Aberdeenshire HER - NO79NW0005 - CRATHES CASTLE

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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNO79NW0005
NRHE Card No.NO79NW8
NRHE Numlink 36693
HES LB No. 3262
Site Form Standing Structure
Site Condition Complete 2
Details Castle. An L-plan tower-house built in the mid-16th century with a later projecting wing. It is built of granite with rounded angles and rises to four storeys and an attic. The lower storeys are plain but above the first-floor level there is a profusion of corbelling, stringcourse, angle- and stair-turrets, heraldic decoration, gargoyles, and gabling which are unique to Scottish castellated architecture. The entrance, in the re-entrant angle is protected by an iron yett. The interior is famed for its plaster and magnificent wooden painted ceilings. The castle was built for the Burnetts of Leys who received the charter for the land from Robert the Bruce in 1323. Formerly they lived on the crannog at Leys, but following the marriage in 1543 of Alexander Burnett to Janet Hamilton, daughter of Canon Hamilton of the abbey of Arbroath, a dowry of church lands enabled work to begin on a new tower at Crathes. The work was carried out intermittently between 1553 and 1596 by one of the great Bell family of masons. The vaulted ground floor has kitchens, store and a small prison. The high hall is an imposing vaulted space with three stone bosses carved with Hamilton cinquefoils and Burnett holly leaves crowing the vault. Over the fireplace is a jewelled ivory horn, the Horn of Leys, which is said to have been presented to Alexander Burnett by the Bruce when he received the charter. Above the hall four rooms retain their original late 16th century painted ceilings. The designed landscape extends over 272 ha (NO79NW0117). The parkland is shown on the 1747 Roy maps as small open blocks of land; it was landscaped in the late 18th century. The woodland was planted c.1600 and extended and enlarged in the late 17th/early 18th century. The walled garden were probably built for Sir Thomas Burnet, and were known for their 'delicate fruit'; the majority of the yew hedges could date from the 1850s; a modern flower garden was created in the 1880s. There is a B-listed dovecot to the south-east (NO79NW0104). The Defence of Britain Project recorded that during World War II Crathes Castle was used as a hospital. The castle came into the hands of the National Trust for Scotland in 1951. A watching brief in 1995 during the lifting of stone flags in the 'well' room recorded an underlying hard sandy mortar which may have been an earlier floor level. No evidence for a well was uncovered although it is possible that this was concealed by the mortar layer. In 1996 the ice pond and lade on the estate were cleaned and recorded. This was carried out in 2 stages: an evaluation followed by the cleaning of the entire system. The lade is 138m long above and 40m long below the pond. It was deliberately channelled from an existing stream, and the sides lined with stones. When completely emptied the pond measured 10m N-S by 8m W-E. In general the type of material found indicated that after the functional use of the pond ceased in the mid-19th century, the pond was used as a recreational site for the inhabitants of the castle. A complete ice manufacturing system (the upper dam, sluice, lade, pond, slide, lower dam and ice houses) is present at Crathes estate and the survival of this system in such an intact condition appears to be quite rare. In 1997 removal of an old chestnut tree south of the castle revealed a late 18th century wine bottle dump, probably redeposited from another location. In April-May 2000 a geophysical survey was undertaken by students from Glasgow University. Resistivity survey confirmed the 1913 photographic evidence of a central garden feature of four arcs of bed around a central trellis, and beyond this, four small circular beds (DES 2000 p8). A blocked 16th century pistol loop was discovered during redecoration work in the south stair tower (Fraser, 2002). The recording of exterior elevations of the east and north ranges of the estate offices courtyard was undertaken in 2001. Seven major structural phases were identified (Fraser, 2002). Two watching briefs were carried out by Murray Archaeological Services in 2005. One watching brief was during the laying of a cable between Crathes Castle and Courtyard/Stables. Wall foundations were revealed which