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  • Writer's pictureMike Shepherd


Updated: Sep 21, 2022

Slains Castle is a ruin because the roof was removed in 1925 by a specialist demolition company who bought the castle to strip masonry, fittings, lead, and slate for resale.

The demolition company was Charles Brand of Dundee. This company was responsible for demolishing dozens of Scottish castles and country houses in the twentieth century. Canmore, the national record of the historic environment in Scotland, lists the properties known to have been bought and partly demolished by them between 1945 and 1969 (By 1969 the demolition of architecturally significant buildings was prohibited by law). This makes very sad reading.

‘The collection records or suggests work at the following: Courthill House, 1945; Dalpowie House, 1945; Ravenstone House, 1948; Murthly Castle, 1948-9; Panmure House, 1950; Logan House, 1950; Fotheringham House, 1950; Upper Largo House, 1950; Duncrub House (1950?); Wells House (1951?); Cavers House, 1953; St Fort, 1953; Maulesden House, 1960; Milkbank House, 1960; Auchmore House, 1962; Thirlestane House (1965?); Newton Hall (1966?); Almondell House (1969?); Hillfoot House; Balminnoch Lodge; Carmichael House; Dryfeholm House; Glasserton House.’

Charles Brand was active before 1945, so there are many more buildings to add to the depressing list of Scotland's lost heritage. In Aberdeenshire these include Castle Newe at Strathdon (the stone removed in 1927 was used for the construction of Elphinstone Hall at the University of Aberdeen), and the First World War airship base at Lenabo, seven miles from Cruden Bay, and officially known as RNAS Longside.

The demolition of Lenabo shows how the recycling of material provided good business for Charles Brand. In an article in The Dundee Courier for 30 May 1922, headlined ‘Dundee Merchant Buys an Aerodrome’, it is recorded that Charles Brand bought all the buildings and fittings. One of the sheds was 710 feet long and 100 feet high, and contained 2,000 tons of steel beams and 300 tons of corrugated iron. And not just an aerodrome, he bought a first-world-war tank on display in Dundee for scrap, and it was mentioned at the time that a similar exhibit in Aberdeen was coming his way too.

Charles Brand liked to advertise that you could buy anything from his company, and this was not too far off the truth.

The road to ruin for Slains Castle started in 1916 when the Earl of Erroll put the castle up for sale, having been impoverished by the lavish spending of the family fortune by his ancestors, an agricultural recession starting from the 1890s, and inheritance taxes, The castle was bought by Sir John Ellerman, a shipping magnate, who never visited is property. It was put up for sale again in 1922 and bought by Percy P. Harvey from London, who then disposed of the land, although the castle itself remained unsold.

At this point Slains Castle was bought by Charles Brand. He sold the furniture in a series of sales in April 1925. On 9 June he advertised for a slater to strip the slates at the castle. The demolition went ahead in the summer of 1925. On the 4th August, the Press and Journal reported that Peterhead slater, William Reid, had fallen off a ladder. He sustained serious injuries and was taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

An advert headlined ‘Demolition of Slains Castle’ in the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 5 September 1925, listed various items for sale: ‘Battens, Flooring, sarking, slates, doors, windows, baths, wash hand basins, sinks, stable fittings, stone paving and other building materials’.

Perhaps this had not gone well, because a new advert appeared notifying a sale at the castle on Saturday 17th April, 1926. Now included in the inventory were the following: panel doors (yellow pine), water closets, bedroom grates, granite sills and corners. Also for sale by auction was ‘the whole area of ground from Port Erroll village to Castle, and the Gardener’s Cottage and gardens, together or separately’.

An article in the Aberdeen Press and Journal from this time shows a photo of the front of the castle in its demolished state, and not too far off what the castle looks like now. The front steps leading up to the front door have gone, and were said to have been used for the construction of Torry Intermediate School (Torry Academy) in Aberdeen.

Nowhere in any of this is it mentioned that the roof of Slains Castle was removed to avoid taxes as is commonly believed. Rather, the foregoing makes it clear that the demolition was intended to recycle material from the castle for resale.


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The walls of the octagonal hall inside Slains Castle

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