Kinneil House – The Buildings


The early history of Kinneil is confused by legend.  Traditionally it came into the possession of the Hamilton family as a gift from Robert the Bruce in the early 14th century when one of them killed a lieutenant of England on Kinneil Muir.  By that time there was already a parish church and a sizeable village on the west side of the Gil Burn.  Certainly, it was in the possession of Walter Hamilton in 1323.  We might therefore expect that the early medieval seat of the family here would lie adjacent to the settlement and church, but as yet there is neither historical nor archaeological evidence for it.  Parallels further west suggest that any medieval stronghold would be attached to one side of the Antonine Wall.  The medieval earthwork fortifications at Inveravon, Seabegs and Watling Lodge lay on the north side of the Wall, whilst Callendar, Kirkintilloch and Cadder were on the south.  At Kinneil the south side would be favoured due to the topography.  A large ditch was found in the walled garden by archaeological excavations in 1990 and confirmed in 2018 and this may belong to just such an enclosure.  It was separated from the village by the narrow valley of the Gil or Kirk Burn and cut off an outcrop of rock behind the Roman Wall.  This would have placed it just to the north of what is believed to be the medieval highroad which succeeded the Military Way associated with that earlier frontier.  Westward the road veered to the north to form the high street of the settlement.


In 1473 Lord Hamilton was granted a royal licence ‘for the construction and building of a castle called Craglyoune sited above the sea’ (‘construendi et edificandi castrum infra mare situatum nuncupat Craglyoune’) and the next year received a royal charter confirming his ownership of the lands of the barony of Kinneil and of the ‘castrum de Kynneil nuncupatum Craglyoune’ (‘the castle of Kinneil called Craglyoune’).  The name would very much suit the earlier enclosure – being a rocky outcrop associated with the Roman legions.  It is therefore probable that the late 15th century house of the Hamiltons was located in the NW corner of what became the walled garden.  As well as the ditch, traces of road surfaces were encountered and later rubble rafts were made up of demolition material which may have been derived from its buildings.  The small angular lumps of sandstone had lime mortar attached and so were not waste from the new work of the stonemasons in the following century.  The buildings seem to have eventually extended northwards across the Roman ditch.  A substantial wall, 0.5m thick, extends southward from the remaining engaged column of the inner courtyard to the NW corner of the walled garden.  High up this 3m tall wall is evidence of window apertures and at its south end the large quoin stones show a return to the east to form what is now the north wall of the garden for at least 13m.

Illus 2: Map showing the relationship between the late medieval village, castle and church at Kinneil.

The buildings of Castle Lyon would have been completed by 1490 when another crown charter confirmed James, second Lord Hamilton, in his ownership of the lands and barony of Kinneil ‘together with the castle and fortalice of Craiglioun’ (unacum cum castro et fortalicio de Craiglioun’).  Earl James died at ‘his place of Kinneil’ in 1529. In 1532 Margaret Douglas, wife of James, second Earl of Arran, received a life rent of ‘the tower and fortalice of Kinneil’ (‘turrim et fortalicium de Kinneil’).  As Craig Lyon was within the barony of Kinneil the terms were used interchangeably.



Following King James V’s untimely death in December 1542 James, 2nd Earl of Arran, became Regent of Scotland.  This issued in a decade of building work at Kinneil commencing in 1545 when he had his chamber at Craig Lyon re-panelled with ‘Eastland Boards’ from the Baltic.  In 1549 he was granted the French dukedom of Chatelherault with its substantial revenues as a reward for consenting to Queen Mary’s marriage to the French dauphin and accepting a Scottish power-sharing agreement with the Queen Mother, Mary of Guise.  In 1549-50 the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland record payments for wood supplied to Kinneil in the form of boards, deals and roof joists.  Although not specifically stated this seems to have been for the construction of the Tower wing.  This was a massive structure, which Pont around 1580 depicts as being six stories high with regular fenestration of three bays and corner turrets; the wallhead appears to have battlements.  The entrance is not shown, nor is the less significant palace or domestic wing.  Pont is usually quite accurate in his drawings and if this was the case at Kinneil then we have lost a couple of storeys in later years.  It can be estimated that the tower would have stood a little over 85ft tall.  A dramatic descent of the tower was made in 1562, at which time an exaggerated height of 30 fathoms or 180ft was given (see Kinneil House – the History).

