Blood soaked tales behind the history of famous Ayrshire castles

Wandering about unearthing tales you find that often one tale leads to another and the connection can be very interesting.

The tale of Penkill Castle is well known locally but not so much the story of the Boyd family of whom Adam Boyd constructed the castle in the 16th Century. The tale which is well known concerns Spencer Boyd who inherited the castle in a ruinous state in 1826 and with the help of a wealthy grandfather restored it to provide a home for his sister Alice and himself. They became friendly with the artist William Bell Scott and his wife Letitia, the artist having completed a mural around the staircase as well as other works of art.

The most famous of these was the painting of Spencer and Alice Boyd which hangs in the drawing room and is the basis of the Penkill curse which decrees that it should not be moved on pain of death. In actual fact the frame bears the words ‘Move not this picture, let it be, for love of those in effigy’.

However, with regard to the Boyd family who must have been powerful enough to build a castle at Penwhapple Burn in the heart of Kennedy lands, it seems that they came to prominence in the wars of independence with Sir Robert Boyd being one of the lords hanged in a barn outside Ayr in 1296.

This was revenged by William Wallace, who with the assistance of his followers including Sir Robert Boyd’s son also called Robert, burned down the barn having locked the perpetrators of the hanging inside.

The young Sir Robert Boyd became Wallace’s second in command and on Wallace’s death transferred his allegiance to Robert the Bruce. At the Battle of Bannockburn Boyd directed the right wing of the Scots army and was rewarded with the granting of lands in Kilmarnock and West Kilbride. So came into being Dean Castle where the Boyd family lived for the next 400 years.

In 1454 Sir Robert Boyd having gained King James II’s favour was raised to the peerage as Lord Boyd and to suit his new rank built a palace at Dean Castle. In later years William Boyd the 4th Earl of Kilmarnock joined Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Jacobite Rising, was captured, beheaded in London and his head sent back to Dean Castle in a metal box where it resides to this day, still unopened.

It is reputed that a ghost haunts this part of the castle. The estate was sold in 1748 and eventually gifted to the people of Kilmarnock.