The Hamilton Mausoleum or the Duke's Folly

Brother Robert T. Sime, P.P.G.M.

Lanarkshire Middle Ward

By whichever of the two definitions one may describe this building, there is no denying that the Mausoleum at Hamilton is a magnificent building, well worthy of a visit, and has even been described as one of the most outstanding funeral edifices anywhere in Europe.

It was the brainchild of Alexander, the 10th Duke of Hamilton who, at the age of 70, decided to build a suitable resting place for himself and his ancestors within the grounds of his then residence at Hamilton Palace, together with a place for private worship for himself, his tanily and the many distinguished personages who were regular visitors to Hamilton Palace at that period.

Although not specifically recorded as such, it is just possible that another influencing factor in the mind of Alexander at this time was the forthcoming marriage of his son William, who married the Princess Marie of Baden in 1843: Princess Marie was the cousin of the Emperor Napoleon III, and consequently had been brought up in the Roman Catholic faith. To have a private chapel built within his own grounds would therefore enable the Princess and her Protestant husband each to worship according to their own established family beliefs, and in the convenience of their own home.

Alexander was a man of considerable wealth at that time and, during his many travels abroad in the service of His Majesty, he eventually rose to the cream of all ambassador appointments at that period by being posted as representative of His Majesty at the Court of the Czar of Russia in St Petersburg. During this period, he also acquired a considerable knowledge of architectural beauty and skills which enabled him to gather a collection of art treasures equal to anything then in Europe, many of which he brought back to be installed in his palace at Hamilton.

Hamilton Palace, which was originally built in 1591, was, in the mid-nineteenth century, reputed to be one of the finest non-royal residences in Europe, and was visited by many of the ruling heads of Europe as guests of the Duke Alexander. The palace remained in existence until 1920 when it became uninhabitable owing to the extent of the deterioration and damage caused by the underground extraction of coal, which resulted in both the palace and the surrounding ground sinking by some 20 feet. It was, however, used as a temporary hospital for naval personnel during the First World War, by which time the Hamilton family had moved to the town of Dungavel in Lanarkshire. The magnificent black marble staircase, which had been the main feature of the palace, remained unsold, and after demolition of the palace was boxed in situ where it remained until 1933, and was eventually disposed of for the ridiculous sum of £34.

Alexander himself was something of an eccentric and could often be seen strolling around the neighbourhood dressed in his Douglas tartan, and was generally referred to by the local inhabitants as "El Magnifico" This, together with his great extravagance in the design and building of his Mausoleum, very seriously depleted the finances of his family and may have given rise to the second of the two titles at the head of this article. He was, however, certainly an outstanding character in his own right and has certainly left his mark on posterity.

About 1840, when the old Duke was then 73 years of age, he enlisted the skills of the finest architects available in the cities of both Glasgow and Edinburgh, detailing not only his basic requirements, but also the many special features which he wished to incorporate in the construction of his Mausoleum. The main purpose of the building was, of course, to be a place of family worship and an appropriate final resting place for the bodies of his ancestors which were at that time located in the Old Parish Church of Hamilton. After much discussion and many alternative submissions, the design submitted by Mr David Hamilton of Glasgow was finally accepted in 1843 and instructions given for the cutting of the necessary stones. This preparatory work lasted for a further three years, and it was not until 1846 that the first stones were laid and construction commenced.

Alexander spent much of his youth in Italy where his father was H.M. Ambassador, located at Naples, and it was during this early period, and his considerable travels, that he acquired his great interest in architecture and things of beauty. He was particularly impressed with the beauty of the magnificent golden doors of the Baptistry at Florence as designed by Ghiberti, and sometimes referred to as The Gates of Heaven itself. Although each half of the above doors depicts five biblical scenes from the Old Testament, the Duke realised that with the much reduced size of his building, it would be necessary to scale down the Mausoleum doors to three such scenes in each panel and reduce these to scale. Permission was obtained to obtain plaster casts of the Florence panels and, in the interests of economy, enquiries were made in an attempt to have these cast locally. In this he was successful in obtaining the services of Mr David Bryce of Edinburgh, who arranged for the doors to be cast in the foundry of Mr David Steell of Edinburgh, in whose employ was one Mr James Milne, who was then reputed to be the finest moulder available in the country.

