The main house was built on the site of a 13th century tower house having been continually enlarged over the years beginning with the South Front erected in 1695 for the 3rd Duke of Hamilton. The North Front was planned by the 5th Duke in the 1730s, but not complete until the time of the 10th Duke in 1842. The home contained a great deal of fine furniture and art including works by Rubens, Titian, and Van Dyck. The 10th Duke in particular was an avid collector of fine art and travelers from afar came to the home to admire his home, grounds, collections, and historical treasures.
The Gallery at Hamilton Palace
Chimneypiece in Gallery
Ambassadorial Throne and Canopy
Classical Statues in Stone Hall
North Front Vantage
North Front Portico
South Front Vantage
Detail of the Center of the South Front
While it may have been fashionable in the 1800s to publicly display your wealth, large and opulent homes fell out of fashion by the 1900s. By the twentieth century, nearby mining (from the family's own coal mines) had created noticeable subsidence. Increasing tax levies and the cost of upkeep necessitated the eventual sale of some of the Hamilton treasures. The Palace was used as a military hospital during World War I, but after the war, the state of neglect was beyond repair and in 1921 the Hamilton Palace was demolished.
Châtelherault Hunting Lodge
Hamilton Palace lay at the center of extensive lands owned by the Hamiltons, that included a hunting lodge with kennels and stables, known as Châtelherault, completed in 1734.
Ruins of Cadzow Castle as seen in 1882
Included in the grounds were the ruins of Cadzow Castle (Hamilton was originally known as Cadzow), an occasional royal residence since the time of King David (1084-1153) and an earlier hunting lodge for the kings of Strathclyde before him. It was destroyed in the late 1500s in retaliation for the Hamilton's support for Mary, Queen of Scots, who stayed at the castle following her escape from Loch Leven Castle. To this day, the Hamilton family retains Mary's death mask, the famous silver casket where the damming letters were located, and her sapphire ring.
Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, the 10th Duke of Hamilton
It was during the time of the 10th Duke, the one responsible for the enlargement of Hamilton Palace, that he decided to replace the family burial vault at the local church with a mausoleum on his grand estate. Construction on the 123 foot structure began in 1842 and was complete in 1858, five years after the death of the 10th Duke. It was originally conceived that the upper story of the mausoleum would be a working chapel holding his remains in an Egyptian sarcophagus from the Ptolemaic period he had purchased for that purpose below the chapel lay the crypt where he had moved the bodies of 17 of his ancestors.
After its completion, the Hamilton Mausoleum revealed a remarkable but unintended acoustic quality of allowing complex and noisy reverberations throughout the structure including an echo of up to 15 seconds in length. This echo made the chapel unusable for its intended use, but became the subject of intense curiosity by travelers and tourists. The high stone vault with its Roman styled dome and marbled floors produce the world's longest lasting echo of any man made structure in the world. Like many domed structures of stone, tourists have fun whispering from one side wall to a friend at the other side who may perfectly hear the quiet words.
Hamilton Mausoleum Chapel Interior
Stonework Detail on Vault
Looking Upwards Towards the Oculus
The same subsidence that had required the destruction of Hamilton Palace also threatened the hunting lodge and the mausoleum. The structural danger required the removal once again of the Hamilton family including the 10th Duke to a new resting place in nearby Bent Cemetery, still in his Egyptian sarcophagus. Although both structures have felt the effects, efforts have been made to save and right the remaining buildings.
Now Empty Crypt Below the Chapel
Engraving from the 1800s Showing Visitors at the Mausoleum
Sarcophagus Photographed in the Hamilton Mausoleum
Black Marble Pedestal Today without Sarcophagus
Now for those of you musically inclined, you may be wondering about the acoustics. I used to play the cello and I tried to imagine what a 15 second echo would produce. Since the grounds became a county park back in the 1970s, there have been a number of concerts with most saying that the echo produces a unique challenge to the musician. Here is a short video of the Kronos Quartet performing in the Mausoleum:
Finally, I had no place to put another little bit of Hamilton trivia, so I'll place it here at the end. In later years, the 14th Duke of Hamilton, an accomplished aviator and the first to fly over Mount Everest in 1933, became the subject of intense interest during World War II, when Rudolf Hess, Deputy Führer of Nazi Germany, flew a solo mission and parachuted into Scotland on May 10, 1941. Upon landing he asked to see the Duke of Hamilton for the purpose of negotiating a peace treaty between Great Britain and Germany. Although the Duke had visited Germany during the 1936 Olympic Games, it is not known how well the two knew each other. After visiting Hess in prison, the Duke of Hamilton promptly reported the matter to Winston Churchill and Hess was imprisoned for the remainder of the war.
Rudolf Hess with Hitler in 1938
Hess' Airplane Wreckage in Scotland
After the war, Hess was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment for his position in the Nazi regime and although later efforts were made to secure his release from an Allied prison in East Germany, he mysteriously took his life or was killed in 1987. Today there is a small memorial to Hess' quixotic peace attempt in Scotland.
Details of this curious episode will not be known for years as the British files on the episode are sealed by state order until 2041.