Words & Photos by Jeremy Watson of Lennox Heritage Society
For at least the last two decades opportunistic trees have been slowly, but steadily swelling within the carved parapet of this little building.
The pair of trees are no longer mere saplings, but tower above it.
With almost imperceptible but extraordinary destructive forces, they are tearing the masonry apart.
Moisture seeping into the masonry turns to ice each winter, adding its own expansive pressures.
New cracks provide fresh purchase for further vegetation and moisture.
The slates, protecting it from the elements above, slide off and inwards as the timber decays.
It is only a matter of time before it crumbles in on itself completely and is lost forever.
Along the string courses of the outer walls, grotesque faces, human and animal, grimace their unfettered reprimand and their fear.
This is the Smollett Mausoleum.
A small, but important B-Listed building in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church in Alexandria.
Long forgotten while the church still stood, it is now more exposed to view.
Yet this doesn’t appear to focus any more of the respect and acknowledgement it deserves.
St Andrew’s Church, for decades partially concealed it, has now disappeared, demolished after two fires last year.
The mausoleum may be on the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland, but this has drawn insufficient attention or comment.
It continues to deteriorate.
The demise of the church building should have highlighted this small building which stood behind it.
Every day hundreds of people pass close by where it protrudes through the churchyard boundary wall towards the Mitchell Way car parks – but with little or no awareness of what this is.
With the future of Mitchell Way itself not quite resolved, but imminently close to redevelopment, hopefully this little building and its shady graveyard setting will be recognised.
The many graves contribute social memory in stone.
The mausoleum, small as it is, adds a great deal to this with its ornate architectural merit and historical associations.
The Smolletts, interred or memorialised, are connected to the same broader family renowned in the Vale of Leven and further afield.
Think of Tobias of Renton – Scottish novelist, surgeon, critic and playwright.
Or Alexander, MP for Dunbartonshire from 1841 to 1859, in whose memory we have the Fountain in Alexandria.
Stylistically this building is Romanesque Revival.
It has a shallow T-layout and straddles the rear wall of the churchyard.
The frontage has a simple shaped yet richly carved arched entrance over the heavy timbered doors.
It is built of sandstone ashlar and has zoomorphic and figurative sculptures – strange faces that peer from the parapets.
Human or monster, wolf or monkey.
Quite what they all signify on such an otherwise very formal family memorial is open to speculation.
So, what is the fate of this important little building?
The church and churchyard were considered in the public consultation on the future of Alexandria a few years ago.
Time has a strange way of overtaking us sometimes.
The church itself has completely disappeared since then!
How can the churchyard be utilised better?
It is both sacred and socially meaningful.
Is there an opportunity to make this area publicly accessible as a park for contemplation?
Does the demise of the church building open up new opportunities for a space for occasional events such as arts and crafts or food markets?
Most of the gravestones need attention to make them safe, but that is straightforward compared to saving this mausoleum.
When the gates and gateposts were replaced after the last of the rubble from the church was removed, wildflower seeds were sown.
This summer a beautiful array of bright red poppies highlighted by blue cornflowers and some other flowers sprung from the earth.
This is highly commended as it is appropriate to the setting and a joy to behold.
But within the far wall still sits this forlorn little mausoleum just waiting in hope for its own salvation.
The Lennox Heritage Society and others have pointed out its decay and the damage caused by the trees growing from the masonry to the Council several times over the last two decades.
For a time, the Council maintained the churchyard grass, but even then, turned a blind eye to the trees growing in the mausoleum masonry.
At the very least the trees, which have continued to grow substantially, need to be removed or at least trimmed back severely and coated with growth inhibitor.
There is a dictum that there is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.
We really need to preserve such vestiges of our cultural past for our future.