An Overview of Touch House

STIRLINGSHIRE - an inventory of the Ancient Monuments (1963) - Royal Commission on the Ancient Monuments of Scotland

345. Touch House. This house is pleasantly situated at the foot of the Touch Hills, just under three miles W. of Stirling and about half a mile S. of the main Stirling Dumbarton road (A 811). The building (Fig. 159, Pls. 177 and 178) is a composite structure incorporating work of more than one period, but its most outstanding feature is the S. front which is perhaps the most distinguished example of Georgian architecture in the county. The name of the architect is not recorded, but there seems to be no reason to doubt the tradition that ascribes the i8th-century work to William Adam. The architectural development of the house is not entirely clear, but it seems likely that the original building, which is probably of 16th-century date, consisted of a main block aimed from E. to W., from which there projected a rectangular tower at the NW. and SE. angles. Of this there remains today only the SE. tower, which is virtually complete, together with the lower portion of the NW. tower which is now incorporated in later work. During the 17th century, the NW. tower was largely rebuilt and at the same time extended eastwards in a range of buildings which now forms the N. side of the house. In the middle of the 18th century the main block of the original build ing was removed and replaced by the much larger Georgian block that has already been mentioned. The range of offices at the NE. angle is of 19th-century date.'

The SE. tower of the original building rises to the height of four storeys and an attic, and is built in whin stone rubble with dressed quoins and margins. Above third-floor level a double course of individual stone corhels bears a crenellated parapet within which rise the crow-stepped gables of the attic roof. At the NE. corner of the tower an original re-entrant angle was filled in during the 19th century to accommodate a chimney which serves a fireplace in the range of offices. The W. wall of the tower is concealed by later work; in the S. wall there is a single window on each of the four main storeys, the lowest one being an insertion. There is an inserted window in the E. wall at first-floor level and a small garderobe-window, perhaps original, on both the second and third floors. At second-floor level there is also an original window which lights a small mural chamber, and to the N. of the window a projecting drain-spout indicates that there was originally a sink or laver within. The lower portion of the N. wall is concealed by the range of offices, but above there are two original stair-windows. The tower contains a large turnpike-stair which rises to the full height of the structure to give access to a small apartment on each floor; on the ground and first floors the treads have moulded nosings, but the upper part of the stair may have been renewed. The stair also communicated with the original main block, and when this was removed the openings in the W. wall of the tower were used to give access to the new 18th-century building. The ground floor of the tower is barrel-vaulted but otherwise retains no original features; the partition to the E. and the doorway in the E. wall are insertions.

The room on the first floor is also barrel-vaulted, and has served as a kitchen although it is inconveniently small for this purpose. A large segmental-headed fireplace occupies the E. wail, but the recess is now partitioned off and used as a cupboard. The apartment on the second floor has a bolection-moulded fireplace of 17th-century date in the W. wall, and a garderobe and a cupboard in the E. wall. The room on the third floor also has a garderobe in the E. wall, and at the S. end of the same wall there is a mural recess which contains a shelved cupboard. The sink or laver, the outlet for which has already been noted, was probably situated within this recess. The attic floor has no features of interest.

Of the NW. tower, which is thought to have formed part of the original building, only the two lower floors remain, and these have been so much altered that almost no original features survive. The only external evidence for the existence of the tower is the change in the aline ment of the N. wall of the present N. range. Within, how ever, the thickness of the outer walls on the ground floor is seen to average 4 ft. 6 in. at the W. end of the range as compared with about 2 ft. 3 in. at the E. end. At the W. end of the corridor that runs along the S. side of the range on the ground floor, a semicircular corbel-course projects from the S. wall; this may originally have supported some feature on the floor above, perhaps a small stair, all other trace of which has now disappeared. The E. portion of the N. range and the remodelled NW. tower, which adjoins it to the W., are not otherwise of much interest. The block that they form (P1. 178 n) rises to the height of three storeys and is built in harled rubble with dressed margins; the gables are crow-stepped. The top storey is lit by dormers, the pediments of which were renewed in 1928, and some of the other windows may have been altered or renewed at the same time. The interior has been altered, both in the i8th century and in more recent times, and few original features remain. A room on the first floor contains some 18th-century panelling and a plain marble fireplace. On the second floor the eastern-most room has an original bolection-moulded fireplace in the E. wall, while the westernmost room, which was formerly a library, has a coved ceiling of 18th- century date, with plaster busts in the angles (Pls. 185 D, 186 and 187).

