Royal Commission on the Ancient Monuments of Stirlingshire


209. Duntreath Castle. Duntreath Castle is situated on a level site in the bottom of the Blane valley, a mile and a half NW. of Blanefield; near by on the SW. there runs the Blane Water, and on the NE. the ground begins to rise to the steep slopes of the Strathblane Hills. Much of the original building has long since been removed, but  in the 17th century (infra) the castle must have been a very imposing one, as it then consisted of a tower and a quadrangular set of buildings enclosing a central courtyard.4 Now, however, only the tower survives, together with part of a large Victorian edifice (infra) most of which was demolished in the summer of  1958.

The estate of Duntreath5 originally formed part of the earldom of Lennox, but at some time prior to 1364 it was granted to Murdoch, son of Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, by his brother Earl Donald. At Murdoch's death, his daughter Isabella succeeded to the estate, but in or before 1434, after the execution of Earl Duncan, James 1 made it over to his brother-in-law, William Edmonstone of Culloden, who had married Lady Mary Stewart, second daughter of Robert III. The grant, however, was not finally confirmed until 1452, when James II erected the estate into a free barony, the charter then granted being in favour of the younger Sir William in fee and heritage, and in life rent only to his father. It has remained with the Edmonstone family ever since.

From the foregoing facts it seems reasonable to infer that the Edmonstones were unlikely to have begun to build until after 1452, and that the first of their con structions was the tower, which to judge from its architectural treatment is characteristic of the latter half of the 15th century.

  1. Burke, Landed Gentry (1862-3 ed.), 634.

  2. The Scots Peerage, iv, 345.

  3. Burke, Landed Gentry (1862-3 ed.), 633 f.

  4. Cast. and Dom. Arch., iv, 212 if., from which Figs. 104 and 105 are reproduced.

  5. The historical matter utilised in this article has been derived, unless otherwise stated, from Strathblane, 72 ff.


The tower (Fig. 106, P1. 113 A), is a tall rectangular structure measuring 47 ft. by 26 ft. 9 in. over all. Its walls, which are constructed in random rubble of creamy yellow sandstone, average 4 ft. in thickness, and the SE. gable incorporates the end wall of an earlier building as high as the second storey. The quoins and the margins of the voids are dressed, and the latter, inso far as they are original, are small and boldly treated with broad chamfered margins. The building contains three main storeys and an attic and rises to a parapet-walk, which, however, has been renewed above the corbel- course at the wall-head. Internally each main floor is divided by a central cross-wall, as described below. The entrance (P1. 113 B), which formerly faced the old court yard, is situated in the SW. wall close to the S. angle, and consists of a small porch-like structure entered through a round-headed doorway. It is an unusual feature in that it projects 3 ft. 11 in. from the main wall-face, and is continued upwards to parapet level as an attenuated shaft of masonry; this is divided into two stages by offsets, of which one is immediately above the doorway and the other midway between this point and the parapet. Pre sumably this feature was contrived in order to allow more space for the wheel-stair within; the round cap-house, which surmounts it, however, is not original and the upper section of the shaft appears to have been partially modified or restored. The entrance-doorway is enriched with a double edge-roll divided by a quirk, and its internal reveal is double-checked to receive the usual combination of door and yett. Immediately within the porch entrance the NW. jamb, before the most recent alterations, was pierced with a small gun-loop, and there is evidence for a corresponding one in the SE. jamb, though now all trace of this is masked internally by secondary face-work which extends to the stair-newel. The inner end of the porch incorporates the main turn pike-stair, which rises the full height of the building. Opening off the threshold of the stair is the entry to the ground floor, which retains a wooden door originally constructed of vertical and horizontal linings, and subsequently strengthened with iron straps. The door way was contracted along with the later modifications of the entrance and the internal arrangement of the basement. The ground floor is divided into two compart ments by a central cross-partition, each compartment being ceiled over with a semicircular stone vault. In its original state the floor-area of the SE. compartment was uninterrupted except for the projection of the entrance lobby into its S. corner. From the SE. com partment access is gained to the inner or NW. one1 through a wide doorway in the NE. end of the partition wall. This doorway, which has broad, chamfered jambs and a rough relieving-arch, is so low in relation to the present floor-level as to suggest that the original floor was considerably lower. This may explain the purpose of the small, square recesses that occur in all the corners of the compartment except the W. one, where there is a window-ledge, and on the SW. side of the doorway in the partition wall. These recesses, which have the appearance of joist-holes, suggest that originally an entresol floor of timber was constructed at an inter mediate level within the vaulted compartment, as was often done to increase the storage space. In this case further evidence for its existence is to be found in the design of the small turnpike-stair in the N. angle, the threshold of which is situated 5 ft. above the present floor-level and is thus suitably placed to be associated with a loft floor. Moreover, the stair is steep and com municates directly with the floor above through a wide hatchway, checked to receive a wooden cover, all of which indicates that this section of the stair was designed exclusively for the conveyance of stores from the base ment. In the walls of the ground floor, close to the present floor-level, there are also four aumbries-three in the inner compartment and one in the NE. wall of the SE. compartment. The ground floor was formerly lighted by small, narrow windows, having deep inward splays and stepped lintel-heads, which were disposed in the positions shown on the plan, with perhaps an additional one in the NE. wall of the SE. compartment at the point where a door has been broken out at some fairly recent date.