belonged to the 19th century extension wing which had burnt in 1966. Cobbling was exposed to the east of the horse mill. The second watching brief was alongside the north and east ranges of the enclosed courtyard behind the horse mill at Home Farm. This was followed by series of watching briefs and small-scale excavations in the central area and northwest part of the courtyard. A watching brief was carried out by Addyman Associates between 2005-2006 over redevelopment of the 18th/19th century steading court of Crathes castle Home Farm, specifically the standing structures and excavation of their interiors. A general historic building survey was also undertaken, incorporating the results of previous recording in 2003. An archaeological watching brief in February 2012 on a new soakaway at the southeast corner of the stable block recorded no archaeological features or artefacts. Geophysical survey was carried out in November 2012 around the castle aimed at mapping surviving remains of the inner court and ranges and possibly other garden features. The survey detected numerous anomalies. Within the main lawn south of the castle possible structural remains identified may relate to earlier pavilions or other garden features. Survey of the croquet lawn detected a geometric pattern of anomalies indicative of a formal garden. A watching brief was carried out by MAS in July 2013 on drainage works around the base of the 16th century tower. A 1798 estate map shows a range extending west from the southwest corner of the tower, but a shot section of wall and associated cobbling was concluded to be of too light construction to be that shown on the map, instead more likely to be a kerb to a path, possibly associated with the west range. Excavation was carried out by MAS in 2014 to investigate a number of anomalies identified by geophysical survey by RGC in 2013. It revealed part of a previously unknown courtyard which would have formed the approach from the south to the 16th century castle. Within the west side of the courtyard were remains of a stone walled building circa 6-7m long and 3.7m wide internally, and divided into two rooms. An original cobble floor survived in the north room. It is probable that this was building was mirrored on the other side of the courtyard. The whole courtyard appears to have been demolished in the later 18th century, and the area landscaped to lawn. A small number of flints were recovered from trenching at the south end of the lawn. A public excavation was carried out in October 2017 led by Daniel Rhodes, NTS. A total of 19 1m by 1m trenches were excavated, recording potential remains of garden pavilion buildings and a large wall or slump. A watching brief was carried out by Cameron Archaeology in August 2018 during excavation of a service trench for the playground area and associated clearance of a ditch adjacent to a section of ha-ha. No new archaeological features or finds were recorded. A public excavation was carried out in August 2018 on the lawn in front of the castle. Twenty-four 1m by 1m test trenches were excavated and various artefacts dating from the 17th to the 20th century were recovered. A desk based assessment of the Rose Garden was carried out by MAS in 2019 ahead of its proposed redesign. The garden is shown on a 1798 estate plan, divided into quadrants and the annotation suggesting vegetable or fruit production. A more formal layout appears on the OS 1st edition map, this layout changed by the time of the 2nd edition map.
Last Update09/10/2020
Updated Bycpalmer
Date of Compilation 

Easting: 373397.613162564, Northing: 796759.515804269

Google Map for NO79NW0005

National Grid Reference: NO 7339 9675

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
2001 Field Survey
1997 Building Recording
2000 Geophysical Survey
2005 Watching-Brief
2006 Watching-Brief
2006 Building Recording
2003 Building Recording
2012 Watching-Brief
2013 Watching-Brief mas1-206862
2012 Geophysical Survey
1995 Watching-Brief
2014 Excavation mas1-207527
2017 Evaluation
2018 Watching-Brief camerona1-332453
2018 Evaluation
2019 Desk Based Assessment

Excavations and Surveys

Date MDate YTypeDurationDirector / OrganisationAuspicesFundExtent
 2001 Survey      
 2000 Survey      
112012 Survey  RGCNTS  
102014 Excavation  MASNTS  
82018 Excavation  NTSNTSNTS 
 2017 Excavation  NTS   

Artefact and Ecofact


Ecofact Notes

Monument Types

Monument Type 1Monument Type 2Monument Type 3OrderProbability
HA-HAS  U100