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24 May 2019

Opening the door at Craigievar Castle

Written by Lauren Jackson, Conservator North
Craigievar Castle in the snow
Craigievar Castle
Craigievar is the quintessential fairytale pink castle, sitting prominently on a hill for all to see. It’s certainly not plain – with towering corner turrets, deeply set corbelling, heraldic beasts, richly carved gargoyles, cannon water spouts and topped with lead ogee-shaped spires.

Step inside and you’re transported into a world of historical pattern and design. As you enter the rooms, there are richly ornamented plaster ceilings above your head, while the carved Jacobean oak panelling draws your eye to the flashes of blue and green in the Forbes tartan adorning the floor and chairs. Two stone turnpike staircases convey you through the property, where other decorative motifs can be found in the furniture, furnishings, ceramics and metalwork.

The heavy, studded oak door at the only entrance to this unique castle was replaced in 1825. Until this century the previous door was thought to have been lost. In fact, it had been removed and stored in an outbuilding on the estate, and was discovered leaning against the wall in a very poor state. It had suffered from rising damp from the earthen floor, which had caused degradation to the base. The rest of the door had deteriorated due to high humidity and furniture beetle damage. This had weakened the timber structure to a sponge-like state which had caused some loss, but we were able to save the door and stored it offsite in improved environmental conditions.

The door was given time to acclimatise to a suitable relative humidity in storage before undergoing conservation and consolidation works. It was cleaned using conservation materials and solvents to remove the decades of ingrained dirt and grime. Then the weak sponge-like structure of the timber was consolidated with a conservation acrylic resin, and further work was undertaken to stabilise the friable timber structure.

We assume this fragile, heavy door once hung at the main entrance to Craigievar Castle, yet when it was made and when it was fitted remains a mystery.

The Craigievar door after conservation and consolidation works
The Craigievar door after conservation and consolidation works

Was it the original door to the castle?

Conservation work allowed us to understand more about the historical features present on the door, such as the deeply set studs, large hinges, wide timber planks and the construction methods. This provided us with clues that suggested the door dates from the late 17th century, which correlates with the completed construction of the castle in 1626. However, without further evidence it’s still speculation if this was the castle’s original door.

What further proof could we get to establish if this was the original door?

Dendrochronological investigation. This is the scientific method of dating tree rings to the year they were formed, as well as indicating the species of tree and the likely area where it was growing. This analysis was carried out using well-defined ring patterns on the edge the boards from the door. The data collected was cross-referenced with known ring patterns and sequences from a database. This informed us that the wood was oak from trees that were felled in the Eastern Baltic in 1510 and 1554. So the dates are okay for the door being a part of the original fabric of the castle when it was completed in 1626 by owner William Forbes. Forbes was a merchant who made his fortune trading with the Baltic though the port of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) and this earned him the nickname ‘Danzig Willie’. Therefore the wood for the door may well have been hand-picked by him during one of his trading visits.

The door is lying horizontally and the tree ring patterns can be seen in the timber
Images of the ring patterns on the boards from the door

The door is too fragile to replace the present one, but it has now been reunited with the castle in a bespoke display case. Visitors can see this rare survival of ancient timber and speculate on how many different people once walked through the door.

The Craigievar door in a display case
The Craigievar door on display in the castle

Craigievar was a favourite with Project Reveal Team North, who delved into the nooks and crannies discovering many family objects, including a number of significant ceramics, that will enhance the stories of the castle and the family who lived there.

Will you walk through the door and experience the wonder of Craigievar?

Project Reveal is a Trust-wide collections digitisation project. It will result in an updated database with high-quality images and unique object numbers for every item in the National Trust for Scotland material culture collections. Six regionally based project teams, supported by experienced project managers, will work across all our properties with collections to complete the inventory in 24 months from July 2017 until July 2019.

Project Reveal

Find out more about this Trust-wide collections digitisation project.

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