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home page knowledge base features Fa'side Castle - by Sue Brash


Fa'side Castle - by Sue Brash


Fa'side is spelled in many different ways. We have found 11 versions so far. For simplicity we use an apostrophe to show that there is choice. Fa'side means the dark, shady side, and the castle sits on the north side of the hill. The Fa'side motto is "Forth and Feir Nocht" and the crest is a bear's paws holding a bezant. The coat of arms consists of gules and a fezz between three bezants.

Fa'side Castle Setting

Fa'side Castle stands on a ridge just outside Musselburgh, 9 miles by road from Princes Street, Edinburgh, overlooking the Firth of Forth to Fife and well beyond. Although only 420 feet above sea level, the strategic position of the castle affords panoramic views over the surrounding countryside and water.

From "Tranent and its Surroundings" written in 1860 "The old Castle, as the crow flies, lies about seven and a half miles to the east of Edinburgh Castle, nearly two miles to the west of Tranent, about the same distance south of the Firth of Forth and nearly a mile north-west of the Tower at Elphinstone."

It is thought a de Fauside was among Norman nobles who came to Scotland during the Norman Conquest and decided to settle in East Lothian. There has been a building on the site since at least the 11 C. The present buildings consist of a 14 C rectangular tower (the "old bit") extended by the addition of a 15 C/early 16 C L shaped house (the "new bit").

The Structure

The tower is 4 storeys high with a cap house and battlemented wall walk. The walls are massively thick, 6 – 8 feet, plastered on the hard, and the windows mainly small with wooden shutters below. The stairs are extremely steep. From ground to first floor within a straight stair is a dungeon, within which is a stair to a stone toilet. This may be the entry to the secret passages which link the castle to Pinkie House in Musselburgh and Elphinstone Tower in Elphinstone, probably via old mine shafts.

Fa'side Castle Main

Fa'side Castle

The laigh (or lower) hall on the ground floor is stone flagged with stepped access to two small windows on the east and west sides. All other floors are timber. Above the laigh hall ceiling is a four foot space, maybe for storage. Above the laigh hall and past the dungeon on the first floor is our architectural office which has a later 17 C fireplace and a 1989 painted ceiling. Up a flight of spiral stairs to the second floor and within the great hall is another old stone toilet, with the laird's lug whereby anyone sitting on the toilet can put their ear against the wall and hear clearly what is going on in the room above to spy on guests. This is because there is a ventilation/rainwater pipe in the thickness of the wall. There is also a mural chamber with an iron yett, which makes an excellent wine cellar. From the first floor a spiral stair continues to the roof. The top room is barrel vaulted below the Caithness stone slab roof. The Great Hall and top room were once combined with a minstrels' gallery rather than a floor. The roof is battlemented, and would have afforded 360 degree views prior to the extension being added.

The "new bit" is 6 storeys high within the same height of approximately 50 feet. On some floors it is possible to pass from one building to another. The walls are much less thick, a mere four feet, with much larger windows. This side of the house is plaster boarded and generally warmer and cosier to live in. The roof on this side is slate, and there are two turrets.

The ground floor consists of a barrel vaulted kitchen (probably of earlier date), which has a water inlet; its own stream, thankfully now piped; two slop sinks, one of which is now below soil level and regularly floods, despite being four feet above ground; a beehive oven, which is basically a quarter round cave measuring seven feet in all directions, which is hidden behind the kitchen units; there are drying spaces at each side of the massive central fireplace and the room is plastered on the hard.

Up a wide 17 C stair to the drawing room which is massive and very light and spacious with enormous windows. The space occupied by this stair used to be rooms, one a hall off the kitchen, and the other a private withdrawing room from the main accommodation. The route from the kitchen to the drawing room was by a very steep spiral stair now blocked off. Above the drawing room is the library, which is connected by a corridor to the Great Hall. Above the library is a granny flat with sitting room, enormous bathroom and bedroom with lots of cupboard space. The toilet off this bathroom is over the Great Hall and below it is a six foot deep hiding space! Above this are bedrooms, one of which has "his and her" turrets, another of which has a priest's hole (a doubly deep fireplace affording hiding space behind a stone slab – lots of spiders!). From the top room a door gives access to the roof walk on the "old side". Externally the building is harled.

