Blackness Castle

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Site Type CASTLE
Canmore ID 49516
Site Number NT08SE 6
NGR NT 05545 80253
Former Region CENTRAL
Former District FALKIRK
Former County WEST LOTHIAN
Datum OSGB36 - NGR

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Architectural Notes

For details of excavation archive by Scotia Archaeology Limited in 1992, see ARCHAEOLOGY notes.

Blackness Castle stands on a rocky promontery on the shore of the Forth, in the East part of Carriden Parish, Linlithgowshire, and is in the charge of the Commissioners of H.M. Works. According to the Gazetteers of Scotland.
Blackness was in its time the Port of Linlithgow, and the Castle was one of the four fortresses agreed by the Act of Union to be kept up in Scotland as a chain of forts for the defence of the Lowlanders against Highland aggression.
In 1807 - 74 it was made the base for extensive works to serve as the central ammunition depot of Scoland, the works costing, it is said, considerably more than (pounds)10,000, and comprising a powder magazine; a light iron-girder pier; a sea-wall 1000 feet long; storage places for guns and munitions of war; besides barracks to accommodate 30 men and a 2-storey building in the 'Scottish Baronial' style for officers.

The National Library of Scotland contains a series of Military Maps and Drawings of the Board of Ordnance dealing with the troublous times of the 18th Century, Reference 'MSS. 1645-1652'. Among them are the following of Blackness Castle:-

No. Z 2/75.
In Volume or Case No.1647.
'Plan of the Castle of Blackness, 1741'. With reference. Scale 25 feet to an inch. There is also a copy.

No. Z 46/61.
In Volume of Case No.1650.
'Plan of the Ground Walls' (being the ground floor plan). With explanation. Scale three-quarters of an inch to 10 feet.
and 'Plan of the Gun Ports', with explanation. Scale 20 feet to an inch. There is no date.

MacGibbon and Ross, in 'The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland' give an historical and descriptive note, and several pen and ink sketches of the Castle.

NMRS REFERENCES (items not found at time of upgrade, March 1999)
Plans: 6 photostat copies of plans etc. in National Library of Scotland

2 large newspaper cuttings (showing church)

Wood Sketch Book 2: 1 sketch

Notes and Activities Click to sort results by Event date ascending

Archaeological Notes

NT08SE 6.00 05545 80253

NT08SE 6.01 NT 054 800 Terraces; Formal Garden; Cultivation Remains
NT08SE 6.02 NT 056 803 Landing-place and jetty (Blackness Castle Bay)
NT08SE 6.03 NT 05586 80346 to NT 05544 80279 Pier

(NT 05545 80253) Blackness Castle (NR)
OS 6" map, (1970).

Blackness Castle stands on an outcrop of rock at the seaward end of a promontory formerly bounded on the S by a sea marsh. Owing to the nature of the site the plan (see RCAHMS 1929 plan,fig.226), it closely resembles a ship.
Access to the buildings is obtained through a doorway fitted with an iron yett and a passage under the early 17th century spur. This spur was heightened at its S end in 1693 and is surmounted by a gun platform.
The massive S or 'stern' tower was built in the 16th century and repaired in 1667. A kitchen and vaulted gun-chambers occupy the lower storeys and on the second floor is a large hall.
The enclosing or barmkin walls, also of 16th century date, were strengthened internally in the 17th century giving sufficient width for a gun platform on the E. Lean-to buildings, including barracks, stables and brewhouse, were erected against the walls but have since disappeared.
The oldest part of the castle is the tower in the centre of the courtyard, dating from the 15th century. A turnpike was added at the NE corner in 1667 when the tower was to be used as a prison for Covenanters.
Immediately outside is a draw-well cut through the rock.
The little bastion at the N end of the site, formerly the 'stem' tower, was reduced in 1693 and is now sur- mounted by a gun platform with two vaulted chambers below. Beneath the tower chamber is a pit-prison.
A small garrison occupied Blackness during the 18th century and in the 19th century it was a magazine for powder and stores.
Since coming under guardianship, the modern masonry has been removed and the castle restored to its 17th century outline.
DoE 1969; RCAHMS 1929, visited 1926.

As described above.
Visited by OS(BS) 14 March 1974.

Material from Blackness Castle has been donated to the NMAS by the DoE. NMAS 1976-7.

An archaeological excavation and watching brief were supervised by D Reed of Scotia Archaeology Limited over a seven day period between 26th October and 5th November 1992 in advance of extension of services.
Sponsor: Historic Scotland
NMRS MS/733/18

A watching brief was kept by Scotia Archaeology Limited during the excavation by HS' DEL squad of shallow service trenches adjacent to and within the two towers of the castle. Nothing of archaeological interest was uncovered during this operation.
Sponsor: Historic Scotland.
R Murdoch 1994a.

The castle is located on a rocky promontory to the east of Blackness village. It is under the care of Historic Scotland with full time resident custodian.
Site recorded by GUARD during the Coastal Assessment Survey for Historic Scotland, 'The Firth of Forth from Dunbar to the Coast of Fife' 24th February 1996..

