Highgate: Thornton, H. (1918)

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    London's Highgate Cemetery. Taken in January 1977. Marker for William Henry "Harry" Thornton (1883 to 1918), who was a classical pianist and played music for the troops in World War One. A photograph of this same grave marker taken in 2007 (by someone else (Andy Vortex) and posted on Flickr) shows the area is much more overgrown and the lid of the piano is completely missing. Another photograph taken in 2000 also shows the lid is missing. A photo taken in 1979 shows that lid lying flat with the arm holding the lid up still standing. Just barely visible on the lid of the piano is the name, "Harry Thornton." Mr. Thornton died during the influenza pandemic of 1918. According to "Find-a-Grave" this marker is located in the East Side of Highgate Cemetery. Two things I really like about this photograph are (1) what a great sculpture it is and (2) how many gravestones you can see in the background. This was an old color photograph that I dug out of my closet and scanned so I could post it on Flickr.

    Mr. Thornton's great-great-grandnephew tells me that this monument was erected shortly after Mr. Thornton passed away.

    For a better photograph of this gravemarker, which provides some scale as to its size and was taken in the early 1970's, go to Bill in DC's photograph:

    For another great photograph of the gravemarker, largely intact, taken in 1962 by G Frangs:

    Link to photograph of the man himself and his wife, supplied by Mr. Thornton's grandniece: www.flickr.com/photos/johnncox/4743645453/in/set-72157622...

    On May 14, 1974, this memorial was put on Britain's Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectual or Historical Significance, Grade II.

    The writing on the side of the piano is, "Sweet thou art sleeping; cradled on my heart; safe in god's keeping; while I must weep apart." This is an approximate English translation of the Italian lyrics from Puccini's opera, "Madame Butterfly." (Actually the lyrics were by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, not Puccini. Puccini wrote the music. And, not that it matters, but I once played one of The Bonze's thugs in the Pittsburgh Opera's production of "Madame Butterfly." I got to hit Lt. Pinkerton and, along with another supernumerary, drag him off stage.)

    I am very pleased to report that as of April 2013, the Thornton Piano has been partially restored with a new lid and lid prop. I'll link a photo as soon as I find one. And in the comments section, Michiel2005 has linked such a photo.

    olavi_s, NikonWitch, PATierney, and 107 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    View 20 more comments

    1. johnncox 46 months ago | reply

      The photograph of the man himself and his lovely bride has been received and posted. A link to this photograph is below and in the description above.

      Highgate:  Thornton, Harry and Wife

      Link: www.flickr.com/photos/johnncox/4743645453/in/set-72157622...

    2. Vladimir Bychkovsky 46 months ago | reply

      Hi, I'm an admin for a group called One Photo Story, and we'd love to have this added to the group!

    3. grepnold 46 months ago | reply

      I'd known about this grave for years and had always wondered if it was of a bass singer called Harry Thornton who made records around 1910. If it is I have some of them.

    4. johnncox 46 months ago | reply


      I don't know, but I bet the two Harry Thorntons are one in the same.

    5. Simon_K 36 months ago | reply

      Extraordinary! Thanks for adding to Dead Famous in the British Isles.

    6. AndreaPucci 35 months ago | reply

      Fantastic shot! Thank you for inspiration!


    7. Michiel2005 30 months ago | reply

      Another picture of the grave, this time from 1962:


    8. jonnylambeth2012 19 months ago | reply

      if anyone picks up on this, harry thornton was my 2nd great uncle, and i would love to hear from anyone that is related as i am (of course) doing the family tree. I was sooo happy to see these pictures, but sad to hear that it lies somewhat in direpair now...... family please email john@johnlambeth.net

    9. grepnold 19 months ago | reply

      Good to hear there are so many interested relatives. Can you or anyone confirm that Harry was definitely a pianist and not a bass or baritone singer, active around 1907-1913. If he was, no doubt you'd like to hear his voice.

    10. lynnwilliams2012 18 months ago | reply

      Hello John
      I think your photograph is absolutely lovely! I've used a copy of it for a little piece I was writing on my blog which was about the Graveyard Poets and contained a tiny piece about Highgate. I've put your name and a link to your blog with the photo.
      If you are unhappy with this then I will of course remove it but I was hoping that any of my blogger friends who took a look might also stop back to look at your pictures.
      I do hope you don't mind.
      Lynn :D

    11. johnncox 18 months ago | reply

      Lynn, You are more than welcome to use the photograph in your blog, as long as your comments about Mr. Thornton are respectful, which I'm sure they are. Please give us a link to your blog as I would like to see it. Are you from Mt. Olive, NC?

    12. grepnold 18 months ago | reply

      I've been talking to John Lambeth and conclude that the two Harrys are not the same. If 'your' Harry was definitely known as a pianist, he was not the Harry who was known only as a singer.

    13. johnncox 18 months ago | reply

      Grepnold, Thanks for the update, this Harry Thornton was such a polymath that I had just assumed that being a bass or baritone was well within his field of endeavors.

    14. grepnold 18 months ago | reply

      I know what you mean John. But one Harry was a leading singer of his day and not as far as I know as a pianist. It's possible the other Harry was also a singer. But not an important professional singer, or he would not be known just as a pianist.

      I suspect singer Harry died in WW1. We hear nothing of him after 1914.

    15. grepnold 18 months ago | reply

      By chance I came across this clip www.sonuma.be/archive/images-doutre-tombe from a 1979 Belgian documentary.

    16. johnncox 18 months ago | reply

      Gregnold: Pretty interesting clip, thank you for posting it. From the date of the clip (1979) and the date of my photo (January 1977), it looks like I got my photo just before the lid was damaged.

    17. ryoud 15 months ago | reply

      Dear John, I would like to use your foto of the Thornton Piano for a flyer of a concert of our choir. Could I please use it? Thanks in advance. Ruud, the Netherlands

    18. johnncox 15 months ago | reply

      Ryoud (Ruud), I sent you a message.

    19. Michiel2005 3 months ago | reply

      Here is a picture of the partially restored monument:


      And this search:
      will provide more pictures of the monument.

    20. johnncox 3 months ago | reply

      Michiel2005, I have annotated the description above to acknowledge your comment.

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