Queens Road, my family and me

For Janet Ling, a walk down memory lane is a walk through Queens Road Cemetery. Here, she explains her family’s deep ties to Walthamstow’s sinking graveyard…

Janet’s paternal grandparents, Louisa and James Ridley. This is the only known photograph of them (Credit: Janet Ling)

Walthamstow will always be my home, that is where my heart remains.

I was born there, and as a child I went to Sidney Chaplin School. I did not pass my 11+ exam, and found school boring. Ironic, as I became a teacher, gaining a BSC degree in Science and an MA in Education. And I am fascinated by history. 

One day, on a class trip, we were taken to the Walthamstow Museum. On the wall was a painting of Richard de Beauchamp, Lord of the Manor of Walthamstow and the 13th Earl of Warwick. He sat boldly on his white horse wielding his sword, in his armour. I remember standing and just looking at this painting – really looking at it. 

I didn’t know at the time, but there was a connection here to my own history. My family history. I’d discover this soon after visiting the museum, as we began to research family trees as part of our schoolwork. 

This is where my passion to save Queens Road Cemetery in Walthamstow started. 

My dad, William Ridley, and my mum Doris Ridley (née Medus), had three children, of which I am the youngest. My mum knew a lot about her family history, including the fact her great grandmother was buried in Queens Road Cemetery, and her maiden name was Mary Ann Agnes Beauchamp. 

She had married my great grandfather Charles John Medus, who is buried with her in Queens Road Cemetery. My great grandfather owned Meadows removal company, based on Beulah Road, Walthamstow. He sat on the board of Connaught Hospital (open until 1977) and owned a newsagents’ wholesalers. 

He and my great grandmother had ten children. My mum’s father, my grandfather, was John Henry Medus. He was 44 years old when he passed away, and is also buried there. 

But my own dad knew very little about his family tree, though he did know his mother was Louisa Florence Ridley (née Hardy). She had passed away when he was away fighting in WW2. He lost his father, James Thomas Ridley, when he was just three years old. 

What had happened to him? Where was he? My dad could not tell me; however, he gave me his only photograph of his parents. 

Some of the graves at Queens Road Cemetery are sinking (Credit: James Cracknell)

Well, I spent the next 50 years searching for answers. I joined Ancestry UK, and began my search. Then, I found him! When I saw his details come up on the computer, I just stared at the screen, frozen in time – then jumped up and down, then started crying, then more crying. He, too, was buried in Queens Road Cemetery! 

But there was much more to his story. He had been killed aged 35 in an unexplained explosion in 1921, at the Bermondsey factory where he worked as a furnaceman. Newspapers at the time stated that the explosion threw him through a wall, and that his body was mangled. 

I contacted the cemetery, as I wanted to put a memorial on his grave. At first, they said I could, then they told me his grave had been purchased by another family, meaning I could not. Like many others buried in Queens Road Cemetery (an estimated 50,000, left with no memorial, not even a note in a memorial book), no one knows they are there. 

I could not imagine how my grandmother Louisa felt when she heard a knock at the door; and was delivered this awful news. She had five young children to raise alone. I didn’t know her, but I admire her strength of character.

I like to think I have inherited her tenacity. Remember: this was 1921. There was no NHS, and no support for her and her large family beyond her own relatives. She never remarried, and died aged 54. You can guess where she too is buried. 

My parents brought me up to respect those who’ve passed away. I believe if you forget those who have been lost, you have lost them twice. 

For this reason, I have challenged Waltham Forest Council for the way they have failed to level sinking graves at Queens Road Cemetery. 

I started a campaign. It shows the strength of my feelings, that justice must be done for all those who rest there, who cannot challenge the poor condition of their final resting place. 

In August 2020, as reported on the Echo website, Cllr Clyde Loakes said said it was not “practical or possible” to undertake such work. 

“It is unfortunately neither practical nor possible to level the 8,000 grave plots that are currently at Queens Road… The maintenance of individual memorials and headstones is the responsibility of the families who hold the deeds for them.” 

Although the campaign slowed over the course of 2020, due to the pandemic, it has raised awareness – and more volunteers have come forward to help keep the cemetery clean. We have achieved some goals: delivering over 6,000 leaflets to local residents, writing to the council to complain, others have signed and shared our petition. 

But my aim is simple: the restoration and rejuvenation of this important Walthamstow graveyard.

To join the campaign to restore and rejuvenate Queens Road Cemetery, email qrccampaign1@btinternet.com