Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hamilton Mausoleum

Away from Ayrshire again, I was back on my native heath at Hamilton in Lanarkshire.

Hamilton Mausoleum was built as a chapel and crypt for the 10th Duke of Hamilton; it was started by David Hamilton in 1842 and completed by David Bryce and Alexander Richie in 1858.

Designed in a grand style at a cost of £130,000 (how many millions in current terms?), it has been described as "an extraordinary work of architectural sculpture rather than a building" and is nicknamed "Il Magnifico". Its dome is 123 feet high (as high as Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square, London) and there is a fine mosaic floor. The original 1.5 ton bronze outer doors, featuring impressive bas-relief work, are now displayed inside the mausoleum.

Built from huge blocks of local sandstone that neatly dovetail into each other, the precision of the stonework is a tribute to the skill of the craftsmen who built it; in the whole building only one ton of lime was used, the main sealing being done with the whites of eggs making the joints extremely neat. Indeed the building is so well sealed that if the doors were closed too quickly, the oculus in the dome blew out. It has also given the interior the longest recorded echo, 15 seconds, of any building in the world; effectively ruling out use as a place of worship.

Another curiosity of the interior architecture are the "Whispering Wa's" or walls. Two people can stand at either end of one of the curved interior walls, facing away from each other into the niche of the wall, and hold a whispered conversation. The strange acoustics of the walls project the sound eerily to the listener at the other side.

Essentially the structure is in three parts:

1. The impressive dome.

2. The dado level which is highly plastered and panelled.

3. The vaulted basement in which the crypt is placed.

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