Dalpersie House, Aberdeen drawn by Robert William Billings (1813-1874) (name of engraver illegible). Source: Edinburgh (1852). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by the Artist

IF the quaint-looking building, delineated in the accompanying engraving, be meagre in historic association, it may be considered as still more so in architectural importance, especially if we are to take as sufficient the account of it already published, which merely states that there is upon the property of Dalpersie “an old mansion-house, inhabited by the farmer who rents the surrounding grounds: itis in the old castle style, and there is nothing about it Worthy of particular notice.” To the casual observer, we must admit that this hasty judgment has all the appearance of being true; but how far it is justified, by a more minute investigation, the following observations may show.

By far the greater number of castles, or rather castellated houses, which, with their picturesque terminations of turrets and gabled windows, form so peculiar a feature in the architecture of Scotland, and especially of Aberdeenshire and its immediate neighbourhood, generally exhibit the characteristics of distinct ages and styles 0f architecture. Their lower portions belong generally to the massive and plainly built castle of an early period, but most frequently of the fifteenth or sixteenth century; while the upper and ornamented portion, grafted upon them, dates from the commencement of the seventeenth century until about the year 1660. The Castle of Glammis, in Forfar, is the most colossal example of these mixed styles, but its basement dates even earlier than the time we have named. Of these styles, the first partakes generally of tbe castellated architecture of the rest of Britain, but the latter takes its tone from the chateaus of France and the neighbouring continental states, with which Scotland before the union of the crowns was for a long period both politically and socially connected.

То such an extent were the rude old castles of Scotland altered by more recent ornamental additions, that it is rare indeed to find them retaining anything like their original features, unless it be in those cases where the edifices had been left to decay before the introduction of the more recent styles. But Dalpersie is an instance of a building remaining unchanged; and although diminutive in extent, this fact, added to its singular fitness in plan for defensive purposes, has suggested its appearance in this work, among the more important remains of baronial architecture. The house, as originally built, formed a parallelogram externally 28 feet by 18, defended by two circular towers attached to two opposite angles-so that the whole accommodation was one room on each of three floors, unless we dignify the interior of the towers, lighted only by the small port-holes, by calling them apartments. We are quite at a loss to understand how a building of such contracted extent could have supplied the domestic wants of the family of a landed proprietor; and that it was evidently insufficient, is proved by another house being attached to it about the year 1600. But even with this addition, the edifice must have formed an indifferent residence, and one which gives a strange notion of what in old times constituted a comfortable home for a laird. With the addition just named, although of ancient date, we have no present concern, our object being the original block of building, which, with its circular towers, and their low conically capped roofs, stands precisely as it was built, and wants but the moat, with which it was formerly surrounded, to bring before us an old house completely arranged for defence by small arms; for cannon are out of the question, the circular ports not being quite four inches in diameter, and the rooms within the towers only nine feet across. Indeed, the object of these fortified houses was not defence against artillery, but protection from flying marauders and rival clansmen, whose movements, for their own safety, generally required too much celerity to admit of their carrying any-thing beyond the offensive means which personal Weapons supplied. Annexed is a plan of the original house.

At a is the entrance door, and immediately behind it was a ponderous interlaced or cross-barred iron gate, secured by a huge bolt which passed into a space in the wall represented at Ь. The room within the main building has on the ground floor a semicircular stone vault, and the towers, which are internally octagonal, are stone-vaulted in the form of a pointed arch. The loop windows c, on the basement Hoor, are but three inches in width, but above the openings are of more ample dimensions. Even the latter were strongly barred with iron gratings, so that ingress or egress, otherwise than by the one entrance-door, was out of the question. The particular feature of this plan is, however, in the arrangement of the ports marked d; and these completely command the sides of the parallelogram, rendering hostile approach no very safe matter. From the passage to the south-westem tower we enter the staircase e, built within the wall, and leading to the first foor, above which the communication is by a small circular stair, partially supported on a series of corbels, which appear in the accompanying view. In the plan its position is marked by the circle f.

Touching the ancient history of Dalpersie, nothing is known but the little which is borne upon its own walls by way of decoration ; and if this infomation is to be taken as its origin, it is a tale soon told. Upon the lower corbel-stone of the circular staircase, the first letter ot' Gordon is sculptured, and upon a window-sill adjoining, we have a panel, imitative of a plate screwed to the wall, bearing the date 1561. The head of this window is ornamented by the laird’s crest, a boar’s head, so beautifully cut as to make one wish that the building had more ornament by the same hand. The Gordon who was its owner in 1745 is said to have been the last person executed for participating in the Jacobite rising, and a recess in the upper part of the house, against the roof, is shown as the spot where he was captured* [*New Statist. Account, Aberdeenshire, p. 446.]

R. W. B.

[These images may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose without prior permission as long as you credit the Hathitrust Digital Archive and the University of California library and link to the the Victorian Web in a web document or cite it in a print one — George P. Landow ]


The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland illustrated by Robert William Billings, architect, in four volumes.. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Son, 1852. Hathitrust Digital Archive version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 10 October 2018.

Last modified 11 October 2018