Tilquhillie Castle, The estate and Invery House

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Tilquhillie Castle
A Z-plan castle built in 1576 for John Douglas, by Banchory, Kincardineshire, though some claim that Tilquhillie Castle dates back to 1557.

Tilquhilly Castle is a plain but massive specimen of the Scottish house of the end of the 16th century. It is on the plan of a central keep with towers at diagonally opposite angles; the towers no longer having a tower-like appearance externally. They merely form part of the house.

It comprises three rectangular blocks, the corners of which are rounded off and corbelled out to the eaves level, and the gables are crow-stepped. The entrance and principal stair are placed in the SE re-entrant angle to the S of the central block, and a secondary stair is corbelled out in the corresponding angle to the N of the central block. The rooms on the ground floor are all barrel-vaulted. The Douglas arms are set in a panel above the entrance. (A photograph would be well received
)


See Douglas of Tilquhillie for details of the family.

The lands of Tilquhillie and
Invery came into the ownership of the Douglas family in the 16th century when David Douglas was granted former Church land in the aftermath of the Reformation. In 1576 his son John built Tilquhillie Castle, which still stands today. These lands swept round from the River Feugh to the River Dee, where there is an Invery beat. In 1760, in more peaceful times the Douglases decided to build a more comfortable residence at Invery.

It was refurbished in 1991 to change the Ancient A-listed Monument into a dwelling. The only former refurbishment was to house a farm worker, dating from the mid or late 19th century. Hardly any new construction works were involved; the project consisted merely out of the installation of modern amenities to make it comfortable to live in.


Restoration


Tilquhillie Castle in Aberdeenshire is a sixteenth century ‘Z’ tower which had been uninhabited since WW2 and was being used to house farm turkeys when it was bought in 1985 by Dr John Coyne, an American former diplomat, and his wife, Kay Hamlander, who is originally Norwegian, in order to restore the building to a family home. The purchase took several years of negotiation with the old owner. W.A. Brogden described the Coynes’ restoration of Tilquhillie as ‘soberly intellectual’ and used a medical metaphor to make his point: “Tilquhillie was listened to in the manner of a good medical practitioner listening to a patient, and over time its health was regained.” The Coynes took a strict approach to the use of materials, determined to get every detail correct. “….stone slabs from Caithness, granite from demolished Aberdeenshire steadings and churches, reclaimed pavement stones from Aberdeen, timber from Speyside distilleries, Glasgow churches and the forests of France. I even bought three different eight foot lintels to replace the one missing from the Great Hall’s fireplace, trying to get just the right colour and surface.”

John Coyne told the familiar stories of DIY difficulties: “The glazing of the gunloops was one of the worst jobs in the castle, therefore it fell to me. … Many times I had to wedge myself into the opening, arms outstretched – not a job for anyone who is claustrophobic.”

He also helped the workmen who labored on the restoration, sometimes on equally difficult jobs:
The morning I picked to install the rhone the bees had decided to swarm. It was obvious that it would be a two man job. The blacksmith informed me that he was afraid of only two things in life, heights and bees. Nevertheless, he volunteered. I managed to borrow a beekeeper’s smoker to calm the bees. Up we went. For two hours we swayed back and forth in the little bucket of the lift, in a cloud of bees and smoke.”

In the same volume as John Coyne’s account of the restoration of Tilquhillie, is a parallel account by his Dutch architect, France Smoor, who owns a ‘1641 fortalice’ near Dundee, which he repaired extensively in the 1960s. His ideas about conservation do not coincide exactly with John Coyne’s quest for absolute authenticity, in his promotion of subjectivity :
My philosophy coincides with that of Historic Scotland, in that one should aim in restorations to consolidate the entire heritage and history of the building. I differ from them, however, in my belief that one should conserve or repair only what is worth preserving. Decay is also an aspect of history that one should accept and is a valid reason to remove what has no merit. This, of course, introduces subjective evaluation! Our forebears never had any inhibitions about adding that ‘something contemporary’ which was sometimes eclectic, sometimes historicizing, and sometimes radically new, depending on the builder’s taste, but is almost always recognisable to the practiced eye as being a product of its own period, without the need to date everything.

