The Castle is open for the summer season from 10.30am till 5pm with last admission at 4.00pm.
The Entrance & Armoury
THE KENNEDY FAMILY is one of Scotland’s oldest families and trace ancestry to Robert the Bruce. Culzean Castle was their principal seat from 1759, the castle and its landscape reflecting their status and aspirations. Over the centuries, the Kennedys transformed a medieval tower house, built to protect its inhabitants during dangerous times, into one of the grandest country houses in Ayrshire.
In the 1770s, the 10th Earl commissioned the famous architect, Robert Adam, to create a house worthy of his political status. The entrance doors are on the site of Adam's front door. Above the doorway you can see Adam’s original graceful fanlight.
In 1877, the 3rd Marquess employed Edinburgh architects Wardrop and Reid to make further improvements to the castle. They designed a grander and more practical entrance. The porch created an airlock to keep out the strong sea breezes, a consequence of the castle’s cliff top setting. The offices on either side of the new entrance hall were used by the Marquess for his boat-building enterprises. The work was sensitively done and respected the Adam style of the castle.
The armoury display is the largest collection of its type in existence, apart from Her Majesty the Queen’s at Windsor Castle. In 1812, the flamboyant and ambitious 12th Earl bought the pistols and swords from the Office of Ordnance at the Tower of London. The arms were dispatched from London in twelve chests along with ‘one of the men from the tower with the Arms, who will fix them up in a proper manner’.
The Library is situated within the walls of the medieval tower house. The 9th Earl’s improvements of 1750 created an Eating Room with access to the terraced gardens. Adam redesigned the Eating Room and, when it became the Library in 1877, his neo classical design was carefully preserved.
As you enter this room, you will notice the thickness of the walls. Adam exploited this to create apses (semi-circular spaces) at each end, giving the room its neo-classical shape. Classical motifs of fruit and vines emphasise the room’s original dining function. The walls were finished in stucco or plaster, rather than damask silk, so that the smell of food would not linger. The 3rd Marquess swapped the functions of the Eating Room and Library so that the dining room could be better serviced by kitchens in the new west wing. Apart from the furniture, very little was changed here to preserve the ambience of the Adam design.
The Dining Room
THE DINING ROOM was originally two rooms in Adam’s design : the library and a small dressing room at the far end. Architects Wardrop and Reid created the Dining Room during their alterations of 1877. It may have been the first time in Britain that new work in a genuine Adam house was carried out in a harmonising Adam Revival style.
Although the castle had plenty of reception rooms, it was difficult to service. Wardrop and Reid’s solution was to convert Adam’s Brewhouse Wing into the four-storey wing visible through the windows. This had nurseries, schoolrooms and vital new service zones. TAdam’s Library became the Dining Room. It was now much easier to reach from the kitchens via the back service corridor. Dining guests would also enjoy a fine view of Ailsa Craig.
The decoration for Adam’s original library - frieze, stucco medallions and tablets - was preserved intact and the cornice extended around the much bigger room. The doorcases and chimneypiece were copied from Adam’s Eating Room.
The Oval Staircase
THE OVAL STAIRCASE is an Adam masterpiece, reflecting his logical and imaginative approach to architecture. With little space available, he created a dramatic focal point which united all the different phases of the castle. The entire house seems to have been built around it when, in fact, it was the last phase of Adam’s work at Culzean.
In 1784, six years after the main house had been completed, the 10th Earl decided on a sea outlook for the castle. Adam designed a three-storey drum tower on the very edge of the cliffs, with rooms to either side. The new staircase replaced the front and back stairs and gave access to the new public rooms from a central point.
The scheme was expensive and caused considerable upheaval. Sadly, both patron and architect died before it was completed, a task then left to the 1st Marquess. He is thought to have reversed the traditional order of pillars, placing the more elaborate Corinthian columns below the Ionic, so they could be properly admired by visitors to the public rooms.
The Round Drawing Room
ADAM’S DESIGN FOR the Saloon, or Round Drawing Room as it became known, took in panoramic views of the Ayrshire coast and included a balcony poised high above the cliff tops. He believed that buildings should complement their surroundings and his romantic vision for Culzean had much to do with its location.
The Saloon was the main reception room of the castle, used for grand social and political occasions. Gilt furniture added to its splendour, its formal layout giving space for guests to circulate. By day, they could enjoy spectacular views. In the evening, they would meet their host here before setting off to admire the rest of the public rooms. Although designed by Adam, the room was completed after his death by the 1st Marquess. By the 1820s, Regency designers used light and shade, rather than tints, to highlight detail so the plasterwork is less delicate than that supervised by Adam. You
can see this in the vase pedestals, which form the ‘spokes’ of the ceiling’s wheel design and the rather large feet of the sphinxes.
As part of his re-instatement of the Adam style in 1877, the 3rd Marquess changed the colour scheme of the Saloon from red to green. The surviving 18th century girandoles were combined with Adam Revival copies and the antique giltwood seats were chosen to complement his ‘new’ arrangement.
