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Hamilton Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hamilton Palace and tomb Hamilton Palace staircase Long Gallery fireplace        

 

After the death of James, the first Duke of Hamilton, the title passed to his brother William. William died as a result of the wounds that he received during the Battle of Worcester (1651) and the estate was administered by Duchess Anne (1632-1716). She was a remarkable administrator and the good fortune of the that time, was entirely due to her, many of the Hamilton men proving to be rather weak and ineffectual. The intention was to create a 'landscape folly', an important element within one of the most ambitious landscaping schemes in Europe. The centrepiece was the sumptuous Hamilton Palace with its 260-ft classical facade and an interior that housed one of the finest art collections in Britain.

The south front of the palace was erected in 1695 by James Smith and in 1707, as part of the ‘Great Design’ of Duchess Anne, it was extensively redesigned and enlarged. She did, however, not live to see the completion of her ideas. It was left to her grandson James, the 5th Duke of Hamilton, to engage the famous Scottish architect William Adam in the 1740's, who completed the state-rooms which included sumptuous stucco-work. The north front with it's grand portico work was completed in 1842 by David Hamilton for Alexander, the 10th Duke (1767-1852).

The north front was 265 feet long and 60 feet high, adorned with a splendid Corinthian portico of monolithic columns 25 feet high and 10 feet in circumference, modelled on the temple of Jupitor Stator at Rome.. The interior was filled with art treasures, furniture, pictures, statutory, china and glass - but in 1882 they were auctioned for £397,562, a notable price for those days.

In addition to the priceless works of art, there was a Great Gallery leading to the ambassadorial throne from St Petersburg. The great black marble door of the hall supported by two columns of green porphyry were unique in Europe. The two porphyry columns which came from from the Church in St Georgia in Viterbo had originally formed an ornament to the Basilica di Semproneo, one of the most celebrated in Ancient Rome.

The Great Hall was truly grand in its conception and its decoration of carved beams supported by 16 fluted pillars with capitals, all of polished black sandstone. Its floor was paved with Sienna and black marble; the hall was dominated by a huge bronze bust of the Duke. The steps, balustrades and rails of the Great Staircase were all of pure black Galway marble. The landing was supported by two colossal figures of bronze and the floor was of black marble, the walls of polished sandstone.

It became the grandest seat in Scotland and it's demise was a sad loss to Scottish architecture. Many years of mining operations had caused dangerous subsidence and it's condition was deemed to be unsafe. Ironically the Hamilton's wealth was largely built on the mining of the rich coal seams under their lands, but this proved to be the Palace's undoing as coal was removed from underneath it.

Equally, large and ostentatious houses had fallen from fashion and the cost of upkeep had become prohibitive. It had been used as a naval hospital during WW1 and by the time it was returned in 1919, it's fate was sealed. The Palace was finally demolished in 1921 after another massive sale of it's contents and fittings.

In the surrounding estate, the great avenue of trees, the Hunting Lodge and the Duke's Mausoleum all remain as a reminder of past grandeur.

 

The dismantling of Hamilton Palace recalls the fate of Canons and Stowe; but the treasures accumulated by "the princely Chandos," and his great-great-grandson, the late Duke of Buckingham, bore no comparison with the wonders of the palatial residence of the Premier Duke of Scotland. How vividly and yet how painfully does the scattering of these grand collections tell of the instability of human things! The reckless extravagance of one single inheritor, in a long line of succession, ofttimes overthrows an ancient and illustrious house, just as a hurricane levels in an hour the old oak that has stood for ages safe against the storm. Thirty years have barely come and gone since the death of Alexander, tenth Duke of Hamilton and seventh Duke of Brandon, K.G., whose exquisite taste and vast expenditure made his Scottish home, like the Palace of the Medici, one of the noblest residences in Europe; and now the magnificence of this glorious edifice has passed away, leaving but a memory of what it once contained.

Source: The Illustrated London News, No.2254—Vol. LXXXI, Saturday, July 15, 1882, p.70

 

A wall from the the State Drawing Room has been re-assembled in the National Museum of Scotland. Other artefacts can be found at Barncluith House, including this coat of arms.

Coat of arms  

 

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Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017