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Balvaird Castle

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Balvaird Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Canmore ID 28085

Site Number NO11SE 8

NGR NO 16982 11536

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/28085

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Perth And Kinross
  • Parish Abernethy (Perth And Kinross)
  • Former Region Tayside
  • Former District Perth And Kinross
  • Former County Perthshire

Archaeology Notes

NO11SE 8 1698 1153

(NO 1698 1153) Balvaird Castle (NR)

OS 1:10,000map, (1975)

Balvaird Castle, built in the 15th century, occupies a strong position on high ground. It consists of a massive keep, of main block and wing, with a square stair-tower in the re-entrant angle. A walled courtyard and gatehouse were added in 1567 to E and S; over the entrance passage is a large room, said to have been a chapel (D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92) There were also buildings on the W side of the courtyard; these are all much ruined.

The Castle is of three main storeys and an attic, with an extra storey in the wing; at the top of the stair-tower is a two-storeyed caphouse and watch-chamber, itself in the shape of a miniature keep.

An enclosure to the S has evidently been a pleasure garden, and there is a large walled garden or orchard adjoining the castle on the E.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92; N Tranter 1962-70.

Balvaird Castle is as described.

Visited by OS (J T T) 2 August 1965.

Photographed by the RCAHM in 1980.

Information from RCAHMS AP catalogue 1980.

Excavation showed the courtyard's W range to be a bicameral building, its S chamber part of an earlier, foreshortened S range. Little occupational evidence was found although work, particularly within the N chamber, was unfinished and it is hoped that both the W and S ranges will be fully excavated next year.

J H Lewis 1988.

The castle stands on a rocky outcrop, 3.5 km E of Glenfarg and 7km W of Auchtermuchty. An L-shaped tower, dating from the late 15th century, provided the principle accomodation whilst ancillary buildings,

believed to date to from the 16th century, were grouped around courtyards to the N and S. More distant walled enclosures were probably gardens and orchards. The tower still stands to its original height;

the outbuildings are now totally ruinous.

The principal areas of investigation were the S and W ranges of the S courtyard, the W range having been partially excavated in 1988. In addition, a small trench was also opened in the possible garden beyond this courtyard.

The West Range: The basement of this range was divided into two chambers by a masonry partition that proved to be the truncated N wall of an earlier building. It is not clear whether a fireplace midway along the S face

of the wall had been inserted into the W range or had belonged to the primary building, neither the overall ground plan nor the age of which is known. The S chamber measured 6.7m NS by 5.0m EW, the N chamber only 4.3m NS

by 5.8m EW.

The S Chamber: The socket for a doorpost indicated the position of the entrance, central to the E wall. A line of small rock-cut holes , 2.2m from the S wall and spaced 1.00m apart, have been interpreted as sockets for a timber partition. Another partition was suggested by a (truncated) line of small stones 2.2m from the N wall, suggesting that the room

had been sub-divided into three equal-sized cellars.

The floor surface in the S end of the chamber was simply bedrock that had been partly levelled. On the evidence of a single slab of sandstone in the NE corner, the remainder of the room was flagged.

The N Chamber: The room had been formed when the W gable of the primary S range was extended to meet the tower. Although bedrock was prominent on its S side, most of the room's interior was floored with clay, much disturbed by post-occupation activites. There was no evidence of the the room's function and the few surviving architectural features comprised: a possible blocked window in the W wall; a sealed recess (perhaps a cupboard) within the E wall; and, adjacent to the tower, opposing doorways in the E and W walls.

Below the clay floor was a layer of coal fragments and dust of maximum depth 0.16m. This deposit had been cut by the fondation trench of the tower's S wall, indicating occupation that was perhaps contemporary

with the fragmentary wall foundations found to the S of the tower and/or the putative early S range.

The South Range : There was little evidence of the primary S range beyond the limits of the W range, the demolition of the former presumably heralding the construction of the building excavated in 1990. This later building was of two phases. In its original form, it measured 5.20m by 3.25m internally and had a floor of sandstone flags and large cobbles, most of them worn smooth. To carry the weight of the roof, the barmkin wall had been thickened by the addition of masonry F120. The other walls were only c0.50m thick. Entry to this basement was through the N wall over a threshold of sandstone slabs. The courtyard comprised sandstone flags and large cobbles (F124), some of which were fashioned into V-shaped open drains adjacent to the entrance, and smaller cobbles to the E of the doorway. At some stage a narrow room, floored with cobbles and bedrock, had been added to the building's E end thereby extending its length by a further 2.0m. Between the S and E ranges there may have been a passage linking the courtyard with the garden to the S but, although a localised spread of mortar resembled a floor surface, an adjacent breach in the barmkin wall suggested its deposition was caused by the wall's demolition.

The S Enclosure: To the S of the barmkin is an enclosure,22m square, usually interpreted as a 16th century garden. A breach midway along the S wall and an adjacent low platform of rubble masonry were thought to be the remains of a threshold and steps leading out from the garden. Trenching in this area revealed a deposit of rubble, 0.90m deep, which may have been associated with a walkway around the garden's perimeter. There was no intimation, however, of a stepped entrance in the enclosure's S wall. (See plan:DES, fig 19)

Sponsor: HBM.

J Lewis 1990.

The ancillary buildings grouped around the courtyards to the N and S of the tower, which are refered to by Lewis (1993), are depicted, roofless, on the 1st edition of the 6-inch map (Fife and Kinross sheet 16, 1856). Those to the N are annotated 'Ruins' and that to the S as 'Ruin'.

