The monument is the remains of a late medieval/early modern castle and is visible as the standing remains of its south wall. Oriented east-west, the castle stands four storeys high and measure 25m east-west by 6.5m north-south. The monument is located on a broad terrace within a formal garden, on the south slope of Knockothie Hill.
The surviving remains date to the late 16th and 18th centuries, incorporating elements of 15th century date. The remains comprise three parts: an intact rounded tower at the southeast corner standing to parapet level; a central, four storey high section which is a late 16th century reconstruction of 15th century work; and the remains of a west wing, dating from 1781-5 and now reduced to two storeys. A marriage stone bearing the Kennedy arms and the date 1635 is set into this portion. The interior retains remains of an 18th century stair hall with fluted pilasters and the basement portions include part of a kitchen fireplace of the 16th century or earlier.
The scheduled area is irregular in plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.
Statement of National Importance
The monument's cultural significance has been assessed as follows:
The monument consists of the upstanding remains a late 16th century castle, modified in the 18th century and incorporating elements of an earlier 15th century structure. In its final form, it is recorded as comprising a four storey U-plan block, open to the east. The castle became ruinous after 1801 and was largely dismantled in 1851 to make way for the new castle, leaving only the south wall standing. Although much of the building has been removed, the remaining portion retains its original scale and form and contains architectural and structural detail, including window dressings, fireplaces, gun loops, fluted pilasters and an armorial panel. The monument has the potential to enhance our knowledge of the date of construction of the castle and subsequent phases and can add to our knowledge of construction techniques and architectural preferences, and the way in which the fashion and function of such buildings developed.
There is no record of an archaeological excavation or other ground disturbance within the area to be retained in the scheduled monument, therefore there is potential for the survival of archaeological deposits, artefacts and ecofacts within, beneath and around the upstanding remains. Such buried archaeological deposits have the potential to provide information about the economy, diet and social status of the occupants, and about land use and environment.
The basement vaults are likely the earliest surviving elements, probably dating to the 15th century. The castle was reconstructed in the late 16th century and later substantially remodeled in the 18th century, around 1706-1715 and again between 1781 and 1785. It was largely demolished in 1851 to make way for the drive to a new house constructed adjacent to the castle, and the ruinous remains were incorporated into a designed garden landscape. The monument therefore has an extended development sequence which helps us understand how such buildings were adapted over centuries of occupation to meet changing domestic requirements. Scientific study of the monument would allow us to develop a better understanding of the overall chronology of the site, including its date of origin and development sequence.
Castles and 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. Castles and towers houses continued to be the chosen architectural form for the residences of Scottish elites throughout the late medieval and early post-medieval periods. They provided a degree of security but were also a means of displaying wealth, social status and martial knowledge.
The castle at Ellon is of significance because of the good preservation of the surviving elements and long history of development. It represents one of a series of documented manorial residences at Ellon. It may have replaced an earlier motte of possible 13th century date, the former site of which lies around 420m southwest (Canmore ID 20493), and was itself subsequently replaced in the 19th century by a new castle constructed adjacent to the remains of the old castle. The new castle was itself demolished after 1918 and replaced by the conversion of former offices which form the present Ellon Castle. The castle therefore represents one part of long sequence of occupation and domestic development at Ellon and can enhance our understanding of evolving domestic architecture over some seven centuries.
It is also one of a number of late medieval/early modern castles in the region, including Esselmont Castle (scheduled monument number SM3400; Canmore ID 20361), Tolquhon Castle (scheduled monument number SM90303; Canmore ID 19599) and Arnage Castle (listed building number LB9114; Canmore ID 20468). The proximity of these monuments can give important insights into the late medieval landscape and add to our understanding of social organisation, settlement hierarchy and land-use.
The development of the lands and castle at Ellon are well documented which contributed to its significance. Documentary sources indicate that the land above the town known as the Hill of Ardgith was sold to Thomas Kennedy of Kinmuck, constable of Aberdeen, in 1413, and a fortification known as the Fortalice of Ardgirth built sometime after this date. The Kennedys were outlawed for the murder of John Forbes of Waterton in 1652 and the property sold to the Moirs of Stoneywood and then to Sir John Forbes of Waterton in 1668. In 1706, the castle and lands were sold to Bailie James Gordon who rebuilt the old castle, becoming known as Ellon Castle at this time. The property passed to George, third Earl of Aberdeen in 1752, and the fourth Earl of Aberdeen remodelled and extended the castle between 1781 and 1785, the works carried out by the architect John Baxter.
Assessment of National Importance
The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant addition to our understanding of the date, construction, use and development of medieval/early modern castles. It is an impressive structure that retains considerable architectural details, including window dressings, fireplaces, gun loops and an armorial panel. The fabric of the house contains significant evidence of alterations which show changing domestic requirements and preferences. The monument's importance is further enhanced by the proximity of medieval/early modern castles in the region and by associate written sources which help document the site's development. It makes a significant contribution to today's landscape and would have been a prominent part of the historic landscape. The loss or damage of the monument would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand the character of castles and their landscapes, and the structure and organisation of society and economy during the late medieval and early post-medieval periods.
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE 20472 (accessed on 01/11/2016).
Aberdeenshire Council SMR Reference NJ93SE0001 (accessed on 01/11/2016).
Godsman, J. (1958) A history of the burgh and parish of Ellon, Aberdeenshire. Aberdeen.
MacGibbon D. and Ross T. (1887) The castelleated and domestic architecture of Scotland, vol 4, Edinburgh, 391.
Shepherd, I A. G. (2006) Aberdeenshire, Donside and Strathbogie: an illustrated architectural guide. Edinburgh.
Shepherd, I A. G. (1994) Gordon: an illustrated architectural guide. Edinburgh.
Simpson, W. D. (1958) Ellon castle, the fortalice of Ardgirth and the Abbotshall of Ellon. In Godsman, J. A history of the burgh and parish of Ellon, Aberdeenshire. Aberdeen, 49-54.
Simpson, W. D. and Gordon, C. (1958) History of the Burgh and Parish of Ellon, in J. Godsman, 49-57.
About Scheduled Monuments
Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.
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Printed: 19/08/2022 17:24