Nestled away in an unsuspecting sleepy catholic cemetery in Suburban South London lies the opulent tomb of forgotten aristocrat Sir Richard Burton. It is a testament to Victorian spirit of whimsy and grandiosity. We happened upon it in The London Open House guide and couldn’t resist going to have a peek at this oddity of devotion. Created as a memorial to her husband, the tent was designed by Burton’s widow Isabel and it houses both of their tombs.This opulent wigwam mausoleum is just about the most bizarre and exotically grandiose tomb I have ever seen.
The stone tent itself is an ostentatious parade of exhibitionism, a fanfare of memorial, it has a viewing station at the back through which the tombs of Sir Richard Burton and his wife can be viewed, alongside artifacts from his life and travels, by climbing a metal ladder to the roof of the wigwam!
The story of Richard Burton is almost as intriguing and eccentric as his tomb. Wikipedia’s entry for Burton is peppered with the most salacious aspects of his life. A captain in the army of The East India Company, Burton kept a large menagerie of tame monkeys in the hope of learning their language. He was an intrepid traveller who spent much time in Africa including an infamous trip to Mecca in 1851 where he completed the Hajj, requiring him to assimilate himself with local customs & dress. A rumour which haunted Burton up to his death relayed a tale of murder committed by Burton upon an Arab child who had discovered him urinating in the European style during pilgrimage and thus calling into question his identity.
Burton was the first person to bring The Karma Sutra to Britain and translated the first full length copy of The Thousand & One Nights still in print today. A maverick who was expelled from Oxford, he was rumoured to have trampled his colleges flowerbeds with his horse and carriage in an act of defiance upon departure.
Burton’s fascination with human sexuality, which he documented widely on his travels, led him to establish The Kama Shastra Society which circulated erotic literature not deemed fit for public circulation. The very definition of the British Eccentric, a transgressor of both social and sexual mores of the time, his unconventional life is brilliantly enshrined in splendid oddity by his widow, read her wonderful inscription on his tomb below:
If this memorial intrigues you, it is located between Barnes & Mortlake, here. For detail on visiting this spectacular mausoleum follow the link to the website of St Mary Magdalen’s Roman Catholic Church.