Restored grave honours work of pioneering African-Caribbean nurse

The grave of Annie Brewster, one of the first African-Caribbean women to pursue a career in nursing in London, has been restored.

The burial site, at the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium in Manor Park, East London, recognises the pioneering contribution that she, and other African-Caribbean people, made to the nursing profession over a century ago.

The Grade-I listed, 200-acre cemetery, is managed by the City of London Corporation.

Born in St Vincent, in what was then called the British West Indies, Brewster moved to Luton, England, with her family in 1871.

In 1881, at the age of 23, she worked at the then London Hospital, now, the Royal London Hospital, as a probationer nurse, and was appointed to the nursing staff in 1884.

She was promoted to nurse in charge of the Ophthalmic Wards in 1888, where she served until she died aged 43 in 1902.

She became known as ‘Nurse Ophthalmic’, because of her work with elderly patients who were losing their sight.

Brewster’s achievements serve as a reminder that black nurses were employed in British hospitals before the foundation of the NHS in 1948, when nurses were actively recruited from overseas.

The Company of Nurses and the Royal British Nurses’ Association worked together to restore the grave, and held a ceremony recently to unveil it. 

The project began after Stephen Bourne, a British writer, film, and social historian, specialising in black heritage, noticed the state of the grave.

Deputy Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Port Health and Environmental Services Committee, Mary Durcan, said:

"This restoration will ensure that the remarkable career and influence of Annie Brewster continues to be recognised today.

“The grave has become a beacon in our cemetery.

 “It is our privilege to pay tribute to Annie, and all those inspirational nurses who have made history, in their own way, in the profession.”

 Master of the Company of Nurses, Frances Davies, said:

"The Company of Nurses was delighted to take forward the restoration of Annie Brewster’s grave, and to recognise the contribution that she made to nursing.

“We are grateful to the Royal British Nurses’ Association and others that made this possible and in particular, to Stephen Bourne, who noticed the neglected condition of her grave. 

“The Company of Nurses will continue to proudly promote and celebrate our profession."

 Anne Milton, President of the Royal British Nurses Association (RBNA), said:

“I was delighted that the RBNA was able to work with the Company of Nurses and fund the restoration of Annie’s grave.

“I know the Company of Nurses will continue to pioneer the life of Annie and all those nurses who came before us celebrating the contribution they have made to the nursing profession.”   

The City of London Cemetery and Crematorium opened in 1856.

The site provides a picturesque and safe parkland atmosphere with formal gardens, roadways, tree lined avenues, and local heritage.

There are eight Grade II-listed buildings within the grounds.

Among the famous people buried at the Cemetery are Sir Robert Hooke, Bobby Moore, and two of Jack the Ripper’s victims.

The Cemetery and Crematorium runs 3,500 funeral services each year. Over one million people have been buried or cremated at the site.


Notes to editors

The City of London Corporation is the governing body of the Square Mile dedicated to a vibrant and thriving City, supporting a diverse and sustainable London within a globally-successful UK.

The City of London Cemetery and Crematorium has received a prestigious Green Flag award - the national standard for parks and green spaces in England and Wales - every year since the year 2000. It was the first cemetery to be awarded the Green Flag and the first cemetery to be awarded the Green Heritage Award.

The East London cemetery, run by the City of London Corporation, is one of the largest in Europe and receives one million visitors a year.

It has taken a series of steps in the last five years to go above and beyond in its services to mourners, whilst becoming more environmentally sustainable.

The most significant changes include: new, environmentally friendly cremators; live streaming of services; new TV screens in chapels; new solar panels; a new heating system; a major stonework overhaul and more electric vehicles and grounds maintenance equipment.

The City Corporation has also developed a new burial area. And it already operates a grave reuse scheme, helping to ensure burial remains a sustainable option at the site.


Matthew Cooper
Culture Communications Officer: COVID-19
City of London Corporation