Kilmorey Mausoleum

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I think I may have found a mausoleum that tops even Richard Burton’s in its uniqueness: the Kilmorey Mausoleum in Twickenham’s St Margarets. This £30,000 tomb – a fortune when built in 1854 – was a memorial for the mistress of the 2nd Earl of Kilmorey, Priscilla Hoste, who just also happened to be his ward. Today, the tomb lies in a small garden, no longer connected to the house to which it was originally attached, and on rare occasions you can visit and inspect the contents – including the coffins – for yourself.

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Originally erected in Brompton Cemetery, the Egyptian-style tomb – which thanks to Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign was very on-trend at the time – was actually re-located twice as the Earl moved around various properties in London. The Earl never allowed either of his two wives to be buried in the tomb, and finally joined his lover in 1880 at the grand age of 92.

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Its final site here was attached to nearby Gordon House, where a tunnel was built under the road to connect the mausoleum to the house. The Earl was said to use this tunnel is his later years, when he would get his servants to wheel him through it – wrapped in a shroud, lying in his coffin – to his tomb, in what some believe was a bizarre practice ritual for his own funeral.

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The mausoleum’s design is impressive – created by Henry Edward Kendall Jr in the Egyptian Revival style, it features cast bronze doors and pink Scottish granite. It is covered with Egyptian motifs, including the the winged sun disc of the god Ra. The skylight stars in the ceiling of the mausoleum allow the sun to project these stars across the coffins at certain times of the day. A large white marble relief carved by Lawrence MacDonald hangs  on one wall, showing Priscilla on her death bed with the Earl at her feet and their son Charles at her side.

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The coffins of the Earl and Priscilla are still very much present on either side of the mausoleum – son Charles refused to take up his allocated shelf. It seems amazing that you can actually enter this small space and stand right next to them. Unlike the rest of the mausoleum, the coffins are very much in Victorian funerary style, with both covered in red velvet. This has very much faded over time, but I was surprised to learn that they had been preserved in a near-perfect state until 1987, when a storm resulted in water damage.

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The Kilmorey Mausoleum is only able to be visited on special open days; it is next open as part of the Open House Weekend on Sunday 22nd September 2013. Openings, events and location details are listed on their website.

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Death in the south west

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Surely the award for most unusual mausoleum in London goes to that of Sir Richard Burton (and wife) in Mortlake. Burton – the 19th century explorer and linguist, not the 20th century actor – has as his final resting place a 12 foot by 18 foot stone replica of a Bedouin tent, in the otherwise sedate graveyard of St Mary Magdalen Church. Burton spent much of his career in the Arab world, and features among his many claims to fame the penetration of the cities of Medina and Mecca, allowing him to secretly draw up plans of the latter’s Great Mosque.

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Hence the tent-like tomb, complete with its frieze of golden crescents and stars. But if that’s still not enough of a draw, step around the back for the big reveal. A metal ladder leads to a window in the mausoleum that allows visitors to see right into the ‘tent’ and take a look at the coffins of Burton and wife Isabelle Arundell in situ among some suitably Arabian artefacts. A mirror on the opposite wall reflects the Christian shrine along the wall directly below you.

St Mary Magdalen’s churchyard is open Monday-Friday 9-3.30, Saturday and Sunday 9-5, closing at dusk during winter. It is located just a few minutes walk from the Mortlake National Rail station.

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Within walking distance of Burton’s tomb is Old Barnes Cemetery, situated within Barnes Common – once a favourite haunt of infamous highwayman Dick Turpin. I can recommend a nice stroll between the two along the Thames Path. Not to be confused with the nearby Wandsworth Cemetery, Old Barnes Cemetery is located near the Rocks Lane Multi Sports Centre. Once described as more desecrated than the battlefield burial grounds at Flanders, it has certainly suffered from years of neglect and vandalism – surely a record number of beheaded angels linger here.

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The cemetery ceased to be used in 1966 when Richmond Borough Council purchased the site from the Church of England, demolished the chapel and lodge, removed the gates and railings, and left the place to fend for itself. I believe it has more recently had a bit of a clean up and is today a very atmospheric and eerie spot that is well worth a look; in some ways its overgrown state actually adds to its character. Due to the lack of fences around both the cemetery and the common, both are effectively open 24/7.

