Has the mystery of Sir James Tillie’s final resting place been resolved? Following the discovery of a vault under the ground floor of the Mausoleum during recent renovation work, archaeologist Oliver Jessop, and building surveyor Richard Glover believe that they have found the final resting place of Sir James Tillie, who died in 1713, exactly three hundred years ago.
Sir James Tillie, who built Pentillie Castle in 1698, left instructions in his will that he should not be buried, but demanded that he should be dressed in his best clothes, bound to a stout chair and placed with his books, wine and pipe in his favourite folly to await resurrection. As far as the stories go, the faithful servants carried out these instructions, placing Sir James’ body in his folly on Mt Ararat on the Pentillie Estate.
The servants continued to bring the deceased wine and food for two years until they could bear it no longer, had his remains interred and a marble statue built in his place. None of the stories relate exactly what happened to Sir James’ body, but it has always been assumed that his remains were moved to one of the local parish churches.
With Sir James’ statue residing comfortably in the building on Mt Ararat, it became known as the Mausoleum. It is likely to be one of the earliest known garden Mausolea in the country, and almost certainly boasts some of the finest views!
The Coryton’s approach to looking after the Pentillie Estate that they inherited in September 2007, has not been exactly sedentary. With the castle fully renovated and open for weddings, B&B and corporate functions by June 2009, Ted and Sarah, turned their attention to the gardens. They got a digger in to clear the footpaths, re-planted the flower beds immediately surrounding the castle, felled dying and dangerous trees and wondered what on earth to do with the riot of brambles and weeds smothering the kitchen garden. This was before they even dared look at the crumbling walls of the kitchen garden and mausoleum.
Following a fortuitous meeting with Hugh Tyler of Natural England and Sir John Parsons KCVO from the Country Houses Foundation, talk turned to possible assistance for the crumbling and degenerating buildings in the estate grounds, and fortuitously, grant funding from both organisations was found to enable the restoration of the mausoleum.
Theories abound as to the construction of this edifice. Mentions at the time of Sir James’ death state that he was placed on the first floor, although this currently appears to be the ground floor, windows have been bricked in over the years, and the roof had long since disappeared.
As part of the renovation, Sir James’ Statue has gone to Cliveden Conservation in Bath for specialist restoration. Meanwhile, at the Mausoleum, the ivy has been cleared, the walls re-pointed, and where necessary rebuilt, the cracks repaired, and the crumbling castellations rebuilt.
However, before scaffold could be raised inside the building, the floor needed to be stabilised. The paving slabs wobbled badly, and didn’t even cover the entire floor. Late in 2012, William May-Somerville and his team of builders, dug an exploratory hole in the internal floor of the mausoleum and surprisingly discovered the brick built roof of a vaulted structure.
Despite all the theories that we had banded about as we tackled the restoration of the mausoleum – the strange bricked in windows, the false ceiling joists, the inverted v shaped roof, the steps that seem barely connected to the main structure – this was certainly not on the list.” – Ted Coryton
The building surveyor Richard Glover, and archaeologist Oliver Jessop, who have been involved with the restoration process were called. They advised that possibility of a vault or open space under a three storey building did give some concerns as to its stability. The floor was gradually cleared to reveal a 2.5m long vaulted structure, almost centrally located within the building. On further investigation, granite slabs were found to cover an area at one end of the vault, and on closer inspection steps were visible through the cracks.
Once the floor area had been cleared, it left the way for the experts to assess the structural integrity of the space, and also a unique opportunity to determine why the vault was built. Could this indeed be the final resting place of Sir James as indicated in historical records? With great anticipation, one of the granite blocks was lifted and the steps that had been glimpsed through the cracks were revealed.
Oliver Jessop found a very sound space approximately 2.5m square, lined with lime plaster and with a beautiful brick vaulted ceiling. It was also clear that we had discovered human remains, and what appeared to be the remains of a leather and stud covered wooden object – quite likely a chair.
