Registered Charity

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

For all enquiries please contact our Chairman geoffrey@foblc.org.uk


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Private Joseph Byrne (1897-1915) the first soldier to die at Lewisham Military Hospital remembered at Brockley Max Festival

A moving tribute song was performed by the group 1965, a Folk and Roots duo, joined by friends as part of the 2017 Brockley Max festival . The song was written by a band member whose relative fought in the Dublin Fusiliers in the First World War and who was inspired to perform it in the cemetery after finding the name of Private Joseph Byrne on the wall of remembrance located in Ladywell cemetery. In the evocative setting of the Ladywell Chapel packed audiences listened to a wonderful rendition of songs from the group. The song can be listened to via this link :
https://soundcloud.com/mark-wallis-4/dublin-fusileer

Located at the intersection of pathways that lead towards Brockley cemetery and Ivy road lies the Commonwealth War Graves Commission wall of remembrance. Joseph’s name is inscribed at the southern section of the memorial (which has recently been re-laid and relettered)
Ladywell Cemetery Commonwealth War Graves Commission Plot-‘Heroes Corner’.
Private 9058 JOSEPH BYRNE of 4th battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers died of wounds in Lewisham on 16 May 1915, aged 18.

Joseph who was born in Dublin is buried in Ladywell cemetery where his name is recorded on the wall of CWGC plot in Lady well cemetery listing those whose graves have no headstone. He was the first soldier to be buried from Lewisham Military Hospital 19 May in the Roman Catholic section.
The Kentish Mercury 28 May 1915


He is also remembered on the Lewisham Military Hospital memorial outside University Hospital Lewisham.


The local community welcomed the arrival of the first patients to the Military Hospital and within less than a month of their arrival the residents of Lewisham had organised an outing for the patients.

Local people loaned the use of their cars to transport the wounded from the hospital to Greenwich Park where an afternoon tea had been prepared for the patients. Along the route from the hospital to the park flag waving crowds gathered to cheer the wounded and distribute gifts of cigarettes and fruit. In the Kentish Mercury (4th June 1915) one soldier is reported to have said “Well it would be worth getting wounded again for this.” Throughout the war the people of Lewisham supported the hospital either through volunteering, fundraising, providing entertainment for the convalescents and supporting the newly formed local branch of the British Red Cross Society.


The first soldier to die at Lewisham Military Hospital was Private Joseph Byrne of the Dublin Fusiliers. Private Byrne died on the 15th May 1915 from the shrapnel wounds he received whilst serving at the front and his funeral was held in the Roman Catholic section of Ladywell Cemetery. He was only 18 years old. The occasion was of such significance locally that photographs from the military funeral featured in the local press.

Wildflower and Nature Walk Sunday 23rd April


The Friends are hosting a wildflower and nature walk around the cemeteries on Sunday 23rd April, meet at the Ladywell Gate at 2pm. The walk will be led by Tom Moulton (see Lewisham Nature Walks) and Peter Robinson whose survey of flowers in the cemeteries can be found here.


Bluebells, primroses, lesser celandine and cow parsley are all in flower now, as is the Cuckoo Flower (aka Lady's Smock) which is relatively rare in Lewisham and probably dates back to when the cemeteries were meadow land prior to their opening in 1858.

The cemeteries are classified as a Borough Grade 1 Site for Nature Conservation and the walk will also cover trees, birds and any butterflies that may be around.

Grave of actor and comedian EDWARD LEWIS (1864-1922) restored

The FOBLC are pleased that The Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America have been able to restore the final resting place of actor and comedian EDWARD LEWIS (1864-1922) who rests in Brockley Cemetery.

Edward Lewis (inset) and his restored grave at Brockley Cemetery.
 

Edward Lewis was born into a theatrical family and made his debut at the age of 2, being carried onto the stage by actor James Elphinstone.   As a child, it is reported that he performed ninety nine times within a three day period, such was his determination to establish himself as a working actor and keep up the family tradition.

Edward went on to appear in many straight plays and musical comedies and toured Australia.   However it was performing in Pantomime where Edward became exceedingly popular and for years he delighted audiences all around the United Kingdom.   His popularity never waned and it was ill-health that forced him to resign from his final comedy role in Sinbad the Sailor at Sheffield in 1922. He died of cancer, aged 58.

The Music Hall Guild are considering organising a more formal restoration ceremony in due course..Edward's grave lies close to that of another famous (but largely forgotten Music Hall star) William Zaccheus  Putner ( stage name Sydney Bray) both graves are located close to the Brockley Grove boundary and will be included in future guided walks.

