Haddo House

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Haddo House
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Location Information
Name Haddo House
Owner private
NGR NJ 86853 34753
Lon. & Lat. 57.403328,-2.220579
Council Aberdeenshire
Parish Methlick
Nearby Castles Tillyhilt, Schivas, Gight, Esslemont, Ellon, Fyvie
Year built 1731
Overview map
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“Haddo” derives from the word "Davoch" which was a unit of land that could be ploughed by an ox in a day. A "half davoch" was not surprisingly, half the size and this became abbreviated to Haddo.

The Gordons of Haddo like to trace their descent from the Bertrand de Gourdon whose arrow fatally wounded Richard the Lionheart in France in 1199, thereby accounting for the family crest of two arms pulling back a bow and arrow. However, it is more probable that the descent comes from Richard Gordon of Berwickshire, who had settled there in 1170. One of his descendants, Adam, acquired the lands of Strathbogie, near Huntly and his descendants became the Earls and Marquesses of Huntly. Via a rather complicated line, one of the descendants of these Gordons, called James, acquired the lands of Haddo and Meikle Methlick in 1469. His son, Patrick, then acquired land at Kelly and Overhill in 1479. These lands, with the exception of Haddo Farm, still form the heart of the Estate.

In the sixteenth century the family acquired the Tarves Estate in 1550 and the lands of Savoch, to the North of the Ythan between Arnage and Auchnagatt in 1560.

In 1623, John Gordon of Haddo succeeded his Grandfather, and it is he who brought the family into public prominence. He was a fierce Royalist who devoted himself to the Stuart cause in the Civil War, and was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia in 1642 by Charles I, enabling him to style himself Sir John. Eighty prominent Scots were so targeted in exchange for loyalty and the prize of land in that only, very recently, settled wilderness in Canada. Sir John did not immediately jump on a sailing boat and head West to claim 1 million acres of prime Canadian Woodland but instead headed 20 miles South East to Aberdeen and launched a spectacular raid on the City.

Revenge was swift with the covenanter Marquess of Argyll besieging his house at Kelly and sacking it. Sir John was taken to Edinburgh, beheaded (gaining the distinction of being the first Royalist to be judiciously executed in Scotland) and also having his Estates confiscated. After the Civil War, and the return of Charles II, the Estates were returned to Sir John's eldest son, also called John, by the Scottish Parliament in 1661. He died in 1665, leaving a daughter and the title and Estates passed to his younger brother, George, a brilliant Lawyer.

George found a patron in the Duke of York who administered Scottish affairs on behalf of his brother Charles II and he eventually became James II. In 1682 George was appointed High Chancellor of Scotland and was, in the same Year, raised to the peerage of Scotland as the 1st Earl of Aberdeen. He married Anne Lockhart of Torbrex and in the 1680's he added considerably to the estate, purchasing: Over and Nether Ardlethan, Auchencrieve, Auchmaliddie, Raxton, Inkhorn and Tillicairn. His last major acquisition was Tolquhon in 1717 from the Forbes family, including the Castle which still remains in family ownership but is looked after by Historic Scotland. He died in 1720 at the grand age of 83, to be succeeded by his son William as 2nd Earl of Aberdeen.

William had a fierce pride in his family and his land and by three wives he had seven sons and three daughters. It was he who commenced the building of Haddo House in the early 1730's presumably replacing a rebuilt House of Kelly.

His first wife was the daughter of the Earl of Leven and Melville, his second, the daughter of the Duke of Atholl and his third, who he married in 1729, the daughter of the Duke of Gordon. The Duke imposed a condition on William that he had to purchase a suitable property for the offspring of this marriage to inherit. Therefore, he purchased Fyvie Castle and it's Estate for this purpose. Whilst it never formed part of the Haddo Estate, it was still a Gordon property until sold to the Forbes Leiths in 1885.

He added very substantially to the Haddo Estate by purchasing Crichie near Fyvie and Fedderat near Maud in 1722 and 1723, Boddam near Peterhead over the period 1726 - 1740 and Tarland near Aboyne in 1729. He died suddenly in Edinburgh in March 1745 having gone there to support the Young Pretender. Perhaps if he hadn't died of natural causes, he might have met a stickier end and his Estates forfeited yet again. History is full of these "what if's".

He was succeeded by his son George as the Third Earl, who was by now the largest Landowner in Aberdeenshire. He added to his estate by purchasing Gight Castle and it's Estate in 1787, from Catherine Gordon, a distant branch of the family, who had married Capt. John Byron who quickly ran through her fortune, forcing the sale. There was supposed to be an ancient prophecy by Thomas the Rhymer:

When the heron leaves the tree, The Laird o' Gight shall landless be.

