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Index of first names

Strathbrock Castle

 

 

 

 

Strathbrock is the old name for the area around the Brox Burn, which gave its name to the town of Broxburn, near Livingston. "Brox" is a bastardisation of Scots brock ("badger"), which in turn derives from Brythonic broch (Welsh). The placename "Strathbrock" is thus a Scotticisation of the Brythonic, Y Strad Broch, or "River-valley of the Badger". The local Presbyterian church still goes by the name of Strathbrock Parish Kirk, and other local placenames still retain this form. Unfortunately, Strathbrock Castle no longer exists, and little or nothing of its site remains. C18th and C19th sources indicate that the remains of the castle were located on a small circular hillock (possibly a motte) called Castle Hill, just to the South of Broadyetts Farm, which also no longer exists.

 

From all we know, Strathbrock was inherited by the descendants of Freskyn till the reign of Alexander III., when Mary, eldest daughter of Freskyn of Moray, carried the manor of Strathbrock to her husband, Reginald le Chene of Inverugie. This Reginald was Chamberlain of Scotland in 1267, and related to the Comyn slain by Bruce at the altar of the Franciscan church of Dumfries in 1306. His son, also Sir Reginald le Chene, inherited his father's estates in Caithness, Aberdeenshire, and Strathbroc, but, unlike his father, he became a warm friend of King Robert the Bruce.

The third Sir Reginald Cheyne died at Inverugie Castle, near Peterhead, without male issue, in 1350, but leaving two daughters, Mariot and Mary. Strathbrock becoming the inheritance of Mariot, she, in 1366, settled half the barony of Strathbrock on her son by her first husband, John Douglas, and in 1390 she resigned the other half of the same barony to Andrew Keith, one of her sons by her second husband. Here, then, occurs the division of the original estate into those of Strathbrock and Kirkhill.

Concerning these two daughters of Sir Reginald there is an interesting legend. It is said that when his first daughter was bom, he was so enraged at the babe not being a boy, that he ordered it to be destroyed. The mother, however, had her child conveyed to a place of safety. In a similar manner, the second child, likewise a girl, was preserved from the rage of the disappointed father, who had no other children. Many years passed, till one day, being present at a great festival, he observed two young ladies whose distinguished and handsome appearance attracted his attention. At that moment he was vividly reminded of the cruel infatuation which had led him to order his own infant daughters to be put to death, and upon expressing his lament to his wife she confessed that his orders had been disobeyed, and immediately introduced the two ladies to him as his own daughters. Sir Reginald, overpowered with joy, acknowledged them at once, and constituted them his co-heiresses.

Passing from the times of Sir Reginald, we find Sir William Douglas mentioned in 1425 as proprietor of Strathbrock. This Sir William had a daughter, who married Crichton of Sanquhar.

When we come to the year 1443, William, eighth Earl Douglas, being proprietor, we learn that Chancellor Crichton, assisted by the Earl of Angus, wasted, among other places, the lands of Strathbroc, and burnt the grange — the grange, under charge of the granger, being the home-farm attached to a manor or a monastery. And in this connection, who can tell but the field on the farm of Forkneuk and west of the water-filters, may have received its name " Bloody lands" from having been the scene of the encounter that took place on this occasion between Crichton's forces and the adherents of Douglas of Strathbroc? In these days, lawlessness was pretty general in Scotland. The king, James II., was a mere child, and while Governor Livingston at Stirling Castle, and Chancellor Crichton at Edinburgh Castle, were each intriguing for possession of his person, the nobles were plundering and ravaging the country around them, the most noted transgressors being the great House of Douglas. To reduce the overgrown power of the Douglas, both Livingston and Crichton laid aside their own quarrels for a time, and joined in concocting the plot which resulted in William, sixth Earl Douglas, and his brother being beheaded at Edinburgh Castle in 1440 — an event known in Scottish history as the " Black Dinner ".

Now, while the Douglas power was shattered in 1454, and their castles in the neighbourhood, viz. Abercorn, Blackness, and Inveravon, were destroyed, Strathbrock Castle seems to have escaped entire demolition. At any rate, in 1524 we have a reference showing that this ancient stronghold had apparently fallen into peaceful hands, as the following testifies: —

" The king, with advice of lords of council, confirmed a charter of his 'familiar' cleric, John Dingwall, rector of the church of Strabrok in the diocese of St. Andrews, by which, for the salvation of the souls of Andrew, bishop of Caithness, &c., in pure alms, he granted to the rector of the church of Strabrok and to his successors, his mansion, orchard, and yard, formerly called the principal messuage and mansion of Wester Strabrok, with buildings built and to be built; also four acres of land on the eastern side of the same mansion, and six acres called the Soytour land, and one acre, the Serjand acre, acquired by him in the barony of Strabrok, county of Linlithgow, to be made for a mansion and place of habitation, with toft and crofts, to the said rector, to be held for the prayers in said church and chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary, situated near the same, and near the township of Kirkhill, rendering annually to Mr. Walter Gudlad, vicar perpetual of Strathbroc, and his successors, £5, Qs. 8d, &c."'

