Our occupation of Thirlestane begins with Old Thirlestane. All that is visible today is the remains of a peel tower (a fortified tower, usually with one room per floor). This lies just less than 2 miles south east of Thirlestane Castle, on the edge of a small cliff, to the River Leader so has strong defences on one side). The present ruins are thought to date to the 15th century, i.e. when Richard Mautalent was its lord. However, since the records of the former lords of Thirlestane go back to the mid 12th century -1140 or thereabouts, the original tower must go back to around that period. A charter of around 1140 given by Hugh de Morville granted the rents of Thirlestane to Elsi, later the Sheriff of Lauderdale. Elsi’s grandson, Thomas de Thirlestane was the father of Avicia, who married Sir Richard Mautalent around 1250.
The tower is 10x7.3m with an entrance at first floor level. This prevents the use of a battering ram to destroy the entrance door. With one room per floor, living conditions would have been fairly primitive.
Bearing in mind that after the death of Thomas de Thirlestane in 1228, his widow Agnes would have shared the accommodation with at least one man at arms to defend the castle, she was clearly a formidable lady, able to control a burly warrior in her own home, and another who held the castle at Abertarff on Lochness on her behalf. Maitlands/Mautalents lived at Old Thirlestane until around 1345, when they are recorded as holders of Lethington near Haddington. See separate article on Lethington/Lennoxlove.
In 1450 William Mateland of Thirlestane, who was living at Lethington mortgaged Thirlestane. The loan was repaid in 1586.
Around 1586 John Maitland, now Lord Thirlestane, bought Castlehill, just outside Lauder. This was the site of the old Lauder Fort perhaps constructed ca 1100 then rebuilt by Edward II in 1324, and converted to an artillery fortification in 1548 by the Duke of Somerset.
The castle of 1590 forms the core of the present building. It was laid out on a rectangular plan with a drum tower at each corner and a series of smaller turrets rising up the sides of the building. A cropped drawing on the left by the military engineer John Slezer of the extended castle gives an idea of its appearance in 1595. On the right, we have a picture of Traquair House, which was built at about the same time, but has not been altered since then.
The Duke of Lauderdale remodeled and extended Thirlestane in the 1670s, employing Sir William Bruce, a cousin of the Countess of Dysart and the apostle of Scottish neo-Classicism. The archives show that he completely reordered the main facade of the castle, adding to it a pair of short wings terminating in towers or pavilions. These enclosed a balustraded terrace with a new front door approached up a central stair. A forecourt with corner turrets was built in front of the entrance staircase and demolished in the 18th century
Lauderdale began collecting fittings for the interior, reporting his purchase of six chimneypieces in a letter dated April 4, 1671. These were 'finer than any I see in England..I lighted on them by chance in ane ltalian merchant's hand'.
The importation of materials and craftsmanship from England and the Continent was a recurrent theme of the building work. In February 1671, a ship, Anna, sailed to Rotterdam with coal and returned with materials not only for Thirlestane, but for the concurrent Scottish building projects of Lauderdale’s political allies. These included ‘basterd marble' for the front steps; Lauderdale considering real marble both too expensive and slippery for use at his principal castle.
On May 4, 1671, Lauderdale wrote to his brother about plans to bookend the castle with a second, library, cross-range at the east end of the castle, on the side towards the river. He cheerfully described it as 'a new whimsy for enflaming the reckoning at Thirlestane Castle’ and, explained that it would make the house look uniform from the gardens to the north and south. Sensibly, however, he determined to delay embarking on this addition: 'I will not begin it till the otherwork be finished, but being ingadged knockle-deep in morter I fear I shall be up to the elboes (if I leive) before I have done with it'' This was never done, but appears in the Slezer print of the castle
Lauderdale built a new avenue between the castle and the town of Lauder, its trees brought from Holland. This was removed in the 18th century, but recentlyre-instated by Edward Maitland-Carew.
From 1676 to 1679, Johan Slezer, a German military engineer, oversaw the works and engraved two views and two plans of the building in his great illustrated volume Theatrum Scottiae (1693) - see engraving below.
In 1790 Robert Adam was instructed to prepare designs for extensions of Thirlestane. It is evident that he never visited the site, as parts of the building were planned to extend beyond the cliff above the River Leader, east of the castle. His design, not implemented, is shown below. The drawing is in the Soane Museum, London, with the remainder of his works.
