History of Dundas Castle


About Dundas


History of Dundas Castle

History of Dundas Castle in Scotland

Ancient History

From the Twelfth Century onwards the Dundas Clan came to live and to acquire increasingly large tracts of land along the southern shores of the River Forth. By the Fifteenth Century the greater part of Linlithgowshire, now equivalent to West Lothian and the western part of Edinburgh was owned or controlled by Dundas of that Ilk.

Members of the Dundas family have been famous throughout Scottish history. Hugh Dundas served under William Wallace in the defence of his country. His son, George, fought alongside Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn but was slain at the subsequent battle of Dupplin.

In 1416 James Dundas obtained a licence to build a Keep from the Duke of Albany, who was then the effective ruler of Scotland.  He was the younger brother of a weak King Robert the Third.  Albany became infamous in Scottish history by seizing, locking up and starving to death the King’s eldest son David, Duke of Rothesay.  Fortunately for the royal line of succession Robert had sired a second son, James.  He was spirited away to France and returned to Scotland on the deaths of his father and evil uncle to become King James I of Scotland.

Not for the last time in Scots annals, the Dundases kept on side with the powerful of the day. They soon declared their allegiance to the new King and were rewarded by being allowed to build an extension to the ‘Auld Keep’ in 1436 in return for their loyalty and the provision of troops in time of war. This explains why the building is not square in shape.

In the earlier reigns of the Scottish Kings, care was taken that no-one should build a castle without the King’s own license, an essential precaution to prevent rebellious barons from obtaining possession of a place of strength which might enable the owner to defy the King and the law.

But a ‘Keep’ was what its name implies, a place of defence and refuge. It was used as both a home in times of peace and a fortress in times of war and hostile raids from both North and South. At such moments those in the surrounding hamlets, who were loyal to the Laird of Dundas could take refuge in the Keep. A beacon would be lighted from the top of the Keep to warn others of the impending incursions.

Likewise a chain of keeps along both sides of the River Forth would send warning signals to each other to prepare them for the approach of hostile forces. The Keep had leading from it an underground escape passage, which is believed to have ended at the Carmelite Priory Church in South Queensferry. There was a dungeon in the area, which later became a game larder and is now converted into modern kitchens leading from the Stag Chamber. The Guardroom was in the place where the toilets are now situated. The entrance gate, or ‘Yet’ as it was called, has been in place for several hundred years.

There are two staircases leading to the Armory and further up to the Great Hall. The one leading from the Stag Chamber was blocked up for over 300 years and only opened up when restoration was undertaken in 1997. The Great Hall itself originally had two floors and the room leading from it, which is today used as the Vestry for the signing of the register, was the laird’s bedchamber. He was privileged to have his own fireplace and wardrobe within the room.

Oliver Cromwell is known to have stayed at Dundas and a number of his letters are dated from the castle. His statue can be found outside the main entrance to the Keep. He is immediately recognisable as having his sword in his right hand and a book on the left and by the wart on his face. Clearly members of the Dundas family, in those days, were skilled negotiators and were able to make their peace with Cromwell after his defeat of the Scots at Dunbar in 1650.

A great character, amongst the Dundas family, was Walter. He built the sundial and fountain on the front lawn. To be found amongst the inscriptions are the words: “Sir Walter Dundas, in the year of our Lord 1623 and 61st of his own age, erected and adorned as an ornament sacred to his country and his family as also a future memorial to his posterity and an amusing recreation for his friends, this fountain in the form of a Castle and this Sun Dial with its retinue of Goddesses. All that is placed here is for pleasure and enjoyment.”

The Dundas family crest is a Lion Rampant. The earliest rendering of it can be found in the small Chapel in the ‘Auld Keep’. The family motto is ‘Essayez’ (‘Try’) and this, with their coat of arms, can be seen emblazoned on the East wall of the castle.

Later History

Henry Dundas built the ‘modern’ castle in 1818. It replaced an earlier Seventeenth Century building, which was pulled down. William Burn, one of Scotland’s greatest architects, designed the magnificent house.

