New Slains Castle was first built around 1597, with additions and alterations made in 1664 and 1708. The castle was further extended and remodelled in the Tudor style in 1836-37 by John Smith. The castle is famous for its close historical association with Bram Stoker and as the likely inspiration for his legendary character Dracula's castle.
In 1925 the roof was removed along with some architectural features including bay windows and the principal entrance stair. As of 2017, the castle is a ruin with most of the internal and external walls complete to wallhead. It sits at the top of cliffs on the North Sea coast of Aberdeenshire, overlooking the Bay of Cruden to the southwest, and the villages of Port Erroll and Cruden Bay around 1km to the west.
New Slains Castle is built predominately of pink granite rubble, with exterior ashlar dressings of the same granite, added during the 1836-37 renovations of the building. Internally, red brick, which in places rendered, is used for the courtyard wall and two stair towers. The main southern section of the house comprises four two storey ranges set around a roughly square courtyard with a rectangular six stage tower on the south corner. This section contained the principal rooms of the castle, including bedrooms, servant's quarters, bathrooms, a nursery, a dining room, a drawing room and a billiard room. Adjacent to the southern corner tower there is a surviving vaulted wine cellar. The tower includes the oldest fabric of the building in its lower levels, with masonry walls 1.2m thick dating from the 1597 work. The structure at this time appears to have taken the form of a tower with conjoined ranges, perhaps forming a u-plan.
The courtyard has a concentric gallery believed to have been added in 1664 by Gilbert Hay, the 11th Earl of Erroll. The gallery is classical in style, with round arched openings, some of which are blocked, set between pilasters rising two storeys in height. Above the arched openings at first floor level are square blind windows. The gallery walls retain some harling, which has been incised and moulded to mimic Doric pilasters and ashlar dressed masonry. In the centre of the courtyard is an octagonal two storey tower, linked to the surrounding structure by brick built additions to the southeast, southwest and northwest. The ground floor of the octagonal tower and additions served as storage and a larder, while the first floor provided corridors and a saloon. There are brick built stair towers in the east and west corners of the courtyard.
The southwest elevation of the building includes the remains of the principal entrance, with a large archway at first floor level and the remains of the former porch protruding southwest from the building. There are flanking three storey round towers to the northwest and southeast of the doorway at each corner of the square plan. The remains of a large two storey bay window can be seen in the centre of the southeast elevation, with a sculpted gable on its northeast end. The northeast elevation also incorporates an elaborately sculpted Dutch gable in its southeast end, above the remains of another bay window.
The northern end of the complex is the former stable yard, roughly square in plan. The former entrance to the stable yard is located in the centre of the northwest wall, and is flanked by a pair of two storey round towers. The building on this side of the yard formerly housed the stables, located on either side of the entrance. The remains of gable ended buildings that formed the northeast and southwest sides of the stable yard can still be traced. The northeast building formerly housed the blacksmith's and the carpenter's workshops, with additional stabling, while the southwest building contained the harness room, the coach house and the slaughter house. The southeast wall is crenellated, and includes two round towers, where the gables of the adjoining meet the wall, and a small 6 sided boiler house is attached in the interior of the stable yard.
Linking the main house and the stable yard is an irregularly shaped former service section, housing the kitchen, pantries, scullery, brewhouse, and the coal and ash pits. Within this section are surviving kitchen fireplaces, a bread oven and evidence of alterations where a fireplace divided by the addition of a later servant's entrance. A convex curved wall has also been added to connect two older sections of the building on the northeast part of this section, creating the space occupied by the coal pit, ash pit and a privy.
The seaward facing exterior walls of the castle retain the majority of the added harling, which is visible on photos of the castle taken around 1900. The surviving window margins are chamfered and many of the chimney stacks survive, including diamond shaped chamfered tops.
There are no interior fixtures or fittings remaining and there are no longer any floors, including the ground flooring. There is some evidence of cut-off timber joists where floors were once located.
Statement of Special Interest
New Slains Castle is a notable example of a multi-phase country house in Scotland and is important for its historical association to the creation of Bram Stoker's internationally renowned story of Dracula.
Although it no longer retains an interior, the building continues to demonstrate the changing nature and fashions of high-status residences between the late-16th and the 19th centuries, and their decline in the 20th century. In its current roofless state, the house retains significant 17th century fabric, including the gallery surrounding the courtyard. As such it helps demonstrate the transition from fortified dwelling to country house, a process that was ongoing in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It also retains a significant amount of exterior architectural detailing from the 19th century remodelling of the castle in a Tudor style.
New Slains Castle is also significant because of prominent literary associations with internationally renowned individuals, through both Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell in the 18th century and Bram Stoker in the 19th century.
