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History Index : Monymusk House
The House of Monymusk is situated about a quarter of a mile from the village beside the River Don. The age of the house is unclear, but it is thought that parts of the building date from between 1205 and 1210. There could have been a wooden stucture on this site and if there was it would have been easy to defend with the river on the North side, a burn on the South and the whole area boggy, but with a well for clean water inside the building. When the Forbeses bought the Estate in the 1560s, they said that they built the central part of the house with blackened granite stones taken from the ruined and burned Monastery.
The main part of the House is an L-shaped tower of four stories. It is connected by a curtain wall to a much smaller round guard tower. The round tower is at the south-east corner of the house and has heavily battered walls, three storeys and a vaulted basement known as Meg's Hole (see legend) which may have been used as a dungeon as well as a foodstore.
The round tower has a small spiral staircase leading to small rooms on each level. It may have been built a couple of hundred years before the main L-shaped tower and certainly looks much older than the main part of the House. The first floor has four little windows reminiscent of a watch tower in a tower house. Tower Houses were built in Central and North East Scotland by local land owners for themselves and the local villagers as a defence against maurading neighbours.
Changes and Additions
Throughout the Centuries many changes and alterations have been made to both the structure and internal layout of the House, such as the addition of new wings or internal restructuring. From the outside of the house some of the original doors and windows can be seen. Amongst the most interesting finds have been the cross slit arrow windows and a coat of arms discovered during exterior maintenance work by Sir Archie in the early 1980s. He also found a gun loop, three blocked up doorways and six windows of various designs.
Monymusk is most fortunate in having an architectural drawing and a watercolour painting of the house, dating from the early 18th Century. Usually builders at this time worked from their own knowledge of a building or where architectural plans did exist, they were often destroyed, so many houses of this period have no record of what they originally looked like.
The Forbeses built the L-shaped tower and the first floor and a half of the 17th Century South and East wings round a courtyard. The windows in these wings were dormer windows and the windows on the ground floor were all very small. The East side of the courtyard had a hen house and store house, beyond them were the stable, cattle byre, coach house and doocot. Entry to the courtyard and the House was through tall gates in the wall on the South side of the courtyard.
The painting on the left by Archibald Robertson shows the courtyard and gates of the House and also a double step in the burn. In the 1920's Sir Arthur (10th Bt) turned these into one step as he had ideas of using a bigger drop to generate electricity, though this idea never came to fruition. There were three Robertson brothers who were all excellent artists, two of whom emigrated to New York and one to Canada. The eldest brother, Archibald, started an Art School in New York which still exists today.
When the Grants bought Monymusk in 1713 they were disappointed in their purchase, the roofs and dormer windows were leaking and there was no glass in any of the windows. The Grants added half a storey to the East wing and a storey and a half to the South wing to create Georgian sized windows and get rid of the leaky dormers. In the 1830s they demolished the South and East walls of the courtyard and moved the entrance gates up to the road, at the top of the new drive down between the avenue of beech trees that were planted in the 1720s.
According to an inventory prepared in 1731 the house consisted of a drawing room, dining room, six principle bedrooms, several smaller bedrooms, a kitchen, laundry, cellar, wardrobe, maid's room, cook's room, servants' room, servants' hall and 'woman house'. Although the house was generally furnished in the fashion of the time, with plenty of long drapes, wall-hangings and mirrors, much of the furniture was in a poor state of repair.
In 1734 the domestic arrangements in the household were taken care of by Mrs Ramsay the housekeeper. There was also a male cook assisted by a young boy, around six maid servants, a butler, groom, maltman and a dairymaid. Wages would have been paid together with additional items, such as aprons for the maids and shoes or boots for the footman. The Kitchen Garden (walled garden) supplied the house with its fresh herbs, fruit, vegetables and flowers.
In the 1830s the Grants built a wider Georgian staircase on the North wall of the House, as well as a laundry wing, a new kitchen wing, game larders and other store rooms. There were plans by Edinburgh architects to demolish the South wing completely and build something bigger but thankfully this never happened.
Electricity was installed in the House for the first time in the late 1920s. Sir Arthur and Lady Grant were on holiday while the work was being done and the electrician decided to use up all his oddly shaped plugs and switches. They came back to find the power cords for electric kettles or heaters with luggage lables attached to them saying "this plug only fits the sockets on the left-hand side of the fireplace in the blue room", "the right-hand side of the cupboard in the Paradise Room" or "next to the door in the Schoolroom."
In 1931 Sir Arthur Grant (11th Bt.) and his brother in law removed the panelling in the Hall to reveal frescoes dating from the early 16th Century. One of the drawings is of Hector and Achilles, others show coats of arms of wives of Scottish Kings and smaller ones of the Forbes and Grant families.
Superstition and Legend
On the roof at the top of the tower there are a number of iron rings set into the stone next to small stone seats. There are tales of prisoners being kept chained up here and left for the crows to peck in times gone by... however, this roof is actually an 18th Century roof and the rings were probably safety rings for the workmen to tie themselves onto while they worked on it!
Under the corbelling of the keep are two windows with large lintols above them and gargoyle heads on either side. In the early 1980s while Sir Archibald was reharling the House, he refused to allow the workmen to remove these stones, as he knew of another house where the owner had seen a huge beast lumbering through the grounds at twilight until their gargoyles were replaced.
The ground floor room of the round tower is known as Meg's Hole. The Grant family version of the tale is that Meg was a witch who was later burned, but the Forbes' version relates that Meg was a Forbes wife, who saw a band of men coming down the drive while her husband was out. Rather than face a fate worse than death, she is supposed to have impaled herself on a meat hook hanging from the ceiling of the small room.
A carving of an elephant can be seen on the side of the house which was made by a well travelled stone mason. During one of his journeys he had seen 'a muckle beastie with a tail at either end'. As nobody believed such an animal could exist, he placed a carving of one at the top of the tower to show future generations what he had seen.
A field half a mile East of Monymusk House beside the River Don, known as the Camp Field, was reputedly the camping ground of Robert Bruce's army before the Battle of Inverurie in 1308.
Please note that the House of Monymusk is a private residence, so if you plan to visit and would like to view the outside of the House and grounds, the owners would be grateful for a courtesy call to the Estate Office in advance.
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Tuesday, December 1st 2015
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