Thirlestane Castle is a 16th Century Castle set in a quiet meadow landscape. Family home of the Duke of Lauderdale, Thirlestane Castle is one of the oldest and finest castles in Scotland and still remains family home to the Maitland family today. The oldest parts of Thirlestane Castle date from 1590 when a great stone keep was built on the site. The castle was extended again in 1672 before the wing containing the State Dining Room was added in 1840 by architects William Burn and David Bryce. The Jacobean-style ceiling in the dining room is an original feature from the 19th century and the walls are lined with one of the most extensive family collections of portraits of any house in Scotland. Among the artists are Romney, Reynolds, Lawrence and Lely, as well as the prolific Scots family, Scougal.
Edward and Sarah Maitland-Carew moved to Thirlestane Castle in 2012 when a major outbreak of dry rot was discovered by chance. An electrician was called in do some routine work installing an additional outlet in the Dining Room. More extensive than first thought, large parts of the castle had to be stripped back and the building was closed to the public for 18 months.
Despite the disruption and devastating discovery incurred by the discovery of Dry Rot, the trustees took time to take stock of the business and come up with a business plan for sustaining it into the future. They recognised that the Castle’s offering must become more commercial to remain viable.
The Trust applied for LEADER funding and was successful in getting the largest ever award in the Scottish Borders of £150,000. One of the key elements of this was making the dining room useable for corporate dinners and private functions by installing a servery in the room next door. The funding will also allow the Castle to create a new self-catering apartment, re-cobble the outside courtyard and convert the old kitchen into an additional events space.
In terms of the restoration work, the scope of works included:
- Removal of window ingoe linings, shutter panels and architraves.
- Stripping plaster and lath to the inner face of the external walls
- Removal of horizontal softwood plates built into the masonry wall
- Uplifting a significant section of the original floor boards
- Deafening between the floor joists was in the form of mini arched brickwork
Access for the stripping out works provided the opportunity to closely inspect the ceiling plasterwork and substantial sections of the plaster were found to be insecure with the plaster key to the lath background having been broken. The methodology of saving the dining room ceiling involved securing the areas of loose plaster with stainless steel screws and washers fixed slightly countersunk into the finish coat of plaster, and then recreating the lost plaster key in the roof space by building up a bridge of relatively stiff lime putty with horse hair mix in proportion. In this way, the background plaster to the ceiling was once more bonded through the ceiling lath.
Lighting the paintings for the first time was also a large part of developing the Dining room adding greater atmosphere and allowing them to be shown off to their full glory. The first bookings for dinner guests have now been taken and the room is also firmly back in place on the visitor tour allowing people to view the portraits clearly during the open season between May and October.
The trustees’ aim has always been to make sure the sumptuous Dining room and its historic collection of paintings and other objects can be viewed for many generations to come. Now the paintings are resplendent and the room fit for both grand dinners and more intimate occasions, realising another aim of making the castle more commercially viable, and accessible to the public so they can share and enjoy their historical heritage.