Age and Rarity
New Slains Castle has a long and significant history. First built in 1597 by Francis Hay, 9th Earl of Erroll, it developed and expanded over several centuries. Erroll had gone into exile in Europe in 1594 for supporting the Earl of Huntly's rebellion and participating in the Battle of Glenlivet (historic battlefield BTL33). During the earl's exile, James VI had his seat, Old Slains Castle near Collieston (scheduled monument SM3250), almost entirely demolished in November 1594. Following his return from exile, Erroll chose to build a new residence rather than restore the remnants of Old Slains. For the new building, the earl chose a site called Bowness on the north of Cruden Bay, around 6 miles northeast of the old castle.
The earliest phase of the new house, which was originally known as Bowness, took the form of a series of ranges with a square tower. The remains of the 1597 tower make up the earliest fabric of the surviving structure, comprising the lower levels of the tower on the south corner of the castle. In plan this phase of the house would have been similar to contemporary castles in the northeast of Scotland, such as at Tolquhon Castle (scheduled monument SM90302), the quadrangle at Dunnottar (scheduled monument SM986) and Pitsligo Castle (scheduled monument SM6146), all of which developed on a courtyard plan. However, unlike New Slains, these 'courtyard castles' developed around the core of an existing tower house. New Slains is unusual in being a courtyard 'castle' or house being built from new in the last years of the 16th century. As such it helps demonstrate the transition from fortified dwelling to country house.
In 1664 the castle was remodelled by Gilbert Hay, the 11th Earl. The additions made at this time were extensive. The most significant part of his alterations is believed to have been the addition of the classically styled brick gallery around the interior courtyard. The gallery provides direct access to the rooms in the surrounding ranges, altering the previous arrangement where rooms were accessed through other rooms. A stone formerly set in or near the brick gallery (referred to as an "ancient piazza" in some sources) is reported to have carried a Latin inscription reading: Gilbertius Errollioe Comes Domin, Hay Scotioe Constabularis Hujus Operis Fundamentum Quinde Die Martii Anno Dom. 1664. Fecit et Die mensis anni sequentis perfectit.
The classically styled gallery does not have any specific parallels in Scotland at this time. However, it was part of a growing appreciation of classical motifs that developed in Scotland during the latter half of the 16th century. In particular, a number castles had classically detailed arcades/loggias (covered exterior galleries) added to them in the later 16th century, for instances at Huntly Castle (scheduled monument SM90165), Crichton Castle (scheduled monument SM13585, Castle Campbell (scheduled monument SM13611), and in the later 17th century, Drumlanrig Castle (listed building LB3886). However, the gallery at New Slain's differs from such arcades/loggias in that it runs around all sides of the courtyard providing circulation space for the main ranges and has pilasters spanning two storeys. It is also constructed in brick. These features may indicate that the gallery is in fact later than the 1664 date that has been attributed to it, although it must date to before 1773 when the gallery was described by Samuel Boswell.
In 1707, a new entrance and frontage was added by the 13th Earl, Charles Hay, along with an imposing ogee-roofed bow window in the centre of the south wing. It was at this time that the building began to be known as Slains, rather than Bowness, and it is marked as Slanes House on William Roy's Military Survey of Scotland around 1750. A lithograph dating to around 1810 shows that New Slains Castle was a substantial and impressive building prior to the final major phase of remodelling in the 1830s, although it only provides enough detail to see the general style of the building at the time.
In 1836-7 William Hay, the 18th Earl, employed the Aberdeen-based architect John Smith to remodel New Slains. Smith's work redesigned the castle in a neo-Tudor style, and it is unclear exactly how much alteration he undertook to the existing fabric. Smith certainly retained the basic plan and the rectangular corner tower, along with the brick courtyard galleries, and much of the surviving fabric of the main house may relate to the earlier phases of construction in 1597, 1664 and 1707. The exterior was comprehensively updated by Smith, transforming it into a 19th century country house. Among the alterations are new facings in ashlar dressed pink granite, with Tudor details including diamond chimney stacks, large bay windows, along with a new entrance stair and porch, flanked by octagonal buttresses, in the south elevation. Smith also added the stable yard and linking service section to the north at this time, designed in a similar style to the exterior of the remodelled house. Evidence within the service section in particular may indicate at least partial reuse of existing structures or masonry in Smith's work in this area as well. An inscription stone marking the remodelling was previously set above the entrance to the stable yard, reading:
Built 1664 by
Gilbert, XI. Earl of Errol
Great Constable of Scotland,
Rebuilt 1836 and 1837,
In the reign of William the IV.,
By William George, XVII. Earl of Erroll,
Great Constable and Knight
Marischal of Scotland
Around 1900 the gardens surrounding New Slains Castle were also redesigned by Thomas Mawson and a carriage court added by his partner Dan Gibson.
In 1916, the cost of death duties forced the 20th Earl, Charles Hay, to sell the castle. In 1922 the castle was sold again, and in 1925 the contents and furnishings of the castle were sold and the roof was removed for tax exemption purposes. The castle was earmarked for demolition but the plan was ultimately abandoned, although some of the more expensive and elaborate stonework was removed.
