From left, Catherine Soskice, her father Oliver, Ian Wilson and writer Angela Thirwell, by the Ford Maddox Brown grave.
A self-portrait of Ford Madox Brown dating from 1850
Published: 11 May, 2012
by PETER GRUNER
THE great-great-grandson of Victorian Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown has joined a campaign to clean up the artist’s forgotten burial site at Islington and St Pancras Cemetery.
Oliver Soskice, 64, also a professional artist, visited his ancestor’s grave at the cemetery in East Finchley yesterday (Thursday) for the first time since work had been done to rectify years of overgrowth and neglect.
Mr Soskice, who lives in Cambridge, is the son of Frank Soskice, the late Labour MP and Home Secretary, who in the 1960s served under Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
The Madox Brown burial spot had been discovered by chance by Holloway art lecturer Ian Wilson while visiting his mother’s nearby grave in March this year.
Mr Wilson, the art co-ordinator at the Hoffman Foundation for Autism in Wood Green, immediately launched a move to clean up the burial site where the gravestone is leaning perilously to one side due to overhanging trees.
Cemetery staff –with support from Islington Council – have now removed some of the offending trees and shrubbery and cleaned up the site.
The Soskice family, who have given a donation to the clean-up operation, are expected to give permission for a stonemason to have the gravestone placed upright.
Mr Soskice said he was very pleased to support the tidy-up and admitted he hadn’t visited his ancestor’s grave for some time.
“But I’m sure visitors and art lovers would like to know where it is and visit it. He was, after all, an important figure in the art world.”
Oliver’s father Frank Soskice was the son of an exiled Russian revolutionary journalist, his mother was the granddaughter of Ford Madox Brown, niece of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and sister of writer Ford Madox Ford.
Writer Angela Thirwell warned about the dire state of the grave in her book published two years ago, Into the Frame: the Four Loves of Madox Brown.
“It’s wonderful something is being done at last,” she said.
Mr Wilson, meanwhile, welcomed the work done at the cemetery so far. “They have removed most of the trees but not the trunks which are causing the stone to lean over.”
He has discovered old ironwork close to the grave and is trying to get it identified by experts at the Victorian and Albert Museum.
Mr Wilson, 66, came across the last resting place of Brown while visiting the grave of his mother Nellie, who died aged 104 two years ago.
As a result of his concerns, featured in the Tribune, Islington Council has launched a Ford Madox Brown grave improvement appeal.
Social realism artist Madox Brown, who lived in Fortess Terrace, Kentish Town, is particularly famous for the painting Work, showing navvies in Hampstead.
It took more than 12 years to produce, between 1852 and 1865.
The council’s environment chief, Labour councillor Paul Smith, said that he recognised this was an important grave for visitors to the cemetery, although the council does not have spare cash to refurbish the site itself.
“We are looking into how we might raise funds nationwide for the refurbishment and might appeal to art lovers to put up some money,” he added.