Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hamilton Mausoleum – Home to the World's Longest Lasting Echo

Congratulations to Rob from Amersfoort, winner of yesterday's Place-of-Mystery Contest.  He correctly identified the Hamilton Mausoleum in Hamilton, Scotland, as the place in the image.

Hamilton Mausoleum

Recently, I was reading about acoustics for musical venues when I read a line about the Hamilton Mausoleum in Hamilton, Scotland.  The person was commenting about the lengthy echo of the chamber.  At a full 15 seconds, it's reportedly the longest echo in any man-made structure.

The Hamiltons were one of the most influential families in Scotland and the Duke of Hamilton is the senior dukedom in the Peerage of Scotland (excepting the Sovereign's eldest son).  At one time they had a grand estate esteemed to be the largest non-royal residence in the Western world.

Hamilton Palace

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

Stone Hall


Ambassadorial Throne and Canopy

Dutchess' Bedroom

Classical Statues in Stone Hall

Great Dining-Room

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.

Hamilton Mausoleum

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.


Judi said...

The variety & uniqueness of the things I learn on your site are something else, Nate. Thanks!

recumbent conspiracy theorist said...

Some incredible history -thanks Nate! The quartet sounded great on my Bose but that must have been awesome to hear them in the mausoleum.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting eclectic post, thank you! So the whole palace has disappeared, amazing.

Blerger said...

The Hess "memorial" was placed there with the knowledge of far-right activists in the UK. It was, thankfully, destroyed, as it was not officially approved whatsoever.

Teresa Halminton said...

I'm glad to find the news. Thank you for updating!
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