Dating from the 17th century onwards, several hundred mausolea stand in British churchyards, cemeteries and the grounds of stately homes – and many of these are exceptionally elegant structures.
Historically, the great majority of British mausolea have been built for members of the royal family, the nobility or the knighthood. Patriarchs of some of the wealthiest families would often erect a mausoleum at a suitably prominent location on their country estate, perhaps on the site of some ancient tumulus.
Rural estates with exceptional mausolea include Brocklesby Park in Lincolnshire and the National Trust’s Blickling Park in Norfolk. Another National Trust property, the combined chapel and mausoleum at Gibside, Tyne and Wear, is a Palladian classic designed by James Paine.
In some cases so much money was lavished on such sumptuous structures that they have since been characterised as ‘follies’ – especially if they are very tall, such as Peterson’s Tower in Hampshire. More affordably, an existing building such as a summerhouse was sometimes converted into a mausoleum.
The photograph above shows the mausoleum of the Constable family of Halsham and Burton, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Completed in 1802, the mausoleum stands east of Halsham’s medieval parish church of All Saints, at the end of an avenue of yew trees.
England and Scotland’s Mausoleums
Britain’s first freestanding mausolea were erected in the second half of the 17th century. Before this period, a number of mortuary chapels were built as extensions of churches – and some of these were later referred to as mausolea.
Among former mortuary chapels two outstanding early examples survive in fine condition and are open to the public. English Heritage’s De Grey Mausoleum at Flitton, Bedfordshire, has a sequence of 17 sculpted and effigied monuments, spanning nearly two and a half centuries from 1614. Situated near Inverness, the Lovat Mausoleum was built on the end of Wardlaw parish church in the early 1630s. It continued to be used for burials of the Lovat clan chiefs until the early 19th century.
Just a handful of freestanding mausolea survive from the 17th century, some as little more than a heap of stones, such as the Nobes Mausoleum in Berkshire. However, the Cabell Mausoleum has been maintained in good condition in the churchyard of Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh, Devon. Known locally as ‘the Sepulchre’, it was built in 1656. Dating from the same year but radically remodelled in 1859, the Ailesbury Mausoleum stands in the churchyard of St Mary, Maulden, Bedfordshire.
The photograph above shows the Sinclair Mausoleum in Ulbster, near the eastern coast of Caithness in the Scottish Highlands. The mausoleum was built in 1700 on the site of an earlier chapel, probably using some of its stones.
Mausoleums in Georgian and Victorian Britain
Neoclassical and Gothic Revival designs were the most common choices for family mausolea, together with some Romanesque creations, but less orthodox patrons commissioned structures that looked like miniature medieval castles or Egyptian pyramids.
Please click any icon to view a distinctive example of the applicable mausoleum architecture.
Mausoleums in churchyards and cemeteries
Most of Britain’s mausolea stand in church graveyards and in 19th-century cemeteries, notably London’s ‘magnificent seven’ cemeteries. These were built in a ring around the capital in the ten years from 1832 and Highgate Cemetery is the best known of them. Kensal Green and West Norwood cemeteries are also well endowed with mausolea.
Britain’s most impressive churchyard and cemetery mausolea include the Chandos Mausoleum in north London, the Phipps Mausoleum in Wiltshire and the Sacheverell-Bateman Mausoleum in Derbyshire. As one of the older British mausolea, the Guise Mausoleum – erected in 1733 at St John the Baptist, Elmore, Gloucestershire – is grade II* listed despite its ruinous condition. It may be reconstructed one day.
Most British mausolea can readily be viewed from the outside by taking a walk in a churchyard or cemetery. Even those on private country estates can often be observed from a nearby permissive path. However, they cannot usually be inspected internally. Some notable exceptions are listed below.
The Chapel at Cliveden, Taplow, Buckinghamshire
A tea room in the grounds of Cliveden was converted into a chapel-cum-mausoleum in 1893. The chapel is now a National Trust property and is open to visitors from March to October. The remarkable, unroofed Dashwood Mausoleum stands on nearby West Wycombe Hill. It is still in the ownership of the Dashwood family.
