So what can you do with a ruined, vandalised building in the middle of a wood?
Hope that it falls down and solves the problem?
Forget about it, let nature take its course and make it into a romantic ruin?
Wait for someone else to finish the job and try and blow it up again?
Luckily for the Mausoleum, there were local people who cared about it and knew what a jewel they had in their midst. They were determined to save it. So in 2001, Gravesham Council took the bold step of buying it and Cobham wood from HM Government and, with funding from Union Railways, the Cobham Ashenbank Management Scheme or CAMS for short was formed. This included several stakeholders such as the National Trust and English Heritage and with a £6million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund they carried out the restoration. They were lucky that Wyatt’s original drawings still existed as well as James Wraight RIBA’s 1946 full drawing with measurements which were invaluable resources. In 2010 the project won at the Kent Design Awards and the National Trust took over in 2013. It must have been a real challenge to turn a ruin back into the glorious building that it is again. It opened to the public in April 2014.
It’s a remarkable building which has survived because local people appreciated its beauty and importance.
Mausolus, the journal of the Mausolea and Monuments Society commented:
‘That it’s a reminder of thwarted sepulchral ambition and episcopal control’
and it is an apt description in many ways. For a funerary symbol enthusiast like myself it was a fascinating structure to walk around it and see the various motifs of death. I was so glad that I made the effort to visit at last.
If you want to visit the Mausoleum then be prepared for a walk. You can come up through the Ransford Nature Reserve which is a lovely stroll, especially if the poppy field is in bloom. Continue walking up through it to the top of the hill and then follow the Darnley trail through the woods. I did manage to get lost on my return journey but kept following the rule of going down all the time. The alternative is to walk through Cobham village and onto Lodge Lane at the bottom and follow the directions on the map on the noticeboard.
However, I saw the Mausoleum on sunny days but on a darker, greyer day it could feel far more eerie and melancholic. A cold wind blowing around it would remind the casual passer-by that eternal rest can be a very, very long time. Perhaps that’s the effect that the Darnleys wanted to achieve.
But then who’s to say that maybe the ghosts of long dead Darnleys don’t drift up from the churchyard of St Mary Magdalene and take up their allotted space within the Mausoleum’s crypt? There’s enough room for 32 of them after all…….
Cobham Wood can feel like a haunted place. This is where the 19th century artist, Richard Dadd, murdered his father in a spot still known as Dadd’s Hole and so began his journey to a lifetime in Broadmoor. But before Mr Dadd gave into his murderous impulses, there was another place associated with death that sits alone in the woodland. Once intended as a grand and capacious building to house the dead of the Earls of Darnley, it was never used and, for a long time during the 1980’s and 1990’s, it was surrounded by piles of burnt out cars and motorbike scramblers. The hilltop location was ideal for these nocturnal sports.
But on 5 November 1980 someone went too far and lit a pile of tyres and petrol cans in an attempt to blow the mausoleum up. It brought down the chapel floor and the Mausoleum was open to the elements. But it survived.
However, it was a sorry sight in 2003 when it featured on BBC TV’s ‘Restoration’ programme as an appeal was launched for funds to restore it. However, the Mausoleum’s future looked bleak and even I thought that, due to its location, any restoration would be destroyed again. You can see how it looked at the time: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01mvbfj
But in June 2020 I made the pilgrimage through the poppy field of Ranscombe Nature Reserve and up through the woods to the Mausoleum. As I emerged from under the tree canopy I was amazed by the Mausoleum’s size. It is big, very big and was designed to hold 32 coffins in a lower crypt. It’s an extraordinary building and was originally sat at the highest point of the Darnley estate. It became an important feature of the landscape, almost an eyecatcher folly.
The Mausoleum is square in shape with a pyramid shaped roof, a dry moat and a vandal proof fence.
It’s Grade 1 listed and a rather unlovely door keeps it secure from unwelcome visitors. Just above it I could see one of the 4 lunettes or half-moon windows as the sun shone through the amber stained glass. This was a tantalising taste of what lay inside as the light shining through them is intended to create an ethereal light inside. But, alas, the building is closed to visitors at present due to COVID-19. The building is made of brick and faced with Portland stone. It can be seen as
‘a very grand classical temple that emphasised the Age of Enlightenment’s preoccupation with aclassical way of death’ according to the National Trust’s website.
