Torthorwald Castle | The Tower

Early History | The Site | The Tower | Later History

The tower itself, which is oblong in plan, is very ruinous.  The whole, of the NW corner and most of the vaulting having fallen prior to I788.

It is only because of an extensive programme of propping and stabilisation in the 19th century that the rest survived so well until early in 1993 when the whole NE corner finally collapsed. It remains an impressive edifice, rising to a height of some 60ft.

Originally the tower measured about 47ft from Nth to Sth by 39ft 3in from E to W over walls varying in thickness from 7ft on each side to about 9ft 6in at the ends. It was built of Silurian rubble with quions and margins of dressed red sandstone, all bonded by a very stong mortar of shell lime.

There was a splayed plinth course, now almost entirely below ground level, but there was evidently no vaulting The basement presumably included the two slit windows in the E wall, parts of which still exist, but the slit window on the W side bears evidence, in the S jamb, of even earlier work; perhaps it was orignally a secondary entrace to the basement. The large recess in the misddle of the S wall is now so ruinous that its purpose is uncertain.

The original entrance to the tower was in the middle of the E wall at first floor level, where the dressed jambs and round arched head of the doorway may still be seen partially built up in the outside wall.

Adjacent to this on the S side there was a wheel stair leading to the basement. This was later filled in, and its existence only came to light recently when fallen masonry exposed parts of it in the body of the wall.

A small window in the middle of the W wall also appears to be an original feature. Although its recess has been altered on the inside, the external surround is original the only one in the castle to
survive intact; it has hollow chamfer on the arrises; a feature also found at Threave , and originally held an iron grille comprising one vertical and three horizontal bars.

The only features in the S wall are two doorways: one at the E end, which is now blocked, probably gave access to it mural chamber in the  SE corner, while the other admitted to at straight stair
that rose within the thickness of the wall from this floor to the SW corner of the second floor.

At some later date the inside of the tower was transformed and the floor levels changed by the introduction of two vaults and the provision of at new entrance at ground level. At the
same time the upper lloors were largely reconstructed. This work, which brought the tower more into line with the tower-castles of the 15th century, is clearly distinguished from the
earlier work by the well cut sandstone ashlar used throughout most of its construction.

lt also necessitated an additional 2ft 6in thickness of walling inside the old side walls to support the vaults.

The new basement thus; formed beneath the lower barrel vault occupied the whole of the original two, lowest storeys.

lt itppears to have been at single chamber, 15th high, with no entresol floor, as the vaultlng and its supporting wall on the E side cut right across the former doorway in the SE corner, this had to be closed up. while the old entrance in the  wall was partly filled up and converted into at window. which, together with the one opposite to it in the W wall, were carried through the upper part of the vault to provide additional illuminatlon for the basement. It was at this time that the wheel-stair adjacent to the original entrance was filled in. lt was probably also at this time that the suggested early entrance to the basmnrmt. was converted intp at wlndow recess.

Beneath the upper vault was the great hall. a vast chamber that apparently rose straight up to the pointed barrel vault, some 25ft above. Again. there is no evidence of an entrosol floor. All that remains within the hall is one large window recess in each of the side walls at the S end and fragment of another window recess further N in the W wall. From this level a wheel-stair, also built of ashlar rose within the SW corner to serve the upper floors.
No details of these floors remain, and the solitary pillar uf rubble masonry that rises another 15ft at the SE corner is all that now remains of a still later period construction.

The N end of the tower was a later addition. lt appeared to have been contemproratry with the second building phase. but not to have been added until after the upper vault was finished. The builder then seems to have decided that the tower was not large enough for his needs after all, so the N wall was removed in its entirety and an extension added to increase the overall length of the tower to 56ft 6in. However. the new walls. which were of coursed sandstone ashlar. were not so massive. those on the N and  sides averaging only 7ft 3in in thickness. The additional accommodation thus provided was not integrated with the older
work, from which it was separated by a new partition wall 2ft 4in thick, and the flour levels. themselves were also different, the second floor of the extension being several feet above the level of the hall. It was not until one reached the upper vault that the building lines coincided, with the southern portion of the vault continuing into the extension, but not before a sharp dividing line, now collapsed, cut right across the vault to show where the old N Wall was removed and the extension added.

Below this level the extension’s layout was much the same as if it were a wing to provide separate family accommodation, as at Cessford or Neidpath but on a smaller scale. There were four storeys below the upper vault. Over the lower two of these there was at segmental barrel-vault built transversely across the width of the tower.

In the basement floor near the NW corner there is said to have been at well, while in the NE corner a mural stair rose to the third floor. No details of these chambers remained, except for one small window in the E wall at first floor level, a window recess in the E wall and a mural recess off the stair at second floor level, and the splayed right jamb of another window recess in the N wall at third tloor level. Regretably, these all disappeared in 1993.


Early History | The Site | The Tower | Later History