It’s easy to find the Doulton mausoleum in West Norwood Cemetery – just look for the Doulton Path sign and you’ll soon come to its lovely wrought iron doorway.
This is the second of the Doulton mausolea and, although similar in shape to the Tate Mausoleum, the external and interior decoration and style are very different.
Sir Henry Doulton (1820 – 1897) commissioned this mausoleum after the death of his wife, Sarah, in 1888 and it was built in 1889. He entered the family firm of Doultons in 1835, enlarged its range of wares and took it over completely on his father’s death. In fact it was Sir Henry who invented the weather resistant type of terracotta used on all three vaults and he was knighted in 1887.
Sir Henry asked Harold Peto to design a similar building to the Tate mausoleum on a nearby plot and they are within walking distance of each other. Sir Henry’s son, Henry Lewis Doulton, followed him into the business and is also interred in the mausoleum. There is a memorial tablet to both Sarah and Sir Henry on the interior back wall of the building.
The sepulchre’s exterior is covered in relief ornamentation. This includes small busts of angels on either side of the entrance door, the Lamb of God on the back of the roof and Gothic revival medieval style heads along the roof border below it. Sir Henry ordered green glass for the windows on either side which are protected by wrought iron grilles and as, no expense was spared, the rear window is glazed with rippled Venetian glass.
The external decoration has been credited to Mark Marshall who was Doulton’s chief artist but I have also seen George Tinsworth also mentioned which even I’ve heard of as he was one of Doulton’s most renowned artists. I am indebted to Jeane Trend-Hill for the lovely photos of the stunning marble interior and mosaic ceiling. The mausoleum is not open to the public.
A Doulton descendant still comes and mows the grass around the mausoleum every Sunday and so it always looks at its best.
Both of the West Norwood mausolea were restored in 2002 and so are in very good condition. The architect, Harold Peto, is said to have also been responsible for the extensive use of terracotta in buildings along Pont Street in Mayfair.
My first encounter with the Doulton mausolea was seeing the charming Stearns mausoleum in Nunhead Cemetery. I fell in love with its dainty proportions and beautiful Romanesque decoration. When I first saw it in 1989, its coffin shelves were empty, the entrance was open and it was rumoured to be the preferred hotel of choice for any passing vagrants.
But first, a brief history of mausoleums. The word comes from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus which was near the modern day city of Bodrum in Turkey. It was the 140ft high, highly decorated, last resting place of King Mausolea who was the Persian Satrap or Governor of Caria. It was created by his wife, Queen Artemesia Ii of Caria after he died in 353 BC and it was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Mausoleums were very popular with the Romans and were usually created for deceased leaders and other important people. The via Appia Antica near Rome contains the ruins of many private mausolea but the coming of Christianity made them fall out of favour.
A mausoleum is literally a house of the dead and usually contains a burial chamber either above ground or with a burial vault below the structure. This can contain the body or bodies. However, some mausolea contain coffin shelves above ground as with the Kilmorey Mausoleum near Richmond where the coffins are still in situ. One of the most famous mausoleums is the Taj Mahal in India.
The three Doulton mausolea are all made of red brick with terracotta facing. It’s a surprisingly durable material and is a very warm colour. Indeed it almost seem to glow when the sun shines on it. As the name implies, they were all built by the famous firm of Doulton & Co – now Royal Doulton – who had a factory at Vauxhall. They made many ceramic items including stoneware and salt glaze sewer pipes and are still in existence today. The firm and especially Sir Henry Doulton pioneered the use for terracotta and provided unlimited amounts of it to the mausolea builders.
Mortal Remains; The History and Present State of The Victorian and Edwardian Cemetery, Chris Brooks, 1989, Wheaton Publishers
Part 1 – The Tate Mausoleum – West Norwood
This is the first of the three and was commissioned t in 1884. It was designed by Harold Peto of the firm of Peto and George and Doulton craftsmen worked on it. It’s in the Perpendicular style which was the last breath of English Gothic from late 14th – mid 16th century and is characterised by its use of vertical lines. The patterning on the terracotta surface resembles that of a jigsaw especially with the contrasting bands of red and buff colours.
There is some lovely ornamentation including 2 angels in relief blowing trumpets in the upper corners of the door frame – one on either side.
It also has the famous quote from the Song of Solomon on one side of the door:
‘Until the day dawns and the shadows flee away’
This is where I first saw it and it was the inspiration for the name of this blog.
The interior, which I haven’t yet seen, is reputed to have a vaulted ceiling with the design of an angel at Sir Henry’s request.
Sir Henry Tate (1819 – 1899) was originally from Lancashire and worked in the Liverpool sugar trade. He soon amassed a huge fortune and invented the sugar cube.
In fact he was known as ‘Mr Cube.’ Sir Henry was an avid art collector and, in 1897, donated his entire art collection the nation. He gave it to what was then known as The National Gallery of British Art before becoming The Tate Gallery and now finally as Tate Britain. It was built on the former site of Millbank Prison. Two of Tate Britain’s most popular paintings; Millais’ ‘Ophelia’ and Waterhouse’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’ came from Sir Henry’s collection.
He refused a knighthood on several occasions and only finally accepted it after being informed that the Royal Family would be offended if he refused again.
In 2012, as part of an art trail in West Norwood Cemetery in 2012, a Belfast based artist, Brendon Jamiston recreated a mini version of Mr Cube’s last resting place from 5,117 sugar cubes in homage to Sir Henry and his invention. It was displayed next to the real thing and I feel that Sir Henry would have approved.
