Benholm Castle is a ruined late 15th century tower, four storeys high and square in plan, linked by a stone wall to a neoclassical mansion house of about 1760 with late 18th century ancillary buildings forming a courtyard.
The tower is built of red sandstone rubble with ashlar quoins. The west wall and parts of the north and south walls of the tower are standing. To the west elevation is an entrance doorway of about 1790. There is a tall parapet supported on lobed corbels. There are round bartizans in the southwest and northwest corners. The bartizan to the southwest is surmounted with a small crowstepped caphouse, which may date to the late 16th or early 17th century. The south elevation has the former principal late 15th century entrance, blocked in the late 18th century.
The mansion house is built of sandstone ashlar and cherry-caulked mortar. The principal (south) elevation is 3 storeys and 5 bays, with a central door flanked by 2 pilasters on either side, with a corniced architrave above. There is a band course to the left and right. To the rear, the central bay window to the first floor is Diocletian and there is a Venetian style window directly above on the second floor. The windows are predominantly 6 over 6 timber sash and case windows, elongated to the first floor, with squared 3 over 6 at the second floor. The roof is slated and piended with two wide longitudinal corniced chimney stacks with clay cans.
The attached ancillary buildings, dating predominantly to the late 18th century with later alterations (1990s) are attached to the tower and house and form a roughly rectangular plan courtyard. The buildings include a former game larder, scullery, wash house and store. Quadrant stone walls with square gatepiers enclose the north end of the courtyard.
The interior was not seen in 2016, however it is known that the house was extensively restored in the 1990s. It is known that while there is some late 18th century interior fabric remaining, such as structural walls and cornice details, much of the interior has been replicated to match the 18th century fabric.
Statement of Special Interest:
Benholm is a notable example of a large neoclassical mansion which unusually incorporates a substantial and well-preserved fragment of a late 15th century tower house. The effect is a striking and unusual design for a house. The stonework detailing of the house is of high quality and complements the stonework of the earlier tower. Whilst the mansion was refurbished internally, the external elevations and plan form of the building are largely unaltered. The result is a structure with a development sequence spanning over 500 years, combining two diverse architectural forms.
The tower house at Benholm was constructed in around 1475 by Sir John Lundie and his wife Isabel Forrester. Ownership passed to a member of the Keith family, the 5th Earl Marischal, by 1559. The cap house to the tower was probably added by the beginning of the 17th century. In around 1660 the estate was purchased by David Scott, Treasurer to the Bank of Scotland, and his wife Margaret Brown.
The Scott family built the neoclassical mansion house about 1760. A physical link between the castle and the house was made in 1798 when the house was extended to the north. This date is evidenced by a mark on the mortar between old (1760) and new (1798) work. The extension was 3 storeys with a billiard room on the ground floor, a drawing room on the first floor, and possibly a bedroom to the second floor (based on early 20th century photograph and information provided by owner in 2017). The extension has largely been removed, and is represented only by a single storey kitchen adjoining the northeast corner of the house and by a single storey curved façade with central opening joining house and tower to the west. It was also around 1798 that the service wings to the rear of mansion were constructed. Much later, John Rust, city architect of Aberdeen, purchased the property in 1903. The house was requisitioned by the military in the Second World War, when it was used as a hospital and occupied by Polish soldiers. The house lay empty after 1950 and the restoration work to restore the house and consolidate the tower began in around 1990. In 1993 the north and east sections of the tower house collapsed in a storm.
Tower houses are a widespread but diverse class of monument across Scotland. They became a popular form of residence with the Scottish nobility and lairdly class during the 14th century perhaps influenced by David II building a tower house at Edinburgh Castle around 1367. Tower houses continued to be the chosen architectural form for the residences of Scottish elites throughout the late medieval and early post-medieval periods, with most surviving examples dating from the 16th to 17th centuries. They provided a degree of security but were also a means of displaying wealth, social status and martial knowledge.
The listing criteria state that the older a building is and the fewer of its type survive the more likely it is to present special interest. All buildings erected before 1840 which are of notable quality and survive predominantly in their original form have a strong case for listing.
The tower at Benholm is of interest as a rare and well-preserved fragment of a late medieval building, representing tangible evidence of the site s early origins. The later mansion house dates from the middle of the 18th century, and is a good example of its type with piended roof, 3 storeys and large sash and case windows. The external elevations show substantial survival of the 1760 fabric. The designs for the new buildings at Benholm represent a transition from the medieval tower house tradition towards domestic, non-fortified buildings. These were classically inspired and reflect the trend of similar buildings being constructed in the Scottish countryside around that time. However, the mansion house has particular interest because it was built close to its medieval predecessor, then extended to adjoin it, rather than replacing the earlier building. This unusual approach has resulted in a structure with a development sequence spanning over 500 years, combining two diverse architectural forms.
The interior was not seen (2016).
The footprint of the mansion building is largely unaltered to that shown on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1864) though some internal subdivision has occurred. The plan form of the tower has reduced slightly with its partial collapse in the early 1990s. The incorporation of an earlier tower into a Georgian house is extremely unusual.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
The tower house retains elements of its late 15th and 16th century architectural and structural detail, including vaulting, window dressings, window seats, door surrounds, an iron yett, staircases, parapets and cap house. The survival of these features helps document the tower s development sequence and they are an important component of the building s significance architecturally.
The mansion house was built in the neoclassical style of John Adam, and the design of the 1798 extension may be attributed to George Paterson or his son John Paterson (George died in February 1798). Much of George Paterson s work is linked to Robert Mylne, while the work of John Paterson is linked to Robert and John Adam. At Benholm mansion, there is design similarity to the work of Robert Mylne, in particular Pitlour House in Fife (LB15768) which is purposefully austere in its classical design. The building at Benholm is a fine example of classically proportioned domestic architecture, and is similar in style to buildings attributed to John Adam, such as at St Brycedale House in Kirkcaldy (LB36375).
A fireplace and aumbry (a stone recess) dated 1618 were recovered from the ruined tower and inserted into the kitchen during the 20th century. The kitchen, located in the ancillary range northeast of the mansion block, has a flagstone floor and a water well in the southeast corner of the room.
The mansion house and tower have some high quality stonework detailing, in particular the fine cherry caulking to the house and its squared and tooled quoins.
The house and tower have significant presence in the landscape because of their scale. They retain a collection of ancillary buildings and walled garden ground to the north, and this arrangement has not changed significantly from that shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1864). It is probable that the tower was associated with a group of ancillary buildings in the medieval period. This setting adds to the interest and authenticity of the tower and mansion house.
Tower houses similar to Benholm are characteristic of southeast Aberdeenshire and include Dunnottar (mid-15th century, SM986), Pitcaple (late 15th century, LB2830) and Castle Fraser (mid-15th century, LB2924).
Canmore: http://canmore.org.uk/ CANMORE ID 36842
Ordnance Survey. Kincardine Sheet XXV.9 (Benholm)
(surveyed 1864, published 1868). 25 inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
MacGibbon, D. and Ross, T. (1887-1892) The castellated and domestic architecture of Scotland from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries. Vol. 1. Edinburgh. pp284-285.
Coventry, M (2001) The castles of Scotland. 3rd Edition. Musselburgh. p85.
Sharples, J. Walker, D., Woodworth, M. (2015) The Buildings of Scotland: Aberdeenshire: South and Aberdeen. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp.375-377.
Dictionary of Scottish Architects. www.scottisharchitects.org.uk
Further information courtesy of owner (2016).