architecture, church, County Durham, garden, Mausoleum

Windlestone Mausoleum, Rushyford, County Durham

Historic Environment Scotland, SC 1387147 © HES (Dick Peddie and McKay Collection)

Researching her recent post on the Monteath Mausoleum in the Scottish Borders, the Folly Flâneuse chanced upon a mention of a mausoleum at Windlestone, County Durham. Further investigation revealed that the Windlestone and Monteath mausolea are siblings, realised by the same architect and builder, at the same date. Sadly, whilst the Monteath mausoleum has been restored to its former glory, that at Windlestone was demolished late in the 20th century.

NB if you want to catch up on the Monteath Mausoleum read this post first: 

Of the two burial places, the Monteath Mausoleum was the first born, with work commencing in 1864. It is interesting that Sir William chose J. Dick Peddie of Edinburgh as his architect, for although prolific in Scotland the Windlestone mausoleum seems to have been Peddie’s only English commission. Sir William may have been familiar with the plans for the Monteath Mausoleum, possibly from seeing Peddie’s design in the Royal Scottish Academy exhibition in spring 1865. He may also have been familiar with the new banking hall that Peddie had created for the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh. Opened in 1857, the extension to what had been Sir Laurence Dundas’s 18th century mansion in St Andrew’s Square was widely admired. The dome features 120 stars, and smaller versions of the design would soon feature in the plans for the Monteath and Eden mausolea.

The star-studded dome of the Royal Bank of Scotland banking hall. The building is freely accessible during opening hours.

Sir William commissioned Peddie to design a ‘chapel-tomb’ in which could rest the remains of his four children who had died in their infancy. In plan the building was cruciform, and like the Monteath structure it was surmounted with a dome pierced with star-shaped openings. Each arm of the cross was terminated with a pediment, that at the entrance being supported by columns. Advertisements were placed to recruit workmen in June 1765 and, as in Scotland, the work was superintended by James Harkness of Hawick, who must have found the commute to Durham somewhat more cumbersome. Tragically for Sir William and Lady Eden, two daughters died just before work began, and 12 year old Blanche and 8 year old Rose were buried together at the parish church in nearby Merrington until the vault was ready.

Historic Environment Scotland, SC 1387147 © HES (Dick Peddie and McKay Collection)

Peddie’s initial designs show that, as at the Monteath Mausoleum, sculpted angels were to watch over the dead, although at Windelstone there were to be four on the exterior of the building. They do not appear on the updated design of September 1865 and were probably never implemented.

Historic Environment Scotland, DP 308180 © HES (Dick Peddie and McKay Collection)

The ‘mortuary chapel’ at Windlestone was consecrated in May 1868 and in July Sir William noted in his diary that ‘during the night the remains of our six dear children’ were moved into the new building from their previous resting places at St Helen’s, St Helen Auckland, and St John the Evangelist, Merrington. In the pediment was carved a child shepherd with his crook, and a small pelican tearing its breast to symbolise paternal piety. An inscription read ‘Ego sum pastor bonus et agnosco oves meas’: ‘I am the good shepherd and I know my sheep’. Sir William himself was interred there on his death in 1873.

Peddie was clearly proud of the building and a sectional view was published in The Builder in 1880. Two years later he showed a work called  ‘Windlestone Mausoleum’ at the Royal Scottish Academy exhibition, current whereabouts unknown.

An early 19th century postcard, courtesy of Durham County Record Office, D/PH 261/9.

In 1911 the gardens at Windlestone were in their prime and a later Sir William was praised as an ‘expert in horticulture’ who had created ‘numerous well-planned walks which are edged with beds filled with an astonishing variety of flowering plants’. Such a walk led to the chapel, as seen in the view above. Curiously it does not show the stars in the dome so either the roof  had been replaced, or it was never built to Peddie’s design. No descriptions have yet been found to provide any firm evidence.

Family financial problems, and the toll of the First World War, saw the estate slip into decline soon after the war ended. The most famous member of the family, Anthony Eden who was the British Prime Minster 1955-57, was born at Windlestone in 1897 and remained a frequent visitor. Eden visited his mother in the Dower House there at Christmas 1935, shortly after he had been made Foreign Secretary. They must have discussed the grave family news that Windlestone was to be sold the following year. The chapel and burial ground were exempt from the 1936 sale, but without the family present the mausoleum attracted the wrong kind of attention. In 1954 the building made headlines across Britain when thieves smashed their way into the underground vault. As they escaped with a lead-lined coffin the body of Robert Eden, who had died aged 9 in 1856, was exposed. The thieves, miners aged 21 and 15, escaped but were arrested when the body was discovered. Guilt got the better of the younger of the party and he confessed.

Further ‘disturbing incidents’ led Sir Timothy Eden, Anthony’s brother, to seek permission from the Diocese of Durham to demolish the chapel, which was now ‘almost ruinous’, and seal the vault. The faculty was granted in November 1957 and local builders were given the contract to start work. The memorial plaques were removed, and taken to Sir Timothy’s home in Hampshire for safekeeping, and the lead was stripped from the roof to deter thieves. The door to the vault was then securely sealed. Revisiting late in life the former prime minister Anthony Eden, now 1st earl of Avon, was shocked to see the mausoleum derelict: ‘I looked along the avenue that led to the chapel. Here was frank ruin. The building lay open to the sky…’

In 1983, accepting that the mausoleum remained a target for vandals, and was at risk from the elements, the Eden family began the process of arranging for the coffins to be removed to St Helen’s, Bishop Auckland. It took over a year to get permission from the Church of England, and then the Home Office, and moving the remains was one of the most unusual jobs handled by Sydney Pearson, Manager of the Co-operative Funeral Service of that town. On December 10th 1984 a short service was held at St Helen’s and the remains were reinterred in the churchyard underneath the east window. Lines from Longfellow, which had previously been on a memorial in the chapel, were added to one of the stones marking the graves:

Oh! not in cruelty, not in wrath
The Reaper came that day
An angel visited the green earth
And took the flowers away

The Eden Cross, now displayed high above the North door at St Helen’s Auckland. It was discovered in the mausoleum in 1984 when the remains were being moved, and restored for display close to their new resting place.

The chapel was demolished to ground level soon after. St Helen’s, St Helen Auckland, is now the Eden resting place, and memorial plaques from the mausoleum have been returned to County Durham and can be seen in the porch. The gate piers from the entrance to the chapel, were given to the town of Rushyford by the Eden family, and re-erected at the entrance to the recreation ground on West Chilton Terrace.




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2 thoughts on “Windlestone Mausoleum, Rushyford, County Durham”

  1. Graham Hebden says:

    Good reading. Such a shame about its demise.

    1. Editor says:

      Such a sad history I found it very moving visiting the site and churches

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