He was famous for also building churches and this influence can be seen in the main hall, passageway and staircase. The main state rooms, in contrast to later and uglier Victorian buildings in Scotland, have wonderful proportions and the genius of Burn provided for the huge dimensions of the windows. These give an unparalleled outlook onto the spreading lawns and parkland outside.

Sadly for the Dundas family, the building and the extensive gardens had cost so much to construct that the estate had to be sold in 1846. Mr Russell, a gentleman who had a liking for rearing and betting on horses was the purchaser. Then in 1899 Stewart Clark, the Great Grandfather of the present owner Sir Jack Stewart-Clark, acquired Dundas Castle with five farms and 1500 acres of agricultural land.

Stewart Clark was one of the Victorian titans of industry. He, together with his four brothers, had taken over from his father and uncle a small sewing thread business at the Anchor Mills in Paisley. During the lifetime of the formidable brothers they grew the business into one of the most profitable textile concerns in Great Britain with factories all over the world. Stewart Clark also became Deputy Lord Lieutenant in the County of Renfrewshire, was a Member of Parliament for Paisley and was respected for being a great philanthropist.

The estate passed through two further generations. It received a severe set back at the outset of World War II when a German Luftwaffe raid took place on the strategic Forth Bridge. Although no damage was done, the Ministry of Defence decided henceforth to protect the bridge with balloons. The Balloon Barrage, as it was called, needed a Headquarters nearby and the position of the Castle with its commanding views over the Forth Bridge and along the river itself made the Castle a natural place for this purpose. Five long years of military occupation did no good whatsoever for the structure and condition of the buildings.

The father of Sir Jack Stewart-Clark, the present owner, served in the war as an anti aircraft artillery officer, being too old to join his earlier regiment, the Coldstream Guards. His younger brother, Dudley, flew Spitfires for the Royal Air Force. Although he survived the battle of Britain and downed several enemy aircraft, he was subsequently shot down and killed somewhere over Northern France. Other members of the family served in the Coldstream Guards and the Navy during the war. Sir Jack also served in the Regiment immediately after the war.


Present Times

It was only when Sir Jack inherited Dundas Castle on the death of his mother, in 1995, that serious restoration of both the ‘Auld Keep’ and the Castle began. The Keep had not been inhabited for over three hundred years. The parapet had to be taken down and restored and much stone work restoration took place. Electricity, banqueting and toilet facilities were installed. Dry rot had taken a serious grip in the main Castle and many rooms had to be stripped to eliminate this. Once the work had been carried out, Sir Jack’s wife Lydia, who is a talented interior decorator, started on a complete refurbishment of the house. There was no compromise in the quality of work undertaken. Original silks were replaced in the library. The living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms were all attended to. The original baths were retained wherever possible but the comfiest of beds were installed along with all the facilities that modern guests require.

In the hall there are two portraits of Stewart Clark, one beneath the stairway and the other in Lord Lieutenant’s uniform just outside the drawing room. Sir Jack’s grandfather Sir John has his portrait to the right of the fireplace in the hall. In the blue drawing room there is a splendid portrait by Shannon of his Grandmother Marie and a 1930s painting of his mother Jane. There are also two portraits of Sir Jack and his wife Lydia painted by Sergei Pavlenko.

The little girl above the fireplace in the library is Norina, Sir Jack’s sister, painted during the war by a Polish artist Kanelba. In the dining room over the fireplace there is a wonderful painting of Sir Jack’s Grandfather playing croquet with his sisters. Sir Jack’s grandfather was a pioneer photographer and has taken a photograph of the painter Lavery at work in 1897.

Sir Jack himself spent twenty-seven years in industry, firstly in the family thread making firm and then with the electronics giant Philips. He then became a Member of the European Parliament from 1979 until 1999. He and his wife Lydia now live at Dundas in the family South wing. They have been married for fifty years and have one son, Alexander, four daughters and, to date, five grandchildren.