ZEPPELINS TO THE BLITZ : LONDON UNDER ATTACK .1915 -1945

A "spotter" watching the skies of London during the Blitz

Free Guided Walk -Sunday 19th February at 2.00 pm (meet at the Ladywell cemetery entrance)

We will be visiting family graves in both cemeteries connected to air raids on London in the Two World Wars. It will also feature visits to family graves of airmen who died in combat abroad.

The walk will be undertaken by Foblc members Peter Mealing and Mike Guilfoyle and last approximately 2 hrs.

All welcome  (donations optional)

Frederick Innes OBE (1864-1921): Silvertown Explosion 1917

Silvertown Explosion illustration
Contemporary newspaper illustration of the Silvertown explosion
Close to the Ivy Road pathway in Ladywell cemetery enveloped in its chitinous grassy embrace lies the Innes family grave of Frederick Innes, who died aged 57 years on the 14th December 1921.  Grandfather to FOBLC stalwart Ron Innes,  Frederick was intimately connected to the biggest explosion ever to hit the metropolis which destroyed a large part of Silvertown in East London on the 19th January 1917. The centenary of this tragic even is being commemorated.

Frederick Innes was later awarded the OBE for his  brave and public spirited actions on the day.  He worked as Chief Valvesman at the East Greenwich Gasworks which was damaged by the blast and worked heroically to save the gas supply to South London.  The Greenwich Peninsula History 2013 has the following account:

At 7 p.m. on l9th January l9l7 the Brunner Mond works at Silvertown went up – to the credit of Chief Valvesman Innes and his second Percy in charge of No.2 they managed to switch the supply over to No l. and the gas supply of South London was maintained. The holder’s builders had designed it to withstand hurricanes but the pressure of the munitions explosion ruptured it and 8 million cubic feet of gas extant in Greenwich – Charlie Wellard (whose biography is in Woodlands Local History Library} asked his mother if it was the end of the world. An old lady down the road from me says she saw a red hot girder blown across the river and pierce the gas holder. 

The devastation from the explosion is evident from this photograph  

On 19 January 1917, in the darkest days of the Great War, a massive explosion rocked London’s East End. Shockwaves could be felt in Essex, while the blast itself was heard as far away as Southampton and Norwich. But the firestorm wasn’t caused by the sinister German Zeppelins that were making increasingly frequent appearances on London’s skyline. In fact, the roots of capital’s biggest ever explosion were much closer to home: a TNT factory in Silvertown.

From the outset, the management of the former Brunner, Mond and Co. chemical works had expressed their concern about government plans to turn their plant over from the production of caustic soda to TNT for munitions. TNT is a highly unstable substance and the factory was in a crowded urban area. The Metropolitan Building Act of 1844 made it illegal to carry out ‘harmful trades’ inside the boundaries of London. But Silvertown was just outside this boundary, and its plentiful supply of labour and easy access to ports made it too good a location to overlook. In September 1915, the management caved to government pressure and the plant was soon making nine tons of TNT a day.

Sadly, the management’s concerns were founded. The explosion that ripped through the factory on that fateful Friday evening instantly destroyed part of the factory and several nearby streets. It showered molten metal across several miles, starting wild fires that could be seen as far away as Kent and Surrey.

The whole heavens were lit in awful splendour. A fiery glow seemed 
to have come over the dark and miserable January evening.
The Stratford Express


More than 900 homes near the plant were destroyed or badly damaged in the disaster, leaving thousands of people homeless. Between 60,000 and 70,000 buildings were damaged to some extent, including a gasometer over the river in Greenwich which blew up, spewing 200,000 cubic metres of gas into the air in a massive fireball. Factories, docks and warehouses were also decimated. The eventual repair bill was around £250,000 – a staggering amount of money at the time.

Even more serious was the human cost. Seventy three people died that day. More than 400 were injured, 94 of them seriously. One man lost his wife and four children, aged between 10 and 13. The dead also included many firemen from the local station, along with dock and factory workers and children, asleep in their beds. But the death toll could have been much worse: by a stroke of luck, the explosion happened at just before 7pm, after most people had left the factory for the day and before they had gone to bed (most of the damage to homes was to the upper floors).
Notice from the Mayor of Newham offering emergency assistance to those affected by the Silvertown Explosion 


The precise cause of the explosion has never been found and rumours abounded of sabotage by a German spy or that the factory had been hit by a German bombing raid. The most likely explanation is much more mundane – that fire broke out in a melt-pot room and quickly spread to railway wagons where 50 tons of TNT was waiting to be moved. The inquiry found that the site was totally unsuitable and that Brunner Mond had failed to look after the welfare of its staff. The government chose not to publish the findings until the 1950s.