There was once a tower at Browncastle although nothing of it now remains and the site of it is likely occupied by the farm of West Browncastle.
West Browncastle farm stands on a wide, flat promontory formed by a bend in the Browncastle Burn which flows south to join the Calder Water. Much of the surrounding landscape once consisted of boggy ground offering further natural defences.
The early history of Browncastle doesn’t seem to be known but it’s possible that due to the name it was once owned by a Broun family. The lands appear to have been divided by the late 15th century into the lands of Browncastle and those of Easter Browncastle with Browncastle being the larger of the two. The Douglas family may have owned the original lands of the unified Browncastle earlier in the 15th century but they seem to have been subdivided by the end of the century.
In 1493 Robert Douglas, the son and heir of Adam Douglas de Brouncastell, was granted by the king the 4 merk lands of Brouncastell that his father had owned. The following year an illegitimate son of James Hamilton of Torrance, also named James, received the 6 shilling, 8 penny (or half merk) lands of Estir Brouncastell from his father.
It would seem that the younger James may have disposed of Estir Brouncastell soon after as there is a sasine in the same year of the same lands, along with Peristoun in Ayrshire, to Sir Robert Cunningham, described as laird of Cunningham.
In 1497 Sir Patrick Hamilton married a daughter of Adam Douglas of Browncastle and the remaining majority lands of Browncastle seem to have begun a long association with the Hamilton family. Mary, Queen of Scots, confirmed a new charter to Andrew Hamilton of the 4 merk lands of Brouncastell in 1544 which his wife, Janet Douglas, had resigned.
Gavin Hamiltoun of Brounecastel acted as a baillie in 1550 along with John Thomeson in the infeftment of John Hamilton of Haggs‘s daughter-in-law, Isabella Elphinstone, in his liferent of the land of Riding and Riding mure.
In 1562 the queen granted to David Hamilton, the son and heir of John Hamilton of Brouncastell, the 4 merk lands of Brouncastell, with the castles, towers, forts, mills, multures, forests and fisheries, that John had resigned. This appears to be the first mention of a castle at Browncastle.
John Hammyltoun of Brownecassell, a burgess of Edinburgh, granted a receipt in favour of Alexander Drummond of Midhope in 1563 for payment of 500 merks Scots in redemption of one-eight of the lands of Midhope and an annual rent of 33 merks on his whole lands of Midhope.
In the same year John was a cautioner for John Hammyltoun, son of John Hammyltoun of Ferguslie, in a dispute with Alexander Jop, a baker and burgess of Edinburgh, which ended in a mutual discharge which was witnessed by a Gavin Hamilton who was described as John’s servant.
Browncastle is marked on Pont’s late 16th century map as a tower named O. Brouncastel.
John seems to have been the John Hamilton of Halls of Glengavill and Brouncastle who died in 1608 or 1609. In 1620 Robert Hamilton was retoured heir to his father, David, in the four merk land of Browncastle in the barony of Kilbryde, and was on record again in 1633. Browncastle is marked on Blaeu’s map of 1654, based on Pont’s earlier work, as a tower named O. Brouncastel.
Browncastle featured in a legal dispute in Edinburgh in 1656 between Helen Hamilton, the daughter and heir of the late John Hamilton, a merchant burgess of Edinburgh, and Alexander Wardlaw, also a merchant burgess of Edinburgh. When John died he seems to have been in debt to Wardlaw and those debts defaulted on Helen, and Wardlaw applied to have the property Helen had inherited impounded until the debts were settled. You can read more on the dispute here. The property mentioned included:
half of that 18s. land of old extent called the Nethertoune of Brounecastell, pertinents, &c., thereof, which are parts of the 4-merk land of old extent of Brounecastell, in the barony of Kilbryd and sheriffdom of Lanark, also the rest of the said 4-merk land of Brounecastell called the Overtoune of Brounecastell, extending to 35s. 4d. land of old extent or thereby, pertinents, &c., thereof, and those two portions of land in the Overtoune of Brouncastell, sometime possessed by umquhile James Mathem and umquhile John Craige, and now by John Brounerig and Gawin Allansone, extending to 22s. 8d. land or thereby, with pertinents, &c., thereof, and that in warrandice and security of the said 18s. land of old extent called the Nethertoune of Brouncastell
This would suggest that the majority part of Browncastle, the 4 merk land, had been further subdivided into the Overtoune of Brounecastell, worth 35 shillings and 8 pence, and the Nethertoune of Brounecastell, worth 18 shillings. Helen seems to have settled her father’s debts as Browncastle remained in the Hamilton family, passing to David Hamilton after the death of Robert Hamilton. Following David’s death in 1665 his will was registered by his son-in-law and executor, John Browning, in 1669.
