Ballencrieff Castle was originally built as a large tower house in 1507 by James VI’s private secretary James Murray. It is one of a chain of castles stretching from Luffness Castle on the coast at Aberlady through Ballencrieff itself, Byres Castle, Garleton Castle, Kilduff Tower (now gone), Barnes Castle, Athelstaneford Castle (also gone) and Markle Castle.
In 1544 it was destroyed during the Rough Wooing, but in 1586 James’ son, John Murray, rebuilt the castle.
The castle is built on an L-plan and rises to a height of three storeys, with two floors and an attic above the vaulted ground floor. A wing projects from the north-west corner, and there is a narrow spiral stair tower is in the entrant angle.
Ballencrieff Castle remained in the Murray family, and one notable occupant was General James Murray who was born here in 1721, who would later become the Governor of Quebec, and later still the Governor of Menorca.
Around 1730 Patrick Murray, 5th Baron Elibank, set about a program of “improvements” to his property. He built a new façade around the castle, squaring off the old building’s walls with a new front to the north, and a new east end, reflecting the Georgian taste for grand architecture and symmetry.
A pair of new four bay, two storey buildings were added to the east and west of the main castle at this time, joined to the central block by screen walls. In 1868 this west wing, which was being used as a laundry, caught fire, and the entire property was burnt out.
The laundry was rebuilt – with a stone carved with the date 1586 over its porch – and used as a farmhouse, but the rest of the castle remained as a shell for over a century.
In 1989, with a demolition order hanging over the ruins of Ballencrieff Castle, it was bought by Peter Gillies and Lin Dalgleish, who spent several years renovating it along with John Brown, a restoration architect from Glasgow. Despite Historic Scotland initially wanting the later Georgian architecture to be restored, the new owners successfully argued for the permission to restore the older castle.
Between 1990 and 1996 a painstaking restoration took place, during which time 16th century gun loops were found, and substantial remnants of two early 17th century plaster ceilings from the first floor main hall and laird’s chamber. The fragments of plaster included the initials PDM for another Patrick Murray, the 1st Lord Elibank, who died in 1649.
By 1996 Ballencrieff Castle had been restored to its former glory, and it is now a seven bedroom private home.
Alternative names for Ballencrieff Castle
Ballencrieff House; Ballincrieff; Balncrief; Balnecref
Where is Ballencrieff Castle?
Ballencrieff Castle is in the parish of Aberlady and the county of East Lothian.
Grid reference:NT 48801 78270
Lat / long:55.994687,-2.822308