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Stirling Castle, The King's Old Buildings

Building(S) (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Stirling Castle, The King's Old Buildings

Classification Building(S) (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Douglas Block; Parliament House; Regimental Headquarters; Argyle And Sutherland Highlanders Museum

Canmore ID 142493

Site Number NS79SE 6.06

NGR NS 78961 94073

NGR Description Centred NS 78961 94073

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2021.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Stirling
  • Parish Stirling
  • Former Region Central
  • Former District Stirling
  • Former County Stirlingshire

Archaeology Notes

NS79SE 6.06 centred 78961 94073

Kirkdale Archaeology carried out a series of excavations in the western areas of Stirling Castle, centred around an area known as 'Ladies Lookout'. Deep deposits of dumped and naturally accumulated layers were uncovered, a selection of which were sent to CFA Archaeology for analysis. The layers were found to contain pottery fragments, glass, animal bone, cereal remains, plant material, wood charcoal, coal and cinders.

M Hastie 2006.


Excavation (November 1996 - 23 June 1997)

NS 790 940 A series of excavations were undertaken at Stirling Castle by Kirkdale Archaeology during 1996-7, as part of the ongoing refurbishments to the buildings in the Upper and Lower Squares.

W wall of the Great Hall

Three 1sqm holes were opened against the W side of the Great Hall, on top of the transe vault. Surviving patches of harling on the wall of the Great Hall provided samples for analysis. The top of the transe had been revealed before in excavations.

Army kitchens

Two small rooms were investigated in the E end of the building used as the army kitchens between the S end of the King's Old Buildings and the NW corner of the palace. The aim was to reduce the levels in these rooms by approximately 0.8m in order to provide an access route from the palace porch via a currently blocked doorway into the range. The grey stone paving slabs were removed by a Historic Scotland squad.

It would seem that up to almost 1m of deposits survive below the floor of the army kitchen range, including important information about the medieval castle. The presence of graves indicates that the shell of this building may, despite its later appearance, be that of the other chapel at the castle, possibly that used for private worship by the monarchy, situated as it is between the King's Old Buildings and what is thought to be the site of the queen's lodgings.

The Transe

An excavation was undertaken within the transe on the W side of the Great Hall, with the intention of excavating to bedrock and recording the structure itself. The uncovering of setts in the S part of the transe meant that the brief was changed in order to leave the surface in situ.

The features in the transe fell into seven basic phases, the first one being that which encompassed the worn surface of the bedrock and the surviving patches of surfaces earlier than the transe wall, giving some idea of what the ground surface was like when the Great Hall was constructed at the end of the 15th century. It may be that the lower doors and the window were visible giving an added impression of height to the Hall. It is possible that the W transe wall was built at the same time as the Great Hall, in order to support the lean-to roof which ran along its W side. No evidence was found for the method of access to the main door of the Great Hall. It is assumed that a bridge across the unroofed transe to the door is the most likely solution, although the Chapel Royal prior to the upstanding building would have blocked this access somewhat. The surface of the transe floor yielded no evidence for a staircase against the face of the Hall.

The fourth phase was that of the E-W transe added to the N side of the Great Hall, with a lean-to storey on top, presumably done at some point in the 16th century. The uncertainty of the structural sequence at the N end of the transe possibly reflects a complicated sequence of construction and adaptation of upstanding structures in order to support the range and/or the later vestibule built to connect the Great Hall and the Chapel Royal in the 17th century. There is evidence of a blocked door in the return of the Great Hall and the vestibule in the Upper Square, a feature which would probably have been reflected structurally in the transe. The vaulting of the transe must have happened prior to this and almost certainly before the new Chapel Royal was built at the end of the 16th century, because the chapel takes account of the raised level of the Upper Square.

Many of the features in the transe belong to phase 6, the period of the army's occupation of the castle. The doorways into the Hall were blocked up and turned into windows, new doors were inserted, cobbled and flagged surfaces laid, services introduced and so on, reflecting the need to turn a royal residence into a functioning garrison. Features belonging to the 20th century reflect the patching of damage done during the previous phase and the use of the castle as a heritage resource.

Area between the Upper and Lower Squares

Historic Scotland wished to adjust the shape of the ramped access between the Upper and Lower Squares to take account of the threshold levels of the doors into the transe and Great Hall basement respectively which had previously been exposed by archaeological excavation. Kirkdale Archaeology were engaged to reduce the existing level to provide a base for a new road surface. The bedrock proved to be generally too high for the proposed base level and the whole area was cleared to bedrock rather than the levels initially required.

