Caldwell Tower by Uplawmoor

Posted on September 6th, 2011 by Charles Boot

John West writes:

Caldwell Tower in East Renfrewshire was recently featured in a Channel 4 television series about the restoration of a number of small historic buildings. The particular programme repeated the owner’s belief that his tower was built in the 15th century and was the last standing portion of a large mediaeval castle which stood by Uplawmoor on the hillside above Loch Libo. Artistic licence and a considerable amount of imagination was used to produce an image of a Renfrewshire Camelot.

A different picture has emerged from research undertaken over the past two years by an East Renfrewshire Historic Designed Landscape Group supported by the Garden History Society in Scotland. The group has been studying and surveying a number of sites in the area including the designed landscapes associated with Caldwell House.

The present Caldwell House was built in 1773 for William Mure, Baron of the Exchequer of Scotland, to the designs of Robert and James Adam. The house was originally planned as a rather plain classical box but the detailing was changed by the addition of a machiolated cornice with small bartizan towers, and the house as built is one of the last of the Adam castellated mansions. However, whilst site was new, this was not the first property at Caldwell.

Timothy Pont’s 1580 map of Renfrewshire (below) shows a substantial tower house at Caldwell. It appears to be located above the southern end of Loch Libo, which would place it some distance from the site of the present house.

Timothy Pont’s 1580 map of Renfrewshire. Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

Timothy Pont’s 1580 map of Renfrewshire. Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

The nature of Pont’s map is such that buildings are represented rather than accurately sketched and we cannot be sure what the building actually looked like. The indications are that it was a tower and may have had a barmkin wall or enclosure, but it was certainly not a large or important multi-towered castle. Little seems to be known about the occupation of this tower at Caldwell. The main branch of the Mure family lived at Glanderston a few miles from Caldwell and whilst the Blaeu map of 1654 identifies a number of properties in the area it does not show any inhabited site for Caldwell. It may be that the old tower had been abandoned by this date.

In 1666 William Mure was attainted for his support of the covenanters’ cause and went into exile in Holland where he died in 1670. The Caldwell estates were restored to the family in 1690 following the accession of William of Orange to the English throne, and eventually passed in 1722 to the nephew of William Mure of Glanderston, another William who became Baron Mure in the same year.

It has been suggested that a new house commenced building in the early part of the 18th century on the recently restored family property. It is not clear when this house was completed as General Roy’s map (below) of 1746 shows a tree lined avenue, an elaborate garden of intersecting alleys, and a walled enclosure, but no house.

General Roy’s map of 1746. Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

General Roy’s map of 1746. Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

However, Jean Hunter Blair (the sister-in-law of Colonel William Mure, the heir to Baron Mure) writing from Caldwell in 1799 reports that “Mr Mure is at present in the very agony of making a new garden on the Brandy Hill behind the stables and offices. He has converted the old house into stables and means next year to take away the offices entirely which will be an immense improvement to the place for at present they are not a beautiful ornament.”

Survey work by the volunteers has identified the living remnants of an avenue of old limes and the location of tree root hollows in patterns corresponding with the Roy garden. In addition there still exist the footings of the large enclosure and a levelled platform suitable for a house close to a stone water pump of classical design. The presence of fragments of plaster, pottery and slate in disturbances on this latter site suggest that the older dwelling was indeed on the top of the rising land in front of the Adam house. Unlike the current house, the demolished property and the ‘new’ garden looked out across the intervening valley to the site of Pont’s tower house.

The Armstrong map of 1775 (below) suggests the fate of the tower house as it identifies a ‘Ruin’ on the hillside above Loch Libo corresponding approximately with the location of that provided by Pont.

The Armstrong map of 1775. Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

The Armstrong map of 1775. Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

Fifteen years later, after the completion of the Adam house, Ainsley’s map of the area (below) shows a castellated tower, described as a ‘Pigeon House’ (circled), on the site of the ruin.

Ainsley’s map of 1790. Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

Ainsley’s map of 1790. Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

The tower is still visible from the hill on which the pre Adam house was built, and without the trees which have grown up over the intervening years, this ornamental ‘Pigeon house’ would have been the principal eye catcher in the landscape as seen from this viewpoint. In fact the group’s survey work has revealed the presence within the “new garden” layout of a belvedere or bastion which looks directly to Caldwell tower.

Further documentary research will be needed to establish exactly when the site of the ruin acquired its castellated pigeon house, but it seems likely that it was contemporary with, or shortly after, the construction of the castellated Adam mansion house.

It seems probable that the Caldwell tower that we see today was constructed as a decorative feature in the landscape surrounding Caldwell House. Its construction on the site of the earlier tower, and possible incorporation of remnants or materials from the original building, would no doubt also have provided a link or memorial to the Mure family past and a reminder of how the family’s fortunes had improved.

There is no evidence for the conjectured ‘Camelot’, but the story of the tower is no less romantic in its own way. It is sad that this small element in the landscape has fared better than the mansion itself, as Caldwell House now lies roofless waiting for another map to describe it as a ruin.

Reprinted from The Journal of The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, 2010.


It is now a year on from the Channel 4 Restoration Man programme referred to in the article about the B listed Caldwell Tower. In the intervening period planning permission was granted for a modest ground floor extension and a covering for the external stair giving access to the upper room of the tower. Conditions were attached to the permission for the expressed purpose of protecting the visual amenity and historical and architectural character of the tower. Roofing was to be in thick blue slate and weatherboarding to be in natural wood. Though not specifically included we imagined that window frames would be similarly treated so that the finished extension would blend in with the tower allowing it to remain a key feature of the landscape.

The work is now nearing completion, and we have been very surprised to find that the pale blue material which from a distance we took to be temporary tarpaulin covering the construction is in fact the finished article. There has been an unsympathetic ground floor extension in stone which looks rather like a 1960s public toilet. More startling is the bright blue tongue and groove erection covering what is left of the original external staircase (below). It has a rubberoid stepped roof with white plywood fascia. This part of the development dominates the appearance of this modest tower. It’s a real shocker! What was an ‘eye-catcher’ is now a major ‘eye-sore’.

Caldwell Tower, from ‘eye-catcher’ to ‘eye-sore’. Photo by John West

Caldwell Tower, from ‘eye-catcher’ to ‘eye-sore’. Photo by John West

It is hard to believe that this development was sanctioned by Historic Scotland in the form that it now presents to the world or that regular monitoring by the authorities has not noticed the failure to comply with the requirements to protect the visual, historical and architectural integrity of this landmark tower. It’s clear that even when we believe that appropriate conditions have been attached to a development as a result of advice and intervention, there is a need for continued close monitoring. It is to be hoped that retrospective action will be taken to remedy or ameliorate the effect of this damage to the focus of Caldwell’s Brandy Hill gardens.

The Channel 4 team is now doing a follow up to the original transmission. The continuing research work of the volunteer group and the GHSS view of the tragedy have been expressed in an interview for the programme, though of course only a selected fraction of the dialogue is likely to be given air time.

Watch it here, at least for a while

Tailpiece: 1 March 2012

John West writes:

Readers will be pleased to learn that East Renfrewshire Council has been determined to enforce the planning conditions required for the restoration and development of Caldwell Tower. The Council’s Planning Enforcement Officer provided the image (below right) to confirm that the shocking blue painting of the extension’s boarding has been replaced by a less obtrusive green. Those with a sophisticated colour sense will marvel at the subtlety of the change, whilst the rest of us will wonder what, if anything, has been done or achieved.

Images courtesy of John West and East Renfrewshire District Council

Images courtesy of John West and East Renfrewshire Council

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