Standing the test of time

Scotland is full of castes and grand houses which have stood the test of time for centuries and Ayrshire has its share.

Although perhaps many of these grand dwellings are now in some disrepair, in a number of cases the walls are still standing reflecting well on the masons of those times. Imagine the conditions in which they worked, scaffolding of wood bound together by course rope, out in all weathers.

Stones which had to be collected and transported to the site by horse drawn wagons. It was then necessary to raise these large stones to the height at which they were needed before cementing them into place with clay. There must have been many accidents, but little mention of these is made as no doubt labour was cheap in those days and the labourer came from families of little note. Just examine the buildings that are still standing today to appreciate the workmanship. For example take Baltersan tower house south of Maybole built in 1564 for John Kennedy of Pennyglen whose wife was Margaret Cathcart, daughter of Robert Cathcart of Carlton Castle at Lendalfoot.

It is interesting to note here that Margaret Cathcart’s brother built Killochan Castle some two years earlier which is similar in design to Baltersan, so there was some experience of building castles in the family. However to get back to Baltersan castle which had some unique features for that time, but first and foremost was the security angle which these tower houses had to have in those troubled times. The upper chambers had window shutters which fitted into the thick walls providing a security not seen before in tower houses. There were also other new features designed to give more comfort and pleasure to the inhabitants as hitherto these places were cold, draughty and soulless mainly concentrating on security. The Kennedys lived in Baltersan for some 136 years when in 1721 the last John Kennedy died ‘abroad in London’ according to the reports of the time.

He left only six cows, one bull, four stirks, two nolts and a heifer which was surprisingly little compared to the assets of the Kennedys when the castle was built in 1584. At that time John Kennedy was considered a man of means owning several good farms and the salmon fishing rights on the Doon. So what happened to all that wealth? The estate was inherited by a cousin, Hugh Arbuthnot, a sea captain, but by 1762 Baltersan was roofless which is the ruination of all buildings left in that state. Only the walls remain as proof of the craftsmanship of those early stonemasons.