Recreating Princess Charlotte's mausoleum

Claremont Landscape Garden, Surrey

In 1816, Princess Charlotte commissioned an ornamental tea-house to stand at the top of the turf amphitheatre at Claremont. But the building was destined for a far more melancholy purpose.

Princess Charlotte and her consort Leopold had spent many hours together wandering the grounds at Claremont, formulating an ambitious vision for their new garden. Charlotte’s favourite project was the construction of the highly fashionable, neo-Gothic tea-house, which was designed by John William Hiort and his assistant John Papworth.

Sadly, Charlotte never had the chance to enjoy her tea-house, as she died before it was completed on 6 November 1817. Her husband decided to finish the project, transforming the building with the help of A.C. Pugin into a cenotaph commemorating his beloved wife. It seems a sad final purpose for what should have been a place of joy for the young princess.

Claremont Landscape Garden, Surrey
Claremont Landscape Garden, Surrey

Lost to history

The original building was constructed using brittle Bernasconi’s cement, which did not weather well. The ornate design was quickly damaged by the elements, and by visitors who wanted to take home a memento of their much-mourned princess. Although the building was kept in good repair with the oversight of Claremont’s next owner, Queen Victoria, by the early twentieth century it had deteriorated significantly, and in 1922 was demolished by the local council. The whereabouts of the bust of Charlotte that once stood inside remains a mystery.

Recreating the past

To mark the 200th year since the mausoleum was finished, we've installed a near-lifesize replica of the building on the original footprint at the top of the amphitheatre.

To help bring back Charlotte's mausoleum to life, we brought in the expertise of Props and Sets, who have previously worked on projects for the Royal Opera House, Oxfam and the BBC. The 3.5m-high tea-house was reconstructed to replicate the cenotaph as accurately as possible using marine-grade plywood, treated timbers and vacuum-formed thermoplastic.

The installation took a team of five craftsmen around 450 hours to make, in a fascinating eight-week process that involved site mapping, historical research, CAD drawing, sculpting, mould former making, painting and carpentry. The replica has been finished to evoke the texture of the original Bernasconi’s cement, and features surprisingly detailed Gothic tracery, arches and quatrefoils. An arch of roses completes the installation - a nod to Charlotte’s desire to enhance the terrace with a flower garden.

Claremont Landscape Garden, Surrey
Claremont Landscape Garden, Surrey

Fulfilling Charlotte's vision

Visit the replica tea-house on top of the amphitheatre at any time during our normal opening hours until the end of the year (weather-permitting). You'll be able to sit outside and enjoy the view across the lake, fulfilling Charlotte’s original vision and hope for the building. Families can also follow a tea-themed trail to the installation in the summer holidays, from 21 July-4 August.

Marking 200 years

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Princess Charlotte. Delve into the story of the forgotten daughter of England with our series of web articles and events.