Torwood Castle

Torwood Castle

Torwood Castle Details

  • Access: Private
  • Condition: ruined
  • First build century: 16th
  • Closest To: Torwood, Denny, Falkirk, Larbert, Stenhousemuir, Plean, Auchenbowie, Dunipace
  • Grid Ref: NS836844
  • Last use century: 18th

Torwood Castle is a large ruined L-shaped tower house with a square tower in the re-entrant angle. It is easily accessible, but a sign and chain have been placed across the access path highlighting that it is not open to the public, and that therefore the owner does not welcome visitors. The castle is built on high ground overlooking the Carron valley, although the area has been extensively drained in modern times, leaving the original landscape rather hidden. It is also adjacent to the old Roman road leading from the Antonine Wall to the crossing points of the Forth and Allan, which may have remained in use at this point.

The Tor Wood was a royal hunting forest in the time of David I, who granted “easements” in the forest to Cambuskenneth Abbey, and as such it is unlikely that a structure of any significance existed here while that was the case, although a hunting lodge may have been erected within the forest, probably consisting of a timber hall within modest earthworks and a palisade. The royal forests were managed by officers of the crown, known unsurprisingly as the royal foresters. It seems to have been the case that a large part of the lands around Stirlingshire were royal forest – in addition to the Tor Wood there was Dundaff, Callendar, and the forest of Stirling itself. As one of the primary fortresses of the realm, the castle of Stirling was required for large periods of time to house the royal court – and that consumed substantial quantities of game – which was reserved for royal use within the forests, as were all other resources such as timber, peats and the like. Prior to the Wars of Independence, there appears to have been little change in this situation, and there are no records relating which individuals held the positions at this period. In 1359, the sheriff’s returns show that the forest was no longer in royal hands, which is probably a reflection on the needs of Robert Bruce to reward supporters (many royal forests appear to have been alienated) and a similar period of grants by King David II upon his return to Scotland. In 1371, his coronation year, King Robert II appointed Sir Robert de Erskine to be justice of “bosco de le tor et de Clacmanan” which reflects that the royal forests were seen as a source of patronage for supporters of the crown. Later they were granted to Sir William More of Abercorn, and in the reign of Robert III David More resigned them to David Fleming of Biggar.

In 1463, a charter was granted to Alexander Forrester of Torwood, son of the late Robert Forrester of Torwood, and he is presumed to have been the same person as Robert, son of Malcolm Forrester of Pettintostate, who appears in a record of 1450. It appears likely that David Fleming lost the forest in the 1450s when his elder brother Malcolm (an ally of the Douglases) died at the hands of Livingston and Crichton in the build up to the war between the Black Douglases and the crown. The Forrester family were locally important in Stirling, and the grant to the family was a significant boost to their local standing. Alexander Forrester was followed by his brother Malcolm (who appears on record 1479-1483), and he in turn by Malcolm’s two sons David and Henry. In 1488 Henry Forrester resigned Torwood to Duncan Forrester of Gunnershaw, who may have been descended from a brother of Malcolm, but the connection isn’t proven. Sir Duncan was keeper of Stirling Castle in 1480 and provost several times. He was close to King James IV, who stood as godfather to Sir Duncan’s grandchild in 1489. In 1497, Sir Duncan resigned lands including Torwood to his son Sir Walter, who was succeeded by his son Sir James in 1528. Sir James was followed by his son Sir David (killed at Pinkie in 1547), and his grandson Alexander was served heir in 1556. In 1585 Torwood is commonly said to have been captured by the Earls of Angus and Mar prior to their assault on Stirling Castle. The account referring to it says that they “tuik the plaice of Wodhead, beside the Torwood” which certainly confirms that there was a dwelling of some importance here at this date.

In the Register of the Privy Council a document dated 1593 refers to a perambulation of the lands between “Torheid and Kingsyde Muir and the mansion called Forrester’s Mansion” which was held by Alexander Forrester in liferent, and James Forrester, his son, in fee, of the King. There was a boundary dispute between the Forresters and John Drummond of Slipperfield, who was their tenant. This dispute resulted in considerable disruption and violence, and the outlawing of several members of the extended Forrester family. By the time Alexander died and his son Sir James inherited the estates, the family fortune had been severely reduced, and in 1610 his whole estate was apprised, most being granted to James Edmonstone of Newton. In order to placate his creditors, Forrester had been unlawfully cutting down trees in the forest and selling the timber. In 1629 James was in the tollbooth in Stirling, and in 1636 the whole of his estate was sold to George, Lord Forrester, in 1636.

A datestone found in a garden wall near Torwood Castle (and now in a museum) has been attributed to the castle, and bears the year 1566. Alexander Forrester was served heir in 1556, and therefore must have been of age by then, meaning that it is certainly possible that he built the “Forrester’s Mansion” mentioned in the 1593 document. Although described as an L-plan tower house, the groundplan is unusual. The main block runs roughly east-west, and consists of three vaulted cellars in line, with a corridor to the north. In addition the eastern end of the building is occupied by the kitchen, also accessed from the corridor, but with a fireplace occupying the full width of the block. The westernmost cellar has a small projecting jamb containing a narrow winding stair to the first floor, and a further small cupboard. To the north of the west end of the building is an L-shaped wing which contains the entrance doorway in the northern re-entrant angle leading to a large winding stair, a small guardroom to the north, and a lobby accessing the basement corridor. Immediately adjacent to this is a further, smaller winding stair which presumable was the service stair leading up to the first floor. The ground floor is liberally provided with slit windows and shot holes, and a small batter along the western side. Above the doorway is a high quality moulded surround for an armorial panel.

