At the time it was an absolute scandal - a veritable cause célèbre! He was 53, an acolyte of the occult, a peer of the realm and married with children. She was a blushing 20 year old - and his legal ward. There was much to gossip about for the antimacassar set of early Victorian society!
It was also a love affair, mutually shared and enjoyed, that some believed would last beyond the grave because of a Time Machine that still stands in St Margarets… a Time Machine that is about to open its heavy bronze doors once again.
He was Francis Jack Needham, 2nd Earl of Kilmorey, (12 December 1787 - 20 June 1880), known as Viscount Newry to his political contemporaries and ‘Black Jack’ to the locals. He was an Anglo-Irish peer and Member of Parliament. She was Priscilla Anne Hoste, the daughter of naval hero Admiral Sir William Hoste and his wife Lady Harriet Walpole. Priscilla’s father died when she was only 5 years old and her mother, “careless of her relations with Lord Kilmorey” allowed him to become her daughter’s legal guardian. It was a match made in the stars. Although Francis Jack was married, a grandfather and 35 years older than Priscilla they immediately took to each other. In 1843, when she was 20 they eloped together. A search was made but it appeared that they had fled abroad. A year later they returned to England and in July 1844, a son, Charles, was born at Cross Deep House in Twickenham. Although the boy was born out of wedlock ‘Francis Jack’ immediately acknowledged the boy as his own and gave him his surname. The gossips said that Francis Jack established his young mistress in a house next door to his own family home with a tunnel linking the two. There will be other tunnels in this story.
In 1851 Priscilla, still only 28 years old, fell seriously ill with a terminal heart condition, exacerbated the scandal mongers said by the arcane love rituals that she and ‘Black Jack’, an ‘aficionado’ of the occult, enjoyed together. Sensing that death might soon part them forever Black Jack set about finding a way to keep them united beyond the grave.
A fellow occultist, the Egyptologist Joseph Bonomi suggested the construction of an Egyptian mausoleum covered with hieroglyphs and dedicated to Osiris, the god of resurrection. It would serve as a portal to the underworld and a machine for travel through time and space. In the latter respect it succeeded rather well. The noted Victorian architect, Henry Edward Kendall was commissioned to do the job.
Priscilla eventually died in October 1854, and was quietly interred in her mausoleum in Brompton Cemetery under the inscription “Priscilla, the beloved of Francis Jack, Earl of Kilmorey”. It cost £30,000 to build, an enormous amount of money at the time and was large enough to accommodate the heartbroken Francis Jack when his time came. It resembled the shrine at the heart of an Egyptian temple, the sacred home of a god. A white marble carved relief on the wall by portrait sculptor Lawrence Macdonald showed Priscilla on her death bed, with her young son Charles and Francis Jack in tearful attendance.
The mausoleum sat quietly in Brompton Cemetery until 1862 when it began its travels. First it was moved at the cost of £700 to Francis Jack’s new home in Woburn Park in Chertsey. Fortunately the mausoleum had been designed to strip down easily which proved useful when in 1868 it took off again to Gordon House in St Margarets, Francis Jack’s latest home. A tunnel was built between the mausoleum and Gordon House and it was said that when Francis Jack was ‘in the mood’ he would dress in ‘white garb’ and be wheeled by his servants through the tunnel to the mausoleum, where he would lie in his coffin next to Priscilla, recreating perhaps the daily journey of the sun god Ra as he regenerated from death back to life again with the rising sun.
On the 20th June 1880, at the age of 92, Francis Jack Needham, 2nd Earl of Kilmorey, died and was interred next to his beloved Priscilla in marbled mausolistic mutuality. They lie there still…waiting for you.
Over the years the Kilmorey Mausoleum fell into disrepair but in 2015 the building and the surrounding wildlife garden were dramatically restored. The perimeter wall and cast iron railings were reinstated along with the original herringbone path. The overhanging trees were trimmed back. Now the mausoleum and its occupants, Black Jack and Priscilla are ready once again to receive visitors… assuming of course that they haven’t been teleported back to the days of the Pharaohs!
The Environment Trust will be opening the Kilmorey Mausoleum, St Margarets Drive, TW1 1QN - opposite the Ailsa Tavern - to the public on Sunday 24th July from 1pm -5pm. Admission is free.
– from Martyn Day