Written by Liz Carlton: Conflict Archaeology & Heritage Masters Student & Former Steward at Stirling Castle.

‘I have always felt it to have been a huge privilege to have actually lived in the castle […] One was surrounded by history and the traditions of a great Regiment.’ – Major A.C.R  Howman [1]

Stirling Castle’s role in the backdrop of Scotland’s military heritage is an often forgotten part of history. Following King James VI’s accession to the throne of Great Britain in 1603, the Castle ceased to retain its status as the royal court of the Stuart Kings. This paved the way for it to be repurposed and modified for the ever-changing military requirements of the British Army.

Stirling Castle was recognised as an official garrison from 1794 and adapted to accommodate the soldiers of a reorganised and expanding army in light of the Jacobite, Colonial and Napoleonic Wars.[2] As a result of the Cardwell Reforms (1868-1874) and the amalgamation of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Castle was made the regimental depot in 1881 up until 1964, with a period from the 1930s to the 1940s as an Infantry Training Centre.

The Castle’s status as a military base has even been recognised by Hollywood; it was used in the filming of the 1960 film Tunes of Glory in which it featured as the atmospheric highland barracks in James Kennaway’s post-WWII classic. Here, we shall take a short tour around the castle and explore how this iconic stronghold was utilised by the Army and most importantly the Argylls and hear their own stories of their lives as soldiers at Stirling Castle.

The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on parade on the castle Esplanade, 1930s [3]

Gordon Jackson, John Mills and Alec Guinness outside Stirling Palace, Tunes of Glory, 1960 [4]

The Great Hall

The Great Hall is most commonly renowned as the location of the renaissance revelry of the Stuart Court and its striking colour which illuminates the castle even in the most extreme bouts of weather. Yet to the Argylls, the Hall shall always have the reputation of being the place to lay their heads.

The Great Hall was in fact gradually converted into a barracks for four hundred men over the course of the 18th Century; with the dismantling of the bay windows and old hammer beam roof to make way for three floors each featuring four rooms with coal burners in each. Tales of the temperature of the barrack rooms are ubiquitous within the soldier’s testimonies; with many mentions of the cold and the trips to the back post (in the Nether Bailey) to fetch coal for the fires. Denis Foreman remembers his time in the barracks as a soldier during WWII as ‘a bedroom that was about thirty foot high. It had water running down the walls…’ but others such as Bill Anderson who served with the Argylls in the 1950s also remember ‘coming back from square-bashing to find a family in your barrack room having their packed lunch’ when the castle was open to visitors. [5]

The Great Hall as a Barracks, 1890s [6]

WG Stonor’s Sketch of the Barrack Rooms, August 1890 [7]

The Palace

The Palace today has been restored to its former glory and features the colourful international fashions of Europe during the 1540s. However, the grandeur that one sees today upon stepping into the palace did not survive as such after the renaissance period. The Palace was in fact converted into living quarters for the soldiers during the 18th Century but during the 20th Century was once again re-purposed as communal areas for the Argylls.

The 1900 plan of the palace shows that the Queen’s apartments were modified to fit a saloon, a dining room and bedchamber and the King’s apartments were refitted as private rooms, audience chambers and the reception hall (which was later the canteen). [8] Photos of the conversion display a more utilitarian design for the soldiers and the removal of doorways between the King and Queen’s chambers to expand aforementioned communal areas. Upon the South side of the Palace, the Prince’s tower (used as a school room for James VI) had been converted into an Officer’s mess and on the Lady’s Lookout to the West, a cookhouse was erected in the early 19th Century. [9]

 

Soldiers in the Canteen (The King’s Apartments in the Palace), 1930s [10]

The Cookhouse next to the Palace on the Lady’s Lookout [11]

The restored Queen’s Bedchamber in the Palace, 2016 [12]

The modified King and Queen’s Bedchambers in 1964 just after they were vacated by the Army. [13]

The Nether Bailey & North Gate

The Nether Bailey can be reached by walking through the North Gate (dating back to 1381) and was primarily used by the Stuart Kings as a place to stable their animals. For the Argylls, this lower courtyard was transformed into a key training area which featured a firing range and assault course situated just down from the the old British Army prison block and next to the gunpowder magazines. Martin Alleyne Boxall remembers the assault course well: ‘I’ll never forget that six foot wall which we had to get over in seconds, with full kit and rifle, on that short assault course within the grounds of the castle…’ [14]

