In search of the Redhall, Edinburghs lost castle!

In July 2016, we joined forces with John Lawson, Edinburgh City Council Archaeologist, to assist with searching for the site of Redhall Castle, a castle which was taken by force by Cromwell’s forces in 1650. As no above ground trace of the castle was known we used documentary research to provide a target location and, with the help of students from Middle Tennessee State University, carried out geophysical survey and trial pitting to test our hypothesis. This blog has been written and compiled by Rachel Moloney Baker, a student from James Gillespie’s High School in Edinburgh while on work placement at Red River Archaeology Ltd in our office in Edinburgh.

Redhall is first recorded during the reign of Alexander III (1249-86) as Rubea Aula, as Redehalle in 1298 and as Redhalle in 1337, likely referring to a red-coloured hall house. The first recorded owner was William le Grant, an Anglo-Norman immigrant from Lincoln in the 1250s. The castle was the centre of the Barony of Redhall. In 1375 the barony was conveyed to Robert, Earl of Fife and Monteith, son of King Robert II. He in turn passed it to his son Murdoch, who disposed of it to William Cunningham of the Kilmaurs family. In the 16th century the lands of Redhall were owned by Sir Adam Otterburn, who had served as Provost of Edinburgh and King’s Advocate and whose arms survive in a later dovecot near the castle site. In 1572 it was reportedly garrisoned “by the Regent Marr, and the King’s favourers”. In 1616 Anne Otterburn married Sir James Hamilton of Hoperig, to whom Redhall next passed.

The most dramatic event in the castle’s history occurred in the 17th century, when it played a key role in the campaign that culminated in the Battle of Dunbar on 3 September 1650. In July 1650 Oliver Cromwell arrived in Scotland to combat Covenanter forces. By 24 August, he and his army were near Redhall, seeking to capture the strategic location overlooking the Water of Leith. The site dominated the Slate Ford and was therefore a threat to any force seeking passage of the river. The Parliamentarians had first identified that the castle was held against them on August 13 or 14, when it was garrisoned by some twenty men, but had chosen not to take it. Now reinforced, and held by perhaps as many as 80 men, the fortress represented a formidable obstacle to the passage of the English. Ultimately, it would obstruct their forward movement for some 48 hours. In order to force Redhall’s capitulation Cromwell had to bring forward his field-guns from his camp at Stonyhill in an effort to effect a breach, but with little success. It was only when the defender’s ammunition ran short and New Model Army petardiers and axemen surged forward to breach the main gate that the garrison hung out white sheets to surrender.

Following its role in 1650 Redhall passed into the possession of John Chiesly of Dalry, who had charge of it in 1672, and may have been the same man hanged in 1689 for the assassination of President Lockhart in the Old Bank Close in Edinburgh. By 1681 Redhall was owned by James Brand of Baberton, before in 1749 John Davidson bought it.  In 1755 George Inglis of Auchendinny purchased Redhall and commissioned James Robertson to design a new house in 1758. It may have been around this date that the remains of the medieval castle were demolished, and the site incorporated into the landscape and garden features of the new house. This new house forms part of the building known as Redhall House that survives on the site today. The Inglis family remained at Redhall until the 20th century, and the castle site is now in possession the City of Edinburgh Council.

Documentary and map research indicated to us that the site is located near Redhall House Avenue in Edinburgh, specifically on a spur of high ground surrounded on the southwest, west and north by the valley of the Water of Leith. The site is covered with grass, nettles and briars. One hundred yards north west of the site is Redhall House, and 250 yards north east of Redhall House is the Redhall Dovecote, the only surviving above ground feature contemporary with the original castle. An excavation around the turn of the 20th Century revealed the footing of a semi-circular structure some seven feet in diameter which was interpreted by the excavator as a ‘turret’ and part of the castle.

As we had limited time (and budget!) for our field investigations we determined that the most appropriate way forward was a rapid geophysical survey followed by small hand dug test pits targeted on anomalies identified in the geophysical survey.

Magnetometry survey in progress

The project aimed to involve local interest groups and individuals to learn about the archaeology of the site and the archaeological techniques used to investigate the site. In order to achieve this, links were made with the Middle Tennessee State University, and students were given the opportunity to partake in fieldwork on the site. The excavations (comprising of test pits) took place in July 2016.

The test pits dug had a number of aims – to establish the location, character and likely extent and nature of archaeological remains of Redhall Castle, and to establish the profile of surviving archaeology. This information was used to devise plans for further archaeological works and allowed for knowledge of the area and archaeological techniques to be shared with local populations and further afield.

The results of the geophysical survey identified a number of anomalies consistent with buried stone structures. We targeted these anomalies with our test pits. The vegetation and topsoil were removed until the first archaeologically significant level of subsoil was encountered. All the identified archaeology was then recorded and investigated.

We were very excited by the results! There was evidence of levelling found around the site, as well as finds such as window glass and worked masonry that are likely from Redhall Castle. Other finds, such as the pottery shards, glass onions bottle fragment and oyster shell which provide insights into the lives of inhabitants of the castle and its surrounding area. It is also possible that further structural remains exist at a lower level than the limit of excavations. Further excavations would provide even further insight into the life of the inhabitants and would yield a great amount of information about the site.

All in all we proved that people were living at the site in the late medieval and early post-medieval periods and that a lot of effort had been made to level the ground at this time. The presence of  window glass and carved stone dating from this period indicates a high status building which would be consistent with a castle. Our feeling was that we were on the periphery of the actual castle site and that the castle was located immediately to the west of our investigation in an area of dense vegetation that was inaccessible to us. If possible, we would love to return to Redhall and carry out furthering investigations to uncover the foundations of the actual castle!

Published by Colm Moloney

I am an archaeologist with over 30 years experience. I have worked extensively in Ireland, England and Scotland. Major projects have included managing the fieldwork programme for the M1A1 Link in Yorkshire, The New Scottish Parliament Excavations in Edinburgh and the M9 Motorway between Carlow and Kilcullen in Ireland.

One thought on “In search of the Redhall, Edinburghs lost castle!

  1. I have just recently found out that I had family attached to the Castle.I hope you get a chance to go back and dig some more. You wrote a very informative article and I look forward to hearing about any more of your finds.Best of Luck.


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