The tomb of the gambler: a Liverpudlian legend

with 4 Comments

At the church of St Andrew in Rodney Street, Liverpool, sits a rather noticeably large pyramid tomb.

The tomb belongs to one William Mackenzie and legend has it that he’s buried sitting on a chair inside the pyramid holding a winning poker hand, as a way of cheating Satan after having lost his soul to him in a game of cards.

Unfortunately, the truth isn’t quite so glamorous.

the pyramid-shaped tomb of the gambler in Liverpool.
the pyramid-shaped tomb of the gambler

Who was William Mackenzie?

William was a civil engineer, born to Scottish parents in 1794. His career, as any great Victorian engineer’s would, included working on the construction of canals, railways and tunnels across the UK, as well as railway work in France, Spain, Belgium and Italy.

He died in 1851, and was buried at St Andrews. But, according to the inscription on the door, the pyramid was constructed by his younger brother Edward – the inheritor of the majority of his £341,848 estate – 17 years later:

In the vault beneath lie the remains of William Mackenzie of Newbie, Dumfriesshire, Esquire who died 29th October 1851 aged 57 years. Also, Mary his wife, who died 19th December 1838 aged 48 years and Sarah, his second wife who died 9th December 1867 aged 60 years. This monument was erected by his Brother Edward as a token of love and affection A.D. 1868. The memory of the just is blessed.

A closeup of the inscription on the tomb of the gambler pyramid
The inscription on the tomb

Unfortunately, this rather flies in the face to him sitting in the pyramid with his winning poker hand.

Why his brother chose a pyramid as a monument isn’t immediately obvious. William, as far as I can ascertain, didn’t spend time in Egypt (or Sudan, considering the Nubian style of the pyramid), or have any other particular link to Egypt. (Putting in time studying his diaries could possibly shed some light, however.)

In the absence of any other obvious reason, it may be that Edward was merely swept up in the ongoing Egyptomania of the 19th century. Only a couple of decades after hieroglyphs were first decoded, it was a time when the obelisk was a popular monument for graves (there are three in this graveyard alone). Why not go one better to honour the brother who left you such a grand legacy and give him a tomb of the kind favoured by kings?

There are a few more Egyptian revival spots around Liverpool, some of which I’ve put together as a photographer’s Egyptian revival architecture tour.

Do you have any favourite bits of Egyptian revival architecture? If so, please share it in the comments below.

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4 Responses

  1. […] I can only assume that William’s brother chose a pyramid as part of the 19th century fashion of using Egyptian architectural styles in graveyards. Interestingly, the pyramid itself more closely resembles the Nubian pyramids in the Sudan with its steeper sides and pylon-gateway at the front. You can read a little more about the tomb over on my other site. […]

  2. […] I can only assume that William’s brother chose a pyramid as part of the 19th century fashion of using Egyptian architectural styles in graveyards. Interestingly, the pyramid itself more closely resembles the Nubian pyramids in the Sudan with its steeper sides and pylon-gateway at the front. You can read a little more about the tomb over on another of my sites. […]

  3. Daniel
    | Reply

    Interesting monument & backstory. Not many realize the Egyptian influence on monuments in the West.

    • Julia
      | Reply

      Hi Daniel, you’re right – there was a lot of influence in the 19th and early 20th centuries, because of the decipherment of hieroglyphs in the 1820s and the discovery of Tutankhamun in the 1920s. Lots of 19th century graves have obelisks instead of crosses. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

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