Information from RCAHMS (PM) 5 December 1996

J Lewis 1993.

Activities

Excavation (1988 - 1990)

Excavation showed the courtyard's W range to be a bicameral building, its S chamber part of an earlier, foreshortened S range. Little occupational evidence was found although work, particularly within the N chamber, was unfinished and it is hoped that both the W and S ranges will be fully excavated next year.

J H Lewis 1988.

The castle stands on a rocky outcrop, 3.5 km E of Glenfarg and 7km W of Auchtermuchty. An L-shaped tower, dating from the late 15th century, provided the principle accomodation whilst ancillary buildings,

believed to date to from the 16th century, were grouped around courtyards to the N and S. More distant walled enclosures were probably gardens and orchards. The tower still stands to its original height;

the outbuildings are now totally ruinous.

The principal areas of investigation were the S and W ranges of the S courtyard, the W range having been partially excavated in 1988. In addition, a small trench was also opened in the possible garden beyond this courtyard.

The West Range: The basement of this range was divided into two chambers by a masonry partition that proved to be the truncated N wall of an earlier building. It is not clear whether a fireplace midway along the S face

of the wall had been inserted into the W range or had belonged to the primary building, neither the overall ground plan nor the age of which is known. The S chamber measured 6.7m NS by 5.0m EW, the N chamber only 4.3m NS

by 5.8m EW.

The S Chamber: The socket for a doorpost indicated the position of the entrance, central to the E wall. A line of small rock-cut holes , 2.2m from the S wall and spaced 1.00m apart, have been interpreted as sockets for a timber partition. Another partition was suggested by a (truncated) line of small stones 2.2m from the N wall, suggesting that the room

had been sub-divided into three equal-sized cellars.

The floor surface in the S end of the chamber was simply bedrock that had been partly levelled. On the evidence of a single slab of sandstone in the NE corner, the remainder of the room was flagged.

The N Chamber: The room had been formed when the W gable of the primary S range was extended to meet the tower. Although bedrock was prominent on its S side, most of the room's interior was floored with clay, much disturbed by post-occupation activites. There was no evidence of the the room's function and the few surviving architectural features comprised: a possible blocked window in the W wall; a sealed recess (perhaps a cupboard) within the E wall; and, adjacent to the tower, opposing doorways in the E and W walls.

Below the clay floor was a layer of coal fragments and dust of maximum depth 0.16m. This deposit had been cut by the fondation trench of the tower's S wall, indicating occupation that was perhaps contemporary

with the fragmentary wall foundations found to the S of the tower and/or the putative early S range.

The South Range : There was little evidence of the primary S range beyond the limits of the W range, the demolition of the former presumably heralding the construction of the building excavated in 1990. This later building was of two phases. In its original form, it measured 5.20m by 3.25m internally and had a floor of sandstone flags and large cobbles, most of them worn smooth. To carry the weight of the roof, the barmkin wall had been thickened by the addition of masonry F120. The other walls were only c0.50m thick. Entry to this basement was through the N wall over a threshold of sandstone slabs. The courtyard comprised sandstone flags and large cobbles (F124), some of which were fashioned into V-shaped open drains adjacent to the entrance, and smaller cobbles to the E of the doorway. At some stage a narrow room, floored with cobbles and bedrock, had been added to the building's E end thereby extending its length by a further 2.0m. Between the S and E ranges there may have been a passage linking the courtyard with the garden to the S but, although a localised spread of mortar resembled a floor surface, an adjacent breach in the barmkin wall suggested its deposition was caused by the wall's demolition.

The S Enclosure: To the S of the barmkin is an enclosure,22m square, usually interpreted as a 16th century garden. A breach midway along the S wall and an adjacent low platform of rubble masonry were thought to be the remains of a threshold and steps leading out from the garden. Trenching in this area revealed a deposit of rubble, 0.90m deep, which may have been associated with a walkway around the garden's perimeter. There was no intimation, however, of a stepped entrance in the enclosure's S wall. (See plan:DES, fig 19)

Sponsor: HBM.

J Lewis 1990.

Fabric Recording (September 2008 - March 2009)

NO 16982 11536 (NO11SE 8) This collection of c150 pieces of late medieval stones is stored in the basement of the tower and was assessed during September 2008–March 2009. Many of the stones are substantial, and come from the parapet wall of the tower. They comprise both curved and straight blocks, forming the upper courses of a crenellated parapet. The upper sections of this wall have been removed, probably during restoration work in the 1980s. However, illustrations in D MacGibbon and T Ross, The Castellated and Domestic

Architecture of Scotland (1887–92), vol 1, 338–311, figs 290–292, show that at that date the tower still had crenellations around the upper section of the wall and the corner turrets.

Another stone, also removed in the 1980s restoration, is a saddle-stone from a saddle and trough wall-walk. It is presently in a wooden frame, so various details are obscured. However, photographs of the wall-walk, taken during the 1980s restoration, show the stone in situ. From this, it is clear that the carving on the upper/outer face of the stone existed before it was used in the wall-walk. The panel of incised decoration occurs across one end of the stone, and this section adjoins a larger, undecorated area which is worked to form an inverted V-shape. The panel is incised with four vertical rows of a leaf scroll. The whole design appears to be incomplete, and it is possible that it would originally have continued across the full length of the stone, and was lost when it was re-used in the wall-walk.

This and other inventories of carved stones at Historic Scotland’s properties in care are held by Historic Scotland’s Collections Unit. For further information please contact hs.collections@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

Funder: Historic Scotland

Mary Márkus – Archetype

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