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Barra Castle

Garden (Period Unassigned), Lairds House (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Barra Castle

Classification Garden (Period Unassigned), Lairds House (Period Unassigned)

Canmore ID 18786

Site Number NJ72NE 7

NGR NJ 79223 25756

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

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

Recording Your Heritage Online

Barra, from 15th century. Pleasing early 20th-century restoration of building whose history is complex and whose ambience is captivating. The structure forms three sides of a cobbled courtyard, the fourth being occupied by a screen wall, pierced by a doorway. The earliest part, the vaulted kitchen and adjacent hall on the ground floor of the west range, and the chamber above, may survive from a tower or keep associated with 'the Goodman', a Blackhall, an hereditary 'Forester and Coroner of the Garioch', recorded in the second half of the 15th century. An L-plan tower appears to have been built to the south-east by 1592, when the Blackhalls forfeited the castle.

The main phase of surviving building was the responsibility of the new owner, George Seton, Tutor and Vicar of Meldrum and Chancellor of the Diocese of Aberdeen, who heightened the south wing and erected conical-roofed towers at either end of the south façade and a stair-tower and caphouse in the centre, 1614-18. Decoration in the form of 1614 and 1618 datestones, an MGS monogram and three interlocked crescents testify to Seton's work. The castle was sold in 1658 to James Reid, an Aberdeen advocate, whose son, a Nova Scotia baronet, was responsible for inserting wooden panelling and creating the formal garden, of which the terrace and summer house with forestair survive.

In 1750 Barra was sold to John Ramsay, a 'Russian' merchant (ie he traded in Russia), who added the north wing in 1753, thus changing the alignment and requiring the creation of two piended pavilions in the outer court. From 1766, on the purchase of the adjoining estate of Straloch, to 1909, the castle was used as a farmhouse. It was restored 1910/11, in conjunction with George Bennet Mitchell, by Ramsay's great grand-daughter, Mary, who married Alexander Irvine of Drum and, herself, rebuilt all the farmhouses on Barra and Straloch.

The bare, weathered masonry of Seton's south front is set in a perfect succession of curves and angles, conveying a sense of immense age and tranquillity; charmingly French.

Taken from "Aberdeenshire: Donside and Strathbogie - An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Ian Shepherd, 2006. Published by the Rutland Press

Archaeology Notes

NJ72NE 7.00 79223 25756

(NJ 7925 2578) Barra Castle (NAT)

OS 6" map, (1959)

NJ72NE 7.01 NJ 79271 25765 Buildings and walls flanking forecourt

NJ72NE 7.02 NJ 79271 25750 Forecourt, Gatepiers

NJ72NE 7.03 NJ 79147 25741 Garden House and remains of garden wall

For possibly-associated dovecot, see NJ72NE 8.

Barra Castle - an excellent example of a fortified laird's house, of which the architecture places it to the first half of the 17th century (MacGibbon and Ross 1887-92), but possibly replacing an earlier building of the King family, who lived here from the mid 13th century. The dates 1614 and 1618 appear on the upper part of the building. A complicated variation of the L-plan, with main block lying N-S, and a wing projecting E from the S end as to form two re-entrants, one being occupied by a circular stairtower.

An 18th century addition extends E from the N end of the main block, thus forming three sides of a square, a curtain wall forming the fourth side of the fore-court.

N Tranter 1962-70; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92.

Barra Castle is as described and planned. No evidence of an earlier structure.

Visited by OS (RL) 17 February 1969.

Air photography (AAS/94/11/G22/16-24) has recorded the castle and the site of the garden.

NMRS, MS/712/21.

[Magazine and other references cited].

NMRS, MS/712/70.

Barra Castle is still in use as a private residence; it was not recorded as part of the RCAHMS Strath Don survey.

Information from RCAHMS (JRS), 19 April 1999.

NJ 7922 2575 A watching brief was undertaken in November 2002 as part of works for the redevelopment of the N wing of Barra Castle (NJ72NE 7). The wing dates from the mid-18th century. No archaeological deposits or features were revealed.

