Thursday, 24 December 2015

Balintore in Minecraft

With just 10 minutes to go until Christmas day 2015, a suitable gift to all friends of Balintore are these screen captures of a Minecraft version of Balintore Castle courtesy of my friend Andrew. I find a strange reassurance in that, however geeky I am, I am not that geeky! :-) Seriously, I cannot imagine the patience and time required to generate this model. Anyone who knows the castle, will appreciate how accurate it are. Naturally, round towers are tricky in a block-based world, but Andrew has improvised extremely well.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Two Thousand, Five Hundred and Seventy-Nine Slaves

The first owner of Balintore Castle, David Lyon, made his money in the West Indies, so I had always guessed that "slaves and sugar" were involved.

However, when friend of Balintore Castle, David Orr, emailed me some of the details this year I was actually quite badly shaken. David Lyon had owned 2,579 slaves, and this particular statistic gave me great pause for thought: how can one human being own thousands of other human beings?

Slavery ended in the lifetime of David Lyon, and the British government compensated the slave owners financially. Lyon's compensation payments seem to have come through in 1838, 22 years before he commissioned Balintore Castle. Although this is quite a gap, it seems not unreasonable to assume that construction of the castle was funded from slave labour and the subsequent government compensation after abolition.

Here's the text that David Orr sent me:-

A friend mentioned noticing Balentore (sic) Castle mentioned in the documentation relating to compensation for slave owners for slaves freed on the British abolition of slavery (1833). The name was David Lyon Jnr, Balentore Castle, Glamis, Forfarshire, North East Scotland.  He had slaves in a number of Parishes in Jamaica (Hanover, Trelawney and Westmoreland) and on a number of Plantations within each Parish.  In total he had 2,579 slaves and received compensation of approx £46,860 which would have been an astronomically large sum in the mid 1800s.

UCL have a great website on the legacy of British slave ownership. Click here to see the details held on David Lyon. A political cartoon of the time, shown below, suggests that the abolition of slavery may have been more about conning the government out of the 20 million pound compensation money rather than having a higher moral purpose.


Happy Christmas 2015

The photos I've chosen for this year's Christmas blog entry were taken early in December at Balintore, just I was driving away from the castle and heading towards the south of England. The combination of the blue skies and snow glinting in the sunshine made me very reluctant to leave. However, gainful employment is required to keep the restoration in funds.

bottom of castle drive - looking south-west

Due to the mild winter, so far, this snow on the upper slopes at Balintore may be the best the UK has to offer this year in the "White Christmas" department.

driving east with a snow-capped Cat Law (671 m) on right-hand side

The restoration work keeps going with further gains in reclaiming internal space in 2015. Now the principal bedroom level is completely floored and all the windows are installed. The windows in particular make a huge difference with light now flooding into the building on this level as well as the level below. The rooms even warm up while the sun in shining! My pet project, replacing the castle's marble fireplaces, is in full swing and a  number of the reclaimed fireplaces that I have purchased are now installed. We are now working on the top servants' bedroom level rebuilding the floors here.

There has been further work on the roof, with the last sections of box gutter being totally rebuilt - we have been slowly working round the building. Two additional turrets have also been given a complete makeover. The dry-lining and insulation of the kitchen wing has started so finally the holes in walls and ceilings which allow heat from the wood burner to rapidly escape the building are being blocked-up. There may even come a day when the wood burner does not have to be run at full throttle.  :-)

Fighting wind farms proposals in the unspoiled scenery around the castle has taken up far too much time this year, but then that has been the case for the last 7 years; expect some more related blog entries in 2016.

I am hoping to spend some quality hands-on restoration time at the building in 2016. However I am resigned to keep working in order to keep funding the restoration and for Andy to handle things on site on a day-to-day basis. Thank goodness for Andy. :-) In fact, I am only too pleased to be working again after last year's back operation which made it possible for me to walk again and sit-down again. Never underestimate the power of sitting down for a computer geek! 

It is continually heartening to hear from people all over the the world through the blog, despite the fewer entries this year (heavy work schedule!). I wish all friends of Balintore Castle, old and new, a "Happy Christmas" and best wishes for 2016. 

And finally, here's a photo taken inside the castle by my friend Andrew, I wish you could all join me in front of this roaring fire to celebrate the festive season! 

a roaring fire in the principal dressing room/study

David Lyon's Probate Record 1872

Many thanks to friend of Balintore Castle, Steve Scooby Fairweather, for finding the probate record for David Lyon, the first owner of Balintore Castle. In fact, Steve has been piecing together the history and ownership of Balintore Castle with a zeal far exceeding my own, and I hope to present some more of his findings on this blog when I find the time.

