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Issue 37 - Scotland's showpiece

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 37
March 2008

 

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Scotland's showpiece

Charles Douglas visits Castle Fraser, near Inveruie in Aberdeenshire

Castle Fraser, in the Grampian Region, is one of Scotland’s showpiece castles, and yet another memorable treasure in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

Long ago the land here was acquired by the Frasers or “Frizels” of Muchal-in-Mar, more usually known as Muchalls, a great Norman/Scottish family from Anjou in France who arrived in England with William the Conqueror in 1066. The earliest record of their presence in Aberdeenshire, however, is in 1366, when one Thomas Fraser of Cornton was given a Charter for the lands of Kilmundy by William de Keith, Hereditary Marischal of Scotland.

In the reign of James II, Thomas Fraser, a descendant of the above, exchanged Cornton for the lands of Muchall and, in the incestuous way of the old Scottish aristocracy, his descendants from then on inter-married with many of their neighbours.

Castle Fraser was built in the 17th century, built by the Aberdonian master mason I. Bel, whose name is carved into a stone on the north side of the castle. However, it is widely thought that the site was already occupied by a tower house built for the sixth laird, Michael Fraser, in the 16th century. Evidence to confirm this is suggested by the gun loops being identical to those at nearby Tolquhon Castle, which dates from 1587.

In 1633, Alexander Fraser of Muchalls was raised to the Scottish peerage with the title of Lord Fraser. It was he who completed the work on Castle Fraser that had been begun by his father. His son became a supporter of the National Covenant, which pledged to retain the Presbyterian Church and Scotland’s laws, and this brought him into confrontation with the Royalist faction when the Marquis of Montrose’s men attacked his land and destroyed fields of crops.

With the political disruption that followed, the 3rd Lord Fraser soon ran into financial difficulties and this was to become an ongoing situation. The 4th Lord Fraser, who had supported the Old Pretender in the 1715 Jacobite Uprising, fell to his death from the cliffs at Pennan, on the Aberdeenshire coast.

Castle Fraser then passed to William Fraser of Inverallochy, whose line continued in the ownership until the death of Miss Elyza Fraser in 1814.

After this, the estate was occupied by a near relative, Colonel Charles Mackenzie Fraser and his wife Jane, and it was they who largely transformed the castle into a Victorian country house. They had 14 children, but tragically only three lived. The castle was eventually inherited by their seven-year-old grandson, Thomas Fraser Croft Fraser, who was to become Privy Chamberlain to the Pope and Master of Ceremonies at St Peter’s in Rome. He died in 1956.

In 1922, Castle Fraser was purchased at auction by Viscount Cowdray and made over to his second son, Clive Pearson. The Cowdray family had amassed a substantial fortune from publishing and took an interest in the restoration of old buildings. Dr William Kelly, an Aberdeen-based architect and antiquarian, was therefore employed to refurbish the castle, and the work continued when the castle was made over to Clive Pearson’s daughter Lavinia and her husband Major Michael Smiley. In 1976, the Smileys gifted Castle Fraser, along with an endowment and 26 acres of surrounding parkland, to the National Trust for Scotland.

Many of the original contents accumulated by the Fraser family remain, and visitors entering the building through the Laigh Hall are confronted by a splendid display of weaponry. The castle kitchen in the basement of the Michael Tower retains its open fire with an array of tools for cooking and baking.

In the great hall above this is another impressive fireplace, and you will be shown a secret room known as the Laird’s Lug, where people could hide and overhear what was being said about them. On show in the great hall and adjoining dining room are items of family furniture and portraiture, including several works by Sir Henry Raeburn. There are also military portraits of the Duke of Wellington and General Sir Thomas Bradford who fought with Colonel Fraser in the Peninsula Wars Everything about Castle Fraser has a period charm, from the green and pink rooms to the lairds’ bedroom, and chapel with its squint hole into the great hall below.

If you have a mind for it, ghostly piano music has been heard in the great hall, and Lady Blanche Drummond, who died here in 1874, has been seen walking the corridors in an evening gown.

But do not be alarmed, this is a warm and inviting place.

Ghosts are part of the fabric of old Scotland and linger about us all of the time meaning no harm.

For those of a more active, outdoor persuasion, a series of events ranging from a steam and vintage fair, to a jousting tournament and a Highland games takes place every year in the grounds. It is well worth finding out what diversions are being planned before you visit. Somehow it is on such occasions that the past truly comes to life.

Contact
Castle Fraser, Sauchen, Inverurie,
Aberdeenshire AB51 7LD
Tel: +44 (0)1330 833 463
Web: www.nts.org.uk/Property/16/
Admission: £6.00 (free to NTS members)
Castle open: 31st March to 30th June, Wednesday
to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday) 11amto
5pm; 1st July to 31st August, daily 11am to 5pm; 1st
September to 31st October, Wednesday to Sunday
(closed Monday and Tuesday) 12pm to 5pm (last
admission 45 minutes before closing).
Shop: same times as castle and also open 3rd
November to 16th December, Saturday/Sunday
12pm to 4pm. Gardens and grounds: all year, daily.
The property will be open on Bank Holiday
weekends from Friday to Monday inclusive