In 1983, an exact copy of the Saloon carpet was woven by Craigie Carpets, a local firm from Irvine. This allowed the original carpet to be conserved and gave visitors access to the Saloon once again. Storage of this carpet – one of the castle’s treasures – is now a conservation challenge for the Trust.
The State Bedroom & Dressing Room
IN THE 1820S, the 1st Marquess of Ailsa used this suite of State Apartments to accommodate Culzean’s most important guests. In the Adam phase of the castle, the rooms had been the Earl’s bedroom and dressing room, and their Georgian style was later re-instated by the 3rd Marquess in 1877.
No Adam drawings survive for this part of the castle but the work was probably finished under his supervision. The dramatic sea views might explain why the 10th Earl chose these rooms for himself and why they later became the State Apartments. The politically ambitious 12th Earl would want to impress his special guests. The State Apartments, comprising the State Bedroom and associated Gentleman’s and Lady’s State Dressing Rooms, were furnished in the fashionable Regency Style. The 3rd Marquess later returned the rooms to their Adam style. Despite the regal opulence of the apartments, and the 1st Marquess’s friendship with King William, Culzean never welcomed the king as he never came to Scotland.
The Blue Drawing Room
This room was designed by Adam as the first in a series of public rooms on the south side of the castle. The entire scheme, with delicate plasterwork and exquisite chimneypiece, was completed under his supervision. It is the most unaltered Adam room in the castle. It is called the Blue Drawing Room due to its 18th century colour scheme. This was revealed by archaeological investigation and restored by the Trust in 1976. Drawing rooms of the 18th century were often hung with fabrics such as silk, or paper imitating silk. The Trust chose a blue damask fabric to reinstate the colour scheme.
Several works of art were returned here in 2003 from other parts of the castle, recreating the character of the original Adam Drawing Room.
Adam’s frieze design of vases and gryphons continues over the doorways. The ceiling includes an unusual feature for Adam; four sculptural panels with curved edges which emphasize the oval shape of the ceiling design. You may have noticed that the doors are not placed symmetrically, a result of having to build around the old tower house walls.
The Long Drawing Room
THIS ROOM WAS ONCE the Great Hall of the medieval castle. The awkward shape, formed by its thick unyielding walls, was exploited by Adam to create his ‘Picture Room’, possibly for the display of Sir Thomas Kennedy’s Grand Tour art collection. By 1846, the room had become known, for obvious reasons, as the Long Drawing Room.
The 1st Marquess was an important patron of Alexander Nasmyth, the celebrated landscape painter. He asked Nasmyth to produce a series of large panoramas of Culzean as gifts for his family, or to hang in his London homes. Two of the paintings remain at Culzean.
In the 1970s, the Trust hung the paintings here in keeping with Adam’s original vision for his Picture Room – to display the castle’s finest art treasures. In 2003, the Trust extended the marine theme and brought in other paintings from the castle’s collection. These include portraits of the 11th Earl and 3rd Marquess in naval uniform; 'A View of the Frigate HMS London in a Breeze off Shakespeare Cliff, Dover' by Thomas Luny; and watercolours of the 3rd Marquess’s famous yachts, the Foxhound and the Sleuthhound.
Lady Ailsa's Boudoir
THESE ROOMS WERE the Best Bedroom and Dressing Room at the end of Adam’s sequence of public rooms. The poppy seed heads in the Adam frieze, alluding to sleep, confirm the function of this room. When the State Apartments were created on the other side of the castle in the early 19th century, the 1st Marquess established his own family rooms here and Lady Ailsa used this room as her boudoir (a lady’s private room).
When architects Wardrop and Reid modernised the castle in 1877, they created an entire suite of family rooms leading to a family bedroom, with access to the nursery wing beyond. The Marchioness continued to use this room as a boudoir and had Adam’s Library chimneypiece moved here. In 1945, when the castle was passed into the care of The National Trust for Scotland, the family rooms came without contents and they have since been used to display appropriate furnishings.
YOUR TOUR OF THE CASTLE ends in the kitchen block designed by Robert Adam in 1779. The castle kitchens were located here for many years, even after the new service block was built in the 1870s. Adam’s two-storey kitchen block was separate from the main house, in case of fire, and was built to the north-east of the existing buildings. It was incorporated into the castle during Adam’s last phase of building work.
The kitchens would have been a frenzy of activity from early morning until late at night. When the family was in residence, two meals would be served – breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was a fairly simple affair but, from noon onwards, cooking began in earnest. Meats would be put to roast on spits by the fire. The ovens were used for baking while the stewing stoves under the far windows were used to prepare sauces, stocks and soups.
The gardens and Home Farm of Culzean provided a huge variety of fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs and poultry and there would have been a plentiful supply of fish, shellfish and game. Two ice houses at Culzean provided ice for cooling drinks, making ice cream, and preserving food.