Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Hidden London: gone for a Burton

This mausoleum designed to look like an Arab tent (pictured above) at St Mary Magdalene, Mortlake, is the burial place of traveller and linguist Sir Richard Burton (1821-90) and his wife Isabel. Sir Richard translated the One Thousand and One Nights into English, and commissioned translations of the Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden; on his death, Isabel burned other documents she deemed unfit for publication, presumably because they were a bit rude.

She commissioned this final resting place, and a stained-glass window in his memory in the church. Another stained-glass window at the back of the mausoleum has been destroyed by vandals - a ladder now leads to a glass window in the carefully restored tomb's roof. The picture below shows Isabel's mahogany coffin on the left (she died in 1895), while Sir Richard's steel coffin is just visible to the right.

Fans of 19th-century Orientalism may also be interested in the Kilmorey Mausoleum, which is hidden behind a wall on St Margaret's Road, Isleworth. The monument was built by Francis Jack Needham, Second Earl of Kilmorey, for his mistress Priscilla, who was around 36 years his junior and had become his ward at the age of five. When she died in 1854, Lord Kilmorey had architect Henry Kendall create an Egyptian-style memorial, which was originally built in Brompton Cemetary.

The tomb, which was moved twice and also contains Kilmorey's remains (though not those of his two wives), was carved from pink Scottish granite to resemble Egyptian stone from Aswan. There is a theory that Kilmorey hoped to be able to communicate with Priscilla after her death; the Earl is said to have dressed in white and had his servants push him in his coffin through an underground tunnel to the tomb 'for practice', according to Egyptologist Dr Jasmine Day. The tunnel was rediscovered in 1966 .

By the by, if you go to St Mary Magdalene, do visit the very welcoming St Mary the Virgin nearby. This lovely church may hold the final resting place of Elizabethan necromancer Dr John Dee, who lived for some 30 years in Mortlake.

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