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I hope to bring you another unusual south west London mausoleum later in the year…

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Criminal London

Criminal LondonSurely a sign of a good guide book is that it helps you discover new places and inspires you to visit them. And this being the case, Kris and Nina Hollington’s new tome on Criminal London must be a good one indeed as it’s already spurred the Londonphile to set off to explore a new site. And so this is the book review that turned into a blog post…

Criminal London: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Capital of Crime – to be published on March 14th – is an extensive (336 pages!), well-researched guide to the darker side of London, which is well illustrated with strong photographs (and the odd drawing of sites no longer in existence). It includes a nice mix of the historical (Bedlam, King’s Bench Prison), the gruesome (good old Jack and numerous other spillers of blood), and the downright odd (The Murder Bag – actually both gruesome and odd) – with a touch of espionage thrown in for good measure (Litvinenko). Neatly divided into south, east, north and west London, all up 124 sites are covered, along with three extensive walks following in the footsteps of the Krays, Arthur Conan Doyle and Jack the Ripper.

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As soon as I saw number 11 (south) I knew I would be heading off to visit what remains of Southwark’s Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison. Marshalsea is most famously known as the place of incarceration for Charles Dickens’ family when father John could no longer pay the bills, an event which meant a twelve-year-old Charles had to take work in a blacking factory. Dickens’ time visiting his family (who were all staying at the prison, as was the practice) and the lengthy walk he took across London each day to do so, had a lasting impact on the author, to say the very least. These experiences inspired his social conscience and the prison itself features in Little Dorrit. Dickens later secured accommodation closer to his family, in nearby Lant Street, where a plaque commemorates his stay.

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While all that remains of the complex – which closed in 1842 – is the south wall, it is still an evocative place, with its old bricks and lamps (I doubt the authenticity of these as they now light the alleyway leading – rather appropriately – to Southwark Coroner’s Court, but they look good). Two memorials inscribed on the ground in the alley commemorate the site and John Dickens. The wall is today situated within St George’s Churchyard Gardens on Tabard Street – a former burial ground that is now decorated with some of the old gravestones.

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Kris Hollington has been writing on London crime for a number of years – and his expertise really comes through in this guide. It’s already had me out on the streets exploring London’s darker history and will hopefully leave you similarly inspired. Criminal London is published by Aurum Press and will retail at £10.99.

WIN A COPY: And thanks to Aurum I have a copy to give away! Just post a comment below or send a tweet to @londonphile to enter. Competition closes 1pm Saturday 30th March 2013. A winner will be selected randomly and contacted directly.

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St Bride’s Church

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St Bride’s Church – arguably best known for its wedding cake spire – is a place brimming with history – and even a rather gruesome surprise or two. There have been eight places of worship (the earliest dating from Roman times) in total on St Bride’s Fleet Street site – a location that has also made it the journalists’ church of choice; today it features an altar to fallen reporters. But 1,000 years of its history was hidden away underground until the Blitz unearthed St Bride’s secrets.

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St Bride’s was amongst a number of City churches that were destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire and rebuilt by Wren only to be destroyed again during the Second World War. But these bombs did indeed have a silver lining of sorts, as they exposed the crypts that had long lain beneath the church. Sealed up after parliament decreed there were to be no more burials in the City, this underground area was revealed to contain seven crypts, a medieval chapel, two charnel houses, and loads of bodies – many dating from the Great Plague of 1665 and the 1854 cholera epidemic.

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You can visit St Bride’s and most of its crypts any day of the week, but to get the full picture of its history – and full access to its underground areas – take one of their regular guided tours. These 1.5 hour tours are the only way to access St Bride’s rather ghoulish – and absolutely fascinating – charnel house and ossuary. A narrow passage past a rather prosaic kitchen and storage area leads you to these unusual last resting places.

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The medieval charnel house (pictured above) features literally piles of bones buried on top of one another in an unusual chequerboard pattern – and I’m told it goes much deeper than what is currently visible. The ossuary is decidedly more organised and contains the remains of 227 individuals all neatly packed away in numbered cardboard boxes. The bones were identified by their coffin plates – some of which can also be seen in the ossuary. Names and other data, such as cause of death, have been systematically recorded, along with drawings of each bone.

I managed to catch the last tour for 2012, but they start up again on Tuesday 8th January, and then run each fortnight at 3pm, £6 each. You can book in advance on 020 7427 0133 or info@stbrides.com or just turn up on the day.

http://www.stbrides.com/visit/guided-tours.php

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At risk: Cross Bones

This post marks the first in a new series for the Londonphile, featuring London sites that are at risk. These may be facing closure due to financial problems, demolition due to development or simply decaying before our eyes. These posts will advise how you can best register your support – perhaps by signing an online petition, or boosting attendance figures by paying a visit.

Cross Bones Graveyard has long been an at risk heritage site – it was rejected as unsuitable as a building site as far back as 1883 – and it has been featured in the media of late as it is again being marketed for development. Although much of the Cross Bones site is at first glance a concrete wasteland – owned by Transport for London and currently used for storage – it is in fact the last resting place of over 15,000 people. And while anyone who has read Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis will know that the dead can be found all across London, Cross Bones’ unique history makes the site a particularly significant one.

