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The FOBLC is recognised by HMRC as a charity, ref. XT38745, and is a member of the National Federation of Cemetery Friends

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The Sensational Trapeze Artist Adelaide Macarte

A short distance from the entrance to Brockley cemetery aside a shady side path lies an imposing family headstone, topped with its ethereal angelic figure, on which the name Adelaide Macarte is inscribed. Although the lettering has faded the curious passerby can read on the inscription that Adelaide or Addie as she was also known, died in far away Callicoon, New York State ( USA) at the early age of twenty nine from pleurisy and was then laid to rest in this cemetery in August 1908.  So who was this remarkable diminutive acrobat, five feet one, who with her sisters, Julia and Cecilia, (her two other siblings were named Harriet and Blanche) helped to captivate audiences and gained international acclaim for so many years among the 'Olympians of the Saw Dust Circle' both here and abroad with daredevil feats on the trapeze, on horseback and the circus high wire?

Cecilia, Julia and Adelaide Macarte c.1906.
The Macarte sisters (left to right) Cecilia, Julia and Adelaide c.1906.

Adelaide was born into a dynasty of famous circus performers, with the Macarthy family name already well established in the annals of acrobatic and circus lore. Her grandmother was the world renowned bare back performer Madame Macarte of the Ginnett circus family and her Lambeth born father Henry Macarthy (the name Macarte was used as a stage name by the sisters and an earlier generation of female performers from the wider family) worked as a circus acrobat from an early age and died in 1924. He is buried alongside his daughters, Adelaide, Julia and Cecilia. Her mother Regina hailed from an Hungarian ballet milieu. She died in Berlin in 1892.

After many years performing in this country the sisters, who also participated in off-stage charitable causes helping distressed  Music Hall artistes, travelled extensively across the USA . The American newspaper clipping below is from 1899 and offers the reader a wonderful contemporary snapshot of how the Macarte sisters were admiringly viewed as much in demand Vaudeville artists, Addie is described in the post as the sister who does 'all the talking'! Although holding the slack wire in your teeth , whilst one of the sisters walks the tight rope must have demanded truly amazonian strength! Not only was she a nimble gymnast like her sisters, indeed she had begun on the arduous road to becoming a top circus and Music Hall performer at the tender age of four, but she played the piano with some verve and was noted as being a keen linguist.

Source: St Louis Post-Dispatch ( 1899)

Following Adelaide's death in 1908,  sisters Julia and Cecilia continued performing arenic novelties, now with a replacement artiste called Rosie Foote, travelling to Australia in 1912 and touring South Africa in 1916.  Julia died in 1958 and Cecilia (Carter) died in 1965. On both their burial records their occupation is given as retired Variety Artistes. Let's hope that The Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America, who have restored other headstones linked to circus and music hall performers in the cemeteries, will at some future point be able to bring the Macarte headstone back to its pristine theatrical splendour. Or better still maybe a remake of the 1956 Carol Reed film ' Trapeze' this time with the three main acrobats, being called of course the The Macarte Sisters, now played by modern day olympians of the Saw Dust Circle!

The final resting place of the Vaudeville artiste Adelaide Macarte lies in the family grave in Brockley cemetery ( photo : courtesy of Find a Grave)

Open House London 2020: Guided walk of Ladywell and Brockley Cemeteries including the Non-conformist chapel

Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries are proud to have been selected to be a part of Open House London 2020

On Sunday 20th SEPTEMBER at around 2.15pm there will be a tour of Ladywell and Brockley Cemeteries, including the Non-conformist chapel, led by members of the FoBLC

Due to social distancing requirements  there will be a maximum of 5 people per walk with up to three guided walks to different parts of the Cemeteries, leaving simultaneously.  Pre-booking required, please email to check if a space is available and to book.

All available places have been taken.  Thank you for your interest.

History of the Chapel, Ladywell Road, SE13 7HY

The Non-conformist chapel (now non-denominational) in Ladywell Cemetery is the sole remaining chapel in Ladywell and Brockley Cemeteries. The chapel was built in 1858 in a plain style. The architect is unknown. The Chapel was refurbished some twenty years ago. The entrance gates to the Cemetery are listed Grade II by English Heritage (Historic England).

The Anglican chapel in Ladywell Cemetery was destroyed by blasts from nearby bombs at the beginning of the Second World War. The chapels in the Brockley Cemetery were destroyed at the same time: a chapel serving the Roman Catholic section, and a dual Anglican/Non-conformist chapel.

