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Location Information
Name Esslemont
Owner ruins, private
NGR NJ 93212 29745
Lon. & Lat. 57.358044,-2.113986
Council Aberdeenshire
Parish Ellon
Nearby Castles Ellon, Tolquhon, House of Leask, Tillyhilt, Haddo
Year built 15th c.
Overview map
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Despite standing close beside the road, Esslemont castle is easily missed by motorists looking for a last opportunity to get past two cars and a van before reaching the confines of Ellon's 30mph speed limit! It stands on the north side of the A920 largely hidden by trees, about two miles west of Ellon, in the grounds of Esslemont House - for long the seat of the Wolridge-Gordon family.

The building is a variation of the L-plan, with a main block orientated north / south, and a wing extending west (to the left in this photo) from the south end of the main block (parallel with the main road). There was a stair tower in the re-entrant angle on the North West side, and a large round tower, corbelled out to the square at the top, on the outside angle of the L to the south east. The remains of the kitchen chimney flue can also still be traced. The building would have been three storeys and an attic high.

This shows the gable of the south end of the main block, with the scant remains of the west wing's stonework to the left, and the round tower on the external angle of the L to the right. The way the round tower is corbelled out to the square at the top, no doubt to form a watch chamber, is reminiscent of Claypotts castle in Dundee. The Wolridge-Gordons must have stabilised the ruins some time back, which would explain the condition of the pointing, which one would expect to be in much worse condition on a castle in this state. The windows in this south gable, as elsewhere in the main block, are rather larger than usual, which might be the result of the castle's dressed stone, including the window surrounds, being taken away for use in other buildings.

This crest in the south wall shows beyond doubt that Esslemont Castle has been a Gordon property. It shows three boars heads at the bottom, the Gordon motto "Bydand", meaning steadfast, at the top, and in the centre a stag's head above a crown. Despite this, the castle was not built by the Gordons. It was erected by Henry Cheyne of Straloch under a license dated 1500, and was only regularly lived in for about a century.

The previous castle on this site was destroyed as the result of a feud between the Cheynes of Esslemont and the Hays of Ardendracht in 1493 - not the building we see today. Following this event the Privy Council decreed that the Hays should pay 20 pounds compensation to the Cheynes, and no doubt making best possible use of this handsome sum, the Cheynes erected the building we see today, although probably not until nearly a century later. (There are features of the castle's design that date it to the period 1570 to 1590)

In 1938 the site of Esslemont Castle was excavated and a considerable amount was discovered, most of which has now vanished back under the undergrowth again. For a start, the foundations of a second castle were discovered a short distance to the west of the present structure. This too was an L-plan castle, and it sat in the middle of a five sided courtyard, which had round towers on all the corners, 19ft in diameter. The round tower of the present castle (see here) sits on the foundations of the easternmost tower of this curtain wall ("wall of enceinte"), and the site of another tower is now under the main road. The report on the excavation of this older castle states that "Traces of fire were abundantly present in and around the tower house", which proves that this was the castle burned down by the Hays, and not the structure we see today. Around the outside of the wall of enceinte there was also a ditch.

As stated in a previous photo, the existing castle was built by the Cheynes, probably between 1570 and 1590, and was no doubt built using the stones of its predecessor. During the religious troubles of Reformation period it became the property of George Jamesone, a famous painter, who died in 1644. In 1646 it was occupied by a party of Covenanters, but a party from the Royalist garrison at Fyvie castle, under the command of Capt. Blackater attacked Esslemont and drove the Covenanters off "killing thirty six of them, and brought away their horses and arms, with such other stuff as they had". The Earls of Erroll, who had acquired the estate after Jamesone's death, sold it in 1728 to Robert Gordon of Hallhead (near Alford), with whose descendants it remains to this day.


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