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Thirlestane Castle

Castle (Medieval), Hospital (First World War)

Site Name Thirlestane Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval), Hospital (First World War)

Alternative Name(s) Border And Country Life Museum; Thirlstane Castle Hospital

Canmore ID 55900

Site Number NT54NW 7

NGR NT 53385 47902

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2023.

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Digital Images

First 100 images shown. See the Collections panel (below) for a link to all digital images.

Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Lauder
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Ettrick And Lauderdale
  • Former County Berwickshire

Archaeology Notes

NT54NW 7.00 53385 47902

NT54NW 7.01 NT 533 479 Park

NT54NW 7.02 NT 53539 47369 Stables

NT54NW 7.03 NT 53416 47894 Sundial

NT54NW 7.04 centred NT 52895 48495 Walled garden

NT54NW 69 53988 47300 Eagle Gates and Lodge (demolished)

(NT 5338 4790) Thirlestane Castle (NR)

OS 6" map (1968)

This castle consists of a central oblong block, some 108ft by 22ft, with a large rounded tower at each angle. In addition, six semi-circular towers, 9ft overall, project at intervals from the side walls. This was probably the general outline of the original castle built by John Maitland, Chancellor of Scotland, who, in 1590, was created Lord Maitland of Thirlestane. Considerable additions were made in 1673 by the Duke of Lauderdale, with Sir William Bruce as architect; further additions were made in 1840-1, but these have not affected to any extent either the plan or general design of the house.

Though it is alleged by some authorities that the building incorporates part of Lauder Fort, built by Edward I, this is not supported by examination of the plan and of the building itself (see also NT54NW 32). RCAHMS 1915, visited 1908; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1892; SDD List

Thirlestane Castle (name confirmed by the Dowager Countess of Lauderdale) is as described and planned by the previous authorities. It has been repaired and kept in good condition throughout the years.

Visited by OS (JD) 18 February 1955

No change to the previous field report.

Visited by OS (WDJ) 25 September 1962

Photographed by the RCAHMS (in 1976) and by CUCAP.

NT 533 479 An archaeological watching brief was undertaken during the construction of an adventure playground on a mound at the S side of Thirlestane Castle. This mound is probably the remains of the SW bastion of a 16th-century artillery fort that pre-dates the present castle buildings. Excavation of post-holes up to 800mm deep revealed variable sediments and a small assemblage of bone and shell. These results support the interpretation of the mound as artificial.

Sponsor: Thirlestane Castle Trust.

S Carter 2000

Architecture Notes

Non-Guardianship Sites Plan Collection, DC28798.


Owner: Earl of Lauderdale, (Lauderdale Estates Ltd.)

Architect: Sir William Bruce c.1673 (alterations)

Robert Myline c.1675 (ceilings)

William Burn 1840 (additions)

Davis Bryce 1841 (additions)

Robert Adam 1790 - design for additions not carried out


Scottish Record Office: RHP. 6075 mid 16thc. Belvoir MS - photostat copies of plans

National Library - Country Life, June 28th, 1928 - photograph

Gauche view of Lauder by Maurer(?), c.1760's, hanging in Thirlestane Castle


Modification (1673)


Modification (1840)


Modification (1840)


Field Visit (28 September 1912)

209. Thirlestane Castle.

This castle is situated on the west bank of the Leader within extensively wooded policies about half a mile to the north-east of Lauder. The arrangement of the castle is unusual. It consists of a central oblong block measuring some 108 feet by 22 feet within walls averaging fully 5 feet in thickness, having a large rounded tower at each angle and turret stairs of varying sizes at each re-entering angle, as shown on the accompanying plan (fig. 99 [DP 225419]). In addition to these, six semicircular towers, measuring 9 feet over all, project at irregular intervals from the side walls, three on each side, the central pair containing wheel-stairs giving direct access from the basement to the upper floors. The number of turrets with stairs was evidently due to a desire to provide the bedrooms on these floors with separate means of access. Such was probably the general outline of the original castle of the 16th century built by John Maitland, Chancellor of Scotland, who, in 1590, was created Lord Maitland of Thirlstane, and as it existed till about the year 1670, when the Duke of Lauderdale made considerable alterations and additions, with Sir William Bruce as his architect. Although extensive additions were made in last century, these have not affected to any extent either the plan or general design of the house as it was when it left the hands of the Duke.