The two halves of the door were each cast in one piece using the long-lost wax process, and although many of the biblical scenes were cast in relief, so perfect was the original casting, that no additional work was found to be necessary when they were removed from the casting pit. A full description of these doors appears later in this article.

The cost of these doors has been quoted as approximately £1,500, which was a considerable amount of money even in these days, and the doors were actually fitted to the Mausoleum on 19th July 1856, where they remained till 1921 when they were removed for safety purposes, and now rest on the floor in the main hall of the Mausoleum.

During one of his visits to Egypt about 1822, some 30 years before his death, Alexander saw and became entranced with a beautiful green prophyry coffin which had recently been recovered from Memphis in Egypt and which originally was intended for the British Museum in London. However, either owing to the shortage of funds to purchase this coffin, or some difference in the asking price, the British Museum eventually lost interest in the purchase and Alexander decided to purchase this item for his own use at a cost of some £600, as detailed in the family records.

The original coffin had been designed for, and contained the body of a young Egyptian Princess by the name of Maaru. She was the unmarried daughter of one of the kings of Egypt, and the lid of the coffin was not only carved with the head of this young girl, but was also covered in beautiful hieroglyphic carvings from which its history could be deciphered, giving the date as 610 B.C.

After the purchase, Alexander decreed that on his demise, his body was to be interred in this beautiful coffin, and realising that it would be impossible to accommodate his large body in a coffin designed for a small girl, he had grooves cut along the inside edges of the coffin and left specific instructions that, if necessary, his body was to be "folded" into the coffin.

In 1852, the 10th Duke of Hamilton died at his London residence in Portland Square where, by previous arrangement, the body was embalmed by Mr Pettigrew of London before being transferred by special express train to the palace at Hamilton, where it remained until being finally taken over to its prepared resting place on the black marble plinth previously erected within the Mausoleum for that purpose. A newspaper report of that period states:

"On Saturday, September 4th 1852, the internment took place in the Mausoleum. The Mausoleum is believed to be the most costly and magnificent temple for the reception of the dead anywhere in the world with the exception of the Pyramids."

During the funeral, and after the family and the public had retired, Mr Pettigrew, assisted by the architect of the museum, Mr David Bryce, opened the basalt coffin and placed the body in the coffin, removing the lower portions of the legs below the knee and placing these in the prepared grooves alongside the main part of the body, all of which was in accordance with the wishes of the late Duke himself.

The original lead-lined coffin used for the transfer of the body from London to Hamilton was then removed to the crypt below the floor of the Mausoleum to join those of his ancestors, where it remained until 1921 when, together with the Egyptian coffin, the complete Hamilton family was re-interred in a specially constructed underground vault in the grounds of the Bent Cemetery in Hamilton. Sixteen bodies are incorporated in this vault, the bodies of the 11th and 12th Dukes of Hamilton being transported to the Isle of Arran at that time where the Hamilton family also have strong family connections.

All stone used in the construction of both the Crypt and the Mausoleum itself was obtained from quarries situated on the Duke's own estate to the south of the town of Hamilton. These comprised five in number and the workinanship used was of the very highest quality. Each stone was individually marked by the craftsman who wrought it, the overseer or foreman, and also had a juxta-position mark indicating its exact location on the site. So perfect was the workmanship that each stone was designed to fit into its neighbour by dovetailing, with the result that only one ton of binding material was used throughout the construction, and the jointing was so perfect as to be almost invisible in many places.

The finished stones, some of which were as much as fifteen feet thick and weighing many tons, were then hauled to the site on skids pulled by horses from the Duke's own farms. These numbered thirty in all, and were the fore-runners of what we now refer to as the famous Clydesdale horses, another legacy left to us by the 10th Duke of Hamilton.

The design of the building incorporates three sections above ground and a large crypt or family vault beneath the floor designed to hold the bodies of 28 members of the Hamilton family. The vault is circular in shape, supported by a large mushroom-shaped pillar in the centre, with the recesses for the coffins arranged in three batches of eight, with four larger corner recesses, each capable of holding a complete family if necessary. Lighting in the crypt was by means of candles supported by 28 wrought-iron candlesticks, many of which remain in place today.

