Open House London is a little different this year but you can still see Sir Richard and Lady Isabel Burton's eccentric mausoleum in Mortlake!

Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890) was an explorer, author, translator and diplomat. He could speak over 20 languages, from French to Arabic, led an expedition to find the source of the River Nile, translated works such as the Kama Sutra and 1,001 Arabian Nights, and was a diplomat in Damascus, Santos in Brazil, and Trieste.

Their remarkable mausoleum is shaped like a tent which the couple had specially designed for expeditions into the Syrian desert. The tent is created from thick slabs of York Stone from the Forest of Dean, and carved to look like it is rippling in the breeze (image 1).

Funds for the construction of the mausoleum were raised from a public subscription (which explains the reference to its having been “erected to his memory by his loving countrymen” in the ribbon plaque on the door). £665 was collected, equivalent to about £85,000 by 2019 levels.

You can peer into the mausoleum through a small window at the rear. Inside, camel bells and lanterns acquired by the couple are stung from the ceiling (image 2). Paintings adorn the walls and stars and crescents in gold leaf border the outside of the tomb.

Please note, there is no access into the mausoleum. There is a short ladder at the rear of the mausoleum leading to a window through which you can see the interior. There is a narrow entrance way into the cemetery; the paths are uneven. Please email [email protected] is you have any access requirements.

Environment Trust will be making every effort to ensure that the mausoleum is Covid safe. 

Banner image and image 2 by Alexa Bailey

Burton: Exploring Without Boundaries Support our work to conserve the mausoleum of Sir Richard Burton, the famous Victorian explorer. Find out more

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