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Hatton House, the grandest of them all

These days you don't need Mons Meg, the giant cannon now at the top of Edinburgh Castle, to gain access to the site of Hatton House from the A71. But in 1453 King James II accompanied his massive flagship weapon here to besiege Hatton in order to evict clan Douglas followers, in a tale of regal plotting, murder and revenge...

At that time “Haltoun” was a massive L-shaped tower house with walls 3 metres thick, owned by the Lauder family, built by Alan de Lauder in 1377.

With tensions rising between King James II and the Douglases, Sir William Lauder of Haltoun was a confidant of both the King and the 8th Earl of Douglas. The King summoned the Earl of Douglas to Stirling Castle in 1452, and Lauder was the King's personal messenger sent to escort the Earl. When the King murdered Douglas there (at the infamous Black Dinner) Haltoun Tower was seized by outraged Douglas followers, and during the struggle Sir William Lauder was killed.

The king personally led the seige to take Haltoun Tower back. Crown accounts of the time refer to the cost of transporting “the great bombard” (Mons Meg) and go on to list costs for stone cannon balls, javelins and arrows, the construction of a movable hut to protect the quarrymen hewing their way through the walls and all the trappings of a well fitted-out siege.

Hatton remained in the Lauder family until 1653. It was a significant local stronghold and the Lauders were an important family who played their part in current affairs. During the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, the 4th Earl of Bothwell was, it seems, "favourable to the laird of Haltowne " ; and it was in his house that he slept on the night of 23rd April 1567, before his abduction of the Queen.

In 1653 the Hatton estate passed into the hands of Charles Maitland, later the 3rd Earl of Lauderdale, who had married into the Lauder family. He began to transform it from a crude fortified tower into a magnificent country house. Around the ancient tower house he added wings and turrets. He also started remodelling the grounds on a lavish scale, turning it into one of the most elegant country estates of the time.

Drawing of Hatton House circa 1680, by John Selzer.
Drawing of Hatton House circa 1680, by John Selzer.

He held high office in the Scottish Parliament and was appointed Master General of the Scottish Coinage in 1661. He took opportunity to run three large-scale coinage frauds and it is generally acknowledged that he used treasury funds to create his impressive new estate.

He took opportunity to run three large-scale coinage frauds and it is generally acknowledged that he used treasury funds to create his impressive new estate.

Besides the coinage frauds, which came to light in a judicial enquiry in 1682, he was suspected in 1689 of acting "contirar to the government" of William III and sent to prison. Hatton House was searched for "cannon, armes and amonutione." Six muskets and cannon were found, confiscated and taken to Edinburgh Castle.

Proven ill-gotten gains don't seem to have had consequences for the Hatton estate. A 16th century visitor to Hatton wrote that “there is no residence in the Lothians west of Edinburgh to compare with Hatton House save Hopetoun.” By this time it had over fifty bedrooms and stabling for seventy horses on grounds of 240 acres. By the early years of the eighteenth century, Hatton was one of the noblest residences in all Scotland.  The top of the original tower was a balustraded viewing platform commanding views of the surrounding countryside and hills. 

The main approach to the house was via a mile-long grand avenue from the east and was lined by a double row of oaks, beeches and limes. There was a large walled garden, bowling green, formal rose garden, and terraced area in front of the house and beyond it a “wilderness” complete with an artificial lake.

The Maitland family reign at Hatton ended in 1792 when it was sold by the 8th Earl. The property changed hands many times. It was purchased in 1797 by Mr James Gibson (afterwards Sir James Gibson-Craig, Baronet of Riccarton), who broke up the estate and sold it off in portions for speculative gain. The house itself went to Rev., Dr. Thomas Davidson for £14,000.

Hatton House gateway
Hatton House gateway

The Renaissance gateway, which can be seen today on the A71 near the intersection with Linburn Road, was originally located half-way along the main eastern approach avenue to Hatton House. The date ANNO DOM 1692 is engraved on the keystone of the arch. It was moved to its current location on the Edinburgh road by Captain Davidson in 1829 (that date is also engraved on it). The upper part of the antique ornamental ironwork of this gateway is said to have been wrought by one of the Earls who enjoyed ironwork - the Eastern Pavilion of Hatton House was known as Lord Lauderdale’s Forge, where tradition has it one of the Earls had a forge.

The house had several owners over the years and many famous visitors. Until, on the evening of 25th February 1952 the owner returning from Edinburgh found the house had mysteriously caught fire. The roof and upper floor were completely destroyed, while the other floors were extensively damaged by water. The Evening Dispatch of 26th February said: “One portion after another of the house, which contained four floors, was involved in the blaze, until there was no part of the building which was free from the flames.”

The ruins were taken down and the stones removed to various unknown locations; the estate was sold off in pieces. All that remains today are two corner pavilions, some of the walls and of course the Western Gate on the A71.

Despite some decline in its last decades before the 1952 fire, Hatton House was one of the most spectacular of grand Scottish homes from its founding in the 14th century through murder, fraud, royal favours and clan battles to the sad romantic remains of today.

First published in Konect May 2011

Author: Helen-Jane Shearer

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