It drips with symbols of death and remembrance. The square, circle and pyramid are classical motifs of eternity, the downturned torches indicate a life extinguished and there are 4 little sarcophagi on each corner. These were stone coffins designed to hold the dead and the word comes from the Greek for ‘flesh eater’. I was in my element as you can imagine.
But who built it and chose its location? It was the 4th Earl of Darnley who commissioned the fashionable and exacting architect, James Wyatt (1746-1813) to design the Mausoleum according to detailed instructions in the 3rd Earl’s will. The Earls of Darnley had always been buried in Westminster Abbey but after the 3rd Earl’s death in 1731 the Abbey was full. So the Mausoleum was to be the solution and would hold the coffins of the Earls and their family members. The 3rd Earl:
‘left detailed instructions in his will in which he clearly stated that he wanted a square stone building with a ‘prominent pyramid’ surrounded by a dry moat. He left £5000 or £10,000 if the first amount wasn’t sufficient.’ National Trust
The source of the pyramid might have come from the Earl’s Grand Tour when he may have seen the tomb of Caius Cestius in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. There is also a building with a pyramid roof in the background of a 1647 painting by Nicholas Poussin, ‘The Sacraments of Ordination’. He was a highly regarded painter in the 18th century and there were several paintings by him included in the sale of Cobham Hall.
As the journal of the Mausolea and Monuments Society says:
‘Pyramids were rare in in English Georgian architecture and made their first appearance at Castle Howard;….Wyatt and Darnley trying to recreate the solemn grandeur of the ancients…’ Masusolus
Another source of inspiration may have been the famous tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus in Asia Minor. He died in 353BC and such was the fame of his tomb that his name became synonymous with all subsequent stately tombs. As a result they became known as mausoleums.
The Darnleys lived at nearby Cobham Hall so the Mausoleum it would have been handy to have your loved ones nearby for eternity. Of course you may have been looking at it and wondering when you might be joining them. In 1786, at its completion, the Mausoleum cost, in total, £9000 which in today’s money is £1million. It is a lavish building with a marvellous interior from photos I have seen.
Wyatt’s designs were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1783 and a modified design completed in 1786. However, it was George Dance the Younger (1741-1825) who supervised the work as Wyatt was renowned for having a bad reputation in erecting his own work. After completion, Humphry Repton (1752-1818), considered to be the last great landscape designer of the 18th century spent the next 30 years designing the landscapes around Cobham Hall for the 4th Earl.
But the Mausoleum was never consecrated and so couldn’t be used for its intended purpose. According to Mausolus, the journal of the Mausolea and Monuments Society,
‘the Bishop of Rochester was disapproving of buildings in secular sites and refused to consecrate a building that so brazenly evoked pagan arcadia.’
Repton himself suggested that it be converted to a viewing platform so that it could be put to some use and the views would have been amazing but it didn’t happen.
But instead of being laid out in the Mausoleum as intended the Earls of Darnley have been interred in the vaults and churchyard of St Mary Magdalene in Cobham village. There is a fine display of their memorials at the rear of the church and in the churchyard.
The Darnleys income came from a 25,000 acre estate in County Meath, Ireland. However their fortunes declined and in 1957 they sold Cobham Hall. After the arson attack there were many suggestions and schemes for the Mausoleum’s future. A developer bought it, intending to convert it into a residence but went bankrupt. He was presumably hoping to find a buyer who liked seclusion and could find a use for 32 coffin spaces in a crypt. The building passed into the hands of the official Receiver and HM Government became its new owner. The 4th Earl’s creation’s future looked bleak, its interior blackened from the arson attack and covered in graffiti and surrounded by a rusty junkyard.
On windy nights, the derelict and romantic ruin that is Crawford Priory is reputed to have a familiar visitor. A wandering spirit walks through the estate which she once owned accompanied by a retinue of the per animals that she knew and loved. This is the ghost of Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford who is rumoured to walk the grounds when the wind is high.
