The Mausolea and Monuments Trust
Registered Charity Number: 1106634
70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ
Tel: 020 7608 1441
[email protected]
Evicted From Eternity?

Michael Hall

(This article first appeared in Country Life, 15 January 1998, and is reproduced here with the magazine's permission.)

Lord Darnley's mausoleum at Cobham, Kent (left), has always been a lonely place. On its ridge rising out of an overgrown landscape designed by Humphry Repton, it gazes down at Cobham Hall, nearly a mile away to the south. Following the instructions of the 3rd Earl of Darnley, James Wyatt, the architect, designed a monumental structure - a pyramid raised on a square base containing a domed chapel. After its completion in 1784, the Bishop of Rochester, disapproving of burials in secular settings, refused to consecrate a building that so brazenly evoked pagan arcady. As a result, the platform constructed in a deep basement for Lord Darnley's coffin has never been occupied. For years, the building has been in a ruinous condition and almost daily is further vandalised.

This must be one of the most long-running stories in British conservation and no end is yet in sight. In 1985, the present Lord Darnley sold the mausoleum to a developer for residential conversion; following the developer's bankruptcy, the mausoleum is now in the hands of Touche Ross, the receivers. Yet this sorry tale provides one important warning: if a building of European stature, fit to be compared with the mausoleum at Castle Howard, can fall into such a deplorable state, what hope can there be for lesser buildings forgotten in parks or in churchyards, when the family for whom they were built has died out, moved away or lost interest?

In response to that concern, a trust was set up last year to rescue threatened mausolea and monuments of architectural significance and to campaign for their preservation. The Mausolea and Monuments Trust was the inspiration of the architectural historian Jill Allibone, who 30 years before had been dismayed to witness the demolition of the Nunburnhome family chapel at Warter in Yorkshire and the dispersal of its fine monuments by George Frampton. The immediate impetus for the creation of the trust, however, was a recent visit to her grandmother's grave in the churchyard at All Saints, Whitstable, Kent, where she noticed, hidden among sycamores, the tomb of Wynn Ellis (right).

This stepped granite pyramid set on a mighty entablature derived from the Tomb of Scipio was designed by Charles Barry, Jnr, in 1875 for Ellis, a wealthy haberdasher who bequeathed his collection of paintings (including masterpieces by Claude and Ganaletto) to the National Gallery. He is buried at Whitstable with his wife and illegitimate son - an example of how mausolea often reveal intriguing family histories. The tomb was in urgent need of repair to its stonework and iron railings, and the bronze doors that lead to the burial chamber had been vandalised. Dr Allibone proposed the tomb for listing (it is now Grade II) and set about tracking down its owners, so repairs could be put in hand.

If the first glimpse of an unrestored mausoleum such as Ellis's evokes the spectral frissons of a Victorian novel such as The Woman in White, the task of finding its owners soon becomes reminiscent of Bleak House: the quest leads to Chancery lawyers, aged trustees and distant heirs to long-sold estates. Dr Allibone discovered that every year the churchwardens at All Saints received a cheque for 8 for the maintenance of the tomb. The solicitors who forwarded the cheque were the trustees of a fund set up by Ellis's family: it then amounted to 240, invested in 2.5% consuls. The idea that responsibility for the tomb might be transferred to an independent body led to Dr Allibone's proposal for a new trust which could assume ownership of unwanted tombs and mausolea.

This was a propitious moment for such an idea, as a great deal of scholarly attention has recently been focused on what might be called the architecture of death. In 1992, Julian Litten staged the Art of Death exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and in 1996 the Dulwich Picture Gallery mounted an exhibition on Soane's fascination with funerary designs. For several years, the Victorian Society, of which Dr Allibone is a committee member, has been campaigning for the conservation of the great urban cemeteries. That has been complemented by the important work of more narrowly focused groups, such as the Soane Monuments Trust, and local initiatives, such as the Friends of Little Ousebourn Mausoleum, which is raising funds for the restoration of the Thompson Mausoleum in the churchyard at Little Ousebourn in Yorkshire, designed in about 1742 with the help of Lord Burlington.

