Lennox Tower

Article in Konect Balerno August 2013

By Helen-Jane Shearer 

An underground passage that saved it from siege; a story intertwined with Mary Queen of Scots; maybe even a ghost.....if the stones could talk, the ruins of Lennox Tower in Currie would have plenty of stories to tell.

Standing today in an out-of-the-way location near the Water of Leith between Balerno and Currie, in its day it was a strong, if small, fortified tower house. Its origins are lost - it's unclear exactly who owned it for much of its history, but for centuries it has been said to have belonged to the Earls of Lennox - the Stewart family from which Lord Darnley sprang, the unfortunate second husband of Mary Queen of Scots. It dates from the 15th century and according to tradition it was visited by Mary. Given that the 4th Earl of Lennox was her father-in-law, it is quite possible that she and Darnley spent time here - before his murder and her father-in-law's subsequent witness against Mary in the murder enquiry. But the facts are by no means clear. The historian James Grant, who published “Old and New Edinburgh” in the 1880s, wrote that “Among the six chief places mentioned as being fortified and garrisoned in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh are Lennox Tower on the loyalists' or queen's side, and Curriehill for the king.” This doesn't seem consistent with the fact that the Lennox family were vehemently again the queen, believing her to have been implicated in Darnley's murder.

Image : Lennox Tower ruins today.

It was a rectangular keep with thick walls and surrounded by a moat. Sited on high land above the river it would have had beautiful views over the Firth of Forth. We can tell from the ruins that it was possibly surrounded by a barmkin, and that other buildings stood between the tower and the moat. The lower floor had three barrel-vaulted interconnecting cellars. There was a long hall at the upper level, and deep recesses with stone seats. There was possibly an upper floor or parapet walkway above. A large fireplace with 2 flues are still visible in one of the walls. 

There was an underground passage linking Lennox Tower with the Water of Leith. This tunnel is described by Dr William Nisbet in the Statistical Account of Currie in the 1790s as being recently blocked up as cattle kept wandering down into it. Here is one of the stories associated with the underground tunnel :

Ruins of Lennox Tower today

“It is supposed that the garrison (in war time) secured by this means a clandestine supply of water, and that during a siege, when they were hard pressed for provisions and the enemy in confident expectation of starving them out, a soldier accidentally caught some fish in his bucket (in the act of drawing water) which the governor boastingly held out in sight of the besiegers. On seeing this unexpected store, the assailants hastily raised the siege, deeming it hopeless to attempt to starve a garrison that was so mysteriously supplied. It is probable that this episode occurred during the war between the king's and queen's party, which culminated in the siege of Edinburgh Castle in 1573”.

James Grant, Old and New Edinburgh, Cassell's 1880

James VI said to have used Lennox Tower as a hunting lodge; George Heriot may have acquired it; the facts are murky. But by the time Dr Nisbet was writing his Statistical Account in 1790s, it was well and truly ruined and being used as a pig sty. He writes, “The extent of the rampart, or out wall, which goes round the brow of the hill, is about 304 paces, or 1212 feet. The under part of it is now occupied as a hog-stye.” We have drawings of the ruins from 1836; and in 1920, archaeologists visiting from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) recorded that “the ruin, in poor condition now forms a rock garden.”

Today the ruins still rest in peace in their secluded spot. It seems unlikely that we will ever know the real stories they have to tell. 

Drawing of Lennox Tower ruins in 1836

Image : Drawing of Lennox Tower by A Archer in 1836. 

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