Saturday, 29 August 2015

Bethlem Museum Keep the Home Fires Burning Exhibition

This exhibition is a Heritage Lottery funded joint venture between Bethlem Museum Bromley Archives and Local Studies and the soon to close Bromley Museum as part of the Caring for the Casualties of the First World War in Bromley series of events. It runs from 29 August-31 October 2015 see Bethlem Museum of the Mind.
Earlier this year Bromley opened a First World War Allotment open day with recipe leaflet. This co curated exhibition by Bethlem Museum registrar Diana Chaccour and Camilla Biggs MSc War and Psyhiatry Kings College London was introduced to visitors in a guided tour of the exhibition on its opening day.
The title chosen is that of the Ivor Novello song and with my familiarity with the Novello family plot in Biggin Hill the exhibition felt rooted in Bromley. This theme is continued in various sections of the displays with items from local Archive and Museum collections woven into the story of war with in a context of mental illness and local efforts to absorb and accommodated belgian refugees. The patient case notes of a mental health institution which was not sequestered for military use (unlike the Maudsley Hospital who treated "shell shock") nevertheless the impact of war on the mental health of those on the Home Front.
The exhibition is organised into 5 sections illustrating "Joining the Army" "Women at the Home Front" "Seeking Shelter" "Patients" and "Recovery". The experience of local people in Bromley and hospital experiences are woven into a narrative which is illustrative of resilience and recovery and therefore especially resonant of people at risk of or affected by mental disorders. It is gratifying to hear of the number of Bromley Schools who will experience the exhibition in a borough whose councillors have from 1 October 2015 removed access to the Museum Service.
I felt very much at home with one section of the exhibition. One of my maternal relatives was Church of England chaplain at Springfield Hospital and his contemporary and colleague at Bethlem Reverend Edward Geoffrey O'Donohue features prominently in two sections of the Exhibition. The Women at the Home Front images of women undertaking a variety of working roles in the absence of males are part of the extensive glass lantern slide collection held at Bethlem Archives (reference LSC) which the chaplain used to illustrate his talks to patients and staff.
The Lantern Slide collection is fascinating since O'Donohue's images are clearly the work of a professional photographer with a commission as they are high quality images and the series focus on Women at work from Land Girls to London Transport lift operators;subjects are far beyond the hospital. This begs the question did the hospital commission the images of non hospital subjects? Bomb damage to the hospital and a crater in the front lawn are also illustrated as well as Firewatchers on the roof with the iconic Bethlem dome in the background.
Victoria Northwood Bethlem Museum director is going to speak of "The Chaplain's Entertainments" on 26 September 2015 see Bethlem Museum of the Mind events
In the future absence of a Museum Service in Bromley it is reassuring that a collaboration can produce a high quality exhibition at one of the few heritage venues in Bromley using material from the Museum collection and two local Archives in the borough which is accessible to schools two days per week in the absence of the general public.

Monday, 24 August 2015

"For the interment of a limb" Bromley Kent Funeral Accounts

Any commentary on the subject of burial of limbs must consider the religious beliefs held by the person at the time and the unity of Judaeo Christian belief in interring humans as natural treatment of the physical elements of a person; belief in the spirit returning to God.
Judaic and Christian faiths use scriptural law uneqivocally to establish that the dead must be buried in earth. Those who for whatever reason have a limb amputated are considered to require interment awaiting future interment of the individual. Different burial practices may apply to distinct faith traditions but these absolute beliefs
The Bromley funeral accounts I have transcribed begin in 1803 and it is worth remembering the number of injuries to those involved in the Napoleonic war era.
Probably the most celebrated interred limb is that of Lord Uxbridge who lost the limb to rusty grape shot during the Battle of Waterloo Lord Uxbridge wikipedia . We can see here that the practice of interring amputated limbs was being observed during the eighteenth century as had been the case when surgeons removed limbs in earlier centuries.
These traumatic war injuries are not reflected in local record sources to any great extent however accidental injuries on coaches and carts are relevant to some of the interment of limbs in funeral accounts.
Perhaps the most obvious example of Funeral arrangements for interment are those for still born children but as Bromley develops as a town and Bromley Cottage Hospital and nursing homes open we see that such individuals and institutions purchase burial plots specifically to provide for interment of limbs. It is therfore perfectly possible to find a limb interred through such an arrangement in one burial place and the subsequent funeral for the individual for interment elsewhere. In Parish churchyards in recent years those plots which contain interred limbs have been noted and even have grave markers for the site of interred limbs.

Herbert George Dunn's funeral accounts from the mid 1870's onward record interment of limbs for one Bromley Nursing Home,whose proprietor had purchased land at Bromley Cemetery from Bromley Burial Board. The regularity of amputations of limbs due to development of gangrene required regular use by funeral directors of such arrangements. It is possible to find such interments at Bromley consistently until 1914 in the funeral account records I have transcribed.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

H G Dunn and Sons Funeral vehicles

The first funeral account records that indicate that the Dunns owned their own horsedrawn hearse is contained in accounts before 1830. Hearses were by tradition long lived vehicles as they travelled at low speeds. The Dunns organised "long distance" funerals to several counties in this era with week long journeys recorded to Suffolk.
It seems likely that Herbert George Dunn on taking over the trade in Bromley Kent in the 1870's modernised the horse drawn hearse and this vehicle survived well in to the Twentieth Century as the images date from circa 1930.

The motor hearse first appeared on London Streets from around 1906 and was at first used for conveying coffins in a closed compartment. The Dunn funeral accounts indicate an increasing need for conveyance from Barming (Kent County Asylum) London hospitals and residences for burial at Bromley and surrounding parishes and for increasing demand for cremation at Golders Green Crematorium. The accounts also reflect conveyance to the Necropolis Company rail link at Waterloo. There was also an increasing need for collection from The Infirmary at Locksbottom The Bromley Cottage Hospital and Lady Margaret's Hospital in Bromley as well as various nursing homes in the district and Herbert George acquired a motor hearse. The image above appears to be collection from Bromley Cottage Hospital and is undated. The vehicle is estimated to be circa 1920;the image may have been taken circa 1930.
The accounts indicate continued use of the horse drawn hearse well into the twentieth century.
In this image Herbert George Dunn is directing 6 bearers carrying in the words of funeral accounts "a stout oak panelled coffin raised lid". I believe the brass ringed handles are visible on the coffin and am trying to match them with designs of manufacturers contained in surviving travelling representatives pattern books.
Images Courtesy of Bromley Local Studies and Archives are found in a catalogued box of miscellaneous images of the Company.