The S. block is three storeys in height; the S. facade is built in ashlar and the remainder in whinstone rubble with dressed quoins and margins. The walls finish in a moulded eaves-cormce and the roof is hipped with sprocketed eaves. The S. facade (Fig. 160, P1. 177), although of conventional Classical design, is a well- ordered composition of considerable architectural merit. The fine mason-work and the careful execution of the ornamental detail are both worthy of note. The central portion of the facade breaks forward and is carried up to finish in a triangular pediment, the tympanum of which contains ornamental scroll-work incorporating the full heraldic achievement of the Setons of Touch.

The shield is charged: Quarterly 1st and 4th, three crescents within a double tressure flory-counter-flory, for Seton; 2nd and 3rd, three escutcheons, for Hay. The supporters are grey- hounds and the crest is a bear's head couped. Below is a label on which there is incised the motto FORWARD OURS.

The masonry of the ground floor is rusticated; there is a basal plinth, and a plain horizontal band defines the junction of the ground and first floors. The main entrance-doorway, which is the least successful feature of the design, is centrally placed at ground-floor level. Above it there is a moulded triangular pediment, which is borne on carved brackets and has in its tympanum a reversing monogram of the initials H E S, for Hugh and Elizabeth Seton, who were married in 1745 The erection of the S. front was probably begun soon after their marriage. The main ground-floor windows are symmetrically placed on either side of the entrance, and the first- and second-floor windows are ranged over those below. The windows on the first floor have moulded architraves, and are emphasized by entablatures which incorporate either triangular or segmental pediments. The second-floor windows have plain surrounds.

The new construction was designed primarily to provide a set of principal rooms on each of its two main floors, together with a staircase which could serve both the old and the new portions of the house; and its plan has of necessity been adapted to that of the buildings already standing at the time of its erection. The entrance- doorway gives access to the hall, at the N. end of which a spacious geometric stair (P1. 183) rises to give access to the upper floors. The stair is lit from above by an elliptical cupola; the iron balustrade has probably been renewed. The ground-floor rooms are of little interest, though the one to the W. has a wooden fireplace-surround in the Adam manner, while the larger of the two rooms to the E. of the hall retains some original panelling. The first floor contains three large rooms, each reached from the stair-landing which also communicates with the N. range by means of a corridor on the E. side of the stair;

on the S. wall of the landing there hangs the tapestry illustrated in P1. i8~ c. The E. apartment, which was the dining-room, retains its original pine panelling; there is a dado, and each door has a moulded surround and a carved frieze and cornice, the former incorporating an acorn-and-oakleaf design. The ceiling (P1. 179) is divided into compartments which contain conventional designs in relief. The drawing-room (P1. i8o) immediately to the W. contains panelling like that in the dining- room and there is an ornamental plaster ceiling in the Rococo manner (P1. 181). The W. room is said to have been the principal bedroom; it is not panelled, but the doors have moulded architraves. The ceiling is less elaborately treated than that in the drawing-room. The arrangement of the second floor is broadly similar to that of the first. The two easten-most rooms are partly panelled and each has its own dressing-room. The W. room has a fine ornamental ceiling (PIs. 184, 185 A-B) similar in style to that of the drawing-room, and the S. one portions of early fabric wall-covering. The three large rooms on the first floor and the W. room on the second floor are said to contain marble fireplaces, but these are now boxed in and could not be seen at the date of visit.2

A lead rain-water head from Touch House, apparently of 18th-century date, is preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland.

The lands of Touch were acquired by the Setons at about the end of the 15th century, and continued in the direct line of that family until the middle of the 18th century. The property then descended through the female line and passed to the Seton-Steuarts of Allanton and Touch, who held it until about 1930

752927 NS 79 SE 9 June 1956

1 Stirling Antiquary, iv, 289 if.

2 N.S.A., viii (Stirlingshire), 57.

3 P.S.A.S., 'xxxiv ([949-50), 79, with illustration; ibid., p1. vi, 4, facing p. q6.

4 A model of Touch House, now present in the Smith Institute, Stirling, is said to depict the building as it was before the erection of the Georgian block. The model, however, is unlikely to have been made before the 18th-century alterations to the house were carried out, and it does not altogether accord with what remains of the older buildings.

1 T.S.N.fl.A.S. (1928-9), 37.

2 These fireplaces were uncovered in 1960 when the main apartments were restored to their original functions after war time adaptations. The dining-room and drawing-room chimney pieces (P1. 182) appear to be of mid-18th century date, the latter, with its bracketed cornice and carved frieze, being a particularly distinguished example of its period. The chimney- piece of the W. room on the second floor has a fine plaster over-mantel, but the wooden fireplace-surround appears to be a renewal. These fireplaces have been indicated on the plan (Fig. 159), which has also been amended to conform with other minor alterations carried out in 1960.

3 Seton, G., The Family of Seton, 335 if.; Burke, Landed Gentry (1952 ed.), 1612.