Saturday, June 25, 2016

Neidpath Castle, Near Peebles, Scotland

Neidpath Castle
Near Peebles

Neidpath Castle, a fantastic L-plan tower house, overlooks the River Tweed, roughly a mile to the West of the town of Peebles in the Scottish Borders. 

It's likely that this position on the river, was originally occupied by a small castle, probably built around 1263 -1266, by Sir Simon Fraser whilst he was the High Sheriff of Tweeddale. During the 14th century, the Neidpath barony was absorbed into the Hay family's fortunes....and it was Sir William de Haya that most likely built a castle or tower house on this site in the late 14th century. The lands in this area were successfully held by the Hay family right through to the 17th century. The principle seat of the Hay family at this time was Yester Castle, though the family still used Neidpath on occasion.

In 1563 Neidpath played host to Mary Queen of Scots, and then, some twenty four years later, to her son, James VI. In 1645, Neidpath was garrisoned against James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose (Royalist) by John Hay of Yester Castle. The following year he joined the Kings cause, and received the Earldom of Tweeddale as a reward from Charles II. In 1650, as Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland, Neidpath was attacked by the advancing New Model army. Historians disagree as to whether it was simply surrendered to Cromwell's forces, or if it suffered some sort of siege. It's quite possible that the 13th century tower, built by Sir William de Haya, was destroyed by artillery fire at this time.

Above. Looking North across the River Tweed. 

In the 1660s, the 2nd Earl of Tweeddale, John Hay, was declared bankrupt. To satisfy his creditors and raise money to pay off his debts, he was forced to sell Neidpath to William Douglas, 1st Duke of Queensberry. Douglas later gave the castle to his son, William Douglas (later 1st Earl of March) William Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott are both said to have visited the castle during William Douglas' ownership. When William died, in 1810, the castle, with the Earldom of March, passed to the Earl of Wemyss. To this day, the castle still belongs to the Earl of Wemyss, and the title, Lord of Neidpath is still a courtesy title held by the current owner.

Above. Looking West along the footpath leading to the castle.

The L-plan tower was somewhat neglected during the mid to late 18th century, so much so that, in 1790, part of the upper floor of one of the wings collapsed.....damage that can still be seen today. The battlements are roofed, a luxury seldom seen in Scottish tower houses. The tower house still has very few windows, a structural point that is usually changed over the years in most tower houses as they become comfortable homes rather than defensive buildings. The first floor hall and the basement are vaulted.

Above. Old print of Neidpath Castle.

The castle is not open to the public, though it can be viewed from across the river, and from the approaching path that runs to the East of the castle.

Neidpath Castle's own website.

Photos used by courtesy of Adrian Leach (copyright 2016)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Breaking News - The Castle Studies Trust increases castle studies grants

Breaking News - The Castle Studies Trust increases castle studies grants.

Good news for castle lovers and history buffs....the Castle Studies Trust are now able to offer grants of up to £7500 for the funding of investigative projects starting from September this year. 

Jeremy Cunnington, the Castle Studies Trust's Chair of Trustees, says of this increase in funding "This is great news as it will allow us to fund bigger and more diverse projects and is part of our long term aim of continuously increasing the maximum amount we can award per grant to the point where we can look to fund a full scale research excavation."

The Trust enables the investigation and surveying of castles around the UK, improving our understanding of these magnificent buildings and raising awareness of their sometimes perilous state.

For more information about the grant process, check here.

Check here for recent news on Gleaston Castle in Cumbria.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Aldingham Motte, Aldingham

Aldingham Motte

Today was the second day out at Gleaston Castle, and another opportunity to explore the ruins and learn some survey techniques. The journey to Gleaston provided me with a couple of views of Aldingham Motte that I'd not seen before. The following photos were all taken from Riddings Lane to the West of the motte, and show the earthworks in a context that is not possible close up.

The last two photos show the ditch with its causeway to the North of the motte. From this vantage point, the land between the ditch and the motte appears to be raised slightly, suggesting that this may have been the bailey area. When viewed from ground level, this ditch seems strangely out of place and unconnected with the motte.....but the high vantage point pulls the whole earthwork together.

The photo above shows the earthworks in their totallity....and from this angle and elevation, the whole structure resembles some of the better mottes I've seen in South West Scotland such as Urr and Borgue.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Kendal, Market Place library

Market Place Library

Today we are used to seeing the top of the Market Place occupied by the War Memorial, erected in 1921 and dedicated on the 8th of July that year, on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Before the memorial, this space was occupied by St George's Chapel, which all but blocked entry to the Market Place. The building was erected in 1754, and served as a chapel upstairs on the first floor, with shops on the ground floor. 

