Three miles east of North Berwick and about two miles
north of Whitekirk sits the little known coastal ruin of Auldhame or
'Old-ham' castle, hidden by trees above Seacliff bay just south of
The background history to Auldhame is non-existent, unlike the ruin
which is substantial, being a long L-plan building with corner turrets
and square towers. Unfortunately the south wing is missing. The building
has, or rather had, an orchard and a graveyard of sorts nearby, though
lacking gravestones. This is puzzling, as it appears to be a late-16th
century tower house and not a church or priory as some historians have
suggested, though the site may well have been of religious significance
before the castle's construction.
It has been speculated that the first Whitekirk church, which was a simple oblong building, was on or near the
site. Some historians claim the original kirk was further down the coast
beside 'old' Scoughall village.
When this ancient church was abandoned,
likely due to the raids, allegedly made first by Vikings then by the
English in the 13th century, the church was moved inland to the present
safer location of Whitekirk village, which carried the name of the
original white whinstone building, since the present kirk is bright red.
The castle of Auldhame was erected by the Otterburn family,
incorporating material from an earlier building, some time after 1550.
Since they had such wild, flamboyant neighbours in the 'Red' Douglases
of Tantallon castle, it is understandable why historians have neglected
to cover the history of the Otterburns of Auldhame in any detail.
The crow-stepped, gabled building had a yellow harling wash over its
mixed rubble construction, which would have given it a bright yellow
appearance against the steel grey waters of the North sea below. There
was an outer barmkin-type wall which keyed into the east end of the
castle and wrapped round towards the west side. Since the cliff has
collapsed beside this wall and because of later quarrying, little
remains to trace its bounds accurately.
Likely, as with its grander neighbour Tantallon, a small village
sprung up beside Auldhame but because these buildings were made of wood
they quickly disappeared after the castle was abandoned in the
1700's.'Castle-town' before the walls of Tantallon, for example, was a
substantial walled settlement with barns, stables and brewhouses.
1651 Cromwell's army of 3,000 men spent two days fighting through the
streets of 'Castle-town' before bombarding Tantallon itself. Today only
the name Castleton farm survives as a reminder of what was once there.
It is possible Auldhame was occupied and damaged by Cromwell's army
during their 12 day bombardment of Tantallon. This was after Cromwell's
defeat of the Scots army at Dunbar in 1650 and during his systematic
destruction of Lothian castles held by Scots loyal to King Charles II
(1660-1685). Auldhame is not mentioned in written reports to Cromwell as
it was probably regarded as an unimportant house. Certainly
Hailes, Innerwick and
Tantallon are all noted in reports. Even Whitekirk
church was used as a stable for General Monk's horses during the
Tantallon siege. It could well be that the bodies beside Auldhame were
Cromwell's dead from this siege, since it was impractical to carry their
dead up and down the country. After the fall of Tantallon it was
dismantled. Auldhame likely fell to a similar fate as Cromwell's men
moved north. By the late 1700's Auldhame, like Tantallon, became the
local quarry and was used to build cottages and walls nearby.
Fortunately, something remains today of Auldhame to remind us of its
Andrew Spratt Jan 1999