Even though the days of housing animals for the Stuart Court had long gone when the Argylls were in residence at the Castle, in the tunnel of the North Gate, a small stable was inserted for the regimental mascot, Cruachan which is remembered fondly once again by Anderson: ‘Cruachan II was kept down at the North Gate. […] it was quite common for soldiers leaving the NAAFI just before “lights out” to buy an extra bottle and take it down to Cruachan so that he could have a good night’s sleep.’ [15]

The Firing Range in the Nether Bailey, 1930s [16]

Cruachan II enjoying a bottle of beer, 1950s [17]

Cruachan’s stable in the oldest part of the Castle; the North Gate [18]

Other Areas…

Almost all of the castle was adapted to meet the needs of the army during its time as a regimental depot. The Chapel Royal (built in 1594 for the baptism of Prince Henry Stuart) was converted into a classroom and armoury, but also later used for Officer’s receptions and functions in the 1960s. The King’s Old Building (1496) was used by the Argylls as offices and living quarters for the regimental officers and finally, just outside the castle gate in the ditch was a gym block installed and was used on a daily basis.

It is always important to remember that each change made to such an iconic location is part of its heritage. Indeed, had the British Army not utilised the site for its own means, one of the most significant castles in Scotland may not have been as well preserved as it is today.

The Restored Chapel Royal, 2017 [19]

The Chapel Royal in use as a classroom, 1930s [20]

The gym block in the castle’s ditch, 1960s [21]

References

[1] Howman, A. (n.d.). Life in Strling Castle. [Testimony] Archive, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling.

[2] Ewart, Gordon and Gallagher, D. 2014. With Thy Towers High: Stirling Castle: The Archaeology Of A Castle And Palace. 1st ed. [Place of publication not identified]: Historic Scotland. p. 179.

[3] On Parade, c.1930s. (1930s). [Photograph] Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling.

[4] Tunes Of Glory, Gordon Jackson, John Mills, Alec Guinness, 1960. (1960). [image] Available at: https://imgc.allpostersimages.com/img/print/posters/tunes-of-glory-gordon-jackson-john-mills-alec-guinness-1960_a-G-9340938-8363144.jpg  [Accessed 14 Dec. 2017].

[5] Foreman, D. (1939). Scotland’s War. [Oral Testimony] Archive, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling.

[6] Barracks. (1890s). [Photograph] Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling.

[7] Stonor, W. (1890). A Barrack Room in Stirling Castle, 1890. [Sketch] Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling.

[8] Ewart, Gordon and Gallagher, D. 2014. With Thy Towers High: Stirling Castle: The Archaeology Of A Castle And Palace. 1st ed. [Place of publication not identified]: Historic Scotland. p. 191.

[9] Ibid, 192.

[10] In the Canteen (N.A.A.F.I), goods and refreshments can be bought at the lowest of prices. (1930s). In: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise’s) Recruiting. Edinburgh: The Dunedin Press Ltd.

[11] Cookhouse. (n.d). [Photograph] Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling.

[12] Coventry, M. (2016). Stirling Castle: Queen’s Bedchamber, Palace. [image] Available at: https://www.thecastlesofscotland.co.uk/the-best-castles/grand-castles/stirling-castle/ [Accessed 14 Dec. 2017].

[13] Ewart, G. and Gallagher, D. ed., (2015). A photograph taken soon after 1964, looking from the Queen’s Bedchamber into the King’s Bedchamber before the diving wall between them was reinstated. In: With thy Towers High: The Archaeology of Stirling Castle and Palace, 1st ed. Edinburgh: Historic Scotland.

[14] Boxall, M. (1959). Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. [Testimony] Archive, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling.

[15]  Anderson, B. (n.d.). Saturday at the Depot. [Testimony] Archive, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling.

[16] Spud and Jock are trained to shoot with a rifle. (1930s). In: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise’s) Recruiting. Edinburgh: The Dunedin Press Ltd.

[17] Cruachan, Hotel, Girl. (1950s). [Photograph] Archive, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling.

[18] Author (2017). North Gate Stable. [Photograph].

[19] Author (2017). Restored Chapel Royal. [Photograph].

[20] In school Spud and Jock receive an education which will help them in after life, besides learning the history of the regiment. (1930s). In: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise’s) Recruiting. Edinburgh: The Dunedin Press Ltd.

[21] Gym. (1960s). [Photograph] Archive, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling.

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