You can see that David Lyon died in Nice, France 12 years after the construction of Balintore. At the time of his death, Lyon owned a property in town (31 South Street, Park Lane); an English country estate (Goring Hall); and a Scottish shooting lodge (Balentore Castle). The contradicts earlier anecdotal information I had heard that Lyon sold the castle one or two years after commissioning it: providing quite a mystery, but one has to go with the documentary sources however less interesting the story!

The value of the estate was revised in 1876, perhaps some hidden assets had emerged. In any case, there is no doubt that David Lyon was an extremely wealthy man. I have included one other probate record for comparison. Indeed Lyon is portrayed in Disraeli's diary as a 'celebrated yachter' and a 'very rich' man. I am quite certain David Cameron has no such diary entry about me. :-)

David Lyon's probate record

Friday, 18 December 2015

Highly Arch

While most of the original fireplaces at Balintore Castle have long since been removed or smashed-up, most of the cast iron inserts are still there. In the dressing room, once used by a previous resident called Lady Langman, not only is the insert in-situ, but so is the original heath stone. In short, this location is ripe for a replacement fire surround. Lady Langman was known in the family as "Aunt Nellie", so the room has become affectionately known as Aunt Nellie's dressing room.

Andy sent me the following two photos so there could be no ambiguity regarding the dimensions of the insert. You can see that the height is 39" which is the maximum standard size, but that the width is 42" which is much wider than normal. In fact you can see the 2" wide cast iron extension strip on the left-hand side of the insert. Many of the inserts at Balintore have been super-sized using these strips. It is extraordinary that the even the fireplaces in the dressing rooms at Balintore are larger than fireplaces found in the reception rooms of big Victorian houses, and so any antique fireplaces I buy have to be on the colossal side.

insert has height of 39"

insert has width of 42"

Normally, there is some leeway with sizes as a fireplace with a smaller opening can still fit around a larger insert - no-one sees how much of an overlap there is! Fortunately, so far I have managed to get the scale of replacements more or less correct.

However, Aunt Nellie's dressing room fireplace is the biggest challenge yet. You can see that the top of the arch comes, very unusually, within half-an-inch of the top of the insert so there is only half-an-inch to play with. The inserts of the big reclaimed fireplaces I have bought all seem to have an opening height of 37½", which would cut off a considerable proportion of the top of the arch and look aesthetically wrong.

Thinking caps on! I have a St Anne's marble fireplace which has slate detailing and a slate hearth slab for this which is ¾" thick. If I build a base unit for each of the two fireplace legs from two thicknesses of the slate heath, copying the existing slate detailing, then surely that would look OK as well as raising the height by 1½" and so take the opening height from 37½" to a perfect 39".

Below are my plans for the fireplace's discreet and tasteful "shoe lifts". Click on the image for higher resolution.

fireplace's "shoe lifts"

You can access the plans in FIG, PDF and JPG formats here

It was a great source of pleasure to draw-up these plans: technical drawing was a subject I loved at school and during the two hours lessons I entered an state of consciousness I have never experienced anywhere else - a rapt, absorbed, all-consuming, chilled, calming and almost meditative concentration. 

Needless-to-say, setting up the drawing package on my PC took several frustrating hours, whereas the drawing itself only took a meditative 30 minutes! :-) The non-geeks need not read the next sentence. I used the cygwin version of xfig running under Windows with the cygwin x-server running in another window! I did all my Ph.D. diagrams in xfig, and learning any drawing package is always a big investment in time.

Reverse engineering the fireplace by measuring it and, in particular, by studying the combinations of profiles used, revealed a careful use of geometric proportion as well as imperial units. :-) And altering the fireplace by following the same rules felt almost pre-destined. You often see antiques which have been altered over the years, by their respective owners, to be fit for purpose for the next generation. I was delighted to be part of this august tradition. However, even such a minor alteration would be quite costly if it were to be done by a modern stone mason, and I have subsequently measured a massive fireplace I bought that has not yet been delivered to the castle: its opening is 38" (H) x 41" (W). This would cut off just the top half-inch of the outermost edge of the arch, which I think would just be about OK and the width is perfect. Again, it's extraordinary that this monumental fireplace, which I bought at an auction outside Ascot, is only just big enough for a dressing room at Balintore

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Technical Plans

You will undoubtedly be hugely relieved, as am I, to learn that this is the last batch of recently scanned-in castle restoration plans to be uploaded. I still have to do a final check to make sure there are no stragglers - fingers crossed. 

