Originally written for suite101.com and published on 01/06/09.
One of the largest, and with walls 11feet thick, best constructed tower houses in Scotland; Alloa Tower, home of the Earls of Mar, has a rich and varied history.
Work is thought to have begun on Alloa Tower in the late 14th century, though most of the work was done during the 15th century, and the Tower has undergone considerable changes over the centuries. It is the most intact and fully restored of the tower houses that make up the Clackmannanshire Tower Trail, having been heavily restored during the 1990s.
History of Alloa Tower and the Earls of Mar
Alloa Tower was home to the Erskine family from 1363 when the estate of Alloa was granted to Sir Robert Erskine by David II. The Erskines were loyal friends and supporters of the Stuart monarchs, and served as guardians to several of them in their younger years. James V, Mary Queen of Scots and James VI all spent parts of their infancy in the safety of Alloa Tower.
It was Mary who would make the 6th Lord Erskine Earl of Mar in 1565 and after her abdication in 1571 he would serve as Regent for her young son who would become James VI. The highchair used by the infant James VI remains in the tower from when he was brought to the tower for safe-keeping.
As the Erskine’s grew in power and influence, they gradually expanded their home, so that by 1693, a mansion house, kitchen tower and brew house had been added to the complex to make up the House of Alloa along with the original tower. It was around this time that a ground level entrance was constructed, hence the renaissance style of the current doorway.
The sixth Earl of Mar made considerable changes to his home, seeking to modernise the tower while still respecting its antiquity and history. Replacing the original slit windows with large sash ones and installing a wide staircase and dome. Believing that economic development was the only way to stimulate economic growth, he set up various industries on his estate, designed a new road network and developed the harbour, leading to Alloa becoming the dominant town of the county.
Although he had been one of the principal signatories of the Act of Union, the 6th Earl grew disillusioned and came to lead the unsuccessful 1715 Jacobite rebellion. After the battle of Sheriffmuir he was tried for treason, exiled to the Continent and his lands confiscated. However by 1724 his brother Lord Grange was able to buy them back for the family. Although the Earl continued to enact plans and changes to the estate from exile until his death in 1732, by the end of the century most of the landscape he had created had disappeared.
Destruction and Restoration of the Alloa Estate
On the 28th of August 1800 a fire ripped through the mansion house and it was burned to the ground. The tower itself was saved as local people fighting the fire created a firewall by ripping up the lawn. The Tower was never lived in again, with a replacement mansion house being built to the north-east during the 1830s, the tower served mostly as storage. Sadly in 1959 the mansion house was demolished and by the 1980s the tower was derelict.
Thanks to the Alloa Tower Building Preservation Society and the Friends of Alloa Tower, the tower was restored to the condition it would have been in around 1712. This was not without controversy due to the many changes that had been made to the tower over the centuries and which changes should be preserved.
Getting There and Visiting Alloa Tower
Standing in Alloa town centre, the tower is easy to find, with its own dedicated carpark and is situated only a short walk from the nearby bus and train stations. The train station is a recent addition and connects the town to Stirling, Glasgow and Edinburgh once an hour. The Town itself lies on the A907 between Stirling and Kincardine.
Alloa Tower is currently owned by the Clackmannanshire Heritage Trust and maintained by the National Trust for Scotland. Costumed guided tours are available along with a variety of children’s activities.
1st April – 31st October: Daily – 1pm to 5pm (last admission 4.15pm)
Adult – £ 5.50
Family – £15 (£10 if only 1 adult)
Concessions – £ 4.50