Stately Homes and Castles - Scotland, Borders and East Lothian
A house rich in history which is off the usual tourist beat
is a delightful stately home set in parkland with specimen
trees just south of Haddington. It is poorly signed and gets
few visitors. It is only open three afternoons a week and is
increasingly going down the route of corporate events and
There has been a house here since the C13th, called Lethington Tower. The oldest part of the present house is the sturdy C15th keep with walls eleven feet thick. This was built for defence as these were troubled times.
The main entrance led to a narrow, easily defensible turnpike stair with slit windows. The original owners were the Gifford family but it passed to the Maitlands in 1345. During the C16th, William Maitland played a prominent role in Scottish politics as he was secretary of State to Mary Queen of Scots and married Mary Fleming, one of her attendants.
The Maitlands were created Dukes of Lauderdale and they extended the house in the C17th turning it into a comfortable family home suitable to their rank.
Their family vault is in St Mary’s Church in Haddington
In 1703, after the death of Frances Stuart, Duchess of Lennox, the estate was bought by her trustees for an impecunious relative, the sixth Lord Blantyre. She had stipulated that the property be called Lennox's Love to Blantrye, which was later shortened to Lennoxlove. Frances had been a great beauty and had caught the eye of Charles II but resisted all his advances and gifts. Some are on display in the house. She is best remembered as the model for Britannia.
In 1912 Sir Robert Lorrimer, the Edinburgh Architect, was commissioned to oversee an extensive refurbishment of the house. Much of what you see now is his work. The house and estate was bought by the Dukes of Hamilton in 1946 when Hamilton Palace in Lanarkshire had to be demolished due to subsidence. They brought some of the furniture and fittings with them. The family still live here.
It is a large and simple stone house with the original tower house in one corner and smaller square tower joined by the main entrance. The front door has a shield with the date 1912.
The ticket office and guided tours begin round the back of the house. I was the only person for the tour and asked the guide to miss out details of the family portraits and concentrate on the history and furniture. Unfortunately photographs are not allowed in the house.
The tour begins in the MAIN ENTRANCE HALL which has yellow walls with a carved plaster surround round the fireplace. There is a marble topped table with gilded eagle legs, mirrors in gilt frames with the Hamilton crest and the usual family portraits.
This leads into the LORRIMER ROOM which has oak panelled walls with brown leather above with gold tooled spiral motifs with the ducal crown. The plaster ceiling has cherub heads and initials of the different families who have lived in the house (a typical Lorrimer touch). There are blue upholstered settees, grand piano, marquetry cupboard and long bookcase on one wall.
Stairs lead to a LANDING with a Van Dyke painting. This has blue walls with white ceiling and woodwork. There are glass fronted display cases which contain a 1730 set of armorial china from the fifth Duke of Hamilton. In another case are the Coronation robes worn by the fourteenth Duke and his Duchess for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The Duchess didn’t like real fur and her robes are trimmed with fake fur.
The BLACK BEDROOM has lovely views across the gardens. It is very stylish with ebony furniture with a gold inlay. The four poster bed is inlaid with ivory, tortoiseshell and mother of pearl. The black theme continues through chairs with wicker seats and even the candlesticks are black and gilt. The only colour is from the patterned pink wallpaper on a beige background.
Next to it is the DISPLAY ROOM with glass fronted cabinets full of china or miniatures, which were designed by Lorrimer to fit the room. The table is set with white china with a gold pattern and the armorial crest and motto of the Dukes of Hamilton. Robes of the Order of the Garter of the Duke of Richmond and Lennox are on display as well as the robes of the Order of the Thistle. There is a coronation chair from George VI and also Elizabeth II.
The BLUE ROOM, used as a sitting room, has blue wall paper, carpets and curtains with gold upholstered easy chairs and French chairs upholstered in blue. Furniture is French. There is a display case full of crystal glassware, as well as a harp and a grand piano.
The ANTE ROOM contains the tenth Duke’s desk inlaid with rosewood with a huge armchair which has a cushion with his arms on it. The wallpaper is most unusual as it is gold silk damask with embroidered designs appliqued on to it. There are flowers, turkey, bear, elephant and other figures. In a small room off is the marquetry desk inlaid with ivory which was one of the gifts from Charles II to Lady Lennox.
The YELLOW DRAWING ROOM is full of French furniture and includes a big marquetry cabinet. It has a marble fireplace with a yellow upholstered sofa and red armchairs. The walls are covered with pictures including a Van Dyke all in beautifully carved frames.
This leads into the STUART ROOM with red and grey wallpaper. In a protective case is a grand red chair with gilt thread embroidery and applique belonging to the tenth Duke when he was an ambassador in St Petersburg. Next to it is a smaller chair in pink which belonged to the Duchess. The pièce de résistance in the room is the C17th Antwerp ebony and tortoiseshell cabinet given by Charles to Lady Lennox.
The tour continues into the oldest part of the house with stone floors and very thick walls. On the wall is the framed original of the Act of State confirming the second Earl of Angus as Regent to the young Mary Queen of Scots with lots of impressive seals round it. The first room contains artefacts associated with Mary Queen of Scots, including her death mask.
This leads into the GREAT HALL which is now used for functions. It has a barrel vaulted ceiling and the three ducts used to remove smoke when there was a central hearth. The massive stone fireplace was put in by Lorrimer in 1912 and includes the coats of arms of the different families who have lived in the house with their initials. At the top is a big painted coat of arms of the Hamilton family. Above the door is the original coat of arms of John Maitland dated 1590.
A new and much wider spiral staircase put in by Lorrimer leads down to the original entrance into the castle, still with its iron yett. Beneath is the UNDERCROFT which serves as a chapel and has a wooden eagle lectern, small altar with brass candlesticks and a wood cross. The only natural light is through two tiny windows. The well in the corner was important in times of siege. The walls have been whitewashed but it feels cold and damp.
A small doorway leads to the DUNGEON.
The corridor leading back to the reception area has three large hatchments on the walls and the Royal Coat of Arms. The BILLIARD ROOM was off this but is now used as a conference room. It is full of family memorabilia including the propeller and face mask used by the fourteenth Duke in 1933 on the first flight over Everest in a Westland plane. There are cups, medals and decorations won by the family. There are two Epstein busts of the twelfth Duchess and Lord Fisher, Admiral of the Fleet, as well as a large painting of him. He was a great friend of the Duchess after the death of her husband.
There are attractive flower gardens and grass around the house, reached through a wrought iron gateway.
This is a house full of history and with some interesting stories. There is a good range of interesting rooms and it was a worth while visit.
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