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  • David Leavitt

A Castle Built In Five Phases


Thanks to the great work of GLM Architects, and the thoughtful photograph contributions of Jane Young, and Sir Stephen Young (John Stewart Templeton's descendants), our listed building restoration application creates the starting point for a nice history of Knockderry Castle. Knockderry Castle is actually a collection of five separate construction projects.


The original house dates from around 1855; a year recorded on a date stone on the south elevation of the building. The owner was John Campbell, a ‘whole druggist’. The building’s design is typically attributed to Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson (1817-1875) although there is some contention about this. F.A. Walker contends that this phase of the house’s development is more believably attributed to John Honeyman.1 The design of this phase of Knockderry certainly is not the Greek- or Egyptian-influenced architecture that Thomson is famed for today. That said, we know Thomson turned his hand to different architectural styles and designed nearby Craigrownie Castle that does stylistically resemble Knockderry. To take one example, both buildings share a similar architectural detail of an oriel window with a vertical support. Furthermore, this portion of the coastline of Loch Long is replete with villas designed by Thomson.


Phase two falls under the ownership of warehouseman William Millar who commissioned John Honeyman to extend the building eastward. The exact boundary between this phase and others is speculative based on physical evidence. This includes former external windows, now blocked in the east wall, leading to the conclusion that the east wing on the south elevation was constructed in stages. This phase is the first of several extensions by Honeyman over the next couple of decades.



Under the continued ownership of William Millar and involvement of Honeyman, the eastward portion of the building is extended to its full extent on the south side. This phase is shown in an undated historical photograph. The bow window of the south elevation was likely added in this phase but lacks the stained glass at this point that was installed at a later phase, as the historic photograph evidences. There may have also been a single storey structure located below what would later become the music room. This is suggested by the walls of the basement and the blind arch and corridor at basement level which may be a blocked doorway.



Eminent Glasgow carpet manufacturer John Stewart Templeton (1832-1918) took ownership of the Castle in 1883. Having taken over the family firm of James Templeton & Co. in 1865, John S. Templeton commissioned William Leiper to design the Templeton Carpet Factory on Glasgow Green (1888-1892) which is inspired by the Doge’s Palace in Venice. John Templeton and William Leiper therefore knew of each other from at least 1888.

This phase of Knockderry pre-dates the commission of the Templeton Carpet Factory and is partly documented by a wedding photograph from 1888. This includes the addition of a staircase connecting the principal floor with the raised basement storey below an existing staircase turret on the south elevation. The architect of these alterations to the building is not known but may have been Honeyman. An interesting question to ask is how the raised basement level and the principal level were connected before this additional spiral staircase (and the later staircase of the Leiper Tower). There must have surely been an alternative route – a likely place being beneath the extant dog-leg staircase. While this is speculative, this lower portion of the staircase could have been removed during Leiper’s later remodelling of the building (Phase 5) and when the Leiper Tower’s staircase was built which provided another route to raised basement level.

In 1887, the stained glass windows by Sir James Guthrie (1859-1930) (a Scottish painter associated with the Glasgow Boys) were added to the bow window of the south elevation.


This phase is one of the most significant in the building’s history both in extent and quality of design. The extensions to the building were bold but knitted into the rest of the building, filling in the northwest corner to form the loosely rectangular plan seen today. The extensions comprised two elements: a tower house and the banqueting-hall-like music room both conceived by architect William Leiper (1839-1916) with the collaboration of furniture makers William Scott Morton & Co. This phase was under the continued ownership of John S. Templeton whose monogram features in a carved decorative panel by the entrance to the Leiper Tower. On the other side of the same entrance is a date stone recording the year 1896.

Highlights of Leiper’s design include an ornately-carved timber additional staircase complete with central hydraulic-powered lift, purpose-built en-suites, parapet walkway, library with replica Parthenon frieze and, in the music room, wagon roof with celestial decoration and minstrels’ gallery. The high quality of the woodwork extends to the fireplaces and wall panelling.

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