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  • Writer's pictureMike Shepherd


Updated: Sep 21, 2022

How was Slains Castle run on a day-to-day basis? We know some of this for the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.

According to the 1922 sales document, although the castle contained fourteen principal bed and dressing rooms, it was only fitted out with two bathrooms and four toilets. Three w.c.'s were located on the first floor and one on the ground floor where the staff worked: i.e., one for between twenty and thirty employees. The sale's document also mentions that sewage was disposed into the sea ‘and the system has always proved thoroughly satisfactory’.

I suspect that the tunnel shown on a map from 1870 was part of the sewage system. It led from the stables area at the north end of the castle and exited into a sea gorge sharply incised into the cliffs. The far end of the tunnel terminated in a sea cave called Silver Cave. This set-up would have removed sewage away from the main part of the castle and minimised the chances of any aroma lingering nearby.

For the romantically inclined this arrangement sounds oh so exciting – a tunnel under a castle leading from the Silver Cave. However, anyone foolish enough to risk their lives by exploring further might find anything but silver inside...

A romantic-sounding tunnel led from below Slains Castle to the 'Silver Cave' as shown on this 1870 map. It was probably an outlet for sewage!

Central heating was provided by a ‘hot water heating system’ which was fed from a boiler house on the ground floor. A coal cellar nearby provided the fuel for the boiler. The present-day ruins still show several fire-places; and in a couple of rooms stoves were installed, including the entrance hall and the octagonal hall.

According to the sales document ‘the castle is lighted by lamps.’ There is no mention of an electricity supply but presumably there had been one at some stage.

The 19th earl, William Harry Hay, was a sports and fitness fanatic. He installed a gymnasium in the castle and provided a cricket ground ‘near the castle’ (probably in the village). He liked to lead a Slains Castle side to bat against Aberdeenshire cricket teams, Fraserburgh being the elite side to beat at the time. The lawns are described as ‘suitable for tennis and croquet’. Violet Asquith, whose father Prime Minister H. H. Asquith rented the castle during the summers of 1903 and 1908, writes in a letter about playing tennis at Slains Castle. The Port Erroll Heritage Group has a photo showing the castle ice rink, a lake of water which froze during the winter, and which was located on the course of the Back Burn below the old doo cot (pigeon tower). Pigeons were kept in the doo cot as a source of fresh meat in the days before refrigeration.

The castle gardens.

Vegetables were grown in the walled-in castle garden (remains of which can be seen in the castle woods). The sales document mentions that: ‘In the gardens are two vineries, a glass house, potting shed, barrow shed, store shed, and gardener’s bothy. Beyond the kitchen garden is a grove of chestnut, sycamore, and ash trees, through which a path leads to the lower garden, where there are two lawns, fruit trees, and shrubs. Shady walks lead into the Crow Wood. Close to the gardens is a gardener’s house, containing three rooms and kitchen, and another cottage suitable for a gamekeeper.'

Remains of the garden wall

The 'gamekeeper's cottage'.

The 'gamekeeper's cottage'.


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The walls of the octagonal hall inside Slains Castle

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