Meeting Report: The History and Restoration of Barholm Castle

16 November 2018
Dr John Brennan

The speaker at the meeting of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society (DGNHAS) on 16 November 2018 was Dr John Brennan, who gave an illustrated talk about the history and restoration of Barholm Castle.

John and his wife Janet purchased Barholm Castle, near Carsluith, in 1999.  At the time it was little more than a crumbling roofless ruin. Over the next ten years or so the Brennans painstakingly restored the castle, converting it into a comfortable home, while retaining many of the original features of the building.

John started by describing the history of Barholm Castle. It was built in the 15th century, and was the seat of the Barholm McCullochs until about 1760, but thereafter fell into ruin, and by 1782 it was being used as a farm outbuilding. The original hall house, with entrance via the first floor, was extensively modified and enlarged in the 16th century. A report in the 1845 New Statistical Account of Kirkcudbright stated that a room in the upper part of the tower, still present today, once served as a hiding place for John Knox, though there is no otherconfirmation of this.

The restoration process was long and laborious. Because Barholm Castle was a Scheduled Ancient Monument, all restoration work had to be approved by Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland, HES). In particular, work had to be carried out in such a way that the castle was restored to the state it was in when last inhabited, ie circa 1760. For example, the fireplace in the main hall bedroom, which was originally much larger than it is today, had already been partially filled in by 1760, and thus could not be restored to its original size. Likewise the exterior walls needed to be harled, as was the case in the 18th century. The south wall was unstable and had to be demolished and rebuilt using the original stones. Lime mortar had to be used throughout. A garderobe (ancient latrine) was discovered in one of the walls and has been preserved (albeit in a non-functional state!)

Much of the interior was reconstructed from scratch, keeping as far as possible to the 1760 room layout. The timber ceiling of the great hall has been very attractively  painted in mediaeval style by an artist who specialises in traditional Scottish painted ceilings.

The gardens have been reinstated and form a beautiful outdoor space overlooking Wigtown Bay. In late winter snowdrops, present since long before the Brennan's time, carpet the ground

After his talk John Brennan answered a number of questions from the audience, and it is hoped that DGNHAS will be able to organise an excursion next year so that members can see the castle.