1 This compartment has been converted into a garage since this description was prepared.

afig105.jpg (22256 bytes) The first floor has been much altered. The evidence as now visible suggests that it was originally divided, into a hall and a solar, by a transverse partition approximating in position and thickness to the one in the basement, and that this was thickened in Victorian times, apparently to make provision for mural chambers. In addition, a winding stair was inserted which was linked with the main turnpike by a narrow passage formed partly by thinning the SW. wall of the tower. The SE. compart ment, which is still entered as formerly from the main turnpike-stair, is now ceiled over with a semicircular plaster vault. Originally this compartment was lighted from three windows in the NE. wall and two in the SW. wall.

The central window on the NE., which was the principal one, has been enlarged, but its embrasure retains a stone seat along its SE. side and an aumbry in the other; its head is segmental, as are also those of theother principal windows on the first and second floors. The NW. window on this side has been walled off by the thickening of the partition. The two windows in the SW. wall have been adjusted in level to suit the new arrangement, the one to the SE. having been contrived to give light over the ceiling of the passageway, and the other so placed as to light the passage itself. The fireplace in the NW. wall is Victorian.

The NW. compartment is now approached by the narrow passageway cut out of the SW. wall of the tower (supra), which ends in a short flight of steps. Beyond this point a lobby, containing a winding stair and a bathroom, was formed during the 19th-century alterations. Within this lobby, in the SW. wall of the tower, there is one of the principal windows that formerly lit the NW. chamber; this still retains its stone seats and segmental head, but is not in its original condition as it was converted into a door and has now been reconverted into a window. A corresponding window occurs in the NE. wall, the opening of which has been widened. The NW. wall, which is the gable wall of the tower, originally contained a large fireplace which has been blocked and contracted; the extent of the old opening, however, is defined internally by a deep, heavy, stone lintel supported on moulded jambs, all original (P1. 114 c), and externally by a broad relieving-arch. Adjacent to the fireplace, in the N. angle of the chamber, is the small turnpike-stair leading from the ground floor, which continues its ascent from this level to the upper floors, evidently as a privy stair. Within its lowermost portion, set a few steps lower than the level of the first floor, is a narrow landing off which is the hatchway already referred to. This part of the staircase is square on plan, and its NW. and SW. sides contain respectively a small window and an aumbry placed directly above the hatch. Originally the staircase could be closed off by a door, set in the checked opening in its SE. wall, which on occasion could be folded back into a recess in the adjacent NE. wall. Access to the turnpike is gained through a small square mural chamber which serves the dual purpose of lobby and garderobe, the latter being projected beyond the external wall-face and supported on corbels.

