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Bothwell House




Bothwell House was situated about 200 yards to the east of Bothwell Castle, in Lanarkshire. The site is now lost under a modern up-market housing estate.

 Bothwell House
Bothwell House can be seen in the lower right corner

Bothwell House appears to have been built in three stages, or perhaps re-built three times. The originating house is believed to have been built by Archibald Douglas, who was created Earl of Forfar, by Charles II in 1661. However, the Edinburgh Architectural Association say he 'is referred to as the builder of the south wing of the neighbouring mansion of Bothwell House, using for that purpose stones from the castle'. The Earl of Forfar inherited the estates in 1669. A well known engraving by John Slezer in his 1693 publication Theatrum Scotiae,  shows a building to the east of the castle, and if it represents Bothwell House in the late 1600s then it appears to be of traditional Scottish construction, gabled, possibly L-shaped, and is roofed conventionally (slates, skews etc).

The date of construction is further confused by Walter McFarlane’s Geographical Collections Relating to Scotland when, in 1725 he writes ‘The castle ... is now altogether ruinous much defaced by length of time and some considerable part of it thrown down by the late Earl of Forfar who from the ruines thereof built a very hansom new house but this house was never finished being stoped by the death of both Earles the father and son’. And Robina, the Countess of Forfar, the first Earl’s wife, bequeaths… ‘pictures now belonging to us in our house of Bothwell Castle’ in a document dated 3 June 1738 indicating that the castle was still in use as a residence.

Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) makes reference in his 1772 book, A Tour in Scotland, and Voyage to the Hebrides, to the construction date of the originating house, and records of the house ‘The present residence of the family, called Bothwell House, is modern, built between ninety and a hundred years ago by the young Earl of Forfar, who was killed at the battle of Dunblain. He was paternal uncle to the late duke of Douglas, who succeeded to the estate'. As Scott Bain, in his paper for Historic Scotland Conservation Group, May 2011, points out 'Pennant’s historical assertions are questionable – his construction date for the house (1672 –82) is at least ten years before the birth of the 2nd Earl (b.1692, d.1715) who died at Dunblain [or Sheriffmuir]'.

In 1758, Douglas Castle burnt down, forcing Archibald, the Duke of Douglas to find alternative accommodation. He divided his time between Holyrood Palace, where he had apartments, and Bothwell Castle. He began the reconstruction of Douglas Castle (unfinished in his lifetime) to plans from John Adam, with the intention, it was said, of building a house 10 feet wider and 10 feet higher than the duke of Argyll's new seat at Inveraray.

By 1759, construction was underway on a new Bothwell House -or perhaps a re-build of the existing one. Architect George Paterson, possibly the same George Paterson who worked on Mount Stuart, altered the house for the Duke.

Thomas Pennant described the house as he saw it in 1772: 'The centre is but small: being chiefly taken up with stair-case and lobby. The Duke of Douglas added the wings, in which are the principal apartments. It stands very near the ancient castle’. It is likely the house was then as shown in Robert Adam's (1782-1792) view of the castle, drawn in 1782.

The house was again re-built in 1787. Archibald, 1st Baron Douglas (cr. 1790), the former Archibald Stewart of Grandtully, inherited following a 1761 lawsuit, known as the Douglas Cause. He appears to have demolished the Duke’s version of Bothwell House and built a large, neo-classical mansion to a design by James Playfair, though The Builder states that he just designed the centre and north wings. The house now had 80 fireplaces and 30,000 square feet of floor-space.

The Statistical Account of Scotland, 1795, describes the building and grounds as 'a handsome edifice, stands a little east from from the old castle, and at once commands the charming group of beauties, arising from the banks, the river, the Tuins, and the adjacent country. The apartments, like the great objects that surround them, are marked with a dignified simplicity. The banks are broad and extensive; exhibit a very picturesque scene \ have been much improved of late, with pleasure walks, huts and shrubbery. The walk from the house, along the summit of the bank, and round the ruins, is most delightful. Nature is truly Great, her steps are carefully followed, and a good taste discovered. A grove of oaks occupies one part of the banks, already considerably advanced, and will make a venerable figure in future times. The park is inclosed with a remarkably good wall. There are few places more favoured from situation, or capable of greater embellishment.  The first who had the merit to discern the beauties of these banks, even in their rude state, covered with natural wood, and to plan and commence improvements, was the late Lady Lucy Douglas.

And in 1797: 'Bothwell House, the present residence of Lord Douglas, a handsome modern edifice of reddish stone, stands a little to the eastward of the castle'.

It was in Bothwell House that Sir Walter Scott, in the year 1808, wrote " Young Lochinvar " and had the pleasure of reading it to an audience, among whom were Lady Dalkeith and Lady Douglas.

Charles Samuel Stewart in his 'Sketches of Society in Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 2 c1824, writes: 'We were received here by a footman and the housekeeper, and after passing through the suite of rooms, and viewing a large number of family portraits by Van Dyke, Lely, and other masters, were served with Sandwiches and wine in the library, before again joining our carriage to return to dinner'. Another correspondent refers to: 'that masterpiece of Vandyck at Bothwell House'. Where these portraits are now is not known.

The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception may have used Bothwell House between 1911 and 1923 when there is evidence of loans made by the diocesan education board. They appear to have accepted young pregnant women. The demise of the house has been blamed on these Begium nuns, who, whilst billeted there during the 1st World War, used 'misguided zeal' of 'obsessive floor-scrubbing speeded up the mansion's bad case of dry rot'.

The cause usually put forward is that the house was damaged by mining subsidence.

Many of the paintings in the house were sold off in 1919 following a fire which left them blackened by smoke. Some are now in the possession of the Earl of Home.

The mansion was demolished in 1926 and taken off the valuation roll in 1930. In 1935 the then Earl of Home gave Bothwell Castle into state care. The surrounding lands were presumably sold off at this point.

* Douglas married twice into ducal families: first, on 13 June 1771, Lady Lucie Graham (1751–1780), daughter of the second duke of Montrose, and second, on 13 May 1783, Lady Frances Scott (1750–1817), sister of the third duke of Buccleuch.


I am grateful to Scott Bain for his assistance with this article.

West elevation of Bothwell House viewed from the Donjon wall head. The drawn blinds are indicative of the house containing fine furnishings or paintings
Bothwellpark House was built as the Dower House for Bothwell House



See also:
Bothwell image gallery





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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024