The Dashwood Mausoleum stands on top of West Wycombe Hill next to the Church of St Lawrence. The tower of the Church, which is capped with a golden ball, rises behind the Mausoleum and together they form one of the most famous landmarks in Britain.
The original 14th Century tower was raised and capped with a golden ball in 1752/3 by Sir Francis Dashwood. It is thought that he was inspired by the Customs Building in Venice which has a similar golden ball on the roof. Sir Francis visited Venice and spent six months there on his early travels during his Grand Tour. The aim was to make the Tower part of the landscape when viewed from the House, as an eyecatcher on the opposite hill-side, as well as from High Wycombe, about three miles further to the east.
At the same time, Sir Francis was building a new road between West Wycombe and High Wycombe to replace the ancient one which ran along the valley. The latter was badly rutted so that carriages frequently overturned. This new road was built with chalk quarried from the Caves beneath the hill at West Wycombe. The project served a dual purpose providing a new road and relieving unemployment caused by a succession of harvest failures. Sir Francis was a keen proponent of public works and had previously introduced a bill in Parliament to encourage the adoption of this policy in order to relieve unemployment. The building of the roads and the excavation of the chalk was his private contribution to such a policy.
The road was completed in 1752 and a stone column capped with a ball was erected in October that year by Banister Watts at a cost of £27 7s 8d at the junction of the Oxford and Aylesbury Road, where it still stands. The inscription reads "F Dashwood
Erae Christianae MDCCLll, from the University Miles XXII, from the County Town, Miles XV, from the City Miles XXX".
At Camberley, about thirty miles away, a similar tower with a golden ball was erected by John Norris, who lived at nearby Hughenden Manor. He was a member of the Hellfire Club as well as being a Member of Parliament and friend of Sir Francis. It is believed that Norris and Dashwood used to signal to each other by heliograph (reflecting the rays of the sun with a mirror) from their respective golden balls.
Sir Francis also rebuilt the church in 1763 at a cost of £6,000. The nave was copied from the ruins of the Sun Temple at Palmyra built in the 3rd Century AD. At the time the church was considered one of the most beautiful in the country.
In 1762 George Bubb Dodington, Lord Melcombe Regis, a close friend of Sir Francis died. In his will, he left £500 "to build an arch, temple, column or additional room to such of his seats where it is likely to remain the longest".
The actual cost of building the Mausoleum in 1765 was £495 5s 3d
. The builder was John Bastard and the architect is believed to be Nicholas Revett, who was employed by Sir Francis from about 1765 until his death in 1781.
An early drawing proposed a building based on San Micheles' fortified gateway in Verona. It was to have a raised central feature with a panel for a Latin inscription. However, this proposal was scrapped and replaced with this enormous hexagonal open building which has massive walls faced with flint inside and out. Each side has a vast arch flanked by Tuscan columns, as well as smaller arches, and rectangular openings. Inside there are numerous arched and rectangular recesses or niches designed to hold memorial slabs, busts or urns.
On the roof are huge vases of Coade stone. The latter was produced by the inimitable Mrs Coade from her factory at Lambeth, which she had started in 1769. Coade stone is a form of kiln-fired pottery, which is immensely durable and impervious to weathering. The Mausoleum is unique and does not appear to be derived from an antique structure.
The name 'Mausoleum ' is not really appropriate for a large enclosed private burial ground. The word signifies a magnificent tomb and originated from that of King Mausolus of Carina in Asia Minor which was erected by his wife, Artemesia, in the 4th. Century BC. Mausolus and Artemesia were not only husband and wife but also brother and sister. Marriages of this sort, although abhorrent to the Greeks, were not uncommon in antiquity among the ruling families of the East and may have been motivated by a desire to keep the royal blood pure. Mausolus died in 353/2 BC after a successful rule of 24 years. Artemesia two years later.
According to the Roman architect, Vitruvius, the Mausoleum was built by two Greek architects named Satyros and Pytheus, whilst four Greek sculptures of the first rank, Scopas, Bryaxis, Timotheos and Leochares were each given one side of the structure to decorate. Vitruvius and Pliny agreed that it was their work which especially gave the Mausoleum its place amongst the seven wonders of the world. Between 1494 and 1522 large quantities of stone were removed by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem to fortify their castle at Bodrum, while much of the marble was burned for lime. One of the knights described how in the course of the work of demolition they came upon a small opening leading down to a square room decorated with marble columns and sculptured reliefs. 'Having first admired these and entertained their fancy with the singularity of the sculpture, they proceeded to pull it to pieces and break it up like the rest.'
