MUSIC Hall comedian Harriet Vernon died almost 90-years ago and her South Yorkshire grave has been unmarked - until now, as David Kessen reports,
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FOR the Victorians, she was one of the biggest names in entertainment.
In the days before television, music hall star Harriet Vernon was up there with today’s stars of the small screen.
But when she visited Doncaster to perform at the Grand Theatre in 1923, her visit ended in tragedy, at the age of 65.
It is thought she was already unwell when she arrived to take part in a show with other old time stars. But she never got to perform in the show she arrived in the borough to appear in. She was admitted to Doncaster Infirmary, and died of bronchial pneumonia.
Harriet was buried in what had been for years an unmarked grave at Hyde Park Cemetery.
But now her star has been restored - thanks to her descendants with a little help from Friends of Hyde Park Cemetery.
This week, a number of those descendants gathered at the cemetery to attend the blessing of a new headstone paying tribute to the star of the stage. Rev Alan Murray, of St James’ Church carried out the service at the graveside.
Also there were great grandaughters Rose Moss, aged 80, Ann Sutcliffe aged 65, Kathy Poynton, aged 67, great great granddaughter Barbara Fitzpatrick, aged 61, and great great great granddaughter Karen Birchall.
Many of them had never met before until they were put in touch with one another through the cemetery friends group, whose chairman Richard Bell joined them at the service. The travelled up from the South of England for the service.
Contemporary reports of Harriet’s death described her as one of the most famous comediennes of her age.
She was one of the leading stars of the 1880s and 1890s, performing regularly at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. She also toured international, appearing, in New York, Johannesburg and Berlin. She was touring with a show called the ‘Olde Time Artistes’ when she died, and was buried in an unmarked grave at Hyde Park on July 14, 1923.
By contacting the Friends of Hyde Park Cemetery through their website, www.fohpc.org.uk, several descendants of Harriet Vernon were put in contact with each other in late-2011. They worked together to buy a headstone for Harriet.
Great great granddaugher Barbara said in her heyday, Harriet was paid £800 for an eight week tour - a phenomenal amount of money in those days.
She said: “For what she did in the entertainment industry, we thought it terrible that she was in an unmarked grave. It didn’t seem right. She was up there with the big name soap stars of today. She was probably as famous as someone like Martine McCutcheon.
“We thought was right that she had a proper grave. But if it hadn’t been for the friends of Hyde Park Cemetery it would not have happened, and we are very grateful.
“She’s now got a gravestone - she will be remembered.
“We are all very happy and very grateful.”
Mr Bell, from the Friends of Hyde Park Cemetery, said he was delighted that the family had been able to visit the headstone for the blessing.
He said: “We’re really pleased that we’ve been able to bring together members of the family that had previously never met, and have been able to provide a permanent reminder of Harriet’s life and career rather than her lying in an unmarked grave as she has for almost 90 years.”