The Cemeteries

Ladywell Cemetery (originally the Lewisham Cemetery) received its first recorded burial on 29th March 1858. Burials include the poets Ernest Dowson and David Jones; musicologist Sir George Grove and the actor/manager J.B. Buckstone are among other notables. Local brewer John Tomsett Noakes (of the Brockley Jack pub) and house builder Samuel John Jerrard, as well as champion cyclist (on the penny farthing) George Lacy Hillier are also buried here, to mention just a few. A feature is the recently erected memorial to the civilian victims of bombings in Hither Green and Sydenham during the first world war.

The first recorded burial in the Brockley Cemetery (originally the Deptford Cemetery) was on 3rd July 1858. Burials include Margaret McMillan and her sister Rachel, both of whom championed education for poor children. There is a memorial to murdered housemaid Jane Clouson and the grave of Elizabeth Watkins who was a child at the battle of Waterloo.

There are many graves of veterans of the First and Second World Wars in both Cemeteries as well as Commonwealth War Graves Commission Heroes' Corners.

The two separate cemeteries gradually expanded towards each other, taking over orchards which once lay between them. Both retain their own special characteristics: Brockley has wooded areas while Ladywell is more open. Burials currently take place in the Brockley Cemetery.

There is a whole range of headstones, from modest ones to grand monuments. There are areas of public graves in both Cemeteries, indicated by the mounding used to accommodate as many deceased as possible. No grave stones mark these graves.

The Cemeteries are recognised as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation.

Gertrude Anna Middleton O.B.E - The Recent Discovery of a Heroine of the Great War in Ladywell Cemetery

Gertrude Anna Middleton O.B.E.

Or Gertie as she is known on her headstone.
Or Gertie as she is known on her headstone.

A grave that has been passed by many over the years without giving a second glance. For what you see from the pathway is her mother Emma, look to the other side and you will find Gertie with her father Henry Milnes Glover.

Anna Glover was born in Liscard, Cheshire on the 23rd July 1889, her parents Henry Milnes Glover and Martha Maria Emma Hedwig Glover, the 1911 census shows Gertie at the age of 23 a school mistress living at 102 Embleton Road Ladywell, living with both of her parents and two older sisters.

In October 1916 at St Saviours Paddington, Gertrude married Albert Henry Middleton a 2nd Officer in the Royal Navy.

On Wednesday the 13th June 1917, the day started like any other day for the pupils and teachers of Upper North Street Elementary School in Poplar, at their lessons at 11.40am, not knowing this was to be the first major daylight raid over London, that 20 German Gotha bombers that took off from Belgium were circling overhead looking for targets in the India and Millwall Docks. This was to be known as the First Blitz. 

At that period of the War, London’s air defences were designed for the attack of Zeppelins which operated at night so were virtually useless against raids by the by the high flying bombers.

The three storey school was less than a mile away from the Docks and suffered a direct hit, a 100lb bomb crashing through the roof, killing three older children on an upper floor, then exploding on the ground floor where 50 of the youngest children were, killing 15 pupils from Gertie’s class and injuring many more.

That day three of the Schools teachers emerged as Heroes, Gertrude Middleton, Annie Elizabeth Allum and Wenceslia Watkins, were each awarded the M.O.B.E. Gertie's citation from the London Gazette of Friday the 7th June 1918, reads as; Displayed very conspicuous courage on the Occasion of an air raid, when a bomb burst in the classroom in which she was teaching.

The citation form the back of her picture held by the Imperial War Museum, reads as 'Mrs Gertrude Middleton O.B.E.  Air raid on Upper north School, Poplar, on the 13th June 1917 a bomb burst in her class room and 18 children' mainly five year olds were killed, although hurt herself, she rescued many children from the debris until the Doctor forbade her going on, he said she deserved the V.C, soon after the raid her health began to fail.'  

In addition to the 18 school children in Poplar, that first daylight raid in 1917 claimed another 144 lives around London. 

Sadly at the age of 29 Gertie passed away on the 21st October 1918, she was buried in Ladywell Cemetery on the 25th October 1918. Gone but not Forgotten.

Following the attack public donations flowed in for a memorial to the children; this was erected in the local Poplar Recreation Park. At its unveiling the Mayor of Poplar said these boys and girls truly suffered for their country as any men who have perished in the trenches, on the high sea or in the air.

Of note; on the 17th July 1917 King George V issued a proclamation declaring the name Windsor to be borne by his Royal House and Family, relinquishing the use of all German Titles and dignities, 

Coming amid strong anti-German feeling, the main turning point being the bombing of London, and in particular Upper North Street Elementary School in Poplar.

Gertie’s Grave, a short walk from the Chapel in Ladywell Cemetery.          

