Castle Fraser

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Alternative Names Castle Fraser Estate; Muchal-In-Mar; Muchalls-In-Mar
Site Type COUNTRY HOUSE, TOWER HOUSE
Canmore ID 18722
Site Number NJ71SW 6
NGR NJ 72276 12557
Council ABERDEENSHIRE
Parish CLUNY
Former Region GRAMPIAN
Former District GORDON
Former County ABERDEENSHIRE
Datum OSGB36 - NGR

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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


Architectural 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.

Notes and Activities Click to sort results by Event date ascending

Archaeological 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.

May 1996 to May 1996
 FIELD VISIT

Notes B001 Castle Fraser Listed Cat. A.

'Z-plan' or '3-stepped plan' Tower House, with additional square tower at the north-east corner (Michael Tower) and a round tower at the south-east. Begun c.1575 by the 6th Laird, Michael Fraser, and finished by the 7th Laird in 1633, it incorporates an earlier (15th C) rectangular tower house. The latter phases of building involved master masons John Bell and James Leiper. The 5-6 storey main block is in exposed granite rubble; towers, turrets and outbuildings harled; pitched, slated roofs with conical roofs on turrets. The round tower has flat roof with balustrades and is used a viewing platform. Two low service wings extend on the north side forming a courtyard which makes an impressive composition, with a large armorial panel high up on the north facade over a former entrance. The main entrance is now on south side. Two small gatehouses with a linking archway were added by Col. Charles Mackenzie-Fraser.

The Castle form the focus of the whole landscape composition, both in its formal components and its 'natural style' improvements. Vistas along the Broad Walk, the West Avenue and the remains of older part of East Avenue all terminate with the Castle. The North and South Drives both take sweeping approaches, in which views of the Castle are all important. From the spaces between these lines, the Castle is seen in its imposing bulk, within its immediate setting of trees on either side.

The Castle also is significant as the main viewing point of the landscape. The principal rooms, main entrance and general aspect of the Castle are to the south across the parkland to Miss Bristow's Wood. As Section 6 will show, the surviving planting design and condition of trees does not at present do justice to the magnificence of the Castle.

The Round Tower provides an excellent viewing platform of the landscape in all directions (although even from here Bennachie cannot be seen, contrary to some 19th century pictures of the Castle). The elevated position allows the topographic setting of the Castle and its designed landscape to be appreciated.

(CAF96 B001) Information from (BNM) March 2014

Further details

24 August 2010 to 28 August 2010
 GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY

Notes NJ 72276 12557 The NTS environs project aims to gain a better understanding of the potential survival of historic garden features and potential structural features to help inform future management plans. A resistance survey was undertaken, at 0.5 x 0.5m intervals over a c1ha area to the E of Castle Fraser, to map potential garden features and structural remains, in the area of the former privy garden and the site of the potential chapel.
The survey undertaken 24–28 August 2010 failed to identify any anomalies clearly associated with the former privy garden or chapel. Although some weak trends were apparent in the data, the results were dominated by responses from earlier ridge and furrow cultivation. The results suggest that the garden had been largely removed during landscaping. A follow-up excavation was undertaken by Murray Archaeological Services.
Archive: Rose Geophysical Consultants
Funder: The National Trust for Scotland
Susan Ovenden – Rose Geophysical Consultants

Further details

30 August 2010 to 6 September 2010
 EXCAVATION

Notes An excavation was undertaken to assess the degree of survival of elements of the 17th century privy garden which is shown on an estate plan of 1788 extending E from the E wing of the castle. Documentary evidence indicates that the garden was systematically dismantled in 1796 when the present walled garden was constructed. A geophysical survey was undertaken by Rose Geophysical Consultants prior to excavation. Both the geophysical survey and the excavation revealed extensive rig and furrow which appeared to predate the 17th century garden. The N boundary of the garden and its orientation and layout were confirmed but its dismantling had been thorough and few structural details remained. Traces of paths, beds and planting lines were recovered, associated with 17th century pottery and clay tobacco pipes.
Information from Oasis (mas1-113725) 23 January 2012

Further details

30 August 2010 to 6 September 2010
 EXCAVATION

Notes NJ 72276 12557 An excavation was undertaken 30 August–6 September 2010 to assess the degree of survival of elements of the 17th-century privy garden, which is shown on an estate plan of 1788 extending E from the E wing of the castle. Documentary evidence indicates that the garden was systematically dismantled in 1796 when the present walled garden was constructed. A geophysical survey was undertaken by Rose Geophysical Consultants prior to excavation.
Both the geophysical survey and the excavation revealed extensive rig and furrow which appeared to predate the 17th-century garden. The N boundary of the garden and its orientation and layout were confirmed, but its dismantling had been thorough and few structural details remained. Traces of paths, beds and planting lines were located, associated with 17th-century pottery and clay tobacco pipes.
Reports: Aberdeenshire SMR, RCAHMS and The National Trust for Scotland
Funder: The National Trust for Scotland
HK Murray – Murray Archaeological Services Ltd

Further details

4 November 2010
 OBSERVATION

Notes Observation of two test pits dug to remedy a blocked drain in the courtyard at Castle Fraser revealed one face of a clay bonded stone wall, possibly the foundations of a structure shown on the 1st OS map of 1864.
Information from Oasis (mas1-113769) 18 July 2012

Further details

4 November 2010
 WATCHING BRIEF

Notes NJ 72309 12581 A watching brief was undertaken on 4 November 2010 during the excavation of two test pits.
The pits which were dug to locate a blocked drain in the courtyard at Castle Fraser revealed one face of a clay bonded stone wall, possibly the foundations of a structure shown on the 1st Edition OS map of 1864.
Reports: Aberdeenshire SMR and RCAHMS
Funder: The National Trust for Scotland
HK Murray – Murray Archaeological Services Ltd

Further details

14 March 2011 to 18 March 2011
 WATCHING BRIEF

Notes Prior to repaving in the courtyard at Castle Fraser excavation revealed the foundations of a late 18th and 19th century stair block that had been demolished in 1950. Comparison to documentary sources has enabled greater understanding of the construction of the block.
Reports: Aberdeenshire Council SMR, the National Trust for Scotland and RCAHMS
Funder: The National Trust for Scotland
Murray Archaeological Services 2011

Information also reported in Oasis (mas1-113779) 23 January 2012

Further details

13 September 2011 to 14 September 2011
 ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVALUATION

Notes As part of a project to renew lightening conductors at Castle Fraser, small trenches for seven of the conductors were archaeologically excavated around the perimeter of the building. Two to the E of the castle revealed garden earth and planting holes associated with the former 17th century Privy Garden and a 19th century flower border. Two to the S side of the castle revealed stone-built drains, possibly of late 18th century date. The final three trenches in the courtyard revealed details of buildings of 19th century date.
Reports: Aberdeenshire Council SMR, the National Trust for Scotland and RCAHMS
Funder: The National Trust for Scotland
Murray Archaeological Services Ltd 2011

Information also reported in Oasis (mas1-113828) 23 January 2012

Further details

 
External Links

Mason's Marks Project


 
Books and References

AOC (Scotland) (1996b) 'Castle Fraser (Cluny parish), designed landscape', Discovery Excav Scot
Page(s): 7

Addyman and Fraser, T and S (2006) 'Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire (Cluny parish), building recording, architectural analysis', Discovery Excav Scot, vol.7 Dorchester
Page(s): 17

Addyman, T (2003b) 'Castle Fraser (Cluny parish), watching brief', Discovery Excav Scot, vol.4
Page(s): 15

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