Is she keeping a watch on the crumbling building or her crypt which is a mile away. Or does she see the Priory as it once was with its fine furnishings and decoration and a butler opening the front door to visitors as she, smiling, descends the sweeping staircase to meet them?
Deep in the Fife countryside lies the shell of a derelict, once grand country house. For over 25 years it has been abandoned to nature which is fast obscuring it from memory and the world. Ivy and saplings have thrust their way through broken windows and doors and a fire in 1995 was the final indignity. In 1997 its current owner applied to have it demolished but it may just eventually fall down by itself.
The cawing of crows or the wind whistling around what’s left of the Gothic styled Crawford Priory are the only sounds that the casual visitor will hear now.
However, it was never actually a priory and no religious order ever lived there. But the name went with the romantic Gothic touches such as the pointed windows and the battlements and so it became one.
A mile away near Lady Mary’s Wood lies an equally ruinous crypt dedicated to the Priory’s creator and the last of her line, Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford. From urban explorers websites, the last great recorders and finders of the abandoned, the crypt is in no better state than the Priory. Its door is now bricked up although a hole has been made in it and the crypt is falling in on itself. The pet cemetery is rumoured to be still there but I haven’t seen any photos of that while researching this article.
To add to the romance of the place there is also a belief that the pale wraith of Lady Mary drifts across the site as she gathers her pet animals around her. She had the crypt built so that she would always have a good view of the Priory even in death.
I am indebted to a Facebook friend who lives in Scotland with her family. They like to go out and explore the local countryside and share their photos and adventures online. They have been kind enough to give me permission to use their photos to illustrate this article. Crawford Priory was a real gem as it’s the sort of place that I would like to explore myself.
Crawford Priory was originally merely a hunting lodge built by the Earl of Crawford in 1756 and then completely remodelled in the then fashionable style in the early 1800’s. Lady Mary employed well known architects of the time to create it. She died in 1833 and was known as a reclusive, religious woman. The pet cemetery was also created by her to remind her of her favourite animals. They flocked to her and she was frequently attended by tame foxes, birds, dogs, cats and even a pet deer. However, I have been unable to find any images of Lady Mary but she must have been formidable as well as kind. There is a tombstone near the outer wall of the Priory dedicated to a pet deer which is what caught my attention and intrigued me enough to research further.
Lady Mary lived alone, except for her servants, and administered a large country estate as well as the Priory. This included limestone kilns, coal mines and farms amongst other business interests. This was remarkable in the 19th century for a woman alone.
This keen business sense and her managerial abilities led to Lady Mary being regarded as odd and her obituary, according to alex cochrane’s blog, considered her eccentricities as
‘lean’d to the virtue’s side for the cause of humanity .’’
Also, according to adcochrane, a distant relative of the family, quotes from one of Lady Mary#s letters on his blog, in which she says:
‘this hall is raised under bad and awful auspices ‘
and then goes onto to describe how her dog:
‘howled in the most dreadful manner in the next room to the new building…yet in spite of its cries would not leave the dining-room’
It sounds like a page from a Gothic novel as the heroine eats her dinner at a candle-lit dining table while her dog howls and the wind picks up speed around the battlements.
Lady Mary left generous bequests to the local poor, friends, servants and her animals. The Priory then came into the possession of the Earls of Glasgow and the Cochranes The photos on adcochrane’s blog and now in the possession of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (rcahms for short) reveal how lavishly decorated The Priory’s interior was:
‘The grand hall was magnificently decorated with fan vaulting and hanging pendants; suits of armour stood under canopied gothic niches; medieval style stained glass lit the hall. The drawing room and morning room opened off a rib vaulted chamber decorated with gargoyles, both with gothic fireplaces inlayed with coloured marbles. The principal staircase…was decorated with gilded armorial panels and armorial stained glass of the Earls of Glasgow.” adcochrane
ADcochrane also goes onto recall that
‘The grand bedroom was hung with panels of wallpaper depicting the life of Psyche from the ancient Latin story by Apuleius.’
