Mystery of the Dead Spinsters' Time Machine; WEEKEND WORLD Helen Smith Tries to Uncover the Secrets of a Cemetery's Egyptian-Style Mausoleum

Article excerpt

Shrouded by trees in the middle of London's Brompton Cemetery stands a strange, imposing structure carved with elaborate Egyptian-like figures that has been exciting the interest of writers and researchers.

The 150-year-old mausoleum is the only one in the sprawling cemetery for which no plans can be found and its occupants are a mysterious trio of spinsters about whom almost nothing is known.

Intrigued by the unusual tomb, writer Howard Webster began researching its origins and now believes the 20 feet tall building was a time machine built by a maverick Victorian genius, Samuel Warner, who also invented the first torpedo.

Warner is buried in an unmarked grave about 70 feet away from his creation and in another nearby grave lies his likely collaborator, a renowned architect and Egyptologist called Joseph Bonomi.

Warner apparently died in poverty, despite claiming to have invented a sea mine the size of a duck egg and an aerial bomb which he called the "long range" that could be dropped from balloons onto naval targets.

The inventor even demonstrated his weapons, blowing up ships to the amazement of government officials who hoped to buy the plans.

Parliamentary records of the time show that the Duke of Wellington, commander in chief of Britain's armed forces, was involved in the negotiations.

Warner was demanding pounds 400,000, around pounds 14 million at today's prices, for his designs and the talks eventually collapsed in acrimony.

Government officials branded Warner a fraud and he died a few months later, leaving a wife and seven children.

The cause of his death is not known, but Webster is convinced that he was killed to prevent the plans for his weapons, which were never found, from falling into enemy hands.

"I definitely think he was murdered because they couldn't remote-detonate in 1848 - there's no other way to do it (but to use a torpedo)... then he was dead within six months," said Webster, whose interest in the mausoleum was aroused when he visited the cemetery while researching an unrelated film project. The austerity of the structure is startling amid the rows of elaborate carved angels and stone lilies.

The trapezoid of dark, polished granite is decorated with bands of carved hieroglyphics and has a huge bronze door for which there is no surviving key. It has not been opened for more than 120 years.

Twenty yards away, Bonomi's gravestone bears similar hieroglyphic carvings including the Egyptian god of the dead, Anubis, sitting on what appears to be a replica of the mausoleum. …