Rowallan Castle is a medieval fortified residence which developed around a tight courtyard plan from around the late 13th century to the early 18th century. In the 16th century it was transformed into a Renaissance mansion with the development of an impressive gatehouse range with paired round towers.
The castle is approached from the east across a narrow stone arched bridge. There is the remains of a small entrance courtyard framing the principal east-facing elevation of the castle. The courtyard has a classical arched gateway dated 1661 and decorated with a broken pediment and obelisk finials. The southeast elevation is the principal entrance frontage of the castle. This part of the castle developed from the late 15th century with significant alterations in the late 16th century. It is an impressive gatehouse range with a sculptured arched entrance flanked by a pair of conical-roofed round towers added in the mid-16th century. The entrance is at first floor level accessed from a substantial mid-17th century stone forestair with a solid balustrade with ball finials. The entrance and towers are constructed in ashlar, and the towers have round-arched windows to the second floor. The rest of the elevation has an irregular arrangement of window openings with predominantly small-paned sash and case timber windows. There is a heavy cable moulding to the first floor; similar mouldings decorate circular gunloops which punctuate the towers. Above the arched entrance is a heraldic panel bearing the Royal arms with the Mure arms beneath surrounded by cable bosses and capped by a turbaned Moor's head, a pun on the family name. The slated roof has cat-slide dormers, lighting a single space interpreted as a long gallery, and the gables are mostly crow-stepped (the rear pitch of the northwest gable has flat skews). There is a single dumb-bell gunport at basement level indicating a late 15th century date for the lowest level of the range.
The southwest and northwest elevations are constructed in rubble masonry without significant elaboration. Dumb-bell gunports pierce the lower storey of the south end of the southwest range indicating that the vaulted basement on which the range is built dates to the late 15th century. At principal floor level, which contained the hall and chamber created in the early 16th century, are rectangular windows which have been altered. These have small-paned timber sash and case windows and a little above them is a blind panel formerly housing a carved armorial. The gable at the south end was raised to accommodate a long gallery in the southeast range and in it is a large window for viewing the gardens. The gable has crow-steps. The west end of the southwest range is symmetrically glazed as a result of 18th century rebuilding.
The northeast external elevation is formed by the late 13th century tower (now ruinous) and a mid-16th century block in the north corner which has the remains of a bartizan or turret in the north west angle. This building and the southwest range are linked by a stretched of curtain wall corbelled for a parapet and parapet walk and pierced by two wide-mouthed gun ports. There are indications that there was a matching bartizan in the southwest angle before early 18th century reworking.
The courtyard is a tightly enclosed space entered from the pend in the gatehouse range. The courtyard elevation of the gatehouse range has two window openings at first level with elaborate 17th century mouldings, and a single window opening on the second floor. The windows have small panes and are timber sash and case. The ground floor of this range has two chambers flanking the vaulted entrance passage. The first floor is similar in plan, with chambers either side of a hall which had access to the small chambers in the towers. The southern room was a bed chamber and features a timber bed alcove flanked by presses perhaps dating to the early 18th century. On the second floor, there is a single space running the length of the range which was probably a long gallery.
The southwest range is the most complex both in its development through time and the nature of the spaces within. The lower vaulted floor probably dates to the late 15th century; its northeast wall rating the castle mound, extending the area to build on and allowing a level access from the courtyard to the hall and chamber block constructed in the early 16th century. The easternmost bay of this range was extensively rebuilt in the early 18th century, which also altered the original entrance arrangements to the hall.
At either end of southwest range are projecting square stair towers giving the elevation a degree of symmetry. The southeast stair turret serves the long gallery in the attic of the east range, the rooms above the hall and the bedroom above the chamber. Just to the west of this stair tower in a large stepped chimney stack for the hall fireplace. The northwest stair is an early to mid-17th century reconstruction of an earlier stair, and has strap-ended (buckle) quoins.
The main entrance to the south range is an early 18th century doorway with bolection mouldings. This doorway replaced the early 16th century entrance arrangements. This opens into a stone flagged entrance hall. This hall, replacing the function of the medieval screens passage, has two doorways, one leading to a stair down to what probably was always a kitchen but which was enlarged in the 18th century, and another to the hall/dining room. The hall/dining room has an early 18th century timber door with doorcase decorated with Iconic pilasters with a bolection frieze and dentil cornice. The doorcase is set into a 20th century partition following the line of an early 18th century one. The chamber retains some 18th century panelling although much of the timber work dates to the 20th century (the original timber work was removed in late 19th century). Beyond this room is the solar/ great chamber which again had elaborate timber work now removed (MacGibbon & Ross, vol 2 p 379). It has a partly reconstructed 16th century fireplace, a window ingo with a wall cupboard and stone seats, and a stair leading down to the basement.