School caretaker Benjamin Batt sifts through the rubble, where his son Alfred was amongst the dead.


Funeral Procession of the Children along east India Dock Road.

Pupils from North Street School at post-war memorial service 1919.

Memorial of the 18 children in Poplar Recreation Ground.  

School photos with kind permission of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.

Picture of Gertie, copyright of the Imperial War Museum.

Colour Pictures,  Phill Barnes-Warden.

Compiled by Phill Barnes-Warden,  FoBLC Member

We will be stopping at Gertie’s Grave During the Guided walk of the Open House Event on the 20th September 2020


Close to the entrance to Ladywell cemetery, amidst the tangle of summer undergrowth lies the Sprenger family headstone, on the base is inscribed 'Olga Sprenger lost at sea, Singapore, February 1942. The daughter of Oliver and Charlotte Sprenger ( both buried here).'  With the VJ (Victory in Japan) commemorations freshly in mind, it seemed appropriate to also remember how this missionary teacher was caught up in the tumultuous events that surrounded the Japanese Imperial Army's capture of Singapore in February 1942 and the sad fate that befell her and many of the evacuees in their desperate bid for freedom on the steamship, SS Vyner Brooke . Many of those who were lost in the unfolding tragedy were Australian nurses, who had stayed behind to tend many of the wounded soldiers aboard the doomed vessel and whose notorious massacre at the hands of Japanese troops on Bangka Island (Sumatra), only came to light at the end of the conflict in the East in 1945.

SS Vyner Brooke
SS Vyner Brooke, named after the Greenwich born last White Rajah of Sarawak Sir Charles Vyner Brooke


On the evening of 12 February 1942, Vyner Brooke was one the last ships carrying evacuees to leave Singapore. The Vyner Brooke sailed south with 181 passengers embarked, most of them women and children. Among the passengers were the last 65 Australian nurses in Singapore. Throughout the daylight hours of 13 February Vyner Brooke laid up in the lee of a small jungle-covered island, but she was attacked late in the afternoon by a Japanese aircraft, fortunately with no serious casualties. At sunset she made a run for the Bangka Strait, heading for Palembang in Sumatra. Prowling Japanese warships, however, impeded her progress and daylight on February 14th found her dangerously exposed on a flat sea just inside the strait.

Not long after 2 pm Vyner Brooke was attacked by several Japanese aircraft. Despite evasive action, she was crippled by several bombs and within half an hour rolled over and sunk bow first. Approximately 150 survivors eventually made it ashore at Banka Island, after periods of between eight and 65 hours in the water. The island had already been occupied by the Japanese and most of the survivors were taken captive.

However, an awful fate awaited many of those that landed on Radji beach. There, survivors from the Vyner Brooke joined up with another party of civilians and up to 60 Commonwealth servicemen and merchant sailors, who had made it ashore after their own vessels were sunk. After an unsuccessful effort to gain food and assistance from local villagers, a deputation was sent to contact the Japanese, with the aim of having the group taken prisoner. Anticipating this, all but one of the civilian women followed behind. A party of Japanese troops arrived at Radji Beach a few hours later. They shot and bayoneted the males and then forced the 22 Australian nurses and the one British civilian woman who had remained to wade into the sea, then shot them from behind. There were only two survivors - Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, and Private Cecil Kinsley, a British soldier. After hiding in the jungle for several days the pair eventually gave themselves up to the Japanese. Kinsley died a few days later from his wounds, and Bullwinkel spent the rest of the war as an internee.

Of the 65 Australian nurses embarked upon the Vyner Brooke, 12 were killed during the air attack or drowned following the sinking, 21 were murdered on Radji Beach, and 32 became internees, 8 of whom subsequently died before the end of the war.

Who was Gladys Olga Springer ?

Olga is commemorated on the CWGC website as a civilian who died in the sinking of the SS. Vyner Brooke on 14.2.42  – She was the headmistress of St Marys Girls School, Kuala Lumpur and in 1938 travelled back to Singapore from Southampton on the ‘Dempo’. There is no other record of her during the intervening years up until the Japanese invasion, but then she appears in a most poignant newspaper advertisement in Singapore, just two weeks before Singapore fell,  asking for a “ ... European lady willing to look after 11 year old English girl on the voyage to England. Miss O. Sprenger, CEMZ School, Sophia Road,  where it is assumed she had transferred to as a missionary during the years prior to the war or had sought accommodation or employment after the evacuation of Kuala Lumpur. CEMZ School was initially named the Chinese Girls School in Singapore, a school specifically established for those abandoned or enslaved Chinese girls who were being sold as servants, it later became known as the Church Of England Zenana Missionary school and is now St Margaret’s Secondary School. It was clear that Olga was working as a missionary by the time of the Japanese invasion because she is mentioned a post war publication by the Anglican church 'The War and After: Singapore' by John Hayter and Jack Benitt, priests of the diocese. Several of the women missionaries left only a few days before the surrender, amongst them Evelyn Simmonds and Olga Sprenger, of whom nothing has been heard since they left Singapore ...”  ... Miss Olga Sprenger, Pudu English School , KL, believed drowned . Miss Gladys Olga Sprenger, Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, Malaya, died on or about 14.2.42 in the vicinity of the Bangka Straits following the sinking of the “SS. Vyner Brooke”