Above. St George's Chapel at the head of the Market Place.

Below the shops was the town jail and cellars used for storing wines and spirits. The narrow alleys down each side of the chapel, were called Cheapside and Mercer's Lane....the signs for these two now vanished streets can still be seen on today. 

The Moot Hall, shown in the photo below (with the clock on the side of the tower) was originally the seat of power in Kendal....housing the courts and rooms where the Town Council met to discuss all matters politic. The Moot Hall was probably built sometime around 1592, and stood un-altered until 1795, when it was largely rebuilt, providing upgraded facilities for the Town Council and the courts. At this time, the clock was added to the tower, projecting out over Stricklandgate. 

Above. Stricklandgate showing the Moot Hall and the library.  

The clock did not keep very good time according to Arthur Nichols, and he tells us that it was then given to St Thomas' church at the bottom of Windermere Road, in 1862. Today, the clock appears to be housed on the first floor of the Sports Direct store on Sandes Avenue. The date certainly ties in with the gifting of the clock to the church, and the hands and general design appear to be similar to the clock shown in the photo above. 

Above. Possibly the Moot Hall clock, now housed in the Sports Direct store.

St George's Chapel was evidently demolished in 1855, and a covered market was set up on the now empty site. In 1887, the Market Hall was opened, in celebration of Queen Victoria's Jubilee. The covered market was moved into the new premises. 

Above. The Public Library at the head of the Market Place. 

The building was then converted into a Public Library in 1891, when the Public Libraries Act was adopted by the Kendal Borough Council. This act gave local Borough councils the power to establish free public libraries, to enable those who were willing and able, to use the facilities for 'self improvement through books and reading'. 

Above. The library building being demolished. 

In 1909, the Carnegie Library on Stricklandgate was opened, providing the town with larger, more modern library facilities. The same firm that built the old library back in 1855, were hired to demolish it and open up the head of the Market Place. 

Above. The facade of the old Market Place library. 

Thankfully for us, a local printing family, the Thompsons, had acquired land at the end of Sandes Avenue. Here they erected a building to house their printing presses, and it was decided that the handsome front facade and the side walls would be moved from the Market Place, and incorporated into their new building.

Above. Panoramic view of the old Thompson building.

The Sports Direct store still retains this intriguing piece of architectural recycling, with the front and side walls still visible today.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Breaking News - Glasgow Scottish Water project uncovers medieval castle

Breaking News
Glasgow Scottish Water project uncovers medieval castle

The buried remains of not one, but two castles have been discovered beneath the streets of wait for a new castle to come along....and then two suddenly appear at the same time. The two buried structures are thought to represent a 12th or 13th century castle used as secure accommodation by the Bishops of Glasgow, as well as the later Partick Castle.

More information can be found at the BBC website.

More information at the Evening Times website.

More information at the Scottish Water website.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dunstaffnage Castle, Nr Oban, Scotland

Dunstaffnage Castle
Argyll and Bute
Near Oban

Before Dunstaffnage Castle was built, the headland upon which it sits, may have been occupied by a fort, Dun Monaidh, established as a defencive outpost of the Dal Riatan kingdom of Western Scotland and North Eastern Ulster. This early fort was probably established during the early 7th century and is recorded by John Monipennie, a 17th century historian, as the resting place of the Scottish Stone of Destiny after its removal from Ireland, and before its onward journey to Scone Palace in 843. Modern historians have however, questioned Dunstaffnage's connection with the now famous stone.

Above. The castle approaching from the South.

The castle was built by the Lord of Lorn, Duncan MacDougall sometime around 1220, as his principle residence. The castle was attacked in 1230 by Uspak (Ospakr Ogmundsson), self styled sea King of the Isles and military commander representing Hakon Hakonarson (King of Norway) interests in Bute and Kintyre. The attack was unsuccessful, probably indicating that, even after only ten years or so of building, it was a formidable fortress.

Duncan MacDougall's son Ewan inherited his father's estates and titles in the 1240s. He took on the title King of the Isles, extending and expanding the MacDougall clan's influence in the region. It's thought that Ewan was responsible for the addition of the three round towers into the castle's structure, and also for enlarging the hall. 

After the Scottish king Alexander III finally rid Argyll of the Norse raiders, the MacDougalls were rewarded for their support of the monarchy, and Ewan's son Alexander was made Sherriff of Argyll in 1293. Their support of the Balliol family's claim to the Scottish throne during the Scottish wars of independence however, brought them into conflict with Robert Bruce, who defeated the MacDougall clan in 1308 at the battle of the Pass of Brander. Robert Bruce took control of Dunstaffnage castle after a short siege. 

