Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

The Siege of Hatton Castle 1453 - part I

Hatton Castle, once a magnificent mansion known as Hatto (or Haltoun) House in Ratho, west of Edinburgh, caught fire in 1952 and was demolished in 1955.

hatton castle cica 1900
Hatton Castle circa 1900: its 15th century tower house rises above the 17th century additions

The nucleus was an impressive 55ft-high L-plan tower house whose walls were over 10ft-thick. It can be dated to the early 15th century as in 1453 it underwent a notable siege.

Its owners, the Lauders of Hatton, unwisely chose the wrong side in the dispute between the Earl of Douglas and King James II. This was to be a war that lasted to the bitter end and William de Lauder of Hatton was to lose both his castle and his life as a consequence.

hatton helmet
A salatis

The King took the field in person and appeared before Hatton Castle in Lothian with a fine train of artillery. Fortunately for the historian, the costs of the siege were noted in the Exchequer Rolls allowing us to follow the action. Preparations were carefully made:

A grey horse for the King; the transport of the great bombard (heavy battering cannon); stone cannon balls; javelins and arrows; setting up an armourers booth and the making of bows; the hire of men and horses; salatis (a type of helmet - pictured); pitch; bitumen; beams and a sow.

James is justly famed for his love of artillery so the employment of a sow might strike us as a little odd. A sow was a penthouse on wheels, heavily timbered with a pitched roof covered with wet hides. It would be pushed against the walls of the castle whereupon the men inside - no doubt wearing their salatis - would hew and batter at the castle wall to bring it down. James was obviously not relying too closely on his bombards!

The castle fell from the twin effects of cannon and mining but the war was not at an end and its course will be covered in future articles.

Rising from the flames

Hatton had been so heavily damaged that it was not until the following century it was repaired and only then after James V had granted his royal permission.

In 1653, Charles Maitland completely remodelled the mansion giving it, broadly, the form it had when fire took hold on the evening of 25th February 1952. The Evening Dispatch recorded: "One portion after another of the house, which contained four floors, was involved in the blaze, until there was no part of the building which was free from the flames."

hatton plan
Hatton Castle L-plan tower house with its thick wall nucleus of later mansion


Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

Added: 10 Oct 2017 Updated: 14 Oct 2018
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