Illus 3: Extract from Pont’s Map of c1580 (National Library of Scotland).

The Tower dominates the site and stands just a little back from the ravine of the Gil Burn.  It is constructed of roughly coursed rubble derived from the local sandstone and founded directly on the bedrock.  The masonry is of considerably finer quality on the south and east elevations, where it is approaching the quality of ashlar work.  These are the sides most readily visible to any visitor.  The quoins and margins are of a finer grained sandstone, the later usually provided with a simple chamfer.  The walls were rendered – the coating on the east façade being a fine white compound that would have produced a smooth gleaming white surface.  Covering such a large mass this would have made an imposing sight, glistening in the sun and visible for some distance along and across the Forth.

The mass of the Tower provided an aura of strength with its great gun ports on the west side fronted by the deep ravine of the Gil Burn.  At about this time a history of the Hamilton family appeared, written by Friar Mark, making Kinneil rather than Hamilton its focus. Stylistically the tower harked back to this time, securely anchoring the family inheritance on its solid foundations, but the bold apertures for the guns gave it an air of modernity.  On the east side there would have been a series of courtyards surrounded by perimeter walls.  As at Craignethan Castle, another Hamilton stronghold, there was almost certainly a gatehouse in one of these.  To the south were the remains of the old fortified buildings of Craig Lyon.  The tower was probably nearing completion when the accounts record the supply of trees for the garden there in 1552, its lofty battlements providing a suitable viewing platform from which to view their geometric layout. 

Illus 4: The Gun Loops on the west side of the Tower.

The Tower measures 17.3m (56ft 6ins) N/S by 9.6m (31ft 6ins) W/E with walls up to 6ft wide.  It is unusually narrow for a tower of its height, particularly as there was no wing or jamb. This adds to the idea that the tower may have been intended to give an impression of a structure of antiquity – an austere symbol of feudal ancestry dominating the surrounding courts and buildings.  The Tower was at least six stories high, comprising a basement and entresol level beneath a vault, a lofty hall, and two or three stories of accommodation above. 

The lowest stage of the Tower was cut into the rock to provide a level terrace with more material removed on the east and south sides than on the other two.  


The lowest level or basement therefore had no apertures on the east side.  On the west there were two narrow windows with glazing grooves, off-set to the south. Between these there is a wide-mouthed gun-port with a narrow throat and circular aperture within. All three openings have small relieving arches over, as do many of the windows of this period.  Further north at the same level is a much smaller narrow light which may have lit the wooden stair descending from the room above.  As well as providing a defensive gun port this floor would have been used for storage.

Illus 5: Conjectural Plan of the first floor of Kinneil House in 1560. North to the right.

Between the rock-cut basement and a thick stone vault was a wooden floor providing an additional level known as an entresol. The floor was supported on joists about 0.2m square and the sockets for many of these can still be seen  in the west wall set at about 0.8m centres.   This wall contains three equally spaced gun-ports with arched wide-mouthed interior embrasures.  As a group they are off-set to the north.  Further south is a medium-sized window with chamfered surrounds and a relieving arch.  Other early features at this level include a further opening at the west end of the south wall, possibly another gun port.  At the north end of the east wall there is a further wide-mouthed gun-port visible externally, but subsequently blocked. This has a tapered block, set keystone-like above its upper stone.

This floor was capped with a substantial stone vault which was removed during the late 17th century alterations.  The entresol thus provided a gun platform as well as the usual function of storage off the cold damp ground for dry materials.  The guns would have been of low calibre mounted on wooden frames supporting a pivot and would have initially been a permanent fixture.  It is because of the presence of the ordnance that this floor was so substantial.  The elevated position was necessary because the ground on the far side of the ravine of the Gil Burn rises to a level higher than that upon which the Tower stands.  Access to the entresol would have been by a doorway at the north-east corner of the tower and to the basement by the wooden stair already mentioned in the north-west corner.


Above the vault on the second floor was traditionally the hall.  This level, and those above, was subdivided by a lateral partition wall about two thirds along.  The larger of these rooms was the hall and its east or front wall sported two tall windows, with another in the west wall.  The large fireplace would have been located in the centre of the south wall.  Halls formerly had been used for communal feasting and reinforcing patron bonds and hierarchy; but by the mid 16th century their function was more ceremonial, being reserved for weddings and other important occasions.