During the excavation, it was decided to reroute the existing services along the line of a storm drain running parallel to the E face of the palace. The previous cut was reopened and adapted, during which several archaeological features were noted.

A narrow trench (2-3m wide) was initially opened along the N face of the palace before being ultimately widened to meet the S face of the Upper Square retaining wall and below the bridge between palace and Great Hall. The earliest features encountered were interpreted as an oven and a hearth, and were dated to the 15th century. These were overlain with a crudely metalled surface dated to the 16th century, although it was unclear whether this deposit was earlier or later than the palace building.

Monitoring of the re-excavation of a storm drain trench

The most striking feature identified in a second trench was the massive wall base. This had been previously recorded and its line is preserved in the pattern of setts of the present courtyard surface as with the lines of early chapel walls in the Upper Square. This feature seems too solidly built to be merely a domestic structure and, if the N-S wall is the foundation platform for the palace, is most likely to be an integral part of the Fair Front or the earlier defences.

A midden deposit was of interest because it did not appear to be specifically domestic in origin but perhaps more likely to be associated with stable or byre waste.

The evidence clearly confirms surprisingly high archaeological potential within the Lower and Upper Squares where the natural profile of the bedrock can preserve relatively deep deposits of occupation material together with structural remains.

G Ewart, A Radley, P Sharman and J Triscott 1997

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology

Excavation (13 October 1997 - 14 November 1997)

NS 790 940 An excavation was carried out in October to December 1997 to complete an investigation commenced by trial trenching in the spring of 1997. The area under investigation comprised the Army Kitchens, also known as the Governor's Kitchens, situated in a building on the W edge of the Castle Rock, overlooking the King's Knot (Ewart, Radley, Sharman and Triscott 1997)

The purpose of the excavation was to remove all deposits below the modern floor level in the kitchens down to bedrock or undisturbed archaeological horizons worthy of retention.

Early plans and maps show clearly the existence of the building at various times from the later 17th century onwards, and it is thought that a building has stood on the site since before the 15th century, and possibly from as early as the 12th century, the chapel of Alexander I, built c 1115.

The excavations revealed three phases of activity connected with a chapel site, alongside a well-preserved paved courtyard area. Ten inhumations were excavated, comprising nine adults and one child, as well as a charnel pit. The chapel evidence was overlain by a level containing evidence for the building of an oven and furnace, and by the 18th-century building levels.

Dating evidence was not forthcoming on a large scale, and the historical context of the buildings provides the main interpretive framework for the archaeological evidence presented below. Of particular significance in this regard are the dates spanning 1530-40, during which time the new Palace of James V was being erected, requiring the partial demolition of the earlier building; and the dates around 1710, at which time the Palace was converted to serve a Castle Governor, again affecting the adjoining building to a large extent.

The E room produced the earliest masonry in its SE corner, and this was interpreted as either an early chapel element or a part of the structure to the S of the Army Kitchens. The clearest early structure was a massive sandstone wall running below the present S wall for a distance of 7m. This is interpreted as the surviving remnant of the early chapel, pre-dating the 1530 building programme, but whose absolute date is uncertain. Associated with this early structure were some of the aforementioned burials, aiding the interpretation of the former as part of the chapel site.

At a later date the chapel was resited to the E by a distance of around 5m. A new threshold was laid, and the area to the W was carefully paved over, the paving extending for some 7m as far as a working area to the SW, where it could be seen to cut the earlier surface. Drainage channels in the surface of the paving intimate that it was an exposed area. This second chapel was also disturbed by the creation of the new Palace in 1530, and yielded a single inhumation. The creation of the Palace destroyed around two-thirds of the chapel structure.

The remaining available space comprised the formerly external paved area, defined to the N, S and W by a perimeter wall, and this space became the new chapel after the erection of the Palace. A single inhumation was excavated in the area toward the N wall. This is thought to be the final chapel on the site, falling out of use some time in the 17th century.

The chapel space was then converted to an oven or furnace area. The paved floor of the final chapel was removed, with further mortar debris and chapel debris being added, sealing the bodies beneath the new floor. A fire of some form was then centrally placed on this surface, surviving as a large, circular burnt area in the centre of the floor, measuring some 4m in diameter, with four massive stone plinths set some 3m from the centre of the fire site. These either represent support for a furnace, or support for a modified roof to allow the use of the fire within the room, or both.

