Looking rather out-of-place and towering 15 metres above the surrounding rows of pebble-dashed 1930s bungalows, this neoclassical mausoleum looks more like something that you would come across when visiting the Forum in Rome rather than beside a bowling club in an Edinburgh suburb!
This unexpected sight is the final resting place of William Henry Miller, one-time MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, a rather curious and eccentric chap whose family once owned all the surrounding land and the nearby Craigentinny House. When it was built, the mausoleum stood in open fields and would have been slightly less incongruous, but a puzzle nonetheless. Why did he choose to be buried here rather than in a churchyard and why was the coffin entombed at the bottom of a deep 40ft stone-lined shaft and sealed with a massive stone slab?
Miller spent most of his early life at his home in Berkshire, surrounded by the thousands of antique books that he was passionate about collecting, but moved to Edinburgh to live in the family estate in his later years. He died in 1848 leaving the huge sum of £20,000 (equivalent to about £2.3 million today) for the erection of a suitable monument to celebrate his life and the arts.
Designed by the architect David Rhind and featuring two bas-relief carvings by the renowned British sculptor Alfred Gatley, who in his day, was known as ‘The Landseer of Sculpture’. The carving on the south side, titled ‘The Song of Moses & Miriam’, depicts the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites with their possessions and livestock and oddly playing tambourines as they go. On the north side can be seen ‘The overthrowof Pharaoh in the Red Sea,’ as Pharaoh and his army are engulfed by the power of the waves.
The carvings were widely admired at the time, and comparison with the famous Elgin stones lead to the ‘Craigentinny Marbles’, moniker.
Rumours abounded that the burial conditions were to conceal the fact that he was a hermaphrodite or a changeling, but the most likely explanation was that he was simply, like Pharaoh himself, afraid of grave robbers. This was just a few years after a couple of other gentlemen called Burke and Hare had been active in Edinburgh.
If you want to view Miller’s 17th Century Family home, Craigentinny House, it can be found about half a mile back towards town at 9 Loaning Road.
Miller is also remembered today by the next-door bowling club who depict the Marbles on their club crest.
Address: 3c Craigentinny Crescent, EH7 6PR