New Slains Castle, first constructed in 1597 and altered in 1664, 1708 and 1836-7, is an excellent example of a multi-phase castle and country house. While it no longer retains its roof, its interior and its windows, much of its plan form and walls are intact and is still a significant example of its building type. Its architecture reflects the changing needs and fashions of castle and country house design in several different periods. Of particular importance is the retention of the original tower and courtyard layout from the 1597 castle. It is also significant for the creation of the unique classically styled brick courtyard galleries perhaps dating to the later 17th century. The castle's 19th century remodelling with an extensive and elaborate service and stable wings are notable for their size as well as their function. It is also significant for its historical and literary connections (See 'Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality' and 'Close historical associations' below for more information about these factors.)
Architectural or Historic Interest
The building no longer has an interior and there is no special interest under this heading.
The plan of the building is of special interest as it has retained its original 16th century plan form, comprising a roughly square courtyard with a tower in the south corner, throughout the subsequent alterations in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The addition of a brick gallery to the courtyard to provide covered access around the courtyard and access between rooms is an unusual feature of the plan. The 19th century service additions are elaborate and add to understanding how large country houses of this date were modernised.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
The courtyard gallery, which may date to 1664, is unique within Scotland, and is of interest for its use of brick, an unusual material within Scotland at this time and possibly imported by sea from England. It is also of interest for the overtly classical style of the inner walls, with pilasters and round arched openings, a style that came to prominence in the late 16th and 17th centuries in Scotland.
John Smith, the designer of the 1830's remodelling, was an Aberdeen based architect, responsible for an extensive and significant portfolio across northeast Scotland during the early to mid-19th century. Born in 1781 to William Smith, also an Aberdeen architect and builder, Smith was allegedly briefly apprenticed to William Playfair at a young age (Playfair died when Smith was in his early teens.) Smith returned to Aberdeen to practice in 1804, and from 1805 onwards was involved in many public and private works within the city, culminating in his appointment as superintendent of works for the City of Aberdeen in 1824, a position he appears to have continued in until his death. Throughout his career he also undertook many projects around Aberdeenshire, Banffshire and Kincardineshire. Early in his career he was known for working in the Neo-Greek style, but from around 1820 onwards, he shifted to the Tudor style, often incorporating Scots baronial touches, a style which he modelled on William Burn's work, and which he used at New Slains. Among his works are numerous public and private works in Aberdeen, such as the west end of Union Street, Trinity Hall and alterations to St Machar's Cathedral, along with a number of projects on the Balmoral Estate in the 1830s. He died in 1852.
New Slains Castle sits on top of cliffs, overlooking the North Sea to the east and Cruden Bay to the south. Although it is located near to the villages of Cruden Bay and Port Erroll, the castle's immediate setting isolated in an open coastal landscape with no other buildings nearby. The setting is not significantly altered since the castle was constructed, the only major change being the growth of the settlement further to the west. The relationship of the castle with the town of Cruden Bay and Port Erroll around 1km to the west is significant, as the castle dominates the eastern skyline when viewed from the town, and this dramatic view seems likely to have been one of those that inspired Bram Stoker during his visits. (See Close historical associations below.)
The building is partially constructed of granite, which is the predominant building material in the northeast of Scotland. The granite used to construct the castle was likely to be locally sourced providing a clear association with the area.
Close Historical Associations
New Slains Castle has two prominent literary historical associations of national importance. In 1773, Dr Samuel Johnson and his biographer James Boswell visited Slains during their travels in Scotland, at the invitation of the Earl's brother. Both were impressed with the castle, and described aspects it in their respective books on the journey.
Dr Johnson commented that Slains was "built on the margin of the sea, so that the walls of one of the towers seemed only a continuation of a perpendicular rock, the foot of which is beaten by the waves… I would not for my amusement wish for a storm; but as storms, whether wished for or not, will sometimes happen, I may say without violation of humanity, I would willingly look upon them from Slains Castle."
Boswell, in turn, described some of the interior, particularly the gallery. "Slains is an excellent old house, the noble owner has built of brick, along the square on the inside, a gallery, both on the first and second storey, the house being no higher – so that he always has a dry walk; and the rooms, to which formerly there was no approach but through each other, now all have separate entries from the gallery which is hung with Hogarth's works and other prints…"
New Slains Castle's second literary connection comes at the end of the 19th century, when it is believed to have become the inspiration for Castle Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. Stoker was a frequent visitor to Cruden Bay following his first visit in 1893, including a visit to New Slains itself in 1904, and eventually retired to nearby Whinnyfold.
It was during his first visit that Slains is said to have given Stoker the inspiration for Dracula's castle, and part of the novel was also written while visiting Cruden Bay in 1896. The novel's description of Dracula's castle does bear some resemblance to Slains, including a reference to a small octagonal room which seems to match with the octagonal tower at Slains, and the building's location on the top of steep cliffs.