Resting place, finally

joseph-merrickJoseph Merrick (1862–1890)

Author Joanne Vigor-Mungovin, who is related to the showman who exhibited Joseph Merrick as the Elephant Man in the 1880s, recently discovered the location of Joseph’s final resting place… in Aldersbrook

On 15 April 1890, an inquest was held into the death of Joseph Merrick by coroner Wynne Baxter. After the funeral service – held in the chapel at the London Hospital – Joseph’s body was handed over to Dr Frederick Treves.

Joseph’s bones were removed of flesh, bleached twice and re-articulated for private display in the medical college. Plaster casts were taken of Joseph’s head and extremities. What happened to the rest of Joseph’s remains always remained a mystery. In a 1997 Q.E.D. documentary, The True Story of Joseph Merrick, it was suggested Joseph’s remains were laid to rest in an unmarked grave in the East End of London.

On 6 April 2019, I was giving a talk for the Whitechapel Society on Joseph. The friend I travelled down with told me that a friend of hers always put a bottle of gin on the grave of the Jack the Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes. I thought nothing of it, until after the talk a member of the audience asked me where I thought Joseph’s flesh was buried? Off the cuff, I responded by saying: “Probably where the Ripper victims are.” My response stuck with me and when I returned home, I looked up where Catherine Eddowes was buried and found that she and Polly Nichols (another victim) were buried at the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium.

Looking up the cemetery on the internet, I found their burial records were online. So, I just sat there and typed in the date Joseph died to start the search. On page two of the online records, just under halfway down the page, was a Joseph Merrick. It recorded his burial date as 24 April 1890. The coroner was listed as Wynne Baxter, the description of residence was London Hospital and the age was 28 (although Joseph was 27 when he died). After convincing myself this was the right Joseph Merrick, I contacted the cemetery. I just wanted a photo of the plot – I live in Leicester and it’s difficult to get down.

Superintendent Registrar Gary Burks managed to locate the plot, and said if I came down, he would take me to it. On 3 May 2019, I did indeed drive down. Gary took me to the exact plot where Joseph was buried, he had put in the ground a little wooden marker and I laid a little posy of flowers. Joseph is in a common grave, so there was probably never a headstone. But he does lie in consecrated ground. Joseph, whilst living at the London Hospital, was confirmed into the Church of England by the suffragan Bishop of the East End of London, Dr William Walsham How.

This month, the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium will be installing a small brass plaque to mark the place where Joseph Carey Merrick rests.

Joanne’s book Joseph: The Life, Times and Places of The Elephant Man is published by Mango Books, priced £12.50. For more information, visit wnstd.com/merrick