As the plaque on its gate advises, Cross Bones was home to the ‘outcast dead’, an unconsecrated ground used for the burial of prostitues or, as they were known locally, ‘Winchester Geese’ – so-called because they were licensed to ply their trade within the Liberty of the Clink in Southwark by the Bishop of Winchester. Despite this protection, these women were not deemed fit for Christian burial, and their graveyard was appointed ‘far from the parish church’. Although the exact age of the burial ground is not known, it was mentioned in John Stow’s 1598 A Survey of London. It later became a pauper’s cemetery – tellingly in 1665, the year of the Great Plague – in an area with no shortage of slums (and body-snatchers). It closed to burials in 1853 when it was declared over-full and a risk to public health and decency.

Today the Memorial Gates are festooned with ribbons, cards and flowers – a tradition which started at the 1998 Halloween ceremony – and small shrines have been placed on the site. The colourful, celebratory nature of these offerings adds greatly to Cross Bones’ atmosphere, and is also what makes it so very different – appropriately enough, given its outcast nature – to most English graveyards. A closer look inside the site reveals a statue of Mary in an almost grotto-like setting amongst trees, accompanied by a number of ornamental geese. These days, the Shard is also a constant presence, looming high above the site.

Local writer John Constable, who has long been a leading campaigner in the fight to protect Cross Bones, now hopes that at least part of the site can be retained as a Garden of Remembrance and a public park, and the Memorial Gates preserved.

What you can do: sign the online petition here
Vigils are also held at the site at 7pm on the 23rd of each month, as is an annual Halloween festival. At 7pm on Monday 23rd April there will be a special vigil to mark St George’s Day and the coming of spring.

Cross Bones is located on Redcross Way SE1, opposite the Boot and Flogger pub.

http://www.crossbones.org.uk/

Bunhill Fields Burial Ground

Detail from John Bunyan's tomb, Bunhill Fields

It’s almost impossible to imagine now, but the area that Bunhill Fields Burial Ground occupies was once located on a moor that stretched between the London Wall and the ‘village’ of Hoxton. How times change. Today the crowded graves abut modern apartments and offices, while traffic from City Road is a constant presence, despite the surprisingly tranquil atmosphere the site somehow still manages to maintain. Burial grounds have in fact been a fixture – in various forms – in this district since Saxon times.

Bunhill Fields’ name derives from ‘Bone Hill’, possibly in reference to a period during the mid-16th century when literally cartloads of bones were brought here to free up space in St Paul’s charnel house and vault. Another influx took place in 1665 when plague victims were interred here by the City of London – it was at this point that the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground was officially established. As the ground was never consecrated, it became popular with nonconformists and is the last resting place of many famous dissenters, including William Blake and John Bunyan. As such, many of the graves are more plain and simple in design than you generally see in many of London’s older cemeteries.

Wesley’s Chapel (which has its own small burial ground, much of which is hidden away at the rear of the complex) can be found to the East just across City Road, while the old Quaker Burial Ground is across Bunhill Row to the west, forming a significant zone for London’s nonconformists. Not much is left of the Quaker Burial Ground – now Quaker Gardens – which suffered massive bomb damage during the Second World War. The 1881 Quaker Meeting House is still in use though, and is now the only remaining structure from the Bunhill Memorial Buildings (it can be found on Quaker Court).

Bunhill Fields itself was also badly hit during the Blitz, which ultimately led to the new landscaping of the site in the 1960s by Peter Shepheard and an extensive restoration of the remaining memorials. This saw the graves in the southern area fenced off and a large, green open space created in the northern section. The cemetery itself had been closed to new interments back in 1854 – it was declared to be well and truly ‘full’ after receiving something in the order of 123,000 burials. The Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington was to become the next cemetery of choice for nonconformist citizens.

In 1867 an Act of Parliament preserved Bunhill Fields “as an open space” for the public’s use, which is still very much its function today. When the Londonphile first stumbled across Bunhill it was a sunny afternoon and the seats were filled with local workers on their lunch break. When I returned to take these photographs children from a local school were using the lawn as a playing field. You can learn more about Bunhill on £5 City Guides tours that are held on Wednesdays at 12.30pm between April and October. Bunhill Fields itself is currently open at the following times, and access to the fenced-off areas can be arranged via an attendant between 1 and 3pm Monday-Friday:

October to March: weekdays 7.30am – 4.00pm, weekends & bank holidays 9.30am – 4.00pm.
April to September: weekdays 7.30am – 7pm, weekends & bank holidays 9.30am -7pm.

City of London’s Bunhill Fields page

City Guides’ Bunhill Fields walking tour