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Genius, Madness and Murder - Richard Dadd and Ladywell cemetery

Located close to the outer pathway in Ladywell cemetery close to Ivy road lies a stooped family headstone amidst saturnine undergrowth. The interested passer by would need to approach much closer to discern the faded inscriptions to know that members of the Dadd family were interred here.

Richard Dadd working on his painting 'Contradiction. Oberon and Titania'- source : Wikipedia

Richard Dadd was a Victorian artist who became famous during his life not only for his artworks but also for killing his father whilst in the midst of a psychotic breakdown. It is likely that he was suffering from schizophrenia at the time. His case attracted considerable public and press attention much of it surprisingly sympathetic to his plight. Although well known during his life his reputation as an artist was to decline after his death but to experience a resurgence in the latter half of the 20th century.

On 28th August 1843 Richard Dadd kept a pre-arranged meeting with his father at an inn in Cobham, Kent. Following their meal they went for a walk in the local park and whilst there Richard Dadd killed his father by stabbing him and slashing his throat.

At court Dadd never stood trial, instead he became one the first people to avail themselves of the new “McNaghten rules” and was found to be insane rather than guilty of murder which would have seen him hanged. He was sentenced to be confined at the Bethlem Hospital in South London (now the site of the Imperial War Museum) where he was held for the next 20 years first in the criminal ward and then on an ordinary locked ward. On 23rd July 1864 Dadd was transferred to the new state-of-the-art asylum built at Broadmoor, Berkshire especially for the criminally insane following the introduction of new legislation in the Criminal Lunatics Asylum Act of 1860. Richard Dadd died on 8th January 1886 aged 68 from tuberculosis. He is buried at Broadmoor.

A good overview of Richard Dadd's artistic achievements accomplished whilst experiencing episodic mental illness is this link on Living with Schizophrenia

Image of Robert Dadd : 1813 -1876 ( Ancestry UK) Buried Ladywell cemetery

Catherine Dadd 1814-1897 ( Ancestry UK) Buried Ladywell cemetery

The Dadd family lived for some years at 36 St. Margaret's road, Brockley , close to the cemetery. ( 1911 England Census). Robert's son Stephen Thomas d.1917 is also buried here

A Cyclist In Busy London Traffic, Illustrated By Stephen Thomas Dadd, Dated 19th Century

A third son, Edmund Dadd MC, was killed in action in 1916 and is remembered here

The poem 'A Whispered Tale'  by War Poet, Writer and Soldier Siegfried Sassoon was dedicated to Julian Dadd - of C Company, Royal Welsh Fusiliers , who was shot in the throat at Ginchy, during the Battle of the Somme (N. France) in 1916. The injury rendered him a 'permanent vocal cripple', this after the traumatic loss of his two brothers. He committed suicide in Hampshire in 1937.

Their sister Elfreda Dadd d 1948 attended Hatcham Girls School and Goldsmiths College and continued in the family tradition of producing talented artists. She is buried elsewhere as was their mother, Eva Hilton Dadd d.1945.

Dadd Family headstone, Ladywell cemetery (Find a Grave)

The nearby headstone of the Greenwich born landscape painter Alfred Augustus Glendenning (1861-1907) is a reminder of the rich artistic talent entombed in the cemetery. A short distance from here in a public grave is the painter Gustav de Breanski ( 1856-1899) like the Dadd's, both were scions of multi-talented artistic families.