Shortly before the sale a number of herons that had nested at Gight for years flew over to Haddo where Lord Aberdeen was supposed to have said "Let the birds come, and do them no harm, for the land will soon follow". The next year Catherine gave birth to their son George Gordon Byron, the famous poet who always found it hard to come to terms with his distant cousins at Haddo who he felt, unfairly, had deprived him of his Estate and inheritance.

The Third Earl's son, Lord Haddo was killed in an unfortunate riding accident at Gight in 1795 and the Haddo Estate was inherited by his son, the 3rd Earl's grandson George.

The 4th Earl is the most prominent member of the family. He was Colonial Secretary, then Foreign Secretary and was the first Politician to forge close links with Europe and in particular France. He was very close to the French Foreign Secretary Guizot, whose fine portrait hangs at Haddo and it was they who originated the expression "Entente Cordiale" so widely used in political life today.

He was Prime Minister between 1852 - 1855 and as modern biographers testify, was unfairly castigated for his handling of the Crimean War, a War which he considered to be folly and did all in his power to avoid. It is said that he was one of Queen Victoria's favourite Prime Ministers and she stayed at Haddo in 1857 planting, with her husband, two magnificent Wellingtonia which still stand today. Indeed, it was he who persuaded her to buy Balmoral which at the time was lived in by his brother who was a Tenant of the Earl of Fife.

When he returned from Cambridge, where he was studying, to Haddo in 1801 on the death of his Grandfather, he found a neglected and dilapidated house set in bleak and boggy countryside. He carried out major remodeling of the house to make it more suitable to the harsh weather of the North East. In conjunction with the Artist James Giles he landscaped the Policies and Deer Park and created the woodlands of Haddo which so magnificently dominate the landscape of today. He laid out two lakes, the Upper which forms the centerpiece of today's Country Park and Kelly which remains private. He also carried out a huge programme of modernisation to his vast Estate and threw himself into this work with great energy. It is he who is responsible for the beauty of the Estate Policies as they are today and we are the beneficiaries of his great foresight. He died in London in 1860 and the Tenants of the Estate erected the Prop of Ythsie in his memory which I think proves the esteem in which he was held.

He was succeeded by George as 5th Earl but he was to die four years later. His eldest son was also called George and succeeded in 1864 at the age of 23. At such a young age, the 6th Earl did not want the responsibility of running the Haddo Estate and travelled incognito to North America to escape although fully intending to return at the appropriate time. Adopting the name George Osborne he worked as a Lumberjack and a Sailor achieving his Masters Certificate whilst at the same time laying a number of false trails to avoid detection and identification. In those days, as is the case today, rounding Cape Horn was the thing to do for a sailor. Sadly, without ever fulfilling his ambition, he was swept overboard and drowned whilst on a trip to Australia in 1871.

With the seven year absence of the 6th Earl, the Estate finances had flourished so that John, the 7th Earl inherited an Estate, which including: Tarland amounted to 65,000 acres and generating a very considerable income. The 7th Earl enjoyed a distinguished Political Career twice being appointed Viceroy of Ireland and he was also Governor General of Canada. These were the days when you were appointed to such posts only if you could afford it because, despite being paid, it was never enough to cover the outgoings of the position. It was for holding these posts that he was elevated to become the 1st Marquess of Aberdeen in 1916.

Johnny, as he was known, and his wife, Ishbel, were extremely benevolent, very extravagant and also made some very poor Business decisions. A Fruit Farming enterprise in Canada lost a fortune which had to be funded by the Haddo Estate. There was a flow of correspondence from the Factor of the day constantly pointing out the shortfall of income against expenditure. There was also extensive remodeling of Haddo House including the construction of the Chapel and of a further Wing which was destroyed by fire in 1930.

In 1910, Johnny, and Ishbel, despite still being Viceroy of Ireland, decided to retire to their Tarland Estate and to build a very substantial House there to keep them in the style to which they had become accustomed. This lifestyle could not go on forever at the expense of the Estate as there were no other forms of income. It became apparent that there had to be a sale of land to cover debts and a sale was held over several days in 1919 of 37,000 acres of the Haddo Estate which raised £450,000.

Johhny died in 1934 and was succeeded by his son, George. Despite two marriages, he had no children and handed the Estate over to his nephew, David, in the late 1940's and moved to Braehead in Aberdeen on the Northern Bank of the River Don.

David died in 1974 and the ownership of the Estate passed to his nephew Alexander Gordon, the current Marquess of Aberdeen, who had a successful career in property development in London before moving to Haddo in 1995 having built a new family house on the Estate.

House of Kelly (Kellie)

When the large hall to the W of Haddo House was erected in 1890, the workmen came across the foundations of an old building - about 10 feet thick, which might have been the ancient House of Kelly. In 1261 Kelly belonged to Alexander Comyn, Earl of Buchan. From 1433 to 1513 Robert, Lord Erskine, and his descendants held the barony. In 1639, when the proprietor was Sir John Gordon, Montrose threatened with siege the House of Haddo called Kelly.


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