Walthamstow’s Sinking Cemetery and the Cinema Pioneer

A morning walk isn’t the ideal time to find yourself outside one of the finest pubs in London. The William the Fourth at Bakers Arms, Leyton looks resplendent in the glaring morning light. The hanging baskets puke out great rainbows of petunias.

William the Fourth Leyton

The William the Fourth is home to Brodie’s Fabulous Beers and you could drink your way round East London in this majestic mirrored boozer  – from Dalston Black through Hackney Red IPA, Stepney Green Steam, Bethnal Green Bitter, London Fields Pale Ale, Hoxton and Old Street IPA. But it’s 10am, the pub is closed and I’m heading for Walthamstow Cemetery on the scent of a tip off I was given by a nice couple after a talk I gave on Lea Bridge Road earlier in the year. They mentioned that one of the early cinema pioneers was buried there and it might be of interest.

Walthamstow Cemetery Queens Road
I checked in again on the beguiling Hoe Street Telephone Exchange before turning into Queens Road and on to Walthamstow Cemetery. It’s a boiling hot morning – possibly one of the last of the year – and I’m the only living person in this expansive Victorian necropolis. It soon becomes apparent that a number of the headstones are listing drastically – in some cases leaning across to meet their neighbouring grave. Some plots are sinking into the barren gravely soil. It has a strong air of abandonment.

Walthamstow Cemetery Queens Road Walthamstow Cemetery Queens Road
I now realise I don’t have the name of the grave I am looking for and am relying on chance – I Google to find the name of Birt Acres but looking out across the tombstone rubble don’t fancy my chances of locating the grave. Acres is credited with inventing the first 35mm moving image camera in Britain and a system for developing and projecting the films. Among his first productions were Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, The Boxing Kangaroo, and Performing Bears. He is also said to be “the first travelling newsreel reporter in international film history” (Wikipedia).

Walthamstow Cemetery Queens Road
It isn’t clear how Acres came to be buried in Walthamstow cemetery. The area had been a centre of film production in the early 20th Century with the British and Colonial Kinematograph Company having a large studio in Hoe Street not far from the cemetery so that could perhaps explain Birt Acres’ connection to Walthamstow.

Walthamstow Cemetery Queens Road
A headstone sitting in the shade of a tree and wreathed in ivy reads ‘Eliza The Beloved Wife of Thomas William Aldridge Who Was Drowned In The “Princess Alice” September 3rd 1878 Aged 33 Years.

After a while I start to feel as if I’m intruding although such is the age of the majority of the graves you imagine mourners are few and far between. Birds natter in the trees. Cats stalk the pathways. I move on through the gates back into Queens Road.


  1. Anita   •  

    I don’t know if you found Birt Acres’ grave in the end, but I came across this on ‘Queens Boundary Community’ website
    “Graves are located in this list from the Main Gate. Thus “First pathway right, left side” indicates a grave on the left hand side of the first pathway on the right from the Main Gate. The grave can further be identified by the Plot Number given at the beginning of the description. However, the main monuments are to be found flanking the Centre Avenue and on the avenues encircling the two Chapels. Infilling of the inter-grave pathways with earth burials took place from 1973 but from c.1980 this continued for cremated remains only. Burials of note are:

    ACRES, Birt (b.1854; d.1918)

    402A. Right-hand path, nineteen plots up on left-hand side. White marble headstone.

    Described as “A Pioneer of the Cineematograph”. “

  2. Marian Gazzard   •  

    I am looking for a grave of Eleanor Vallance who passed away approx 60 years ago is there anyway that I could find this *

    • Peter   •  

      Join “Stories of Queens Road Cemetery” and also “Friends of Queens Road Cemetery” facebook groups. There are people on their that can help. Once the plot no. is located I can find and take a picture for you. (I live nearby and volunteer there)

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