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Castle Roof With A Secret Past

21 November 2007

The sturdy and impressive north range of Newark Castle has held the worst of Scottish weather at bay for over 400 years.But archaeologists suspect its roof timbers may come from an even earlier building.

Research is now underway to date the woodwork and to see if cuts in the wood can be used to work out the size and shape of the long-lost structure they came from.The project began after a severe gale in 2006 caused roof timbers to shift by up to 20 millimetres, revealing that areas previously concealed in the stonework had been badly damaged by woodworm.

Historic Scotland, which cares for the castle, called in a team of experts to decide how best to carry out repairs. Investigations of the 16th century roof soon revealed that many of the timbers had been used before.

Peter Yeoman, Historic Scotland senior archaeologist, said: “The North Range was the work of Sir Patrick Maxwell who, despite being a justice of the peace, was notorious as a murderer and wife-beater.

“It was built in the 1590s and the ceiling is one of the finest and most complete remaining examples of its kind. “But we believe the timbers come from an even older structure which may have been knocked down and its materials reused for the new project.

“We have specialists in tree ring dating trying to work out how old the timbers are.

“Even more excitingly we are examining whether cut marks in the timbers can tell us the shape of the roof and building they first came from.

“If this is possible it will let us glimpse a long-forgotten building that hasn’t existed for hundreds of years.”

At the same time the Historic Scotland Monument Conservation Unit has been looking at how to secure the roof for the future. The ingenious solution has been to design steel plates to sit inside the wall slots which take the ends of the beams. Ian Lambie, Historic Scotland district architect, said: “We always aim to preserve as much of the original material as possible.

“The fear was that quite a lot of the original timbers would be lost because the woodworm was so bad.

“But this approach is ideal because it gives the beams and ceilings the strength they need by supporting them with steel splints.

“And because the metal will be inside the wall heads it will be invisible to visitors.”

As the system is entirely reversible it leaves the way open for conservation experts of the future to come up with even better solutions.

Notes for editors
·Newark Castle is in Port of Glasgow on the A8. Telephone 01475 741858.
·Tickets are £3.50 for adults, £2.80 for concessions and £1.75 for children.
·The dendrochronology is being carried out by Dr Anne Crone of Edinburgh-based AOC Archaeology Group and can be contacted on 0131 4403593.
·The castle, which overlooks the Firth of Clyde, dates back to the 15th century but was later extended.
·Sir Patrick Maxwell became laird in the 1580s. In 1584 he murdered the head of a rival family – the Montgomeries of Skelmorlie – and his eldest son.
·Lady Margaret Crawford, Patrick’s wife, suffered severely at his hands. In 1595 Patrick’s mother Marion reported his conduct to the Privy Council. After 44 years of marriage, and 16 children, she finally fled to Dumbarton and spent her remaining years in poverty.

For further information

Matthew Shelley
Historic Scotland
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8734