James, the IXth Earl, undertook the next reconstruction by adding two wings to the north and south of the existing pavilions, thus respecting the original design, but also providing modern living accommodation. David Bryce and William Burn were the architects. The north wing, used by the family as .iving accomodation, is a country house with about six bedrooms and appropriate bathrooms, allied with manageable reception rooms, smaller and easier to heat than the state rooms in the east wing. Sadly, little of the 17th century decoration has survived, apart from the magnificent ceilings plastered by Charles II’s court plasterers (who also decorated the Palace of Holyroodhouse), and the ante-room to the state reception rooms. The tower was built at the same time.
The 1840s work at Thirlestane was dogged by difficulties. Burn wrote to his patron: 'In all my experience I have never seen or encountered... one [building] which presented so many difficulties or exhibited such an extent of insufficiency, decay and danger.' Sadly, he was not the last architect to comment on Thirlestane’s structural defects.
In l972, the castle passed to the grandson of the 15th Earl, the 30 year old Capt. Gerald Maitland-Carew. He confronted an intimidating task of restoring a disintegrating building: the central tower was collapsing and there were 40 outbreaks of dry rot. Supported by his wife, Rossie, he assumed the task of repair and opened the house to the public.
Initially, she organized the tea room and shop, in which she often served, and also developed the local voluntary group Friends of Thirlestane without whom the castle could not have functioned. In addition, the Historic Building Council was persuaded to contribute £300,000 to repairs between 1978 and 1982.
Despite this support, the maintenance of the castle was beyond the means of the estate. In 1984, therefore, most of the building and all its contents were placed in the hands of an independent charitable trust, which was endowed by the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). The family kept one wing in its ownership (there are no lease or occupancy arrangements, but shared covenants regarding maintenance and insurance).
By this means, a dynamic three way relationship was established: the family remained directly involved in the house, the endowment removed the overwhelming financial burden of the repairs and the independent charitable trust has brought into the management of the property a real breadth of experience. Such was the success of this solution that it has since been applied to other houses.
The key to the success of this model is the continuing close family involvement in the castle, which began with Capt Maitland-Carew's verve, commitment and enthusiasm, and has been continued by Edward and Sarah Maitland-Carew.
The NHMF endowment was intended to last for a generation and, more than 30 years on, new sources of capital and revenue funding are required to sustain Thirlestane. This is the challenge that has now been passed to Mr and Mrs Edward Maitland-Carew. Besides hosting weddings and events, they have opened an apartment for hire within the castle and there are plans to open more. They have also organized a fine dining experience' in the state rooms. Their enthusiasm for this astonishing building promise to secure it for the 2lst century. Acknowledgments: Country Life
Edward Maitland-Carew lives there with his family. It has magnificent ceilings, good furniture and an excellent collection of late 19th century and Edwardian portraits in addition to a good collection of 17th and 18th century portraits. There are also several holiday apartment available to let - see
Thirlestane Castle, Lauder, Berwickshire.
Opening Times 2018
From 30th April - 30th September
Sundays - Thursday (Closed Fridays and Saturdays): 10am - 4pm
Entry to Castle and Grounds including superb picnic and children's play area:
Family (2 adults and up to 3 children): £20.00
Adults - £3.00
Children - £1.50
Winter and out of hours tours attract a minimum charge of £130.00 for groups of 20 or more.
Guided tours are available from 11.00 am to 2.00 pm and last about 50 minutes. Thereafter, until the last admission at 4.15 pm, visitors are invited to tour the Castle at their own pace with friendly guides available to answer any questions. Colour-coded room notes are available in English, French, German, Japanese, Dutch and Italian. Guided tours for groups can be arranged out of normal opening times.
Lauderdale Apartments at Thirlestane
Clansfolk now have an opportunity to stay at Thirlestane in The Lauderdale Apartments. A second apartment will open in the spring. There will then be a one bedroom and a second two bedroom apartment available. The photos here are of the one bedroom apartment.
With its own private access and exceptional views of the parkland to the front of Thirlestane Castle, The Lauderdale Apartment, located within the south wing of the castle, is now available for self catering holiday lets, offering a unique opportunity for visitors to stay in a genuinely historic Scottish castle.
The Lauderdale apartment has private access through the courtyard and consists of open plan kitchen, dining area and seating area. It is a five minute walk into Lauder. The apartment offers spectacular views of the Borders, rich Scottish raspberry jam for breakfast and an experience you will talk about not just for one night but all year.
There are several acres of parking available, and many interesting places to visit within an hour’s drive.
Costs vary with season. The one bedroom apartment is available for from three days upwards. A week varies from £410 to £525 depending on the week chosen, and three days costs from £267 - £335. Bearing in mind that a good hotel in Lauder costs about £120 a night double room Bed & Breakfast, this is very good value.
BOOK – via thirlestanecastle.co.uk/stay