A memorial service was held at St Paul’s Covent Garden for Webster Booth
in October 1984. Before the service his ashes were buried in the grounds
and a memorial plaque erected in commemoration to him. In 1991 Pamela
Davies, who collaborated with me in writing one of the books on Anne
Ziegler and Webster Booth, visited the churchyard in the early 1990s and
found Webster’s memorial plaque under a hawthorn tree. The plaque was
made of brass and in the seven years since it had been erected it was
tarnished and blackened, although she could still read the plain
St Paul’s, Covent Garden – All photographs by Charles S. P. Jenkins (November 2010)
South side of St Paul’s churchyard
Pamela returned to the churchyard in 2005 only to find that the hawthorn tree
had been cut down and Webster’s plaque could no longer be seen. She
wrote to make enquiries as to what had happened to the plaque. I quote
from our book, Do You Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth?
The administrator, in the rector’s absence, kindly instituted another
search, equally fruitless. He suggested it could be hidden under a large
plant or simply have disintegrated in the adverse weather, as had
happened to the plaque to the actor Michael Williams, which had been in
place only four years.
In my letter I had enquired also about the possibility of a plaque to
Webster Booth’s wife, the singer Anne Ziegler, but I was informed that
no more plaques are being accepted. The only answer would be an
inscribed garden bench, or obtaining permission for a name in a memorial
book in the church….
Evelyn Laye had read the lesson at Webster’s memorial service. Her life is
commemorated by an inscription on a garden bench in the churchyard:
It seems a shame that this plaque, which marked the burial place of
Webster’s ashes, and was erected in memory of a great British tenor
who was also dearly beloved by his family, friends and fans, should have
vanished without trace. As one can see from the above photographs, the
churchyard is very overgrown, so many other plaques are probably
obscured or hidden in the undergrowth.
Apparently no record is kept of those whose memorial services are held at the church.
If the plaques commemorating theatrical musical and theatrical
personalities have disintegrated or disappeared in the thick undergrowth
within such a short time, valuable pieces of theatrical history are
lost forever to future generations.
UPDATE – 19 FEBRUARY 2011
I received an e-mail from St Paul’s Covent Garden yesterday and I will
outline what was said, below, and also part of my reply. I fear that the
matter now rests there as far as I am concerned.
The main problem for those of us administrating this church now is that
burial in all central London graveyards was stopped by Act of Parliament
in the mid 19th century. Therefore burial of ashes with plaque, of
anyone since then, has been illegal. However discreet internment without
ceremony, plaque or shrub can be considered.
A number of plaques are placed in the garden illegally but these can
disintegrate, disappear, or even, get stolen and in foliage can simply
The Parochial Church Council was instructed by the Diocese to stop
putting Memorial Plaques on the church’s interior walls. Since then the
PCC have accepted inscribed benches for use in the burial ground at
£1000 each. A name inscribed in the Actors’ Church Union Book of
Remembrance costs £100. The PCC has recently decided to consider plaques
on the interior wainscotting again, for those artistes honoured by Her
Majesty, at a premium of £3000. The proposal to be made by the nearest
member of the family.
My reply was as follows:
Thank you for responding so promptly to my query and for explaining the
situation to me. As far as I know the ashes of Webster Booth were
interned in the Churchyard prior to the memorial service. I know that
his widow, the late Anne Ziegler, who was living in Llandudno, North
Wales, did not return to the Church after this service, so I’m not sure
at what juncture the plaque was placed in the Churchyard.
I shall pass on the information you have given me to Webster Booth’s next of kin….
I omitted the name of the person who wrote and also the name of Webster’s
next of kin. I would add that there would have been no question of Anne
arranging to have an illegal plaque placed in the Churchyard! If you
look at the photographs again, you will see that there are many plaques
there, erected many years after the mid-nineteenth century. I think that
it is a rather snobbish practice to consider placing plaques in the
central wainscotting only for artistes honoured by Her Majesty.
A few years after Webster Booth’s death, Anne Ziegler was granted a
special pension by the Queen in recognition of Anne and Webster’s
contribution to music in the United Kingdom – a very much more practical
“honour” than an OBE.