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Grave of the Artist William Shakespeare Burton discovered in Ladywell cemetery!

It was with mounting anticipation that I searched for the last resting place of the artist William Shakespeare Burton (d.1916) on a rainy day in Ladywell cemetery. The burial record, accessed via deceased online after many serendipitous forays into past cemetery lives research, indicated that the grave number was F/229 and although this notation was clearly visible on a stumpy curbstone, the forlorn surround of the grave was all that remained for this now elated cemetery historian.

Mike Guilfoyle (Vice-Chair Foblc) aside the newly discovered grave of the Artist William Shakespeare Burton ( photo courtesy of Phill Barnes-Warden)

So just who was this namesake of the famed bard?  Born in London in 1824, William Shakespeare Burton was a genre and historical painter of the Victorian era, educated at King's College and the Royal Academy School who is best remembered for his painting, composed in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition and now housed in the Guildhall Art Gallery, London, The Wounded Cavalier (1855).

The dramatist and critic Tom Taylor helped the young William by offering him paid work at Punch magazine. Taylor's play, 'Our American Cousin' was being performed at Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C. on the 14 th April, 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln attending the production was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

The Wounded Cavalier’ by William Shakespeare Burton (1824-1916), the Guildhall Art Gallery, London

The painting is very much in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition, that is, it is painted meticulously from nature, and, in order to get the wanted clarity of colour, the artist  first covered the canvas with a wet white ground to give the painting a sort of luminosity. W S Burton even went so far as to dig a deep pit for himself and his easel so that the wounded cavalier and the young woman tending him are viewed from ground level. (Source : Every Picture Tells a Story : The Wounded Cavalier by W S Burton -Elizabeth Hawksley)

Self -Portrait of William Shakespeare Burton c 1899 ( National Portrait Gallery, London)

In his later years W S Burton mainly devoted himself to painting religious subjects and was plagued by poor eyesight and attendant personal difficulties, possibly including lack of proper artistic recognition? He remained active as a painter into his eighties.  His second wife Mina Elizabeth Burton (1840-1911) was the author of a novel titled Ruling the Planets (1891). She is buried with her husband. William died at the venerable age of 92 years at Belmont Park, Lee. (His first wife , Maria Rainford died in 1862 *)

In 2018 international attention in the art world focused on a rediscovered work by William Shakespeare Burton, titled King of Sorrows, depicting Jesus Christ prior to the crucifixion, with a crown of thorns and rope-bound hands. The 53-by-43-inch oil on canvas was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1897 and then, seemingly, disappeared. See attached for a contemporary article which includes a photograph of WBS working on the canvass of the painting having entertained the writer who describes visiting WSB at his ' little nest of culture ' in Blackheath.

A National Portrait Gallery website article referenced the painting as “untraced” until it surfaced as part of the estate of Tennessee businessman Larry Casey. It realized at auction $14,080. (c. £10,300)

William Evans Burton (1804-1860) stage nickname ' Billy', William's father moved to the USA in 1834 having fled England in the wake of a public scandal caused by his marriage to a sixteen-year-old orphan!. and became a well known actor. A Shakespeare scholar, playwright, Theatre Manager and Publisher. He had a stormy and complex professional relationship with the writer Edgar Allen Poe.  In 1837 he wrote   'The Secret Cell', detailing a London policeman's efforts to trace an abducted girl and arrest her kidnappers. It is considered one of the first Detective stories ever published four years prior to Poe's ' short story , 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' ( 1841) which is now viewed as the first modern detective story.!For a fuller biography of this remarkable figure see

*WSB father in law was the Oldham ( Lancashire) born, Edward Rainford (1792-1876) an English & foreign bookseller, (second hand & new) and a member of the Radical Club. One of his literary customers had this to say of him , "I would recommend to you a bookseller named Edward Rainford, 86 High Holborn, & if you will communicate with him the first time through me you will have no difficulty with him afterwards. He is a most deserving person." Letter written by the eminent political philosopher John Stuart Mill on 07 May 1840 .

Edward Rainford died in Lewisham and is also buried in Ladywell cemetery.( his grave site has yet to be located!)

For further biographical information on Edward Rainford readers might like to start with this excellent on -line source Edward Rainford (abt.1792-1876) | WikiTree FREE Family Tree