One of the more uniquely designed tombs in London, that of Victorian explorer, soldier, linguist and diplomat Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890; not to be confused with the actor of the same name) was created in the shape of a Bedouin tent.

Located in the cemetery of St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church in Mortlake in south-west London, the Grade II* tomb was designed by Burton’s strongly Catholic wife, Isabel, Lady Burton (1831-96), who is buried in it with him (his body was brought back from Trieste, Italy, where he expired; hers added after he death several years later). The tent’s form was apparently inspired by one the couple stayed in during a visit to Syria.

The tomb, which is constructed of stone from the Forest of Dean and Carrara marble and topped with two gilt stars, looks a fitting tribute for Burton who not only took part in the search for the source of the Nile but also scandalously translated the texts The Arabian Nights, The Perfumed Garden and The Kama Sutra into English.

The coffins of the couple can be seen inside the tomb through a large window in the rear of the roof which is accessed by a short ladder. The interior is also decorated with a range of items including religious paintings, statues and other items symbolic of the Catholic faith as well as strings of camel bells.

The inscription on the front of the mausoleum features a commemorative sonnet by poet Justin Huntly McCarthy as well as the inscription, “This monument is erected to his memory by his living countrymen”.

The tomb was restored in 1975 and more recently in 2012-13.

The interior of the church also features a memorial to Burton (who actually described himself as an atheist). It takes the form of a stained glass window which depicts Burton as a medieval knight.

WHERE: St Mary Magdalen Church, 61 North Worple Way, Mortlake (nearest overground station is Mortlake); WHEN: Reasonable hours; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmarymags.org.uk.

PICTURES: Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

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One of the more eccentric grave monuments in London, this massive triangular shaped memorial in a Pinner churchyard was erected by landscape gardener and horticultural writer John Claudius Loudon for his parents.

Located in the churchyard of St John the Baptist, the massive Grade II-listed monument is shaped like an inverted V with an arch piercing the base and features what appears to be a stone coffin stuck through it about halfway up the structure.

On one end, it bears an inscription to Scottish merchant William Loudon, who died on 29th December, 1809, and, on the other end, another to his wife Agnes, who died on 14th October, 1841.

It’s been suggested – and the words on the ornamental ironwork in the arch, ‘I Byde My Time’, are seen as supporting this theory –  that the reason for the odd design lies in the terms of a will which stipulated Loudon and his wife would only inherit a sum of money if their bodies stayed above ground.

That theory kind of falls apart, however, given that they are actually both buried below the monument. Another theory suggests the monument was deliberately designed to show that the couple were socially above – or perhaps closer to God – than the rest of those buried in the graveyard.

John Claudius Loudon, who died in 1843 – just a couple of years after the monument was erected, is buried at Kensal Green.

WHERE: St John the Baptist Church, Church Lane, Pinner (nearest Tube station is Pinner); WHEN: Reasonable hours; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.pinnerparishchurch.org.uk

PICTURE: Top – Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0/cropped); Right – Peter Reed (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0/cropped)


The mausoleum of wealthy London socialite Hannah Courtoy, located in the grounds of Brompton Cemetery in West London, resembles something akin to an Egyptian-style tomb monument – making it a rather unusual addition to the graveyard. But more bizarre still is that some believe it may contain a time machine.

Courtoy, who had controversially inherited a fortune from merchant John Courtoy with whom she had three daughters but never married, died in 1849. She was buried in this rather odd-looking mausoleum (along with two of her three daughters).

It has been claimed that the tomb was designed by Joseph Bonomi, a sculptor and Egyptologist who is actually buried only a short distance away, with those who believe so pointing to Egyptian imagery – including scarab beetles, a symbol of eternal life – decorating the tomb’s imposing bronze portal as evidence of his involvement.

And that’s where the time machine idea also comes in – some Victorians were known to believe that the ancient pharoahs of Egypt had discovered the secret of time travel and it has been floated that Bonomi might have discovered this secret when on expedition in Egypt, brought it back with him to London and employed what he learnt in the construction of this mausoleum (hence why it took four years to build).

The claims around this tomb are that the mausoleum, located close to the centre of the cemetery, is not in fact a time machine but some kind of teleportation device. And that the builder, working in collaboration with Bonomi, was Samuel Warner, the inventor of the torpedo, who is also buried nearby, this time in an unmarked grave.

WHERE: Brompton Cemetery (South Gate off Fulham Rd. North Gate off Old Brompton Rd) (nearest Tube stations are West Brompton and Earl’s Court); WHEN: 7am to various closing times daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/brompton-cemetery.

PICTURES: Edwardx (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).

 

Frank C Bostock is not a name you’d probably immediately recognise but his grave monument gives a big clue to his profession.

Born in 1866 into a family that ran a travelling menagerie (his grandfather was the famous George Wombwell who is buried at Highgate Cemetery), Frank, who became a lion tamer while still a teenager, initially worked as part of the family operation.

In his late 20s, however, he travelled to the US where he established his own menagerie in New York initially in Brooklyn and later at Coney Island. He later returned to the UK and there set up a massive touring exhibition, known as the Jungle, that travelled from city to city.

Bostock died, ostensibly from the flu, on 8th October, 1912. He was buried at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington in what was by all accounts a grand affair.

The Grade II-listed rectangular white marble grave cover, made by Millward and Co, is topped with a carved figure of a sleeping lion.

There’s said to be a couple of traditions associated with the grave – one says people stroke the lion’s left paw for luck, the other says people place flowers under the lion’s paws for the same.

WHERE: Highgate East Cemetery, Swain’s Lane (nearest Tube station is Archway); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: £4 adults/children under 18 and members free; WEBSITE: highgatecemetery.org/visit/cemetery/east.

PICTURE: Taken in July, 2011. Julian Walker (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).