The Burns Monument, Alloway

    The proposal to build a monument to the poet Robert Burns probably grew out of dissatisfaction with the memorial on his tomb. Groome in the Ordnance Gazetteer states that his tomb was marked with nothing more than a 'simple slab of freestone', erected by his widow. On 24 October 1811 [Sir] Walter Scott wrote to Matthew Weald of Harstongrange and referred to a visit the latter had made to the tomb of Burns, during a visit to the Highlands.

I am glad you saw the tomb of poor Burns....It is a disgrace to our country that something more worthy of his fame is not erected over his grave, but altho frequently proposed it has uniformly fallen to the ground for want of subscription or from some disagreement about the nature of the monument to be erected, indeed, we are not famous for doing anything to preserve the memory of our Bards. 

    The schemes for a Burns monument to which Scott may have been privy in 1811 have not been recorded and it was not until 1815 that the English architect Thomas F. Hunt designed the present mausoleum in the churchyard of St. Michael's, Dumfries. A separate movement, which originated in subscriptions collected in India before 1817, resulted in the construction of a Burns Monument in Edinburgh, to the design of Thomas Hamilton, in 1831.[1]

    The association of the circular classical temple with poetry is an early one and the first Scottish edition of Milton's Paradise Lost [1746] contained a frontispiece illustration showing the poets of Greece and Rome standing before a domed circular temple, holding a wreath above Milton's head. The classical temple was probably first associated with Burns in a small watercolour by Julius Caesar Ibbetson of about 1802. It shows Burns rescued from the plough by the muse of poetry and he stands contemplating a field mouse, in a beam of light emanating from the clouds, which support high above, a circular temple.[2] (Figure 2)

    This drawing had been owned by Burns and then by Alexander Nasmyth, himself the architect of the circular temple at St. Bernard's Well [1788] in Edinburgh and a near neighbour of Thomas Hamilton in York Place. Indeed, Nasmyth provided Hamilton with a reference in 1819 in which he mentioned the 'frequent opportunities of knowing his ideas regarding the laying out of grounds and other matters'.[3]

    Hamilton's inspiration was primarily Greek and he chose the Monument of Lysicrates in Athens as the starting point in what was to become a significant exercise in picturesque design. (Figure 3)

    The classical original was erected in 335/4 BC as a choragic monument, that is a monument erected as a prize, for a dancing chorus (the origin of our word choreography) presented in the theatre by the choragos, Lysicrates son of Lysitheos. Details of the chorus have been lost but from the decorative details of the frieze, which show scenes from the life of Dionysius, it may presumed that the subject was bawdy. The Monument is the only such free-standing example to survive, having been incorporated into the walls of a Capuchin Monastery in 1669.  It is constructed of various stones and marbles (the colours most obvious after rain) that emphasise the form; Poros stone for the base, blue/grey Hymettan marble for the topmost moulding of the podium as well as the panels between the columns and white Pentellic marble for everything else. The finial on top of the dome resembles somewhat a Corinthian capital but is more freely expressed and the lower sheath of acanthus leaves opens out into three branches of tendrils, flowers and seed heads, 4ft 5in. in height. The subtle phallic undertones are plain to see and the partial concealment within a monastery was probably not accidental. The Monument was recorded by James Stuart and Nicholas Revett in 1751 and subsequently published as a large engraving with measurements, in the first volume of their Antiquities of Athens in 1755. Stuart and Revett discuss the design of the Monument at some length, particularly the finial, which from the surviving evidence clearly had supporters beneath each of the great branches. These supporters had gone by 1751 and Stuart and Revett published a conjectural design with three dolphins supporting the finial (Figure 4).

    James Stuart made a copy of the Monument for Lord Anson at Shugborough in 1777 but Thomas Hamilton's work is not a copy. It will be seen that he used the engraving of the Lysicrates Monument as a point of reference, continually coming back to it, as his ideas and those of his clients developed. Unfortunately none of Hamilton's original architectural plans for the monument survive and the only clue to his first thoughts is revealed in a letter to the Committee. His competition design changed at an early stage and there is some visual evidence for this.  The most interesting is a small perspective view in watercolour, now at the Burns Museum, never previously published or discussed in the literature. This small perspective view is augmented by a set of three drawings that are attributed to W. H. Playfair, in the RIAS collection, now in the National Monument Record. These are apparently copies made by W. H. Playfair from one of Hamilton's early proposals and they may have been made shortly after the death of Playfair's uncle, Professor John Playfair in 1819. Playfair designed a monument to him, based on Hamilton's Burns Monument, which was placed on a prominent position on the Calton Hill in 1825. There is also a large watercolour of the structure, now with the Monument Trustees. It previously hung inside the Monument and has a label stating it to be 'The original competitive design for the Burns Monument by Thomas Hamilton junior, Architect, Edinburgh, adopted by the Trustees on 26 January 1818'. It will be shown later that this is not a competition design.

    The only other relevant material is to be found in the Minutes of the Monument Trustees (particularly the Secretary's expences at the end of the volume), augmented by a small group of letters, two specifications and the builder's contract, all now with South Ayrshire Archives. All references to manuscript sources here will refer to this collection, unless noted otherwise. The watercolour drawing of the Monument in the National Galleries of Scotland [D2532] is a later work and is not a design for the Monument as catalogued by them. It was made some time later by the architect at the request of W. F. Watson, who donated it to the Gallery in 1880.

    The competition was advertised in October 1817 and there were ten entrants, nine of whom are unknown. On 3 January 1818, Hamilton sent a letter to H. D. Boswell, a member of the Committee along with a description of his drawings. He refers to three sheets having been submitted; a plan of the basement and superstructure, a geometrical elevation and a perspective view. This letter is signed RQP, the code used by Hamilton, in line with the competition rules, to conceal his identity. By 9 February he had been informed of his success in the competition and wrote to the Committee asking them to put the premium of 20 Guineas [c. £650] towards the Monument fund. On 3 March 1818, Hamilton wrote to H. D. Boswell asking for the return of the plan because he had had a letter from Alexander Boswell of Auchenleck, MP., asking for a copy as an aid to gathering subscriptions. As he did not have a spare, he would have to prick one out. He also revealed that he wanted to make some alterations as suggested by 'Mr. B' [presumably Boswell of Auchenleck] and asked for a list of prices charged in Ayr, a quotation for the best ashlar available from Arran and for a sketch of the proposed site for the Monument. A note at the bottom of the letter by the recipient states that the plans were sent back to him on 6 March.

    On 25 July 1818 Hamilton wrote to Boswell of Auchenleck from London saying that he would send incomplete plans by coach on Monday, which would be sufficient for estimating. He suggests no further delay as the season is advanced and that he would make the necessary revisions while the contractor was engaged in his preparations. The accompanying letter of 27 July gives notice of proposed alterations to the design;

....such alterations as I have made upon them are of little consequence excepting the additional number of columns and the enrichment of the corona of the cornice. ...As the columns themselves must be rather inadequate when considered as typical of the muses (except in so far as the number is concerned) a bas relief representation of a muse in each of the nine panels of the soffit of the cupola would add much to their interest in this respect and might perhaps in some measure excite the curiosity of the visitors as they would not be properly seen without going up into the temple. A light cast iron gallery round the interior of which would enable visitors to get sufficiently near. I have marked its plan in the section No. 4 but it is not mentioned in the specification - I will ask you to rub it out before giving away the plans.He goes on to note that this and other improvements could be added at any time during the progress of the work and that he has left the interior very plain. If the subscriptions allowed, he could make it more decorative. This set of drawings was accompanied by a hastily written specification, signed by Hamilton in July 1818. It refers to 'bases and capitals of the nine Ionic columns are each to consist of one piece furnished in the very best manner..... the shafts to be of five pieces each and the flutings executed with the greatest neatness'. All the ashlar was to be of the very best quality, from the Island of Arran 'free from every blemish and selected with the greatest care with regard to equality and durability of colour'.

    The perspective view (Figure 5) that has recently come to light at the Burns Museum may have been made at this stage as a means of gathering subscriptions. It appears to be in the hand of Andrew Wilson [1780-1848], Hamilton's friend and mentor. It shows the Monument in the Ionic order with nine columns and a very simple finial. In February 1819, a drawing said to be Hamilton's original design for the Monument was hung at the Burns Dinner held in the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms.[4]

    Unfortunately there is a gap in the manuscript record and the next surviving letter, to H. D. Boswell, is dated Edinburgh, 1 July 1819. Hamilton notes that he has sent the drawings off by the morning coach, excusing his delay in providing them because of an unavoidable absence from town. He refers to the alterations 'in consequence of a communication with Mr. B' and goes on to note that 'the greater part of the building is of a description that requires particular neatness of workmanship and that some parts of it will be attended with much difficulty to any one who has not had considerable practical experience'.  A separate list of drawings in the Museum may relate to the letter, which shows that 14 sheets were sent and mentions one for the base of the 'Ionic columns'.

    The Playfair drawings previously in the RIAS collection, (Figures 6-7) may be copies from three sheets in this group. In these copies the order shown is Ionic, the finial is a simple tripod of scrolls with a flat top (for the metal tripod) and there is no suggestion that the public can access the upper temple. The copies only differ from the small perspective view (Figure 5) in respect of the corona, which, comparing it with the written description in Hamilton' s letter of July 1818, has been 'enriched' with a continuous ring of acroteria. In execution the acroteria would be further reduced in size and greatly increased in number. According to the Secretary's expences, Hamilton's set of plans was accompanied by a specification, which probably does not survive.  It may have been very close to the one that is published below in full.

    The undated specification still with the Trustees is the closest we have to the final appearance of the Monument and to the large watercolour perspective. It is meticulous in its detail but it does not refer to the finial and its supporters. The most striking difference from all that has gone before is that the order now described is Corinthian, although the columns are still to be constructed of drums and not monoliths, as they would be in execution. This specification is augmented by a report in The Scotsman, on the laying of the foundation stone on the 25 January 1820 where the order is described as Corinthian.[5] The other major change is that the stone for the 'columns, cornices and ashlar work' is to be from the Garscube Quarry near Glasgow.

Specification relative to the Building & Finishing a Monument to Burns near the Place of his Birth.

Digger: The earth to be taken out to such a depth as may be necessary for obtaining a solid and secure foundation and the whole trench made truly level transversely and longitudinally. A sloping bank to be raised round the basement as high as the under part of the sublplinth in such manner as shall be directed. 

Mason: The footings of the walls to be of the dimensions and to spread in the manner shown by the drawings to consist of large flat stones not under 9 inches thick (the superficial content of none of which to be less than nine feet) laid on their natural beds, breaking bond properly, having a header and stretcher alternately, and each course to run equal thickness throughout. 

The whole walls under subplinth of basement to be carried up in a similar manner 

The subplinth to be of tool worked ashlar done with a round chisel, each wave to be 1/8 inch deep, and about 3/8 inches apart; All the faces of the joints and angles of rustic basement to be finished with a droved stripe ½ inch broad and the rest of the face to be rock worked, showing a rough irregular surface without any marks of the tool. 

The whole harting of the walls to consist of well dressed rubble stones, accurately fitted to each other in the closest manner, so as to require no small packing whatever. 

The whole to be laid on their natural and flat beds in properly prepared mortar and at the top of every face course to be grouted with thin well made grout mortar and finished off quite flush with the upper bed before another course is begun, the rubble of every fifth course to consist of large stones breaking bond & in the same manner as at the foundation. 

All the backs, jambs, sills, soffits &c. of entrance door and niches, the steps at entrance, as also the tables, cornices, face of blocking course, and other parts of basement, to be polished and finished in the neatest and most workmanlike manner. 

The blocking course to be prepared having the upper and inner surfaces droved and secured with joints by inserting pieces of cast iron in the manner of dowells. 

The arch stones forming the dome over the interior of basement to be of the size shown in the section, having their beds and joints accurately worked throughout. The terminating course or kerb of skylight to be polished and finished with the mouldings &c. as shown by the drawings, a safety arch to be thrown over circular recess. The shafts of the Doric columns to be each of one piece, fluted and including the entablature, capitals &c. to be polished. The whole interior cornices and other mouldings including architraves, skirting &c. to be polished. 

The pavement of the interior to be at least 3 inches thick cleanly polished and laid upon a layer of dry stone shivers with a proper bedding of lime and sand, the joints to be close and well squared the whole thickness and laid with white lead and oil. 

The steps of stair leading to platform to be polished the side walls of stair case to be droved and the whole finished in a workmanlike manner. 

The platforms to be laid with droved Arbroath pavement (or any other of good quality and equally impervious to wet) not less than 3½ thick, bedded on mortar with a close joint, well squared and laid with a cement composed of white lead and oil mixed with river sand, clean washed and burnt. 

All the mouldings and exterior surfaces of the hexagonal part of the basement, and of the circular plinths above the same to be polished, the interior surface to be brotched. The moulded plinth on which the columns rest, to be in nine pieces well polished, and laid so as that each joint shall be immediately below the centre of a column. 

The Corinthian capitals and bases of the columns are each to consist of one piece, and each of the shafts of five pieces, the flutings to be executed with the greatest accuracy and neatness and all the beds to be worked throughout full and fair and sett on their lead in the most workmanlike manner.

The inner faces of the architrave to be in nine pieces, each of which is to reach from centre to centre of the columns upon which it rests. 

The whole entablature to be polished and to break bond in the manner shown by the section - all the beds, joints and backs to be accurately squared and closely fitted to each other. All of the mouldings to be correctly and neatly finished.

The corona or upper leaf of the principal cornice to consist of one course in thickness and to be worked out to the tail in the manner shown by the section. A channel to be cut in the upper bed for the reception of a cast iron hoop in the manner afterwards described.

The exterior surface of the cupola to be polished, the joints and beds all worked with the greatest accuracy, set with oil and putty, made completely water-tight, and the whole constructed in the most approved manner.

The capitals of the columns, the enrichment of the frieze and all the other ornaments to be in bold relief well undercut, finished in the most workmanlike style and in every respect conformably to such models or drawings as may afterwards be furnished.

All the ornaments to be fixed with copper cramps where requisite or in any other manner that shall be directed.

The upper surfaces of all projections such as cornice &c. to be weathered, water jointed, grooved & run with lead and all under surfaces to be throated.

All the stones for the columns, cornices and ashlar work to be of the best quality from Garscube Quarry near Glasgow, free from any blemish and selected with the greatest care with regard to quality of colour.

The cornices to be of the heights shown in the drawings, and none of the ashlar to be less than 12 inches in the bed and well squared the whole thickness, at least one fifth part of the whole must be headers and upon the average the length of both headers and stretchers not to be less than 3½ times their breadth.

The stones for the foundations and other rubble work to be procured from such nearer quarry as may be considered fit for the purpose.

The whole of the masonry (except where otherwise expressed) to be built and run with lime mortar composed of such lime as shall be approved of, and sharp pit or river sand in proper proportions. The lime to be kept in the state of shells covered up with sand and slacked only at such length of time before using as shall from the nature of the lime be directed, and must be mixed up with the sand whilst hot.

Iron Founder: A hoop of cast iron of the best quality perfectly free from flaws &c. to be sunk into the upper of the principal cornice, the area of the transverse section of which to be about 4 inches, the circumference to consist of four lengths and each joint to be secured as shown by the drawing. The channel in which it is laid to be filled with melted lead, previous to which the whole must be well wet with linseed oil.

A cast iron pipe to be placed for conduction the water from the centre platform as also a pipe leading from each angular platform and another for leading the water from foot of stair, the whole to be 3½ inch diameter, done in the most sufficient manner with proper gratings and everything complete.

Cast iron for dowells of blocking course to be 5 inches long and 2 inches square - The bars of skylight to be of copper fixed to a frame of cast iron and finished in a workmanlike manner in every respect. 

All the cast iron for whatever purpose to be well soaked in oil while hot.

Plumber: A gutter to be formed round every part of the platforms. The lead to weigh 7½ lbs. per foot superficial, the one edge to be inserted and run into a groove cut in the pavement for that purpose, the other to be laid 6 inches up the side and covered by an apron of 6lb. lead.

Plaisterer: The walls and ceiling of interior of basement to be plastered with three coat plaster done in the very best manner with slacked lime mixed with clean sharp sand well beat and cooled before laying on, and to be entirely free from rents, blisters and blemishes of every description.

The spherical ceiling to be gauged and ornamented in the manner shown by the drawing, the panels &c. being formed by grooves run with the greatest neatness, a moulding to be run round ceiling of circular recess and a wreath in alto relievo placed on the centre - The whole to be neatly drawn in and tinted in imitation of stone.

The ceiling of the superstructure to be formed with Roman Cement of the best quality, divided into compartments and recessed as shown by the drawings, the whole to be finished in the most accurate and approved method and tinted in imitation of stone.

Joiner &c.: The doors to be of sound and well seasoned oak 2½ inches thick, with sunk panels 1¼ inch thick, and raised mouldings, to be hung with strong brass centre pin or pivot hinges and otherwise finished in the most substantial manner. 

Glazier: The windows to be glazed with the best Dumbarton crown glass free from specks and every other blemish, properly fitted and well bedded and back puttied.

Every part of the work to be done in the most substantial manner and with utmost accuracy & neatness to the entire satisfaction of such person or persons as the Committee may appoint, either of whom may reject such stones or other materials as may be considered of inferior quality, and likewise may stop the work at whatever time they may think proper if they find any part done or doing inconsistent with the drawings or specification. 

Upon the whole the contractor is to provide materials of every description, as well as all tackling, scaffolding, centering, tools &c. which may be necessary during the progress of the building and in short whatever may be required for the completion of the work in every department, notwithstanding the same may not be shown by the drawings or expressed in the specification.

    Two months after the plans and specification were submitted (September 1819) the contract was advertised and awarded to John Connell, Builder in Ayr and James Paton, wright in Ayr, his cautioner 'and co-obligant'. This contract does not survive but a later one still with the Trustees, states (in summary) that the Monument was to be erected on a piece of ground situated in Alloway Park or Croft, formerly belonging to the Hon. David Cathcart, Lord Alloway. It was to be near the southwest corner of the said field, adjacent to the old and new bridges over the Doon and 'to be complete by 1 November next 1822'. The date suggests that this (second?) contract was signed in 1821. As in the specification above, 'the stones for the ashlar work' were to be from the Garscube Quarry. A further change is noted in that; 'The interior of the basement, ceiling &c. shall be of polished hewn stone in place of plaster and the spherical ceiling of the superstructure likewise of hewn stone, with panelling as shown in the drawing in place of Roman Cement as described in the specification'. The cost of the work to be £1,555.

    A separate agreement is mentioned in the contract, a copy of which survives. In it, Hamilton notes that he has made some additional ornaments in the interior of the base and drawings (whereabouts unknown) have been furnished. He goes on, 'Although by the specification it is stipulated that the rustic basement of the Monument is to be formed of stone from Garscube Quarry, the contractor is to be allowed to use stone from Ladykirk Quarry for that purpose' the difference in price being offset against the slight additional cost on the interior. This document is slightly confusing because none of the surviving documentary items up to this point specifies the stone to be used for the basement.
The contract appears to be complete at item 13 but an additional note 14 was added, with further pages. This referred to the preference for stone from the Culello Quarry near Aberdour instead of that from Garscube. The Minute Book for 12 June 1822 records that this would add £250 to the original contract price.

    The wording of the contract would seem to suggest that the difference in colour between the base and the temple structure was almost accidental and the separate agreement attached to the contract, further suggests that Hamilton envisaged the entire Monument in stone of one colour, that is from Garscube, which is described in the Statistical Account:

 At Netherton of Garscube then is a valuable freestone quarry of considerable celebrity. The stone is of a warm colour, easily chiselled as it comes from the quarry, but hardening by exposure. Rosneath House, Blythswood House, the Custom-House at Greenock and Garscube House present favourable specimens of this stone. At one time, it was largely exported to Ireland and the West Indies...[6]

All of this would appear to be borne out by the perspective view, attributed to Andrew Wilson, (Figure 4 above) where there appears to be little, if any difference in colour between the base and superstructure.
    From this incomplete record, it is difficult to be precise about the timings of the development of the design but it is possible to draw some conclusions. The Lysicrates Monument at Athens has six columns in the Corinthian order, with a very unusual design (used for example by Archibald Elliot for his Regent Bridge in Edinburgh 1815-19). Hamilton's competition design clearly had less than nine columns, making it a much smaller structure than what was eventually built and possibly much more of a 'monument' than a 'temple'. Vitruvius would have approved of the Ionic order as appropriate to femininity. He describes the volutes (the spiral scroll) of the Ionic capital as "curly ringlets" and the vertical flutes in the column as the falling folds of a woman's robe. However, Hamilton may also have been combining deeper ideas and the order could be seen as drawing attention to the great Ionic school of epic poetry.

    The idea of nine columns no doubt arose in a discussion about the nine muses, but once Hamilton had assimilated this idea, the Ionic order then became a problem. Typically, he went back to Vitruvius who suggests;

To Venus, to Flora, to the Muses, to Nymphs, and to the more delicate goddesses, they [the ancients] said temples ought to be made that were suitable to the blooming and tender age: hence they gave the Corinthian work to them; it appearing to them, that delicate and blooming works, ornamented with leaves and with volutes, were more suitable to that age. [Book 4, Cap II]

    This line of thought then led him to suggest decorative panels in the soffit of the dome and that visitors might go up inside the temple to see them better, something that would have been difficult, if not impossible with fewer columns. As already noted, in 1818 he sketched-in a light metal gallery on his drawing but the Playfair copy of the section gives no suggestion of a viewing gallery and no indication of the staircase leading to it. A door is indicated in the base of the upper section in the Playfair copy of the elevation but this may only have been an access for maintenance. In execution, the public were encouraged to go up into the temple and a platform with a cast iron railing was provided.

    The current 'hood' over the staircase is a modern intrusion and from the later engraving of the Monument it can be seen that the staircase was open to the elements and it has a drain beside the lower step for rainwater. There is some indication in the form of hooks still in place, that a rudimentary (two piece?) cover existed but it is not clear when this was added.