He adds that in 1990 a lot of the internal decoration was still there but now it’s all gone. Even the sweeping staircase has finally collapsed. To see archive photos of the Priory in its glamorous heyday please visit his blog:
Eventually the Priory became just too expensive to maintain like many country houses. They usually required a retinue of servants to maintain them and after the Second World War these were in short supply. Adcochrane adds that both his godfather and cousin remembered exploring huge unused rooms and clambering about dusty piles of trunks.
In the 1960’s the Prior needed an expensive and major restoration but this never happened. No use has been found for it since and so it was left to lie empty until it fell into its current state.
If Lady Mary does walk in her wood and the Priory grounds then one hopes that she sees the Priory as it was and not how it is now.
Escape from the Black Hole, the inspiration for a British icon and Frankenstein
A worn and damaged headstone, with a missing top half marks the last resting place of Captain John Mills who escaped from the Black Hole of Calcutta. He was buried with his wife Isabella and her epitaph was n the missing half. They were an interesting couple.
She was born in 1735 and became a singer of some renown. In 1760 David Garrick persuaded her to take the part of Polly Peachum in ‘The Beggar’s Opera’. But she gave up the stage to marry Capt Mills after the death of her first husband. They spent several years in India before returning to England. She died aged 92 in London in 1802.
Lester invited us to take a closer look so we all drew closer and yes, the words Black Hole were inscribed on the remaining half of the tombstone. But what was the Black Hole?
According to The London Dead blog:
‘the Black Hole of Calcutta’ is a controversial incident of 1756 where troops of the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daulah, allegedly placed 146 British and Anglo-Indian prisoners overnight in conditions so cramped that 123 of them died. John Zephaniah Holwell, later Governor of Bengal, was included among the prisoners….Mr Holwell, though alive, was now unconscious…carried towards a window so tha the air there, being less foul, might revive him. But each man near the window refused to give up his place, for that meant possiby giving up his life. Only one, Captain Mills, was brave enough, unselfish enough, to give way to Mr Howell.’
Capt Mills was obviously a courageous and compassionate man who died aged 89 on 29 July 1811. The Scots Magazine gave him a fulsome obituary but sadly I have been unable to find a picture of him.
However, today the words ‘Black Hole’ have a somewhat different connotation and I did find myself looking for any hovering wormholes or portals.
William Jones, one of Charles Dickens schoolteachers, has a headstone here with a little plaque commemorating this fact. However, Dickens didn’t remember Mr Jones fondly at all and based the character, Mr Creakle, from David Copperfield on him. Dicken recalled Mr Jones as:
‘by far the most ignorant man I have ever had the pleasure to know…one of the worst tempered men that ever lived.’
Sir John Soane’s monument within its little enclosure is one of only 2 Grade 1 listed monument within London cemeteries. The other is Karl Marx in Highgate. Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was an architect who designed in the Neo-Classical style and his monument was heavily influenced by it. He was the architect of the Bank of England, although little of his work there exists now, and Dulwich Picture Gallery. However, it’s his museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields that has proved to be his lasting legacy. It’s well worth a visit as it’s very idiosyncrastic and gives you a glimpse into Soane’s influences.
The mausoleum was erected after Soane’s wife’s death in 1815. It contains him, one of his sons and his wife. He was estranged from his other son. The information board states:
‘Classical design. The central marble cube has four faces for dedicatory inscriptions, enclosed by a marble canopy suppoted on four Ionic columns, Enclosing this central structure is a small balustrade with a flight of steps down into the vault. The central domed structure influenced sIr Giles Gilbert Scott’s design of the telephone kiosk.’
The phonebox is another British institution and, although it may now be an endangered species due to mobile phones, it’s still instantly recognisable. I often see tourists posing by one. At their height there were approx 90,000 in use but this has now dropped to roughly 10,000. But redundant phone boxes can still have their uses: I have seen them used to house libraries or defibrilators.
