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Arran Historical Society members enjoyed a revealing and entertaining talk about some of the historical treasures held at Brodick Castle by Sue Mills of the National Trust for Scotland at their March meeting.
Starting with the first Duke of Hamilton in the 17th century, members learned of his rich past and his ultimate demise. A participant during the religious wars involving parliament, Charles the 1st and the Presbyterians in Scotland, the King initially had him imprisoned for failing him in Scotland.
After he was released he turned to parliament, he then committed himself to Charles the 2nd and commanded a Royalist army which was defeated by a parliamentary army at the battle of Preston. He was then imprisoned and beheaded by the parliamentarians and in the castle is his bible he is reputed to have carried to his execution.
Sue continued with the history of the family, describing their recovery from setbacks and their development into the premier family in Scotland. She then described a wooden table cabinet which may have originated at this time. It is an intricate object with many drawers for curiosities obtained during The Grand Tour, or a store for fossils at the time of The Enlightenment.
The family developed Hamilton Palace into the largest, richest and one of the foremost mansion house in Britain over the next 150 years. Robert Adam was responsible for some of the design of Hamilton Palace. The family collected a vast selection of old masters and commissioned contemporary paintings and portraits by Constable, Gainsborough, Raeburn, Ramsay and others. These were bought with the income from their estates and marriage alliances to rich heiresses.
The 10th Duke married Susan Beckworth in 1810. Her father was an avid collector of objects of silver, jade, jewels and horn acquired during his travels abroad and on The Grand Tour. A dinner set of porcelain was commissioned with armorial badges of the Hamilton and Beckford family.
Sue also described some of the satirical prints, the ones suitable for public viewing, of the extreme fashions and hairstyles in the late 18th century.
The wealth obtained by the Hamilton family from coal mining in the 19th century was vast. The 11th Duke was a dandy and a gambler who totally depleted the family fortune. By 1880 they had to sell their assets with a debt of one million pounds, the equivalent of a hundred million today. There was a sale of possessions at Christies Auction House in 1882 where works of the old masters, silver, porcelain and crockery was sold. Christie’s produced a complete catalogue to list all of the items. Despite this an astounding variety of pieces remain in Brodick Castle.
Hamilton Palace would later suffer from coal mining subsidence and with its upkeep insurmountable, it was demolished in 1928.
The next meeting of the society will be on Monday April 16 at 2pm in Brodick Hall when Neil Clark from the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University will talk on the geology of Arran.
A jade, ruby and emerald bowl from the Brodick Castle collection. No_B14history01