Preston Tower was built in the mid-fifteenth century by the powerful Hamilton family. Attacked and burnt twice by the English – during the Rough Wooing and then after Oliver Cromwell’s victory at Dunbar – it was finally abandoned after an accidental fire in the seventeenth century.
Preston Tower was built in the 1460s by the powerful Hamilton family who owned castles across the central belt of Scotland. The Hamiltons had long been an influential force in Scottish politics but their prominence increased significantly during the reign of James II. After initially supporting a rebellion led by the Black Douglases, Lord of the Isles, they later switched sides to support the King and accordingly prospered from the downfall of their former ally. In 1503 James Hamilton was elevated to the position of Earl of Arran.
The tower was a four storey L-plan structure and was probably raised by Sir Robert Hamilton who inherited the site in 1460. A seventeenth century curtain wall, which probably replaced an earlier barmkin, enclosed a small courtyard which would have been occupied by the ancillary buildings associated with such a settlement. Preston Tower was a minor residence for the family who also built other fortifications across central and southern Scotland including Bothwell Castle (near Glasgow), Brodick Castle (Isle of Arran), Cadzow (Lanarkshire), Craignethan Castle, Innerwick Castle (near Dunbar) and Strathaven Castle (near Glasgow).
Preston Tower was attacked by English forces in 1544 during the Rough Wooing. This was an attempt by Henry VIII to force the marriage of his son, Prince Edward (later Edward VI), to Mary Queen of Scots. The preceding years had seen Border warfare between England and Scotland, culminating in the Battle of Solway Moss (1542). The conflict was brought to an end by the Treaty of Greenwich, a key provision of which was the marriage agreement. James Hamilton, Second Earl of Arran was Regent of Scotland and cautiously supported the Treaty. However, he failed to gain wider support and it was decisively rejected by the wider Scottish nobility to the fury of Henry VIII. As a result on 11 December 1543, Henry declared war on Scotland commencing the new war. The first major action was an incursion towards Edinburgh by Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and as they advanced into Lothian, Preston Tower was burnt due to its association with the Regent.
The castle was repaired and in 1626 a new storey was added to the tower by the then owner, Sir John Hamilton. With the Union of the two Crowns having occurred in 1603 the assumption was of enduring peace between the two nations and accordingly the new modifications were built for comfort rather than defence as evidenced by the elaborate Renaissance windows. However, following Oliver Cromwell's victory at the Second Battle of Dunbar (1650), Preston Tower was burnt once more as the General reduced the strongholds of Lothian. It was repaired again and the Lectern dovecot was added but in 1663 it was gutted by fire - this time by an accidental blaze. The Hamilton's now seemingly gave up on the tower and moved to the adjacent Preston House. In September 1745 the Battle of Prestonpans was fought to the immediate east of the Tower with the defeated Government troops fleeing by as they retreated from the victorious Jacobite forces.
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Preston Tower is a fifteenth century Tower House that was later substantially modified. The tower is not routinely open to the public but the exterior can be viewed from the surrounding park. The Battle of Prestonpans (1745) was fought nearby.
Preston. The name Preston derives from 'Priest's Town' in reference to the fact it was once church owned forming part of the estate of Newbattle Abbey in Dalkeith. The name Prestonpans comes from the extensive medieval salt industry that thrived in the area - the salt waters of the River Forth were flooded into dedicated salt pans and boiled dry by coal fires. The two settlements were once separate and distinct but the latter has now expanded to consume the original Preston village.
L Plan. The castle was an L-plan structure with the four storey main block augmented with a five storey stair wing.
Preston Mercat (Market) Cross. Preston was granted the right to hold a weekly market and annual fair in 1617 and this cross was built as the centrepiece. It contained a chamber that replaced Preston Tower as the local prison.
Dovecot. Lectern dovecot was added in 1663.
Firth of Forth. The tower overlooks the Firth of Forth.