Tilquhillie Castle

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Tilquhillie Castle 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.


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.

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!_




Sources for this article include:

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

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Last modified: Monday, 06 July 2020