The main stair and the service stair both open directly into the great hall, which sits above the three vaulted cellars, whereas that from the cellar (presumably containing the wine) had a small lobby area. To the east, and above the kitchen, was the withdrawing room of the lord, provided with three cupboards in the gable end. The great hall was provided with a fireplace in the north wall, and the withdrawing room with a fireplace in the internal wall. The great hall has four windows in the south wall (the two central ones placed higher – presumably allowing for furniture to sit beneath them, one in the north wall and one in the west gable; the withdrawing room had two facing south and one north. There was an attic level above this, probably accessed via the serving stair and this extended out over the accommodation block as a corbelled turret to provide access to two single rooms above the main staircase. There is evidence of at least one dormer window on the wallhead, and at the eastern end of the building there is a decorative string just below the wallhead on the southern wall.

To the north of the mansion is the remains of the western wall of a courtyard, with badly overgrown ruins and a wall scar to show that it was perhaps two storeys high, but with a pitched roof entirely facing the courtyard, and the north-east corner bears some very ruinous and overgrown remains as well. The courtyard is plainly from a later build phase as it is not tied into the main building at all – but as a courtyard wall and gate are shown by Pont, it must still have been erected before his visit, although it has been suggested the courtyard was the work of the first Lord Forrester after he purchased the estate and Torwood Castle in 1635. Excavations in 1999 revealed there was evidence for two rooms surviving beneath the grass along the northern wall, a room each side of a central pend with a cobbled floor surface. The eastern room contained an oven, and the western a well, within which was found a coin dated 1632, so it seems quite possible that the entrance was modified with a grand new gate created by Lord Forrester on the north side.

Around the L-shaped stair tower, there is a decorative string course which is not extended to the rest of the building. This is directly beneath the southern gable of the stair tower, and it is possible to trace a regular series of breaks in the masonry directly beneath this as well, which is suggestive of more than one build phase, the quoinstones having been removed. It is not possible to do this in any other part of the western profile. Examination of Pont’s map of c1590 shows Torwoodhead (as it was then) an ordinary L-plan tower house with a barmkin – and he shows the main block to the left, with the wing to the right. Typically Pont shows the main approach to buildings, and this causes us a quandary. We would today assume that the long straight access path to the north was the main approach to the castle – but this does not appear to be the case when we look at Roy’s map. Although there is a road here, the main approach appears to have been from the south-east, meaning that when one approached the castle, the view one got was of the east gable of the accommodation block, with the stair wing projecting to the left – matching Pont’s depiction. However, MacGibbon and Ross show the courtyard to the north of Torwood Castle, (as does the earliest Ordnance Survey) and Pont would seem to show it to the east. I think the best way to resolve this would be to assume that the gateway faced east, but the courtyard was to the north of the building, meaning that when one entered the courtyard the armorial panel and decorative entrance to the castle was facing the visitor. Therefore, we have to assume that if (as seems possible) there was more than one build phase at Torwood, it was complete by the late 16th century, and subsequent changes were largely cosmetic in nature.

John, the son and heir of Sir George died without children in 1651, leaving Lord Forrester with daughters to inherit his estates, so he elected to have everything regranted to him with a new entail. His daughter Joanna had married James Baillie of Castlecary in 1649, and when Sir George died in 1654 his title and Torwood passed to Baillie, who took up the surname Forrester. If their line failed (as in fact did happen), the title and estates were to pass to the descendants of Lilias, another daughter, who was married to William Baillie, James’ brother. James and William Baillie became the 2nd and 3rd Lords Forrester in 1654 and 1679 respectively as a result. However, in the 1650s James Baillie Forrester was obliged to sell off the Corstophine estate by Oliver Cromwell to meet his debts (James was a royalist, and had been fined £2500 by Cromwell, whose troops had overrun his lands – presumably causing significant damage although no specifics are recorded). By the mid 1660s, this matter had been partially resolved, and Corstophine was returned to him, Torwood seemingly not having left his possession. However his financial situation was dire, and he is recorded as having become a depressed alcoholic. In 1679, James refused to return from his drinking to meet a fellow-intriguer, and was stabbed to death with his own sword by his niece at Corstophine after quarrelling over the matter. This was a crime of passion since he had previously seduced her. His brother William outlived him by two years only, and was followed by his son – another William – as 4th Lord Forrester. Torwood remained a secondary property for the Baillie Forresters, who continued to live at Corstophine until 1698, although the estate (still massively debt-ridden) was finally sold in that year, forcing them to relocate to Torwood. William junior died in 1705 and was succeeded by his son George.

In 1748 the Torwood estate was sold to the Dundas family of Fingask, and it was still clearly occupied when General Roy put his map together a few years later. “Torewoodhead” is shows as inhabited and owned by the Dundas family on Taylor & Skinners survey of roads in about 1776, but is described as “in ruins” on the 1817 Grassom map. The estate was repeatedly sold after his point, but Torwood Castle was never repaired. It was until recently looked after by a charitable trust which has now ceased to exist, and I have been unable to find who the current owner is. It does appear to be the case that there are plans for the building to be consolidated or renovated (the doorway is blocked up to prevent internal access) – but nothing formal has been submitted at the time of writing.

HES Canmore database entry