Black Jack Needham’s mausoleum and an love story for all eternity

The top of the mausoleum is just visible over the top of the high wall. Copyright Carole Tyrrell
The top of the mausoleum is just visible over the top of the high wall.
Copyright Carole Tyrrell

An anonymous, high brick wall with a small green wooden door set into it would not alert a Twickenham visitor to the prize it conceals. You can glimpse something by just peeping over the top of the wall and behind the sheltering trees, but there’s a better view from the top of a double decker bus if you know where to look. if you do, then you will see one of the most unusual and enduring monuments to a 19th century love story in which the two lovers rest for all eternity. It is usually only open to the lucky few who tend its garden.
But once a year, during Open House weekend, the little green door in the high wall is opened to admit visitors into the secret sanctuary.

The mausoleum is built in the Egyptian style and in contrasting pink and grey granite
The mausoleum is built in the Egyptian style and in contrasting pink and grey granite
Under the Heathrow flight path the incumbents slumber serenely on. Copyright Carole Tyrrell
Under the Heathrow flight path the incumbents slumber serenely on.
Copyright Carole Tyrrell

An anonymous, high brick wall with a small green wooden door set into it would not alert a Twickenham visitor to the prize it conceals. You can glimpse something by just peeping over the top of the wall and behind the sheltering trees, but there’s a better view from the top of a double decker bus  if you know where to look. if you do, then you will see one of the most it is only open to the lucky few who tend its garden.

But once a year, during Open House weekend, the little green door is opened to admit visitors into the secret sanctuary.

Once inside you are greeted by the Kilmorey Mausoleum which stands in the centre of a clearing. It towers up to 30 feet high: a masterpiece in pink  and grey granite built in the fashionable Egyptian style of the mid-19th century. The stylised designs of flowers  and other symbols are reputedly based on those at Kom Ombo and supposedly taken from the book called ‘Description de Egypte’ published in 1809. A low wall surrounds the vault, with iron railings waiting to be re-erected , and beyond that there are wildflowers and fresh plantings adding to the peaceful atmosphere. Two substantial coffins  lie behind its ornate and imposing front door, resting beneath four star-shaped holes cut into the roof.

The shrine was built by Francis Jack Needham, who was usually known as ‘Black Jack’ because of his dark complexion. He became the second Earl of Kilmorey in 1832 and was a very wealthy man, owning several estates locally and elsewhere. Amongst others, he owned Gordon House which was part of the Brunel University and now sold off for housing. Black Jack was unconventional and lived up to his family motto ‘nune aut numquam’ which means ‘now or never’. In the early 1840s he eloped to marry his ward, Priscilla Hoste, and they fled abroad. Charles, his son, was born in 1844.

But their happiness was short-lived when Priscilla became terminally ill in 1851. Black Jack bought a substantial burial plot in Brompton Cemetery for £1,000. The entire mausoleum eventually cost £30,000, and the architect, Henry Kendall, designed it to fit the circular plot at Brompton, hence the shape of the site. Priscilla died in 1854 and was interred within the burial chamber. There is an exquisite marble relief, carved in Rome, facing the door which depicts Priscilla on her deathbed, the Earl at her feet and their son at her side. Black Jack joined Priscilla in 1880 to rest together for eternity. It’s not recorded what his second wife though of it all.

The monument has been moved twice  which must have been a massive undertaking. Firstly, in 1862, when It accompanied Jack to his home at Chertsey, and again in 1868 to Gordon House. There is a secret tunnel which runs from the latter to the tomb. It’s rumoured that Black Jack would dress himself in white, place himself in his coffin, and then make his servants push him on a trolley as practice for his final journey. Today the area above the tunnel is crammed with prim Edwardian semis, unaware of the shenanigans that used to go on beneath them.

Although the building is under the Heathrow flight path and planes fly over at 6 minute intervals, the secret garden is surprisingly tranquil and secluded. The staff of Orleans House, who look after the place, have recently planted flowers and shrubs and keep the two lovers’ final resting place beautifully. The mausoleum’s occupants slumber on serenely as the oblivious traffic races past outside and the jet planes fly overhead..

The Egyptian influence is obvious.
The Egyptian influence is obvious.
Stylised lotus flowers border the bronze entrance door Copyright Carole Tyrrell
Stylised lotus flowers border the bronze entrance door
Copyright Carole Tyrrell
The bronze entrance door Copy right Carole Tyrrell
The bronze entrance door
Copy right Carole Tyrrell

Once inside you are greeted by the Kilmorey Mausoleum which stands in the centre of a clearing. It towers up to 30 feet high: a masterpiece in pink and grey granite built in the fashionable Egyptian style of the mid-19th century. The stylised designs of flowers and other symbols are reputedly based on those at Kom Ombo and supposedly taken from the book called ‘Description de Egypte’ published in 1809. A low wall surrounds the vault, with iron railings waiting to be re-erected  and beyond that there are wildflowers and fresh plantings adding to the peaceful atmosphere. Two substantial coffins lie behind its ornate and imposing front door, resting beneath four star-shaped holes cut into the roof.

The roof is made of glass. Copyright Carole Tyrrell
The roof is made of glass.
Copyright Carole Tyrrell

The shrine was built by Francis Jack Needham, who was usually known as ‘Black Jack’ because of his dark complexion. He became the second Earl of Kilmorey in 1832 and was a very wealthy man, owning several estates locally and elsewhere. Amongst others, he owned Gordon House which was part of the Brunel University and has now been sold off for housing. Black Jack was unconventional and lived up to his family motto ‘nune aut numquam’ which means ‘now or never’. In the early 1840s he eloped to marry his ward, Priscilla Hoste, and they fled abroad. Charles, his son, was born in 1844.
But their happiness was short-lived when Priscilla became terminally ill in 1851. Black Jack bought a substantial burial plot in Brompton Cemetery for £1,000. The entire mausoleum eventually cost £30,000, and the architect, Henry Kendall, designed it to fit the circular plot at
Brompton, hence the shape of the site. Priscilla died in 1854 and was interred within the burial chamber. There is an exquisite marble relief, carved in Rome, facing the door which depicts Priscilla on her deathbed, the Earl at her feet and their son at her side. Black Jack joined Priscilla in 1880 to rest together for eternity. It’s not recorded what his second wife though of it all.
The monument has been moved twice which must have been a massive undertaking. Firstly, in 1862, when It accompanied Jack to his home at Chertsey, and again in 1868 to Gordon House. There is a secret tunnel which runs from the latter to the tomb. It’s rumoured that Black Jack would dress himself in white, place himself in his coffin, and then make his servants push him on a trolley as practice for his final journey. Today the area above the tunnel is crammed with prim Edwardian semis, unaware of the shenigans that used to go on beneath them.
Although the building is under the Heathrow flight path and planes fly over at 6 minute intervals, the  secret garden is surprisingly tranquil and secluded. The staff of Orleans House, who look after the place, have recently planted flowers and shrubs and keep the two lovers’ final resting place beautifully. The mausoleum’s occupants slumber on serenely as the oblivious traffic races past outside.

One of the two incumbents Copyright Carole Tyrrell
One of the two incumbents
Copyright Carole Tyrrell

Copyright Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Reference:

The Second Earl of Kilmorey and his Mausoleum in St Margarets,  A C R Urwin, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society, Paper Number 78, October 1997

 

 

 

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