David was succeeded by James Hamilton who had a charter of the lands of Nethertoun of Browncastle in 1672, who in turn was succeeded by George Hamilton who had a charter of the lands of Nethertoun of Browncastle in 1683. The following year he was imprisoned for non-conformity and refusing to take an oath of allegiance “with the king’s prerogative annexed” and fined 2000 merks, but was released the following year upon giving a bond of 2000 merks and agreeing to appear when called upon. George seems to have been rehabilitated in society’s eyes as in 1704 he was made a commissioner of supply for the shire of Lanark.
George died some time before 1711 and was succeeded by his three daughters, Elizabeth, Isabel or Isobel and Helen, who were co-heiresses. Elizabeth married Andrew Cochrane, a schoolmaster in Strathaven, in 1711, and had two sons, James and George, who would later take the Hamilton surname presumably as a condition of inheritance. Isobel had married John Alston of Overhall in 1710 and Helen married a Lawson of Rylandside. In 1712 Elizabeth had a charter or resignation of the lands of Nethertoun of Browncastle.
James Cochrane, or James Hamilton, died in 1740 and his brother, George, was known as George Hamilton of Brouncastle. The property of Browncastle later passed to the Hamilton of Dalzell family although I haven’t been able to ascertain how.
On Ross’s map of Lanarkshire from 1773 a two storey flat-roofed tower is shown at Browncastle but nothing at East Browncastle. It isn’t clear if the drawing is an accurate representation of the building however it isn’t a generic symbol as other properties in the surrounding area are illustrated with different designs.
In 1788 a later James Hamilton of Browncastle died. He was a son of James Hamilton of Dalzell. A new house seems to have been built in the 18th century, although whether or not it incorporated the fabric of an older building is not clear.
Forrest’s map of 1816 shows a substantial mansion at Browncastle with a three bay, two storey façade, and indicates that it was owned by Messrs Cathcart & Graham. A few scattered buildings are shown at East Brown Castle.
Ainslie’s map of 1820 shows Browncastle illustrated with the same symbol used for other castles in the surrounding area but East Browncastle isn’t marked. Thomson’s map of 1832 shows the large house of Brown Castle and a couple of small buildings at E. Brown Castle. Browncastle is depicted as a substantial house on Knox’s map of 1836 with nothing marked at East Browncastle. Johnson’s map of 1841 seems to be based on Thomson’s map of 1832 and again shows a large house named Brown Castle and a couple of small buildings marked E. Brown Castle.
By 1861 both East Browncastle and West Browncastle were owned by Robert Steele, “commonly called Provost Steele”. Robert’s father had attended the laird of Browncastle’s horses, a job which Robert subsequently took on. Robert went on to be Provost of Rutherglen between 1837 and 1846, and again between 1852 and 1855, and bought both Browncastles. Provost Steele doesn’t seem to have resided at either of the Browncastle farms which were both tenanted, with the farmhouse of West Browncastle occupied at that time by William Hamilton. I haven’t been able to trace their subsequent ownership.
In 2010 permission was granted for the construction of a wind farm to the south-west of West Browncastle farm. This led to the discovery of an area of medieval or post-medieval rig and furrow near the farmhouse during in 2013.
The present farmhouse appears to be Georgian in proportions and style.
Alternative names for Browncastle
Brouncastell; Brouncastle; Broune-castell; Brounecastel; Brounecastell; Brounecastellis; Brown Castle; Brownecassell; Brownecastell; Nethertoun of Browncastle; Nethertoune of Brounecastell; O. Brouncastel; Over Brouncastel; Over Browncastle; Overtoune of Brounecastell; Overtoun of Browncastle; West Browncastle