In my last post, I mentioned the ‘London Marble and Granite Company Limited’, which was originally founded by J.R. Peel, a renowned artist and gravestone carver. Today I’d like to talk a little more about about Peel, his shop, and the idea of death within the built landscape and our cultural heritage.
If you haven’t heard of John Robert Peel before, let us review. An artist, Peel was born in England in 1830, and married Amelia Margaret Hall in 1849. The couple relocated to London, Ontario in 1852. Peel became an art teacher, highly involved in the growing city’s art scene, and eventually carved gravestones! John and Amelia had several children, including Paul Peel and Mildred Peel, both noted Canadian artists.
J.R. Peel is considered one of the most famous stone carvers in the London Area, both for his own work and the association with his son Paul, one of the first Canadian artists to receive international acclaim during his lifetime. In the mid-19th century (around 1858, according to the LPL Scrapbook #22 at the London Archives), Peel had started his own company, known first a the ‘London Marble Works’, which was started with George Powell, another noted carver and sculptor in the London area. Their first shop was located on Richmond Street between Simcoe and Horton Streets, and throughout the 1870s, the shop was relocated several times. In 1901, the marble works was listed in the City of London directories as being located at 493 Richmond Street, although it was likely located at this address from at least 1888, as is evidences by the Fire Insurance Plan (FIP) below.
In 1907, Mr. William Loveday had joined the company, although for many years it appears to just have been Peel and Powell creating gravestones, among other marble objects. Loveday was made a partner along with Caleb Jones in 1922, and the business continued at the 493 Richmond Street address. Gravestones produced by the company, later called the ‘London Marble and Granite Company Limited‘, were sometimes labeled as ‘J.R. Peel’, ‘Peel & Powell’, and very rarely ‘Peel & Son, London.’ According to an article from 1988, preserved in the Business and Industry Roll #1 at the London Public Library, the company was still located at that address at the time of publication.
While doing some research in the London Fire Insurance Plans (which can be accessed here), I came across a structure in the 1888 plan which read ‘Marble Works’ at…you guessed it, 492 Richmond Street. Now, a marble works isn’t just for gravestones but indicated a shop or factory that produced marble goods…but that did seem to account for much of their product
As you can see on the FIPs above, the ‘marble works’ at 493 Richmond Street grew substantially between 1888 and 1922, expanding from a small operation into the adjoining property with an adjoining office and stone cutter. By the 1930s, the company was importing material to carve gravestones from around the world, and had a supply yard 791 Nelson Street, and their work was distributed across Western Ontario. The company remained at that address until at least 1988.
It is possible that the structure is still partly present on Richmond Street, where the homegoods store ‘Quantum’. However, it is more likely that the property was demolished to build the MNP, at the corner of Richmond Street and Dufferin Ave (formerly Maple Street). Considering the footprint of the contemporary structure, this is likely the case (unfortunately). If anyone has a photo of Richmond Street looking north from Fullarton, I’d love to see it!
Many gravestone carved by Peel under his own name, Peel & Powell, or the later names of the company can be found within London and the wider Middlesex County area in Ontario. Along with his company, J.R. Peel helped to found the Western School of Arts and Design, and organised the first ever Art Loan exhibition in London. Peel died of bowel disease in 1904, and the couple’s long-time residence was later moved and preserved in the Fanshawe Pioneer Village. They are buried together with some of their children beneath a towering obelisk in Woodland Cemetery, where Paul Peel is also memorialised, although he was buried in France.
I wanted to share this information as an example of the wider landscape of death and burial that is around us at all times. I first heard the term deathscape used by Dr. Katherine Cook in her MA thesis, which explored the relationship between the landscape and the ‘experience in understanding the trajectory of cemeteries’ and the ongoing roles they play within their communities (2011). The deathscape shows not only the space where the funeral and burial take place, what I would refer to be the burial landscape, but the wider meaning, and experience, of death, mortality, and burial within the community or society. Spaces involved in death and burial practices are embedded within our communities, some contemporary, and some relics of decades or centuries gone by. Peel’s ‘marble works’ is an example of such a space, where gravestones were ordered and carved by a prominent artist, who turned his sculptor’s eye to commemorating the dead for his community. Places like this, aspects of a community’s deathscape, are present all around us!
Cook, Katherine. 2011. Deathscapes: Memory, Heritage and Place in Cemetery History. Masters Thesis, Anthropology Department. McMaster University.
Lacy, Robyn S. 2019. ‘In Memory of…’ The Story of Brick Street Cemetery, London, Ontario. Written with support of the Friends of Brick Street Cemetery, forthcoming.