Made of fine-grained sandstone, this cresset lamp has a semi-circular carved bowl for holding fuel, either oil or tallow. This would have supplied a slow burning wick held in the grooved spout which still has traces of charring. The 'tail' was probably used to key the lamp into a wall. Found at Tantallon Castle, East Lothian.

Tantallon Castle

Tantallon was the last truly great castle built in Scotland. William Douglas, a nobleman, built the mighty fortress in the mid-1300s, at the height of his power.

In 1354, William was given the estates of his:

  • father, Sir Archibald Douglas
  • uncle, the ‘Good Sir James Douglas’ (a close friend of Robert the Bruce)

This land included the barony of North Berwick.

William was made Earl of Douglas in 1358 – by which time masons may already have begun to build Tantallon.

The house of Douglas split into two branches in the 1380s: the ‘Black’ and the ‘Red’. Tantallon passed to the junior line – the earls of Angus also known as the ‘Red Douglases’. They owned the castle for the next 300 years, often clashing with the Crown.

The castle was besieged by:

  • James IV in 1491
  • James V in 1528
  • Oliver Cromwell in 1651

Cromwell’s army caused such destruction that the medieval fortress was abandoned after this last attack.

Scotland’s last great medieval castle

Like the mighty defensive stone castles of the 1200s, Tantallon had:

  • an enormously thick and high stone curtain wall enclosing a large courtyard
  • tall stone towers to provide living quarters for the nobles

Tantallon differs from most comparable castles only because of its setting by the sea. The curtain wall once enclosed the entire site – its seaward side has since fallen down – but the castle needed formidable defences on just its landward side.

Architecture of warfare

The castle was built before the age of gunpowder artillery.

In William’s day, its high, thick walls defended against:

  • trebuchets (stone-throwing machines)
  • battering rams
  • bows and arrows

These threats help to account for the:

  • almost complete lack of openings in the curtain wall
  • concentration of defence on the battlements at the wall top
  • wide, deep ditch in front of the wall

To defend Tantallon against artillery, later owners:

  • filled in wall chambers to help withstand cannon shot
  • added gun holes from which to fire at the enemy
  • built extra gun defences outside – including a gun tower by the outer gate, and a ravelin (earthen gun emplacement)

In the end, it wasn’t enough. In 1651, Cromwell’s heavy guns ripped out the guts of the end towers.

Archaeology at Tantallon

Historic Scotland excavated several areas of the site in 2013 and 2014 with the help of volunteers.

This work located:

  • the walls of some early buildings in the outer ward
  • what we think may be the line of the original entry across the outer close to the castle
  • evidence of some hastily erected ravelins
Find out more about Tantallon Castle


Date Made
16th century-17th century
210 x 125 x 70mm
Time Period
Property Information
Tantallon Castle
Object Number