This is the family seat of the Charteris family, the Earl of Wemyss and March. Gosford’s House looks grand and the pleasure grounds are vast but hidden among the trees sits and an unusual and rather austere building telling a tale of Jacobite loss, Freemason power and ancient Gods. Access is restricted to the summer months, please check the website for details.
There are many things to capture your interest around Gosford House but nothing comes across as intriguing as the Wemyss mausoleum. Not far from the entrance to the estate, a long and straight road with lime trees, sycamores and oaks, takes you towards two massive stone pillars with two unusual figures guarding the entrance.
Who are they?
The figures on the stone gate-pillars are copies of the ancient Roman marble statue of Arrotino or the Blade Sharpener. He was part of a group representing Apollo flaying alive the satyr Marsyas, who had first challenged the goddess Athena by picking up a flute she had cast away and then Apollon himself to a musical contest. He paid for his hubris with his hide and his life. The figures are a gruesome reminder of the pains of death and a powerful statement for those advancing towards the mausoleum: This certainly is no ordinary man’s grave.
Who lies buried in the Wemyss mausoleum?
Francis Wemyss Charteris (1723-1808) was a Scottish landowner, 6th Earl of Wemyss. His elder brother David, Lord Elcho, was implicated in the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and attainted in 1746. He died childless in 1787, therefore Charteris inherited the title as 7th Earl of Wemyss. David had been one of the few Jacobites excluded from the 1747 Act of Indemnity. He never came back home to Scotland but spent the rest of his life in France and Switzerland. When his wife Sofia died in childbirth in 1777; Elcho left no legitimate offspring. After his death in 1787, his property passed to his younger brother Francis.
Francis Wemyss Charteris (1723-1808)
In 1756 Francis Wemyss Cahrteris commissioned Isaac Ware to built the monumental Amisfield House on the site purchased by his maternal grandmother, and named after her home estate of Amisfield. He further commissioned John Henderson to remodel the house in 1784, having purchased Gosford House in 1781 in which to reside during the construction works. When Amisfield House was ready for reoccupation Charteris commissioned Robert Adam to overhaul the entire design of Gosford House.
Charteris died in August 1808, aged 84 and is buried in the Wemyss Mausoleum (a huge stone pyramid) near Gosford House, the estate he had acquired in 1781 or 1784 (depending on the source). The Earl is the only member of the family to be buried within the mausoleum.
The austere pyramid is an unusual sight and certainly an uncommon style for am mausoleum in Scotland. The reason being not an architectural fancy or fashion but the strong faith of its creator – Francis Wemyss Charteris was a Freemason
The Freemasons Grave
The mausoleum was built between 1795 and 1798. Thomas Harrison of Lancaster assisted. It was a precisely thought through built. The look of simplicity is deceiving, there is more to it than meets the eye. Tributes have been paid to Masonic symbology, numerology and geometry. Here are just a few examples.
This Mausoleum, with 64 niches or loculi, comprised a 33-foot-square cuboid, 18 feet high, with four porticoes each with four plain, monolithic Tuscan Doric columns, with unusual stepped pediments, surmounted by a stone pyramid reposing at an angle of incline of his Mausoleum, with 64 niches or loculi, comprised a 33-foot-square cuboid, 18 feet high, with four porticoes each with four plain, monolithic Tuscan Doric columns, with unusual stepped pediments, surmounted by a stone pyramid reposing at an angle of incline of 53° 39° – similar to the 51° 50° 46″ now considered to be the angle of incline of the Great Pyramid. The building issurrounded by yew trees, a lawn, and a substantial temenos wall, with a wide, joggled ashlar coping, and a fosse.
One of Francis’s final projects, in 1808, was to divert the Gosford burn to a new course, along the bottom of the sunk-fence and beneath the avenue that led from the New House to the Mausoleum. As a result, anybody walking from the lush Pleasure Grounds – whose overall shape resembled a living womb – to the necropolis and Mausoleum, would pass over the sunk-fence and a bridge, across the stream where it fell noisily over a 5-foot high widely-overhanging water-fall – symbolizing transition from onerealm to another. Also, any funeral procession from the New or Old House to the Mausoleum would, half-way along the grassy avenue, cross the same stream by a plain bridge. In this manner, Francis arranged that anybody entering the necropolis would cross running water as, in most mythologies, souls must do on their passage to the next world. They would also, first approaching along the avenue, pass through three gates, of iron and bronze, and it is probable that all three would have been closed, except on special occasions. (Three heavy bronze keys survive.)
(The Mausoleum. Gosford Concepts.)
Francis was Grand-Master Mason of the Grand Lodge of Scotland in1747 and 1748. His house in St. John Street in Edinburgh had a door communicating directly to the neighbouring Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2. This lodge was a special one. Founded in 1677, its was a daughter-lodge of Lodge Mother Kilwinning (or Lodge No. 0) the most venerated Masonic Lodge in the world.
Many symbolic, numerical, geometrical and spiritual “secrets” may be discerned hidden within Francis’s and Thomas Harrison’s plain, unadorned Mausoleum and its necropolis. As befitted a lifelong Freemason, Francis practised discretion. Of diaries or memoirs, nothing survives, and only two letters are extant. It is possible that his personal written records were destroyed by his heirs, in a similar spirit to their destruction of the wings of his New House; but it is as likely that he destroyed them himself, in the cause of discretion. On this hypothesis, he intended that his astonishing physical legacy of landscapes, buildings and art, and his own personality, should constitute a mystery which posterity must unravel for itself, if it cared to and could do so.
(The Mausoleum. Gosford Concepts)
There is no access to the mausoleum proper and masonic numbers, structures and lines will rarely become apparent to the naked eye. The Mason’s mausoleum remains a mystery. One that will stay with you for a long time after you have left.
I would like to thank Martin Andrews, Factor and Caroline Smith, PA to the Factor at Wemyss and March Estates for allowing acces during winter and supplying valuable information and excerpts of the Gosford Concepts.
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The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for my blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Find treasure all over Scotland with my latest book. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share my passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.