The principal entrance by a flight of steps up to a terrace at the first floor level, flanked by two pavilions and a balustrade in front, is the work of the Duke, and is illustrated in Slezer's Theatrum Scotiæ published in 1693 and in later editions, as is also the division of this floor into a vestibule and Great Hall beyond, the dimensions of which he fixed as 17 feet and 36 feet respectively. All the very elaborate plaster work on this floor, probably the most elaborate in Scotland, is due to the Duke, as doubtless also is the oak stair in the south-west tower. The upper floors are arranged as bedrooms. On the exterior he formed, through the connecting arches from turret to turret (fig. 98), a wide open gallery along both sides with a balustrade. It will be observed that these arches are differently arranged on each side. The arches and walk may have been contemplated III the original design. They are exceptional features.

The plan of the castle given in the Theatrum Scotiæ shows a large rectangular wing attached to the north-eastern end of the castle, with a projection of some 35 feet and a total length of 115 feet from north-west to south-east. There is now no evidence to prove that this wing was ever built. It is to be noted that the two southwestern towers, as shown in Slezer's illustrations, retain the circular form to the wall-head level and that they are covered with conical slated roofs. Each tower has now an additional upper storey developing to a square on plan, by the introduction of corbels at the angles, and finishing with a moulded cornice and stone balustrade. The same views indicate a large courtyard to the south-west of the terrace ogee-shaped roofs, according to the style of the period. No evidence remains to prove that this scheme was ever executed. Similarly a pediment is shown between the south-west towers in the position presently occupied by a lofty central tower with an ogee-shaped roof.

The attic dormer-windows and the square turrets in the centre and at each end of the parapet walks appear to be contemporary with the other late additions to the castle, probably dating from the middle of last century, when the extensive modern wings were built. The north-eastern and side elevations of the main building also bear indications of earlier alterations. Of these the most conspicuous is at the level of the attic floor, where the two north-east most windows of the side walls have been finished respectively with a rounded and a pointed pediment. They have been subsequently partly covered up by the arches constructed to carry the parapet walks.

The lands of Thirlestane have been possessed by the Maitland or Lauderdale family since early in the 13th century, when Sir Richard de Mautelant acquired them through his marriage with the daughter and heiress of Thomas de Thirlstane. The old tower 2 miles east of Lauder (No. 210) appears to have been the principal residence of the family till about the end of the 16th century, when the earliest portion of the castle under description was built by Chancellor Maitland (1537-1595), and the family removed thither. The interior decorations and minor alterations were no doubt added by his successors in the more elaborate style of the 17th century. According to the Sibbald MSS. this castle was ‘of old called the Fort of Lauder’ (said to have been built by Edward I), and other writers have stated that the fort was incorporated with the castle. In Pont's map of Lauderdale (Blaeu's Atlas, c. 1654) the fort is indicated here, but the castle is not shown.

See Cast. and Dom. Arch., iv. p. 334 (plan and illus.); Slezer's Theatrum Scotiæ, p. 68 (illus.); Macfarlane's Geog. Coll, iii. p. 174; Scots Peerage, v. p. 301; Pennant's Tour, ii. p. 262.

RCAHMS 1915, visited 28th September 1912.

OS Map: Ber., xix. NE.

Field Visit (18 February 1955)

Thirlestane Castle (name confirmed by the Dowager Countess of Lauderdale) is as described and planned by the previous authorities. It has been repaired and kept in good condition throughout the years.

Photographic Survey (1956)

Photographic survey of the interior of Thirlestane Castle, Berwickshire, by the Scottish National Buildings Record in 1956.

Aerial Photography (1976)

Publication Account (1980)

It is probable that the de Morevilles had a fortress built on the site now occupied by Thirlestane Castle. Some historians believe that this fort was incorporated into the latter-day Thirlestane Castle (Cruft, 1970, 88), but others do not agree (MacGibbon and Ross, 1971, iv, 335). The present Thirlestane Castle was rebuilt by Chancellor Maitland (created Lord Thirlestane in 1590) at the end of the sixteenth century, and alterations were made by his immediate successors in the seventeenth century. The Castle was greatly enlarged in the nineteenth century (MacGibbon, 1971, iv, 339).