On about the line of the former partition there is a narrow light visible externally to the west, and a second one above it on the same line.  These may have been closet windows for gardrobe chambers or stair windows.  Given the lack of evidence for any other means of accessing the upper levels the latter explanation is preferred.  A narrow spiral staircase here would have been well positioned to serve the rooms to the south and north.

The rooms on the north side of the partition seem to have been slightly wider in plan as a result of the thinning of the west wall.  The chamber to the north of the partition next to the hall had a large window in the west wall and one offset to the west in the north wall.  A further opening existed at the east end of the north wall which appears to have been the main point of access.

Illus 7: The upper section of the Tower with blocked windows.

Upper Floors

The third floor, that above the hall, had a similar arrangement of widows – two large windows with a narrow slot between them in the west wall; a large window at the west end of the north wall; large windows in the east wall; and at the east end of the south wall.  The fenestration on the fourth floor was only slightly different; the main point of divergence being that the southern window of the west wall was placed further to the south.  The floors above this were removed at a later date.


Physical evidence for how the wallhead was finished is lacking.  A crenellated parapet is suggested by Pont’s depiction of the tower, with corner bartizans and possibly one in the centre of the east wall.  A suggestion has been made that the sixth and upper storey may have taken the form of dormer windows, but the lack of these features on the residential wing indicates that they were not used.  If the purpose of the tower was to present an image of the past, then battlements would be more appropriate.  The late 16th century also saw the development of viewing platforms, usually in the form of small flat-topped turrets, and this function would have been admirably fulfilled at Kinneil by a wall-walk.

Illus 8: Reconstruction Drawing of the east elevation of Kinneil House, c1570.

Illus 9: Reconstruction Drawing of the north elevation of Kinneil House, c1570.


Trees for the Duke’s garden at Kinneil were supplied in 1552 and may mark the end of the first phase of work on the Tower.  A second stage of building works began in 1553 and the Lord High Treasurer’s accounts record the provision of a horse for the ‘stane carte in Kynneil’ and payments of drink silver to Thomas Bargany ‘Masoun wirkand in Kynnele’ and to ‘the masons in Kynnele… at the laying of the ground stanes of the palice of Kynnele’.  At the time the word ‘palice’ was used for a noble’s residence, which was not a tower house and it would seem that here it refers to the residential wing to the north-east of the tower.  This dwelling was surprisingly plain on the outside – devoid of turrets or embellishments.  Internally the decoration was lavish.  The setting and the views up the Forth were magnificent.

As with the Tower the following description will take this block floor by floor.

Illus 10: Ground Floor Plan as reconstructed, c1570. North to the right.
Ground Floor

Illus 11: The Ground Floor Corridor of the Palace Wing.

 The chambers at ground floor level are vaulted throughout. The original arrangement seems to have been simpler than it is now.  The entrance was from the link building or stair tower attached to the north-east corner of the Tower block.  Turning right at the main doorway entered a long vaulted passage that runs along the south frontage of the building. At each end of this would have been a small light (that on the west survives) with another three along the south wall.  Opening off the passage were three vaulted cellars set perpendicular to it.  This is a common arrangement and can be found at Torwood Castle which is dated to 1556.  The first of these cellars, that on the west, also gave access to the narrower long cellar at the north side of the residential block.  Here the vault was set parallel to that of the corridor and explains why the mid wall is thicker than normal.  The small window at the west end of this room also survives but can only been seen on the external face.  The north wall has been heavily modified and the slots depicted on the plan here are speculative.

The easternmost vaulted room at the end of the long corridor contained a well 5.2m deep, the lower 2.7m being cut through the sandstone bedrock.  The circular shaft was found to be 1.9m in diameter. 

Illus 12: Hatch in the west wall of the “Kitchen.”

A framework of horizontal adze-hewn timber beams, perhaps elements of a staging platform, was set into rock-cut niches, 3.10m below the level of the floor.   This room may also have given access to the rear vaulted room.  The north gable of this northern chamber contains traces of two narrow slits, between which the wall has been rebuilt.  Latterly this contained a doorway into a lean-to structure, but the disposition of the slits suggests that it may originally have contained a large fireplace whose chimney flue would have coalesced with those of the rooms above.  The location, adjacent to the well room, would be appropriate for a kitchen.  A rebated hatch on the outside of the projecting west wall would have been for the disposal of waste.  There is no evidence for direct communication with the floor above other than the link building.

