Auldhame Castle

Three miles east of North Berwick and about two miles north of Whitekirk sits the little known coastal ruin of Auldhame or 'Old-ham' castle, hidden by trees above Seacliff bay just south of Tantallon castle.

The background history to Auldhame is non-existent, unlike the ruin which is substantial, being a long L-plan building with corner turrets and square towers. Unfortunately the south wing is missing. The building has, or rather had, an orchard and a graveyard of sorts nearby, though lacking gravestones. This is puzzling, as it appears to be a late-16th century tower house and not a church or priory as some historians have suggested, though the site may well have been of religious significance before the castle's construction. It has been speculated that the first Whitekirk church, which was a simple oblong building, was on or near the site. Some historians claim the original kirk was further down the coast beside 'old' Scoughall village. When this ancient church was abandoned, likely due to the raids, allegedly made first by Vikings then by the English in the 13th century, the church was moved inland to the present safer location of Whitekirk village, which carried the name of the original white whinstone building, since the present kirk is bright red.

The castle of Auldhame was erected by the Otterburn family, incorporating material from an earlier building, some time after 1550. Since they had such wild, flamboyant neighbours in the 'Red' Douglases of Tantallon castle, it is understandable why historians have neglected to cover the history of the Otterburns of Auldhame in any detail.

The crow-stepped, gabled building had a yellow harling wash over its mixed rubble construction, which would have given it a bright yellow appearance against the steel grey waters of the North sea below. There was an outer barmkin-type wall which keyed into the east end of the castle and wrapped round towards the west side. Since the cliff has collapsed beside this wall and because of later quarrying, little remains to trace its bounds accurately.

Likely, as with its grander neighbour Tantallon, a small village sprung up beside Auldhame but because these buildings were made of wood they quickly disappeared after the castle was abandoned in the 1700's.'Castle-town' before the walls of Tantallon, for example, was a substantial walled settlement with barns, stables and brewhouses. In 1651 Cromwell's army of 3,000 men spent two days fighting through the streets of 'Castle-town' before bombarding Tantallon itself. Today only the name Castleton farm survives as a reminder of what was once there.

It is possible Auldhame was occupied and damaged by Cromwell's army during their 12 day bombardment of Tantallon. This was after Cromwell's defeat of the Scots army at Dunbar in 1650 and during his systematic destruction of Lothian castles held by Scots loyal to King Charles II (1660-1685). Auldhame is not mentioned in written reports to Cromwell as it was probably regarded as an unimportant house. Certainly Dirleton, Hailes, Innerwick and Tantallam are all noted in reports. Even Whitekirk church was used as a stable for General Monk's horses during the Tantallon siege. It could well be that the bodies beside Auldhame were Cromwell's dead from this siege, since it was impractical to carry their dead up and down the country. After the fall of Tantallon it was dismantled. Auldhame likely fell to a similar fate as Cromwell's men moved north. By the late 1700's Auldhame, like Tantallon, became the local quarry and was used to build cottages and walls nearby. Fortunately, something remains today of Auldhame to remind us of its past glory.

Andrew Spratt Jan 1999


Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder





























Index of first names