Subterranean Isleworth

If you have lived in the Isleworth area for a long period of time and are 50 years old and above, you will almost certainly of heard accounts from the then local senior Isleworthians of the existence of tunnels linking various sites. They would have told you that it was rumoured that the tunnels were used for smuggling purposes when Isleworth was a working dock (alas, many of the characters who offered these intriguing stories are no longer with us).

If you view Moses Glover’s Map of 1635, Isleworth was marked up as a Town Wharf, which would indicate that Isleworth has been a working dock for many years.. I can myself remember when sea-going coasters arrived at high tide and moored up just passed the London Apprentice Tavern, and near the Town Wharf Inn. The coasters were then unloaded by the local docker population.

Truth or Rumour?

With regards to the existance of tunnels, it is difficult to determine what is true and what is not. I suspect as the years went by the stories were exagerated and made more colourful. I have included in this blog the information I have discovered to date with regards to this fascinating subject…

Kilmorey Tunnel

Francis Jack Needham (Black Jack), the Second Earl of Kilmorey, purchased St Margarets House in 1851 and soon after bought Gordon House, where he resided. He had St Margarets House rebuilt in 1852. The Earl had separated from his wife, and had taken up with Priscilla, the youngest daughter of a personal friend, Captain William Hoste. After 1851, she became terminally ill and died on 21st October 1854. Whilst she was ill, he requested that a family mausoleum be built in Brompton Cemetery, which was finally granted and built in Egyptian style.

The Mausoleum was relocated from Brompton Cemetery when he moved his home to Woburn Park near Weybridge in 1862. In 1868 he returned back to Gordon House and brought the Mausoleum with him, to its final site on a plot of land adjacent to Richmond Road. He apparently had a tunnel built to access the Mausoleum from Gordon House. Jack Needham was somewhat eccentric, and it is said that he instructed his aides to push him, clothed in his shroud, in his coffin from Gordon House through the tunnel to his proposed final place of rest at the Mausoleum. This bizarre habit was carried out on a regular basis so that he could pre-experience the final route of his own funeral.

However all accounts suggest that although eccentric in a nice way he was overall a good, kind chap. He often arranged treats for his servants, such as going to the theatre, where they all attended as a group and sat together.

The Environmental Trust for Richmond Upon Thames volunteers now help to maintain the Mausoleum and the tranquil little garden that surrounds it, with some help from Richmond Council and English Heritage. The Mausoleum has two coffins which are illuminated during the day by a star-shaped yellow glass skylight, which shines down onto the coffins when the sun is out. A granite plinth, mounted at bench height, runs around the three sides of the Mausoleum.

On the right is the coffin of Priscilla Hoste. A metal plate is inscribed as follows:-

Priscilla, the beloved of Francis Jack Earl of Kilmorey
Born 26th June 1823. Died 21st October 1854

The other coffin is of the Second Earl of Kilmorey. A metal plate is inscribed as follows:-

Francis Jack, Second Earl of Kilmorey
Born 13th December 1787. Died 20th June 1880

Having had the opportunity to enter the Mausoleum I can advise that it is well worth a visit The site can be accessed on the open days organised by the Environmental Trust.

Tunnel – True or False?

From research at Richmond Local Studies Department at Richmond Library, the following was revealed: Local residents had never seen the tunnel – even by people who had still been alive only a few years after the funeral. In 1966, extensive investigations of the Mausoleum floor and gardens were carried out together with excavations. The same was carried out in Gordon House Cellars and surrounding grounds. The final piece of the jigsaw was established after local council records were discovered during the consrtuction of a sewer in the 1880s, which presumably located the tunnel. The tunnel was seen to be bricked up. The route ran under what is now Kilmorey Road, thus linking Gordon House grounds with the Mausoleum garden. A sloping pathway ran down to the tunnel at either end. The tunnel itself was plastered and painted with a green trellis design.