Provision was also made for heating both the crypt and, by means of concealed ducts built into the walls, the upper portion of the Mausoleum for the comfort of the worshippers. This consisted of a large fireplace situated on the northern side of the crypt and set well back from the main floor area, and a long underground flue led from here to a large chimney situated some 50 feet from the main building and suitably screened from view.

Entrance to the crypt was by means of three doors, details of which form a separate paragraph of these notes, and this portion of the building, together with the lower portion of the main structure, was built to the design of Mr David Hamilton of Glasgow, while the two upper portions of the main building were designed by Mr David Bryce of Edinburgh as the principal architect.

Approaching the building from the west in which is situated the only door or entrance to the Mausoleum, it would appear to be a perfect circle resting on a perfect cube. The portion above the crypt consists of three sections, the lower two of which are square in design with each side measuring some 57 feet in length. Each side of the building is covered by five monolithic slabs of stone from one of the Duke's quarries, the centre slab being rectangular in design and supported on either side by two panels of similar height with an ornamental Roman arch design at the top. The upper portion of the main building is circular in shape rather like a barrel, and this section supports the one large centre dome-shaped window which supplies light throughout the entire building in such a manner as to dispel equal light to all portions of the interior and without shadows anywhere.

Each side of the original doors weighed approximately three-quarters of a ton and was so finely balanced that it was possible to push the door closed by the action of a single finger.

Three Old Testament stories are depicted on each of the doors, those on the right-hand side being:

On top: Genesis, Chapter 27, verses 1-36 showing Isaac blessing his son Jacob with Jacob kneeling at the feet of his father to receive the blessing, and the lower portion showing the brother Esau returning from the hunt where he had been despatched to find his father's favourite meal.

Middle: Exodus, Chapter 24, verses 12-18 Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and depicting Moses on Mount Sinai. Aaron, his brother, kneeling halfway down the mountain and the people of Israel at the foot of the mountain awaiting the return of Moses with the Commandments.

Bottom: 1st Samuel, Chapter 17, verses 35-51 David slaying Goliath showing: David with his sword removing the head of the giant. The brook from which David had selected the pebbles. The sling lying at the feet of David after use. King Saul standing on the hillside directing his army. The fleeing Philistine army and The triumphal entrance to Jerusalem carrying the head of the giant.

The other half of the bronze door also depicts three of the Old Testament stories as follows:

On top: Genesis, Chapters 42, 44 and 45 Joseph and his brothers in the Corn Exchange in Egypt showing: Joseph selling grain to his brothers after the seven years' famine. The finding of Joseph's cup in the sack of his brother Benjamin. Joseph revealing himself to his brothers. The travellers returning to Canaan bearing the gifts from Joseph to his beloved father.

Middle: Joshua, Chapter 3, verses 1-17 The Israelites crossing the River Jordan. The Arc of the Covenant being carried across the river. The 12 stones being collected and carried to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. The trumpeters blowing their trumpets and the cracking of the walls of Jericho. The procession outside the city wall.

Bottom: 1st Kings, Chapter 10, verses 1-7 The dedication of the Temple at Jerusalem. The meeting of King Solomon with the Queen of Sheba. The reception at the temple. The servants of the Queen and her retinue bearing their gifts, etc.

Possibly the most outstanding feature of this magnificent building, and certainly the first to catch the eye on entering, is the beautifully inlaid marble floor. The design used for the floor was by a firm called Wallace and Whyte of Edinburgh, working to the instructions of the architect David Bryce, also of Edinburgh, and no doubt incorporating many of the ideas and desires of the Duke himself to illustrate his own solid belief in the Deity and his deep religious convictions, while at the same time incorporating many of the beautiful illustrations and lessons which he had acquired during his many excursions abroad.

The basic design consists of radiating patterns ofjasper, white and yellow marbles, together with green prophyry, pink Peterhead granite and divisions of black Galway marble.