    None of the written sources discuss the finial on top of the monument but all of the early illustrations; the small perspective view, the Playfair copies of early drawings and the large perspective view by Hamilton, show a very simplified design for a tripod base, made up of scrolls. For his ultimate design, Hamilton went back to the finial of the Lysicrates Monument as his source and the only clue to the timing and development of his ideas is to be found in an abstract of accounts, lodged with the Minutes of the Trustees. At Alloway Hamilton copied the Lysicrates finial exactly, but used the dolphin design suggested by Stuart and Revett for the supporters. (Figure 4) Interestingly, on the Burns Monument in Edinburgh Hamilton substituted ears of barley for the seed heads, that can be seen rising between the acanthus leaf and the entwined tendril, in the original and used winged lions as the supporters. (See here)  In December 1821 Hamilton supplied a 'model of the top of the monument', for which he was paid £3.0.4. The sheer exuberance of the Burns Monument carving, with its thrusting and entwining growth, adds an element of the bacchanalian, appropriate to the poet and indeed in keeping with the original Monument where the frieze showed scenes from the life of Dionysius, the Thracian god of wine. The god represented not only its intoxicating power, but also its social and beneficent influences and he is viewed as the promoter of civilization, a lawgiver, and lover of peace — as well as the patron deity of both agriculture and the theatre.

    Similarly the decision to use the Corinthian order is not discussed in the surviving material but the abstract of accounts shows a payment on 25 June 1821 for a model of one of the Corinthian capitals, for which Hamilton charged £8.19.6. In June 1823, he furnished the tripod as the topmost decoration, charging  £64 including carriage. On the opening of the Monument in 1823 an article in The Scotsman, noted that the nine monolithic columns corresponded to the number of Muses and that their design was taken from the Temple of Jupiter Stator in the Campo Vaccino at Rome.[7] (Figure 9)
    This temple is now known to have been dedicated to Castor and Polux but at the time it was believed to be dedicated to Jupiter Stator, who convinced the Romans to stand firm in the face of the Sabines. The position of the temple in the Campo Vaccino or Roman cattle market is represented in the inside of the Monument with the frieze of ox skulls. This type of Corinthian capital was highly regarded in the 18th century and appeared on the facade of Calton House among other notable buildings in London. It is also interesting that J. M. W. Turner used an illustration in his lectures on architecture at the Royal Academy. Sir John Soane had a copy of the order in his museum and encouraged students to copy and measure it. He too used the order in a lecture on architecture at the Royal Academy.

    The question has often been raised as to the appropriateness of a classical monument to commemorate the life of a Scottish poet. This was a feature of the Greek revival movement in general as the public often failed to connect with the philosophical and artistic aspirations of the middle and upper class gentlemen who commissioned almost all of these structures in the Classical style. The Burns Monument is no exception but it is a very interesting example of the way in which the classical ideal was modified by the provision of gardens and 'folksy' sculpture as a way of attracting visitors or 'trippers'. For men such as Alexander Boswell of Auchenleck, Member of Parliament, prominent Freemason and educated gentleman, who with others organised the competition, chose the winner and commissioned the building, Hamilton's design was everything he could have wished for. It flattered their desire to be seen as arbiters of taste. They looked up their copies of the Antiquities of Athens, they understood the meaning of the Dionysian decoration of the original, the artistic symbolism in the number of columns and the Masonic symbolism in the combination of star, column, dome and the triangular base. These were men of the enlightenment whose fathers and grandfathers had established or attended clubs in Edinburgh and London such as the Beefsteak Club and the Hellfire Club where discussion of the bawdy, the sexual and the Classical combined with copious quantities of claret. The symbolism and characteristics of the Burns Monument would have been clearly readable to an eighteenth century gentlemen.

    Thomas Hamilton's genius, here as elsewhere in his work, was his ability to weave together architectural sources and iconography that satisfied a combination of tastes. The additional influence of Andrew Wilson, who had travelled in Italy and taught in England before returning to Scotland in 1817, to take on responsibility as the master of the Trustees Academy, is never far away. It is significant that one of the earliest depictions of the Monument should appear to be in his hand.

    The protection and softening of the landscape around the Monument began soon after its completion but the area was only laid out as funds permitted. Hamilton designed rather sophisticated railings set between un-fluted truncated columns on a hexagonal plan, imitating the plan of the upper section of the base. Estimates for the work were opened at a meeting in July 1825 and the contract was awarded to James Kennedy for £85. The Trustees decided at the same meeting to build an outer wall at the perimeter of the site, finding the money by delaying the provision of iron railings for the inner parapet until a later date. By 19 April 1826, The Scotsman could report that the outer and parapet walls were complete and the grounds laid out but that a railing was still needed to finish the work.[8] In a volume of Subscriber's Fund accounts, a payment is recorded to Messrs. Rae & Co. in 1828 for the provision of railings around the Monument, at a cost of £82.5.0. These railings are no longer in place but the columns and part of the parapet survive.
    In 1830, funds that became available through an exhibition of the work of the sculptor, James Thom [1802-1850] were used to purchase a further area of land around the Monument with the intention of providing a screen of trees. At the same time, they agreed to complete the inner parapet and railings with the addition of the cast iron tripods on each of the columns supporting the railings. This was almost certainly part of Hamilton's 1825 proposal, as the design is a free interpretation of a porphyry table leg in the British Museum, published in Part III of their Description of the Collection of Ancient Marbles in the British Museum in 1815.
    Hamilton used the same design on a suite of railings outside his Norwich Union building in Princes Street in 1821. Once again, there is an entry in the accounts of the Subscriber's Fund for a payment to Wm. Rae & Co., for 'casting and erecting ornamental capitals to the Monument' at a cost of £18.2.6.

