The City of London Cemetery and Crematorium is Britain’s biggest graveyard with nearly one million within its walls, approached by an impressive Portland stone gateway has, as its most famous internee, Sir Bobby Moore who captained England to the 1966 World Cup victory, culminating at Wembley playing against Germany. You will also find actress Dame Anna Neagle and a couple of Jack the Ripper’s victims.
Within this huge 200-acre Victorian Grade I listed graveyard is an almost forgotten simple cross surmounting a square plinth commemorating the life of a person who arguably changed the course of Britain’s history.
Elizabeth Ann Everest was born in Chatham at around 1832. Like many of her generation she remained a spinster, was childless, she wrote nothing of note, invented nothing, created nothing, she boasted no scientific achievement nor artistic gift.
She was, truth be told, not the least bit extraordinary in any way, except this: she had a great deal of love in her.
Elizabeth Ann Everest
We know nothing of her early life. A woman of deep faith, a Low Church Anglican which probably went some way to her first appointment. She was, by profession, a caregiver, spending her thirties raising a girl named Ella Phillips, in the Cumberland village of Barrow-in-Furness.
Alas, as is the way with nannies, having raised Ella until she was twelve, the girl’s father, an Anglican cleric, released her from his service.
To modern eyes, this dismissal of a faithful servant might seem callous, but life in the lower ranks of Victorian society was harsh.
Having had the responsibility of caring for the Rev. Phillips’s daughter gave her a huge advantage when seeking employment. Without any means of support the workhouse beckoned. But Rev. Phillips had given her references which served her well to get a new position.
In 1875, one of England’s most noble families had a need for a governess.
A well-known rake from one of England’s families of high noble birth had married a wealthy teenage American, a young woman of great beauty but highly questionable morals.
She had given birth ‘prematurely’, seven months after the wedding, and, having done so, wanted nothing to do with being a mother. The young lady then hired a wet nurse, who fed the child; when the child was a month old, she hired Elizabeth Everest to care for him.
Having discharged their responsibilities as parents devoted themselves to a life of pleasure and debauchery: balls, parties and soirées and all the entertainments that went with their set at the time.
The abandoned child was a sickly redhead with a tendency to throw temper tantrums and Elizabeth Everest was left to bring up and set an example to her charge.
As the years passed, the father became publicly prominent, a well-known politician. As the boy grew, the father abused the boy intellectually and verbally on, according to the boy, the only five occasions he actually paid attention to the child. He was sent to Harrow and not his father’s alma mater-Eton as Harrow, in those days, was supposed to be less intellectually challenging.
His mother gave herself to an endless series of high-ranking lovers and hardly noticed that the child even existed.
The parents called the nanny ‘Mrs Everest’ – an honorary title, as was the custom for nannies at the time, as she had in all probability never married.
The boy addressed her as “Woom”, from a poor first attempt to say the word “Woman”. Woom changed his nappies, offered him her arms for comfort, wiped his tears. She gave him all the love and parenting that his own parents should have given, but did not.
She was his love, his caretaker, and shaped him in the ways of life in ways that his foolish, frivolous mother and cruelly insane father could not hope to do so. She was his confidante and he loved her dearly, in ways he never could his own mother and father, who viewed him with annoyance, cold indifference – or worse.
When the boy was seven, he was exiled to a series of boarding schools where he was abused and beaten; when he came home for holiday, he often found his parents gone – without warning – and spent his Christmases alone with his nanny and the other servants of the house.
The father was often in London, where he was prominent in Parliament; the mother was, in essence, wherever she wanted to be, which was generally the beds of rich, powerful and handsome men other than her husband, whom she came to actively loathe, as he treated her with the same callousness he did the boy.
Through all this, Woom was the boy’s light and his comfort, and she shaped him in ways his parents were incapable of doing. As the boy grew older, he had to cope with the bitter reality that his mad and cruel father would never love him and that his mother–for all the nobility of her surroundings, an incontinent whore with scores, or even hundreds, of lovers–could never be a mother for him.
As the boy became a young adult Mrs Everest was again fired from her post which, all accounts, was handled abruptly and poorly, given her long and devoted service to the family.
The father’s syphilis finally ended his life; he died in January 1895, when the boy was twenty.
In June of that year, Mrs Everest fell ill with peritonitis. The young man, no longer a child, rushed from Sandhurst, his military training camp and was with her in her sister’s home at 15 Crouch Hill, where she died of peritonitis on 3rd July 1895.
The young officer then telegraphed the clergyman for whom Everest had previously worked, they met at the graveside. He had become an archdeacon, but even so, he did not see fit to bring little Ella with him.
The ‘intellectually challenged’ sickly redhead now no longer a boy, erected a headstone over her grave. It stands to this day:
‘ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF ELIZABETH ANN EVEREST, WHO DIED THE 3RD OF JULY 1895, AGE 67 YEARS.’
At the base of the stone is the simple addendum, now severely weathered after 120 years and covered by grass:
‘. . . BY WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL’