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Issue 71 - The Regimental Home

Scotland Magazine Issue 71
October 2013


This article is 5 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The Regimental Home

Today, Balhousie Castle is the home of the Regimental Museum of the Black Watch, the British Army Regiment formed in 1739 to police the Scottish Highlands and now incorporated into the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Although located at the heart of the City of Perth, it stands back from the busy retail and commercial streets, its grounds adjoining the North Inch and the Bell's Sports Centre on the eastern banks of the River Tay.

Since they were first transformed into a military museum in 1962, the interiors of Balhousie Castle have attracted a steady flow of visitors, some with regimental connections; others simply fascinated by the story behind Scotland's senior Highland infantry regiment. The recent boost of a successful £3,500,000 appeal, including a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of in excess of £750,000 has enabled a major refurbishment and, as a result, has happily secured the future of this fine and historic house.

A fortress of sorts certainly stood on this strategic spot as early as the twelfth century, but there are no significant features of historical or archaeological interest surviving other than the course of a spur of the ancient town lade which runs from west to east, just north of the castle. Reputedly dating back to Roman times, the lade provided the town and its mills and dye works with a supply of water from the River Almond. A laird of Balhousie, possibly in the fourteenth century, requested that a spur be built to supply his mills which used to be situated about 100 metres northwest of the castle.

This was known as the Boot of Balhousie (shortened to the Boot o��Bousie). The lade was filled in at various periods in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and its former course is difficult to identify.

In 1422, Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany, in his role as Governor of Scotland while his nephew James I was held captive in England, granted the Barony of Balhousie to John Eviot. The property remained in this family, with a brief interlude in which the Mercers, a well-established Perth mercantile family, took up residence. In 1609, the lands were sold by Colin Eviot to John Mathew, son of Robert Mathew, a merchant of Perth.

But everything changed in 1625 when King Charles I granted the lands and barony of Balhousie to Francis Hay, his heirs and assignees.

Francis was a descendant of the influential Hays of Erroll and Yester, the son of Peter Hay of Rattray, and a writer to the Signet.

In his lifetime, he acquired several properties in Perthshire and Wigtownshire, including the barony of Dupplin in 1642.

But these were desperate times, and for being sympathetic to the Royalist Cause, Hay was fined £2000 sterling under Oliver Cromwell’s postinvasion Act of Pardon and Grace to the People of Scotland in 1654.

He was succeeded by his son George, followed in 1672 by his grandson Thomas.

Thomas Hay of Balhousie was Member of Parliament for Perthshire in the 1690s and created Viscount Dupplin by Charles II, with remainder to heirs-male of his body in 1697. When his kinsman William Hay, sixth Earl of Kinnoull, died unmarried in London in 1709, Thomas succeeded as seventh Earl but, in 1715, suspected of favouring the Jacobite Succession, he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, dying four years later.

George Henry Hay, eighth Earl, became Member of Parliament for Fowey, Cornwall, and Thomas Hay, ninth Earl, was Member of Parliament for Cambridge. Scottish earldoms passing through the female line in the absence of an immediate male heir, Thomas' uncle Robert Auriol Hay-Drummond, succeeded in 1787 as tenth Earl and served as Lord Lyon King of Arms, which was then a sinecure.

His son, Thomas Robert Hay-Drummond, succeeded as eleventh Earl in 1804. A Colonel of the Royal Perthshire Militia, he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of the County and succeeded his father as Lord Lyon, King of Arms. It was he who extended Balhousie Castle.

However, the Hay-Drummonds did not live full time at Balhousie Castle. Their main residence was at Dupplin Castle, south west of Perth, until it was sold to the Dewar Scotch Whisky family and subsequently demolished and re-built in the 1960s.

By the early 1860s, Balhousie Castle had fallen into in a dilapidated state. Only the first floor was habitable, and thus the eleventh Earl decided to add two wings onto the original L-shaped tower house. The architect he employed was the Perth-based David Smart. The building was then leased out; tenants including Henry Hay Norie, a lawyer; John Shields of Wallace Works, who died in 1889, and James Ramsay, a jute broker.

The Hay-Drummond family returned to live at the Castle between 1912 and 1926, but thereafter it was used as a convent for nuns of the Society of St Peter, who were associated with St Ninian’s Episcopal Cathedral. They resided in the castle until 1940 and the outbreak of World War Two, after which the property was occupied by the Auxiliary Training Service as Officers Quarters. Following the end of hostilities, it housed a detachment of the Royal Army Service Corps and became the Headquarters of the Highland District Corps of the Royal Engineers.

When The Black Watch Depot at the Queen's Barracks in Perth was closed in the early 1960s, Balhousie Castle was chosen to become its Regimental Headquarters and to incorporate its Regimental Museum.

After the Black Watch amalgamated into the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006, a fund raising appeal was launched to purchase the site from the Ministery of Defence. Part of the ambitious plan involved a new extension incorporating a shop, cafe, education room, and administrative office with volunteer work space and storage rooms.

Castle visits have become a great favourite for local primary and secondary schools.

The transformation of a Scottish dwelling house into a vibrant military visitor attraction for the twenty first century is no small challenge.

However, the Black Watch was enormously fortunate in being able to first of all enlist to the cause Allan Carswell, a former curator of the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle, then museum trustee James Watt, himself a former serving officer with the Regiment, who led the internal team with Museum Manager Emma Halford-Forbes.

Entering from the shop premises on the ground floor, the tour begins with a short but colourful video presentation. Many of the items on display have been sourced from former soldiers – writings, weaponry, medals and momentos acquired from Field Marshals to private soldiers. There are numerous impressive oil paintings, watercolours, prints and photographs to be seen. In all these disciplines, the Black Watch uniform with its distinctive red hackle headware – a throwback probably to 1776 and the American War of Independence - has made the regiment extremely photogenic during its service to the Crown over three centuries.

Passing through those centuries, the artefacts and images displayed against sets designed by Studio MB of Edinburgh, transport the onlooker from its days as the 42nd Regiment of Foot through the battles of Fontenoy, Ticonderoga and Waterloo, covering the succession of Empire engagements leading to the First and Second World Wars, and on to the Post War period and present day.

The tour ends with the Colonels-in-Chief Gallery, featuring impressive portraits of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, whose brother Fergus served with the regiment and was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915, and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Next to this gallery there is a small, but nonetheless poignant memorial room listing the names of all Black Watch soldiers who have fallen in battle since the start of the First World War.

A perfect way to either complete or begin your visit to Balhousie Castle is to look into the Copper Beech Café which provides a versatile menu featuring some outstanding home baking.

The Black Watch Castle & Museum Balhousie Castle Hay Street, Perth PH1 5HR.
Monday to Saturday: 09.30 to 17.00.
Sunday: 10.00-16.00.
Castle & Museum closed over the Festive period.
Tel: +44 (0) 1738 638152
Fax: +44 (0) 01738 643245

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