Finding Mr. Moonlight
There’s a cemetery on a common that practically no-one knows is there.
It’s not listed on The London Borough of Richmond’s Cemeteries page (it should be) and the state it’s in now is a stark contrast as to how well it was maintained a century ago.
I first found out about the cemetery from a blog by Flickering Lamps but only started doing proper research into it when The Graveyard Twins posted some images and videos on their feed. It was like Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park but even more sylvan; it was also half an hour from my front door. Off I went. Off I went.
After a 15 minute walk from Barnes Bridge Station, it’s easy to momentarily lose yourself and where this damned place actually is. Cross referencing it on the brilliant National Library of Scotland website, I eventually found it and was a little taken aback at how unceremonial it had become. No boundary railings. No gates. The trees hide the dead in a bashful manner. All it needed was some dry ice and a soundtrack by Danny Elfman; to visit it is like stepping in to a fairytale. How very different from its opening in 1854.
Now, I won’t go too much into detail as I’m plugging the tour I have planned on Saturday but here, heritage hasn’t really been handled or explored and I’m at a loss as to why. The founder of modern football and an LGBT writer are here, as are murder victims (whose murder was THE Victorian murder before Jack the Ripper started his murderous spree) as well as dozens of toffs who once called this part of south west London ‘home’.
One story I’m rather fond of I’ll share with you now.
Beneath the pines and ivy lie the remains of a remarkable painter and he is surrounded by many member sof his family. He wasn’t the best nor the most well-known canvas user of the 19th century but his career led to a dynasty that centred around Barnes.
Edward Williams was born in Lambeth in 1781 and had art pulsing through his veins. Several family members were either engravers of portrait painters – I’ve previously written about his uncle James. After a brief time training to be a carver he discovered his love of painting by crafting picture frames, eventually turning his attentions to doing the pictures that would be paced insde them. He turned his hand to landscapes; very much influenced by Dutch brush masters such as Hobbema and Ruisdael whose style he would relentlessly practice. A curious choice to make as landscapes weren’t really ‘in fashion’ when he started doing them.
River Landscape with Windsor Castle, executed in the style of his son Percy – which just confuses things, as he was emulating his father…
He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1814 and soon acquired the nickname ‘Moonlight Williams’ as night time landscapes were a favourite of his. His career blossomed and he was able to move from Tottenham Court Road to the village of Barnes to a sizable home down Castlenau.
‘River by Moonlight’ by Edward Williams
Much like the Marshes, the artistic dynasty he spawned all lived and worked under his roof, or lived exceptionally close by. His six sons particularly would go on to become better known painters but it was the influence of their father which created the ‘Williams Family’.
As beautiful as their works are; their styles are so similar to daddy’s that it’s a constant headache trying to identify who did what piece, as none of them signed their works!
The Williams’ and others stories are here in a cemetery that has been completely mistreated (spoiler; the 1960’s). Heartbreaking tales such as the cemetery keeper who killed himself in 1909 by putting his head in the oven in the now demolished lodge due to the isolation of the job and its value to the local gay community…’why on earth this isn’t restored to some degree or more widely known about I have very little clue – but then that’s about to change!
What else are you doing this Saturday afternoon at 1:30? We’ll decamp to the nearby Red Lion afterwards for a social drink and talk about this fascinating little cemetery.