The second floor resembles the first, in that it repeats the features just mentioned and, like the one below, is now subdivided in the centre by a thick transverse wall which contains a mural chamber at either end, each entered from the SE. compartment. Both compartments are subdivided by later partitioning, but original windows survive as shown in Fig. 106. In the NW. compartment, the window in the NE. wall has been enlarged, as has also an opening in the NW. wall, the original character of which is uncertain. On the NW. side of the central transverse wall there is an original fireplace which, like the one on the floor below, has had its opening contracted. It has a heavy stone lintel supported on moulded jambs with bases and capitals (P1. 114 D). On the SE. side of the partition a fireplace, presumably Victorian, is now concealed behind a timber lining, but it is clearly shown on a plan of 1889.1 The privy stair at this level is lit by a small circular aperture, 6 in. in diameter and framed externally with an incised roll-moulding. The garderobe, which is situated in the E. angle of the SE. compartment, is similar in design to that on the first floor in that it is projected externally on corbels. It contains a small window in the SE. wall, and the doorway, which is chamfered on the inside, is checked externally to receive a door which folded back into a recess. Around the ceiling in both compartments is a bold, continuous corbel-course, which coincides with the level of the parapet-walk.

The attic floor has been much altered, if not entirely rebuilt. The parapet-walk is also new, but the old wall- head of the tower survives, together with its corbel- course and traces of the spout-holes spaced at regular intervals directly over it. The treatment of this corbel- course on the NW. face of the tower is of some interest, because here the central portion is uplifted a few inches in order to receive a projecting stone ledge running horizontally and directly beneath the corbels. This ledge suggests the weather-table for the lean-to roof of a gallery, as for example at Linlithgow Palace,2 though no evidence exists that such a gallery was ever in fact con structed. A similar inflection of the corbel-course also occurs in the centre of the NW. wall, but this is confined to a length of two corbels only and its purpose is obscure.

The tower, as has been said above, was never a free standing structure, but was always contiguous with an earlier building to the SE. The age of this building (Fig. 106) is uncertain, but the fact that it antedated the tower is apparent from the remains of its end wall which forms the gable wall of the tower to a height of two storeys. The end of this wall is defined by the line of its quoins seen on the longitudinal walls of the tower. The side walls of this building, which were thinner than those of the tower, were preserved for part of their length in the vanished Victorian work. Until the latter was demol ished, the wall on the S.W., itself a t6th-century renewal, contained two openings each with a square head and a finely moulded surround stopped short of the base, and to the NW. of these a window inserted at a later date. At first-floor level the SW. wall formerly contained at least two large transomed and mullioned windows,3 and the NE. wall and a small blocked-up slit- window with a chamfered surround close to the N. angle. On the available evidence it seems probable that this building, which may conceivably date from Lennox's time, i.e. soon after 1364 (supra), was the predecessor of the tower now standing but was reconstructed, perhaps as a chapel4 as was suggested by MacGibbon and Ross, at some time after the building of the tower, perhaps in the 16th century. Additional evidence for this view might be seen in the small opening broken through from the principal stair, if this was interpreted as a squint.

1 In the possession of Ian G. Lindsay & Partners, Architects.

2 Inventory of Midlothian and West Lothian, No.356.

3 Cast. and Dom. Arch., iv, fig. 786 on p.214.

4 Ibid., 215. The legend "Chapel" will be seen on the plan here reproduced as Fig. 104.

This earlier building, together with the tower, formed the nucleus of a later complex which ultimately came to enclose a central courtyard and to produce a quadrangular plan.1 These buildings, which were largely destroyed in the 19th century, apparently comprised a NE. range made up of the tower and its earlier adjunct, a SE. range which incorporated kitchen quarters, a SW. range which was thought by MacGibbon and Ross never to have been completed, and, on the NW. side, a very fine gatehouse. Of the later buildings, the SE. range was probably the first to be finished, and was evidently of two storeys with pedimented dormers lighting the uppermost one.2

