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The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland (1852). Note the people in nineteenth-century costume in the center forground and the homel;y touch of what seems to be sheets drying on a clothes line. [Click on image to enlarge it.]drawn by Robert William Billings (1814-1874) and engraved by J. Godfrey. Source:
Commentary by the Artist
Airth Castle — or rather its modern northern front — completely justifies our conclusion. This feature, about a dozen years ago, was described as “elegant.” But, in a short time, advancing knowledge has changed that notion; and now, instead of admiring, we see the palpable falsification of great features by little imitations, added to the meagre ornamentation which marked the revival of native architecture in the beginning of the present century.
Airth owes much to its situation for effect. It stands on the summit of a hill rising about ninety feet above the low ground in the immediate neighbourhood of the Firth of Forth. To the north and west of the castle the hill-sides are richly wooded— so, indeed, is the eastern slope; but its side is varied by having placed upon it the secluded, and now deserted, ancient church of the castle and parish. This building does not date three centuries back, nor does it possess peculiar architectural expression, but it is interesting as one of the few existing churches in Scotland which remain under the shadow of the baronial residence.
To the south of the castle, a somewhat abrupt descent is distinctly marked by the master hand of the designer, — and the well-considered terrace garden ornamenting the hill-side, as well as its base, adds most undoubtedly to the general effect. Our representation, however, is confined to the building itself, and delineates its south and eastern fronts. Its prominent feature (the tower placed in the angle) is remarkable, for here it appears as an external feature, instead of being placed, as it almost universally is, upon the inner angle of the building. The tower, and the adjoining building to the left, ornamented by four gabled dormer windows, are the oldest external portions of the castle, and date between 1550 and 1600. The parts attached to this block may have been built soon after the year last named; and one of the window-heads of the eastern front, with its starry-fielded tympanum, (represented in the corner of our plate,) belongs to the more recent parts.
Two peculiarities mark the design of the tower. First, On the east side is a bold corbelling, carrying the battlements and their cannon gurgoyles, while the south side has the two last named features without the first, and the wall face remains unbroken. But this infraction of the law of mere uniformity originates in utility; and we are satisfied with it, because the external feature is caused by internal requirement. Briefly, then, the termination of the turret staircase is the cause of the corbelling, for the doorway to the summit of the tower is immediately behind the overhanging battlement.
Second, There appears in immediate contiguity the conically-covered turret (said to be of French or Flemish origin) and the open corbelled bartizan, the invariable foundation of the covered turret. We may here state that the battlemented bartizan was a decided feature both of English* and Scotch architecture, before any connection existed between Scotland and the Continent; and this peculiarity of Airth forms matter for the consideration of those who contend that Scotch “pepper-box” turrets were entirely borrowed from the foreigner, — for, whatever their head may be, it is certain that their body is of native origin, — and there are several instances where the old open battlemented bartizan has had a more recent covering, transforming it into a turret.
* The city gateway of York, and the castles of Hytton and Luiuley, in the county of Durham, are well known examples.
R. W. B.
The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland illustrated by Robert William Billings, architect, in four volumes.. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Son, 1852. Hathitrust Digital Archive version of a copy in the Duke University Library. Web. 19 October 2018.
Last modified 19 October 2018