgate interment,  an insistent presence in the city’s newspapers. This early offering from The Morning Post in May 1839 presents a simple summary of the services available, advising interested parties to apply at the corporation’s offices in Moorgate-Street, at the ‘back of the Bank.’

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Not only was Highgate presented as the latest and greatest burial site for your consideration, but it was also configured as somewhere you ought to visit for your own edification, a place to roam, ‘OPEN DAILY till Eight o’Clock P.M., free of charge.’ Bury your relatives and, while you’re there, take advantage of the grounds. Soak up the sense of place. Be at one with your Dearly Departed. According to the Stamford Mercury of the 9th August, 1839, Highgate’s popularity was such that ‘more than 7000 persons’ had visited in one day. The piece singles out the architectural wonders of the site, in addition to ‘the view from the terrace’ which ‘extends for a distance of thirty miles, and embraces the river Thames as far as Gravesend, the Surrey hills, and the Knock-bold beeches in Kent.’

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Into the Woods

Upon entering this great place and following the path up the hillside, the visitor is struck by the gateway to the impressive Egyptian Avenue, a Pharaonic arch flanked by two columns on either side. This is, in turn, guarded by twin obelisks, stone guardians of the dead. The structure is a striking example of the Egyptian Revival style so beloved by the Victorians, an architectural system grounded in the recycling and reworking of the motifs of ancient Egypt. Interest in the latter emerged from the fanfare surrounding the Napoleonic campaigns in Alexandria and Cairo (1798-1801), a military cavalcade which contained, rather unusually, a sizeable contingent of scholars and scientists. You may be familiar with Pierre-François Bouchard’s associated discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, now housed in the British Museum. Reports of the work and finds of these intellectual expeditionists generated a growing fascination with Egyptology in Europe, a preoccupation which had a great effect on the aesthetic fabric of the continent. Indeed, the centrality of death to ancient Egyptian ritual practice was a phenomenon which could be readily transferred to the emergent funerary architecture of the nineteenth-century burial places of Western Europe.

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Entrance to the Egyptian Avenue

The road beyond this entryway continues at a gentle incline. Bordering the track are lines of family vaults, home to the slumbering dead, their entrances adorned with a variety of funeral symbols. These cavities were made to accommodate multiple coffins in order to ensure that families could be buried together, sealed units, metaphorically and literally, affection and companionship assured until the end of time. Leaving this sepulchral cavern behind, one emerges into the almost indescribably exquisite Circle of Lebanon, a wheel of tombs arranged around the roots of a magnificent cedar tree, a striking mass in place long before the construction of the cemetery, part of the grounds of the aforementioned Ashurst Estate. I felt as if I had emerged into a timeless space, where nature and architecture were in happy communion, where as many memories circulated as the abundant needles of the cedar’s leaves. Interestingly, the circular disposition of these burial chambers has formed an enclosure serving as an impromptu plant pot within which the tree is contained. There are two rings of such tombs: the inner circle of twenty vaults was part of the original design and was supplemented by an outer addition of sixteen sepulchres in the 1870s, a facility expanded in response to the popular clamour for a slice of this particular piece of eternity. In addition, one finds here the columbarium,  a series of cubicles fashioned for the purpose of holding urns full of ashes, an unpopular provision in the Victorian period when cremation was looked upon with righteous suspicion. It was only following the passage of the Cremation Act in 1902 that the practice became more commonplace, and the notion that the sanctity of the body remain undisturbed post-mortem began to be overcome.

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Circle of Lebanon © Bill Nicholls

In this same area, the terrace catacombs in Gothic style are to be found, burial spaces hewn from the very hillside itself. Indeed, they occupy the same space as the previous deck of the garden of Ashurst House, formerly a splendid viewpoint from which to gaze out upon the teeming life of the city. Visitors to the cemetery would seek out this spot for a genteel promenade, ambling up and down in their finest, away from the heady stink of the London smog. As an aside, if you enjoy bitumen and random facts intended for pub quizzes, the terrace is also apparently the earliest asphalted building in the UK. Within the structure, one encounters a brick-vaulted, eighty-yard long passageway filled with separate recesses on both sides, capable of housing an entire coffin from floor to ceiling. In total, the catacombs hold eight hundred and forty such caskets in apertures which are themselves sealed with memorial plaques or small glass windows for inspection. When laying the deceased to rest in this place, coffins were apparently situated with the heads of the cadavers closest to the opening, meaning that relatives could easily commune with their dead.  

