Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Strathaven in receipt of Historic Scotland grant

The money was awarded as part of a Funding Initiative, which has seen over £33m invested since 2007 to help communities restore their town centres or to bring at-risk buildings back into reuse. It is hoped that Strathaven Castle will benefit.

Strathaven present past

Strathaven Castle today, left, and in 1788, right

The castle, also known as Avondale, is situated on the banks of the river Avon in the town of Strathaven, Lanarkshire. It is one of the more intriguing castles in Scotland yet strangely neglected in the academic press (like so many in the west) until highlighted by the late Charles McKean in his book: 'The Scottish Chateau'.

The mound upon which the castle stands is largely artificial indicating a motte and bailey. In the 15th century a stone castle was built by the Douglas family.

In 1455, James Douglas, 9th Earl of Douglas, 3rd of Avondale was atttained for rebellion by James II and his lands forfeited to the crown, Strathaven included, though little remained of the castle after its capture and destruction by the king. In 1457, James gifted Strathaven to Sir Andrew Stewart who rebuilt it from its ruins.

In 1534, Strathaven came into the possession of Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, Master of the King's Works, who extended the building. Its last resident, Anne, Duchess of Hamilton, died in 1716 after which the castle was left empty.

We thus have a sequence of building, destruction, rebuilding, expansion and final ruin which makes deciphering the ruins a daunting task. What did the castle of the Douglas family look like? What remained of this when the Stewarts took possession? What did their castle look like? What exactly was Hamilton's contribution?

The remains, as they exist, consist of a tall rectangular block, with walls up to 10 feet thick on a massive double-splayed base course together with a round stair tower with wide-mouth gun loops. This tower is distinguished by string courses, empty panel spaces and a diminutive door. Thin walls, absence of base course and gun loops clearly mark this as an addition but what was the purpose of the dwarf door through which one would have had to crouch to enter? The main entrance must have been situated elsewhere.

Strathaven trio

Letf: 15th century main block with 16th century round tower
Right Top: Diminutive doorway - note absence of base course | Right Bottom: 15th century base course on main block

An outer wall with 4 foot thick walls and an impressive gatehouse is recorded but, of this, not a stone remains.

In 1725 Strathaven was recorded as 'in good order' but in 1763 its roof and upper works were destroyed by lightning and gale force winds. Time and stone robbing did the rest.

The earliest depiction of Strathaven dates from 1788 and shows a handsome, heavily corbelled castle studded with turrets. The corner tower, with its string courses, is clearly visible. Note, however, the base of another round tower, also with a string course, at the extreme right. This led Charles McKean to speculate that this once corresponded to that existing and thus Strathaven was a 'double tenement' twice the size we see today. This was the 'addition' carried out by Hamilton and would have provided a façade similar in grandeur to those of Holyrood or Falkland. Hamilton was responsible for the Palace at Stirling Castle and was a man of taste and vision. Unfortunately, his peculation of royal finances led to his execution by James V who pocketed the proceeds.

It must be said that the jury is out. There is no sign of this expansion though the rear of the castle is greatly disturbed and there is an inexplicable change in wall thickness at this area.

Strathaven plan

Red: 15th C - Blue: 16th C. Mid cellar wall: Well

Hopefully the financial windfall might finally help unlock Strathaven's secrets.

Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle

Added: 23 Apr 2015 Updated: 16 Jul 2015
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