First Floor

Illus 13: Fleur de Lys carved into the west margin of the window of the “Parable Room.”

The principal access to the first floor level seems to have been off the linking stair tower to the south-west and a full account of this range of rooms will be found in the article on the piano nobile.  The first room was generously lit by tall windows with low segmental arched-heads, two to the south and one to the west.  The stone surrounds were well-dressed and possibly painted.  A broad fireplace occupied the centre of the south wall.  The room was tall and would originally have been topped with a coffered wooden ceiling, painted in a similar fashion to that in the next room.  A doorway in the north-west corner opened up into a long chamber to which we will return momentarily.  A second doorway at the north end of the east wall led to the ‘Parable Room.’ 

Illus 14: The Parable Room looking south-east (photo: Adrian Mahoney).

The room in the south-east corner of the residential block is now known as the Parable Room from the presence of murals depicting the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  It has tall arch-headed windows in the south and east walls, the latter just to the north of an original fireplace.  There was a small mural closet in the south-east corner of the room, presumably for a gardrobe.  The window margins in this and the adjacent rooms are very well dressed, almost polished, and these surfaces provided a suitable platform for the wall paintings to continue to the windows.  This may have been intentional, avoiding problems with damp plaster.  Masons’ marks are conspicuous on the inner edges here, but once filled in and painted over they would not have been noticeable.  The west margin of the south-facing window in the Parable Room also conceals a horizontal incised fleur de lys with stretches across most of the available space.  Could this perhaps be a reference to French masons?  Like the masons’ marks it was covered over with plaster and paint.

Illus 15: The Arbour Room looking north-east (photo: Adrian Mahoney).

The north wall contained a doorway into another room containing murals, since 1936 known as the ‘Arbour Room’ from the main decorative theme there.  This room has a stone barrel vault and the wall paintings continue across the curved ceiling (see the article on the murals, north room, south room and other).  The tall arch-headed window in the centre of the north wall is particularly prominent, and nearby is another at the north end of the east wall. The fireplace in the centre of the east wall is original and it is possible that the broad central recess in the west wall is also, possibly serving as a buffet.  To the north of this is another mural gardrobe chamber. 

In the original scheme it does not appear that there was a direct connection between this room and the long chamber to its west.

This room in the north-west angle of the block is of considerable interest.  In the north wall are four medium-sized windows, symmetrically arranged.  The west wall was originally pierced by a single tall window with an arched head internally, matching those elsewhere within the wing at this level.  A mural closet at the NW angle, partly projecting externally and supported by a single interrupted corbel course, is one of the few external signs of architectural embellishment.  There are suggestions in the remaining plaster that this room had a barrel-vaulted timber boarded ceiling (probably painted) which would have hidden the roof timbers immediately above it – this part of the residential block was lower than the rest.  The roof was monopitched with a crow-stepped west gable.  The form of this elongated chamber suggests it may have been a gallery or a chapel, in which case the mural chamber may have been a sacristy.

Upper Floors

It seems that the upper floors of the palace wing were only originally accessible from the link building at its south-west angle.  An entrance from the stair there led to the suite of rooms on the second floor which largely echoed those below (see the piano nobile).

Illus 16: Reconstruction Drawing of the south elevation of Kinneil House, c1570.

Illus 17: Reconstruction Drawing of the west elevation of Kinneil House, c1570.


Illus 18: Armorial Panel of the Duke of Chatelherault.

In the space between the tower block and the residential or palace wing there was a link building containing a broad stair to provide access to both.  It would have been sensible for this stair tower to have housed the principal entrance and that this was the case is suggested by the proximity of the gun-port near the north end of the east wall of the tower.  Wherever the entrance was, it would have been embellished by the large armorial panel, which may even have surmounted it (see the armorial panels).  This panel contains the arms of the Duke of Chatelherault and his wife and dates to the 1550s.  As bolection moulding is used within the buildings, the main doorway probably possessed a large example of this moulding.