Cemeteries and graveyards can be happy hunting grounds for butterflies. But not just the bright, dancing summer jewels, borne on the breeze, but also the much rarer kind which perches in them for eternity.
So far I’ve only discovered two of this particular species which were both in London. One was in Brompton and the other was in Kensal Green. But I have also seen others online in American cemeteries.
But I’m surprised that the butterfly symbol isn’t more widely used as it is a deep and powerful motif of resurrection and reincarnation. It has fluttered through many cultures which include Ancient Egypt, Greece and Mexico.
In classical myth, Psyche, which translates as ‘soul’, is represented in the form of a butterfly or as a young woman with butterfly wings. She’s also linked with Eros the Greek God of love. It is also a potent representation of rebirth and in this aspect, the Celts revered it. Some of the Ancient Mexican tribes such as the Aztec and Mayans used carvings of butterflies to decorate their buildings as certain butterfly species were considered to be reincarnations of the souls of dead warriors. The Hopi and Navaho tribes of Native American Indians performed the Butterfly Dance and viewed them as symbols of change and transformation.
The butterfly is an archetypal image of resurrection in Christianity and this meaning is derived from the 3 stages of a butterfly’s life. These are: 1st stage = the caterpillar, 2nd stage = the chrysalis and 3rd and final stage = the butterfly. So the sequence is life, death and resurrection. The emergence of the butterfly from the chrysalis is likened to the soul discarding the flesh. It has been depicted on Ancient Christian tombs and, in Christian art, Christ has been shown holding a butterfly. It is supposed to appear chiefly on childrens memorials but the two that I’ve seen were on adult memorials.
Butterflies also feature in Victorian mourning jewellery and there is a fascinating article on this with some lovely examples at:
In the 20th century, butterflies appeared in the flowing, organic lines of Art Nouveau and often featured in jewellery and silverware.
Face and butterfly on exterior of chapel.
copyright Carole Tyrrell
This example is from the Watts Chapel in Surrey and shows the flowing lines and stylised butterfly. They also appear in vanitas paintings, the name given to a particular category of symbolic works of art and especially those associated with the still life paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries in Flanders and the Netherlands. In these the viewer was asked to look at various symbols within the painting such as skulls, rotting fruit etc and ponder on the worthlessness of all earthly goods and pursuits as well as admiring the artist’s skill in depicting these. Butterflies in this context can be seen as fleeting pleasure as they have a short life of just two weeks.
There are many superstitions and beliefs associated with butterflies. They are often regarded as omens, good and bad, or as an advance messenger indicating that a visitor or loved one is about to arrive. In Japan, they are traditionally associated with geishas due to their associations with beauty and delicate femininity.
The Chinese see them as good luck and a symbol of immortality. Sailors thought that if they saw one before going on ship it meant that they would die at sea . In Devon it was traditional to kill the first butterfly that you saw or have a year of bad luck as a result. In Europe the butterfly was seen as the spirit of the dead and, in the Gnostic tradition, the angel of death is often shown crushing a butterfly underfoot. In some areas in England, it’s thought that butterflies contain the souls of children who have come back to life. A butterfly’s colours can also be significant. A black one can indicate death and a white one signifies the souls or the departed. It’s also a spiritual symbol of growth in that sometimes the past has to be discarded in order to move forward as the butterfly sheds its chrysalis to emerges complete. So it can indicate a turning point or transition in life. There are also shamanistic associations with the butterfly’s shapeshifting and it has also been claimed as a spiritual animal or totem.
Brompton Cemetery, tomb unknown
This example with its wings outstretched is from Brompton Cemetery in London. Alas, the epitaph appears to have vanished over time and the surrounding vegetation was so luxuriant that I will have to return in the winter to investigate further. Note the wreath of ivy that surrounds it. Ivy is an evergreen and is a token of eternal life and memories. The wreath’s ribbons are also nicely carved.
The Gordon monument, Kensal Green
The second one is perched on the tomb of John Gordon Esquire, a Scotsman from Aberdeenshire who died young at only 37. As the epitaph states ‘it was erected to his memory as the last token of sincere love and affection by his affectionate widow’. Gordon came from an extended family of Scottish landowners who had estates in Scotland and plantations in Tobago amongst other interests. The monument is Grade II listed and is made of Portland stone with a York stone base and canopy supported by the pillars. There was an urn on the pedestal between the four tapering stone pillars but this was stolen in 1997.
The butterfly also has an ouroboros encircling it so, not only a symbol or resurrection, but also of eternity with the tail devouring snake. It is a little hard to see but it is there.
The pharaonic heads at each corner are Egyptian elements within an ostensibly classically inspired monument. Acroteria, or acroterion as is its singular definition, are an architectural ornament. The ones on this monument are known as acroteria angularia. The ‘angularia’ means at the corners.
The entire monument is based on an illustration of the monument of the Murainville family in Pugin’s Views of Paris of 1822 and also on Moliere’s memorial which are both at Pere Lachaise in Paris.
The Gordon memorial incorporates elements of the Egyptian style and symbolism that influenced 19th century funerary monuments after the first Egyptian explorations. Kensal Green contains many significant examples and there are others to be found in Brompton, Highgate and Abney Park. The Victorians regarded the Egyptians highly as it was also a cult of the dead.
So when you next see a butterfly fluttering on the breeze or even perched on a memorial for eternity remember its importance within the tradition of symbols, religions and cultures. Who knows it might be one of your ancestors…..