The Terracotta Trio – the Doulton mausolea of West Norwood and Nunhead – Part 1 The Tate Mausoleum, West Norwood Cemetery



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


Here lies Mr Cube copyright Carole Tyrrell
Here lies Mr Cube
copyright Carole Tyrrell

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.

Tate Mausoleum - note the reliefs of angels blowing trumpets on either side of the door frame. copyright Carole Tyrrell
Tate Mausoleum – note the reliefs of angels blowing trumpets on either side of the door frame.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

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’

Tate Mausoleum - note the famous quote from the Song of Solomon in relief. copyright Carole Tyrrell
Tate Mausoleum – note the famous quote from the Song of Solomon in relief.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

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. Sir Henry Tate - Mr Cube www.wikipedia

Sir Henry Tate (Mr 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.


©Carole Tyrrell Text and photos unless otherwise stated.


Part 2 – The Doulton Mausoleum, West Norwood Cemetery


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