The Architecture of Robert Adam (1728-1792)

Robert Adam's Castle Style - Home Page

Dalquharran Castle - Brief History


The History of Dalquharran

Dalquharran and the Castle Style

The Architecture of Dalquharran





The History of Dalquharran Castle. Essay by Iain Anderson

Dalquharran Castle is regarded as one of the most impressive examples of Robert Adam's Castle Style. Situated on the North bank of Girvan Water in Ayrshire, the castle was originally commissioned by the husband of Adam's niece, Thomas Kennedy of Dunure.

Adam's Castle Style was already firmly established in the Ayrshire area, through the nearby Culzean Castle, started in 1776. The commission for Dalquharran came five years later, in 1781, during which time Adam had built several Castle Style mansions, and designed many more. The castle was inhabited as recently as 1967, but was unroofed to allow the then owners to avoid payment of rates. It is now a ruin, with only the masonry shell remaining intact.


The ruin of Dalquharran Castle as it remains today. Underneath the grassy knolls are the remains of many of the timbers removed from inside the house.

The lands of Dalquharran have been traced back as far as the early 14th century, and the extensive ruins of a large, earlier castle still exist within the grounds, known as Old Dalquharran Castle. This was a Castle of some repute, having been extended in the late 17th century and then purchased soon after, along with the estate of Dalquharran, by Sir Thomas Kennedy of Kirkhill, Lord Provost of Edinburgh. The castle remained inhabited until the 1700's, by which time it had passed into the hands of a descendant of Kennedy of Kirkhill, and Adam's patron, Thomas Kennedy of Dunmore.

When commissioned to work at Dalquharran, Adam considered both renovating Old Dalquharran Castle with his Castle Style and the construction of a new castle overlooking the original. Adam's Castle Style designs often included ruins as part of the landscape, to enhance a picturesque setting and the heriditary links of the owners to the site and its history. often, if no suitable ruin existed, one was designed, such as at Mellerstain. In this case, once the new building was inhabitable Old Dalquharran Castle was allowed to fall into ruin.

Adam's scheme for the new building had started with a visit to the site in February of 1782, when a sketch of a Castle (at this early stage similar in style to Culzean) sitting in the landscape above the old castle was drawn. This proposal was developed into the definitive design over the following months, although the plans were not completed until 1785. It is thought that Adam's exhausting workload at this time contributed significantly to the delays, which were to continue throughout the construction and decoration processes. Recent studies1 suggest that external construction work was finally finished in the summer of 1890, relating this to a note made by Kennedy on documents bearing this date, and existing records regarding the exterior paving and roofing work being completed. Adam also completed his interior designs for Dalquharran at this time, and billed Kennedy for a sum of £91 7s 1d, the total cost of Adam's completed drawings.


Dalquharran Castle, as originally built, pre-1880. The castle was executed with a much smaller courtyard than existing plans show,

Work was still ongoing inside Dalquharran at the time of Adam's death in 1792, and according to written descriptions of the Castle in the Ayrshire Agricultural Report of 1811, the interior scheme had still not been entirely completed, nearly twenty years later. Cook suggests that the Kennedy family moved from the old castle into Dalquharran shortly after this report, although it is entirely plausible that the family had moved into the house many years before, whilst interior decoration was ongoing.

Dalquharran Castle was passed down through the Kennedy family, and in 1880 the grandson of Thomas Kennedy, Francis Thomas Romilly Kennedy, made the decision to extend the castle. He employed an Edinburgh architectural firm that specialised in the Scottish Baronial style, Wardrop and Reid, to add wings to both the North West and South East sides of Dalquharran.

The wings added to Dalquharran Castle can still be seen today. Although the materials of the old and new areas are a good match, the vertical emphasis of the facade created by Adam, dominated by its four towers, is lost due to the long new wings.

 This was to accommodate bedrooms, as Kennedy and his wife produced a family of nine children. The work was completed at great expense, leaving the Kennedy family almost bankrupt, and by 1890, the family are known to have left Dalquharran for alternative lodgings, and were leasing the castle and it's lands as a hunting and fishing estate.

The castle had several tenants over the next 45 years, whilst staying in the hands of the Kennedy family. Eventually, the castle and the estate were put up for auction. It was bought by a Timber Merchant from Troon, who set about stripping the timber from the estate and who leased the castle to the Scottish Youth Hostel Association. Dalquharran remained a youth hostel until the Second World War, when the Langside School for the Deaf, evacuated from Glasgow, moved in. During the war, the Castle and lands were sold to one John Stewart, a produce merchant from Girvan, who later moved into Dalquharran with his family, and farmed the estate. The Stewart family co-habited the house with friends, but still the house proved too large and expensive to maintain, and was abandoned.

The removal of the roof in 1968 meant that the timber interior structure was left exposed to the elements. This inevitably deteriorated over and time and was later removed for safety reasons.

All that remains today are a couple of the main beams of the south drum, allowing us to recognise the floors above, which were a bed chamber and the library at the top of the house.

Although empty, Stewart still had to pay taxes on Dalquharran Castle, and to avoid this expense the lead was removed from the roof rendering the building uninhabitable. Eventually the interiors became so unsafe that much of the upper floors that had not collapsed were stripped out and piled up in the courtyard outside. This dismal mound now has a grass coat, and all that is left of the house is the stone shell, still in remarkably good conditrion.

The sad state that we find Dalquharran Castle in today. Although nature has taken over, there is no disguising the remarkable condition of the masonry shell.

The quality of stone that was used in the castle means that the edges of the mouldings, windows and castellated decoration remain as sharp and clinical as Adam intended over 200 years ago.



1. In his dissertation on Dalquharran Castle, Alastair Cook






History of Seton Castle

Seton Castle Design

Seton Castle Interior




Robert Adam's Castle Style - Home Page


Multimedia Catalogue


Your Internet Browser must be set to read Java Applets to view the catalogue

keywords: Robert Adam,architect,architecture,Castle Style,Seton,Castle,history,Country House,East Lothian,Scotland,Georgian Architecture,C18,eighteenth,century,visionary architecture,architectural visionary,visionary,Sandy Kinghorn,Cadking,visual catalogue,catalogues,NOF,RSL,SCRAN

Published by Cadking Design Ltd, Edinburgh, Scotland - Copyright © Sandy Kinghorn  
This project is part of the RLS (Resources for Learning in Scotland) database held by SCRAN.
The full RLS database can be accessed on

Optimised for Internet Explorer 5 and 6 (or later) and Netscape 4.5 (or later)