Brodick Castle stands on a slope above the north side of Brodick Bay and under the shadow of Goatfell, which rises behind it. It can best be described as a strategically important castle developed over four centuries between the 1200s and the 1600s, with an 1800s stately home wrapped around it. The location was probably first used as a defensive site by the Vikings until they were driven from Arran, and the rest of the western seaboard of Scotland, following the Battle of Largs in 1263. The original castle on the site was built in the years that followed for the Stewarts of Menteith. As originally constructed, the castle was protected by a steep slope descending on its seaward side, and a water filled ditch on its landward side. The castle itself comprised a tower which became the east end of the later building, with a wall of enclosure to its west containing a series of domestic buildings including a kitchen, stables and a chapel.
During the Wars of Independence, Brodick Castle was held by the English until retaken by the Scots in 1307. Its subsequent history was equally turbulent. English ships damaged the castle in 1406, and further damage was caused in an attack by John MacDonald II, Lord of the Isles in 1455. Meanwhile, ownership of the castle passed through various hands before it came into the possession of the Hamilton family, later the Marquesses and Dukes of Hamilton, in 1503.
The castle was rebuilt by the Hamiltons in 1510, but suffered further damage in 1528 during clan battles between Campbells and MacLeans, and again in 1544 at the hands of Henry VIII's forces. Further rebuilding and expansion took place in the 1550s, but its troubled history was not yet complete. In 1639 the castle was captured by the Campbells, then recaptured by the Hamiltons.
In 1652 Brodick Castle surrendered to the English Parliamentary troops of Oliver Cromwell, and subsequently spent a number of years being used as a barracks by them. During this period the battery you can still see today was built to the east of the main building, and the existing castle was extended by two bays to the west, nearly doubling its size.
Today it takes a real act of imagination to see the castle as it must have been during these centuries of conflict, occupation and reoccupation. Only occasional glimpses remain. In 1977, restoration work uncovered a staircase leading to a room that had lain hidden and long forgotten, entirely contained within the thickness of the castle walls. This is now fitted out as the castle dungeon.
What today's visitor finds at Brodick Castle is largely the result of a large scale expansion of the earlier castle undertaken in the years after 1844. The Hamilton family commissioned the Edinburgh architect James Gillespie Graham to nearly double the size of the main block of the existing castle by extending it south westwards. They then concluded their extension with the massive south west tower that is such a characteristic feature of today's Brodick Castle.
Parts of the castle gardens date back to at least 1710, according to a date in the enclosing wall. Further work was undertaken from 1814, but the main development of the gardens as they are today date back to the elevation of the castle to a stately home in 1844. The gardens were subsequently a passion of the Hamiltons and especially of the Duchess of Montrose in the years from 1895. Like the Castle, its gardens offer a glimpse into another world and another time.
Overall, Brodick Castle offers visitors a remarkably complete example of a stately home to enjoy, plus some excellent gardens and a country park. It is no surprise to find it is one of the major visitor attractions on the Isle of Arran.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.