The outer edge of the design consists of double lines of heraldic diamond- shaped figures forming a continuous pattern and interleaving at the four polygonal recesses. Between these lineal motifs an Open Book or Winding Stair pattern is used to illustrate either the ever-open volume of the Book of all Books, namely the Bible, or the ever-winding staircase on which we all hope to travel upwards towards that temple of eternal peace and rest.

Between the outer and inner rings are depicted eight coffins outlined in black, a reminder of our inevitable end and also of those who had already reached that stage and were resting in the vault below.

The centrepiece of the floor is a Bursting Star reflecting the Glory of God on High radiating peace and goodwill to all mankind in equal degrees. The very centre of the floor is a plain circle, the diameter of which exactly corresponds with the diameter of the single light in the roof of the building, and reminds us of the all-seeing eye which governs all our minds and conscience, and from which we cannot hide.

The whole of the floor with its many colours, consisting of marble collected from as many as 42 quarries, many of which are no longer in existence, and of Italian origin, reflects a glorious light and a radiance which brings both comfort and peace.

Over 10,000 individual pieces of marble were used in the design of this floor, and all of these were laid by hand with the expert skills of the workmen from Edinburgh.

Directly opposite the entrance door and at floor level, rests the black marble plinth erected to support the green prophyry coffin containing the body of the late Duke. Although this had been completed prior to the death of the Duke in 1852 at the ripe old age of 85, the beautiful marble floor had not then been completed and he did not therefore have the pleasure of inspecting the finished handiwork.

On the wall above the marble base is a carved stone containing the Hamilton Crest and the monogram "H & B", being the two main titles of the Duke as "Hamilton and Brandon".

The inscription on the front of the black marble plinth reads:


(Born 3rd Oct. 1767; Died 18th Aug. 1852)

Leading off this floor are four large corner recesses and, although not specifically designed to be so, have become one of the extra-special features of the building, and are now generally referred to as the Whispering Galleries. It is assumed that the original purpose of these four corner recesses was to accommodate some statue or other symbol of the four main apostles of the New Testament, but as the Mausoleum had not been completed at the time of the Duke's death, and as no specific instructions appear to have been left with regard to the final furnishings of the building, this can only be an assumption.

However, owing to the inexplicable and unaccountable echo and the freak of nature which rendered the finished building unsuitable for its intended purpose, these four corners contain an echo which is reputed to be one of the finest anywhere in the world today. By the merest whisper into the corner of the wall, the sound can be clearly transmitted and picked up by someone at the other end of the room - possibly some 14 to 15 feet distant yet cannot be heard by a person standing within inches of the person actually speaking.

The floor of these four recesses is also of inlaid marble, comprising a series of circles, a symbol of eternity or a world without end.

It is interesting to note that these alcoves are formed by the stones forming the main portion of the Mausoleum at ground level, some of which are as much as 15 feet thick in places, and came from the main stone quarry at Barmichael.

Looking upward from the floor towards the second or middle portion of the interior, eight smaller niches can be seen and, on a similar presumption to the use of the four main recesses at ground level, it can merely be assumed that their purpose was to commemorate the remaining eight apostles of the New Testament.

Under each of these niches is a beautifully carved head of a cherubim, and to each has been allocated a Latin inscription which, being translated, reads as follows:

These beautifully carved heads are the work of Mr Alexander Handyside Ritchie of Edinburgh, who was also responsible for most of the other stone carvings in the building, and are symbolic of radiating peace and tranquillity on the worshippers below.

The upper portion of the structure is again circular in shape and comprises a beautifully decorated stone feature leading up to the completely circular roof light and the only means of outside light serving the entire building. This original glass dome remained in place until July 1971 when it was replaced by one of perspex which was lowered into position by helicopter. This repair and replacement was necessitated owing to damage caused by birds pecking at the putty securing the original glass dome in order to get at the linseed oil content of the putty, thus breaking through the original seal and permitting the entrance of the elements which could damage the building. The stones for this part of the building were all hewn from the Overwood quarries of the Duke's estate.

