It’s a strange thing when you’re a self-confessed taphophile, you take your dog for an innocent walk in the woods and the next minute you’ve stumbled across a secret mausoleum!
In a stretch of woods in Ockham Common, Surrey stands the Samuelson Mausoleum. Built in 1919 and designed by Rowland Plumbe, it was commissioned by Sir Henry Samuelson for his father Sir Bernhard Samuelson (1820 – 1905), an agricultural machinery manufacturer, Fellow of the Royal Society and Liberal member of Parliament; his wife Caroline (1821 – 1886) and their daughter Florence (1857 – 1881). All three were originally interred in Torquay Cemetery, a place Sir Bernhard was very fond of, having stayed in Churston regularly and moored his steam yacht ‘Brilliant’.
His wish to be buried in Torquay with his wife and daughter was reflected in the obituary written by his eldest daughter Caroline for the Banbury Guardian:
‘And now he comes, who dearly loved them both,
Wearied with years and honours, nobly borne;
He comes to lie beside them, nothing loth
To rest and sleep beneath the smiling morn.’
So how did he end up in woods by the M25 in Surrey? At first Sir Henry, probably eager to display his love and honour for his father simply commissioned the Arts and Crafts Movement sculptor George Frampton RA to design a chest tomb cast in bronze to stand over the grave in Torquay. The tomb weighed over a ton and was emblazoned with the Samuelson coat of arms and family motto ‘Post Tenebras Lux’ – after darkness comes dawn. Elsewhere on the tomb was the inscription ‘By my own works before the night, great Overseer, I make my prayer’ which might point to Sir Bernhard being part of the Freemasons.
In December 1906 Sir Henry purchased Hatchford Park and mansion, no doubt with the money left for him from his father, and set about a few home improvements which included adding a racing stable and filling the mansion with antiques. Then in 1919, nearly a century after his parent’s births, he decided to honour them with a much grander addition, a Temple of Sleep (or mausoleum as they are known) in the grounds a few minutes’ walk from the mansion. The design for the mausoleum came from Montacute House in Somerset which Sir Henry remembered as a boy when his father rented it on occasions. He had the same architect who worked on the mansion at Hatchford, Rowland Plumbe, draw up plans (although he would die of heart failure before the mausoleum was completed) for the temple.
The mausoleum itself has a mixture of styles and plays to Sir Henry’s obvious love of classical antiquities. On the architrave are inscriptions in Latin, Greek, and English. The inscriptions read as followed: “the child is dead but sleeps” (Matthew xi, 24), “there shall be no death, nor weeping, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation xxi, 4), “lautus cui in diem licet dixisse vixisse” – “happy the man who can say each day ‘I have lived life to the full’”.
The mausoleum is built with a sort of chapel in the centre, marked out with a black cross on the tiled floor. Originally the ceiling was painted dark blue with gold stars and the coffins were set in niches behind walls at either side of the chapel. These walls were then covered with carved wooden panels. Today all that remains is the cross on the floor and small vent holes around the outside of the building which gives any indication of what the building was originally used for (the holes being used to circulate the air into the mausoleum to aid decomposition).
On the 14th April 1920 the remains of Sir Bernhard, Caroline and Florence were exhumed from their graves in Torquay, along with the bronze chest tomb and travelled the 170 miles to their final resting place in the Surrey countryside. The mausoleum was consecrated in the October and the building was declared as “set apart from all common and profane uses as a place for the interment of the dead forever”.
Forever seems to have unfortunately only lasted until 1960. Sir Henry seemed to have the somewhat romantic notion that generations of the Samuelson family would live in Hatchford House and then be laid to rest in the mausoleum; he himself was the first one to buck the trend. In 1924 his health deteriorated and he along with Lady Samuelson moved permanently to their home on the Côte d’Azur, where he died in 1937. His desire was the mausoleum be kept in good condition and it was for the intervening years as when Hatchford House was sold the mausoleum and land surrounding it was not included in the sale and was conveyed to the local church. However, in 1960/61 a member of the public was crossing the common when they spotted some men with a winch and lorry removing the bronze tomb. He called the police but by the time they arrived both the men and the tomb were long gone. In a stroke of luck, they were later apprehended by local police because of a faulty taillight on their truck and the tomb was replaced. The tomb, unfortunately, disappeared again soon afterwards and has never been recovered.
As the years passed the crypt doors and panelling have gone missing, graffiti has been etched into the walls and smoke marks from fires can be found on the stone. This flamed the rumour that witches were allegedly using the site to practise their dark rituals.
The mansion and grounds have changed hands over many years; during World War II it was taken over by the War Office and then in 1952 it was used as a residential school for children with disabilities. The mansion was also used in 1969 for the filming of the Doctor Who serial ‘Spearhead from Space’. In 1992 Surrey County Council assumed responsibility for the site and repair work began on the mausoleum and surrounding area such as tree felling and the replacement of fallen masonry. The house is now privately owned and the mausoleum is still under SCC’s ownership.
Since writing this post I have gone back to the mausoleum many times, it’s only a 15-minute drive from where I live and I can’t help but feel sorry for Sir Bernhard, Caroline, and Florence. They’ve seen so much change around them from their temple of sleep in the woods and yet this whole time they seem to have been largely forgotten. The M25, one of the busiest roads in the country, runs right next to the boundary of the site and I wonder that if Sir Henry had known the future fate of the mausoleum whether he would have built it at all. While I’m sure his attentions were good I doubt he intended it to be a surprise attraction for dog walkers and cemetery obsessed goths.
Before you visit:
The mausoleum is on the A3 M25 junction next to RHS Garden Wisley, parking is available (at a charge) opposite Wisley Common on Boldermere car park. The grounds are free to walk around and the mausoleum is free to access.
There is also a tower that was built as part of the Royal Navy Semaphore line in the area known as Chatley Heath that is well worth a look.