The northeast range consists of the ruined 13th century tower and an adjacent roofless building in the northwest angle which by the early 17th century had a kitchen on the ground floor with a chamber above reached by a square stair tower. The doorway to this stair has a segmentally pedimented head containing the monogram and armorial panel of Sir William and Elizabeth Hamilton (around 1660).
Statement of Special Interest
Rowallan Castle is an architecturally significant, multi-period building of considerable complexity. It demonstrates the development of a lairdly residence from a simple tower house to a very fine example of Scottish Renaissance architecture. It was inhabited by successive generations of the Mure family since at the least the late 14th century up to the early 18th century.
The building has at least seven principal phases of construction, from the later 13th century to the early 18th century. The main phases of development typify the changes in high status Scottish domestic architecture over a prolonged period of history, representing the changing political, social and cultural values of the country during this period. The building is particularly notable for the domestic scale of its accommodation which contrasts with the very fine gatehouse range with its royal allusions.
Age and Rarity
Rowallan Castle has a complex development history and retains evidence of building from the late 13th century through to the early 18th century and later. Archaeological investigation has demonstrated that the mound on which the castle is built was used in prehistory; it is the site of a Bronze Age cremation burial and in the Iron Age it was occupied by a sequence of timber halls (Ewart & Gallagher 2009, 17-18).
The castle has a long association with the Mures of Rowallan. There are no contemporary records of the castle s construction. However, the Historie and Descent of the House of Rowallane by Sir William Mure written in 1657 (the Historie) provides much information about the Mures of Rowallan and their building work at the castle. The Historie records that in the late 13th century Gilchrist Mure biggit ye auld tour of Rowallane, and put his armes yair (Historie, 35). The accuracy of the Historie is uncertain for the early history of the Mure s and Rowallan, and other evidence point to the lands of Rowallan being in in the hands of the Comyns until the second half of the 14th century (Ewart & Gallagher 2009, 68-69).
The earliest document to reference a structure at Rowallan is a Comyn charter from sometime in the 14th century which mentions the manor place of Rowallan (East Ayrshire Council Museum and Arts Service, Cessnock Papers, bundle 29). Gilchrist Mure s tower, and/or the Comyn manor place may survive as the ruined northeast tower which is the earliest upstanding part of the castle. This structure has some surviving features which may point to a late 13th century date. These include a door surround with a broad chamfer through the south wall and a plinth course, as well as its general construction using very substantial sandstone blocks and the absence of a vault (a vault was inserted in the 17th century). However, these features do have a broad date range and although on balance the evidence indicates that the tower dates to the late 13th century, it is not entirely conclusive (Ewart & Gallagher 2009, 30).
The northeast tower is modest in scale when compared to other towers/hall houses that date to the 13th and 14th centuries, such as Craigie (scheduled monument SM315), Dundonald (scheduled monument SM90112) and Dunure (scheduled monument SM6105) all in Ayrshire. This may indicate the tower had a specific purpose, such as a hunting lodge, or may reflect the status and resources of the patron. Although the layout the castle is unknown before the late 15th century, it is likely that the tower had an associated enclosure taking in the summit of the mound with other buildings within it. The positioning of the early tower on the mound was to shape how the later building complex was extended and adapted by successive owners.
The next major phase of the castle is from the late 15th/early 16th centuries, with the construction of the south range. Indications are that this range had an extended building sequence, with the earliest phase the work of John Mure, which may have stalled with John s death on Flodden Field in 1513, to be then completed by his son, Mungo (Ewart & Gallagher 2009, 31-33). The south range would have provided additional accommodation in conjunction with the tower, a very common arrangement within medieval castles. This arrangement then evolved into the tight courtyard plan of the present castle.
The castle was extensively reworked during the 16th century and this transformed what was the house of a minor laird into a much grander Renaissance mansion. Mungo Muir (d 1547) is recorded in the Histoire as having completed the south range; he rasit the hall upone four vouttis and lainche trance and complettit the samen in his ain tyme (Historie, 225). Although significantly altered in the 17th century, the south range retains evidence of its original layout. There was a hall with a great chamber at the east end with a stair to the lairds bedchamber above and a screens passage at the other. The screens passage would have given access to the hall and also to a kitchen to the west. This arrangement is typical of medieval hall and chamber blocks and the division of spaces reflect the social hierarchy within the household. The hall may have had an open roof structure but the evidence is unclear (Ewart & Gallagher 2009, 34-35).
