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Maclellan's Castle

Late 16th century noble residence

Maclellan's Castle

A family home

MacLellan’s Castle is named after Sir Thomas MacLellan of Bombie (d. 1597). Sir Thomas was provost of Kirkcudbright and a powerful man in local politics. Following the Protestant Reformation in 1560, he acquired the site and buildings of the convent of Greyfriars, established in the town by James II in 1449, and set about building himself a new residence in its place. By 1582, MacLellan’s Castle was sufficiently complete for him to move in. Five years later, he and his second wife, Grissel, entertained their sovereign, James VI, in this spacious house.

Alas, following Sir Thomas and Lady Grissel’s death, the family fell on hard times. They ran up huge debts, chiefly through their involvement in the Ulster Plantations. By 1742, Sir Thomas’s descendant, William MacLellan, Lord Kirkcudbright, was working as a humble glover in Edinburgh. The family home was stripped of its roof and emptied of its contents. The neglected ruin came into state care in 1912.

An impressive town house

The design of MacLellan’s Castle was part of a deliberate and self-conscious change in tower-house building in Jacobean Scotland. Gone was the obsession with security that had dominated the rather dour towers of previous centuries (eg, Threave, Orchardton and Cardoness). In their place arose residences more notable for domestic comfort and conspicuous displays of wealth.

Thomas MacLellan did not dispense entirely with defence, but he reduced it to a minimum. The castle’s small number of wide-mouthed gunholes at ground-floor level and the pistol-holes high above were intended to warn off individuals rather than armies.

The castle has an unusual ground plan. Based on a standard L-plan design, it has an  additional tower in the SE corner, and two other smaller projections between the main block and the entrance wing. Both allowed occupants to move more easily around the house, as well as providing increased accommodation. All in all, there were about 15 family rooms.

Internally, the house is substantially complete, save for its roof, fixtures and fittings. The stone-vaulted ground floor contains the kitchen and storage cellars. The family rooms are on the upper floors. They include a great hall on the first floor, measuring about 11m by 6m, with a capacious fireplace whose stone lintel is almost 4m long. Hidden in the fireplace’s rear is a rare survival of a laird’s lug (literally ‘lord’s ear’) through which the master of the house could eavesdrop and spy on guests gathered in the great hall from a hidden closet behind.

Events at Maclellan's Castle

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30 November 2015

Weaving the Unicorn exhibition

Stirling Castle

Event information