Today I met up with N Quentin Woolf of Londonist and Stephanie Wolff (no relation, different spelling), the photographer, to check out Hyde Park’s pet cemetery. Having searched Wikipedia and my own reference books about this virtually forgotten corner of Victorian London, I tried a wider search and found Stephanie’s blog item, here. This makes her the current authority on the pet cemetery in my book, so I shan’t expand on it much here.
What caught my eye was that the second dog to be buried in the cemetery was one Prince, the pooch of Prince George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge and his wife, Sarah Fairbrother. Prince George was the grandson of King George III, and son of Adolphus, 1st Duke of Cambridge, he being the king’s youngest son (hence younger brother of George IV and the Duke of York of nursery rhyme fame). So the 2nd Duke was junior royalty, and like many junior royals he spent his career in the army, serving in the Crimea and ultimately becoming Commander-in-Chief of the army for an impressive 39 years. This may explain the splendid equestrian statue of him in Whitehall.
So who was this Sarah Fairbrother whom the Duke married? She must have been very high-born, you would suppose. Well, no. She was the daughter of a royal servant, born in 1816, three years before the Duke himself. She carved out a career as a successful actress and had already had two illegitimate children when she met the Duke. Having become his mistress, she bore him two sons illegitimately. Then they decided to get married. Apart from the huge scandal this would have caused, all royals had to seek and receive permission from the monarch – Queen Victoria in this instance – to marry. So George and Sarah wed in secret at St John’s Church in Clerkenwell, he as “George Cambridge, Gentleman”. She was referred to thereafter as Mrs FitzGeorge, the idea of her having any sort of title utterly out of the question.
Shortly afterwards, their third child was born, illegitimate in the eyes of the Crown and possibly the Law, perhaps legitimate in the eyes of the Church.
Fast forward to 29 June 1882. We know that Prince the Yorkshire Terrier was injured under the wheels of a carriage in the Bayswater Road, that he died in the Victoria gatehouse of Hyde Park Square nearby and was buried behind the building. One can suppose that the garden already being occupied by the late Cherry from the year before, this made the site a cemetery, albeit an unofficial one.
One imagines the elderly Duke and his wife of questionable status sitting bereft in the humble gatekeeper’s cottage. But by this time, Sarah was known to be an invalid and the Duke had for some several decades taken up with a new favourite mistress, one Mrs Beauclerk, seemingly his only true love. Furthermore, they both lived – largely apart – in Piccadilly, quite a distance from the site of the tragedy. Were they on a for-old-time’s-sake carriage ride to visit old friends with the doomed mutt nestled in Mrs FitzGeorge’s lap? Or perhaps the couple were entirely uninvolved and Prince the Yorkie was in the charge of a servant, taking him out for some fresh air. It would take more research than worth the candle to find out the exact circumstances of Prince’s demise.
Sarah died in 1890. The old duke followed in 1904, without legitimate issue, therefore the title Duke of Cambridge died with him. Their three sons, George, Adolphus and Augustus FitzGeorge all had careers in the military. Note the giveaway surname, often denoting aristocratic illegitimacy which we covered earlier here.
A note of caution: The pet cemetery is closed to the public and can only be glimpsed at through railings.