The History

The Fa'side family at times owned the castle, at other times rented it/mortgaged it, occasionally forfeited it, but managed to occupy it for many centuries until 17 C. They lived peacefully, except for two occasions…

By 1540 some of the barriers dividng the estates of Preston (further down the hill) and Fawside were broken down and the animals of both houses began to trespass on one another's land, causing skirmishes to break out between the retainers of both houses. In 1540 the culminating point was reached. From "Tranent and its Surroundings" - "A stream which from time immemorial had poured its limpid waters over the Black Brases down through the lands of Fawside to those of Preston, serving to water the flocks on both estates, was suspected to have been tampered with, many of the Preston cattle dying suddenly by the side of the brook. 'Poisoned it has been and purposely it must have been' said the Hamiltons 'and who but a Fawside, or a minion of that house, would be guilty of such a misdeed?' Forthwith, by way of reprisal, a furious raid was made by Hamilton's men on the castle of Fawside, the warders all slain or driven in and the very gates in the surrounding walls set in flames. An insult such as this could by no means pass unrevenged. Instantly the great bell of the castle rang our a fierce defiant clang (Ian Begg beware, I still covet your bell!) and responsive voices were soon heard hallooing wildly from knoll to knoll far away to the east by Tranent and by Hillhead and Elphinstone Tower to the south, while the deep dull bray of the horn resounded over the Esk valley to the west and the Black brases to the north-east where the Prestonians had but lately retired after their successful raid, calling on the retainers of Fawside from every quarter to retaliate upon their merciless invaders.

"The aged Chief of Fawside was dragged from his war-horse and mercilessly dispatched where he fell"

This they were not slow to do"……more fighting ensued then a more serious skirmish …."though to the west, where Fawside was urging on his men, not only by the sound of his voice but by the example of his strong sword arm, everything seemed to be going as he wished. Suddenly, however, it looked as if the tide of battle had turned against him and in his eagerness to break through the ranks of his enemy he became isolated from his retainers and surrounded by the Preston men, the aged Chief of Fawside was dragged from his war-horse and mercilessly dispatched where he fell. On the death of their chief the men of Fawside, who had already begun to waver, took to flight and up over the hillside they went, hotly pursued by their furious enemies. Once within the castle walls, however, and headed by the martial spouse of their slaughtered chief, not only did they hold out against all the force that Hamilton could bring against them, but again and again a few of the more lion-hearted keepers of the tower ventured forth, cut their way through the Prestonian ranks and successfully fought their way back again to the castle. ….The following morning – but alas, too late – it was ascertained that, instead of the gushing burnie having been tampered with, a murrain had spread among the cattle; and if the flocks of Hamilton had suffered, those of his neighbour chieftain had not escaped. Hamilton is said to have made Lady Fawside all the reparation in his power, but for the loss of her husband her grief was inconsolable. Thus, however, ended forever the wars between the houses of Preston and Fa'side".

Then in 1547, as part of the "rough wooing" to take Mary, Queen of Scots as bride for the young King of England, on 9th and 10th September the Duke of Somerset, Regent for Edward V1 inflicted a disastrous defeat upon the Scots at Pinkie Cleugh.

On 9th September about 1,300 Scots were killed. (Tranent and its Surroundings) "The following day – a most disastrous day for Scotland – September 10th 1547 the Battle of Pinkie was fought. The conflict here was between Somerset, Protector of England, on the one hand and the Earl of Arran, Regent of Scotland, on the other. For many hours the centre of the battle was the fortalice of Fawside, which was held at this time by the widow of the later Sir John of that Ilk, the lady who had so bravely defended it against the Hamiltons in 1540.

This martial –spirited lady is said to have been the means that day of disabling many a stalwart foe. Ascending to the top of the tower while the battle raged below, over the parapet, with her own strong arms, stone after stone amongst the invading army she hurled. Here, there and everywhere amongst her retainers she hurried, urging and encouraging them in the same deadly work.

