Aberdeenshire HER - NJ66SE0007 - DUFF HOUSE

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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNJ66SE0007
NRHE Card No.NJ66SE8
NRHE Numlink 18493
HES LB No. 21985
Site Form Standing Structure
Site Condition Complete 2
Details Duff House is a magnificent Baroque mansion house designed by William Adam for William Duff MP, later Lord Braco, first Earl of Fife. The foundation stone for the house was laid in 1735, and the building completed in 1749. The stone for the north and south fronts came from a quarry in Morayshire, the rest from a quarry near Queensferry. The original design contained two flanking pavilions and quadrants, but these were never completed due to an argument between Adams and Lord Braco over costs, leaving just the central block. The house is built on a square plan of three storeys over a raised basement with advanced corner towers, breaking eaves, and with domed roofs and cupolas. It is constructed predominantly of fine ashlar sandstone, with some rustication to the basement. The front elevation is dominated by a ram's horn staircase leading up to the principal floor, with a triumphal, pedimented centrepiece topped with exuberant armorial carving in the tympanum of the pediment, the whole presided over by classical lead statuettes at the apex (Diana) and outer angles of pediment (Mars and Orpheus). The outbuildings include an Ice-house, Fishing temple and Orangery. In November 1907, the Duke of Fife presented Duff House to the townships of Banff and Macduff. The two town councils initially decided to convert the house and some 140 acres of the surrounding land into a hydropathic establishment. Sutherland and George prepared sketch plans, but the scheme was abandoned. Instead between 1908 and 1913, and again in the 1920s, Duff House was used as a country house hotel. The building was converted into an exclusive hotel for wealthy customers who were attracted by the seaside location, the new golf course, which had recently opened behind the house, and the very grand Royal connections associated with the house. Later, in the 1920s when Banff, was promoting itself as 'An Ideal Holiday Resort', the Duff House Hotel was advertised as being 'The Sportsman's Paradise' with access to golf, tennis, trout and salmon fishing and shooting. From 1913 to 1923, Duff House was used as a private hospital for the scientific investigation and treatment of internal diseases. The Duff House Sanatorium offered specialist treatment for various stomach complaints and related illnesses including emaciation, heart and arterial diseases, the nervous system, lung disease and anaemia. During his time at Duff House, the Senior Physician, Dr Edmund Spriggs (1871-1949), conducted pioneering research of the then relatively unknown condition of diabetes. The house was brought into military service between 1939 and 1946, used as a military base, hospital, internment camp and a POW camp. Six German prisoners and two of the British guards were killed when two bombs hit the east wing of the house in 1940, and the prisoners were subsequently moved elsewhere. The house was subsequently used as an Allied headquarters for various English and Scots regiments. From October 1940 Duff House was home to the headquarter company of the 13th Battalion Highland Light Infantry. After they moved out, in 1942 it became the HQ for Norway's Norwegian Brigade and, after the war, as a base for Polish soldiers waiting for resettlement in Scotland. It sustained superficial damage during an air-raid on the 22nd July 1940. The house was taken into care by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Ministry of Works, now Historic Scotland, in 1957, and a long restoration programme began. This was finally completed in 1992 along with the partnership of District and Regional Councils. In 1993 further alterations were made to Duff House when a tea room, shop and toilets were added to the ground floor. Duff House is now open to the public as an extension of the National Galleries of Scotland. An archaeological watching brief was undertaken in March 2006 during the excavation of service trenches to the E of the property. Substantial structural remains were encountered which were then partially excavated. The remains of the Bryce Wing were shown to be close to the current ground surface. Finds within the structural remains included fragments of plain white ceramics, glass vials, painted architectural fragments and pantiles. The truncated section of wall uncovered towards the NW corner of the trench may pre-date the construction of the Bryce Wing in 1860. This wall was outside the area affected by the new drains. In 2006, roof timbers were sampled by AOC as part of the Native Oak and Pine Project. The dendrochronological results indicated a Scandinavian source for the timber. The analysis did not identify any native pine in the sampled timber despite documentary evidence for its presence. Dated samples indicate a felling date of 1737. A watching brief was carried out in August 2011 by Kirkdale Archaeology during the excavation of two trenches (centred at NJ 6906 6334 and NJ 6904 6331) to locate and repair a water leak. No water was reaching the house, and the water tanks were empty, but oddly there was no sign of the surface water that would be expected during a leakage episode. The excavations revealed that a failed collar joint was the reason for the leak but, more interestingly, that the reason that there was no surface sign of the leak was that the water being lost from the pipe had found its way into an original William Adam slabbed drain of the 1730s which skirted the foundations of the house. This was exposed during the remedial works and was shown to have been breached and utilised during the installation of the water system, possibly in the 1990s. The scale and nature of the excavations coupled with the pressing need to remedy the leak meant that the archaeological recording of the works was largely conducted photographically. Plans of both trenches were made at a scale of 1:50. A watching brief was carried out by CFA Archaeology in June 2018 on excavations for a new war memorial (NJ66SE0485) on the foundations of the wing that was bombed during World War II. The foundations were uncovered, excavated and recorded. The new memorial was unveiled in July 2018.
Last Update26/02/2024
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Google Map for NJ66SE0007

National Grid Reference: NJ 6906 6327

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
2006 Watching-Brief
2011 Watching-Brief kirkdale1-123640
2006 Building Recording
1991 Building Recording
2018 Watching-Brief

Excavations and Surveys

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