The survey of the Old English Cemetery of Livorno which I began in 2009 and my subsequent analysis of the data has revealed an elevated amount of discrepancies. Some examples are: the position of the existing tombstones not matching the complete survey made in 1906 (see below), the great number of missing slabs and tombstones, the astonishing collages of inscription fragments mounted together with no apparent logic, some artistically/historically incoherent monuments, the total loss of the iron railings that were enclosing a number of graves, the mysteriously empty areas, the enormous quantities of debris, dumping material and objects found everywhere, etc…
The very limited local bibliography on the subject lacks any detail on the history of the cemetery, and gives only opinions and hypotheses. It relays unreliable information from previous books and articles and transmits oral statements of unknown origins. Everything about this place has always been uncertain, from the year of its foundation (historians have dated it anywhere from the 1590s to 1737), to the events of World War II. On the other hand, Prof. Stefano Villani has provided some very interesting evidence about the enclosure of the cemetery and other documents related to the first hundred years of the burial ground’s existence. I recently discovered the testament of a Leghorn merchant which finally establishes, for the first time, the year of the foundation of this cemetery (see related article on this blog).
Outline of the History of the Old English Cemetery.
For foreign communities establishing a ‘heretic’ cemetery in Italy was not an easy task, especially in the 17th century. Livorno was, however, a very peculiar place and a special tolerance was inherent to its founding charter. Before the 1640s the subject of protestant burials was a ‘hot’ matter and it remained officially so for a long time (see related article on this blog). Nevertheless, unofficial burials outside of the city walls were silently tolerated by the authorities, who at first forbid the use of any grave markers. Some scholars argue that, later on, as the Old English Cemetery demonstrates, authorities permitted certain markers provided they didn’t interfere with the military defenses of the city, but still forbid any enclosure of the burial grounds.
The first request to enclose the cemetery with a wall was made in 1706, but it was only in 1746 that a low wall with iron railings was finally built with the funds left by the English merchant Robert Bateman in his testament (1743). Before this moment the cemetery had undergone threats of different natures, such as occasional vandalism and damage rendered by animals digging in it.
The second half of the 18th c. was a relatively uneventful period. In 1781 the merchant Francis Jermy died and by his testament he left his beautiful Villa on the hills of Montenero to the British Nation of Livorno, to fund the British Chaplain. No serious threat happened until the Napoleonic wars and the subsequent three invasions of french troops.
In 1803 Napoleon, bitterly disappointed that the English had fled the city, threatened to destroy the cemetery as an act of revenge, as all the Englishmen in Livorno had taken with them as much of their property as they could. Tassinari, in her “History of the English Church in Florence” (1905) recounts that it was thanks to an act of bravery by the Rev. Thomas Hall, Chaplain of the British Factory of Leghorn, that Napoleon’s threat was not realized. Dr. Hall declared, in fact, that Napoleon would enter the cemetery only over his dead body. Napoleon desisted. Rev. Hall died in 1824 and his body now lies under an imposing monument near the North-East wall of the cemetery.
The needs to expand the city beyond its existing walls mark another key date for the history of the cemetery, as the new regulations forced the closure of the old burial ground in 1839-40. At the same time a new cemetery was built, just outside the new city walls near the San Marco gate. It has remained open ever since. The Church of St. George, built facing the gate of the old cemetery creating a sort of enclosed and protected area containing all the British properties, was erected in the same period.
The cemetery area reached its full protection between 1845 and 1855 when two more buildings became part of it: the Scottish Presbyterian Church at the North East corner of the cemetery and the Villa Bartolini. The latter was acquired by three members of the British community (Mac Bean, Lloyd and Hall) and used as the chaplain’s house, being located at the end of the road leading to St. George and the Old Cemetery and bordering both sites.
In 1868 Livorno finally lost the privileges of Free Port. The British local community began its final decline while Florence represented more and more the Tuscan capital for the British and Scots. This transfer of importance lead to critical decisions about the funding of the Leghorn Chaplaincy by the British authorities and the Diocese of Gibraltar. Funds were then concentrated on the new cemetery.
Since the 1850s the Old Cemetery began to suffer from an evident lack of maintenance, a fact that was later denounced by Consul Montgomery Carmichael in the early years of the 20th century (see related article on this blog). A survey of the American and English inscriptions of the old cemetery was published originally in “Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica” in 1898 by Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum and Francis Campbell Macauley, and subsequently edited in 1906 by Consul Carmichael who added all the remaining inscriptions (read the full transcript of the introduction of the 1906 book on this blog). This book represents a very important source, not only because it fully records the corpus of the inscriptions but also because it can be used as a virtual map of the cemetery as it was in the years 1898-1906, well before the destruction of WWII (see the full burials’ list extracted from this book).
I was not able to find, until now, any informative source about the cemetery in the years of WWI; however, starting from the 1930s there’s evidence of a growing interest, on the part of the British Government, in the sale of the Church properties of Livorno. Unfortunately, the official documentation starts in 1939 but it contains references to previous offers made by some Livornese about the buying of the property, especially the land around the cemetery and even the church of St. George. This material has never been published, and it was only unclassified by the Foreign Office in the early 1990s.
On the 4th of July 1949 a contract was signed by the then British Consul at Florence, Mr. Herbert Leslie Greenleaves, and the lawyer Mr. Aleardo Campana, representing the Venerabile Arciconfraternita della Misericordia of Livorno. The contract was a deed of sale and gift involving the land around the cemetery, the Church of St. George and other buildings in the same area. The gift part of the contract included some very important conditions which, if unattended by the Misericordia, would return the gifted properties to the British Government. The main conditions were the restoration of the Church, and the upkeep and maintenance of both British cemeteries including all the urgent repair work needed after the damage caused by the terrible bombing of 1943.
The 1949 contract led to the present situation in which the Misericordia is in charge of the maintenance and upkeep of both cemeteries; however, the property still belongs to the British Government (Foreign Office). Moreover, the Old English Cemetery was classed, in 1991, as a protected monument by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage.
The Cultural Association “Livorno delle Nazioni” of which I am currently the President, is taking care, documenting and doing research on the Old English Cemetery since 2009. Some of our founding members started works at the cemetery as early as year 2000.