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Monument to Marthe Josephine Besson

List Entry Summary

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

Name: Monument to Marthe Josephine Besson

List entry Number: 1403268


Highgate (East) Cemetery, Swains Lane, Camden, Greater London, N6 6PJ

The building may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Greater London Authority

District: Camden

District Type: London Borough

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: II

Date first listed: 22-Dec-2011

Date of most recent amendment: Not applicable to this List entry.

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Building

Granite chest tomb with marble statue, c.1908, by A MacDonald & Co.

Reasons for Designation

The monument to Marthe Besson is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Artistic interest: figure sculpture of unusual quality and refinement; * Historic interest: commemorates a noted late-C19 businesswoman and musical instrument maker; *Setting: it is located within the Grade I registered Highgate Cemetery and has group value with other listed tombs and structures nearby.


Marthe Besson (c.1852-1908) was a leading Anglo-French musical instrument maker and businesswoman. Her father, Gustave-Auguste Besson, left Paris for London in 1858 to establish a brass instrument factory at 158 Euston Road. After his death in 1874 Marthe took control of the Besson factories in Britain and France, and was noted for her close involvement in the trade. Although the firm was taken over by Boosey & Hawkes in 1968, Besson cornets, horns, trombones, tubas and other instruments are still made today.

Highgate Cemetery was the third of London's 'magnificent seven' burial grounds, a ring of suburban cemeteries established in the 1830s and 1840s to relieve pressure on overcrowded urban churchyards. It was the creation of the London Cemetery Company, a joint-stock company founded by the architect and engineer Stephen Geary and formally instituted by Act of Parliament in 1836. A seventeen-acre site on Highgate Hill was laid out as a picturesque garden cemetery with a network of serpentine drives, culminating in a monumental catacomb complex at the top of the hill. Geary himself supplied the initial plans, with assistance from the architect JB Bunning and from the landscape gardener David Ramsay. The cemetery, opened in 1839 and extended to the east of Swain's Lane in 1854, enjoyed great popularity and prestige during the second half of the C19 (famous occupants include George Eliot, Christina Rossetti and Karl Marx), but lack of money and maintenance led to a severe decline during the C20. Since 1975 it has been run on a charitable basis by the present Friends group.


Large pink granite chest tomb on tall base, with pilasters to corners and sides; atop the chest is a full-size marble sculpture of a reclining female figure in Classical attire, who leans upon a draped tablet with an oval plaque. An inscription on the side of the chest reads: 'In loving memory of Marthe Josephine Besson, daughter of Gustave Besson of Paris and London and beloved wife of Adolphe Fontaine. Died 15th Sept 1908, aged 56 years. Her great talents and untiring energy gained the praise of the foremost masters in the musical world.' An inscription on the base gives identifies the maker as ‘A. MacDonald & Co. Ltd., Euston Road, N.W.’

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Stevens Curl, J, Death and Architecture, (2002), pp.224-7
Myers, A, Eldredge, N, 'Galpin Society Journal' in The Brasswind Production of Marthe Besson's London Factory, , Vol. 59, (2006), pp.45-75
Cemetery Order Books, held by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery.,

National Grid Reference: TQ2869886905


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End of official listing