No one can drive through Auchinleck without realizing that the village’s most distinguished buildings lie in the Churchyard. Even in their faded glory the eye is drawn to the simple classical cube of the Boswell Mausoleum and its accompanying seventeenth century, Boswell Aisle, once the parish church.
The Boswell Mausoleum, which adjoins the old kirk did not start life as a tomb. It was originally constructed in the mid 1750s by Lord Auchinleck as a two-storeyed Laird’s Loft with a gallery over- looking the congregation, facing the pulpit. On the ground floor was a cosy ‘chamber’ as James Boswell referred to it with its own fireplace, table and chairs. Here the family could retire – or listen by the window to the barn-storming preachers, who attracted congregations too vast for the kirk itself, declaiming from a tented pulpit in the graveyard.
The Loft was not only used by the family. The Kirk Sessions were held there and it was also the place where the Boswell tenantry came to pay their rents. Evidence of the old loft survives in the simple stone fire surround and the blocked up windows on the south wall. As with Auchinleck House, which was built at the same time, no architect has been identified with this handsome structure, but the guiding hand of Lord Auchinleck is clear. He recorded discussing architecture with his neighbour, the earl of Dumfries, over dinner at Dumfries House. Certainly the Adam brothers’ designs would have been an inspiration for the classically minded Lord Auchinleck.
It was not just for present day comforts that Lord Auchinleck built the loft. Beneath it, he constructed a columbarium (literally a pigeon house) as the future resting place for him and his family. And it is here that James Boswell now lies, as in life, surrounded by his father, mother, step-mother, wife, a daughter and son – the dramatis personae who caused him such anguish and love as so unflinchingly recorded in his Journals.
It was some 45 years after Boswell’s internment that the loft was officially turned into the family mausoleum. The cause was the completion of the adjacent Victorian church and the unroofing of the old kirk, which rendered the Laird’s Loft redundant. Again, the architect of the transformation is unknown, but it was a most accomplished exercise, which saw the homely loft transformed into a dignified, neo-classical monument with a stone pyramid roof, topped with funerary urn, and blank walls only relieved by a beautifully carved coat of arms. Three nineteenth century Boswells in their coffins were the only occupants of this remarkable new space. Since then the chamber has remained virtually untouched.