But the castle was on fire and it behoved its valiant defenders now to look each one to his own safety. Inside the fortalice nothing but death stared them in the face."…. "Whether lady Fawside survived is unknown. Tradition asserts that she, with a few retainers, refused to quit the tower and continued in their deadly work from the top even when the flames were curling around them, deciding rather to perish within the walls of the good old stronghold than to fall into the hands of an infuriated enemy."

Patten, an eye witness "We had the Fryth on the North and this hil last remembered as I sayd, on the South, (the west side wereof is called Fauxsyde Brae - whereupon standeth a sory castel and half a skor houses of lyle worthiness by yt, and had, westward before us, them lying in camps. There was upon the Fauxside bray a castle or pile which was very bysy all the tyme of the battaile as ony of our men cam bye it to shoot at them with suche artillerie as they had, (which was none oother than of hand gunnes and hakutes, and of them not a doosen neyther) little hurt did they; but as they sawe their fellows in the field thus driven and beaten away before their faces, they pluct at ther peces, lye a dog his taile and couched themselves within all muet; but by an by the hoose was set on fyer, and they, for all their good will, brent and smoothered within". (note- these are not my typing errors!) Note: Lady Fawside remains at Fa'side as our resident Green Lady in the old stair and Great Hall.

In 1999, some 452 years after the battle, thanks to the efforts of a Musselburgh community councillor, a beautifully carved stone memorial was unveiled by the A1 at Wallyford in memory of the dead of the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. There had been no commemoration previously, as the battle was a resounding defeat for the Scots, many thousands of whom were killed. An annual service is held at the war memorial.

Despite the English winning, the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Edward did not take place.

The castle was practically destroyed, but rebuilt with the addition of turrets, quite fashionable at the time.

"Robert Robertson, was delaitit for the crewel slaughter of umquhuile John Fawside in the barn of Fawside, with a knife or dagger."

The Fa'sides continued to live in the castle, but in 1616 another horrid event occurred. Robert Fawsyde lived in the castle. On 10th November his only son and heir, John, who was aged about 20, was murdered by one of the family's servants. The event was thus recorded in Pitcairn's Criminal Trials - "Fawside's servitor, Robert Robertson, was delaitit for the crewel slaughter of umquhuile John Fawside in the barn of Fawside, with a knife or dagger, on Nov. 10th 1616". He paid for this crime shortly after on the Castle Hill of Edinburgh, where he was beheaded. There is a plaque in Tranent Churchyard commemorating John.

In 1630s Robert lost heart and sold the castle to an Edinburgh merchant called Hamilton. The castle does not appear in window tax records of 1748.

One branch of the family, Robert's younger brother, moved into a house built adjacent to the castle on the corner of a field. The ruins of this house, dated 1618, were only demolished in the 1960s. For years workers on the farm at Fa'side lived there.

In 17 C the Fa'sides left Tranent for Yorkshire, where the name lives on to this day, but that is another story.

However, despite the castle being abandoned, there was always a working farm in the area. (Tranent and its Surroundings) "In 1791 there was quite a little village in the vicinity of the castle. Its inhabitants numbered about 145. These consisted mostly of mining families, who wrought in the coalfields around the ruin for the supply of the adjacent distillery at St. Clement Wells."

The area sits on a seam of coal called the Great Seam which has been mined since at least the 13 C by the Monks of Dunfermline. The Fa'sides owned some of the mines and (Tranent and its Surroundings) "on 15th November, 1620 Janet Lawson, Lady Fawside, invited the neighbouring proprietors of coalfields to dine at her castle of Fawside and to discuss the possibility of raising the price of coal from their pits on the south of the Forth.

To this dinner, came George, the Earl of Wigton, the Countess of Wigton, the Master of Elphinstone, Johnstone of Elphinstone and Sir James Richardson of Smeaton. After dinner it was proposed that a bond be drawn up to raise the price of coal per load from 3/- to 4/-. However, later, all these people were summoned before the Privy Council on a charge of convening on matters injurious to the Commonwealth. Their bond was nullified and they were dismissed with a warning."