Mary Shelley, the writer of Frankenstein, used to walk through the churchyard with her future husband, Percy, as they discussed their elopement. The fateful night at the Villa Diodata in Italy in 1816 not only produced Mary’s classic ‘Frankenstein’ but also ‘The Vampyr’. Its writer, John Polidori, is also buried in St Pancras. Mary’s parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft have memorials here but their remains were transferred to Bournemouth as a result of the railway works during the 19th century. We noticed the offerings placed on top of William’s monument.
Mary Wollstonecraft died 10 days after giving birth to Mary on 10 September 1797 aged 38. This echoes one of Frankenstein’s central themes which is life from death. She was the author of one of the first feminist works, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ in 1792. The Godwins led an unconventional life and Mary had an affair with the painter Henry Fuseli. She was rediscovered as one of the great feminist icons at the turn of the 20th century.
Nature has decided to burst forth now that the sun’s out and suddenly everything’s out at once. West Norwood Cemetery basked in a warm glow and its two terracotta mausoleums; the Doulton and the Tate, seemed to be glowing. I walked along the path from the entrance towards Ship Path and realised again how beautiful a cemetery can be in spring as new life appears amongst death.
I admired the groups of brightly coloured red and yellow tulips as they gracefully lifted their cups to the sun as in homage and a perennial Spring flower, garlic mustard, clustered around the base of a hedge around a memorial. I’ve seen plenty of it already this year and wondered if it was an omen of future weather.
A queen wasp flew indecisively above one group of primroses as if unable to choose which one to land on and so evaded my camera. A Queen wasp is one of the 7 signs of Spring as they awake from their winter slumber. Multi-coloured carpets of primroses were everywhere between monuments and memorials and butterflies were on the wing obeying the imperative being to mate.
Orange Tips, Holly Blues and the odd Brimstone, the first butterflies of the year, impressed me with their speed and acrobatics. One Holly Blue dived under a spreading rug of plants that covered last year’s forgotten or discarded horse chestnuts and dead leaves. There has been a lot of clearing going on in West Norwood and it was like rediscovering it again as I found memorials and monuments that I had never previously seen as they’d been hidden under ivy, brambles and other vegetation. The clearances have made it much easier to get to the back of Captain Wimble’s exuberant and magnificent tomb to admire the still crisp carving of one the ships on which he sailed. But more about him and his indomitable wife in a later posting. It is the reason that the grass path that runs past it is named, strangely enough, Ship Path.
In one clearing two drifts of wood anemones stood proud and nearby was a large patch of lesser celandine – another Spring time flower. I’ve also seen so much of it this year and again is it an omen of a hard winter to come or a hot summer….
A flash of russet behind a group of headstones caught my attention and I saw an adult fox selecting a good place in a patch of foliage as his mattress in which to have an afternoon kip. After he tucked himself in he then spotted me and got to his paws and limped off with difficulty. He appeared to have a bad problem with one of his front paws and I felt guilty for having disturbed him.
There is a part of West Norwood Cemetery which backs onto a small row of houses and so the occupants household pets, cats, come into explore. There’s often a good selection of them on a sunny afternoon; using the cemetery as an extension of their garden while checking each other out, going on the hunt or as their playground. After having disturbed the fox, I caught sight of a fluffy back and white cat on his rounds trotting along a grass path. I tried to keep a discreet distance as he passed Mrs Beeton’s modest memorial and the top of Ship Path. However, as I galumped along, he began to pick up speed. He trotted, more quickly now, across the main path in front of the catacombs and then leapt gracefully onto the wall above them. He looked back as if to say ‘Too late!’ and then vanished over it.
A grey cat near the houses was quite timid and I didn’t want to come too close and frighten him away completely. I took a couple of photos from as close as I dared and moved on.
So many dandelions this year and there was a fine spread of them in between memorials. After all the recent murky weather it was encouraging to see their bright splashes of colour.
Bluebells, at their most effective when in great drifts in woodland, were clinging together in a patch opposite the crematorium. It was just as if Mother Nature had brought everything into bloom at the same time instead of one after the other.
As I ate my lunch whilst admiring the crimson blossom on a tree nearby I could hear an old lawnmower in the distance. As I got up and came around to explore another large cleared area I saw a descendant of the Doulton family mowing the grass around the mausoleum. Terracotta always looks at its best in the sunshine and today it looked almost on fire.