The link building was radically remodelled in the 1670s and so its original form is uncertain.  It appears to have been smaller than its replacement, the south-east corner stopping 1.5m short of the tower block and returning to the west.  In the reconstruction drawings provided in this report it has been shown as having a splayed southern side, but this is purely fanciful and intended to deliberately emphasise the uncertainty.

In fact, Addyman’s suggestion that the south-east corner of the link tower was square seems more likely.  As he pointed out, the quoins of the enlarged 17th century pavilion here are larger than in other work of that period and it would seem that these stones were simply moved southward by 1.5m and the wall built up between.  At least two of these quoins display diamond-shaped mason’s marks, which are typical of the 16th century work.

On entering the stair tower the visitor could turn right into the corridor of the basement of the palace wing.  Proceeding clockwise up the stair they would come first to the door in the Tower block leading to the entresol, then to the first floor of the palace wing.  The next door up was once more into the Tower, this time at the level of the hall.  The stair also served the upper floors of the palace wing and that above the hall in the Tower.  However, it does not seem to have provided access to the top floors of the Tower, for which there must have been an internal stairwell.

The arrangement of buildings – Tower, link building and palace wing – created an articulated range of differing heights and forms.  As if to stress the hinged centre point, the two end wings are set slightly more than a right angle apart.  The old approach to Castle Lyon was probably from the south along the side of valley of the Gil Burn and this would still have been used (explaining the good quality masonry on the south side of the Tower).  Terracing of the rock occurs along the east side of this putative approach.  Castle Lyon would act as a forecastle or gatehouse.  Even though the new buildings would have been surrounded by enclosure walls creating multiple courts, the downhill view from the south would have seen over them.

Illus 19: Conjectural restoration of the Plan of Kinneil House and its immediate enclosures in 1560.

The main façade, however, must have been that to the east and a new drive was probably created at this time.  This drive went though the inner court whose east side was aligned with the south-east corner of the palace wing.  It then proceeded through an outer court where there may have been a small gatehouse, before inclining to the east to rejoin the public road before it passed over the Dean Burn.  Here the ground is more level and the doorway into the House would only have been visible on entering the final courtyard.

In late January 1560 it was reported that a French force had: “taken a house of the dukes at Kenele, and burned all that they fownd in yt, for that ther was nothing ther that they might carye awey.  Ther was slaine by those that kept the house agenst them, on gentleman and ij souldiours.  The duks men took that daie a faithfull chapelein and a paynefull, of the bishop’s of St. Andrews, called Andrewe Olifant, that accompayned the Franches in this voyage…”  From this it seems that the Duke of Chatelherault had fortified Kinneil House with a small force and that it had put up a stubborn resistance. It is not clear how much damage was caused and the burning mentioned may have been restricted to the contents. 

However, another record states that: “Lord Dossel came to Edinburgh with all the French except 4 bands left in Stirling.  In coming by Lynlythqu, he destroyed Kynneill a place of my lord Duke’s.”  These were evidently just second-hand reports and probably exaggerated.

Nonetheless Kinneil’s location made it vulnerable to the vagaries of political power at the time.  In May 1570 the Hamilton lands were ravaged in reprisal for the killing of Regent Moray in Linlithgow High Street.  The Palace at Hamilton, Chatelherault’s house in Linlithgow (the house now known as the West Port House) and his Palace of Kinneil are all reported to have been burned.  The Earl of Morton wrote that: “The Duke’s houses of Kinneil and Linlithgow are demolished by powder. At his special request the town of Linlithgow is saved, for the which they have given pledges for being in the Queen of England’s will, for the reset of her rebels, and promised that none of them shall be received in the town.”  This certainly sounds more serious and it may have been on this occasion that the older buildings of Castle Lyon were demolished in order to reduce the defensive capabilities of Kinneil.  It may also have been that the upper floors and roof of the tower were consumed by a fire.  However, the palace wing and its murals survived and it was soon lived in again.  Indeed, the buildings were sufficiently restored for James VI and his court to spend some time at Kinneil in the 1580s.  A comparison may be made with Huntly Castle which James VI ordered William Schaw to slight in 1594.  Schaw, an architect, demolished the old tower there but left the palace block alone as it had no military potential.

Illus 20: Signs of the Wooden Extension at the SW corner of the Palace Wing.

