Sunday, 18 August 2013

Reverse Engineering a Castle

Today I was examining the floor areas of the three principal rooms at Balintore to assess flooring requirements. These three rooms are all connected to one another for maximum flow during social events The main rectangles for each room are:

dining room     = 35' x 21' 
drawing room  = 35' x 21'
grand saloon   = 35' x 28'

So the drawing room, dining room and saloon share the same long dimension: quite a surprise as there are no fully shared walls. The drawing room and dining room have the same dimensions: again a surprise as the drawing room looks far larger to the eye. I have long been puzzled by the room dimensions not being multiples of nice numbers like 4 or 6, but today I spotted they are all multiples of 7.

So in best Georgian tradition the rooms are beautifully proportioned as follows:

dining room       = 5 x 3
drawing room    = 5 x 3
grand saloon     = 5 x 4

William Burn, the architect of Balintore, started his career in the Georgian era.

The grand saloon is roughly 27' feet high so it is not quite a perfect cube, but essentially has proportions 5 x 4 x 4.

I guessed Balintore must hold such nice patterns like these, but I did not twig what they were until today. And of course, this hidden encoding of numbers in a building goes back to masonic and Knights Templar traditions.

mathematically perfect proportions of inter-connected principal rooms


  1. Hi there....

    Only just stumbled across your blog. I don't know if this is any use to you, but here is an embarrassing only photo of me investigating the [then intact] oriel window.

    This was taken in 1991.

    1. Huge thanks for this! I have not seen such an "up close and personal" picture of the oriel pre-collapse before. Thia will be genuinely useful for the reconstruction as you can see the individual stones. :-)

  2. I forgot to mention, I have a photograph album somewhere of a whole host of pictures that were taken of Balintore in November 1994, I will try and find it, I know there are closeups of the oriel window and the compass thingy in the great hall....

    1. Yes, the compass-y thing photo would be great. I am dying to see what this looks like. I believe someone in Edinburgh has the dial, but the trail has gone cold. Any internal shots? This is where the photographic record is really lacking - I only have three internal photos taken sometime in the 1980's.

  3. I'm gonna have to tear the house apart to find it, but I remember there are a few internal pictures...I think there's 1 shot of the kitchen, I remember taking a picture of a cast iron fireplace that I think was in the great hall, and some of the corridors...

    I decided to use Balintore as my subject matter for my art higher, at school hence the photos which I promise I will find!

    In the meantime, I did manage to find one of my old drawings:

    The place fascinated me, and I'm so happy to see you take on the challenge of restoration, I always wanted to see Balintore saved, it's so unique and has a perfect setting.

    1. Great art work! I can tell from the quality of observation that you love the building. :-)

    2. I was a lot younger when I drew that heh....I found the place magical, we were out for a drive round the glens and just happened upon Balintore one day. It's like something from a story to find this incredibly intricate, yet so lonely and dilapidated castle.

      I'd never seen anything like it. Are there still lots of jackdaws/rooks living around there, it's one of the sounds I remember every time I went there, lots of bubbling and chortling birds in the trees.

      I do remember the door knockers. I don't think I have a photo but I remember they were a pair of brass square knockers with squared rings, never seen anything like them before or since.

      Also remember seeing a bit of one of the wooden boxes in the wine cellar marked 'sacramental wine'. But we were never fortunate enough to find any of the wine itself!

      You are probably right about the skylights. From what I can remember, just inside the main door were a pair of glass paneled doors with curved tops and then the skylights which were still there at that time.

      And while I'm happy to provide a photo of the dial, I'm also sad to learn that someone took it, too. Hopefully having an image will in some way help it find it's way home? It's such a fantastic Victorian gadget and until I read your blog I'd never made the connection between hunting and wind.

      I've never left the area, though Balintore is a bit far from where I live, but I'd love to see it again someday. Your blog has made me so happy, to see such a wonderful building being saved from such a sad state of decomposition, it did not look to be an easy task back then and certainly not any easier today!

  4. Okay, I went digging like a maniacal mole and I managed to find my album!

    I have to correct myself, these were taken in 1993, not 1994 as I said above.

    A few comments.

    When I first visited Balintore in 1991, there were 2 large squared door handles/knockers on the main door, I note these were missing by the time these photographs were taken.

    There also used to be a rather amazing pair of bakelite dials, complete with Frankenstein-esk lever to switch the lot on/off. I don't know if that's still there or whether that too was stolen.

    There used to be a glass dome just after you went in the main doors, which at that time was still intact, but I was told at some point this had collapsed and had come bursting through the front doors, which were then boarded off, as was much of the rest of the castle, due to the poor state of things inside....I can remember standing on one of the upper floors when it started sinking (if it still says KLUX 1991 in one of the upper rooms that was me, sorry!!)

    1. Absolutely brilliant! I have just looked through your photos. The wind direction dial is the star - I have never seen this before and have often tried to picture what it would be like. I expected it to be light blue!

      I did not know about any knockers before - though I did wonder why there were none!

      I have heard about the "Frankenstein" electrics - I understand these were in the kitchen wing corridor. There is nothing there now, except a hole in the plaster and some wires poking through.

      You say "glass dome" - were these perhaps circular segmented sky-lights? There are two in the Victorian plans, and I have found segments of glass on the ground. The roof has long gone.

      Overall, most of the damage to the castle seems to have occurred by 1993, and it is surprising how now, 20 years later, is not a huge amount worse - except for the collapsed oriel.

      I have saved all your images for posterity - thanks for your invaluable contribution. If you are still up in the area, please visit and see how the building is being patched up.