afig106.jpg (34578 bytes) The ground floor was divided into three apartments, each having an outside door and a small high-level window facing the courtyard. The kitchen was situated at the SW. end and contained a large fireplace in its SW. wall. Adjoining the kitchen at its SW. end, and seemingly built integral with it, was a small tower, so placed as to occupy the S. re-entrant angle of the courtyard. Its modest dimensions, and the presence of a scale-and- platt stair occupying the whole of the ground floor, suggest that this was primarily designed as a main entrance and circulation unit to the apartments over the kitchen and in the SW. range. At first-floor level the main stair apparently gave way to a turret stair which projected into the re-entrant angle between the SW. wall and the kitchen gable. The turret stair led to the top floor of the tower and it was presumably this room that was occupied by the "Dumb Laird", from whom the building derived its traditional title of the "Dumb Laird's Tower". Over the entrance doorway in the NE. side of the tower was a carved panel, the framework of which, consisting of stone pilasters of late 16th-century character, is preserved in the surviving portion of the Victorian building-indeed, the octagonal bay-window which contains this framework projects northwards from what might be a relic of the structure of the old stair-tower. Nothing is known of the SW. block.


The court was enclosed on its NW. side by a barmkin wall which at its centre contained the gatehouse. The latter, which measured 30 ft. across by 20 ft. in depth, was in the form of a great frontal block rising three storeys in height, and flanked by angle turrets on its outer face3 (cf Fig. 105). At its base an arched pend provided the principal entrance to the castle. On either side of the pend was a guard-chamber each of which contained a gun-loop, and in the E. angle of the building a wheel-stair, entered from the courtyard, led to the upper floors. The building of this gatehouse, which, until its destruction in or after 1857, was one of the largest and most complete examples of its class in Scotland,4 is attributed to Sir James Edmonstone, sixth of Duntreath, on the strength of a panel bearing his initials and coat of arms which is believed to have been incorporated in the structure (P1. 115 D). Originally, this panel5 was set in a hollow-moulded surround with a bilobate head, but now only the panel itself survives as a detached fragment. It is worked in relief and bears two baluster shafts, supporting an arched cable-moulding, within which the other details are framed. The shield and the ansate label that appears above it separate the initials S /I E, for Sir James Edmonstone; the shield is charged: Three crescents, with an annulet at fess point, within a tressure flory-counter-flory. Below the shield is a camel, crudely executed, which is evidently inspired by the former crest of the Edmonstones, a camel's head.6 The head of the panel has been repaired, and this was presumably done when the panel was inserted over the archway of the 19th-century gatehouse.

1 Ibid., fig. 784, here reproduced, the orientation having been corrected, as Fig. 104.

2 Ibid., fig. 788.

3 Ibid., fig. 785.

4 Ibid., 213.

5 Illustrated in Strathblane, fig. on p.115.

6  The Edmonstone arms are discussed in Strathblane, 103 f., with fig. on p. 106


The evidence for construction at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, as provided by the gatehouse, is reinforced by the style of the other courtyard buildings. Again, that a quadrangular castle already existed by 1631 is indicated by a building-contract of that date entered into by Sir Archibald Edmonstone and John McWillame, slater, burgess of Dumbarton.1 This provided for the harling of the outside of the castle, apart from the E. gable, and also for that of the "haill gallerie", the "auld ladyie chalmer", the inner gatehouse, the two gables of the outer gatehouse, the inner side of both the "cloys dykis", the outer side of the "south-west dyk", the outside of all chimney-heads within the "haill place and Bartising of the Tour with the gavelle and Spihouses thereof with the haill rounde and tumpeik heide thereof according to the forme of harling and Rouche casting of other gentilmens houses". The details of this contract are evidence of the complex nature of the building at this time, while in particular the reference to an inner and an outer gatehouse, which must have been axially disposed to one another if the Victorian outer gatehouse was built on the site of the original one, suggests that the plan was designed on ambitious lines. It is highly probable, there fore, that Sir James Edmonstone, who notwithstanding a somewhat chequered career was a man of considerable status, was in fact responsible for the erection of all the courtyard buildings. If this was so, the interesting conclusion follows that the quadrangular plan-far from being a piecemeal development-was actually a pre conceived design, carried out as a continuous operation over a set period of time.

