21 May 2017

Sussex: The Long Man and the White Horse

No visit to my friend Jill in Sussex is complete without a drive past at least one of the enigmatic and incredibly large figures, inscribed on the local hills.


The origins of the Long Man of Wilmington have even the experts baffled. At around 230 feet tall, it was once thought to be the largest representation of the human form in the world. Some people speculate that it was carved out of the hillside by prehistoric man to scare away wolves, others that it was created by the monks of nearby Wilmington Priory. Perhaps he’s a figure from some ancient and primitive fertility cult, though the fact that he lacks any reproductive organs would seem to rule out that theory.


The sign on the hill overlooking the figure says that, during the Victorian period, ‘the shape was marked out with yellow bricks’, though those have since been replaced with concrete blocks. The intriguing thing to me is that whoever first marked out the shape was aware of the distortion created by the sloping angle of the hillside and compensated for it: the true shape of the Long Man is elongated so as to appear more normal from a distance.


The White Horse at Litlington is a true chalk figure, cut into the steep side of a hill in the Cuckmere Valley, and one of several large horse figures that adorn the hills of England, some ancient, some very modern. The origins of this particular figure are better documented: according to the National Trust, it was first cut into the downs by four men in 1836 and then re-carved in 1924 by a grandson of one of those men.


The horse is regularly restored by the National Trust, most recently in April this year, when volunteers first weeded the figure, then spread six tonnes of chalk over it to spruce it up. You can see the difference in its appearance in the two photographs below, one taken on a rather grey day in August 2014 and the other just last week.

09 May 2017

Grave matters: ‘To die whilst sitting on a seat’

While researching my previous post about Penarth Cemetery, I came across this odd little story in the old Welsh newspapers and my curiosity was immediately aroused. I had to find out more and, if possible, find the grave. Here’s the result.

Evening Express, 28 August 1907
Vice-Consul's Wish
TO DIE WHILST SITTING ON A SEAT
A CURIOUS COINCIDENCE
An inquest was held at Penarth Police-station on Tuesday touching the death of John William Tornse [sic], the Norwegian Vice-Consul at Cardiff, who had been residing at Penarth.
Miss Jessie Maud Hart, nurse at the Cardiff Union Workhouse, stated that she was at Penarth on Sunday afternoon, and went for a walk across the cliffs. At about 6.10 she saw the deceased gentleman sitting on a seat. He appeared to have a kind of faint, and she ran to his assistance, to prevent him falling upon some stones at the side of the seat. In about five minutes he died.
A gentleman who was passing was despatched for Dr. Rees, who arrived at about 6.30. Witness laid the deceased upon a seat, with his head resting upon her lap. Dr. Rees stated that when he arrived the deceased was lying as described by the nurse. Death, which had taken place shortly before, was due to failure of the heart's action. The jury returned a verdict accordingly.
The doctor said that the deceased three days previously said that he would like to meet his death quietly, and suggested that he would like to go for a walk and sit upon a seat, where he might expire. It was strange that his wish should have been so minutely carried out.
The funeral will take place at Penarth Cemetery at four o'clock to-day (Wednesday).

So, who was this man who achieved his wish of wanting ‘to die whilst sitting on a seat’? Johann Wilhelm Tornøe was born on 27 January 1847 in Bergen, Norway to Johan Ernst Tornøe and Magdalene Christine Wiese. I’ve not found out anything about his early life but he appears to have become a career diplomat.


In 1888 Johann married Caroline Amelia Stromback (nee Harvey) in Kensington, in London. Caroline was then 23, eighteen years younger than Johann, and had been born in the English county of Kent.

The 1891 edition of The Australian handbook (incorporating New Zealand, Fiji, and New Guinea) and shippers' and importers' directory, which rather surprisingly includes all the consuls of foreign states then resident in London, lists John Wilhelm Tornoe as the Vice-Consul for Sweden and Norway. The electoral registers for 1890 and 1891 show him living at 106 Adelaide Road in Hampstead, though perhaps that was the address of the Consulate as the 1891 census shows he and his wife living as boarders, in Lansdowne Square, in the settlement of Brighton and Hove in Sussex.

Some time between 1891 and 1903, Johann made an upwards move, both in his career and his physical location, as he appears in Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory of Scotland, published in 1903, as the Consul for Sweden and Norway in Edinburgh, living at 68 Constitution Street, Leith.

