View of the Touch Estate from John Adair's Map, 1685.
View of the Touch Estate from John Adair's Map, 1685.
© National Library of Scotland
Touch House, early 20th century.
Touch House, early 20th century.
© The Touch Estate
The Touch staircase by William Adam from 1770.
The Touch staircase by William Adam from 1750.
The Touch Estate © 2005
Touch House, from the estate grounds, 2003.
Touch House, from the estate grounds, 2003.
The Touch Estate © 2005

Until 1408, The Lairds of Touch were Frasers. The estate was acquired by a branch of the Setons in Aberdeen, by second son of Alexander Seton, 1st Earl of Huntly, and the tower is thought to have been built in the 15th Century. Originally it would have been larger and there would have been no windows on the ground floor.

In the 16th Century, part of the tower was pulled down and the house extended to make a more substantial, fortified house. The North side of the top floor was added in the 17th Century.

Construction of the South front was started in 1758 and the plans may have been prepared by William Adam, although there is no record of this. The oval staircase is a brilliant design that might well have been the work of William's son, Robert Adam. The Buchanans, became owners of the estate in 1928 but the Seton coat of arms can still be seen on the pediment of the South front.

The Setons of Touch were supporters of the Jacobites and were the Hereditary Armour Bearers for the Scottish Kings. In 1745, on his way to the Battle of Prestonpans, Prince Charles Edward Stuart stayed at Touch.  When fleeing after Culloden, he is said to have found refuge in the cave under the waterfall in Touch Glen. It would have been far too dangerous to stay in the house with Seton's Jacobite sympathies well known.

The old road from Stirling to Glasgow passed within 200 yards of the front of Touch House and until the middle of the 18th Century, the road skirted an impassable swamp. After the failed '45 Rebellion, Hugh Seton and other local lairds, brought families down from the Highlands to work on the mammoth task of draining the Carse of Stirling. Ditches were dug to float the peat from this bogland down to the River Forth and eventually out to sea. Around 60 square miles were reclaimed, exposing rich, clay soil beneath.

The estate covers 4,500 acres of woodland and farms. The 5 carse farms were created after the reclamation in the 18th Century. The walled garden and the woodland garden contain over 150 different species of rhododendrons and azaleas, as well as many other interesting trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. Forth Valley Orienteers, the Boy Scouts and the army use the estate and there are occasional guided walks with the Countryside Rangers. The public are welcome to make use of the the estate and Touch House has been open to the public on Doors Open Days.

It is a reasonable assumption that the first building at Touch would have been a tower. It would have been built of wood, for until the 15th century fortified stone buildings which could be used as a stronghold were forbidden unless they belonged to the King. The tower, which exists today is thought to have been built in the 15th century and probably built in a least two periods. Originally it would have been larger, and of course had no windows on the ground floor.

The Lairds of Touch had long been Frasers until in 1408, when it was acquired by the Setons, who extended the house, pulling down part of the tower to make a more substantial although still fortified house.

In 1745 Prince Charles Edward, on his way to the Battle of Prestonpans stayed at Touch on the night of September 13th 1745. He gave to his host a quaich, a ring and a miniature and General Murray left behind his dispatch book. These were much treasured by the Setons, and are now held in the safekeeping of an Edinburgh Museum. Later, fleeing from his Hanoverian pursuers after Culloden, he is said to have found refuge in a cave under a waterfall in the Touch Glen, for, with Setonís sympathies well known, the house itself would have been too dangerous.

Hugh Seton, together with local lairds, brought families down from the highlands to start the mammoth task of draining the Carse of Stirling. Ditches were dug to float the peat which covered this bogland down to the River Forth, and eventually out to sea. In all an area some 60 square miles was reclaimed, and the rich clay soil which was exposed beneath is now renowned for the production of Timothy hay.

This was only the start of Hugh Setonís improvements to Touch. It is to him that we owe the magnificent south front which was commenced in 1757 and continued till 1770 when the Drawing Room ceiling was completed. As a result of his expenditure Hugh Seton found himself in considerable debt and left to travel abroad. His son, Archibald, determined to clear the estate of debt, joined the East India Company and sailed to India in 1779. He rose to high office, accumulated a considerable sum of money but sadly died on his way home before reaching Touch on whose behalf he has worked all his life.

The 18th Century Additions

The south front was commenced in 1758, and has traditionally been attributed to the Adam family, although to date there is no certain proof of this. It seems that the Master Mason, Gideon Gray supervised the construction of the 1748 design. The only major difference between the present house and those plans is in the staircase, which in the plans was shown as a square and not an oval. A stair of such a brilliant design might well have been the work of William Adam's son, Robert, but that remains a mystery.

