Stoneypath Tower


Andrew Spratt

Between Whittinghame Tower and Nunraw near Garvald, on a rough grassy ridge beside the Pappana water stands the rose coloured ruin of Stoneypath Tower. Originally held by several great Scots families of note, the Dunbars, the Douglases on two occasions, the Lyles, the Hamiltons and eventually the Setons.

The Dunbars, originally known as Gospatrick, changed their name to Dunbar after their principal East Lothian coastal fortress. and are most noted in history because of this fortress since it was here in 1338 that Patrick Dunbar's young wife Black Agnes resisted a lengthy siege by the English. Fortunately Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie castle raised the siege by bringing supplies and troops in by sea. The Dunbar's Tower of Stoneypath was a classic L plan keep and probably dates from the late 1300's when it passed from them to the Douglases of Dalkeith. Interestingly, Dalkeith castle (before it was replaced by the present Adam style Palace) was originally an L plan keep and may have proved inspirational in Stoneypath's construction. Though some historians have suggested that Stoneypath dates from the mid 1400's when it was held by the Lyles since the heraldry inside is of the Lyles and not the Dunbars or Douglases.

The Dalkeith Douglases were nephews of the notorious border Lord William Douglas "the knight of Liddesdale"from Hermitage castle, who in 1342, for some unknown reason , killed Alexander Ramsay the hero of the Dunbar siege. Because of this he was ambushed and killed in 1353 in Ettrick forest by his Godson another William Douglas (later 1st Earl of Douglas). His Liddesdale lands and Hermitage castle were claimed by his Godson. Which was contested unsuccessfully by the Dalkeith Douglases as their inheritance.

In the rebellion of 1363 against King David II of Scots (1329-1371), William 1st Earl of Douglas and George Dunbar (Black Agnes's son), having seized Dirleton castle and ambushed some Ramsays they believed were in league with the King, marched west to the battle of Lanark where they were defeated by King David and his familiar Archibald "the Grim" Black Douglas (William's devious cousin). To compensate for his rebellion William was forced to give most of his Liddesdale lands to Archibald by the King. Archibald then gave these to his allies the Dalkeith Douglases. Which would later become a bone of contention with William's illegitimate son George the "Red" Douglas of Tantallon castle, near North Berwick.

Stoneypath, as already mentioned, was held first by the Dunbars and was known as a "warsteed" - one of the "seven warsteeds of Dunbar". There is still much debate as to which "seven" castles made up the "warsteeds". A possible list would include obviously Dunbar castle, Stoneypath then Hailes castle near East Linton, Byres castle near Haddington and Luffness castle beside Aberlady-all in East Lothian; then Coldbrandspath Tower (Cockburnspath) and Billie castle near Chirnside in the Borders. By the late 1300's these "warsteeds" had passed to other Dunbar vassal families by peaceful and violent means. Stoneypath to the Dalkeith Douglases through marriage, Hailes to the Hepburns also through marriage, Byres to the Lyndsays, Luffness to the Bickertons then on to the Hepburns, while Dunbar castle, Coldbrandspath and Billie were all forceably seized by the Douglases after 1400.

In 1384 William 1st Earl of Douglas died and was succeded as 2nd Earl by his legitimate son James, who in 1388 was assassinated at the battle of Otterburn by his own armour bearer, Bickerton of Luffness, though the real mastermind behind the murder was probably Archibald "the Grim" since he seized the title 3rd Earl of Douglas, despite the claim to the Earldom by James's illegitimate half brother George the "Red" Douglas. Also Bickerton was himself murdered outside Luffness before he could be arrested and questioned. Then his assassin Ramsay of Waughton castle mysteriously disappeared leaving no loose ends to link James's murder back to Archibald, who as Earl of Douglas seized the remaining lands in Liddesdale originally held by his cousin William the 1st Earl.

In 1398, George the "Red" Douglas with his allies the Lyndsays of Byres attacked the lands around Dalkeith castle and Stoneypath tower as well as Dalkeith, Douglas land interests in the west demanding the return of his father's Liddesdale lands. Eventually in 1400 he and his allies marched west to Bothwell castle for a meeting with Archibald "the Grim" and agreed to end his assaults on Dalkeith and Stoneypath in exchange for some of the Liddesdale lands.

By 1446 Stoneypath was in the hands of the Lyles who, unlike the previous owners, kept a low profile politically until 1488 when they were described as 'rebels' for having supported Hepburn of Hailes and Archibald "Bell the cat" Douglas at the battle of Sauchieburn, resulting in King James lll's (1460-1488) murder.

In 1548 Stoneypath and Nunraw tower appear to have been stormed by the English during the wars of the 'rough wooing', where, by use of castle burning, they hoped to force the marriage of the infant Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) to the English Prince Edward. The raid on Nunraw was supported by Douglas of Whittinghame who was one of several East Lothian Lords ('assured Scots') who favoured the marriage alliance and were willing to fight their own country men to acheive this goal.

By late 1548 Stoneypath and several other towers were retaken by the Hamiltons under the Earl of Arran and 'assured Scots' such as Cockburn of Ormiston and Douglas of Longniddry had their homes slighted for their collaboration. Although it's unclear whether or not Whittinghame tower was slighted at this time.

In 1611 George Lyle resigned Stoneypath to Alexander Hamilton of Innerwick castle near Dunbar.By 1616 it had been passed to Archibald Douglas of Whittinghame, and eventually on to the Setons, most noted in history for their mediaeval Seton Palace (replaced by a modern Adam mansion) and its small collegiate church.

Stoneypath isn't mentioned during Cromwell's sacking of Lothian castles in the 1650's. However local tradition claims Cromwell's men removed the tower's roof. At some piont in the 1700's it was used as a quarry to build houses locally. During MacGibbon and Ross's study of the ruin two interesting features were still present: an overhanging toilet and a stone clad conical cap on the turnpike stairwell, now sadly gone. There is hope for Stoneypath since there is the possibilty of its being reconstructed and lived in as a home but hopefully the new owners won't be as bloodthirsty and warlike as the Tower's mediaeval families.

Andrew Spratt