NT 0556 8027. A brief excavation was carried out by Kirkdale Archaeology in April 1996 to examine an area W of the main tower, where a 16th-century guardhouse once stood. This structure had apparently been demolished to put in an entrance through the N curtain wall, giving access to the Firth of Forth. The surviving masonry of the guardhouse consisted of the S wall, which still forms the entrance-way into the inner courtyard, and a low (200mm) remnant of the E wall. The N wall was absent, while the NW wall remains as the main outer wall of the fort.
It was revealed that the N and E walls of the guardhouse had been completely demolished in order to allow access to the drawbridge. The S wall was left, to overlook the entrance to the gateway. At a later date, perhaps as part of a landscaping programme, the E wall was restored, with reused blocks. No other traces of masonry relating to the guardhouse were identified.
Sponsor: Historic Scotland
G Ewart 1996

NT 0556 8027 A narrow trench was opened by Kirkdale Archaeology within the courtyard of the castle in advance of the insertion of an electrical cable. The excavations showed that a considerable depth of deposits survived in the area between the central tower and the W curtain wall ? the only material left in the whole courtyard.
Sponsor: Historic Scotland
G Ewart and P Sharman 1997

NT 0556 8027 Digging of foundations for a set of steps and a disabled access ramp to the sea gate in the NW of the castle was monitored. Excavation of a trench running along the inside (E) of the curtain wall revealed demolition, levelling or construction deposits, and one possible area of undisturbed archaeology.
Sponsor: Historic Scotland
D Murray 1998

NT 053 801 A cable trench was excavated less than 500m from the entrance to Blackness Castle. The site lies within the Scheduled area of Blackness Castle, initially built in the 15th century to protect the sea port at Blackness.
The watching brief in January 2001 demonstrated that no archaeologically significant remains were disturbed. This area of Castle Road consists of made-up land revetted by the sea wall to the N. Any archaeological remains in the immediate vicinity would either lie on natural subsoil below the road make-up material, or would have been destroyed by the construction of the road itself.
Report to be lodged with the NMRS.
Sponsor: Scottish Power plc.
K Cameron 2001

NT 055 801 A small trench was excavated in October 2001 immediately to the W of the Spur at Blackness Castle (NT08SE 6.00). This was to assess the archaeological implications of new access plans for visitors. About 10cm depth of modern path was removed to reveal an earlier cobbled surface and drain in the lower E end of the trench, immediately outside the doorway. Nothing of archaeological importance was found at the W end, where for the most part the modern path had been laid directly onto bedrock. The cobbles and drain were retained in situ.
Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.
Sponsor: HS
G Ewart and J Franklin 2002.

24 February 1996

Project The Firth of Forth from Dunbar to the Border of Fife

Notes The castle is located on a rocky promontory to the east of Blackness village. It is under the care of Historic Scotland with full time resident custodian.
Site recorded by GUARD during the Coastal Assessment Survey for Historic Scotland, 'The Firth of Forth from Dunbar to the Coast of Fife' 24th February 1996..

Further details

15 February 2012 to 17 February 2012

Notes NT 0550 8020 A watching brief was carried out 15–17 February 2012 during the excavation of a series of eight trenches designed to hold collapsible bollards. The 0.3m deep trenches, aligned cNW–SE across the access road within the gateway at Blackness Castle, contained no features of archaeological significance. Traffic and successive dumps of aggregate have created a very solid surface over a shallow demolition horizon. The latter derives from a stone and brick structure, which lay between the present shop and the parapet wall. This structure was demolished in the late 20th century to allow car parking and easier visitor access. A flooring deposit of laid bricks from the building was found and it is likely that more of the building footprint extends across the present access road.
Archive: RCAHMS (intended)
Funder: Historic Scotland

Gordon Ewart, Kirkdale Archaeology


Further details

26 April 2012

Notes NT 0552 8006 A watching brief was carried out on 26 April 2012 during the excavation of a small trench close to Blackness Castle, to house a stone plinth for a new interpretation panel. The flat expanse of grass that the trench was dug through is level with the top of the sea wall, a feature that appears quite recent. This area of grass was doubtless landscaped when the wall was built.
Archive: RCAHMS (intended)
Funder: Historic Scotland

Gordon Ewart, Kirkdale Archaeology


Further details

Books and References

Breeze, D J (2002) People and places: the men, women and places that made Scottish history, Edinburgh
Page(s): 48-9 Held at RCAHMS C.3.5.BRE

Cameron, K (2001d) 'Castle Road, Blackness, Falkirk (Bo'ness & Carriden parish), watching brief', Discovery Excav Scot, vol.2
Page(s): 45

Campbell, T (1996) Standing witnesses: an illustrated guide to the Scottish Covenanters, Edinburgh
Page(s): 204 Held at RCAHMS C.1.5.CAM

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Charity SC026749