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Issue 61 - A Safe Place

Scotland Magazine Issue 61
February 2012


This article is 6 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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A Safe Place

Charles Douglas visits this relatively untroubled home in Aberdeenshire

The name derives from the Gaelic word Faskie, which means “a safe place” and being located close to the village of Fettercairn, above Cairn O’ Mounth, the high mountain gateway through the Grampians into Aberdeenshire, its history has remained relatively untroubled by the turbulent passage of time.

Untroubled in so far as it was situated at some distance from the principle centres of conflict, thus making it a safe place.

To begin with, it was held by the Ramsays of Balmaine, whose ancestor first rose to prominence as a favourite of James III. Having been granted the lands of Balmain in Kincardineshire by James IV in 1510, this John Ramsay died fighting for his King three years later at the Battle of Flodden, passing his lands on to his descendants who conscientiously served in the British army and navy, and as members of parliament for Kincardineshire.

However, the Fasque House that we see today stood some 50 yards from the present site. It began when Sir Alexander Ramsay, 6th Baronet, invited the iconic Scottish architect William Adam to prepare a plan. Although this is illustrated in Adam’s Vitruvius Scoticus, it was never progressed although the building of an ostentatious sandstone building thereafter commenced following a symmetrical castellated style, with octagonal towers at the centre and corners of the main facade. On Sir Alexander’s death in 1806, the estate passed to his nephew Alexander Burnett, who adopted the Ramsay surname only to die four years later. By then the current house, allegedly featuring the world’s largest double-spiral indoor staircase, was completed, but the rising costs of its upkeep finally obliged the family to sell it in 1829 for £80,000 to John Gladstone, a Liverpool-based cotton, sugar and grain millionaire, whose family had originated from Biggar, in Lanarkshire.

John Gladstone moved into Fasque with his second wife and daughter in 1833 having added a third storey to the central tower in 1830. In 1846, he was awarded the Baronetcy of Fasque and Balfour by the outgoing British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, and in gratitude, financed the building of the Fasque Episcopalian Church which stands within the grounds to this day.

The Gladstones had six children, the eldest son Thomas, who inherited the house, married Louise Fellowes, a relative of Queen Victoria, who in 1852 had purchased the adjoining Balmoral Estate.

Sir John was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Kincardineshire and his youngest son, William Ewart Gladstone, who through marriage had come into possession of Hawarden Castle in North Wales, was to serve as British Prime Minister for four separate terms between 1868 and 1894, more than any other politician before or since.

The brothers were on amicable terms, and the Prime Minister frequently visited Fasque, not least on his obligatory visits to Balmoral. At his childhood home it is said that he loved to walk the moors and to involve himself with forestry works.

Sir Thomas died in 1889, passing the Baronetcy on to his eldest son John, a bachelor soldier, who came home to run the estate with his sister Mary in the 1890s. The house was abandoned for a large chunk of the twentieth century until Sir William Gladstone, 7th Baronet, great-grandson of the Prime Minister, and a former Chief Scout inherited the title.

In 1978, Sir William’s younger brother, the naturalist Peter Gladstone, re-decorated the entire building, seemingly whitewashing it throughout, and opened it to the public for the first time. It remained open to summer visitors for over two decades, the east wing almost entirely open to the public and the west wing providing a home for Peter’s family.

Peter died in 2000, with the estate by then being run by Sir William’s son, Charles. In 2003, the house was closed to the public, and the future of this great Victorian mansion became uncertain.

In 2010, Fasque House, now a category AListed Building, was bought by Fasque House Properties Ltd. This sale does not affect the land retained by the Fasque and Glen Dye Estate, which is still owned by the Gladstone family.

Fasque House has been successfully revitalised as a wedding venue, providing conference facilities and cottage rentals, and its 400 acres are currently awaiting planning permission for a £55 million development which will eventually see the creation of 115 homes, a mix of new build, steading and stable block conversions for holiday lets, and an equestrian centre, farm shop and museum.

I can well remember a visit I made to Fasque House back in the 1980s with Lady Edith Foxwell, a colourful character if ever there was one, who in her lifetime was known as the “Queen of London Cafe Society.” Friend of such eclectic notables as Noel Coward and the singer Marvin Gaye, she was on a visit to Scotland to see her friend, the late Clifford Brake.

Lady Edith died in 1968, otherwise I would have asked her to remind me why she had specifically wanted to visit Fasque – at the time I had simply volunteered to drive her - but I do remember being enormously impressed by its grand staircase and dramatic exterior.

However, in the 21st century, such great houses and estates are increasingly obliged to adapt to the times, even where and when there is substantial wealth to sustain them. Lady Edith, who owned an estate in England, would have understood that only too well.

Fasque House is no exception. In this day and age, such properties cry out to be shared and, considering its substantial and imposing importance in the rich heartland of the Aberdeenshire so much adored by Queen Victoria, that region’s greatest patroness, I congratulate Fasque House Properties on their plans.