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Cousland Castle, tower and house 75m ESE of Chapeldyke

A Scheduled Monument in Midlothian East, Midlothian

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Latitude: 55.9045 / 55°54'16"N

Longitude: -2.9972 / 2°59'49"W

OS Eastings: 337749

OS Northings: 668379

OS Grid: NT377683

Mapcode National: GBR 70H5.X7

Mapcode Global: WH7V0.XVXF

Entry Name: Cousland Castle, tower and house 75m ESE of Chapeldyke

Scheduled Date: 6 August 1953

Last Amended: 25 June 2011

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM1187

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: tower

Location: Cranston

County: Midlothian

Electoral Ward: Midlothian East

Traditional County: Midlothian


The monument comprises the remains of a tower house, a later building that adjoined it to the south, and part of a garden wall. The tower house survives above ground as an unroofed ruin with upstanding walls to the north, west and south. The style of the architecture indicates that it may date to the later 15th century. The later building is represented above ground only by its west wall, but excavation suggests that evidence for the other walls survives below ground. The remains suggest this was a domestic house, erected probably in the 16th century. A walled garden was created after this house was built, probably in the years following 1690. Remains of the garden wall adjoin the west side of the tower house and the south side of the later building. The monument lies close to the centre of Cousland village, on the south side of Hadfast Road, opposite Northfield steading. It stands at around 150m above sea level on ground that rises gently to the south and offers extensive views to the north. The monument was scheduled in 1953, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this and amends the extent of the scheduled area on the basis of more recent evidence.

The upstanding remains of the tower house measure about 10m ENE-WSW by 8.5m transversely; the original width of the tower was 8.5m. The original length of the structure is unknown, but it probably stood up to four storeys high. Corbels and joist holes survive on the internal wall faces and show that the surviving remains represent the ground floor and first floor rooms. The chamber at first floor level has a vaulted roof, which is a relatively unusual feature. The thick walls are mostly of local limestone, but the corner stones and the door and window surrounds are of sandstone; the jambs have thick chamfered mouldings. The walls contain two aumbries (cupboards) and the thicker north wall displays evidence for a large fireplace with a water spout to one side, formerly providing water from an external source.

The building of the later house to the south entailed blocking two windows in the south wall of the tower. Today the visible remains of the later house comprise a rubble wall, no more than 0.6m wide, that extends as far as a scar marking the position of the original south wall. A door jamb preserved on the east (internal) side of the west wall shows that the structure contained at least two rooms. Two windows with chamfered jambs and angled ingoes suggest that this later building was still intended to be semi-defensible. Archaeological excavation conducted in 2008 revealed buried evidence for the line of the south and east walls, suggesting that the building had overall dimensions of 24m by 15m. The excavations also highlighted the presence of internal deposits that contain late 17th- or early 18th-century pottery sherds. Researchers believe that this house stood from the 16th century until the later 18th century. A walled garden was created immediately to the west. The composition of the surviving stone walls suggests that the lower courses were built using stone robbed from the tower house. Quarry pits, now backfilled and buried, have been revealed by geophysical survey and excavation and date probably to the period just before the garden was laid out, possibly in or soon after the 1690s.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The area to be scheduled includes parts of the garden wall adjoining the tower house and later building, as shown on the accompanying map, but it excludes other parts of the garden walls that survive further to the west and south. The scheduling specifically excludes a wooden crate lying immediately south of the tower.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The upstanding remains and buried archaeological deposits provide evidence for a high status dwelling with a long development sequence. The first house was a late medieval tower, but this was soon augmented by a residence to the south with a more extensive ground plan. Eventually, a walled garden was created to the west and the original tower was partially demolished to serve as a picturesque garden feature. The monument can inform our understanding of this development process and the history of change at the site. This in turn allows researchers to understand parallel changes in the lifestyles and status of the inhabitants. The ruined remains of the tower house survive in relatively good condition and include architectural features that can allow us to reconstruct the likely form and uses of the rooms. Although the eastern part of the tower has been quarried away, the footprint of the surviving portion has potential to contain buried archaeological remains, including artefacts and ecofacts that can tell us about the lifestyle and trading contacts of the occupants.

