Sin I Cam By Johnshaven
Benholm Castle, sometimes known as Tower of Benholm, dates from about 1475. While undoubtedly its primary purpose was defensive, it was also demonstrable evidence of status.
The exact date of completion of the castle is uncertain, but there seems little doubt that it was built by Sir John Lundy. Four-storey and eighty foot high, it is built of local red sandstone. It is a typical rectangular keep built in the vernacular Scottish style. The six foot thick walls would have been more than able to withstand the assault of artillery available at the time.
The turnpike staircase was a further defensive feature. Curving to the right, it allowed defenders coming down the stairs the freedom to wield their swords with their right hand, while attackers from below were restricted to using their left.
Entry was by a vaulted passage between two ground floor cellars which led to the Great Hall on the first floor, above which were the laird’s apartments.
The third floor may have been divided to form two chambers, as there are two fireplaces at that level. Above the third floor was a garret with crow-stepped roof and a parapet walkway for lookouts.
Later a caphouse was added which included the ultimate luxury of the day, a fireplace where the guards could warm themselves against the snell east coast weather. The final flourish was the addition of bartizans or projecting roundels at the corners.
By 1559 the Barony and castle had passed into the possession of the Keiths, the Earls Marischal, one of the wealthiest and most powerful families of the times whose principal seat was Dunnottar Castle. It was said that the Keiths could travel from the Borders to Caithness and always sleep in one of their own houses.
Dame Margaret Ogilvie, Countess of Marischall and wife of Viscount George, Earl Marischall, was accused (along with two other parties) of masterminding the theft of several of the Lordship’s jewels and treasured belongings from Benholm Castle in October 1622. Some of these items included Portuguese ducats and other foreign gold to the value of £20,000, 36 doz gold buttons, diamonds and jewels from his posting as ambassador in Denmark, the Queen of Denmark’s portrait in gold and diamond set, pearls, gold chains, diamond bracelets and rings, silver work tapestries and a ’great cloth bag’ containing title deeds for his land and barony of Benholm.
History and Benholm’s story move on, and by the Georgian period, circa 1714-1840, the castle’s defensive purpose had become redundant and ownership had passed to the Scott family, wealthy merchants who included David Scott, Treasurer of the Bank of Scotland.
Comfort had replaced security as the dominant feature of country living by this time, and in 1760 David Scott built a classic three-storey Georgian mansion alongside the old castle. Georgian architecture is characterised by symmetry and proportion and balance, and to live in such handsome surroundings was a clear declaration of prosperity and position.
In 1903 John Rust, city architect of Aberdeen, purchased the property and used his construction skills to build a dam on the stream running alongside the house and installed a generator to produce electricity.
Reduced more to a store than a dwelling, the old keep fell into disrepair. The First World War changed the whole social dynamic, and the concept of Scottish baronies became an anachronism.
In the Second World War the house suffered the fate of so many others, being requisitioned by the military and occupied by Polish soldiers. By the end of the war it was in poor condition, and no-one occupied it from about 1950 till the mansion was bought and restored, and the new family were finally able to move into the mansion in 2008.