12 July 2017
On a regular basis at the castle we are asked by our visitors to explain the history of the castle, people want to know about when it was built, what the oldest part is, if Mary Queen of Scots was there and if it was ever sieged. But there is one question that is asked more frequently than most – “Why is that building yellow?”
Visitors are referring to the magnificent Great Hall, originally built in the 1500’s for James IV, one of the largest of its kind in Scotland, which underwent a restoration project completed in the late 1990’s to recreate it to its former glory and return its historic walls to the golden colour they were first intended.
The Great Hall’s purpose was as a royal hall; a place for ceremony and dance, for grand banquets and an impressive space for music and entertainment. Upon a dais in the hall sat the thrones upon which the King and Queen would preside over the festivities, as well as a minstrel gallery above for trumpeters and was heated by an impressive five fireplaces.
In its heyday the Great Hall was coated with a colour known as “King’s Gold” an exuberant gold that would have gleamed upon the hilltop from miles around, a colour that would also have covered the walls of the Hall’s neighbouring buildings the Palace and Chapel. This rich colour would have reflected the richness of the festivities within, one of the most impressive being the banquet held for the baptism of James VI’s son Prince Henry. This feast saw its guests being served their fish course from an oversized wooden model of a ship with masts 40ft high and actual firing canons. It seems that none other than a golden building would have been appropriate for a feat as lavish as this.
Through the years though the Great Hall began to lose its importance as a place of entertainment as the monarchy began to spend most of their time in London after the Union of the Crowns in 1603. It started to take on a much more practical purpose such as stables and storage, leaving only the echoes of trumpets and dancing feet within its walls.
The glory of the Great Hall began to fade much like the outer stonework itself, no longer a shining, as the paint, battered by weather and time, faded to reveal the grey stonework that can be seen today on the exterior of the Palace. The Hall was now grey and reflected its much grittier purpose. In addition to years of neglect, in the 1700’s when Stirling Castle was used as a military base an extra floor was inserted in the Hall for use as military barracks, deconstructing the wonderful hammer beam roof to suit the purposes of the soldiers for accommodation.
The Hall continued to degenerate through the years and it was only in 1964 when the military left the castle for the last time that work could be undertaken to restore the Hall to something of its former glory.
In the 1960s work began to remove some of the alterations made by the military in the 1700’s and it was only then that evidence such as traces of this gold colour were revealed that could prove what the original hall would have looked like. This was very much a labour of love project and after more than 30 years, in 1999 the hall was revealed in all its new glory.
Both the interior and exterior of the Great Hall were restored to their original state, the hammer beam roof was completely reconstructed using the exact same process as when it was originally built and of course the exterior got its golden coating. So whenever anyone asks me “why yellow?” I always try to express how much the colour reflects the Great Hall’s many layers of history as not only does it look extravagant again but it is serving its original purpose, hosting all kinds of events from weddings to dinners to theatre shows, and a building like that deserves to be a little grand! .
Don’t forget on your next visit to the castle to pop inside the Great Hall and share your photos with us @StirlingCastle .
Beat the queues and buy your tickets online in advance.