The Legend of the Courtoy Tomb in Brompton Cemetery
As I mentioned in my last post about Brompton Cemetery there is a tomb in this Victorian graveyard that is rumoured to be a time machine. On my first walk around the cemetery I was really taken with one of the crypts. It has a distinctly Egyptian look, not just because of its shape but also the hieroglyphs that adorn it. I have always been fascinated by ancient Egypt, so it was amazing to see something like this in the middle of London. I later read some information about this tomb that is intriguing, mystifying and frustrating all at the same time and I would like to share that with you here.
What made me research this tomb?
Around the time I first saw this amazing Egyptian tomb, I was writing an article about Earl’s Court and compiling details for a walk around the area with places of interest. One of the places was 19 Collingham Gardens which bears an English Heritage blue plaque stating ‘Howard Carter 1874-1939 Egyptologist and discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun lived here’. I was reminded of the crypt I had seen in Brompton Cemetery and I decided to look up who was interred there, in case there was some connection to Howard Carter. There actually was not one, but what I discovered was a story that was even more remarkable.
Hannah (Peters) Courtoy
The tomb in question is the final resting place of Hannah Courtoy (1784-1849), which the Friends of Brompton Cemetery site describes as a “Mysterious society woman with fabulous wealth”. She was born Hannah Peters but never actually married. Two of her daughters, Elizabeth and Mary Ann, are also buried with her, so the crypt is often referred to as the tomb of the three spinsters. It is not known who is the father/fathers of her children, especially as I saw it noted on one genealogy site that her profession was Royal Mistress, but she was connected to an elderly John Courtoy. When he died she inherited quite a fortune, although it is thought that she had his will forged because until the discovery of the document, he was considered to have died intestate.
Samuel Warner and Joseph Bonomi
Samuel Warner and Joseph Bonomi are separately and together cited as creating the tomb for Hannah Courtoy. Both of these men are quite remarkable in their own right. Warner was an inventor and he claimed to have created a long range torpedo type weapon (‘invisible shells’) which the Royal Naval was interested in acquiring. Warner demonstrated the effectiveness of his device in several displays but he apparently could not recreate what he claimed. This is because Warner used ancient knowledge to teleport the torpedo to the target. Bonomi was an architect and Egyptologist and Hannah Courtoy apparently financed some of his expeditions. Both are also buried in Brompton Cemetery and Bonomi’s gravestone depicts hieroglyphs including Anubis, the Egyptian god of the afterlife.
Like much else in this story, there is little concrete evidence but a lot of conjecture, and that is the frustrating part. Warner and Bonomi were said to be partners in matters of the occult and some say Warner was a charlatan that convinced Courtoy he could create a time machine, which was designed by Bonomi. Warner died in mysterious circumstances, perhaps to keep his inventions a secret. The Victorians were obsessed with ancient Egypt, and it was believed that the Egyptians had knowledge of such things as time travel. There was also this strange hybrid of magic, the occult and science at that time.
Time Machine or Teleportation Device?
So where does this idea that the Courtoy tomb is more than just the final resting place of these three women come from? There are several news articles about it, with one of the most recent by CNN. The original interest in this seems to have arisen after an article published in 1998 and just about everything written online about the Courtoy tomb quotes (some even plagiarise) this original article. Still the author cites some interesting research by Howard Webster and I do recommend that you read the article. The mystery around the Courtoy tomb grows as it is said that it is the only crypt in Brompton for which the plans do not exist and the key has been lost. It has not been opened for over a century. Although while I was researching this I did come across a comment on one of the sites where someone says the key is not lost.
What is the truth? Is the tomb a time machine constructed in a cemetery where it could be built away from prying eyes and its shape and design could be explained away as just another extravagant crypt? Or is it a teleportation device, one of five that were built in a number of other cemeteries to enable travel around the capital? Did Bonomi discover these secrets during one of his expeditions in Egypt? The tomb was completed in 1953, four years after the demise of Hannah Courtoy, at which time her remains were moved there. This is also the year that Warner met his mysterious end. I have barely touched on the main aspects of this legend and, understandably, many people have been prompted to investigate it further. Alas, we will never know the truth, but I am sure you will agree that it makes for a great story. The mysteries surrounding all involved in this story just makes it that much better.