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Castle of St John (Stranraer Castle)

The Castle of St John sits in the heart of the town of Stranraer. The town grew up around the castle and in time became a busy port. The castle has served as a laird's home and as a prison. Today it is part of Stranraer Museum.

The castle was built for the Ninian Adair of Kilhilt. When it was first constructed the lands around Stranraer had a reputation for lawlessness and no doubt the Adairs were charged with curbing this.

Castle Construction

The castle is an L-plan keep which was originally three storeys high. It was built around 1510 and would have stood by the beach at the head of Loch Ryan. Changing land use around it has now pushed it inland.

There is very little evidence of any substantial settlement at Stranraer before the castle was built. The Adairs had built the Chapel of St John nearby in 1484 and the place was known as the Place of St John.

In 1595 Ninain's grandson, also Ninian Adair, created a Burgh of Barony at Stranraer. By this time a small community had built up around the castle and it provided the Adairs with property rents and trading tolls.

In 1608 the castle passed by marriage to the Chappel branch of the Kennedy family.

By this time Stranraer was the market town for western Wigtownshire and had become an important town. In 1617 Stranraer became a royal burgh. Nearby Portpatrick was being used to transport people for the Plantation in Ireland and other trade with Ireland was growing too.

In the 1670s it was bought by the Dalrymples of Stair, a wealthy local family. However, the castle was being used as a military garrison to suppress the Covenanters. In 1678 it was home to John Graham of Claverhouse and he persecuted the Covenanters with such zeal and ferocity that he became known as 'Bloody Clavers'.

A Victorian Prison

Not much is known about the castle's history during the 18th Century. Certainly by the 1800s it was empty and the local burgh council purchased the property in 1815 to serve as the town's jail.

A fourth floor had been added by this point, but its use as a jail required some alterations. The gable roof was removed and the top of the castle was converted to an exercise yard.

A new prison was built in 1845, but the castle continued to be used as a prison until 1907. After this it became a meeting place and store.

In the 1980s the castle was renovated and it became part of Stranraer Museum. Further restoration work was completed in 2010 with assistance from a number of charitable bodies and today the castle is open to the public during the summer months. It houses a range of exhibitions on the castle's history from its time as a medieval house right through to its grim days as a prison.

The castle is in the centre of Stranraer so while there are no facilities on site, there are public toilets nearby along with cafes, restaurants and car parking.

Status: Heritage Site / Museum
Owner: Dumfries & Galloway Council
Tel: +44 (0)1776 705 088
Opening Times: 28th May to 24 September Tue-Sat 10am-4.30pm

The castle and some of the sculptures in front
Stranraer Castle and sculptures

View over Stranraer from the top of the castle
View from the top of the tower

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