By 1906 he had moved again, as the Evening Express of 13 June 1906 reports that

The Deputy-Lord Mayor of Cardiff (Councillor W. L. Yorath). accompanied by Alderman P. W. Carey, J.P., and the Town-clerk (Mr. J. L. Wheatley) to-day paid an official call on the Vice-Consul for Norway at Cardiff and Glamorgan (Mr. Johan Wilhelm Tornoe) at the Norwegian Consulate ...

It appears, though, that Johann was already hard at work a few weeks before his position was officially ratified by Edward VII as The London Gazette (20 July 1906) reports that on 9 July 1906 ‘The King has been pleased to approve of ... Mr Johan Wilhelm Tornoe, as Vice-Consul of Norway at Cardiff for the county of Glamorgan (with the exception of Swansea).’


His diplomatic service earned Johann official recognition from the governments of Norway and Sweden. He was made a Knight of the Order of St Olav by the Norwegian authorities, ‘as a reward for remarkable accomplishments on behalf of the country and humanity’, and from the Swedish government he was awarded The Royal Order of Vasa, ‘for service to state and society’.

As we have seen, Johann passed quietly away on 25 August 1907. It seems his wife was still residing in London at that time but, at some point, she also moved to Wales. Caroline survived her husband by almost 37 years, not passing away until 20 May 1944. Her death was registered in Cardiff and she is buried with Johann in Penarth Cemetery.

07 May 2017

Grave matters: Penarth Cemetery

Strange as it may seem, I miss not living near Cathays Cemetery, with its depth of history, its park-like grounds, its haven for flora and fauna, and its sense of peace and solitude. I have, however, discovered another cemetery, my local here in Penarth, though it’s only a fraction of the size of Cathays.


According to the Penarth Town Council website, five acres of land for the cemetery were acquired from the Right Honourable Robert George, Lord Windsor, Lord-Lieutenant of Glamorgan and Chief Commissioner of Public Works, on 2 March 1903, though the need for a new cemetery had been signalled many years earlier.


Prior to the opening of the town cemetery, most Penarth burials were in the graveyard around the Church of St Augustine. and as early as 1897 Reverend W. Sweet-Escott wrote to the district council pointing out the need for additional burial space (Evening Express, 20 March 1897). Somewhat surprisingly, the idea of a new cemetery proved to be quite a contentious issue. It wasn’t the cemetery itself that stirred up strong emotions but rather the decision as to whether or not the land would be consecrated, which would affect the cost of a burial. The Nonconformists were not against paying for tombstones, memorials or vaults but disputed the fact that they should have to pay a fee to a rector to perform the burial service.


The cemetery is not mentioned again in the newspapers until 1898, when Cardiff Council tried to amalgamate Penarth with Cardiff, something that was vehemently opposed by the ratepayers of Penarth. Even Cardiff’s promise to provide a new burial ground was not enough to persuade the good people of Penarth (and the town remains separate to this day). 

According to the report in the Evening Express, 21 February 1898,

Mr. A. Mackintosh said that the overtures of Cardiff were premature and pointed to no real advantage. With regard to the cemetery question, Penarth was rich enough to provide its own, and if Penarth people had to take their dead to Cardiff for burial it would simply be adding another terror to death. (Laughter.)

Penarth District Council finally decided to advertise for plans for a new cemetery in April 1901, restricting its call for tenders to Penarth and Cardiff architects only (Barry Dock News, 5 April 1901), though it would appear that nothing came of that advertisement as there is a further report in the Barry Dock News of 11 October 1901 stating that the Council had ‘resolved to re-write the bills of quantity for the proposed new cemetery, and advertise for tenders for same’. It seems much like council matters today – a lot of talk and bureaucracy but not much real action!


The first burial in the new cemetery finally took place in December 1903, and in 1928 the Council acquired a further 2½ acres to bring the total acreage to 7 and the number of burial spaces to 5000. More than one person can be buried in each space, of course, so the most recent burial total stands at over 10,500.


Howver, burial space is once again becoming an issue. On 28 March 2014, the Penarth Times reported that the cemetery was due to run out of burial space in three years – that’s right about now! – so the Council was looking into alternative methods of housing cremated remains. Columbaria, ‘scatter lawns’ and ‘above ground vaults’ were all under consideration, though I haven’t found any reference to a decision in more recent newspapers, and I haven’t noticed any new structures during my visits to the cemetery.

As with most old cemeteries, Penarth’s is an interesting place to explore, for the design and architecture of its buildings and its grave monuments, for the beauty of its wildflowers in the springtime, for the wildlife that inhabits its quiet spaces, and the view from the top of the hill is stunning. I will certainly be visiting again soon.