Hamilton Mausoleum, Hamilton, Lanarkshire
This was the resting place of the family of the Dukes of Hamilton. With its 123-foot tall tower, the mausoleum had (until recently) the longest-lasting echo of any building in the world. Bookings to visit the mausoleum are made via the nearby Low Parks Museum.
Bourgeois and Desenfans Mausoleum, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London SE21
When Sir Francis Bourgeois died in 1811 he bequeathed to Dulwich College 360 paintings that he and fellow art dealer Noel Desenfans had collected. Bourgeois left £2000 to refurbish the existing gallery at Dulwich and £1000 for a mausoleum for himself and Mr and Mrs Desenfans. He recommended his friend Sir John Soane as the architect. Soane proposed a brand new gallery and integrated the mausoleum into its design. The gallery and mausoleum opened to the public in 1817.
Hope Mausoleum, Chart Park, Dorking, Surrey
This austere mausoleum was commissioned by Thomas Hope following the death of his son in 1817. Extensive conservation and restoration works were completed in 2016 and the mausoleum is accessible to the public on selected ‘heritage open days’.
The Darnley Mausoleum
Cobham Wood, Kent
The mausoleum overlooks the park at Cobham Hall, the former seat of the Earls of Darnley. It was completed in 1786 but, for reasons that remain unclear, possibly involving a dispute with the Bishop of Rochester, the mausoleum was not consecrated and could not be used for burial. Restored from a state of near ruin in the early 21st century, it is now a National Trust property.
The Howard Mausoleum
Henderskelfe, North Yorkshire
Modelled on the Tomb of Metella and designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, this is perhaps Britain’s finest mausoleum, standing on a hill in the grounds of Castle Howard. Horace Walpole esteemed it so highly that he declared it “would tempt one to be buried alive.” The mausoleum is not routinely open to the public but guided tours are occasionally arranged.
Within days of Prince Albert’s death in December 1861 Queen Victoria commanded a mausoleum to be built at her expense in the 35-acre gardens of Frogmore House. It was to contain his tomb and would be her future resting place beside him. Construction began the following March and the mausoleum was consecrated in December 1862.
In commissioning the mausoleum, Victoria is said to have been influenced by her admiration for Princess Charlotte’s neo-Gothic mausoleum at Claremont, Surrey. This was demolished in 1922 but a replica has recently been erected.
The Royal Mausoleum takes the form of a Greek cross. Its exterior was inspired by Italian Romanesque buildings, while the internal decoration – which took several years to complete – is in the style of Albert’s favourite painter, Raphael.
Nearby is a circular, colonnaded mausoleum for Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, who lived at Frogmore. Like Prince Albert, she died in 1861. Both mausolea were designed by Albert Humbert and the Dresden-born artist Ludwig Gruner, who had been Albert’s art adviser.
In the past the Royal Mausoleum was occasionally opened for public viewing but such tours have been suspended until after the completion of essential restoration work, for which no date has yet been set. However, Frogmore House and its gardens are open to visitors for three days every spring and to pre-booked groups of 15 people or more during August.
The website of the Mausolea and Monuments Trust was the primary source for the article above. It has over 500 detailed entries in its gazetteer of mausolea and funerary monuments in Great Britain and Ireland.
Photo credits (and licences): Constable Mausoleum, Halsham – Andy Beecroft (CC BY‑SA 2.0); Sinclair Mausoleum at Mains of Ulbster – Doug Lee (CC BY‑SA 2.0); St Andrew’s church and the Hopper Mausoleum – George Hodgson (CC BY‑SA 4.0); Darnley Mausoleum – ‘Marathon’ (CC BY‑SA 2.0); Howard Mausoleum – Oscar Henriquez Scott (CC BY‑SA 3.0); Royal Mausoleum – Antony McCallum (WyrdLight.com) (CC BY‑SA 3.0).