The stone for the front of the house and for the stairs came from Longannet quarries. It was carried by sailing brigs up the Forth and then by horse and cart out from Stirling. David Henderson of Clackmannan was the glazier, and the hot water boiler was supplied by the newly founded Carron Iron Works with strict instructions not to fill the boiler with cold water, and that "Gentlemen found it convenient to pay their account by return!".

Archibald's sister, Barbara, married Sir Henry Stuart of Allanton, and inherited the estate. Sir Henry was a well known aboriculturist and planted many of the fine trees on Touch. He took the name of Seton-Steuart and their family remained the lairds of Touch until it passed to the present owners, the Buchanans in 1928.

Charles Buchanan engaged Sir Robert Lorimer to make improvements such as the installation of bathrooms, heating and lighting in the house, and the replacement of the original windows in place of the plate glass introduced in the Victorian era. Lorimer carried out this work with great sympathy. His one structural alteration was to remove what had been the wall on the left as you enter the hall, and this gives a feeling of spaciousness and light to what must have been a rather gloomy entrance.

Historical notes provided courtesy of the Touch Estate


Notes about the history of the Seton's of Touch and the house and gardens from the Historic Scotland website:

Historical influences on the designed landscape
The Setons were a powerful Scottish family who, in return for their loyalty to the Crown, were created Barons of Seton in 1361 and Earls of Winton in 1585. Alexander Seton, head of a cadet branch of the family acquired Touch in the mid-15th century from the Fraser family but it was his son, of the same name, who became the 1st laird of Touch in 1480.

Sir Alexander's grandson, Sir Walter Seton, the 2nd laird, was the first to actually inhabit the property before his death in 1568. When the first Setons lived in Touch it was principally a tower, reputedly built by the previous owners in the 14th century.

In 1742, Elizabeth Seton inherited the property from her brother and, just before her marriage to Hugh Smith on the day of the Battle of Prestonpans, she allowed Prince Charles to stay at Touch. After their marriage Hugh and Elizabeth Seton, having retained the family name, commissioned a new house adjoining the original tower. Money was borrowed to cover the cost of the building and considerable improvements were made to the grounds.

John Ramsay of Ochtertyre described the improvements at Touch as being of a scale similar to those being carried out at the same time by Hugh Seton's friend, Lord Kames, at Blair Drummond. The architect of the house is uncertain but it is known that Gideon Gray was the stonemason for the works and was retained thereafter as factor for the estate.

Elizabeth Seton died in 1775. Hugh Seton continued to borrow money and amassed debts which resulted in his imprisonment at Dover Castle. On his release, he changed his name and left the country. His son, Archibald, had gone to India in 1779 where he joined the East India Company and achieved considerable success, eventually becoming a member of the Council. Through his efforts the financial fortunes of Touch were redressed.

In Archibald Seton's absence, Touch was managed by his brother-in-law, Sir Henry Seton-Steuart of Allanton. It was during this period that the designed landscape which remains today was established. Thomas White was commissioned in 1779 to prepare an improvement plan but, according to the survey plan of 1810 by Leslie, only some of this appears to have been carried out. Sir Henry is said to have planted about one million trees at Touch and many of these were established on Craigbrock Hill to the west of the house which roughly accords with White's ideas. His suggestions for clump planting as part of an extensive scheme for informalising the park were not all taken up and his plans for a serpentine lake to the east of the house appear to have been dismissed.

In 1818, Archibald Seton died and the estate passed to his sister Barbara. In 1835 it passed to her niece, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Henry Seton-Steuart, and in 1866 to her son Sir Henry James Seton-Steuart. Little appears to have been altered on the estate during their time although some ornamental conifers were planted in the manner of this period.

Sir Henry Allan Seton-Steuart inherited in 1884. He lived at Allanton, and Touch was let. His younger brother, Douglas, the last Seton baronet, sold Touch to Mr C.A. Buchanan in 1928. The new owner commissioned Sir Robert Lorimer to restore the interior of the house. Lorimer also designed a new lodge and realigned the approach drive to the house.

During World War II, Touch was used as a convalescent home. After 1945 the family returned and, since 1962, their son and daughter-in-law, Mr ∓ Mrs P.B. Buchanan have lived at Touch. The gales of the winter of 1968 caused severe damage to the woodlands and recovery has been slow but Mr ∓ Mrs Buchanan continue their series of improvements, particularly in the garden.
The designed landscape at Touch is managed by the estate.

The parks are farmed but features of the original design such as the roundels within them have been retained. The woodlands suffered badly from the 1968 gales and recovery has been slow. Features such as the hedgerows on the edge of the woodland on the northern boundary are breaking down due to the difficulty of maintaining them mechanically. The gardens have been subject to continual improvement since 1962.

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