In Liverpool City Centre, a few streets away from Sefton Park and a busy shopping hub, sits St Andrew’s Church. A former Presbyterian church, it was once part of the church of Scotland but has been out of use for worship since the 1970s. After fires, partial demolition, and years on the ‘Buildings at Risk Register’, the façade is now restored to its former glory and the rest of the building used, rather bizarrely, for student accommodation.
As exciting as affordable student housing is, it’s the adjacent churchyard that holds the most unusual features, namely the grave of William Mackenzie (1794-1851). Mackenzie was an Anglo-Scottish civil engineer who made his fortune in tunnels and railways across the UK and Europe. He married twice; first was Mary Dalziel who he married in 1819, but she died in 1838 aged only 48. One year after Mary’s death, he remarried Sarah Dewhurst, who outlived William, dying aged 60 in 1867.
William died at his house at 74 Grove Street, Liverpool on 29th October 1851, aged 57. William had no children, so all of his wealth (his estate was recorded as £341,848) was left to his brother Edward, who invested well, at least as far as death monuments are concerned. At first, Mackenzie’s grave was unremarkable, with the engineer laid to rest beside his first wife, with his second wife joining them both a few years later. Men laid to rest with multiple wives utterly fascinates me; if you’re of the belief that there’s an afterlife of some form, surely those reunions would be some of the most painfully awkward?
Spiritual controversies aside, it was not until 1868, 16 years later, when William’s brother Edward made his brother a local legend. Instead of a chest tomb or headstone, Edward commissioned a 15 foot high granite pyramid to commemorate his brother’s life. Why? No idea. Victorians.
The pyramid has a blind entrance and a bronze plaque above, which reads:
“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.”
Although the plaque clearly mentions a ‘vault’, local legend spits in the face of below ground burials. In a series of stories popularised by Liverpool writer Tom Slemen, Mackenzie is now remembered as a Victorian man with a love of gambling that outweighed the power of the grave. Similarly, before his death, William Mackenzie supposedly gave strict instructions that he should be interred, sat at a card table, holding a winning hand. Many others believe that Mackenzie was not buried at all, but rather propped above ground, so as to cheat Satan from taking his soul. The wandering ghost of Mackenzie is said to still linger in the churchyard, and there have been several sightings of his restless spirit taking a walk around the graves and nearby Rodney Street.
Although the sad reality of Mackenzie is that his burial is a standard below-ground vault affair, the idea of a hunched poker-playing corpse inside a pyramid has a little more public appeal.
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