On the east elevation of the palace wing there are signs of a narrow two storey timber extension.  These take the form of horizontal line of shallow rectangular joist holes at first floor level with a linear slot above them.  They extend from the south-east corner of the wing to just short of the large window in the presence chamber (Parable Room).  At either end a similar set of holes rises for about 8ft (the northern line very close to the iron grille for the window), above which the surviving render reflects the sloping roof of the extension.  A doorway with a rebate on the east (exterior) gave access to the mural chamber in the presence room.  This structure appears to date to the late 16th century as the doorway is interrupted by the second window in the presence chamber which is believed to date to the 1620s alterations.

The nature and transience of the wooden extension suggests that it may be associated with the time when James VI resided at Kinneil.  It is probable that he would have occupied the piano nobile whilst here and this extension may have provided a separate access or a balcony.


In the 1620s or 1630s the north-eastern chamber of the palace wing was redecorated (see the piano nobile).  It was around this time that two windows were inserted into the eastern façade and were provided with the iron grilles typical of the period.  The wooden entrance of the 1580s would already have been removed by this date.  This rather limited scale work was probably commissioned by Lady Anna Cunningham after the death of her husband, the 2nd Marquis, when she occupied the house as part of her jointure.  The reduction in the size of the west window of the gallery must also fit into this phase of work.

Illus 21: The West Window of the Gallery with later small window inserted and then blocked by the new Kitchen chimney.

In June 1650 Kinneil House was taken by the Cromwellian Army and used for storing biscuit.  The house and estate were allocated to General Monck.  Like other estates in Scotland, the property undoubtedly suffered from neglect and pilfering during this period.  It was 20 July 1660 before one of Duchess Anne’s servants “Passed through the whole rooms of the said castle and, finding no manner of plenishing [furniture] therein, took real, virtual and peacable possession of the foresaid castle and house of Kinneil by receiving the keys of the outer gate.” (Marshall 2000, 58)  Duchess Anne had become heir to the Hamilton titles and properties due to the deaths of her father and uncle in the Civil War.  Now she set about restoring Kinneil as a residence for her eldest son, Lord Arran.

The Tower was remodelled to form the centrepiece of a U-plan house built around a courtyard which was colonnaded along its open east side.  The work programme had to be phased due to Arran’s unpredictable life-style – there was no guarantee that he would leave the delights of London to live at Kinneil.  One consequence of this phasing was that the planned south-east wing, which would have balanced the ensemble, was never built.  The tuskers which would have joined it to those that were built can still be seen.

Illus 22: View of the South Pavilion with tuskers on the corner.

Symmetry was to be achieved by replacing the mid 16th century link building with a tall pavilion, matched by one on the south corner of the tower.  The north pavilion continued to provide a link between the rooms in the Tower and those in the palace wing, but now the stair was relegated to a subordinate position in another structure set behind the pavilion.  This service stair had a monopitched roof contained by a crow-stepped west gable butting onto the Tower and was also replicated for the south pavilion.  Both pavilions were built from random rubble covered with harling with a moulded stringcourse defining the top floors and a matching eaves course capped by a pyramidal roof.  The vertical line of large windows in the pavilions was offset towards the Tower to emphasise the central symmetry and provide a face of five bays.  The armorial panel from the 1550s was set at first-floor level in a moulded surround in the blank walling thus provided in the south pavilion.  It was balanced by a new coat-of-arms of Duchess Anne and her husband in the matching space in the south pavilion.  The stones were thus set adjacent to the appropriately dated blocks – the palace wing and the unbuilt south-east wing respectively.

Illus 23: Inverted stair tread from the Link Building used as a Foundation Stone in the northern Service Stair.

The south pavilion contained the Grand Stair.  Writing to his brother-in-law, the Duke of Queensberry, on 10 November 1677 the Duke of Hamilton noted that: “I have sent you a draught off the Tower of Kinneil with the two new pavilions I have builded to itt… That with tuo stares was dearer than the other, being 1000 merks Scots for the workmanship of ston werk only.” 

The additional cost was undoubtedly due to the State Stair which rose from the Laigh Hall through a single storey to a landing opening onto the Great Hall, which now occupied the entire first floor of the tower.    This was a broad stone scale and platt stair with thick bullnosed steps and a chunky balustrade, handrail and ball finials, similar in character to the contemporary one at Holyrood Palace designed by Sir William Bruce.  In common with other stairs of the period the flat plastered ceiling had evidently been sumptuously decorated, a vestige of which remains in the form of part of the cornice frieze depicting a mermaid-inhabited acanthus scroll.