After the death of the "Dumb Laird", which occurred about the end of the 17th century, the family resided principally in Ireland, and Duntreath was allowed to fall into ruin. It was in this state when, after 1857, Sir Archibald Edmonstone, thirteenth of Duntreath and third Baronet, restored the castle as the family seat,2 These restorations began with the erection of a new SW. mange on the site of the old one, but eventually most of the old work, including the gatehouse and kitchen range, was pulled down to make way for a vast scheme of reconstruction. This was evidently pursued until the death of Sir Archibald in 1871, and, while much of the old work was inevitably lost, the revived baronial style of the new buildings, and the retention of the basic courtyard plan, did nevertheless preserve some of the character possessed by the old castle. The gatehouse was evidently intended as a faithful reproduction of the original, and a new outer gatehouse, erected some so yds. to the NW., was perhaps likewise intended to preserve another integral part of the old plan. In 1888-9, after the succession of Sir Archibald, fifth Baronet, the building was greatly complicated by heterogeneous additions, and then in 1958-less than 100 years after these ambitious schemes were begun, the building was reduced to its present state. The Victorian SW. range, which still stands, incorporates old dormer-pediments on its NE. side, presumably from the earlier structure.

Preserved on the site are the remains of two iron gates which are believed to have belonged to the old inner gatehouse.3 They differ entirely from the conventional "grid" type of yett, in that they are solidly constructed of thin, flat strips, vertically set and backed with horizontal cross-bands, some of which serve as strap hinges.4 The two sections, which measure respectively 5 ft 9 in. by 3 ft. 5 1/2 in., and 6 ft. 3 in. by 4 ft. 6 in., are designed to open in two leaves, and are fitted with heavy hasps, bolts and padlocks. The smaller of the two con tains a rectangular spy-hole, 2 1/2 in. by 2 in., fitted with a hinged cover on the outside (P1. 114 A, B). The larger section incorporates a wicket door, measuring 4 ft. 6 in. by 2 ft., with pin hinges.

Also preserved on the site is a fragment of a yett of conventional type, and a set of stocks. The latter, which was designed to hold four people but is now incomplete, has rounded notches for the feet in its upper portion while the lower one has a flat edge; the whole was encased in a timber frame.

On the stair that leads down from the upper to the lower level of the garden, SW. of the Victorian building, there have been reset two carved stones, round-headed and of identical design. Each bears a shield with moulded surround, helm, mantling and crest, and each shield divides two sets of initials, S / V 1 and D / M H, those on the lower line being in monogram in each case. The charges are oblitcrated, but at the base of the eastern shield can be discerned the date 1688, together with a partially illegible inscription. The latter is repeated on the western shield, and a comparison of the two permits the reconstruction of the motto, PATRIAE ET POSTERIS ("For country and descendants"). The date 1760, incised across the shield of the western stone, forms no part of the original design. As the initials do not suggest a connection with the Edmonstone family, the stones may have been brought from elsewhere.

In the Commission's survey of 1956, two carved lintel- stones, now destroyed, were recorded which bore respectively the mottos: RESPIGE5 FINEM ("Look to the end") and NOSCE TEIPSVM ("Know thyself"). The stones were cavettoed and scrolled at their ends, and were probably incorporated in dormer pediments.

536810             NS 58 SW                    15 May 1959

1 Duntreath Writs, H.M. General Register House, sect. I, No.403.

2 Much information about this work has been obtained from record plans dated 1856 and 1889 in the possession of Ian G. Lindsay & Partners, Architects.

3 P.S.A.S., xxii (1887-8), 312 and figs. 12 and 13

4 They are, however, analogous with a type to be found in the Low Countries at about the same period.

5 The penultimate letter was evidently cut in error for c.