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Monument to Marthe Josephine Besson

A Grade II Listed Building in Highgate, London

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Latitude: 51.5663 / 51°33'58"N

Longitude: -0.1446 / 0°8'40"W

OS Eastings: 528698

OS Northings: 186905

OS Grid: TQ286869

Mapcode National: GBR DT.XYL

Mapcode Global: VHGQL.FWYM

Entry Name: Monument to Marthe Josephine Besson

Listing Date: 22 December 2011

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1403268

Location: Camden, London, N19

County: London

District: Camden

Electoral Ward/Division: Highgate

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Camden

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St Anne Brookfield

Church of England Diocese: London

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Granite chest tomb with marble statue, c.1908, by A MacDonald & Co.


Large pink granite chest tomb on tall base, with pilasters to corners and sides; atop the chest is a full-size marble sculpture of a reclining female figure in Classical attire, who leans upon a draped tablet with an oval plaque. An inscription on the side of the chest reads: 'In loving memory of Marthe Josephine Besson, daughter of Gustave Besson of Paris and London and beloved wife of Adolphe Fontaine. Died 15th Sept 1908, aged 56 years. Her great talents and untiring energy gained the praise of the foremost masters in the musical world.' An inscription on the base gives identifies the maker as ‘A. MacDonald & Co. Ltd., Euston Road, N.W.’


Marthe Besson (c.1852-1908) was a leading Anglo-French musical instrument maker and businesswoman. Her father, Gustave-Auguste Besson, left Paris for London in 1858 to establish a brass instrument factory at 158 Euston Road. After his death in 1874 Marthe took control of the Besson factories in Britain and France, and was noted for her close involvement in the trade. Although the firm was taken over by Boosey & Hawkes in 1968, Besson cornets, horns, trombones, tubas and other instruments are still made today.

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.

Reasons for Listing

The monument to Marthe Besson is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Artistic interest: figure sculpture of unusual quality and refinement;
* Historic interest: commemorates a noted late-C19 businesswoman and musical instrument maker;
*Setting: it is located within the Grade I registered Highgate Cemetery and has group value with other listed tombs and structures nearby.

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