Blair Castle, House or Manor



The above graphic is NOT representative of Blair House


by Nigel Tranter

Vol. Three
South-West Scotland


Blair, one of the oldest continuously-occupied houses in the land, is now a large composite mansion standing in extensive parkland about two miles from Dalry. The nucleus appears to have been an oblong tower of great strength, the walls of which reach a thickness of 14 feet, standing in a strong position above a stream in its ravine. This tower has later been integrated with an L-shaped house of mainly 17th-century construction, and subsequently added to and altered. The nucleus seems to occupy the angle of the L. The house has an aspect of plain and sturdy strength, without turrets or major architectural features. The building is of rubble, and is mainly three storeys and an attic in height. The dormer windows are provided with both triangular and semicircular pediments, and a notable feature is the great chimney-stack which rises from the south wall of the west wing.

This long west wing dates from the second half of the 17th century, and the square stair-tower which occupies the reentrant angle appears to belong to the same period. The present main entrance lies in the foot of this, the doorway being surmounted by an elaborate pediment containing the impaled arms of Blair and Hamilton and the date 1662. Still higher is a panel containing another Blair shield and the date 1203, which, however accurate for the history of this ancient family, is of course far too early for this building. There is a small tower adjoining, and this contains an old doorway dated 1617, with two panels depicting the arms of Blair and Wallace of Craigie, with above, two sculptured stones of early workmanship, obviously, insertions, which commemorate Sir Rogers de Blair, an adherent of the Bruce, and his wife Mary Mure, of the Rowallan family.

The main door admits to a lobby from which rises the wide turnpike stair. From this lobby a corridor, running at right angles, gives access to the three basements chambers of the west wing, that at the west end being the later vaulted kitchen with a great fireplace in the partition wall. The basement of the original tower contains a fine vaulted apartment, and directly to the south of this is another good vaulted chamber called the guardroom, which may date from almost as early a period. There has been a wide and deep fireplace here also, so perhaps this was the original kitchen. A modern passage has been excavated through the south wall of the old tower to connect with another corridor erected against the east wall of the south wing, to do away with the inconvenience of intercommunicating rooms. Internally the bulling has necessarily been modernised considerably.

The records of the family of Blair of that Ilk go back to the reign of William the Lion. Sir Bryce Blair is named both by Blind Harry and in Barbour's Bruce, along with the uncle of Sir William Wallace, as one of the patriotic barons of the period treacherously hanged at Ayr. Four hundred years later, Laird William Blair raised a troop of horse to fight for freedom, was captured by Claverhouse but lived to become one of the Commissioners to effect the Treaty of Union. He married the Lady Margaret Hamilton, daughter of the Duke of Hamilton, and their initials and arms grace the present doorway. This ancient family has continued in possession down to the present.

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