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Issue 83 - The Ridge on the Hill

Scotland Magazine Issue 83
October 2015


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The Ridge on the Hill

Charles Douglas visits Meldrum House, Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire

It is situated, as the Gaelic translation of Meall Druim suggests, on the ridge of a rocky outcrop on the highest point of the surrounding land. With its beginnings as a tower house, Meldrum House dates from the 13th Century when the territory was granted by Alexander II of Scotland to Philip de Phendarg (or Fedarg) in 1236.

It was Sir Philip's son, another Philip who seemingly first adopted the title of Meldrum and thereafter the family prospered becoming significant landowners in the north east. In 1433, when Alexander Meldrum of Meldrum married a daughter of Sir Henry Preston , they acquired nearby Fyvie Castle. Their son George was appointed ambassador to the court of King Henry VIII of England.

With William Meldrum, the last of the male line, having only two daughters, the Meldrum estate passed to his youngest daughter Elizabeth who was married to William Seton, youngest son of Sir Alexander Seton, 1st Lord Gordon. Tragically both Alexander and a brother were killed at the Battle of Brechin (a confrontation between the King's supporters and the Black Douglas faction) in 1452. The Meldrum estate nevertheless, remained with the Seton family for a further seven generations.

The Setons were nothing if not impressive. Fiercely Royalist, they fought at the Battle of Flodden and for Mary Queen of Scots, whose wedding to the Dauphin of France in 1557 was attended by the seventh Lord Seton. In 1600, James VI of Scotland created Robert Seton, first Earl of Winton.

William and Elizabeth's great great great grandson Sir Alexander, having acquired Fyvie Castle from his kinsman, was in 1601 made Chancellor of Scotland and three years later he was created first Earl of Dunfermline. It was he who introduced a second staircase at Meldrum House to create a new entrance at the top after blocking the original archway into the internal courtyard. He also introduced the central tower with its featured stone-carved Royal Coat of Arms on the north east face.

As Lord Dunfermline's two sons both pre-deceased him, his estates were inherited by his granddaughter Elizabeth. She was the wife of John Urquhart of Craigfintray, known as the ‘Tutor of Cromarty,’ and thus the Meldrum estate passed into the Urquhart line who were responsible for major extension and the addition of two wings. In 1863, James Urquhart of Meldrum commissioned the notable Scottish architect Archibald Simpson to redesign the house and remove the noticeable air of neglect.

Simpson's designs took three years to complete but provided a substantial Jacobean-style mansion house of symmetrical design in a large C shape with a grand Portico entrance and turreted pavilions to a total of 186 rooms.

The last Urquhart descendant was Major Beauchamp Colclough Urquhart who was killed by the Mahdists at the Battle of Attbara in the Sudan in 1898. The estate then passed to his sister Annie Isabella, who had married their first cousin Garden Alexander Duff of Hatton.

In 1934, it was their daughter in law, Lady Doris Duff, who commissioned the architect
W. L. Duncan to redesign the house; remove the turreted pavilion and demolish a complete storey of the main house to leave the shape that can be seen today.

The last of the direct line of Meldrum- Seton- Urquhart - Duff was Robin Duff. A BBC war correspondent he was on the beaches of Normandy to cover the D-Day Landings and later became bureau chief for a London newspaper in Paris and Delhi. For a time, he was Personal Assistant to the Maharaja of Bundi, but returned to Scotland after he inherited Meldrum House in 1954.

Among his many civic and cultural commitments, he was Chairman of Scottish Ballet from 1973 until 1982. It was Robin who turned part of Meldrum House into a hotel and even taught himself to become a chef. Over a summer, he even imported his 21-year old godson the broadcaster David Dimbleby to work on the staff as a waiter.

The current owners created the Meldrum House Golf Club after his death in 1990. Meldrum House itself has today been upgraded to become a luxurious and welcoming country house hotel with sophisticated guest accommodation and gourmet dining using locally sourced ingredients from this glorious region of north east Scotland.

Visitor Information
Meldrum House Country Hotel and Golf Club
Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire AB51 DAE
Tel:+44 (0) 1651 872 294

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