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Bike LogoCastles: a Guest Post by Hilary Melton-Butcher

By Patricia  05202010

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

Hilary has been doing a fascinating series of posts on her blog POSITIVE LETTERS about her travels in Africa and now about Scottish Castles.  Her writing is so informative and enjoyable; I asked her to share some of her insights here on this site and introduce you to her perspective and know how.

I discovered Hilary when she began commenting on other blogs that I was reading and felt an immediate connection with her as she has come home to care for her mother after her mother had a stroke (I may have that time line incorrect).  Her posts and comments keep her connected during this hard time.

Hilary says about herself:

“I have had a eclectic life and after living in London, I worked in South Africa for 15 years, we live in interesting times, which I am learning about, while being with my Mother in her last months –“

Without further ado, I will let Hilary’s writing and post speak for her:

Castle Buildings and Hammer Beams

How did they start to build these great castles?  The vision of great buildings has always been in the mind of man …  hence their ability to instruct the workers to garner the materials, work their magic, and conform to the expectations of time, creating these huge edifices for their noble masters.

Each building conformed to the mark of fashion of the day – the particular style appropriate to a window, or perhaps a tower, the fireplaces, even the memorials in the graveyards.  From the Middle Ages, 1,000 – 1,300 AD approximately, the Norman Conquest removed Britain  from Scandinavian influences and tied her politically, commercially and culturally to France and the Continent.

Stirling Castle 1900

Stirling Castle 1900 – showing cemetery within the grounds

Stirling Castle in Scotland had been a royal residence and capital of the Scottish Kings for many centuries before Alexander I of Scotland died there in 1124.  From then on many changes occurred utilizing the old buildings and the extremely valuable strategic positioning.

Great Hall Interior

Great hall interior, facing south

The three James (IV, V and VI), Stewart kings, embarked on an ambitious construction programme at Stirling, when it was the principal royal centre used by the kings.   The influences reflected in the buildings show an eclectic mix of English, French and German influences, highlighting the international ambitions of the Stewart dynasty.

It was during this time that the Great Hall or Parliament Hall was built – which is described as the “grandest secular building erected in Scotland in the late Middle Ages”, representing the first example of Renaissance-influenced royal architecture in Scotland when it was completed in 1503.

English craftsmen and design ideas were incorporated into what was a conventional medieval plan – inside are five fireplaces, and large side windows lighting the dais end, where the king would be seated – within this large hall, which was138 x 47 feet (42 x 14.25m) in dimension.

Hammerbeam Roof Stirling Castle

The restored new hammer beam roof in the Great Hall at Stirling Castle

The original hammer beam roof was removed in 1800, along with the decorative crenellated parapet, when the hall was subdivided to form barracks.  It has now been historically corrected and the outer walls have been lime-washed.

The Royal Palace – this time slightly later – but with the Renaissance architecture and exuberant late-gothic details is one of the most architecturally impressive buildings in Scotland, covered with unique carved stonework.  It took twelve years before completion in 1542.

Stirling Castle Palace from Outer Close

East Facade of the Royal Palace, showing statues

It seems that the architecture is French-inspired, but the decoration of German inspiration, while the sources for the statues have been found in the work of the German painter Hans Burgkmair (1473 – 1531).  The 19th century architectural historian, R W Billings, described the statues as “the fruits of an imagination luxuriant but revolting”!  Aptly described?!

The two apartments, one each for the king and queen, have a hall, presence chamber, and bedchamber, with various small rooms known as closets.  The King’s Presence Chamber was originally decorated with a series of 56 carved oak portrait roundels, known as the Stirling Heads, although little remains of the Renaissance decoration since the building’s military use.  38 of the heads survive and there are plans to eventually re-instate the ceiling as close to its original form as possible.

Chapel Royal, Stirling Castle

Chapel Royal, Stirling Castle

The Chapel Royal had extensive renovations too in the Middle Ages appropriate for royal Coronations and Christenings – when Italianate arched windows were installed, with the wall paintings from the 1620s – 1630s recently rediscovered in the 1930s, being presently restored.

Stirling Castle seems to encompass architecture from early times, along with other disciplines appropriate to the day … stonemasons, painters, while the engineer in his present day format was probably more likely to be utilised as a “praefectus fabrum”, per Julius Caesar: the official who controlled the labour gangs and parties of artisans for roads and basic defence works.


On a smaller scale, here is a view of a hammer beam inside a timber frame residence

(I just loved the lines of this picture and so wanted to include it in the post – hope you enjoy it)

North-West of Stirling in the Grampians is a strenuous, two day ,78 mile cycle route around Lochs Rannoch and Tummell starting from Pitlochry .  this goes through Rannoch Moor, one of Britain’s last wildernesses …  reflecting the area’s past and future.  (See below for links)

Times Online Article
Map via the Times

Thanks for reading – it’s been a pleasure being here,
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Thu, May 20 2010 » Discoveries

5 Responses

  1. Tom May 20 2010 @ 12:34 pm

    Thank you Hilary for writing the Castle’s post and doing all the research. We have been talking a great deal about remodeling to make something Greener but we do not have Castle’s to deal with or maintain the historic integrity.

    Thank you for sharing this
    .-= Tom´s last blog ..Castles: a Guest Post by Hilary Melton-Butcher =-.

  2. Patricia May 20 2010 @ 12:36 pm

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post and ideas sharing. I have put it on facebook, twitter and Stumble Upon and hope it will be discovered my many. Your work is so appreciated.

    Maybe it will inspire some comments on this page? Hope so…
    .-= Patricia´s last blog ..Castles: a Guest Post by Hilary Melton-Butcher =-.

  3. Hilary May 21 2010 @ 9:30 am

    Hi Tom – thanks .. glad you appreciated it – our Building Regulations here are ‘horrendous’ especially if you have a historic site, or listed building at various levels .. & have to comply with all the agencies, let alone the requirements.

    But there’s lots to see and explore – as you know from your visits ..

    It’s good to be here .. and hope to be back ..
    Have a great weekend .. with your greening architecture .. actually I’ll be doing something about that on my blog shortly – I did a couple of posts already .. & will link them – when it goes up .. all the best – Hilary
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Dumbarton and Corgarff Castles =-.

  4. Hilary May 21 2010 @ 10:45 am

    Hi Patricia .. much appreciated .. I don’t know how to do that .. so I’ll be interested to learn about it sometime soon for others .. & I hope you’ll get some commenters ..

    Good to be here – all the best Hilary
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Dumbarton and Corgarff Castles =-.

  5. Hilary May 30 2010 @ 7:02 am

    Hi Tom and Patricia .. my latest post – tells about a BBC history cold case – skeletons within Stirling Castle .. Patricia .. I know you’ll look – Tom you might find it an interesting addition ..

    Hope you’re having a good weekend .. Hilary
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Stirling Castle Skeletons – who are they? =-.

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