Preston Tower can be found near the southern edge of modern Prestonpans, not far from the railway station. It stands surrounded by a walled park, which is also home to a lectern doocot. The tower can only be viewed externally, but it remains a fascinating building with a number of very unusual features.
The surrounding park provides an excellent setting for both the tower and the doocot, and it is good that so much care has been taken to preserve the tower as an asset to Prestonpans. Stray beyond the garden wall and much of the development is relatively modern and residential, leaving you with the feeling that the tower has a slightly incongruous setting: it is easy to forget that it long predates its surroundings.
The castle originally built here by the Hamiltons of Rossavon, Fingalton and Preston comprised the lower four storeys of what you can see today. Most sources say that the main tower was built in the 1400s, but there have been suggestions that parts of the structure date back to 1365. Either way, what stood here by the late 1400s was a four storey L-plan tower house, probably with a defensive wall walk around the upper edge behind a parapet and, probably, an attic.
The original tower house had some very unusual features. You can catch a glimpse of the interior of the vaulted ground floor through the iron yett that protects the only door at this level. The ground floor would originally have been used for storage and only the room in the main body of the tower would have been accessible. The doorway leading through to the additional space in the "L" of the tower has been cut through in relatively modern times.
The only access to the first floor of the tower was via an externally mounted removable wooden staircase. There are signs around the first floor doorway that suggest that there was a wooden structure here providing additional protection to the tower's main entrance. The first floor was also vaulted and comprised a public room within the main part of the tower, and the laird's private quarters in the wing. A stairway from the corridor between the two leads down to a "mezzanine" level room below the laird's quarters, and from here a hatch gives the only access originally provided to the room in the wing of the ground floor of the tower. It is thought that the mezzanine level room was a guard room, and the ground floor room was the tower's cell. This is an extremely unusual arrangement.
Preston was attacked and burned by the Earl of Hertford in 1544 during the "rough wooing" carried out on behalf of Henry VIII of England (see our Historical Timeline). It must have been repaired, because in 1626 the most extraordinary and unusual feature of the tower was added. This is, in effect, a two storey Jacobean house simply built onto the top of the existing four storey tower. It was common during this era for residents of castles to look for ways of upgrade their accommodation by building modern houses offering higher standards of comfort, though usually at the price of lower standards of protection. It was usual for these to be built on the site of, or built onto the side of, or built close to the existing castle they were intended to replace. As far as we know, simply building the new house onto the top of the existing castle as happened at Preston Tower is unique in Scotland.
Preston Tower was again attacked and burned in 1650, this time by Oliver Cromwell's forces. It had been repaired by the time an accidental fire caused more damage in 1663 and after this the family left the tower and moved into nearby Preston House. Preston Tower was consolidated in 1936, and externally repaired again in 2005. It is in the care of East Lothian Council.