Above. The castle's South Eastern walls. 

The castle was seized by James I in 1431 following the battle of Inverlochy, one of a number of conflicts between the Crown and rebel Scottish clans. In 1455, Dunstaffnage played host to the 9th Earl of Douglas, James Douglas, on his way to meet with John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles.

John Stewart of Lorn, keeper of Dunstaffnage castle was stabbed by supporters of his rival, Alan MacDougall on his way to his marriage at the castle. MacDougall managed to wrest the castle from John Stewart's control, but his occupation of the castle was short lived and he was later ejected by James III. The castle was then granted to Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll in 1470. Dunstaffnage was a possession passed from family to family, in times of peace and of violence.

Above. The castle from the South.

It was important for the Earls of Argyll that the castle was ready for any eventuality, especially any attempt by enemies of the Crown to take it and use it as a base. In this context, the castle's gatehouse (previously a round tower) was replaced with a four storey tower house with external access across a drawbridge (a stone stair case is used today)

During the English Civil War (The Wars of the Three Kingdoms) Dunstaffnage was besieged by James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose's forces (1644) Montrose was fighting for the Royalist cause, but could not force the defending troops. However, in 1685, Royalist forces burned the castle, causing significant damage.

During both the 1715 and the 1745 Jacobite rebellions the castle was occupied by Government forces, and it was here, in 1745, that Flora MacDonald, who aided the escape of the Stewart upstart, was imprisoned before her eventual transport to London.

Above, The gatehouse.

 Above. The gatehouse from the wall walk.

The castle was maintained and added to by the Campbells, who, in 1725, erected a new house over the top of what was the West range of buildings. By this time though, the fabric of the caste was beginning to show its age. To add insult to ageing injury, in 1810, a fire gutted the castle. The damage was so great, that the stewards were forced to leave the castle set up residence in nearby Dunstaffnage House.

Above. Interior view of the Southern wall.

In 1903, the Duke of Argyll undertook a restoration of the castle. Further work was delayed by World War I, and the full schedule of works was never completed. In 1958, with the agreement of the 21st Captain of Dunstaffnage Castle, and the Duke of Argyll, the castle was gifted into state care. Today, Historic Scotland are guardians.

Dunstaffnage is an irregular quadrangle castle, with three round towers at three corners (one very small tower at the South Western angel) The walls are, in some places, up to eighteen metres high and on average, three metres thick. These figures in themselves give some indication as to the quality of defence that the castle would have afforded....however, the fact that the castle is built on top of a rocky outcrop, also means that it would have been all but impossible to undermine the walls or tunnel into the castle.

The wall walk originally ran the full circuit of the curtain wall. Historic Scotland have done a lot of restoration on this aspect of the wall, repairing the walk way and making it accessible in places. A number of arrow slits were originally inserted into the walls, and, as weaponry became more advanced, were replaced with gun loops, one of which is shown below.

Above. Pistol or gun loop, angled, possibly for protecting a passageway. 

At, or around the time the walls were erected, three round towers were inserted into the circuit of walls, one at the North, one at the East and another at the West. The Northern tower is widely regarded as the keep here at Dunstaffnage. It stands to three storeys now, but was probably originally four storeys tall. As this was most likely the keep, it would have contained either the Lord's apartments or accommodation for high status visitors. 

The Western tower hardly projects beyond the exterior of the wall, and is largely built within the walls. It was entered solely through an entrance from the wall walk. This tower contains a basement that was most likely some sort of holding cell or prison with access from above. 

The Eastern tower was mostly rebuilt during the 15th century as a gatehouse (later replaced with the 17th century tower house\gateway)

Above. View of the North West range and the well. 

Above. View of the North West range and the well. 

The gatehouse, which was built during the 15th century by the Campbells during their tenancy of the castle, replaced the original gatehouse in the Eastern tower. It is basically a four storey tower house, very similar in structure to the many tower houses found throughout Scotland. The entrance runs through half of the vaulted basement, with a number of rooms occupying the other half. A number of arrow slits\gun loops face out towards the gate. The stone stair that now provides access to the gatehouse, replaced an earlier drawbridge. During the 18th century, the tower house\gatehouse was altered to provide private accommodation for visiting Campbells. 

The range of buildings along the North and East walls, are now only represented by footings and foundations. There would have been a hall built above vaulted cellars, kitchen and other domestic buildings.

The castle is run by Historic Scotland. Visiting information can be found here - Dunstaffnage visiting information.

All photos courtesy of Mr Chris Base (copyright 2016)