Leaving the main building and proceeding to the back or eastern approach to the crypt or vaults, we find two magnificent stone lions guarding the entrance to the crypt proper. These two lions are also the handiwork of Alexander Handyside Ritchie of Edinburgh, and in addition to the outstanding beauty and perfection of the work itself, each lion, together with the base on which it is resting, has been carved from one piece of stone in situ. These large blocks of stone came from the Barmichael quarries of Hamilton and were transferred from the quarry to the site by means of skids drawn by the Duke's specially trained Clydesdale horses. The lions are both male, again possibly a symbol of the Hamilton Dukes being the premier Dukes of Scotland and the symbolism of the Scottish Lion on our national flag. The lion on the south side of the crypt is wide awake, with open eyes and apparently in the prime of life, thus being a symbolic representation of life at its meridian and in the fullness of creation.

As the sun reaches its highest point in the south and disperses that heat and light essential to all our worldly needs, so this lion reminds us of our blessings while on this earth and the protection afforded by our Creator.

The lion on the west side, on the other hand, has its eyes closed and would appear to be asleep in death. This symbolises the sinking of the sun and the approach of darkness in death, yet again peace appears to radiate from this piece of stone. The actual work of carving these lions extended over a number of years, and they were not finally completed until the year in which the Duke died in 1852.

Approach to the crypt entrance comprises a large flat strip of ground excavated from the hill on which the Mausoleum was built, and in order to facilitate entrance to the vault at the lower level below the marble floor. This oblong strip extends some 80/90 feet in length, is open on the eastern approach side with the other three sides being supported by an unusually carved stone slab wall comprising a continuous decoration representing the egg of life, again symbolising the continuance of life after death and the individuality of man. Above each of the three entrances to the crypt proper is an arch, the centre-piece of which is, in each case, a beautifully carved keystone each having its own special significance.

Approaching the entrance to the crypt from the east, the keystone over the entrance to the left or southern side of the crypt indicates an old man approaching the end of a rather troubled life. The face is that of a man who has suffered much in life; his sunken cheeks, his sunken eyes and the furrows of his brow all being indications of the strains of life. Around his head is a garland of flowers, of fruits in season, all illustrating the good things which he has enjoyed in this life. However, the quarter dial of a clock can also be seen in the bottom corner of this headstone with the hour hand rapidly approaching the hour of 12, and thus indicating that he is rapidly approaching the end of his days here on earth.

As one examines the keystone over the centre arch or the main entrance to the crypt, one can see that the eyes are closed in death and that, for this person, the cares of his earthly life have passed him by. There is an indication of peace here now, the sunken cheeks and furrowed brow have returned to their normal smoothness and there is obviously an impression of, "peace". This head is also surrounded by a wreath, but in this case the wreath is made up of the flowers and fruits normally associated with death. These are poppies, laburnum and the withered leaves of nature. Life has passed and the finger of silence covers the closed lips.

The archway over the crypt entrance to the right, or the western door, is possibly the finest of all the three heads, and is meant to illustrate the peace and contentment of immortality, and that peace and contentment to which we all look forward in a great eternity.

In this keystone, the eyes are again opened and, by some peculiar freak of the sculptor, appear to follow one no matter from which angle the head is observed. Again by some peculiar and unexplained phenomenon, this head appears to have suffered less than the other two from the effect of the elements, again giving that further reassurance of peace beyond this earthly existence.

The head in this instance bears a wreath encompassing the ancient Egyptian symbols of eternal life. The flowers of the wreath are the lilies in bloom, while the centre of the forehead is a beautiful butterfly with open wings, and around the brow is a carving of the serpent with its tail in its mouth, illustrating eternity, or world without end.

The peace which appears to emanate from this carved head cannot fail to leave a lasting impression on the observer, while at the same time it offers assurance and comfort for the time remaining here on earth.

Work continued on the construction even after the death of the 10th Duke and was not finally completed until the year 1856.

However, William, the 11th Duke of Hamilton and the son of Alexander, appears to have had little interest in this building, possibly influenced by the considerable drain on the family fortunes undertaken by his late father, and it was largely due to the good influences of Mr David Hamilton of Glasgow, the original architect of the building and personal friend of the late Duke, that the Mausoleum was finally completed.