Mungo Mure s son, John Mure (d 1581 or 1591) was principally responsible for the embellishment of the castle as it is seen today together with developing the grounds around the castle. The Historie records that John, who succeeded in 1547; Tooke great delyte in Policie and planting. He builded the fore warke, back wark, and woman house, from the ground (Historie, 225). The fore warke (fore work) refers to the richly ornamented entrance front with its distinctive pair of towers, which greatly added to the architectural impact of the castle. Such gateways ultimately derived from the defensive gatehouses of 13th century courtyard castles. However, the form again became popular in the 16th century for their symbolism of power, status and chivalric aspirations. They were a favoured motif at royal residences with examples at Stirling Castle (forework, around 1500), Linlithgow Palace (new entrance, around 1534), Holrood palace (west range around 1535) and Falkland Palace (gatehouse, around 1541). This demonstration of royal approval appears to have influenced some non-royal builders as in the second half of the 16th century a number of castles and mansions were built with gate ranges with paired round towers. Examples included Seton Palace (East Lothian, around 1550, now demolished), Boyne Castle (Banffshire, around 1566) and Tolquhon Castle (Aberdeenshire, 1586) (Close & Riches 2012, 591; Ewart & Gallagher 2009, 63). The Mure family had a specific familial link to the Stuart Dynasty through Elizabeth Mure, wife of Robert II and mother of Robert III, and the entrance elevation bears the Royal arms as well as those of the Mures.
The late 16th and early 17th century building campaigns by the Mures saw Rowallan develop from a residence with a medieval tower house at its core to a Renaissance mansion planned around a quadrangle. From the later 16th century, Rowallan lacked any defences at roof-level; even the twinned towered gatehouse range was without battlements, and although pierced with gunloops, it was very much a demonstration of status and authority rather than intended to offer serious defence (Ewart & Gallagher 2009, 63). Internal arrangements also changed with the earlier multi-functionality nature of spaces gradually becoming more specialised and private. The east range was heightened by John Mure to create what was probably a long gallery, which by the 16th century had become an expected component of a great house. John also constructed a woman s house , a term that comes into use in the late 16th and early 17th century, probably referring to a separate quarters for the nursing woman and young children of the household (Ewart & Gallagher 2009, 64). The hall remained as the main focus of the household but if it had once been an open roofed structure, this was not the case by the later decades of the 16th century, when there is evidence of chambers above the hall. By the 18th century, the hall was reduced in size to become a more formal dining room.
• Castles with 13th century fabric are relatively rare.
• Examples of medieval courtyard houses of a modest scale are rare, particularly where they feature Renaissance detailing.
• The architecture of the entrance elevation is particularly notable and in its form demonstrates a change from defensive architecture to domestic architecture.
Architectural or Historic Interest
Many of the original interior wall finishes have been lost at Rowallan. As part of the castle s conversion into residential accommodation (2018) walls have been recovered with plaster. However, there is some early fabric in the interior and this has significance in listing terms.
The south and east ranges have interior elements dating from the 16th to 18th century. These include wall panelling, a doorcase and a timber bed recess dating to the early 18th century (see description above). Other fixtures and fittings were recorded in the late 19th century but were removed from the house. These include splendidly carved panelling from the withdrawing room which was moved to the entrance hall of Rowallan House (LB12524) and a carved 16th century oak door from Rowallan which is held by The National Museum of Scotland. Woodwork of comparable quality to that surviving at Rowallan is to be found at a number of contemporary buildings included Kelburn Castle in Ayrshire (LB7294, A-listed) and Provost Skene s House in Aberdeen (LB20156, A listed) (Close & Riches 2012, 591). The surviving panelling gives an impression of the qualities of the finishes throughout the castle in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The plan form at Rowallan developed over five centuries and demonstrates the many developments in Scottish high status domestic arrangements from the late medieval through to the early 18th century. The tower house, which is likely to date to the late 13th or early 14th century, is an early example of a type of fortified building that was the dominant form of high status secular residence in Scotland during the late medieval period. By the early 16th century, the tower house functioned with a hall and chamber block formalising the courtyard plan which was fully realised by the mid-16th century. This combination of tower with hall and chamber block was a typical arrangement in Scotland, as was the incremental development of the courtyard plan. It is likely that the masonry ranges superseded timber buildings with similar functions.
The courtyard plan at Rowallan is a tightly defined quadrangle, rather than the large open space defined by a series of individual ranges that is found at other castles. This is due to the constrained site on which the castle is built and the modest scale of the early tower. The tower at Rowallan became secondary to the gatehouse and hall and chamber block, and was not well integrated into these ranges. Its retention as part of the plan may have been on practical grounds but also as a visible reminder of the antiquity of the Mure lordship.