The later house is less well represented by above-ground remains, but robber trenches can allow archaeologists to trace the walls of the building and other buried features, such as pits or drains, may also survive. Trial excavation has demonstrated that internal deposits exist within the footprint of the structure, including pottery and other domestic articles. These objects can allow us to understand changes in the domestic economy, lifestyle and trading contacts of the occupants over the two to three centuries after the original tower was built. There is clear potential to discover what items were used in the later house and where they were obtained. Excavation shows that some time after construction of the later house, the tower was partially dismantled and the bedrock around it quarried away. The area occupied by the walled garden probably also saw quarrying of limestone, before the garden was laid out. Although some quarrying may have provided stone for the garden walls, it is probable that limestone was also extracted to supply Cousland's limekilns, first referred to in documents of 1529 and the 1550s. Another potential context for the extraction of limestone is in the years after 1620, when Cousland was bought by Sir George Hay, a prominent early industrialist. The buried remains around the house have the potential to tell us more about this unusual relationship between a high status dwelling house and an extractive industry.

Contextual characteristics

Cousland has been a focus for human activity since at least the first millennium AD. An early burial ground, dating possibly to the centuries around AD 500, lay close to Windmill Plantation, some 250m south of Cousland Castle. Records from 1852 refer to the discovery of cist graves containing human remains adjacent to the plantation and at least four cist graves found in 1957 may derive from the same site. The Barony of Cousland was established by 1180 and the tower house and later residence were almost certainly not isolated structures, but rather part of the estate centre for the barony, also referred to as the 'lands of Cousland'. This estate centre potentially included a chapel, housing for agricultural workers and servants, and agricultural buildings. There is high potential for remains of these other elements of the estate to survive as archaeological features in the vicinity of the monument and the present village. In 1509, the king confirmed a charter of William Lord Ruthven, lord of Cousland, and his wife Isobel, granting alms to a chapel of St Catherine 'within the town of Cousland'. Archaeologists investigating the site of the house adjoining the tower found a human foot bone, which might derive from a nearby chapel or its burial ground.

In the later 19th century, the Ordnance Survey identified the remains of the tower house as the site of a nunnery, although no aspect of the upstanding remains suggests an ecclesiastical function. Geophysical survey conducted in 2008 produced evidence of anomalies in the field between 50m and 100m south of the tower house, leading to a suggestion that the remains of a nunnery might exist there. In 2010, archaeological contractors excavated trial trenches in this same area, finding pits, ditches and drains indicative of a settlement dating to the 12th to 13th century. There is as yet no evidence to link these features with a nunnery and they are more likely to be components of the putative estate centre of which the tower house and residence later formed a part. The first detailed mapping of Cousland is General Roy's map of the 1750s, which suggests that a village then lay immediately east and north-east of the monument. The potential existence of features such as a chapel and settlement in the vicinity of the monument enhance its significance.

Looking further afield, the monument can be compared with Liberton Tower (Edinburgh), Hillslap Tower (Scottish Borders) and Balvaird Castle (Perth and Kinross). At all of these sites, excavation in the immediate vicinity of tower houses has enhanced understanding of the complex of which they formed part.

Associative characteristics

The estate of Cousland has been associated with many prominent figures in Scottish history from as early as 1180, when the first Baron Cousland, William Sinclair, inherited his lands. In 1494, the 'lands of Cousland' passed from the Sinclairs to the Ruthven family, and this event provides a possible context for construction of the tower house. In 1529 there is a documentary reference to 'the burning of Cousland' by Patrick Charteris, an event apparently triggered by a feud between Charteris and the Ruthvens. Cousland Castle is indicated on diagrams of the battle of Pinkie, which took place 18 years later and was fought nearby. It is very probable that this monument is the castle referred to there. Lord Ruthven was involved in the murder of Riccio in 1566 and legal records indicate that at least two of his force were tenants from Cousland. The following year, the Confederate Lords halted at Cousland before the surrender of Queen Mary at Carberry Hill. In 1630, several persons accused of witchcraft were held in the 'tollbooth' at Cousland, which may be a reference to the tower, the only known secure building in the settlement. In the 1690s, Cousland passed to the Dalrymples of Oxenfoord and Stair: the walled garden arguably dates from the early years of their ownership. There are many documentary sources with the potential to illuminate the history of the tower house and later structures, but relatively little documentary research has been carried out to date.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular of the development of tower houses and high status dwellings in the Lothians. Although ruined, the monument contains a variety of architectural features that can inform us about its form and function. It preserves evidence for a long sequence of development, during which the tower house was first extended and then partially demolished to serve as a garden feature. The importance of the monument is enhanced by its potential relationship with other archaeological sites in the vicinity, and by rich documentary sources that can add to our understanding of its history and the role it played in Scottish society and politics. The quarrying of limestone adjacent to the structures suggests an interesting and unusual connection between a high status house and post-medieval industrial activity. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the form, role, and development of tower houses in the Lothians.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record the site as NT36NE 9. The Midlothian HEY number is MEL8322, with associated events EEL432 and EEL606.


Cousland Local History Project, 2008 'The Big Cousland Dig', unpubl report.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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