Restoration Intern From Sarcophagus to Payphone

9 July 2015

Stowe was the first of many English mansions to welcome Egyptian life into their homes. Perhaps it was taking the eighteenth-century fashion too far, perhaps it became a mundane sight to visitors as the trend took off, but the mock sarcophagus, the central feature of what was used as a wet-weather room, strikes the modern visitor as an interesting choice: But is it really the most pleasant way to welcome one’s guests- a box-like funeral receptacle, that could not fail to spawn distasteful images of rotting corpses in the mind?. The original was actually, thankfully, a metal heater, restored in 2011 as a wooden sarcophagus.

But these images do not convey the many years in which the room lacked this visually (and mentally?) arresting decor. During the school’s lifetime the room housed a payphone booth. This was where Richard Branson, an old pupil (aka. Stoic), wheedled and won his first £1 million. The master plan was to ring phone operators under the guise of having used a faulty money-eating phone machine, and as they gave him the complimentary call, and passed him through to the lines of prospective sponsors, they were only to assume he had his own personal secretary and would listen more intently to the entrepreneurial youth’s proposition: a nationwide student magazine. They were not to know that he was phoning from a school payphone, and Branson was not to know that he was actually phoning from the site of an Egyptian coffin.