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Return to splendour

PUBLISHED: 11:04 25 September 2008 | UPDATED: 10:07 23 August 2010

Gravesend
17-09-08
Unveiling of the newly restored Darnley Mausoleum

Gravesend 17-09-08 Unveiling of the newly restored Darnley Mausoleum

THE Darnley Mausoleum, a Grade I listed 18th century building situated deep into Cobham Wood, was one of the most important buildings on the English Heritage buildings at risk register. Built in 1783, the burial tomb suffered years of vandalism and abuse

Gravesend
17-09-08
Unveiling of the newly restored Darnley Mausoleum
Lord Darnley

THE Darnley Mausoleum, a Grade I listed 18th century building situated deep into Cobham Wood, was one of the most important buildings on the English Heritage buildings at risk register.

Built in 1783, the burial tomb suffered years of vandalism and abuse, reducing the historic building to ruins.

But last Wednesday, after two years of work, its doors were opened once again, fully restored, as part of a project to conserve and enhance Cobham Park.

The Cobham and Ashenbank Management Scheme (CAMS) launched 11 years ago. In 2001, CAMS, made up of eight organisations, including The National Trust, English Heritage and Kent County Council, provided the funding for Gravesham Borough Council to purchase the Mausoleum and the surrounding woodland for £150,000. Two years ago, restoration work began. Spanish marble once again clads the internal columns, three painted lunette windows have been manufactured to the original design and the replacement marble altarpiece has been put in place opposite the chapel door, hand carved with the Lord's Prayer and Creed.

At the special opening for those involved in the project, David Nessling, chairman of the CAMS said: "Two years ago the mausoleum was in a ruinous state. But it has been fully restored inside and out and is a tribute to everyone concerned with the project.

"The final outcome and the quality of the restoration is absolutely superb."

The mausoleum, which was featured as part of BBC2's Restoration programme in 2003, was designed by the prominent neo-classical architect James Wyatt, who was one of the most fashionable architects of the day. The Darnley's had previously been buried in Westminster Abbey, but their allocated tomb space within the Abbey had been filled by the late 20th century. John Bligh, the third Earl of Darnley, 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. 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.

Throughout the 20th century the Earl of Darnley's struggled to maintain the Cobham estate and in the 1950s moved out of Cobham Hall, although the park and the mausoleum remained in the family's hands.

It became the target of vandals and on November 5, 1980 a blaze in the crypt brought down the floor of the chapel. The current Lord Darnley said:"I remember the Mausoleum as a small boy. It wasn't until after 1980 did I see the real affect of the vandalism. I got that sinking feeling - how will we ever restore that. But in 1997 we started putting the CAMS project together and it seemed a long shot that we would finally get to where we are today but it has been achieved."

As well as the Mausoleum landscaping works have been carried out throughout the park, South Lodge Barn has been restored and Lodge Lane has seen extensive resurfacing.

It is hoped that by early next year the National Trust will take ownership and responsibility for the care of the building.

On Saturday a one-off open day is due to be held for the public, allowing close up views of the Darnley Mausoleum and the grounds of Cobham from 1 until 5pm.

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