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Illustrated London News (01.09.1974)

Behind the Circle of Lebanon is what can only be described as an immense mass of a tomb: the eye-waveringly ornate mausoleum of Julius Beer. This is a big beast of a burial chamber, the Highgate leviathan. A square structure with bronze doors, pyramidal roof carved to resemble roof-tiles and arched windows, the edifice is said to have been inspired by the fearsome Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, and was designed by John Oldrid Scott (1841-1913), an architect experienced in the construction of religious buildings.

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The Mausoleum of Julius Beer (by Steve James)

The architraved doorway bears an inscription with a powerfully simple message to passersby, identifying itself as the ‘Mausoleum of Julius Beer.’ The opulent theme continues within, as the tiled walls, golden mosaic lining the dome and Corinthian columns perfectly accompany the pièce de resistance, namely the bas-relief representing Julius’ deceased daughter Ada as a winged child, who had died of consumption aged only six, being spirited upwards to heaven by an angel.

Julius Beer is a fascinating example of the model of the self-made man. Born in Frankfurt, he came to London and promptly made an intimidatingly large amount of money on the London Stock Exchange, before gobbling up several newspapers: the Observer and the Sunday Times. A quirky and perhaps apocryphal tale accompanies this majestic tomb – having become embittered by his lack of acceptance in polite society, Julius decided that, in death, he would have the last laugh. In 1876, he parted with £800 (c. £52,950) for the site, in addition to an eye-watering £5000 (c. £330,923) for construction, placing this, the tallest and largest monument in the cemetery, in such a position so as to utterly dominate the otherwise splendid view from the terrace, thereby damning in the process a phalanx of afternoon constitutionals. We should not forget, however, that the project was, in its essence, a house of mourning for his little Ada, the adding of a bombastic note to the burial ground’s architecture of grief to memorialise his daughter. Once I myself had fully taken in its immensity, I was left with nothing but a quiet sense of humanity, thinking of the pathos inspired by the severing of the parental bond.

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Relief Panel: Angel Lifting a Winged Child by Thomas

Down Memory Lane

There are many other graves of note on this side of Highgate, more than a mere written piece can ever hope to encapsulate. Amidst the meandering footpaths and untamed thickets, individuals of great note have found their rest – from the poet Christina Rossetti to the scientist Michael Faraday, from the pioneering lesbian author Radclyffe Hall to the renowned novelist Stella Gibbons, author of Cold Comfort Farm. Even the eponymous founder of the Crufts dog show, Charles Cruft, can be found occupying a tomb. It is a fascinating pastiche of the great and the good, the devoted and the quiet, the industrious and the kind, the pauper and the poet. In the end, all roads lead to Highgate. 

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Memorial Plaque to Radclyffe Hall, Circle of Lebanon (by Scott Michaels)

Indeed, the eye is drawn not only to those graves commemorating the lives of such eternally famous figures, but also to those who, having once achieved renown, languish, known only to researchers and scholars, campaigners and active taphophiles. One example might be Ellen Wood (1814-1887), better known as the famous writer Mrs. Henry Wood, a literary figure who was as celebrated as Charles Dickens in her era. Her books were Victorian bestsellers, snapped up in an instant by her devoted followers. Particularly loved was her sensation novel East Lynne, an elaborate offering of mistaken identity and comic misunderstanding. On her death, she left an estate worth £36,000, an enormous sum equating to £2,500,000 in today’s money.

Hodges, Joseph Sydney Willis, 1828-1900; Mrs Henry Wood (1814-1887)

Mrs Henry Wood – Joseph Sydney Willis Hodges (© Worcester Guildhall)

These individuals of distinction rub shoulders with those otherwise unknown. As long as there were available funds, Highgate was open to everyone, with your cheque made out to death, the great leveller of us all. Take this beautiful and arresting monument, ‘The Sleeping Angel,’ in memory of Mary Nichols, wife of Bank Manager Harold. The figure atop her stony bed slumbers in perpetuity, her wings carefully folded, an expression of profound mourning. She is the perfect representation of peace. 

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‘The Sleeping Angel’ (Monument to Mary Nichols) by Tom Bennett 

Reflecting on what we had seen, we made our way back to the entrance, steeped in poignant contemplation. My trip to the east side of the cemetery would be just as eventful, allowing me the opportunity to explore further Highgate’s 170,000 graves, and to bring yet more stories of quiet voices unheard back to life.

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Image © A Grave Announcement

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A Grave Announcement (@AGraveAnnounce)

Sources

With thanks to the following which proved very useful in compiling this account:

British Newspaper Archive

Highgate Cemetery

Historic England

National Archives

Natural History Museum – ‘A History of Burial in London’