Darnley Mausoleum - PAYE
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Darnley Mausoleum

Client: Gravesham Borough Council
Principal Contractor: PAYE Stonework & Restoration Limited

The Mausoleum was designed by the prominent neo-classical architect James Wyatt, who exhibited his designs at the Royal Academy in 1783 and was one of the most fashionable architects of the day. It was constructed by the equally distinguished architect George Dance, reputedly at a cost of £9000 and completed by 1786.


The Darnleys had previously been buried in Westminster Abbey, but their allocated tomb space within the Abbey had been filled by the late 18th century. John Bligh, the 3rd Earl, left detailed instructions in his will for the construction of a Mausoleum in the Park where he and his descendants could be laid to rest in an appropriately grand manner. For reasons that remain unclear but may have involved a dispute with the Bishop of Rochester, the Darnley Mausoleum was never consecrated and therefore never used for burial. Lord Darnley and his successors were buried in the parish church in Cobham village, rather than the grandiose surroundings of the Mausoleum.


The Mausoleum was completed but it was a building without a function. A proposal by Humphry Repton, the famous landscape designer, to turn it into a belvedere or viewing tower was not pursued. It remained a magnificent landscape feature and local curiosity, although its Neo-Classical style soon became unfashionable and its condition gradually declined.


During the 20th century, the Earls of Darnley struggled to maintain the Cobham estate and in the 1950’s the family moved out of Cobham Hall. A gamekeeper’s cottage close to the Mausoleum was also demolished, and parts of the Estate were sold off although part of Cobham Park and the Mausoleum remained in the family’s hands. The Darnley’s found the building more and more difficult to maintain and protect. The Mausoleum increasingly became the target of vandals and several unsuccessful attempts to resolve the problems of the building were made, including one suggestion to ship the Mausoleum to the United States! The vandalism attacks on the building climaxed on November 5th, 1980 when a tremendous blaze in the crypt brought down the floor of the chapel, blackened the interior, and destroyed the outer staircase. The 11th Earl of Darnley, who had recently inherited the title, renewed attempts to find a long-term solution. In 1985 at a public inquiry two planning applications for development were heard to convert the Mausoleum into a palatial residence. The property was finally sold to a developer in 1990 who, shortly afterwards, became bankrupt. The property was left to slowly decay, effectively without an owner, in the hands of the Official Receiver.