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Monument to Robert Ferguson, Kensal Green Cemetery, Kensington and Chelsea

Description: Monument to Robert Ferguson, Kensal Green Cemetery

Grade: II
Date Listed: 3 April 2012
English Heritage Building ID: 1405478

OS Grid Reference: TQ2329782659
OS Grid Coordinates: 523297, 182659
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5294, -0.2239

Locality: Kensington and Chelsea
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: NW10 5BU

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Listing Text


Substantial pink Peterhead granite monument, 1840, by William Henry Playfair.

Reason for Listing

The Tomb of Robert Ferguson is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Artistic interest: designed by William Playfair, a major Scottish neoclassical architect whose work is rare in England;
* Historic interest: commemorates a prominent landowner and geologist whose affair with Lady Elgin prompted one of the most scandalous divorce cases of the early C19;
* Materials: an early example of a lathe-turned granite urn;
* Group value: with other listed monuments within the Grade I registered Kensal Green Cemetery.


Robert Ferguson of Raith (1767-1840) was a wealthy Scottish landowner and MP and a passionate amateur geologist. As a young man he travelled extensively on the Continent, meeting the major literary and scientific figures of the day and collecting samples for what would become one of the country's major mineral collections. Hostilities between Britain and France led to his being interned in Paris in 1803, where he began a passionate affair with his countrywoman Mary Elgin, the wife of the famous Lord Elgin of the Parthenon marbles. He returned to Scotland in 1804, but his affair with Lady Elgin continued, and in 1807 Lord Elgin divorced his wife and successfully sued Ferguson for £10,000 in a court case that became one of the major scandals of the decade. Ferguson, meanwhile, continued to pursue his mineralological studies, becoming a member of the Royal Society in 1806 and a founding vice-president of the London Geological Society in 1810. He served as MP for various Scottish constituencies, and at the time of his death was Lord Lieutenant of Fife.

William Playfair (1790-1857) was a pupil of Robert Smirke and James Wyatt and a major architect of the Greek Revival in Scotland. His buildings defined the landscape of early C19 Edinburgh, underwriting the city's claim to be the 'Athens of the North'. His work includes the Old College at Edinburgh University, the Observatory and the National Gallery as well as the residential terraces of the Calton Hill area. Despite his association with neoclassicism he also worked in other styles - e.g. Gothic at the Free College and Tudor at Donaldson's Hospital, both in Edinburgh. The Ferguson monument is an unusual commission outside Scotland and said to be an early example of a lathe-turned granite urn.

The Cemetery of All Souls at Kensal Green was the earliest of the large privately-run cemeteries established on the fringes of London to relieve pressure on overcrowded urban churchyards. Its founder George Frederick Carden intended it as an English counterpart to the great Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, which he had visited in 1821. In 1830, with the financial backing of the banker Sir John Dean Paul, Carden established the General Cemetery Company, and two years later an Act of Parliament was obtained to develop a 55-acre site at Kensal Green, then among open fields to the west of the metropolis. An architectural competition was held, but the winning entry – a Gothic scheme by HE Kendall – fell foul of Sir John's classicising tastes, and the surveyor John Griffith of Finsbury was eventually employed both to lay out the grounds and to design the Greek Revival chapels, entrance arch and catacombs, which were built between 1834 and 1837. A sequence of royal burials, beginning in 1843 with that of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, ensured the cemetery’s popularity. It is still administered by the General Cemetery Company, assisted since 1989 by the Friends of Kensal Green.


Monumental Peterhead granite plinth with moulded base, surmounted by a turned granite urn set on a square-cut stepped base. Inscribed Robert Ferguson/ of Raith/ Born MDCCLXIX/ Died MDCCCXL; Mary Hamilton/ Nisbet Ferguson/ of Belhaven and Dirleton/ born 1777, died 1855.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.