Because of the unexplained echo phenomenon in the finished building, the Mausoleum was never actually used as a place of worship as originally planned. It was never formally consecrated and has never been claimed to belong to any one particular church or denomination and now remains as a mere ornament and permanent monument to the eccentricity of this outstanding personality of the Hamilton dynasty.

Although detailed construction costs have never finally been established, it is estimated that the cost of the finished building would be in excess of �100,000, causing it to be described as "The most magnificent Mausoleum in modern day Europe". With the original bronze doors still in position, the dispersal time for the echo within the building resulting from the closing of the doors being as much as 31 seconds, makes normal conversation an impossibility.

In 1915, the Trustees of the Hamilton Palace agreed to permit the colliery company to work the underground coal seams immediately beneath the Hamilton Palace and the Mausoleum, which resulted in the surrounding areas sinking to an extent of some 20 feet from its original level and taking the buildings with it. However, while the main palace building eventually became so damaged as to be uneconomical to repair, the excellent workmanship and the heavy dove-tailed stones of the Mausoleum resulted in the complete building sinking more or less vertically and the binding of the stones was such that only one vertical crack has appeared in the complete structure.

This sinking, however, resulted in the crypt section of the Mausoleum being subject to flooding, caused by the annual overflow of the River Avon on its junction with the River Clyde between Hamilton and Motherwell, and for many years the crypt section of the Mausoleum was closed to the public, only being reopened on 10th May 1971 on the construction of the new Strathclyde Park feature and the modern motorway to the south from Glasgow.

In 1921, the care of the Mausoleum was transferred to the Burgh of Hamilton, and at this time the bodies of the Hamilton ancestors which had until then rested in the crypt of the Mausoleum, were transferred to the Bent Cemetery in Hamilton and re-interred in a specially prepared underground vault constructed for that purpose. Although 18 members of the Hamilton dynasty had been buried in the Mausoleum prior to this date, only 16 bodies were re-interred in Hamilton, the bodies of the 11th and 12th Dukes of Hamilton being transferred to the Isle of Arran for re-internment there.

At this time also, the original bronze doors were removed for safe keeping and are now placed on the floor inside the main building. The reason for their removal was that with the sinking of the whole building and the uncertainty that uneven sinking might result in the jamming of the original doors and the possibility of their being further damaged by having to be cut open should this occur, it was decided to remove the original doors while this was still possible. After removal, the original doors were replaced by doors made of oak, which had the effect of absorbing some of the original echo time and reducing this from the original 31 seconds to its present level of some 15 seconds.

Responsibility for the Mausoleum was finally transferred to the Strathclyde Regional Council in 1975 and may be visited by the public at any time by prior arrangement.

Although not designed or intended to be a building of purely Masonic significance, the many instances in which symbolic Masonic teachings have been incorporated throughout the construction cannot fail to impress the Masonic visitor, or be merely a coincidence.

Alexander, the 10th Duke of Hamilton, was Grand Master Mason of the Grand Lodge of Scotland during the years 1820/22; most of the credit for this Masonic symbolism must go to Brother David Bryce of Edinburgh who was responsible for the design of the building as it now stands.

Brother David Bryce was initiated into Lodge No. 160, The Roman Eagle Lodge of Edinburgh, on 4th February 1835. He was an affiliate member of Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel), No. 1, and also of Lodge No. 97, St James Operative Lodge of Edinburgh, rising to R.W.M. of the latter Lodge between the years 1855/57.

For a period of 26 years, Brother Bryce also held the office of Grand Architect to the Grand Lodge of Scotland from 1838-63, and was responsible for the design of the first Grand Lodge building on our present site at No. 96 George Street, Edinburgh.

He was undoubtedly the premier architect of Edinburgh during the mid-nineteenth century, and is also credited with the design of the New Royal Infirmary, The Free Church Assembly Hall, the Fettes College in Edinburgh and many other prominent buildings erected during these years.

With such a background, it is not surprising that we see so many of our Masonic symbols incorporated in the design of the Mausoleum, particularly when we remember that our Grand Lodge motto is "In the Lord is all our Trust", and that the prime purpose of this special building was to be for the worship of the Great Architect of the Universe.

The above file was transcribed from the Grand Lodge of Scotland Year Book for 1990, to which publication full acknowledgement is given.