    Hamilton was asked at an early stage to design a gardener's cottage and there is an amusing letter from E. Cathcart in Edinburgh to the Monument Trustees dated 25 September 1823, which refers to this.

Repeated applications have been made to my father, about building a cottage, near the new Monument to Burns on the lands of Greenfield. Hamilton, the architect who designed the Monument has been consulted on the subject, and I think has this day forwarded very handsome plans to my father at Cassillis. The cottage, if built, would of course be let to a respectable cleanly person, who could cook a mutton chop at all times, and occasionally prepare a dinner for any club that chose to dine there. For this purpose, the cottage contains a large room 26ft. by 16ft and as Hamilton has had the whole management, he will take care that the cottage be so placed as not to injure the Monument.
    The writer goes on to suggest that the person in the cottage might also be the Keeper of the Monument and this has probably led to the conclusion that Hamilton designed the cottage currently at the entrance. In fact the 'Lodge or Keeper's House' was built after 1868 to plans by 'McDerment'. The mason was Andrew Hunter and the joiner, W & G Fergusson, all of Ayr. These facts are borne out by the design of the cottage; its current deteriorating condition and its rather grand railings and certainly no other building designed by Hamilton displays such a poor choice of stone.

    Hamilton's reference to the work on the Monument requiring 'particular neatness of workmanship' and being difficult for 'any one who has not had considerable practical experience' in his 1819 letter to D. Boswell, raises the interesting possibility that the Trustees were keen to employ local craftsmen, particularly sculptors and it is no accident that sculpture would become an intrinsic part of the Burns Monument. Indeed, this was the 'public' antidote to the rather 'elite' academic nature of the Monument itself and an essential part of the Burns heritage. The arrival of the Parthenon marbles in 1811 and their display at the London house of Lord Elgin did an enormous amount to stimulate an interest in sculpture in Scotland. John Graham [1754-1817], master of the Trustees Academy from 1798, promoted the art of modelling in plaster and in 1801 he exhibited a model of Milo destroyed by the Lion 'the only work of its kind ever done in Scotland' according to advertisement.[9] By 1819 the young mason sculptor, Robert Forrest [1789-1852] had been attracting attention with his figure of the Highland Chieftain [1817] and Hamilton was an early promoter of sculpture in association with architecture. He designed an 8ft. figure for the pediment of his Norwich Union building in Princes Street in 1820, which was not carried out. Once Hamilton had designed a circular temple for the Burns Monument he tapped into a long Classical tradition of temples designed to house sculpture and the interior bay in the base of the Monument, flanked by Doric columns in antis, was clearly designed for such a work, as were the very robust niches on the exterior walls of the basement. The Scotsman, always a supporter of sculpture noted that the funds would be insufficient for a statue or a bust of the poet, in February 1823.[10] Unlike the Burns Monument in Edinburgh, which was designed from the outset to house John Flaxman's full-length statue of the poet (now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery), no full-length work ever emerged for Alloway. As a means of remedying the deficiency, the sculptor Patrick Park presented the Trustees with a bust of the poet in 1845 and this was duly placed in the Monument 'on a pedestal of Aberdeen granite'. This was replaced by a bust by John Steell, donated in 1884, which may have been favoured because it was a better likeness and also because it was less classical and more 'folksy'. (Figure 11)

    James Thom held an exhibition in Edinburgh in February 1829 where he attracted an astonishing 18,000 visitors, each paying a shilling for the pleasure of seeing his carved stone figures of Tam O Shanter and Souter Johnny.[11] By March, his exhibition had moved to Glasgow and on the 26 March, David Auld wrote to the Trustees stating that he had raised £900 from the exhibition, which would be divided between Thom, himself and the Trustees. By 13 February 1830, the exhibition had raised £3,000 and this provided the Trustees with (a further?)  £660. As noted already, Auld suggested purchasing an acre of land around the Monument and completing the detail of the railings etc.  As part of this work a building was required for the figures of Tam O'Shanter and Souter Johnny and this was undoubtedly designed by Thomas Hamilton as he was then involved in a minor dispute with the contractor, Mr. Connell over payments for extra work in March 1833. (Figure 12)

    Hamilton's association with the Monument continued almost until his death. In 1857, there was a considerable local row about the siting of the church at Alloway and the way in which it obstructed the view of the Monument. Hamilton wrote a long letter in a very shaky hand to the Trustees on 17 August 1857, in which he offered his advice on diminishing its impact. It would be his last contact with a project that established his name thirty years earlier.


