History of Blair Castle

Dalry, Ayrshire

Blair Castle has had a long and varied history covering over 900 years and 26 Lairds. From its humble beginnings in 1105 as a small military tower house, to its final extension in 1895 and the continuing upgrading and restoration in subsequent years.


It has been said that Blair is the oldest continually inhabited castle in Scotland and for most of that time the inhabitants were all members of the same family. The history of the house can be traced through a few key members of the Blair family who have left their mark on this wonderful property, leaving behind them a legacy that will last for generations to come.

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The story begins with a Norman knight, Jean Francois. He was gifted the Barony of Blair, which included the 1105 tower house, in the mid-12th century by King William the Lion as a reward for services rendered. With the Barony came the title ‘Laird’ making Jean Francois the 1st Laird of Blair. 

When Jean’s son, William succeeded in the late 12th century he changed the family name to Blair. He built the second tower in 1203. Both the 1203 and the 1105 towers are still standing and now comprise the central spine of the house. 

The 4th Laird’s son Roger was knighted by King Robert the Bruce for his services before and at Bannockburn.

We then skip forward a bit from there to the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. John Blair (The 13th Laird) built the East Wing in the mid-16th Century also uniting the two towers unifying Blair into one grand castle. 

John Blair was faithful to Queen Mary, and it is said that she stayed at Blair during this time. John Blair died in the reign of James VI.  

John’s great grandson, William (18th Laird), married Margaret, daughter of 2nd Duke of Hamilton, however when Cromwell came to Scotland, William was a supporter of the house of Stuart, so they left Blair for some time. They returned early in the 1660’s and built on the South Wing, whose gables show the initials W.B. and L.M.H. 1668. William changed allegiances from King James II of the house of Stuart to support William of Orange. He raised a troop of cavalry in support of the Revolution but was captured by the Earl of Dundee and died a prisoner in Skye. 

William and Margaret’s son, William (19th Laird) succeeded his father and had four children, two of whom inherited the title.

Hamilton Blair (23rd Laird) was a major in the Royal Scots Greys and carried out many improvements on the estate. His son, William (24th Laird), was M.P. for Ayrshire and planted many of the old trees still to be seen here.

His son, William Fordyce Blair (25th Laird), was a Captain in the Royal Navy. He saw action in many battles including the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26), the battle of Navarino during the Greek war of Independence and was mentioned in dispatches for his gallantry at the taking of Morea Castle (1828). He opened the estate to the people of Dalry; he built the Town Hall and was influential in the rebuilding of St. Margaret’s Church in the 1860’s. A portrait of William Fordyce Blair hangs in the oak- panelled Dining Room at Blair to this day. 


William Fordyce Blair was succeeded by his son, Colonel Frederick Gordon Blair (26th and Last Laird), the father of Miss Cecily Blair. Colonel and Mrs. Blair modernized the house in 1893 and built the West Wing.

Frederick Gordon Blair was Captain of the 16th Lancers, Deputy Lieutenant of Ayrshire and High Sheriff for Rutland. He was promoted to Colonel and served in the South African Boer War, 1899-1901 with the 4th Battalion of Imperial Yeomanry. Whilst commanding mounted troops of the 8th Division he was wounded, mentioned in dispatches and awarded a medal (four clasps, CB). Later he became ADC to His Majesty, King George V from 1914-1920 and was awarded the Order of St. Anne.

On the Death of Colonel Blair, he was succeeded by his daughter Cecily. Cecily sadly lost her fiancé, Lord Robert Balfour of Birley, at the start of the First World War and never married. Cecily inherited the Blair Castle in 1943, but never inherited the title of Laird. She lived at Blair until her death at the great age of 94.


After Cecily’s death the castle passed to Michael Borwick and then onto his nephew Luke Borwick who was only 21 when he inherited Blair. Luke and his wife Caroline moved to Scotland in their forties and embarked on the arduous task of rescuing the castle from years of neglect and worked to help restore the property to its former glory.

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In 2012 the castle and estate came onto the market for the very first time in over 900 years and was purchased by Charles and Sallie Hendry. They fell in love with Blair and tirelessly continued the restoration and modernization of the castle and the gardens. 

Finally, to the present day, in 2022 the castle was acquired by Sir Tom & Lady Marion Hunter and the Hunter Foundation as the headquarters for their philanthropy and their leadership programmes. The love for and the investment in this stunning castle continues and its place in Scottish history assured.