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Claypotts Castle

An outstanding example of 16th-century Scottish architecture

Claypotts Castle

An outstanding example of 16th-century Scottish architecture, which is both intact and hardly altered.

The castle owes its striking appearance to asymmetrical square garrett chambers corbelled out over two circular towers at diagonally opposite corners.

Built by John Strachan between 1569 and 1588, and later owned by ‘Bonnie Dundee’, John Graham of Claverhouse, it was inhabited into the 19th century.

An eye-catching tower house
Claypotts is one of Scotland’s most eye-catching tower houses. It was built in James VI’s reign (1567–1625) by John Strachan of Claypotts. Strachan’s initials and the dates 1569 and 1588 are carved on the crow-stepped gables that help give the building its charm. The 12 gunholes near the ground were the equivalent of modern security lights, and designed only to deter burglars. Claypotts was a residence first and foremost.  

An innovative design
The tower house is built on an unusual Z-plan, with two circular towers attached to the diagonal corners of a rectangular central block. The wallheads are further enlivened by nicely sculpted dormer windows. Square attic storeys with corbelling top off the circular towers.  The interior is equally innovative. There are two stairs, not one, so that the Strachans and their guests could avoid rubbing shoulders with the servants. The family’s private rooms were in one tower, and their guests’ rooms in the other. The top floor of the main block was once a fine gallery from which projecting balconies gave fine views. Sanitation was also an improvement, with portable soil boxes (‘closed stools’) replacing the draughty privies of medieval times.

The Strachans of Claypotts
Prior to the Protestant Reformation of 1560, the Strachans worked the lands of Claypotts as tenants of Lindores Abbey, in Fife. They paid £12 a year in rent, with 12 cockerels thrown in for good measure. But the demise of the Roman Catholic Church gave John Strachan and his wife, Euphemia Durham, a higher status. They marked their social rise by building Claypotts for themselves and their seven children. When John Strachan died in 1593, his will showed that he was better off than many ‘bonnet lairds’. Even so, he was no nobleman. Only three women kept his house, while four ploughmen and a shepherd worked his land.

The Grahams of Claverhouse
Soon after John Strachan’s death, the family had to move out. William Graham of Ballunie, a local laird, purchased the estate and soon became known as ‘of Claypotts’. But his son, David, sold out to William Graham of Claverhouse, ancestor of the famous John Graham, Viscount Dundee. Contrary to popular belief, ‘Bonnie Dundee’ (or ‘Bloody Clavers’, depending on your standpoint) never slept a single night in Claypotts. By this time the Grahams of Claverhouse were residing at Dudhope Castle, Dundee. Claypotts was left to be inhabited by farmworkers.

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Highlights
  • The exterior – one of the most attractive of Scotland’s many Jacobean tower houses.
  • The cosy kitchen – with its large arched fireplace and small beehive bread oven.
  • The first-floor rooms – fitted with replica furniture to give an idea of how the rooms looked in the Strachans’ day.
  • The views – stand on the balconies and admire the landscape of south Angus and the Tay estuary.

Location

Region – Perthshire, Kinross and Angus

Opening arrangements
Admission prices

Events at Claypotts Castle

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20 October 2014

John Lowrie Morrison: Westlight - Northeastlight

Duff House

Event information