Information from ‘Historic Lauder: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1980).

Publication Account (1985)

Old Thirlestane Castle (NT 564473) stands beside the Boondreigh Water 4km east of Laud er. An L-shaped tower, it was the main residence of the Maitland family until around the end of the 16th century.

In the late 16th century John Maitland became Chancellor of Scotland; it was he who commissioned the 'new castle-an unusual rectangular block with a large round tower at each corner. In 1670-76, however, the Duke of Lauder dale considerably enlarged and improved the castle. Close friend of Charles 11, hecommissioned William Bruce, a royalist 'gentleman architect', who engaged in turn Robert Mylne, the King's Master-Mason. Bruce rebuilt the tower-house to provide a central six-storey block with projecting angles flanked by circular turrets. The disposition of towers and staircases is unique in Scotland-three semi-circular towers on each long wall, the central pair iving direct access from basement to upper floors. Separate access to bedrooms on these floors was then provided by means of stairs in many of the turrets. Parapet walks run the length of both walls, supported by arches differently arranged on each side. A celebration of the Scots Baronial!

It was Bruce who introduced the symmetrical forecourt to Thirlestane-a flight of steps leading to a balustraded terrace at first-floor level, flanked by projecting, pavilion-topped, three-storey wings. These wings were extended in the 19th century, thereby giving a more pronounced 'bar' to the T.

Internally, Lauderdale, Bruce and Mylne between them brought plasterers from Holyroodhouse to redecorate the state rooms, and Dutch joiners and painters from Ham House in Surrey. It was they who created the rich rlands, coronets and crests that feature in the ceilings of The Duke's Room and the Large Drawing Room-the latter ceiling taking more than five years to complete.

There was a stronghold on this site long before the Maitland family took over, however. The old Lauder Fort had been occupied and strengthened in 1548 by the Protector Somerset whose English troops were removed two years later with the help of the French. But 200 years earlier it had also been occupied by the English, rebuilt in 1324 by Edward 11. 'The Row',formerly 'Rotten Row' on the east side of Laud er's main street, reputedly originates in 'rue du Roi'- Edward's direct route to the fort.

Information from 'Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Lothian and Borders', (1985).

Aerial Photography (1994)

Aerial Photography (30 August 1995)

Aerial Photography (10 June 1999)

Aerial Photography (11 July 2005)

Project (March 2013 - September 2013)

A project to characterise the quantity and quality of the Scottish resource of known surviving remains of the First World War. Carried out in partnership between Historic Scotland and RCAHMS.

Standing Building Recording (April 2015)

An Enhanced standing building survey was carried out on a conservatory at Thirlstane Castle. The conservatory was originally built between 1862-1898 as an orangery against the c.1840s domestic north wing. The building was highly stylised with Baronial embellishments including arched-headed windows with an ornate cornice topped with ball finials. An advanced two-stage bell tower was situated on its west elevation. Internally the conservatory had been divided by a partition wall to form a domestic and utility area. Two of its windows and door on its east-facing elevation were blocked in c.1980 when a lean-to garage was added to the east side of the conservatory. The garage was built of mono-blocks and faced externally with blocks of whinstone topped with a sandstone cornice taken down from the conservatory. The garage hid a blind window of the 1840s period north wing.

Funder: Mr Maitland-Carew

CFA Archaeology Ltd

Sbc Note

Visibility: This is an upstanding earthwork or monument.

Information from Scottish Borders Council

Watching Brief

An area 10m by 10m was stripped to form the footprint for a new boiler house prior to the watching brief commencing. A pipe trench from the site of the new building to the castle was monitored and the remains of a stone wall and deposits of demolition debris were recorded towards the southern end of the trench to the west of the castle. These deposits may relate to earlier structures possibly related to the designed gardens or from temporary workshops associated with previous building and renovation work to the Castle. No artefacts were recovered during the watching brief.

Funder: Gilbert Developments Ltd

GUARD Archaeology Ltd

OASIS ID: guardarc1-173554


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