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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNJ96NE0006
NRHE Card No.NJ96NE7
NRHE Numlink 20778
HES LB No. 31888
Site Form Standing Structure
Site Condition Complete 2
Details Castle later used as a lighthouse, now the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. The castle was built in the 16th Century, though there may have been an earlier castle on the site. The castle was founded 1570 by Sir Alexander Fraser, eighth Laird of Philorth. It is a massive oblong tower of simple outline rising four storeys to a parapet with open rounds at all angles and machicolated projections in the centre of each face at this level. There may have been a garret storey within the parapet walk. The walls are slightly rounded at the angles. The basement is vaulted as is the Hall on the first floor. The turnpike stair formerly rose in the northeast angle. It was leased to the Northern Lighthouse Company and turned into a lighthouse in 1787, by superimposing a lamp on the flat roof within its parapet. This was installed by Mr Thomas Smith of Edinburgh, who was father-in-law of Robert Stevenson who succeeded him as Engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board. It was the first lighthouse in Scotland and could be seen for a distance of 12-14 miles. Originally powered by banks of whale oil lamps, the light was rebuilt in the 1820s and 1851. The first permanent radio beacon was established here by Marconi in 1929. The northern lighthouse board also built some of its characteristic flat roofed keepers houses and stores. The lighthouse became redundant in 1991 when a new automatic light took over. Prior to the construction of the automatic light a service trench was excavated through the surrounding castle. No significant archaeological evidence relating to the Castle was revealed, only a large area of builders' rubble was observed within the trench. The building reopened as The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in 1995. During 1997 and 1998, four weeks of excavation was carried out in the basement. The construction, inside the castle of the lighthouse had severely truncated the medieval deposits. Remnants of the primary occupation surfaces were revealed in all rooms of the basement, although it appears that the majority of occupation derived debris had been removed. Few artefacts were recovered from the medieval deposits, although a 1612 twopence and a bone handled iron awl were recovered from an early pit. Animal and fish bone predominated, supporting the use of the W vault as a kitchen. The arrangement of the basement has been altered on several occasions during its use. The lighthouse builders removed the southern part of the East vault and the original staircase to the first floor alongside the South wall. It appears that the spiral stairs to the first floor is a later insertion, and is not on the same alignment as the spiral stair in the upper floors. A small lobby at the base of the original staircase, which ran down to the West vault, originally provided access to the East vault. This doorway was blocked by the lighthouse builders, as was another doorway between the East and West vaults, although the second opening was not in itself an original feature. A watching brief was carried out in June 2011 by Kirkdale Archaeology over the excavation of five trenches ahead of the installation of new signage. A piece of a prehistoric flint blade was recovered from Trench 3, although the ground had been previously disturbed as shown by the presence of modern pottery within the same context. No other finds or features of archaeological significance were encountered. A watching brief in March 2014 during renewal of water pipes from the Engine House to the generators recorded no archaeological features or artefacts. To the south east of the former castle lies a 16th century stone tower house known as the Wine or Chapel Tower (NJ96NE0008).
Last Update11/01/2021
Updated Bycpalmer
Date of Compilation13/12/1978

Easting: 399881.612681895, Northing: 867573.180799136

Google Map for NJ96NE0006

National Grid Reference: NJ 9988 6757

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
1997 Excavation
1998 Excavation
2011 Watching-Brief
2014 Watching-Brief kirkdale1-279198

Excavations and Surveys

Artefact and Ecofact


Ecofact Notes

Monument Types

Monument Type 1Monument Type 2Monument Type 3OrderProbability