Castle Fraser

Country House, Tower House

Site Name Castle Fraser

Classification Country House, Tower House

Alternative Name(s) Castle Fraser Estate; Muchal-in-mar; Muchalls-in-mar

Canmore ID 18722

Site Number NJ71SW 6

NGR NJ 72276 12557

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Ordnance Survey licence number 100020548. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Aberdeenshire
  • Parish Cluny
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Gordon
  • Former County Aberdeenshire

Recording Your Heritage Online

Castle Fraser, from 15th century; c.1576, Thomas Leiper; 1614, James Leiper; 1617-18, I (John) Bell; 1795, (?)James Byers. The trio of Aberdeenshire finest master-masons has produced an almost perfect Z-plan massing of blocks and turrets combined with an inspired elaboration of upperworks; Fraser is near the peak of Renaissance Aberdeenshire, passing quickly from tower (the earliest work on the bottom of the main block) to palace - complete with U-plan courtyard and laich biggins - and furnished with a colossal asymmetrical bedroom stack of six storeys which yet contrives to balance the whole. As currently presented, far too much rubble is exposed to appreciate the full beauty of the dressed stone, particularly the immense heraldic frontispiece slung high and mighty on the original front and the 'Arma Christi', below and to the right. True, there were many 18th- and 19th-century depredations, including the loss of the ceilings, but the interior retains enough, particularly the high, airy hall (with laird's lug) to savour. Fine library by John Smith, 1820, from long gallery.

Taken from "Aberdeenshire: Donside and Strathbogie - An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Ian Shepherd, 2006. Published by the Rutland Press http://www.rias.org.uk

Archaeology Notes

NJ71SW 6.00 72276 12557

(NJ 7227 1255) Castle Fraser (NR)

OS 6" map, (1959)

NJ71SW 6.01 NJ 72029 12446 Stable Block

NJ71SW 6.02 NJ 71840 12457 West Lodge and Gate Piers

NJ71SW 6.03 NJ 72677 11765 South Lodge, Gate Piers, Kennels and Well

NJ71SW 6.04 NJ 71968 13561 North Lodge and Gate Piers

NJ71SW 6.05 NJ 72336 12701 Walled Garden and Sundial

NJ71SW 6.06 Cancelled. Duplicate site. See NJ71SW 6.16

NJ71SW 6.07 NJ 72521 12739 Gardener's Cottage

NJ71SW 6.08 NJ 72401 12047 Bristow Cottage

NJ71SW 6.09 NJ 72820 12830 Walkend Cottage

NJ71SW 6.10 NJ 71375 12216 West Mains Farmhouse; Farmsteading

NJ71SW 6.11 NJ 7146 1231 West Mains Cottages

NJ71SW 6.12 NJ 7244 1211 Monument

NJ71SW 6.13 NJ 71749 11862 Obelisk

NJ71SW 6.14 NJ 716 127 Whin-mill

NJ71SW 6.15 NJ 7195 1240 Swimming Pool

NJ71SW 6.16 NJ 72059 12320 The Neuk, Factor's House

NJ71SW 6.17 NJ 72332 12581 Sundial

For 'John Bell' commemorative stone (NJ 7212 1270), see NJ71SW 5. For agricultural remains and miscellaneous features within Castle Fraser policies, see NJ71SW 22-8 and 31. For recumbent stone circle and standing stones (NJ 7150 1253 and 7174 1250 respectively) within the policies, see NJ71SW 3 and NJ71SW 4. For gravel pit (NJ 7272 1211) within the policies, seee NJ71SW 130.

Fraser Castle was built on the 'Z' plan in 1617 by master-mason I Bell (whose dated name plate is on the north face of the building) on the site of an earlier 'L' shaped building, part of which remains in the lower stones of the western half of the central block. This earlier building was of the time of the sixth laird Michael (d. 1588).

O Hill 1953.

Castle Fraser, from 15th century; c.1576, Thomas Leiper; 1614, James Leiper, 1617-18, I (John) Bell; 1795, (?) James Byers. The trio of Aberdeenshire finest master-masons has produced an almost perfect Z-plan massing of blocks and turrets combined with an inspired elaboration of upperworks; Fraser is near the peak of Renaissance Aberdeenshire, passing quickly from tower (the earliest work on the bottom of the main block) to palace - complete with U-plan courtyard and laich biggins - and furnished with a colossal asymmetrical bedroom stack of six storeys which yet contrives to balance the whole. As currently presented, far too much rubble is exposed to appreciate the full beauty of the dressed stone, particularly the immense heraldic frontispiece slung high and mighty on the original front and the Arma Christi, below and to the right. True, there were many 18th- and 19th-century depredations, including the loss of the ceilings, but the interior retains enough, particularly the high, airy hall (with laird's lug) to savour. Fine library by John Smith, 1820, from long gallery.

I Shepherd 1994.

NJ 725 125 A survey of topographic features and tree types was carried out within the boundaries of the NTS property of Castle Fraser. The aim was to identify and record all remaining features relating to the designed landscape and to provide a GIS survey of all major trees.