This time it's all the technical plans: roof repairs, services, insulation and floor detailing. Perhaps not as exciting as other types of plan but essential. Full resolution plans may be found on this link.

You will spot Council stamps on some of the plans, showing the hard earned granting of their official approval. The table of contents below gives a quick summary of the plans available on this blog entry.

drawing number
kitchen wing patch repairs to roof
5th august 2007
kitchen wing roof plan (proposed)
1st june 2008
kitchen wing proposed drainage plan
may 2013
kitchen wing heating and electrical
april 2013
kitchen wing section and floor details
may 1013
kitchen wing wall insulation details
may 2013
site plan (including levels and tank locations) proposed
26th november 2008
07-010-1 kitchen wing patch repairs to roof 5th august 2007

07-015-2 kitchen wing roof plan (proposed) 1st june 2008 stamped

07-018-3 kitchen wing proposed drainage plan may 2013
07-019-4 kitchen wing heating and electrical april 2013

07-020-2 kitchen wing section and floor details may 1013 stamped

07-021-1 kitchen wing wall insulation details may 2013 stamped

07-022-2 site plan (including levels and tank locations) proposed 26th november 2008 stamped

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Replacement Door and Window Designs

Getting yet more of the newly digitised plans online ....

One of the biggest expenses in restoring Balintore Castle, by far, is having replacement windows and doors made. Where the window or door is missing or totally rotten, a new one has to be made. However, we have done our best to incorporate surviving fabric.

The good news is that there are very few window and door types at Balintore, and they are generally done to an even smaller set of patterns just at different scales. There are enough surviving examples to know exactly what all windows were like: absolutely no guesswork is involved. 

The plans below are replacement door and window designs for the kitchen wing. Some of these have already been made and installed; some have yet to be commissioned. d29 and w27 are the only items differing from the originals: w27 is a new-design window in a door opening; d29 is single panelled door, matching an existing door, with a glazed opening that replaces a stable door. The locations of these are shown in this plan.

The biggest window challenge is restoring the cathedral-like perpendicular style gothic windows in the grand saloon, but permit me the luxury of not fretting about this for now. :-) The current focus is getting the rather more manageable windows on the servant's bedroom floor reinstated. Windows are surprisingly one of the most transformative things in restoration, they bring in light, warmth and joy and create the interior space. Full high resolution versions of the plans can be found here.

07-011-A-2 kitchen wing replacement sash window (w24) 23rd november 2007
07-011-B-1 kitchen wing replacement window types 22rd august 2008

07-011-C-1 kitchen wing new sash window (w27) 11th september 2008
07-013-A-1 kitchen wing replacement internal panelled doors 23rd november 2007

07-013-B-1 kitchen wing replacement boarded door (d28) 11th september 2008

07-013-C-1 kitchen wing replacement hopper type boarded door (d29) 11th september 2008

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Balintore Castle Watercolour Dated 1864

I was wildly delighted to receive this image by email today from my architect Dr. Paul Bradley, who has recently purchased the original watercolour.

I did not know such a picture existed, but to me it tells a number of stories. 

The picture was painted just 4 years after construction of the castle, so it must be associated somehow with the original owner David Lyon and it is very much the castle, in newly constructed pride, saying "look at me". It looks to be painted by a talented amateur rather than a professional artist, so I would guess the artist was a member of the shooting party shown. Sketching and painting were very much the hobbies of the day.

There are 4 ladies and 3 gentlemen in the scene, so I am guessing the artist is the missing 4th gentleman. Gentlemen and ladies paint architecture in different ways, and this has a male cast. It is likely that his lady friend is the figure in the foreground writing or sketching - a shared common interest no doubt. Does the lady have a small easel at her feet? 

The vegetation is almost non-existent in the image: the castle's terrace was leveled in 1860  so there has only been 4 years growing time. Today, there are tall trees to the right and huge yews to the left. I always thought it would be a shame if any of the trees died, but the terrace without the trees has a exposed raw beauty of its own.

