Heritage consultant David Hicks brings us the stories behind some of East Lothian’s historic properties.
As you travel along the main road from Ballencrieff into Longniddry, you catch a glimpse of a large and picturesque ruin known as Redhouse Castle. Its name is a little misleading though, as the building was a comfortable country retreat rather than a grim medieval fortress.
It was built around 1600 by the prominent lawyer John Laing, who held the office of Keeper of the Signet for the king. This was a relatively peaceful period in Scotland’s history, so the mock defences of his house are more about Laing’s aspirations, giving the impression of a long and distinguished ancestry.
Originally the site had an oblong shaped tower surrounded by a courtyard wall, but Laing extended the main building and added decorative touches. Look out for the small round turrets projecting out from the upper walls, a feature known as a bartizan and copied directly from medieval fortifications.
Just above the courtyard gateway there are a series of supporting stones known as corbels, which perhaps once held a sort of small gatehouse. There are also gun loops in the courtyard wall and the main tower, but even these are probably more for show than actual defence.
Of more importance was Laing’s coat of arms, prominently displayed throughout the building. Fragments can be still be seen carved in stone over the main entrance to the tower, and above a window on the west side. An eye witness also describes seeing the coat of arms painted on the walls inside. Visitors could be left in no doubt about the pedigree of the owner.
Laing died in 1612 and the house and estate were inherited by his daughter, so Redhouse Castle stayed as a family home. The building became a ruin in the 1700s, after its Jacobite supporting owner was executed and his property confiscated. The gardens and orchard though were kept in use, producing vegetables and fruit for sale in Edinburgh, and today they are home to Redhouse Nurseries. From the café you can sit and admire the ruin of John Laing’s house, and maybe consider if it could become a family home once again?