Friday, 12 October 2012

An Appreciation of Old Scottish Country Homes and Castles (Part Seven)

This is the seventh part of my gallery celebrating Scottish stately homes and castles. The images in this gallery were taken during the Edwardian period and are from my own family collection. I have attempted to provide a history of each home or castle however the fact that many such old homes are in ruinous, vacant or no longer exist is to be regretted. The loss of any historic building is indeed unfortunate so this gallery also serves as a celebration of this lost heritage and the various families over the centuries who built and owned these fascinating properties.

Douglas Castle, the chapel is visible to the rear.
The old tower is covered in ivy to the right.  

Douglas Castle in South Lanarkshire dates from 1757 but a Douglas family owned castle had been on the site since around 1288. After being captured during the Wars of Scottish Independence in 1307, the original castle was then recaptured by Sir James Douglas. A grateful Robert the Bruce then bestowed the title 'Earls of Douglas' on the family. But by the 15th century, the power of the "Black" Douglases had come to threaten the Stuart monarchy. In 1455 James II led an expedition against the rebellious 9th Earl, defeating his forces at the battle of Arkinholm. Douglas Castle was sacked and the family's lands and titles forfeited. The "Red" Douglases, Earls of Angus, had sided with the King against the senior branch of their family, and it was they who gained the Douglas lands in Lanarkshire. It is likely that the castle was rebuilt soon after 1455. In 1703, Archibald Douglas, 3rd Marquess of Douglas was created Duke of Douglas, with his principal seat at Douglas Castle. The castle was again rebuilt around this time as a tower house with an enclosed courtyard and corner tower but fire destroyed all but the corner tower in 1755.

In 1757 the Duke of Douglas commissioned the Adam Brothers to design and construct an enormous five storey castellated mansion at Douglas in a very extensive park spanning the valley of the Douglas Water. The Duke however died in 1761 with only around half of the original design completed. The Duke's estate then became the subject of a bitter legal dispute known as the 'Douglas Cause' between his nephew, the first Baron Douglas, and the Duke of Hamilton. Lord Douglas was eventually victorious, the castle then descending through him to the Earls of Home. In 1883 the 12th Lord Home commissioned an elaborate private chapel from the Architect Henry Wilson. The chapel included exquisite early Florentine Renaissance-inspired polychrome decoration with remarkable tree-like trusses projecting from the bas-relief frieze to support the painted vault.
During the 1930s the 13th Earl of Home allowed the mining of coal in the park adjacent to the castle in an attempt to relieve desperate levels of local unemployment. Sadly the mining caused dangerous subsidence to the castle and it had to be demolished about 1938. The Chapel survived until after 1959. Today, only the semi-ruinous 17th corner tower of the old castle remains. This had been retained as a garden folly when the later mansion was built. 

Fort Castle, Ayr, pre 1908

Fort Castle [St John's Tower] in Ayr is now the town's oldest surviving building. The old church of St John the Baptist had stood on this site since the very early 13th century, the earliest verifiable reference being 1233. In recent history it has been alleged that the church occupied the site of an earlier Culdee Church, skeletons having been found under the old 13th century Church foundations which may have been consistent with earlier Culdee burials. The present tower, being the only remaining evidence of St John's Church, was built up against its west gable in the 15th century.

St John's church witnessed many historic occasions. In 1315 the Scottish Parliament met here and granted the Crown of Scotland to Robert the Bruce. The son-in-law of John Knox served as Minister here, and Elizabeth, a daughter of John Knox, is buried near the tower. John Knox himself may also have preached here. But when Cromwell built his great Citadel at Ayr in 1652-54 he turned St John's into a shelter for his forces, enclosing the Church and graveyard with a defensive wall, parts of which remain today. The old sanctuary thus became the centre of the Fort of Ayr [later being referred to as Fort Castle] with the tower having an unobstructed view of the surrounding area and sea. In compensation, Cromwell gave the Church members one thousand Scots Merks to build another Church. The old Church was re-used for worship in 1687-88 but about 1736 the Ayr Town Council authorised the Church stones to be used in the construction of the Tollbooth steeple in the Sandgate. A parapet was added to the remaining tower in 1778.

Mr John Miller purchased the tower in 1857 and turned it into a gentleman's Gothic residence, adding additional towers (as shown above). Upon his death it was sold to the Marquis of Bute who removed the extra recent additions in 1914, restoring the original form of the Tower. In 1949 Lord Bute transferred ownership to the Burgh of Ayr.

The last witch to be burned in Scotland (1727) is said to have been buried in the grounds around the Tower, and two escape passages are believed to reach the shore from the Tower. Excavations have exposed the foundations of the old church, showing that it was cruciform, measuring about 140ft in length by 80ft over the transepts. The foundations of six nave piers and the moulded base of one have been uncovered. In 1891 stones from the original floor were taken to build an altar in the Episcopal Church.

Bibliography :

- Various Internet sources
- All images are from my own collection and may be freely copied provided a link is given back to this page.

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