There is a balustraded stone wall to the rear of the picture. I never knew such a wall existed, but it could, if not artistic licence, explain a long-standing mystery. The earliest photo of the castle (c 1860) shows no balustrading on the inner courtyard wall on the left hand side of this image. It is not shown here, in 1864, either. However, a photograph of 1923 shows the courtyard wall to be balustraded. I am now wondering if the balustrading was moved during the history of the castle? Perhaps the garden wall got damaged in some way, so the balustrading was consolidated on the shorter run of the courtyard wall?

I was told about a cannon in front of the castle, in living memory, I would guess the 1950's. There is a cannon in this picture, so could it be the one and the same? I had no idea this feature could have gone right back to the earliest days of the castle.

The figures are depicted in a way that seems more 18th Century or even 17th Century - no doubt the old-world romance of the Highlands, as penned by Sir Walter Scott, is the aim!

What could the red flag be? Surely it must be an artistic confection, as I cannot think of any relevant flags that would fit. The artist has picked out the red hem of his lady friend's dress and hem of the dress of the lady on the pony riding side-saddle, suggesting he was using his red brush as embellishment.

The mist lying in the valley below is one of my favourite looks too.

The castle's spelling is old form "Balentore" as seen on the original architectural plans, rather then the current "Balintore". I wondered whether the plans' spelling was an aberration or mistake, but the evidence here now suggests this was the received spelling in the 1860's.

Hope you enjoyed my Sherlock Holmes dissection of the picture. 

1864 Watercolour of Balintore Castle

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Visualisations of Proposed Kitchen Wing

A further series of belated digital scans... 

After making Balintore Castle weatherproof, the plan was to make the kitchen wing habitable. This is a clear no-brainer. The kitchen wing is in relatively better condition than the rest of the castle. Being single-storied (with part basement) and smaller in scale, the complete restoration to comfortable dwelling should in theory be quite achievable. Practice, of course, is something else. Getting planning permission for this took 7 years, only finally coming through in 2014. 

You can imagine my despair during this period! The worse part was being in the castle in the middle of two of the coldest winters on record, unable to do anything to keep the heat from escaping out of the building. I am more than familiar with the onset of hypothermia. The only solution is to get into bed with an electric blanket under three duvets, no matter the time of day or night. This was the only way of keeping any heat around one's body. I have a huge wood-burner which under normal domestic circumstances would be more than enough to heat a very large room.

The irony is that I want to keep the building as close as possible to its Victorian state i.e. there is absolutely nothing contentious in the plans. 

The first image shows the floor plan, and how the service rooms have been converted into domestic accommodation. The meat larder becomes a bathroom; the dairy larder becomes a utility room, you get the idea.

As far as the external appearance is concerned this will hardly change - see the second image. One door opening will become a window (matching the others), and a stable door (now missing) will become a single panel door.

The interesting action takes place with the internal courtyard. The covered walkway will be glazed in - see the third image. This allows two service rooms to be brought into the body of the accommodation. One of these will be the second of two bedrooms. Even though the kitchen is spectacularly large, the kitchen wing still only forms a two bedroom dwelling, so it was important to reclaim that second bedroom.

The fourth image shows the interior of the kitchen and some proposed kitchen units. As we all know, the Victorians did not have kitchen units, but my architect has done a good job in designing something that is practical and somehow "period-credible". Is that a thing?

Anyhow, the full resolution scans can be found on this link. The images below are limited in size by Google!

1. proposed floor plan for kitchen wing

2. proposed north and  east elevations

proposed courtyard with glazed walkway

proposed kitchen interior

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Castle Survey 2007

One of the obligations when I bought Balintore Castle in 2007 was to provide Angus Council with a survey of the castle at time of purchase. The resulting plans, photographic survey and inventory constitute a historic "snap-shot" of the building pre-restoration. Many thanks to Dr. Paul Bradley for his artful and accurate draftsmanship. He even recorded the holes in the floors and the vegetation on the building. 

However, I have only just managed to digitally scan-in the plans and thought this blog would be the best place to make these publically available. I needed some window plans scanned-in for email communication,  and thought it was about time to get the lot done.

Below the survey's floor-by-floor plans are presented in bottom to top order, and then the elevations are presented in anti-clockwise order starting from the west entrance fa├žade. The images in this blog are limited by Google to be around 1k x 1k resolution, however you can access the original 8k x 8k scans on this link for the high resolution versions.









Saturday, 27 June 2015

Gluttony Begats Art

After a recent wasted trip to Kirriemuir, I thought I should take advantage of being in town, and went to get an ice-cream from Visocchi's - the renown ice-cream parlour. It was that rare thing in Angus - a sweltering day. :-)

En route, I was surprised to encounter this painting of Balintore Castle in a shop window by an excellent local artist called Jack MacDonald. I have liked a number of his works in the past - all spotted while passing this shop. 

