Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Planning permission granted for Nunraw Tower

Nunraw Tower, which has been used by a Cistercian order as a guest house for over 60 years, is set to be transformed now that planning permission has been granted to turn it back into a family home. The works will include a full restoration of the tower and its unique beehive dovecot.

Nunraw tower dovecot

LEFT: Nunraw's original tower whose rubble-built walls contrast strongly with the ashlar walls of the later 1860 additions
RIGHT: 16th century 'beehive' dovecot with 450 nests. String courses prevented rats climbing up and inside.

On 31 October 2014 Abbot Mac of Sancta Maria Abbey, Nunraw said: "We are sad but relieved to announce that the sale of Nunraw House, our home, has now been completed."

Thus ended its 68 years as a Cistercian monastery. The purchaser, a lady from North Carolina, can trace her family back to Scotland. Planning permission has been granted to turn the monastery into a private house. Works will include a full restoration of the tower as well as its unique beehive dovecot. Project architect, David Johnson, said: "We are delighted that East Lothian Council have approved our plans for Nunraw Tower and that we can now begin work on this beautiful and historic building."

Nunraw is largely a Victorian mansion incorporating a 15th century tower house. This is clearly discernible with its vaulted basement and six foot thick walls rising four floors to a parapet carried on chequered corbelling. The interior has been altered but a painted ceiling survives which has been dated to 1461.

Nunraw victorian

Nunraw is largely a Victorian mansion with a 15th century tower visible to the right

Nunraw was never an abbey but the 'place and fortalice' which the nuns of Haddington were obliged, by royal charter, to defend against the English. It required that they "fortify the nunnery and have guns aye loaded to shoot at our aulden enemies of England."

In spite of these precautions, the tower was burned by the English in the 1540s.

In 1860 Nunraw was altered to become the nucleus of a handsome, red sandstone mansion in the baronial style. It was during these alterations that the painted ceiling was uncovered. The new work modelled itself on the old resulting in an attractive, well balanced composition.

In 1946 Nunraw was acquired by the Cistercian order who utilised the tower as a guest house. In 2014, short of cash, it was put on the market at £2m. With 24 bedrooms and 1,138 acres of land, the estate was sold as part of a downsizing necessity.

Although the Cistercians have relinquished the tower, their vocation continues in the adjacent abbey buildings.

The SCA were guests of the Abbot. We thank him for his hospitality and offer him, and his fellow monks, our best wishes for the future.

Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle

Added: 20 May 2015 Updated: 23 Jul 2015
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