NIDDRY TOWER

Today dwarfed by the vast shale bings in its vicinity, Niddry Castle guarded a key trading route between Edinburgh and Linlithgow. Mary, Queen of Scots briefly stayed at the castle after her escape from Lochleven and, in the subsequent fighting, the tower was attacked twice but not taken.

History

 

Winchburgh was granted to Alexander Seton by King William I (the Lion) in 1179. The family retained ownership through the turbulent thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and a charter dated 1426 confirms they still owned the site at that time. However, in 1499 Winchburgh was taken into Royal control as George Seton, Fourth Lord Seton had failed to fulfil his duty to repair The Egil, one of the warships of James IV's fledgling Scottish navy. The lands were reclaimed by George Seton, Fifth Lord Seton and it was he who built Niddry Castle early in the 1500s with its name deriving from the Celtic words 'newydd tref' meaning 'new settlement'.

 

Built on top of a rocky outcrop the castle occupied a strategically important location on an important trade route between Edinburgh and Linlithgow. It took the form of a four storey 'L' plan Tower House. The ground floor consisted of a vaulted store, the first floor was the Great Hall and accommodation occupied the levels above. It was surrounded by a square barmkin (curtain wall) that was augmented with round turrets on at least three corners and may well have been equipped with artillery. Originally the enclosure would have hosted ancillary buildings such as a brewhouse, bakehouse, well and stables.

 

George Seton did not live to see the construction of the castle completed for he was killed at the Battle of Flodden (1513). His son, another George, was required to make Niddry castle his main residence during the War of the Rough Wooing (1543 to 1551) when English forces briefly overran Prestonpans. During this time George oversaw completion of the castle including the addition of a fifth storey.

 

The castle was embroiled in national events during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. On 15 May 1567 she had married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell which ignited a civil war. One month later, at Carberry Hill near Edinburgh, she surrendered to her opponents and was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle under the custody of Sir William Douglas and forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son, James. However, with the help of a boatman called Willie Douglas, she escaped that island castle and rendezvoused with George Seton. He was the grandson of the original builder of Niddry and held the posts of Provost of Edinburgh and Grand Master of the Queen's Household. He had remained loyal to the Queen despite her abdication and escorted her to Niddry Castle where she stayed on 2 May 1568 before heading west to Craignethan and then Cadzow. She was defeated at the Battle of Langside on 13 May 1568, fled to Carlisle and was then imprisoned by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. Winchburgh, including Niddry Castle, was confiscated and re-allocated to James Young.

 

George Seton had fled Scotland following the defeat at Langside but he returned in 1572 and took control of Niddry Castle. Attempts by the Regent - James Douglas, Earl of Morton - to dislodge him in April and June of that year failed. He was still in possession in 1574 when his daughter, Margaret, was married at the castle. After his death his family were reconciled with King James VI who gave Robert Seton the title Earl of Winton in November 1600.

 

During the Wars of Three Kingdoms, the Setons supported the Royalist cause. This led to Niddry Castle being captured by the forces of Oliver Cromwell on 14 September 1650 after his victory at the Battle of Dunbar. The castle and the Winchburgh lands were confiscated but ultimately returned to the Setons following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Nevertheless they sold the site in 1676 and the new owners were the Hope family who originated from Craigiehall in Fife. Their use of the site as a primary residence was short-lived and by 1703 they had moved into a new mansion house leaving Niddry to become a minor residence for their retainers. Thereafter it was allowed to drift into ruin until restoration work commenced in 1986. Niddry Castle is now a private residence.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Brennan-Inglis, J (2014). Scotland's Castles: Rescued, Rebuilt and Reoccupied. The History Press, Stroud.

CANMORE (2016). Niddry Tower. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

Coventry, M (2008). Castles of the Clans: the Strongholds and Seats of 750 Scottish Families and Clans. RCAHMS, Musselburgh.

Dixon, P (1975). Fortified houses on the Anglo-Scottish border. University of Nottingham, Nottingham.

Lindsay, M (1986). The Castles of Scotland. Constable, Edinburgh.

MacGibbon, D and Ross, T (1887). The castellated and domestic architecture of Scotland from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries. Edinburgh.

Nisbet, A (1816). A system of Heraldry. Edinburgh.

Reid, S (2006). Castles and Tower Houses of the Scottish Clans 1450-1650. Osprey, Oxford.

Simpson, W.D (1959). Scottish Castles - An introduction to the Castles of Scotland. HM Stationery Office, Edinburgh.

 

What's There?

Niddry Castle is now a private residence with no public access but the structure can be viewed from the road.

Niddry Castle. The L-plan Tower House was also known as Niddry-Seton Castle or West Nudry Castle in order to distinguish it from nearby Niddry Castle owned by the Marischal family. The name Niddry derived from the Celtic word 'newydd' and 'tref' meaning 'new settlement'. The pre-existing Winchburgh took its name from the old English words 'uincel' and 'burh' meaning 'settlement on a waterway'.

Getting There

Niddry Castle is located near Winchburgh on an unnamed road off the B8020. The castle is a private residence with no public access and accordingly it is not sign-posted. However, the castle can be seen from the road and on-road parking is possible nearby.

Niddry Castle

EH52 6RP

55.953882N 3.450599W