The castle demonstrates how planning arrangements were adapted through time as domestic requirements changed. The hall and chamber range retains evidence of the medieval arrangement of a hall entered from a screens passage separating it from the kitchen and ancillary spaces. The hall may have had an open roof, in which case there may have been a gallery above the screens. At the other end of the hall was the great chamber (with a separate stair to the cellarage below), with the lairds bed chamber above. The hall, great chamber and bed chamber functioned as a suite of rooms for the laird. By the 18th century the screens passage had been transformed into a larger outer hall/lobby space and the hall had become a dining room rather than communal hall. If the medieval hall had been open, this arrangement seems to have been changed as early as the later decades of the 16th century. Other important elements to the plan are the long gallery and the woman s house .
The plan form illustrates the development of Rowallan Castle through five centuries of occupation and provides much valuable information about how people lived during this time. It illustrates major themes in changing domestic arrangements from the later medieval period onwards such the increasing privatisation and specialisation of spaces (Ewart & Gallagher 2009, 63).
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
As described in the Age and Rarity section (see above) the fabric and form of the castle evidences the various building periods in which the castle has been construction and adapted. The main phases of development demonstrate changes in high status Scottish domestic architecture over a prolonged period.
The design quality is most evident in the entrance elevation of the castle with its diminutive towers flanking the entrance. This contrasts with the rest of the castle which is modest in scale with only occasional decorative flourishes. The gatehouse range with its paired towers emulates Royal examples at Holyrood, Stirling, Falkland and Linlithgow. Rowallan is an exceptional example of this type of Renaissance architecture being used on a more modest scale.
The castle is located 3km north of Kilmarnock and sits within the Ayrshire countryside. The castle stands on a small mound located within meander of the Carmel Water at its confluence with the Balgray Mill Burn and the Gardrum Mill Burn. Its setting is secluded and localised; although on built on a mound, the castle is not a prominent feature in the wider landscape as there is rising ground on most sides. The setting underlines that Rowallan was always predominately a lairdly residence rather than a significant fortification.
The castle is a key building within a group of associated buildings and structures located across the estate including Rowallan House (listed building LB12524), gate lodge (listed building LB12525), Gardener s Cottage (listed building LB12526), the summerhouse and walled garden (listed building LB12527), and stables/garage (listed building LB12528). These contribute collectively to the history of the estate.
The castle is set within a designed landscape (Rowallan - GDL 00333). This landscape was altered in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly when the estate was reworked by Sir Robert Lorimer for Mr M.A. Cameron Corbett MP, the then owner. However, aspects of the early landscape survive which contribute to the setting of the castle. This landscape developed from at least the late 16th century when the Historie records that John Mure (d.1581 or 1591) delytit in policye of plaintein and brigging, he plantit ye oirchzarde and gardain, set ye vupper banck and nether bank ye birk zaird befoir ye zett, (Historie, 83). Blaeu s map shows Rowallan surround by parkland and suggests that the design evolved at least from the 17th century. In the 1680s the walled garden with its attached gardener s house (listed building LB12527) was constructed. In the mid-18th century, the landscape was transformed when there was extensive planting of shelter belts and avenues of trees. This planting is shown on General Roy s Military Survey of 1747-55 and the many of the elements of this layout can still be identified, although much was replanting in the 19th century. The 18th century landscape was focused on Rowallan Mains (now the site of Rowallan House) reflecting the declining importance of the castle as part of the estate from the mid-18th century onwards ( Ewart & Gallagher 2009, 52).
Close Historical Associations
Rowallan Castle is directly associated with the Mures of Rowallan who held the castle from at least the late 14th century until the castle and estate was passed by marriage to the Campells of Loudoun in the early 18th century. The Mures were a prominent family in the south west of Scotland that had links to the Scottish Crown through the marriage of Elizabeth Mure to Robert II.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the architectural development of Rowallan is closely linked with political and cultural events across Scotland, through identified family members as recorded in the Historie . The Mure family in the 16th and 17th centuries were very much part of the polymath culture of their age, and are perhaps best represented by a pair of music books known as the Rowallan lute-book and William Mure of Rowallan s cantus part book (Edinburgh University Library, La.III.487 and 488). The former is almost certainly the oldest surviving manuscript in Scotland to be entirely devoted to instrumental music (Close & Riches 2012, 590).
Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2019. Previously listed as Rowallan Castle .