In another compartment, they found a sarcophagus with a marble lid, but they were obliged to withdraw for the night before having time to examine it. When they returned the following day it had been despoiled and the earth all around was strewn with fragments of cloth of gold and roundels of the same metal. By the 19th. Century all that remained were the foundations and a quantity of broken sculpture. *
* Extracted from "Architecture and the After Life" by Sir Howard Colvin
The Dashwood Mausoleum is dedicated to George Dodington, Baron of Melcombe Regis, John, Earl of Westmorland, Baron le Despencer & Burghersh, who was the uncle and guardian of Sir Francis, and to Francis, Baron le Despence. In the centre is a cenotaph consisting of four columns supporting a roof and covering a marble urn on a pedestal. This urn was copied from two Porphyry urns which were in the house. Porphyry was greatly prized in Roman times. It could only be obtained from Egypt and was especially sort after by Popes in the 12th. Century for their burial as a way of claiming parity with Emperors. This monument was erected in memory of Sarah, Baroness le Despencer, who died in 1769. She was Sir Francis's wife and the widow of Sir Richard Ellys of Nocton, a great antiquarian and book collector.
The finest monument, which is in variegated marbles with mourning cherubs, was the work of Francis Bird. It stands at the back of the Mausoleum but was originally in the chancel of the old church. It is dedicated to Mary King and Lady Mary Fane, the daughter and co-heiress of Vere, Earl of Westmorland. These were two of the four wives of the first Sir Francis who had bought West Wycombe in 1698.
Another curious monument is the urn to the poet Paul Whitehead who was also steward of the Hellfire Club. Whitehead died in 1774, leaving the following bequest "I give to the Right Hon. Lord le Despencer my heart aforesaid together with £50 to be laid out in the purchase of a marble urn in which I desire may be deposited and placed, if His Lordship pleases, in some corner of the Mausoleum as a memorial of his warm attachment to the noble founder."
Paul Whitehead's wish was duly carried out and with much pomp and flamboyance. It is described in a contemporary account as follows:-
"At half past eleven, a Company of the Buckinghamshire Militia (Subsequently, the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, now the 4th (Volunteer Batta!ion) Royal Green Jackets) and their Officers (Lord le Despencer at their head) in regimentals, with crapes round their arms, seven vocal performers habited as a choir, in surplices, attended (at West Wycombe House), with fifes, flutes, horns, and a drum covered with crape. The procession began with the Soldiers, etc., who marched round a spot chosen for that purpose, three several times, the Choir singing select pieces of music conducted by Mr Atterbury and Mr Mulso, suitable to the occasion, accompanied with the other instruments. This finished, six Grenadiers went into the grand hall (of West Wycombe House), and brought the very elegant urn of curious and variegated marble, which contained the Heart. The Epitaph upon the urn was as follows:-
PAUL WHITEHEAD, ESQ
OBIT, DEC.30, 1774
UNHALLOWED HANDS, THIS URN FOREBEAR!
NO GEMS OR ORIENT SPOIL
LIE HERE CONCEALED- BUT, WHAT'S MORE RARE,
A HEART THAT KNEW NO GUILE!
On one side of the urn was a medallion of white marble, of elegant workmanship, with the following curious device: three several figures, highly finished, appeared in the medallion. I could not learn the history of the first of them; the second was the image of Aesculapius, the God of Physic; attending the deceased in his last illness but in vain. The urn was carried on a bier supported by six Grenadiers, who were attended by six more as a corps de reserve. The rest of the soldiers and musicians were preceded by Mr Powel, Curate of High Wycombe; and the urn was followed by Lord le Despencer alone, the Officers and Militia-men following, two by two, which closed the procession. The funeral march thus regulated, the procession passed in the most solemn manner through the gardens to the hill whereon the Mausoleum was erected; the time was upwards of two hours. When the procession obtained the Mausoleum, they marched three times around, to instrumental music, and, before the urn was deposited in its niche, this incantation was sung as a set and written by Dr Arnold:
"From Earth to Heaven WHITEHEAD'S soul is fled;
Refulgent glories beam around his head!