The remodelling of the tower included reducing its height by at least one storey and replacing the battlements with a large classical cornice and a low parapet wall.  The front was provided with a balustrade with ball finials on the interval pedestals.  The new roof was flat and covered with massive sheets of lead.  A central ogival cupola or roof lantern housed the top of the stairwell ensuring easy access to the viewing platform.

Illus 25: Kinneil House in 1908 with people standing on the roof in front of the cupola.

The fenestration was changed to present a more regular appearance to the east, with three bays on five storeys – the lowest and uppermost being almost square.  The original fixed leaded lights and iron casements were replaced by astragalled sash-and-case windows of wood, such as at that time were coming into fashion in Scotland.  This involved a change in the internal floor levels.  The vault was removed and on the first floor the wall was cut back to create a single room or great hall, 41ft 6ins long by 20 feet broad.  It was now on a level with the first floor in the palace wing.  A large fireplace was placed centrally into the west wall and imitation marble panelling introduced.

Building materials, such as timber from Scandinavia, were shipped to the harbour at Bo’ness.  Richard Dauling, a skipper at the port, brought in several hundred deals for scaffolding, partitions, flooring, wheelbarrows, tables and beds.  Andrew Cowie’s ship was loaded with slates for the house, and skipper Richard Drury carried a shipment of “leaded tyll” (lead sheet) from Holland.  Local tradesmen were employed, such as Alexander Wilson, stone mason in Bo’ness, and in 1687 James Miller, stone mason from Kinneil, built a new coach house.  George Mitchell, smith in Bo’ness, was also employed on the house.  Some specialist craftsmen had to be sought from further away.  In 1686 George Wallace used white lead, chalk, lamp black and “16 pynts of lintseed oyl for culloring thre great gates, stone and timber work within the tower head, old armes and blind window, all 3 times over” at a cost of £44 14s.  He had previously worked at Holyroodhouse and Hamilton Palace.

The Castle by the Embellishments Duke William gave it, makes a Noble Front to the House, and communicates with the North building, which tho not so regular to the eye without, are nobly contrived within, with due Proportion, Large Lights well placed”. 

Robert Sibbald (1710)
Illus 26: Aerial View of Kinneil House in 2014 looking west ( photo: Charlie Simpson).

The doorway for the new main entrance door was modest in size even though its central position made it prominent.  It is characteristic of the period with lugged architrave and bracketed, segmental pediment.  The pair of consoles were accompanied by a lateral pair drawn in relief; an unusual detail which can also be seen on the gateway of 1663 at Rutherglen Old Parish Church.

Illus 27: The Main Doorway of Kinneil House in 1908.

Until 1936 a wrought iron knocker in the form of a dog’s head was bolted to the wooden door. In that year it was gifted to Arthur W Roebuck, the Attorney-General and Hydro Commissioner of Toronto in Canada. He was the great-great grandson of Dr John Roebuck who tenanted the house in the late 18th century.

Whereas formerly the ground floor apertures had been little more than vertical slots, they were now opened up to form square windows – in the palace wing as well as the Tower. Behind these, major alterations were carried out on the ground floor. The kitchen seems to have been moved from the vaulted room on the north-east of the block to that on the north-west.

This entailed the insertion of a large chimney in the west gable, blocking the window at the west end of the first-floor gallery. A bread oven was incorporated into the south-west corner of the room and the windows in the north wall enlarged to provide working light.

Illus 28: The late 17th Century Kitchen.

The central vault on this floor had a passage cut through it from the corridor to a rear door and a new stairwell which gave access to the upper floors. The courtyard outside the rear door was known as the “kitchen Court.” On the ground floor this stairwell occupied the east end of the former W/E vaulted room and on the floor above it cut through the east end of the gallery. Doorways off the stair on the first floor opened into the Arbour Room (Duchess Anne’s bedroom) and the outer chamber; on the floor above it did the same for the Duke’s bedroom and the adjoining rooms. The lean-to roof above the gallery was removed and an extra two storeys added to this area. These were much lower in height than the earlier rooms. Here too the roof was covered with sheet lead, having a very low pitch. Changes to the scheme of internal decoration are dealt with in the article on the piano nobile.

