Strangely situated in a suburban cemetery, near a perfectly sweet but average Church, lies a charming testimonial to dash, daring, and most certainly romance. This IS a love story, but I was too busy indulging my love of a certain Chateau (as in l’Horizon) on Valentines Day to post it.
Well, as you can see, this is the mausoleum of Sir Richard Francis Burton, dashing genius infidel, speaker of 28 languages, author, and translator of the Ariabian Nights and the Kama Sutra. Burton was a devotee of love and adventure. For 10 years he was pursued by Isabel Arundell to distant lands, and against her family’s wishes, until he in fact wed her.
I’m sure I am not alone in crediting dearest dearest Lesley Blanch, author of my beloved ‘Wilder Shores of Love‘ for imparting the details of Isabelle’s quest…for is it a love story?…I’m not sure, not MY idea of love, but yes, a romantic and captivating story none the less, and I read of it via Blanch.
A few years ago I sneaked off early one morning with my little one (in her Chinese pyjama’s I see!? – how appropriate! – sorry about the Uggs) to find this monument to love, which was in a pretty sad state despite having undergone a restoration in 1975, subsequent to which the door (which had been hinged operable) was sealed. I was beyond touched though, by the execution of the Turkish tent in Forrest of Dean stone, the rope and swag details. Entirely enchanting. The link to St.Mary’s church is here:
Here Isabelle and Richard lie side by side in faded oriental splendour.
Isabelle made regular visits to Richard’s grave from her home in Baker Street and on one of these visits she noticed that a small cottage close to the churchyard was available for rent. She justified the rental by saving the fare travelling to and fro from London and that it would be more pleasant in Mortlake than central London in the summer. She had a name-plate made for “Our Cottage” and planted roses, ivy and honeysuckle round the front door. She now needed morphine injections to help her cope with the pain of the cancer, but she was determined to republish 34 of Richard’s works in a Memorial Edition. In only 8 months she finished the 2-volume biography of Richard, The Life of Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, which was published on 11 July 1893.
The book was a great success and Isabel wrote “With my earnings I am embellishing his mausoleum, and am putting up in honour of his poem Kasidah, festoons of camel bells from the desert, in the roof of the tent where he lies, so that when I open or shut the door…the tinkling of the camel bells will sound just as it does in the desert. On 22 January  I am going to pass the day in it as it is my thirty-third wedding day and the bells will ring for the first time.”
Things were in a bad way in 2007 as you can see, but I had heard that a restoration campaign was underway. Worrying, because ‘restoration’, as we know from Ruskin is a complicated issue, and I hoped very much they wouldn’t make it too shiny and new.
On the upper part of the stone door is a carved marble ‘Book of Life’ giving Burton’s details.
Although the pair embraced their adopted culture Isabelle was Catholic…it was not entirely straightforward. From the foot of the cross extending on each of the sides is a row of gilt crescents. As originally designed the crescents would have been above cross and below the star (sorry! the star on top is cut off in my picture!), but the Catholic hierarchy placed a veto upon a Christian emblem occupying a sub-ordinate relation to the most important of the Moslem insignia. Well, I suppose since it’s a Catholic cemetery…things are never straightforward are they! What matters to me, is that it all looks pretty and pleasing.
The stone has been cleaned and whitewashed, the gilt highlights reinstated.
The window at the back where you can peek into the mausoleum is still there, and clean as a whistle.
The interior is restored to a level of faded glory in keeping with the antiques and artifacts that were so carefully chosen and paid for by Isabel. Also, a mirror has cleverly been installed over the interior of the entrance door so that one can see the shrine.
Isabel’s tinkling camel bells – sigh. Can you see how they are wired so that when the door opens they jingle?
You can just see the gilt star of Bethlehem that surmounts the front peak on this picture.
And I couldn’t leave without sharing this delightful Serge Roche-esque number with you (albeit executed in the late 19th century) – Thomasina Sophia may you rest in peace, and what great style you had.