His Muse, concording with resounding strings,
Gives Angel's words to praise the King of Kings."
The urn was then placed on a very elegant pedestal of white marble; after which, minute guns were fired, and a triple salute by the Soldiery. To give more dignity to this solemn celebration, the Oratoria of Goliah was performed in West Wycombe church, having been composed for the occasion by Dr Arnold. All persons were admitted, who gave a mite to the poor-box, and a great concourse attended to pay their last respects to the guileless heart of honest PAUL WHITEHEAD.'
The minute guns were fired from a sixty-ton frigate which was anchored on the lake. They had been captured from a French privateer and were frequently used on ceremonial occasions. Whitehead's heart was frequently taken out and shown to visitors until it was stolen by an Australian in 1829. There is also a carved, marble slab commemorating Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord le Despencer, who died in 1781. It was recorded that he was ''beloved, respected and revered by all who knew him".
His natural daughter, Rachel Antonina Lee, left her bust to be placed in the Mausoleum. It stood together with busts of his sister, Lady Austin and Lord Melcombe Regis and others which have unfortunately all since been lost.
During the 19th-century major repairs to the Mausoleum were carried out by Lady Elizabeth Dashwood, the widow of the 5th Baronet. By 1956 the Mausoleum was in a serious state of disrepair so Francis Dashwood, the 11th Baronet, had the building and monuments restored with the help of a grant of £2,000 from the Council for the Propitiation of Historic Monuments and Buildings. The sculptors responsible for this work were Mr Angelo Delcouchverto MGLCM and Mrs Beryl Hardman ARCA.
See the Owlsworth Construction Mausoleum restoration video below
Most of the original busts and commemorative urns have been removed or stolen and are listed as follows:-
JOSEPH BORGNIS 1704-61
Borgnis, a painter from Craveggia in Italy, came to England with other members of his family, in about 1751 at the invitation of Sir Francis Dashwood. He painted many of the fine ceilings and frescoes in West Wycombe House, and in the Church of St. Lawrence. His terracotta bust is now in the main house at West Wycombe Park.
RACHEL FRANCES ANTONINA LEE
Natural daughter of Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord le Despencer, and the actress, Frances Barry. (Bust missing)
RACHEL, LADY AUSTIN D. 1788
Sister of Francis, Baron le Despencer. (Bust missing)
PAUL WHITEHEAD 1710-74
Poet and Steward of the Hellfire Club
Original in the main house at West Wycombe.
CLARA ADELAIDE IDA CONYERS D. 1944
Widow of Sir Robert Dashwood, 9th. Baronet, and wife of Captain Alexander Robert Fraser.
LADY MARY FANE 1675- 1710
2nd wife of Sir Francis Dashwood, 1st. Baronet, and mother of Francis, Baron Le Despencer
MARY KING 1684- 1719
3rd wife of Sir Francis Dashwood, 1st. Baronet, and mother of Sir John Dashwood King, who succeeded Francis, Baron de Despencer, and from whom the present Baronet is descended.
CAPTAIN ROBERT HENRY LINDSAY DASHWOOD 1897- 1918
Youngest son of Sir Robert, 9th Baronet.
Royal Yorkshire Regiment. Killed in action.
THOMAS THOMPSON, M.D.
Doctor to Frederick, Prince of Wales. (Bust missing)
GEORGE BUBB DODINGTON
Baron of Melcombe Regis 1691 - 1762
An influential member of Parliament. (Bust missing)
SIR ROBERT JOHN DASHWOOD 1859 - 1908
9th Baronet. Deputy Lieutenant for Buckinghamshire.
SIR JOHN LINDSAY DASHWOOD 1896 - 1966
10th. Baronet. C.V.O.
1952, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and Tank Corps 1914 - 1918, Assistant Marshall of Diplomatic Corps 1933- 1958, High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire 1934.
VICTORIA ANN ELIZABETH GWYNNE DE RUTZEN 1928 - 1976
Widow of Sir Francis Dashwood, 11th Baronet and mother of present Premier Baronet of Great Britain, Sir Edward Dashwood, 12th. Baronet.
HELEN MOYRA EATON 1899 - 1989
Widow of Sir John Dashwood, 10th. Baronet and daughter of Lt. Col. Vernon Eaton of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, killed at Vimy Ridge 1916.