Full report lodged with Aberdeenshire SMR and the NMRS.

Sponsor Mr G Stephen.

S Farrell 2003.

Architecture Notes


Owner: Major Francis C. Q. Irvine

Restoration 1909


Photographic Survey (April 1955)

Photographic survey of exterior of Barra Castle, Aberdeenshire, by the Scottish National Buildings Record in April 1955.

Photographic Survey (July 1963)

Photographic survey of Barra Castle, Aberdeenshire, by the Scottish National Buildings Record/Ministry of Works in 1962.

Standing Building Recording (29 June 2009 - 1 July 2009)

NJ 792 257 Alterations to the fabric of Barra Castle were recorded 29 June–1 July 2009. The castle has a complex history of building, reconstruction and modification. Early 17th-century date stones, with the monograms of the Seton family, mark the first securely dated part of the castle, although this is thought to represent the upgrading of an existing structure or structures.

As it stands today, Barra Castle comprises a U-shaped plan, consisting of three wings of three or four storeys each, open to the E. The N wing is thought to be an 18th-century addition, perhaps replacing an earlier range. The S wing is the highest part of the castle, possibly incorporating an early tower at its E end, although transformed by the addition of a newel stair which connects it to the W range. The W range may incorporate an earlier structure at ground floor level, although recent analysis suggests that much of it may be of early 17th-century date. The architectural details of the N and S ends of this range differ significantly on all three floors and this could be due to the rebuilding of much of the N end. This is perhaps best indicated by the stump of a round tower which survives to ground floor level in the NW corner of the range, while towers at the SW corner and two others in the S elevation run the height of the building.

In the second half of the 15th century the lands of Barra are recorded as being held by a Blackhall, known as ‘the Goodman’, who was a hereditary ‘Forester and Coroner of the Garioch’. In the 16th century the lands were held by the Blackhalls and the King family. The King family lost Barra as a result of a feud with their neighbours, the Setons of Meldrum. In 1590 James King of Barra and others attacked and killed James Seton of Meldrum ‘with schottis of hagbuttis and muscattis, committed upon the landis of Barra’. The feud resulted in the Kings and the Blackhalls forfeiting their rights to the lands and in 1599 George Seton was granted both

halves of Barra. A charter of 1599 to George Seton, tutor of Meldrum, mentions the erection of the lands of Barra as a free barony and another to George Seton of Barra, in 1615, ordained that the ‘fortalice of Barra’ was to be the chief seat of the barony (RMS, VII., 460). On George Seton’s death (c1630), Barra passed to his nephew’s family, the Setons of Pitmedden. By 1658, James Seton of Pitmedden had sold Barra to James Reid, an Aberdeen advocate.

By 1672, James Reid had been succeeded by his son, John, who in 1703 received a Nova Scotia baronetcy. Sir John died c1723, succeeded by his son Alexander, who died in 1750 and was succeeded by his third son, James. James sold Barra in 1754 to John Ramsay, a ‘Russian’ merchant. In 1909–10, John Ramsay’s great-grand daughter, Mary, who had married Alexander Irvine of Drum, restored the older part of the castle. The architect was George Bennet Mitchell.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Gordon Ewart and David Murray – Kirkdale Archaeology

Information from OASIS ID: kirkdale1-249655 (G Ewart) 2009

Watching Brief (19 September 2012)

J 79223 25756 Although described as an excellent example of a fortified laird’s house dating to the first half of the 17th century, part of the W range may date to the 15th century. A watching brief was maintained on 19 September 2012 during the laying of new flagstones in the courtyard of the castle. The flagstones were replacing earlier cobbles which were set in a mixture of topsoil and redeposited natural clay. No earlier features or finds were recorded.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended). Report and photographs: Aberdeenshire Council SMR

Funder: Mr David Stephen

HK Murray and JC Murray - Murray Archaeological Services Ltd (DES)


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