Monday, 23 June 2014

Kinneil House

Kinneil House once belonged to the Hamilton family. Robert the Bruce gave the estate at Kinneil to Walter fitz Gilbert of Hamilton for his support at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Kinneil remained the property of the Hamilton family for the next 600 years.

While the family's main seat remained at Hamilton itself, Kinneil served as their halfway house, convenient for the centres of royal power at Edinburgh, Stirling and Linlithgow.

Kinneil House comprises a large 15th century tower house and a smaller, adjoining 16th palace. The original small tower house built in the early 1400's above a steep ravine was enlarged  by the end of the century. Then in the course of the 16th century the need for defence and security was gradually superseded by the desire for greater domestic comfort, so that in 1553 James Hamilton 2nd Earl of Arran built a small palace a little removed from the original tower. Then in 1667 William, Duke of Hamilton and his wife Anne enlarged the palace and they joined it to the  tower by one of  two new decorative towers. However within a century the Hamilton family had abandoned Kinneil and let it out to tenants. Finally in 1923 the Hamilton family sold up Kinneil, demolished Hamilton Palace and left Chatelherault to be undermined. After 600 years the Hamilton family withdrew from their ancestral heartlands in a trail of destruction.

Kinneil House and estate was bought by Bo'ness Council and in 1936 they decided to demolish the house. The tower house was completely gutted and then when work began to strip out the palace it was discovered that two of its rooms contained the most extensive and best preserved painted interiors in Scotland. Thankfully the demolishion was halted immediately, before any further damage was done. So while Kinneil House may look intact from the outside it is in reality but an empty shell with only the painted rooms in the palace wing surviving.

The painted walls and ceilings in the Parable and Arbour Rooms were done in several stages between 1550 and 1625. These paintings are remarkable survivors. Sadly Kinneil House is only open to visitors on a few days each year. The reward to those who see inside more than repays their effort.