Many of these scholarly and conservation concerns are represented by the trustees of the Mausolea and Monuments Trust, which was formally constituted last year - they include Julian Litten, Christopher Woodward of Sir John Soane's Museum and Chris Brooks, chairman of the Victorian Society. The trust's patron is Sir Howard Colvin, whose book Architecture and the After-life (1991) is a magisterial overview of the history of mausolea and funerary chapels in the Western world.

Although independent trusts with responsibility for a group of monuments are not uncommon - they include, for example, the Wentworth Amenity Trust, which cares for the monuments at Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire, including one of the greatest of all mausolea - the idea of a trust which could acquire and care for monuments throughout the country was new, and brave. So far, the trust has taken on five, of which the first two were the Ellis tomb and the Bateman Mausoleum (above) at Morley, Derbyshire.

The popular conception of mausolea as independent neo-Classical structures, such as the Darnley Mausoleum, is historically justified: the mausoleum was revived as an architectural tradition in Protestant countries after the Reformation, when chantry chapels were abolished. In Scotland, there was religious hostility even to the idea of interment in churches, one reason why that country has so many outstanding ma solea. In the 18th century the mausoleum provided an ideal opportunity for neo-Classical architects such as Wyatt to design recreations of antique forms unfettered by the compromises imposed by modern life.

The Bateman Mausoleum (right), built in 1897, shows this tradition coming full circle. Although an independent structure, built into part of an ancient church wall, its architect, G. F. Bodley, designed it as a chantry chapel of the sort so often added to parish churches in the later Middle Ages. Faultlessly proportioned and built of warm red Runcorn sandstone, it is furnished with sculpture by Robert Bridgman and stained glass by Burlison and Grylls. At its centre is the tomb of Hugh Alleyn Sacheverell Bateman, whose widow commissioned the mausoleum, and for whom Bodley also designed the family house, Hayes Lodge. The cross on the tomb chest is set with crystal cabochons, through which the coffin may dimly be seen.

The condition of this tiny building - transferred to the trust by the Batemans' heir, the Duke of Valderano - is not especially bad, although repairs are needed: the lead has been stolen from the roof, its wrought-iron gates are damaged and the stonework is spalling. In dramatic contrast is another of the trust's properties, the Guise Mausoleum, Elmore, Gloucestershire, which almost totally collapsed earlier this century, Built in 1732, it was recently identified by Sir Howard Colvin as the first use of the baseless Doric column since antiquity, establishing for it an international importance. The columns still stand and the remains of its pyramidal superstructure survive, making it possible that one day the monument may be restored.

The other mausolea owned by the trust were all were giving cause for anxiety before the trust took them on: at Hursley, Hampshire, for example, the vicar and congregation were praying for assistance for the 18th-century Heathcote Mausoleum. Although the exterior of the 1778 Nash Mausoleum at Farningham, Kent (left), famous for its little obelisk rising from the central dome, has been restored with money from English Heritage, work remains to be done on the interior, and the railings, removed during the Second World War, need to be replaced. In such cases, the trust will raise money for repair work.

Just as important as funds is vigilance: to note vandalism, uproot weeds and maintain locks. So the trust is seeking friends who will help with its work as well as raise money - it has already appointed its first county co-ordinator, for Buckinghamshire. It hopes to extend its work to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Perhaps the most immediate need is research: are such spectacular cases as the Darnley Mausoleum - too big a task for the trust to tackle yet - an isolated concern? To discover the scale of the problem, the trust is collating information on the 150 listed mausolea and soliciting information about the unlisted ones, for a report it is compiling with SAVE Britain's Heritage. Readers of COUNTRY LIFE can give immediate help by sending information about mausolea and monuments - whether or not they are giving cause for concern - to the Mausolea and Monuments Trust, 70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ.

Article and photographs reproduced by kind permission of Country Life.

UPDATE:

  • On 5 April 2004, it was announced that the Darnley Mausoleum is to be restored - click here for details.
  • In 2003, the Darnley Mausoleum was featured on the BBC TV Restoration programme.
  • Restoration work on the Bateman mausoleum is well under way, under the supervision of the MMT, with completion scheduled for Summer 2004.
  • The MMT has replaced the oak doors of the Wynn Ellis mausoleum and cleared the brambles and other undergrowth which encroached upon it.
  • Work has also begun on the other mausolea.
  • The MMT's Gazetteer is nearing completion, and we hope to publish in the near future.