[1] The Minutes of Edinburgh Town Council contain numerous references to a proposed monument to Burns, beginning in 1817 with a letter from J. Forbes Mitchell, who returned from India with the proceeds of a subscription started there. The old Dean of Guild consulted Archibald Elliot about a site and the one settled on was 'to the west of the new cemetery', close to where the Edinburgh Burns Monument was eventually built. See Vol. 175 p. 140, 142, 29 Oct. 1817; Vol. 180 p. 405, 7 Jun 1820; Vol. 210 p. 56, 1831.

[2] City of Edinburgh collection, Lady Stair's Museum. Burns taken from the Plough by the Genius of Poetry by Julius Caesar Ibbetson. Inscribed verso, 'This drawing by Ibbetson was given to me by my father, Alex, Nasmyth, who had it given him by Burns. James Nasmyth [Penhurst Street?] Oct 26 1861'

[3] Attestations referred to in Letter to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh from Thomas Hamilton junior, relative to his qualifications for filling the office of Superintendent of Public Works of the City of Edinburgh. Edinburgh [1819] p. 8.

[4] Ibid. letter from George Thomson to the Lord Provost dated 1 March 1819.

[5] The Scotsman 24 January 1820

[6]  Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-99

[7] The Scotsman 5 February 1823 p. 87(b).

[8] The Scotsman 19 April 1826 p. 246(d).

[9] Caledonian Mercury, 22 January 1801 p. 1(d). See also Joe Rock: ‘”An ingenious self-taught sculptor”, Robert Forrest [1789-1852]’ in the Sculpture Journal, Vol. IX, 2003, pp. 62-71.

[10] The Scotsman 5 February 1823 p. 87(b).

[11] The Scotsman 7 February 1829.



   Fig. 1. Burns Monument, Alloway, Ayrshire.

Fig. 2. Burns rescued from the plough, by J. C. Ibbetson, c.1802. [Collection of City of Edinburgh]

Fig. 3. The Lysicrates Monument, below the Acropolis, Athens. Photograph c. 1860.

Fig. 4. Suggested design for the finial, from the 
Antiquities of Athens [1751].

Fig. 5. Watercolour view of the Burns Monument. Here attributed to
Andrew Wilson. [From the Burns National Collection]

Figs. 6 & 7. Copy drawings attributed to W. H. Playfair after Thomas Hamilton, c. 1819

Figure 8. Finial of the Monument of Lysicrates from Stuart and Revett, Antiquities of Athens.

Fig. 9. Capital from Temple of Jupiter, from Antoine Desgodetz: Les Edifices Antiques de Rome, dessines et mesures tres exactement. Paris [1682].

Fig. 10. Table leg in porphyry, Plate VIII. A description of the collection of ancient marbles in the British Musuem..., Volume 3, London ( 1815). The published text explains that this was found in 1772 and it was realised that it matched two other legs found in 1752.

Fig. 11. Bust of Burns by John Steell. Presented to the Trustees by John Keppie ARSA, 18

Fig. 12. Carved figures of Tam O'Shanter, Souter Johnny in the house designed for their display. Photograph by James Valentine c. 1860, copied to a glass lantern slide [National Burns Collection]


Attestations referred to in Letter to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh from Thomas Hamilton junior, relative to his qualifications for filling the office of Superintendent of Public Works of the City of Edinburgh. Edinburgh [1819]

British Museum: Description of the Collection of Ancient Marbles in the British Museum, Part III, London [1815].

Ian Fisher: 'Thomas Hamilton of Edinburgh, Architect and Town Planner, 1784-1858' Un-published dissertation, Christ Church, Oxford, 1965.

Rupert Gunnis: Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851, London [1953].

Joe Rock: ‘”An ingenious self-taught sculptor”, Robert Forrest [1789-1852]’ in the Sculpture Journal, Vol. IX, 2003, pp. 62-71.

Joe Rock: Thomas Hamilton, Architect, 1784-1858. Edinburgh (Talbot Rice Art Gallery),

For other images of the Monument see:


The National Burns Collection