A small statue of a praying child was almost being enveloped by lesser celandine and there’s been plenty of it everywhere I went this year,
I descended from the columbarium admiring the speed of butterflies as they whizzed around tantalizingly out of reach of my camera. It was then that I encountered the fox again. He lay draped over a grave like a fur stole and raised his head as I passed.
A cuckoo flower was half hidden in the long grass near another glorious display of brilliantly coloured tulips.
As I walked I thought how lucky I was in to be in this oasis with the busy world kept at bay outside its magnificent Gothic gates. I passed the Stonehenge inspired monument to John Britton which still looks as if it’s just landed from the opening scenes of 2001 and then to one of my favourite memorials in West Norwood or maybe any cemetery.
It’s a real gem and is the unashamedly Art Nouveau headstone dedicated to Amelia McKeown. Its modest size and poignant dedication have always impressed me and the primroses beneath it emphasised its deep blue colouring. This had been a chance discovery a few years ago when the main entrance had been closed for building works and visitors had had to enter via a side gate. Sometimes the road less travelled can bring the unexpected to your notice.
As I left the cemetery, feeling that I’d had almost a Spring walk in the countryside with some attractive monuments, I noticed the Unknown Mourner still grieving in a rose garden. The elderly lawnmower and the sparse cars of visitors were behind me and I was back out onto the slow moving traffic of Knights Hill and Norwood High Street again. I nearly turned round and went back in again…….
The wind thrashed through the small group of ancient oak trees in Mausoleum Field as I stood admiring the view of the surrounding hills. It was a hot, but windy, August day and the gift shop assistant had been enthusiastic about the wonderful vistas. But I felt that on a dark winter’s night it could be very eerie and lonely.
This field contains Elizabeth Bulwer-Lytton’s (1773-1843) mausoleum in which she rests with several other members of the Lytton family. But why is she resting here eternally and not in the Lytton chapel in the nearby church?
Elizabeth was the mother of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the novelist and she lived at Knebworth from 1811 -1843. She is responsible for the House’s present Gothic style with its myriad of gargoyles, bats, towers and battlements after having had most of the old, ancient House demolished. She inherited it from her father, Richard Warburton-Lytton who lived at Ramsgate and described the estate as ‘the old half-feudal pile. ‘ Or as we would describe it today ‘as having many original features and development potential.’
She lived with Edward, her third and favourite son, until she died and her rooms are still preserved exactly as she left them. Edward had inscribed above the mantelpiece a reminder to future generations to maintain them in her memory. He was very close to Elizabeth but one wonders if he was worried that she might return and haunt him if he didn’t.
Elizabeth had a powerful personality to say the least. She disapproved of Edward’s marriage to Rosina Doyle Wheeler by cutting off his allowance and forcing him into a whole new career as a writer. He was very prolific, as the section of his books in the library attests, and he coined the famous phrases ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ and ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ Edward also had a successful political career but found the pressure too much and after two children, his marriage collapsed. Elizabeth’s thoughts on the situation that she had helped create aren’t known but he gained custody of the children after a nasty separation. Rosina then embarked on her own literary career with a thinly veiled account of her marriage and followed this with other works on the theme of the wronged wife. She was buried in an unmarked grave in Croydon which is certainly ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and was forgotten until her great-great-grandson erected a tombstone in her name in 1995.
Elizabeth quarrelled with every rector of St Mary’s about the tithe that the church claimed on all estate produce. As a result, they all ended up preaching to an empty church while she insisted that her staff and tenants attended her own church services in Knebworth’s State Drawing Room. The large Bible at the foot of her bed in her room is the one that she always used and carries her own initials EBBCL – Elizabeth Barbara Bulwer Lytton. As a House tour guide told us, she planted trees around the church to hide it from the House and they’re still there but it was only partially successful. She was also equally determined that she and her family wouldn’t be buried within the Lytton Chapel or the churchyard.
