North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

Ardrossan Castle

North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

Construction of Ardrossan Harbour

North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

The "Lancing" at Ardrossan Harbour

Ardrossan, Castle and Intrigues

Ardrossan Castle

Although Ardrossan Castle is an ancient castle by Scottish standards, little is known of its early history and origins. From the 12th century, records tell us that the lands of Ardrossan were in the hands of the Barclay family, Richard de Barclay being Richard de Morville's vassal, before Montgomery of Eglinton acquired it in the mid 14th century.

The Barony of Ardrossan passed into the hands of Eglinton family following the death of the last Baron of Ardrossan, Godfrey, and his daughter and sole heir, subsequently married Sir Hugh Eglinton. Following Sir Hugh's death some time after 1376, his only child, Elizabeth, married John de Montgomerie of Eglesham and carried with her the Lordships of Eglintoun and Ardrossan.

Ardrossan Castle was the chief seat of the Montgomeries until the time of Alexander, the first Lord Montgomerie. He made Eglinton his principle residence though Ardrossan remained a stronghold until it was finally destroyed in the late 17th century, allegedly at the hands of Cromwell.

Throughout its life, the Castle seems to have been a fortress rather than a fortified house.

  • Construction of the castle as we know it, began in the 13th century with the building of a gatehouse facing north with two vaulted cellars.
  • It had a vaulted entrance which led through to a central rectangular courtyard surrounded by buildings.
  • The buildings were surrounded by a curtain wall. This was a feature common to most medieval castles, and was simply a set of walls that surrounded and protected the interior of the castle.
  • Walls were often connected by a series of mural towers to add strength and provide for better defence of the ground outside the castle. An entrance was cut into the wall and passageway created leading down into the castle ditch and it was here that a well was dug to provide water for the castle's occupants.

The Montgomeries began huge a programme of reconstruction at Ardrossan Castle in order to make the accommodation more comfortable and the defences stronger. These alterations carried on well into the 15th century.

  • The gatehouse was remodelled at this time and transformed into a more typical keep or towerhouse with parts rebuilt to include a winch house to house the mechanism to raise and lower a portcullis.
  • The old entrance was reduced in size creating a small doorway which may have acted as a postern and a small opening in the wall above suggests the housing for a drawbridge mechanism.
  • A mezzanine floor was installed inside the entrance and a turnpike stair inserted in the south west corner and entrances made onto the courtyard and a large window facing north was created on the first floor with window seats and a fireplace positioned on the west wall.
  • The old entrance was finally blocked up and replaced by a gun port in the late 15th century and legend has it that Cromwell was the culprit.

It is documented that the Montgomeries did leave Ardrossan's stronghold in favour of Little Cumbrae which was more inaccessible should Cromwell venture near during his incursions into Scotland. Castles like Ardrossan could no longer stand up to drilled armies with siege guns, so there was no point in rebuilding it as a stronghold. The Montgomeries had many other more suitable houses in which to live and sadly Ardrossan Castle was neglected until the building of the new town in the 19th Century. (Full details of the extent of the renovations can be found in The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. 104 Session 1971-72, pp201-221).

A church on Castle Hill was first recorded in 1229, in an agreement between Walter, Bishop of Glasgow, and John, Abbot of Kilwinning, recognising that the Abbot had a claim to a pension from it. The building originally measured 64 ft by 26 ft and stood within the graveyard a short distance to the north of Ardrossan Castle. The church was dedicated to St Bridget and had two altars; one for Saint Peter and the other for the Virgin Mary. The graveyard was used by the Barons of Ardrossan and the Montfode family as well as the ordinary people of Ardrossan. Following the Reformation in 1560 the parish had to provide its own ministers and the first recorded was named Porterfield.

The Church remained in use until storm-damaged in 1695. A replacement was built some two years later on the north bank of the Stanley Burn. The new church was dismantled in 1744 and another built in the more heavily populated town of Saltcoats, next to the Chapel Well. Unfortunately, this building suffered the same fate as the one on Castle Hill, following a storm in 1773. It was completely rebuilt on the same site and remained Ardrossan's parish church until its closure in 1908. Today the building houses North Ayrshire Heritage Centre.

In 1911 council workmen landscaping the grounds around the ruins on Castle Hill discovered a stone coffin beneath the church floor. Its lid had been pushed aside revealing its contents; part of a skull and a fragment of leather. The identity of the occupant of the stone coffin, or sarcophagus, has been the subject of much speculation. Given its position, close to where the altar would have been and adjacent to the Castle, it is likely that it was made for one of the lords of Ardrossan. The ornate carving on the lid, depicting a stylised cross and a sword supports this theory and suggests the person was a soldier and a Christian. The sarcophagus, now on display in the Heritage Centre, is said to be one of the finest known examples of lowland Scottish medieval sculpture.

Ardrossan Castle - The Future

I hope you have enjoyed learning a little more about the colourful histotry of Adrossan Castle. From its origins in the 13th century, through to its different residents and owners, it is indeed steeped in history and I suspect has many more tales to tell us of its past. But what of the future?

The ruins of the castle are a prominent feature on the skyline of Ardrossan and the remind us of the long relationship it has had with the town. As a new chapter in the life of the castle opens we can only wait to see what direction the residents of the town would like the castle to take.

The strength and enthusiasm of the members of the newly formed Ardrossan Castle Heritage Society will certainly ensure a fabulous start to its new life. Also on board is the local Ardrossan Youth Group who are already engaged in activities to support the work of sharing the history of the castle with children and young people. Both these groups will raise the awareness of the rich history and work with Irvine Bay, North Ayrshire Council and many other partners to ensure that whatever lies ahead it is developed in partnership to make the most of our local gem.

With history in the making the future does look bright for the castle. Although what it will end up looking like is still to be decided, we can be assured that more people will definitely know about its life, its residents and its colourful past. Would you like to be a part of shaping its future? If you would then please get in touch with us at The Heritage Centre and we will be happy to point you in the right direction or visit the North Ayrshire Council Heritage Team page.

Why not view North Ayrshire's Yesterd@ys - Ardrossan Castle page.

Back to the Ardrossan Trail