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Prestonpans, Hamilton House

Barracks (19th Century), House (20th Century), Lairds House (17th Century)

Site Name Prestonpans, Hamilton House

Classification Barracks (19th Century), House (20th Century), Lairds House (17th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Hamilton Dower House; Magdalens' House; 'the Barracks'; 'sir John Hamilton's House'; Magdalene

Canmore ID 53682

Site Number NT37SE 4

NGR NT 38978 73983

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council East Lothian
  • Parish Prestonpans
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District East Lothian
  • Former County East Lothian

Archaeology Notes

NT37SE 4 38978 73983

(NT 3898 7397) Hamilton House (NR)

OS 1:10000 map (1973)

17th century. Irregular plan. Rubble built. Interior completely altered. Now a tenement.

Known as 'The Barracks' or 'Sir John Hamilton's House'.

(Undated) information in NMRS.

Hamilton House, formerly known as Magdalens' House, was built by Sir John Hamilton, Lord Magdalens, in 1628. This date appears on a panel above the original entrance, now built up. A two-storeyed building, its plan consists of a main block lying N-S with a wing projecting W at both ends, forming three sides of a square enclosing a sunken courtyard.

The house was much run down when it was bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1937. It has since been restored for private occupation, and is not open to the public.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887; RCAHMS 1924; N Tranter 1962; R Prentice 1976.

Hamilton House (NTS wall-plaque) is an outstanding example of a 17th century country laird's seat. It is in excellent condition.

Visited by OS (RD) 4 January 1972

Architecture Notes


OWNER: National Trust for Scotland.

Hamilton House was recorded as part of the Threatened Buildings Survey in May 2009. It was recorded at the request of the Natonal Trust for Scotland prior to the proposed sale of the property following the death of the last tenant David Lumsden of Cushnie. Both a measured survey and a photographic survey were carried out.


In 2011 it is proposed that the RCAHMS carryout a more detailed analysis of the building in conjunction with the staff of the National Trust for Scotland.



Field Visit (6 April 1920)

At the angle formed by the West Loan with the high road,360 yards north-west of Prestonpans station, and almost opposite Northfield House (No. 159), is a mansion which is now cut up into small artisan dwellings. There is a main rectangular block running north and south with rectangular wings projecting westward from either end, all portions being two storeys in height. At the south re-entering angle a semi-hexagonal projection (fig. 125) houses the staircase and the former entrance. West of the south wing is a one storeyed outbuilding, and to the east the remains of a second, but both these apparently are additions. A boundary wall returning from the south-west angle north and then east, where it abuts on the west gable of the north wing, completes the courtyard. Throughout, the building is of freestone rubble and has been harled. The roofs are of slate and timber, the copes are moulded, the gables crowstepped. The windows to north, east and south have chamfered jambs and lintels; the upper floor windows are dormers and have triangular pediments and raking cornices surmounted by a cinque-foliated finial, the cinquefoil being the Hamilton charge. On the south elevation however, to the high road, the dormer pediments are elaborated and have horizontal cornices; the western pediment has a scrolled cartouche bearing a shield charged with three cinquefoils two and one for Hamilton and flanked by the initials I H for John Hamilton. The middle pediment bears the date 1628 flanking the monogram I H K S for John Hamilton and Katherine (?) Simpson his wife. Immediately under the apex is a cypher consisting of a capital H, one limb of which is elevated and expanded into opposed D-shapes and surmounted by a cross with arms of unequal lengths. The eastern pediment contains a scrolled cartouche like that on the west and bears a shield charged, three crescents on a chief, a five pointed star at fess for Simpson; flanking the shield are the initials K.S. Adjoining the south wing is a former entrance to the courtyard by a doorway with segmental head and roll-and-hollow mouldings of late Gothic detail.

The courtyard elevations have been greatly altered. The windows of the east wing only have moulded jambs and lintels, while slated roofs replace the original dormer pediments. The original entrance, now built up, is in the semi-hexagonal projection at the south re-entering angle. The doorway has moulded jambs and lintel; above is a horizontal cornice continuing along the tower as a string course. A raking and broken cornice encloses a pediment enriched with carving, which contains a scrolled cartouche, surmounted by a floriated and reeded finial with moulded necking, terminating in a cinque-foil. The cartouche bears a shield charged per pale, three cinque-foils two and one for Hamilton; on a chief three crescents; a star at fess for Symson. Behind the cartouche appears a foliaceous wreathing with a crescent and star at either side, and beneath is the date 1628. Above the entrance the first floor window jambs are moulded. The lintel bears an index finger pointing to an inscription in capitals:


Above the lintel is a horizontal cornice and a pediment enclosed by a raking and broken cornice surmounted by foliaceous scrolls. The pediment bears a cherub winged, above which is a thistle. The projection or tower now has a pyramidal slated roof which is not original; the stair within is modern. Internally the house has been completely modernised, but the ground floor chamber of the main east wing still contains a large 17th century fireplace. The method of supporting the scoinson arches of the windows in this room by a corbelling is an interesting feature; a similar device is utilised at Redhouse (No.7 [NT47NE 2]).

RCAHMS 1924, visited 6 April 1920.


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