The two restorers, owner and architect, seemed to have worked well together, despite their ideological differences, and trade glowing compliments about each other in their accounts of the restoration in Clow’s book.


Reminiscences
In the days when the Dean knew that Water-side the fortalice was uninhabited, and I think not habitable for gentlefolks; but down on the haugh below, and close to the river in a pretty garden-cottage, dwelt the old Lady Tilquhillie, with her son the sheriff of the county, George Douglas, whom a few Edinburgh men may yet remember as the man of wit and pleasure about town, the _beau_ of the Parliament House--at home a kind hospitable gentleman, looking down a little upon the rough humours that pleased his neighbours. The old lady--I think she was a Dutch woman, or from the Cape of Good Hope--and her old servant, Sandy M'Canch, furnished the Dean with many a bit of Deeside life and humour; and are they not written in the _Reminiscences!_


Tilquhillie Estate - In 1863
Tilquhillie Castle;, 'Stands on the Slope of a hill on the South side of the Dee, and commands a extensive prospect towards Aberdeen. It is formed of several plain massive buildings Communicating with each other, and apparently erected at different periods without much plan. It contains numerous apartments and has a dark vault formerly used, it is said, as a prison. The date of its erection is 1576. It is the property of John Douglas Esqr. Tilquhillie.'
Tilquhillie Cottage - This attractive property, sadly with only 2 acres (not 3,000!) is currently on the market.
In 1863, it was described as A very handsome cottage near Crofthead, the property of John Douglas Esq. Tilquhillie.
Crofthead - Two or three cottages a Smithy and Carpenters shop. the property of John Douglas Esq.
Woodhead - A farm Steading, occupied by James Cooper, the property of John Douglas.
Craig of Affrusk - A fine large hill feature covered with fir wood the property the property of John Douglas Esq Tilquhillie.
Mains of Tilquhillie - A farm Steading the property of John Douglas Esq.
Craigside - A Farm house and offices The property of John Douglas Esq Tilwhilly.
Loanend - A Small cottage, on the road from Banchory to Durris. the property of John Douglas Esqr. Tilquhillie.
Northside - A Small farm Steading, the property of John Douglas Esq. Tilquhillie
Hillhead - A cottage, the property of John Douglas Esq
Waulkmill - A farm Steading the property of John Douglas Esq
Affrusk - A farm Steading, dwelling house, one storey, slated, offices one storey, thatched and in good repair; property of John Douglas Esq.

The former water mill is available as a holiday let (2020).

Invery House
Inverey Castle, once a 'laird's house', was destroyed many years ago. It belonged to the farquharson family.

By 1800 Invery House belonged to James Skene. His son William, the eminent Celtic historian was born there in June 1806. James Skene was a close friend of Sir Walter Scott, who was a frequent visitor to Invery and is said to have written parts of Marmion at Invery. Scott’s introduction to canto iv of Marmion is dedicated to James Skene.

In 1816 James Skene sold Invery, moving to Edinburgh. Among many other notable achievements, Skene designed Princes Street Gardens.

The original house was a classic Georgian rectangular house facing the river, using an existing 16th century cottage as its service wing. In 1904, a new wing was added, in keeping with the Georgian original and the front entrance was repositioned between the old and new parts of the house.

In the 1920s, Invery House and its policies were bought by members of the family behind the Paisley based Coats Paton thread manufacturers.

It changed hands again in the 1970s before being bought by Stewart and Sheila Spence in 1986. The current owners bought it privately from the Spences in 1994, since which time it has been their family home.

 

Sources

 

Sources for this article include:

• Janet Inglis; Scotland's Castles rescued, rebuilt and reoccupied, 1945 - 2010

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Last modified: Tuesday, 01 February 2022