Of course with the compact size of the Chapel and the three 18th century Lytton gentlemen’s monuments which take up most of the space she may have felt that there simply wasn’t room for her. Or at least room for her to be forever remembered in the way that she wanted and so her own large sepulchre was the only way in which she could compete. Four of the five female statues in the Chapel decorate Sir William Lytton’s monument and it does feel like a gentlemen’s club. So Elizabeth had a mausoleum constructed a short distance from the church and in what is appropriately named Mausoleum Field. Although the male incumbents of the Chapel may have life size facsimiles of themselves lolling about in rumpled sheets Elizabeth had gone farther in a game of one-upmanship.
The octagonal mausoleum, reputedly based on an Italian design and built in 1817, has niches containing elegant funerary urns.
Elizabeth’s epitaph is on one side and there are other epitaphs to Lytton family members around the tomb.
An obelisk surmounted with an urn commemorates Edward’s son, Robert who became the first Earl of Lytton, and is near the entrance.
Another strong-minded Lytton woman who is interred here was Lady Constance Lytton (1869-1923) who was a noted suffragette under an assumed identity and was force-fed on several occasions. The epitaph reads ‘…sacrificed her health and talents in helping to bring victory to this cause.’ The vault was restored in 2004 and has contemporary iron railings around it. There is a sarcophagus on top of it with shell acroteria. However, these always remind me of old-fashioned baths.
But knowing Elizabeth’s determination and desire to have her own way one wonders if she and the other incumbents rest easily together or if they are all locked into an eternal argument……
This is the last of the trio and, in contrast to the ones in West Norwood, wasn’t designed by Harold Peto. He had left Peto and Geoge by then and it has been suggested that the building was actually designed by an anonymous assistant who worked from previously rejected designs. It’s very different from the other two, both in style and decoration. It was built in 1901 to house the coffin of Mrs Laura Stearns. She died in 1900 and came from Twickenham. William Chillingworth, her father, is buried next to her in his own vault.
He was a wine merchant and they owned Radnor House in Twickenham. It was known as Pope’s House as it was built on the site of Alexander Pope’s original house. It no longer exists as it was demolished in 1940 after being hit by a bomb. There seems to be no mention of a Mr Stearns. In the 1930’s Mrs Stearns’ coffin was removed from the mausoleum by her relatives and interred behind it.
The interior was never finished which is why it is so plain. However, 20 years later, an anonymous builder glazed it with bland tiles. There are two simple, unadorned stone coffin shelves set into each of the side walls. A trefoil shaped window on the back wall lets light in as the side windows are blocked up.
The mausoleum is decorated in the Romanesque style. This is an architectural style of medieval Europe which possibly dates from the 10th century and was characterised by the use of semi-circular arches. It was used extensively throughout Europe and in Britain is referred to as Norman Architecture. The word ‘Romanesque’ originally means descended from Roman and most surviving examples are on churches.
It is also characterised by its use of columns and, on the Stearns vault, we can see that the two small ones on either side of the entrance are carved with birds etc in a medieval style. The carvings are very tactile and I can never walk past within wanting to touch them. The side window columns are also patterned but not as beautifully as the entrance ones. Romanesque was also a highly decorative style as can be seen from the arched bands of stylised leaves over the entrance.
The 19th century saw a Revival of Romanesque although it was decried by some writers as ‘barbaric ornament.’ The Natural History Museum in London is highly decorated in Romanesque Revival style and is well worth seeing.
It’s the only surviving mausoleum within Nunhead Cemetery and, although a tree tried to grow through it while the cemetery was abandoned, it’s still in good condition. When I first visited Nunhead in 1989, it was rumoured that the only person who now rested within the mausoleum was a passing tramp. It now has a wrought iron gate to protect it.
Nunhead Cemetery, An Illustrated Guide by The Friends of Nunhead Cemetery . 1988, FONC Publications, London
The terracotta trio are all so different and unique and all three are Grade Ii listed and although, in comparison to other mausoleums such as Highgate’s Beer vault and Hannah Portnoy’s vast Egyptian Revival sepulchre in Brompton, they are relatively modest. However, I feel that they deserve their own special place in 19th century English funerary architecture..
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.
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..
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 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.
Copyright Text and photos Carole Tyrrell
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