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Preserving the Past for the Future

Tower House or Engine House? Inside Rais and Stonelaw Towers...


From the late 18th-20th centuries pumping engines were a common sight in Scotland. Powered by steam these beam engines, with their regular upwards and downwards motion, drained water from mines which otherwise would have proved unworkable.

The cost of installing such machinery could be alleviated if an upstanding structure could be utilised to house the working parts. Such a solution was found at Skaithmuir Tower, Stirling (demolished in 1974) and at Barrhead, Renfrewshire where the 15th century Rais Tower proved ideal. It had been a property of the Stewarts of Darnley and as late as 1782 the parish minister could state that ‘a great part of the tower stands with its battlements and cornices’.

Rais Tower
Rais Tower, Barrhead circa 1900

Shortly afterwards it is found housing a pumping engine which drained a coal pit until worked out whereupon it was removed and installed elsewhere. The tower with its gutted interior was allowed to remain until the 1930s when, constituting a danger to the children who habitually played there, it was removed. The site is still indicated by a low, grassy mound above the Levern Water.

Stonelaw Tower* in Lanarkshire was a dedicated engine house built in 1776 for the Stonelaw Coal Pit. When the workings were exhausted around 1800 the machinery was removed and the site vacated until an enterprising gentleman, recognising its possibilities, converted the defunct engine house into a ‘battlemented tower’ to adorn his brand new gothic mansion.

Stonelaw tower
Stonelaw Tower, Rutherglen circa 1900
Engine house
An engine house in Cornwall with Scottish Castles Association member Annick McGarrigle

In the late 1960s a sink hole opened overnight at Stonelaw due to the collapse of underground galleries hastening its entire demolition. The site is occupied today by nondescript housing.

* In ‘The Fortified House in Scotland Vol 3', Nigel Tranter wrongly includes Stonelaw amongst ‘Much-altered structures’.


Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.


Date posted: 20 Nov 2017Last updated: 21 Nov 2017