As late as 1680, the date of Slezer's illustration of the castle, it would appear that the chapel site survived as a single structure, but by Dury's plan of 1709 a new building occupied the E part of the chapel site. This survives today as the tall square building adjacent to the Palace. The modifications enacted on the third chapel structure at this time involved the realignment of the S wall and the addition of a new W wall, effectively dividing the former space into two equal-sized areas. These two rooms later became the Mess Kitchens and associated quarters, woth chapel structures sealed beneath 150mm of concrete flooring.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

G Ewart and D Stewart 1998

Kirkdale Archaeology

Project (3 March 2008 - 9 December 2009)

SCPP: Stirling Castle Palace Project

A variety of archaeological work was carried out between 2008 and 2009 by Kirkdale Archaeology under the framework of the Stirling Castle Palace project. This included work on the Palace, Kings Old Buildings, Govenor's Kitchen, Princes Tower, and Douglas Gardens and involved excavations, watching briefs, and standing building recordings.

Watching Brief (23 October 2008 - 30 September 2009)

NS 789 940 Various watching briefs have been carried out between 23 October 2008–30 September 2009 during restoration works. These consisted of:

• Excavation in advance of new service pipes in the Douglas Gardens. This revealed evidence of landscaping works during the construction of the Chapel Royal in 1594.

• Recording and monitoring in advance of alterations to the Palace:

• Re-opening of a 17th-century door in the N corridor.

• Installation of service ducts in the attic space.

• Removal of a ceiling beam in the mezzanine level of the Prince’s Tower.

• Access to a possible garderobe shaft in the W wall of the West Range.

• Monitoring of new joist pocket installation throughout the principal floor of the Palace.

• Detailed records of elevations associated with the Governor’s kitchen (internal and external).

• Monitoring of service duct installation in the King’s Old Building and leading towards the Old Chapel.

• Standing building recording of the SE corner of the Upper Floor. This completed the drawn record of the Upper

Floor in line with the survey to date.

Also, during work on the Upper Floor of the East Range of the Palace several crudely carved 19th-century toy soldiers and horses were retrieved by contractors.

Kirkdale Archaeology

Funder: Historic Scotland

Gordon Ewart 2009

Watching Brief (23 February 2018 - 27 February 2018)

NS 78961 94073 A watching brief was carried out, 23–27

February 2018, during a programme of core sampling at

three locations across the ground floor of the building.

The cores were each 50mm in diameter and were taken

to investigate the nature of the wall footings in the three

locations. Each of the three trenches measured 600 x

400mm in plan, and all were dug to bedrock. This was

typically encountered at a depth of 300–450mm below the

present floor level.

The results of this work suggest that the elements of the

present King’s Old Building plan are in part derived from a

series of bedrock terraces which run N/S and E/W from a

high point somewhere at the northern end of the King’s Old


Archive: NRHE (intended)

Funder: Historic Environment Scotland

Gordon Ewart – Kirkdale Archaeology

(Source: DES Volume 19)

Standing Building Recording (6 March 2018 - 9 March 2018)

NS 78961 94073 An assessment of four of the nine roofs over

the King’s Old Building at Stirling Castle was undertaken 6–9

March 2018. These consisted of (1) the roof over the southern

part of the West Range, (2) the roof over the southern stair

tower, (3) the roof over the West Range N of the southern

stair tower, and (4) the roof over the eastern part of the North


The roofs display structural details that clearly identify

them as products of standard Scottish building practice of the

Middle Ages (roofs 1 and 3), the post-medieval period (roofs

2 and 3) and the 19th century (roof 4). Thus, they reflect the

complex architectural history of the King’s Old Building.

Given the degree of change and alteration that has

happened at Stirling Castle during the past 500 years, it is

questionable whether any of the roof structures survive in

an unaltered state. Intriguingly, however, is the fact that

a large number of structural members show details that

suggest considerable antiquity, while, at the same time,

displaying details that appear to be more modern. This

applies in particular to roof 3, which saw all of its rafters

lengthened. Given the typology of material and joints, it is

likely that this structure incorporates fabric dating from the

1496 construction campaign.

Archive: NRHE (intended)

Funder: Historic Environment Scotland

Thorsten Hänke – Kirkdale Archaeology

(Source: DES Volume 19)


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