By Charles Priestley
(This article appeared under the same title in 'Crossfire', the magazine of the ACWRT (UK) no. 73 - December 2003. Reproduced here with additional picture)
Charles, a regular ACWRT(UK) contributor, along with Michael Hammerson, biographer of the pro-confederate British priest F.W Tremlett, undertake some very practical preservation and find that the reverend had once crossed paths with Raphael Semmes, captain of the Confederate raider 'Alabama'.
Many Civil War enthusiasts will be familiar with the name of the Rev. F. W. Tremlett, Vicar of St. Peter’s, Belsize, and undoubtedly the staunchest of the Confederacy’s numerous British clerical defenders. An article some years ago in Crossfire (1) described St. Peter’s itself and the fine memorial plaque to Tremlett inside the church, while lamenting that the large Vicarage which he had had built at his own expense and where he had entertained so many Confederate visitors was no longer standing. What many may not realise, however, is that Tremlett lived on until 1913, dying at the age of 92 “in the midst”, we are told, “of an energetic campaign against socialism” (apart, of course, from Yankees, his other great aversion was to vivisection).(2)
Michael Hammerson, who combines devotion to the Union with a surprising interest in, and even affection for, Tremlett – to the extent that he is researching his story for a projected biography (3) - discovered some time ago the location of Tremlett’s grave in Hampstead Cemetery. He reported, however, that it was becoming badly overgrown, and he and Charles Priestley therefore more recently discussed the possibility of cleaning it. A preliminary reconnaissance in late August, 2002, revealed that the situation had seriously deteriorated since Michael’s visit. The grave, although still just visible, was now being rapidly engulfed by a thick growth of laurel, ivy and bramble. Further discussions were held, and an ad hoc burial detail finally met at the cemetery in the morning of 13 June, 2003, heavily armed with secateurs, shears and garden refuse bags.
The burial party was a suitably balanced one, consisting as it did of the unswerving Unionist Hammerson and the equally convinced Confederate Priestley. The day was already hot, and Michael had taken the precaution of covering his head with the green kepi of Berdan’s Sharpshooters. Charles, having failed to procure a battered slouch hat well weathered with bear’s grease, was forced to go bareheaded.
The first problem was actually to find the grave, which was now in the middle of an impenetrable thicket and completely invisible even from two feet away. In the dark inside, enormous roots of ivy gripped the entire base of the grave, squeezing out the cast-iron finials at the four corners and obliterating the inscription at the foot of the headstone, while the entrance was barred by the thorns of a luxuriant rose bush.
It quickly became apparent that the two members of the party had very different styles of operation. Michael, who had had previous experience of this sort of thing, preferred the more cautious approach of Grant before Petersburg, cutting off short lengths and then carefully chopping them up until they were small enough to be stowed in his bag. Charles - driven, perhaps, by dim memories of Jackson at Chancellorsville - chose instead to sweep around the flank in a slashing attack, cutting off large bodies of the enemy and leaving them where they fell to be dealt with later. Fortunately, the two systems seemed to complement each other. After some two hours of hard work under a blazing sun, the grave stood clear of the thicket at last, Michael’s two neat bags rested on the ground next to Charles’s three overflowing ones and the burial party, grimy and sweating, retired to the Old Black Lion for some much needed liquid refreshment.
For anyone who might want to follow in their footsteps, Tremlett’s grave is No. F.1.94. It can be found by entering Hampstead cemetery at the main gate in Fortune Green Road and following the path straight down past the church. On the left, some two hundred yards further on, is the tomb of a family called Edmunds, a large cross on a stylised rock, numbered 406. The thicket is directly behind this, about thirty yards in, and Tremlett’s grave is on the right side of the thicket.
As mentioned above, the splendid vicarage in Belsize Square, where Tremlett received countless former Confederates after the Civil War, is no more, having been demolished after his death. His previous residence, however, where he lived when he first moved to the area and where he appears to have spent the greater part of the war years, is still very much standing. This was originally 11, Buckland Crescent, but the houses in this street were renumbered in about 1886 and it is now No. 35. Since this is the house where Raphael Semmes stayed before setting out on his epoch-making cruise in the Alabama, should not the Round Table investigate the possibility of having some sort of plaque or marker placed on it?
Finally, of course, there is St. Peter’s Church. At the time of the Crossfire article, this was normally open during the day. Unfortunately, it is now usually closed. However, it is well worth persevering in order to be able to visit the interior, not only for the monument to Tremlett, and Michael’s small exhibit on him, but also for the church itself. “After all”, as the author of the article points out, “the President of the Confederacy worshipped there.”
1 Places in Britain of Civil War Interest (Crossfire No. 28, January 1987); the article is unsigned, and is therefore presumably from the pen of the then Editor, Bill Torrens.
2 Michael Hammerson: The American Civil War Comes to Belsize Park (see note 3, below).
3 Little has been published on Tremlett and his activities, but there are two recent articles, both by Michael Hammerson. These are: The American Civil War Comes to Belsize Park in Belsize 2000: A Living Suburb (Belsize Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee, 2000) and (with Ed W. Besch and Dave W. Morgan) Raphael Semmes, the “English Confederate Parson”, and His Maiden Sister Louisa; A Cased Presentation Revolver, a Magnificent Silver-Mounted Sword, and a “Mammoth” Silk Confederate Second National Flag (Military Collector and Historian, Vol. 53, No.4, Winter 2001-2).