Thirlestane Castle reopens doors to public

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Thirlestane Castle in Lauder, one of the oldest and finest castles in Scotland, opens its doors once again to visitors from today.

Work has continued to restore parts of the castle, affected by the outbreak of dry rot in 2013, back to its former glory.

Thanks to the loyalty and hard work of the Friends of Thirlestane, the castle’s team of dedicated volunteers, the children’s Nurseries and Maitland Room, always firm favourites with visitors, are being reinstated.

Thirlestane Castle holds one of the most extensive family collections of portraits and busts in Scotland, which will be reinstated in the state dining room complete with a new lighting system, later this year.

The portraits represent the work of many famous artists such as Romney, Reynolds, Lawrence and Lely.

Further star portraits, which have been loaned to Thirlestane Castle Trust by the Maitland Trust, will be shown for the first time as part of this collection and include a portrait by Reynolds.

Our goal is to secure sustainability for generations to come

James Barnes

There are also changes to the castle’s board of trustees.

Neil Hynd, who has been chairman since 2007 and with the trust for 12 years, retires in May and hands over to James Barnes.

James Barnes said: “I am really looking forward to working with the other trustees at this exciting time of change and opportunity at Thirlestane Castle. The castle is one of the Borders most important buildings and our goal is to secure its sustainability for many generations to come.”

Other new trustees include Rufus Bird (Royal Collection), Hamish Baillie (Ruffer) and Michael Clarke (Scottish National Gallery).

The castle, located on the outskirts of Lauder on the A68,is open Tuesday-Thursday from 10am-3pm in May and June and Sunday-Thursday at the same times in July and August.

The castle grounds are open from 10am-5pm and are a beautiful place to enjoy a walk or picnic.

They are also regularly used for spectacular family events such as the Borders Vintage Car Rally, which is being held on Sunday June 7.

The history of Thirlestane dates back to at least the 13th century, when a large fort was built on the site to defend the approach to Edinburgh from the south.

The central part of the present castle was completed in 1590, remodelled in the 1670s, and then again in the 1840s.

In addition to the grounds, the castle itself and its interiors, Thirlestane is noted for fine collections of paintings, furniture, porcelain and an historic toy collection.

The Maitlands came to Britain from Normandy with William the Conqueror in 1066, originally settling in Northumberland. They gained power and influence as a result of military service but largely due to their contributions to law and the arts in the 16th century.

William Maitland of Lethington, was Secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, his younger brother was Sir John Maitland, Secretary of Scotland, who acquired Thirlestane in 1587.

In the same year he built a large square keep or tower house upon the foundations and walls of the original fort. In 1590, Sir John was appointed Lord Chancellor of Scotland, and was ennobled as Lord Maitland of Thirlestane.

This new nouse near Lauder was to replace the Maitland’s original but now decaying Thirlestane Castle, a peel tower situated a mile to the south. Its ruins are still extant, and are shown on the Ordnance Survey map of the area.

Lord Maitland’s son was created the 1st Earl of Lauderdale in 1624. His son was John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale (1616–1682), one of the most important Scottish figures of the late 17th century, being appointed Secretary of State for Scotland in 1660, a position carrying unrivalled power and influence.

He employed the architect Sir William Bruce to transform the castle into a residence suitable for conducting the affairs of state. Between 1670 and 1676 the substantial alterations included the addition of the two front towers and the grand staircase, in addition to extensive internal modifications creating lavish staterooms with magnificent plasterwork ceilings.

By the 19th century, in more peaceful times, the castle took on the role of a Scottish country mansion for the Earls of Lauderdale.

In 1840 the Edinburgh architects David Bryce and William Burn were engaged to design extensions to the castle. Their additions consist of two large wings flanking the central keep and a south wing, constructed around a central courtyard, housing new kitchens, pantries, laundries and servants’ quarters.

Captain Gerald Maitland-Carew inherited the castle in 1972 from his maternal grandmother, Ethel, Countess of Lauderdale, wife of the 15th Earl. At this time, the castle was in a serious state of disrepair, requiring extensive renovation.

In 1984 the castle was gifted to a charitable trust established to ensure its preservation, and major repairs were carried out. Edward, and his wife Sarah, moved to Thirlestane in September 2012.