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Publication Account

Date 1996

Event ID 1016420

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


Leith Hall was in the same family, the Leiths and Leith-Hays, for 300 years. The house forms a pleasing whole, bui lt of four wings on a square, like a modest chateau, but with a complex architectural history as a result of the additions of successive lairds.

The modern visitor approaches the west and most recent wing; to the left (north) is the oldest wing, built in 1650 as a plain rectangular turreted block with a courtyard and laich biggins (brew-house, bake-house, stores and stables) to the south. (There is an excellent NTS guidebook with useful reconstructions of the different phases). Conventional and unadorned, this block had none of the exuberance of Craigievar or Castle Fraser which date from the more peaceful times at the beginning of the century.

In 1756, John Leith, the fourth laird, built up the east wing, re-sited the stables (the curved block to the north ), inserted kitchens on the south side and added little pavilions at each corner. This house had, for its time, the inconvenience of looking ino the kitchen courtyard. Around 1797 General

Alexander Leith-Hay in stituted ma jor changes, turning the house back to from and creating a new south wing for the principal apartments. These five provincial Georgian rooms are the best in the house, particularly the oval Drawing Room, the Dining Room and the Library. In heightening the east wing he also added little turrets to the south wing to harmonise with those on the original north wing. In 1886 the Billiard Room was built above the arch to the courtyard on the west side by the eighth laird, Alexander Sebastian. This was later changed to a Music Room; drum turrets were also added to the north-west and south-west corners and the projecting entrance hall at the east.

A major element of Leith Hall 's appeal is the quantity of objects, paintings and furniture that relate directly to the various lairds. For example, in the Dining Room that he created is a portrait of General Alexander Leith-Hay, the sixth laird, with whom the family's fortunes revived, thanks to his Jacobite uncle Andrew Hay of Rannes and a cousin who left him a sugar plantation in Tobago which he sold for a not inconsiderable £29,000. The pardon that Andrew Hay eventually received from George aII in 1780 as an act of 'compass ion of our special grace' can be seen in the Library, along with Prince Charles Edward Stewart's shagreen writing case. There are also many items of military memorabilia; three lairds, the sixth, seventh and eighth, saw service overseas, so a characteristic sample of much of British imperial history is preserved here, including Col Alexander Sebastian's booty from the sacking of Oudh.

Several lairds were improvers, albeit not in the van of the movement. The fourth laird, John, built the curved stables (which are not unlike the Aden Round Square, no. 4); his second son, General Alexander Leith-Hay, took advantage of the opening of th e Aberdeenshire Canal in 1805 to send carts to Inverurie for lime. He also introduced (40 years after Grant of Monymusk) potatoes, pease, turnips and clover.

In the policies, the walled garden, largely created by the second last laird, contains two important Pictish symbol stones, notably the Wolf stone from Newbigging, Leslie. The garden opens through a delightful 19th-century Moon Gate on to the old turnpike road that ran over the hill to Huntly. To the south-east of the house a re two ponds created for boating, fishing and duck shooting and an icehouse, the Victorian country house refrigerator.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Aberdeen and North-East Scotland’, (1996).

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