Illus 29: Reconstructed Elevations of the east and south Fronts in 1680.
Illus 30: Reconstructed Elevations of the west and north Elevations in 1680.

The works continued from 1677 to the later 1680s and were most likely executed by James Smith, the architect of the recasting of Hamilton Palace.  Beyond the house the grounds also received a remake (see Kinneil Park).  It was probably at this time that the east side of the inner court was replaced with a colonnade, and the east avenue was extended eastward across the Dean Burn to form the Grand Avenue.


As the 18th century progressed Kinneil House was used less and less as a residence by the Hamilton family, though essential maintenance was still carried out.  The lead on the roof of both the Tower and the palace wing was renewed in the days following the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, as is testified by an inscription cast on one sheet on each.  They read, below a crown, “I.D.H./ BY JOHN SCOTT/ PLUMBER IN EDR/ OCTR  30TH 1746.”  IDH being for James the 6th Duke of Hamilton.

Illus 31: Ordnance Survey Map of 1856 (National Library of Scotland).

In 1760 Dr John Roebuck took a lease of the building and lived there with his family.  It was in 1769 that he had a small workshop constructed a short distance to the south of the house for James Watt to conduct his experiments on steam engines in privacy.  Other minor additions that appear to belong to his tenancy include the lean-to single storey shelter at the south-west corner of the Tower, a shallow projecting porch at the door into the kitchen court and a single storey building extending eastward from the north-east corner of the palace wing.  The latter appears in a photograph of around 1925 with a pantile roof.  It could be accessed from the house by a doorway, which latterly was the window of the custodian’s office.  It probably had some function connected to the kitchen – perhaps as a dairy.  Small outbuildings to its north appear to be a pigsty and possibly a hen house.

Illus 32: The north side of Kinneil House c1925 with the 19th century lean-to on the left.

Dugald Stewart was the next tenant and after his death in 1828 his wife and daughter remained for a few years.  A number of short-lived tenants had the lease thereafter and it is unlikely that any structural alterations were carried out at this period.


Kinneil House stood almost disused for several decades and part of it was utilised to house a large incubator in 1901.  Around 1909 the 13th Duke of Hamilton commissioned the firm of Lorimer and Matthew (Sir Robert Lorimer being a partner) to rework and enlarge Kinneil House.  Rough sketches and plans were produced to construct the long missing south wing and a new one to the east – incorporating the inner eastern courtyard into an internal one.  However, the scheme never went further than the drawing board.

The days of the country house were numbered and in 1922 the whole of Kinneil estate was put on the market.  The house was purchased by Bo’ness Town Council under the powers granted by the Public Parks (Scotland) Act, 1875 for the establishment of public parks and pleasure grounds – and the rest is history (and so will be found under the history of Kinneil House or in the discovery of the murals).  The roof was believed to be unsafe and was removed and the interior gutted.  During this process a particularly fine set of 16th century murals was found and so in 1936 the Ministry of Works took the palace wing into guardianship.  The east end was re-roofed and a well-crafted oak ceiling reinstated.  A considerable amount of conservation and consolidation work had to be undertaken on the murals and their rooms.  As there was still the possibility of the Tower being demolished, the 1550s armorial stone was removed from the north pavilion and placed in the cellars for safe-keeping.  It was now necessary for the palace wing to have a separate entrance, as that in the Tower was still restricted to the use of the Bo’ness Town Council.  The dilapidated doorway into the Kitchen Court was not considered sufficient and so a new door was inserted near to the south end of the east façade providing access to the basement corridor – the one still in use by visitors to the murals.  At the same time the narrow single storey building extending eastward from the north-east corner of the palace wing was demolished.  The stone was retained for repairing the walls elsewhere, including those of Watt’s Cottage in 1946.

Illus 33: Kinneil House.

In recent years Historic Environment Scotland in partnership with the Friends of Kinneil have opened the house up to the public for over seven days a year and the opportunity to marvel at the murals has been taken by thousands of people.  The building is owned by Falkirk Council and its future seems ensured – hopefully with greater access.  Those wishing to visit the interior should check the websites of these organisations, but the outside is open all year round, as are the grounds.


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G.B. Bailey (2021)