The Hamilton Mausoleum, set stolidly just west of the M74, and approached through a tunnel under that motorway, or via Muir Street, Hamilton, is one of the most remarkable monuments of its kind in the country.
The fashion for erecting huge and expensive monuments to house the more (or less!) illustrious dead has long since passed in Scotland. The Mausoleum is an outstanding example of the lengths to which some of the vastly-rich nobility would go to perpetuate their memory. It was built for Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton (1767- 1852) a colourful character known as "El Magnifico", who travelled extensively on the Continent and beyond. The building took 15 years to complete from its commencement in 1842; the cost, at time of construction, was approximately £30,000 — a vast sum in those days.
The architect was David Bryce, RSA, of Edinburgh and the Mausoleum has been described as "an extraordinary work of architectural sculpture rather than a building". Today it tends to be dismissed as a pretentious "folly"; but it is an incredible piece of work all the same, and well worth visiting.
Hamilton Palace, the ducal seat, dated back to 1591 and was extensively added to in 1705 and again in 1822, after which it was described as "one of the most magnificent piles in the kingdom". During the 1920's because of subsidence due to mining, it was demolished.
The 10th Duke did not live to see the completion of the Mausoleum. An even greater irony, however, is that the Chapel which is the main part of the Mausoleum was never used as the place of worship it was intended to be: on completion, it was found to be acoustically impossible — it has what is probably the longest echo of any building in the country, an echo which may last 15 seconds.
The building stands about 36.5 metres (120 ft.) high, and its base, set on a terrace, is about 33.5 metres (110 ft.) in diameter. Bryce took Roman architecture as his model: on a base made from huge steps is a massive basement which on the west side holds the entrance door to the Chapel. Above this is another "storey" with huge panels formed by single slabs of stone, and above this again is a superstructure of plain polished stone surmounted by a dome which rises 5.5 metres (18 ft.) from its plinth.
The walls themselves are a remarkable building achievement: each huge stone is dovetailed into its neighbour and virtually without mortar — in the whole building it is said that less than a ton of lime was used.
The lower part of the building, the vaulted basement, holds the entrance to the Crypt. At the top of the stairs are two colossal lions, one asleep, one alert, each carved from a single piece of freestone. These are the work of Mr. Alexander Handyside Ritchie of Edinburgh, as are the three carved heads representing Life, Death and Immortality which appear on the keystones of the three Roman arches.
The entrance to the Crypt is through the middle archway; inside are 28 single niches and four large corner spaces, while 26 original candle brackets hang from the walls and the central solid pillar.
It was to these vaults, early in 1852, that the Duke had some of his ancestors brought from the old churchyard of the fifteenth-century Collegiate Church at Hamilton. But in 1921 the bodies were re-buried in Bent Cemetery, Hamilton (where Sir Harry Lauder, the famous Scots comedian. is also buried) except for those of the 11th and 12th Dukes, which were taken to the Isle of Arran, part of the Hamilton Estates, "El Magnifico", who himself died in 1852. was embalmed and buried in a remarkable Egyptian sarcophagus, which was also transferred to the family plot at Bent Cemetery.
The sarcophagus was bought in Paris in 1836 by the Duke on behalf of the British Museum. The purchase was made in the belief that it originally contained the body of the Queen of Amasis. However. on its arrival at the Museum it was found to have entombed a lady without royal descent called lret-irw: the Duke immediately offered to refund the money and to keep the sarcophagus himself. This was accepted, the £632.8s.2d involved changed hands and the sarcophagus was transferred to the Duke's London home. In the following years it seems as if it became something of an obsession to him, as he is reported to have lain in it to "try it for size" (it was too small for him in fact and he had stonemasons chisel out some of the basalt); his last journey was to purchase the spices, etc., necessary for his embalmment.
The entrance to the Chapel is on the west side of the Mausoleum. The present doors are wooden but the magnificent original bronze doors, facsimiles of panels on the Ghiberti doors at the Baptistry of Florence are kept inside the building. Each door weighs 15 cwt., the casting was done by James Milne of Abbeyhill, Edinburgh, the sculptor being James Steele, RSA.
Inside the Chapel. as the doors close, the famous echo can be heard: the reverberations can be thunderous. Another oddity is that whispers in one of the alcoves of the octagonal Chapel can be distinctly heard in an opposite corner; and it someone sings, the sound is that of a choir.
It is eerie; but the Chapel itself is imposing. with its floor of marble mosaic. Its walls, with eight sets of twin cherubims' heads, carry eight niches which it is believed, were with the four alcoves intended to hold statues of the twelve apostles — or, possibly, of twelve Dukes of Hamilton. But they are empty: "El Magnifico" died five years before the Mausoleum was finished, and the interior of the Chapel was never completed.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
The Mausoleum is open to the public at certain times for Guided Visits led by members of the Park Countryside Ranger Service. Tickets, which must be obtained in advance, are issued from the Park's Golf Course Ticket Office in the Driving Range Clubhouse. Advance booking is advisable, as each visit is limited to a maximum no. of 25 participants. Bookings can be made at the Golf Course Ticket Office (Telephone (0698) 66155. Extension 154)
Times of visits are as follows:
Easter to September weekend: Daily at 3.00 p.m. prompt.
In addition, during June, July and August on Saturdays and Sundays only an evening visit at: 7.00 p.m. prompt.
Winter (September weekend to Easter): Saturdays and Sundays only: 2.00 p.m. prompt.
Duration of Guided Visit: 45 minutes approximately.
Requests for visits to the Mausoleum outwith the ahove times, should he made in writing to the General Manager at the address given below.
Requests for information and leaflets on the Park's other main attractions and all other enquiries should be addressed to:
The General Manager,
Strathclyde Country Park,
366 Hamilton Road,
Motherwell ML1 4ED
Motherwell (0698) 266155 Fax: 0698 252925
The file above is transcribed from a leaflet on the Hamilton Mausoleum as issued by Strathclyde Country Park, to whom full acknowledgement is given.