One Fa'side mine manager, John Hendry, was dismissed but returned to set fire to the mine. He was beheaded at Castle Hill and his head brought back to Fa'side on a pike!

Mining continued in the vicinity until the present day within the Great Seam. There is still a substantial amount of coal left to win. In the 19 C and 20 C there was drift mining and there is a local railway walk with mine "gravestones" alongside detailing the operations of the mine, dates, tonnage extracted, number of men working etc. The 1990s saw four applications to extract coal by opencast methods nearby. The last two, Harry's Burn 1 and 2, came within quarter of a mile of Fa'side Castle. For six years a group called The Elphinstone Environment Campaign (EEC) chaired by Ian Brash fought tirelessly to oppose opencast in the area. Eventually after a five week public inquiry the application was turned down. One of the many grounds put forward by us and upheld by the Reporters and the Scottish Office was that an opencast mine would aversely affect the setting of Fa'side. We had approached Historic Scotland for a letter of support on the grounds that the setting of the castle would be adversely affected, but they refused to comment.

Local Outcry

In the 1960s the farmer who owned St. Clements upon whose ground Fa'side was applied for permission to demolish the ruin. Permission was granted. A local outcry ensued, and the farmer did nothing. He was worried about responsibility for accidents. Again he applied for permission to demolish and this was granted. This time, Nigel Tranter set up the Fa'side Preservation Trust which sought to make the ruin safe until a restorer could be found. Tom and Claire Craig of Loanhead bought the ruin and one hectare of surrounding land in the mid 1970s. They set about restoring the ruin. All that existed was the walls and roof of the old tower, and three quarters of the walls of the "new bit". No floors, windows, doors….. With hard work and a lot of money they continued to restore until the late 80s when the money ran out. James and Charmie Douglas, from America, bought the castle in early 1989. We bought the castle in December 1989 (Mrs. Douglas had hurt her leg in a car accident, and found the stairs too tricky to negotiate). In 2002 we live here - Ian, who runs his architecture practice from here; Sue, who helps in the office, Vicki 17, Greig 16. Also Jason works in the office. We used to have two granny flats in operation, but the stairs proved too steep, and the grannies left for ground floor accommodation nearer public transport and shops!

"The farmer who owned St. Clements upon whose ground Fa'side was applied for permission to demolish the ruin. Permission was granted!"

Every year in the last full week of July there are two common rides up to Fa'side. The Crusaders' Chase is on a Monday night. Approximately 100 horses arrive to watch Musselburgh's Honest Lad and Lass raise the flag on the battlements to signal the official start of the Musselburgh Festival. An invited speaker reads the Crusaders' Charter, and the Musselburgh Song is sung. The following Saturday 120 horses arrive, some ridden by officials from the border towns which have similar festivals, to watch the flag being lowered, and East Lothian Councillors bring their invited guests from borders towns. The flag is lowered signifying the end to Festival Week. There is a blessing and some speeches. This is followed by a fun day at Musselburgh race course. Every 21 years the Riding of the Marches (boundaries) takes place, which does not involve Fa'side as we are not on the boundary. The common rides were introduced as an annual event in this area in the 1930s, as 21 years is a long time to wait for a decent horse ride, and are well supported.

Faside Castle interior

Fa'side Castle interior

Fa'side is a wonderful place to live; close to Edinburgh yet in the country; steeped in history but with all mod cons; close to main roads yet up a single track road; but, oh, those stairs and the wind! In February 2002 gales of 90 – 100 mph blew in a window (frame and all) on the top floor of the old tower.. We were unable to open the door to the room for several days until the wind died down. When we were able to survey the damage, we found the glass in the window intact, and were able to replace the window in its space. There was no damage to the furniture in the room. About ten years ago a granite slab on the battlements blew off on to the roof. It was roughly two foot square two inch thick granite, fixed with 8" dowels, and was immediately above the front door! The flag pole is half its original size, having been split in two in a gale. We have on occasion tried to fly the flag at half mast but there is no such position on such a short pole. Maybe the weather is behind the motto "forth and feir nocht!.


Article: Sue Brash of Fa'side Castle (Taken from The Journal - Issue 8)



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