Here, then, is a charter bristling with points of interest and inquiry.

Selecting a few, we learn, firstly, that in the year 1524 the eastern and western portions of the parish were known as Easter and Wester Strathbrock. Secondly, the principal mansion of Wester Strabrock would be the old Castle of Strathbrock. Certainly, it could not be Houston, and we know of no other. Thirdly, there are two feudal legal expressions giving us glimpses of ancient land tenure, requiring explanation, viz., Soytour land, and Serjand acre. The Soytour was probably the deemster of the barony court, who held land under a tenure which obliged him to appear in court on behalf of his superior. The Serjand was one who held land from the superior on condition of his regulating the division and interests of vassals in runrig-lands and small crofts, a functionary corresponding to what we term a ground officer, or in some respects a general officer of court.

But the most interesting point in this charter for our present purpose, is that John Dingwall, a well-known court chaplain in his day, granted, in 1524, his mansion, along with his orchard and several acres, as a place of habitation for the rector of Strathbrock and his successors, on condition that prayers be offered by them for the salvation of the souls of Andrew, Bishop of Caithness, and others in the church of Strabrok and chapel of the Blessed Virgin, situated near the same, and near Kirkhill. In other words, Strathbrock Castle became, about fifty years before the Reformation, the presbytery or priest's residence, or, as we say, the manse of the parish clergyman, on condition that masses be sung for ever for the repose of the souls of the Bishop of Caithness and others specified by name.

As we ponder over the story of Strathbrock Castle, created, we might say, out of the ruins of ruins — a few place-names and scattered references in old musty records, — and as we think of the great and powerful who lived within its walls., and played important parts in the annals of their time, it comes vividly home to us that the lapse only of a few centuries is sufficient to bring a mighty change over the scene, and plunge us in forgetfulness. Oblivion, it would seem, is a magician, whose uplifted wand causes the past to disappear, and the old to give place to the new. For who that passes by the site of this ancient Castle of Strathbroc, recalls memories of Freskyn the Fleming, or the mighty house of Douglas, or the lordly Cheynes or the industrious monks of Newbottle, or the generous priest, John Dingwall, — alas!

 

Extracted from: The history and antiquities of the Parish of Uphall", Rev. James Primrose, 1898

 

Notes:

  • The estate of Strathbrock belonged anciently to the family of Sutherland, passed successively to the Douglases, the Earls Marischal, the Earls of Winton, and the Oliphants.
  • Sir Lewis Stewart, an 'eminent lawyer' who 'flourished under Charles l' acquired the estate from the Oliphants. His grand-daughter Katherine, heiress of Sir James Stewart of Strathbrock (or Uphall) and Kirkhill, who died in 1671, married David Erskine, second Lord Cardross. Thus estate thus passed to the Erskine family.

 

  • This snipppet from The history and antiquities of the parish of Mid-Calder needs clarification: ...After the death of James Douglas, the last laird, the estate passed by purchase to Alexander Hamilton, bailie of Strathbrock (now Uphall), who acquired the various rights of Isobel, Margaret, and Janet Douglas, and Elizabeth Darg, ...
  • ...as George Crichton's heir, the King obtained Strathbrock... and ... abetting Robert Douglas in his efforts to deprive the king of the succession to Strathbrock and burning the ...

 

 

 

 

On the burnside, immediately S of Broadyetts farm, is a small conical knowe, said to be the site of an ancient castle or peel tower, of which nothing now remains. Mr G Gray (of Broadyetts) removed some of its walls some years ago when making improvements to his land.

The Earl of Buchan notes that the ruins of Strathbrock Castle were visible at the beginning of the 18th century. Primose notes that Castlehill, on the opposite side of the road to Broadyetts, was traditionally the site of the castle, and while excavating there "lately" several carved stones were found, and the foundations of the castle wall were discovered running obliquely acros the Market Road (Main Street).

Large heaps of oyster shells have been found in the garden of Castlehill, also a Medieval tripod pot was found in 1887 on the opposite side of the burn from Castlehill; a late 16th century sword has also been found. Primrose also suggests that the "stanks" in Fivestanks and Stankards were fishponds, associated with the castle.

It does not seem to have been entirely demolished in 1454, like the neighbouring Douglas castles (e.g. Abercorn) for in 1524 it was owned by J Dingwall, rector of Strathbrock (Uphall) Church. (The mention of a small conical knowe in the ONB is suggestive of a motte, which would be appropriate for a 12th century date. Later stone buildings could have been built on the motte.) Buchan 1792; J Primrose 1898

 

Middleton Hall, which dates from around 1700, may be on the site, and is now a residential home for the elderly, and there are no longer any suggestions of a motte.

 

See also

  • Douglas of Strathbrock
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