Poignant eye witness account of Olga Sprenger's final moments - courtesy of Jonathan Moffatt.
Poignant eye witness account of Olga's final moments - courtesy of Jonathan Moffatt.

Footnote -

Readers might be interested in another local connection to the tragic sinking.

A memoir of Lt A J Mann, 2nd Mate of SS Vyner Brooke. A personal account of his escape from Singapore, the loss of his ship, and his subsequent flight through the Dutch East Indies.  Arthur John Mann ( d.1959 ) was born in New Cross in 1904 and his memoir  'One Jump Ahead - Escape on the Vyner Brooke' has now been been published (2020) by Harry Nicholson.


Located underneath a sylvan canopy in one of the inner pathways of Ladywell cemetery lies the final resting place of Valentine Gadesden. The sadly broken headstone is just visible and is inscribed with his date of death - September, 1896 - and his place of death - Bad Nauheim (the German health spa town made famous more recently when Elvis Presley stayed there from 1958 to 1960). 

This serendipitous headstone find offered on further enquiry a truly remarkable story of a tragic love affair, untimely death and madness, that propelled Valentine Gadesden (1857-1896) to becoming briefly a ‘worldwide celebrity’ – As the following lurid newspaper stories reveal.

Well Known in San Francisco and Co-respondent in the Yarde-Buller Divorce Suit.
LONDON, Eng., Sept. 21. — A dispatch from Bad Nauheim, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse, announces the death there on Sunday of Valentine Gadasden. He died suddenly of heart disease.

Gadesden was formerly of San Francisco and was made co-respondent in the high profile divorce brought by Walter Yarde-Buller, against his wife, the daughter of the late General Kirkham of Oakland. The case against Gadesden was dismissed. He was allowed the costs. The verdict rendered was that Mrs. Yarde-Buller was not guilty of cruelty or infidelity and that a decree of judicial separation be granted to her with costs.

Gadesden was quite prominent in certain circles in San Francisco. He was always a hail fellow well met and was quite fond of athletics. “His favourite pastime was playing cricket or tennis. He was quite an adept in both games. He never seemed to have any particular business affairs to attend to, yet he was always dressed and well supplied with money. In the trial of ' the divorce case Gadesden was very active in the defence of Mrs.Yarde-Buller.
 San Francisco Call, 22nd September 1896

What do we know of Valentine? It was noted in contemporary accounts that Valentine was a graduate of an English university, an accomplished linguist and a scholar, and belonged to a very respectable family in England. But his name is forever linked to his doomed love affair with the remarkable socialite, Leilah Yarde-Buller. It was whilst singing at the piano to his paramour in their Germanic ‘love nest’ that Valentine tragically fell dead. Four months later in April 1897 he was buried ‘without ceremony’ in Ladywell cemetery. Distraught by grief, she was shortly thereafter committed to an asylum in Paris, the ‘loveliest woman of the west ‘now a ‘pitiable wreck ‘at the ‘madhouse’ as one newspaper described her decline. She later returned to America and died in a sanatorium in 1904. 

Lady Mary Leilah Kirkham Yarde-Buller (1849 – 1904), was one of the daughters of General Ralph Kirkham and Kate Kirkham. Growing up, Leilah was a known as a free spirit. She married Walter Yard-Buller in 1886. Yard-Buller was brother of Lord Churchston; after his death, he inherited the title and Leilah became Lady Leilah Yard-Buller. But it was not a happy marriage. They separated, and Leilah fell in love with Valentine who some thought a 'designing fellow’ who successfully preyed upon Leilah! But she was very much in love in him, and her divorce suit named him.

Footnote :
I am grateful to local historian Julie Robinson for drawing my attention to Valentine's remarkable sister Florence Gadesden  (1853-1934) who was headteacher of Blackheath Girls High School. For readers who might be interested in her life and work this recent article from the Greenwich100 website is recommended.