This survey showed that fragmentary patches of cultivation and enclosure could still be seen within planted areas but that elsewhere recent cultivation has obliterated all traces of landscape features. This work was carried out in partnership with Peter MacGowan, Landscape Architects.

Sponsor: National Trust for Scotland

AOC (Scotland) Ltd 1996

NJ 723 126 The laying of a new water main to the castle and stables necessitated a watching brief on the work through the designed landscape. Several features were uncovered, including a cobbled pathway and several stone-lined drains. Occasional chance finds were made, including a spear-like iron implement and several pieces of post-medieval pottery.

Sponsor: National Trust for Scotland

D Hind 1998.

NJ 715 125 A watching brief was undertaken in January 2003 over excavations necessary for the repair of a power cable. Although no significant features were exposed, the excavation revealed 0.5m of made ground below the present gravelled surface.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: NTS.

T Addyman 2003

NJ 715 125 A small section of drain capstones from an E-W aligned drain, probably 18th century, composed of large granite flags, was exposed during the erection of a marquee within the courtyard area at Castle Fraser in January 2003. The capstones were overlain by a mortar-rich matrix, most likely related to the demolition of a building in the early 1950s.

Archive to be deposited in NTS SMR.

Sponsor: NTS.

S M Fraser 2003

A major rewiring of the castle (NJ71SW 6) required historic building recording of features exposed below floorboards

and behind existing wall linings, etc. This principally involved work to the main tower, where early floor structures were examined and recorded at most levels. Some early painted plaster on-the-hard interior schemes were identified,

either whitewashed or yellow ochre. Examination of the roof space above the existing dining room revealed evidence for a timber (plank) barrel-vaulted ceiling, some of the armatures remaining in situ, and with silhouette evidence further preserved in wallplaster to the N and S. Monitoring works included a brief exercise in the existing kitchen

(NW range, S end, ground floor), where a new flue liner was installed.

Archive to be deposited in NMRS.

Sponsor: NTS.

NJ 7227 1255 With on-going monitoring during services installation in 2006 more of the Castle Fraser structure has been subject to detailed recording, most recently the mid-parts of the Michael Tower and the upper level of the NW wing. Examination of roof structures generally has confirmed the former presence of galleries within the upper level of each wing. In the NE wing a timber barrel-vaulted chamber ran the entire length of the range, an arrangement clearly oriented so as to coincide with an Ewards view over a sequence of formal gardens in that direction. The NW wing contained a shorter gallery, also with wooden barrel-vaulted ceiling, in its Southern part. At its N end was a separate chamber with attic room above.

A very detailed assessment of a series of three `Appraisals of Prejudice¿ of c 1655 was made. These recorded damage to the castle, apparently a sacking, affecting metalwork, woodwork and glazing. Using these documents it was possible to plot the arrangement and function of all the rooms throughout the 17th-century castle. Among other features the presence of the two galleries was confirmed, as was the location of the stable (present tea room), brewhouse, bakehouse and girnell house (lower level of NW wing). Gate lodges and a chapel were also itemised, apparently separate structures that are no longer extant.

Two further inventories of 1720 and 1722 provided important cross-correlation with the earlier documents as well as important evidence for the extent and nature of a major reorganisation of the accommodation within the castle at the beginning of the 18th century, work that included the subdivision of both galleries.

We looked for consideration of possible evidence for a former independent chapel building at Castle Fraser. There are ex situ carved stones at a wellhead within the policies, within the walled garden and in the form of a masonry bellcote, now surmounting one of the early 19th-century gate lodges to the castle courtyard. The latter is identical to a group of similar early 17th-century bellcotes in the vicinity and, in common with work of this period within the castle, should perhaps be associated with the Bel family of masons. However, we could not determine with certainty whether these features originated at Castle Fraser or at a predecessor parish church at Cluny. Carved stones built into the exterior of the N wall of the walled garden were judged to relate to an intramural heated wall flue system.

Sponsor: NTS.

T Addyman and S Fraser, 2006.

Architecture Notes

NMRS REFERENCE:

Architects: J. Bell, 1617. adds to building of 1576

John Paterson c. 1794 - scheme for hall and vestibule not executed. Stable Court executed.

William Burn c.1819? not executed

Dr William Kelly. Restorations. 1930s

Walker & Duncan. Alts to East wing. 1950.

R.S. Lorimer 1927 (not carried out).

R.S Lorimer commissioned to renovate but not carried out.

Mrs Smiley (Castle Fraser) has original set of drawings dated 1927 a dyeline set (coloured) exists in Stuart Matthew Collection purchased by NMRS 1980.

NMRS Printroom

W Schomberg Scott Photograph Collection Acc no 1997/39

Detail of turrets

EXTERNAL REFERENCE:

Plans:

RIBA - Wm Burn. Proposed alts. perspective sketch. c.1819?

RIBA - J.J. Joass. Perspective sketch & plan.

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