Sandstone funerary monument, c.1882.
Reason for Listing
The monument to Thomas George Ashford and Henry Berg is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Artistic interest: bears good-quality sculpture which directly reflects the occupation of those commemorated;
* Historic interest: commemorates a notorious C19 theatre fire and the bravery of the two firemen whose lives it claimed;
* Setting: it is located within the Grade I registered Highgate Cemetery and has group value with other listed tombs and structures nearby.
Theatre fires were very common in late C19 because of the gas lamps used to light the stage. In 1881/82 Captain Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, Chief Officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, was requested to conduct an inspection of theatres and make recommendations for their protection. Shortly after Shaw completed his report, the Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square was destroyed in a major fire, during which two of Shaw’s men were killed by a falling wall.
Highgate Cemetery was the third of London's 'magnificent seven' burial grounds, a ring of suburban cemeteries established in the 1830s and 1840s to relieve pressure on overcrowded urban churchyards. It was the creation of the London Cemetery Company, a joint-stock company founded by the architect and engineer Stephen Geary and formally instituted by Act of Parliament in 1836. A seventeen-acre site on Highgate Hill was laid out as a picturesque garden cemetery with a network of serpentine drives, culminating in a monumental catacomb complex at the top of the hill. Geary himself supplied the initial plans, with assistance from the architect JB Bunning and from the landscape gardener David Ramsay. The cemetery, opened in 1839 and extended to the east of Swain's Lane in 1854, enjoyed great popularity and prestige during the second half of the C19 (famous occupants include George Eliot, Christina Rossetti and Karl Marx), but lack of money and maintenance led to a severe decline during the C20. Since 1975 it has been run on a charitable basis by the present Friends group.
The monument takes the form of a high square plinth surmounted by a simple cross with fireman’s tools in high relief; these include a helmet, a belt, two nozzles and two axes with covered blades. The original inscription was carved straight onto the plinth and is now illegible. The current inscription, on a granite plaque mounted over the original, commemorates only the more senior of the two firemen: ‘Thomas George Ashford, Assistant Officer stationed at Southwark, died as a result of injuries sustained at the Alhambra Theatre Fire 1882’. The original inscription read as follows: ‘In memory of First Class Fireman Thomas George Ashford, aged 34 years, and Fourth Class Fireman Henry Berg, aged 24 years, of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, who both died from the effects of the injuries they received at the burning of the Alhambra Theatre Leicester Square on the 7th December 1882. This memorial was erected by their Officers, comrades and friends to commemorate the loss of two good men, whose lives were sacrificed by their devotion to their duty.’
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.