Ted Coryton, who along with his family have steadily been restoring Pentillie Castle and its grounds since inheriting the property five years ago, was there when the vault was opened, “It was an exciting moment, to finally uncover the truth and to know that Sir James was in fact in his mausoleum. Over the past 5.5 years we have researched much about him and the castle, so to finally tie up the loose ends was extraordinary. There is no doubt these are very old remains, and all indications are that it is likely to be Sir James Tillie. There was no sign of his pipe, books or wine but there was the remains of a chair that looks typical to the 1700’s when he would have been placed there. There are no plans to exhume the body or to undergo any further DNA tests. There is not really any doubt about who the remains belong to.”
Ted raised a toast to Sir James, with some sloe gin he had made himself with berries from the estate. Referring to the old stories of Sir James’ will and his reasons not to be buried, Ted exclaimed, “Sorry that it took 300 years for your ‘resurrection’!”
The mausoleum had seen little maintenance since its construction and the exploration has enabled English Heritage, Natural England and the local conservation officer, David Moore, to collaborate with the Coryton’s on preserving the important monument. Hugh Tyler from Natural England said, “We are delighted to be able to work with the Coryton’s on what is a unique opportunity to ensure this important building is maintained in the historic landscape of Pentillie for many years to come.” Financial assistance for this restoration project was generously provided by both Natural England and the Country Houses Foundation.
Richard Glover also emphasised his excitement at the discovery, “ I have been delighted to be involved with the other members of the team in the conservation work to the mausoleum and privileged to witness the opening of the vault. The possibility of a vault had been the subject of much discussion and its discovery was extremely gratifying. The excavations have posed further puzzles concerning the historic development of the mausoleum which remain to be untangled.”
Whilst the public will not have direct access to the mausoleum, the Coryton family have announced a series of Garden Open Days and Invitations to View over the next few months.
The Garden Open Days will take place on Mothering Sunday 10th March; and Sunday 21st April from 11am-4pm, as well as on the afternoon, (2pm until dusk), of Monday 6th May. The Invitation to View guided garden tours will take place on Thursday 7th March, Thursday 4th April, Thursday 9th May, Thursday 6th June and Thursday 4th July at 2pm. Visitors will be shown around the Pentillie estate by a member of the Coryton family on the Invitation to View days and hear all about the recent restoration work. Likewise, Garden Open Days will have information of the recent find readily available.
Further to the investigation that took place on Monday 4th February 2013, detailed reports will be prepared on the discovery. More information and photographs will be available on Garden Open Days, and of course, the Guided Garden Tours in 2013 will focus on the recent work in both the kitchen garden, and the Mausoleum. For more information on the above days visit our events page.
Oliver Jessop – Archaeological Consultant. Oliver has worked as an archaeologist for the last 20 years, setting up his own consultancy, The Jessop Consultancy, in January 2012.
Richard Glover – Conservation Building Surveyor. Richard has worked in building conservation for 35 years and started his own practice in 1995. Works extensively with historic buildings and scheduled monuments.
Cliveden Conservation – Founded in 1982, originally for the preservation of the National Trust buildings and statuary, Cliveden Conservation provide a consultative approach to the restoration and preservation of historic buildings and monuments.
Country Houses Foundation – The Country Houses Foundation is a charitable grant giving foundation. The main aims of the Foundation are to support the preservation of buildings of historic or architectural significance together with their gardens and grounds, for the public benefit.
Natural England – Natural England is an Executive Non-departmental Public Body responsible to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Their purpose is to protect and improve England’s natural environment and encourage people to enjoy and get involved in their surroundings. Their broad remit means that our reach extends across the country. We work with people such as farmers, town and country planners, researchers and scientists, and the general public on a range of schemes and initiatives. Put simply, our aim is to create a better natural environment that covers all of our urban, country and coastal landscapes, along with all of the animals, plants and other organisms that live with us.