Balintore Castle painting by Jack MacDonald

I sometimes have trouble with the uncanny-valley when a painting is close in tone to a photograph, but there is no denying the strength of the composition and the skilled use of colour here. It captures well the feeling of the building nestling in a powerful landscape - something I love about the castle.

Oh yes, I can recommend the tutti-frutti: even better than the vanilla. I had a double scoop.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Drone Castle Video

Many thanks to Ali for producing this amazing aerial video of Balintore Castle last week. On the planned filming date of Tuesday 5th May, it just tipped down. Towards the end of the Wednesday, the weather cleared enough that I suggested Ali could take his chances. Thankfully, it turned into a beautiful sunny evening, and at the end of the video you can see the low sun illuminating the tops of the surrounding hills.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Macritch Hill Wind Farm

The siege of Balintore Castle by wind farms abateth not. The latest assault is the "Macritch Hill Wind Farm". The proposal has been submitted to the Scottish Government for approval. The reason the decision is being made by the Scottish Government rather than Angus Council, is the sheer scale of the development: eighteen 125 metre tall wind turbines arranged around the Backwater Reservoir. The closest turbine to Balintore Castle will just be just one mile away. 

Eneco, the company concerned, deliberately revised their proposal to move one turbine further down a hill so it would not be in the eye-line of Balintore Castle in light of the comments of a Government Reporter who visited the area to make a judgement on an earlier, but still ongoing, proposal of the Carrach Wind Farm.

Should I be grateful? Balintore Castle has been threatened so many times by wind farms that would be in full "VistaVision" view, that I did not know if I had the energy to fight against Macritch - knowledge of the proposal had put me into a state of shock. I duly visited the Eneco exhibition in the Kingoldrum Village Hall with my neighbour. The staff there were really friendly and showed us computer visualisations of the wind farm from different angles. The real shocker was the complete transformation of the Backwater Reservoir itself, from a beauty spot to the exact opposite.

As we exited the village hall, my neighbour asked me what I thought. As I spoke and said "I am against it.", I found my resolve. As I explained, the windfarm destroys countryside right in the vicinity of Balintore Castle. The two places I take visitors to the castle are to the "Backwater Reservoir" which would be destroyed and to the summit of Cat Law the mountain on whose slopes the castle rests. The view from the top of Cat Law would also be destroyed. In short the visual amenity of the area is gone in one fell swoop. This time round, the issue was larger than just Balintore Castle, which it had always had been in the past for me personally. The development is just wrong for the area, and the lesson I have learned from fighting on behalf of Balintore Castle is that when something is wrong, you should say so clearly and loudly to the stakeholders. For in truth, it is only members of the public that truly protect heritage, whether natural or built, by driving the mechanisms within society.

If you would like to drive your own mechanisms within society, you can object to the Macritch Hill Wind Farm by writing to the Scottish Government before the 20th February on

or why not join the Facebook group I have set up

I append my own letter to the Scottish Government, and hope you are able to understand why I feel so strongly, if you feel in any way similarly please object yourself.

Dear Energy Consents and Development Unit,

I took on the restoration of Balintore Castle in 2007. This is a A-grade listed building dating from 1860, set carefully and deliberately into an unspoiled landscape. Since 2008, the castle has been subject to an onslaught of wind farm proposals which would despoil the setting of the building and its surrounding area, and the sad truth of the matter is that much of time I would loved to have worked on the restoration of the building, has been spent trying to fend off the developer. I wish to object to the proposal for the Macritch Hill Wind Farm (Angus Council planning application 15/00047/S36)  because it spoils the two natural resources in the immediate vicinity of Balintore Castle which are so amazing: these are the places I take my visitors. The first is the Backwater Reservoir where the development is located and secondly the summit of Cat Law where the vista would be spoiled by the intrusion of the wind turbines.

The following image shows the massing of wind farms around Balintore Castle. I have circled Balintore in red. This is within the 5km radius of Macritch. The opportunistic massing of wind farms south of the national park is quite apparent. It is a shame Balintore Castle is not 3 miles to the north, for then it would be protected within the national park. Even so, you can see Macritch is encroaching more than any other scheme towards the national park: one of the turbines is just 1.5 km from the boundary. There is no mistaking the large footprint of Macritch. In fact, another footprint to the north the size of Macritch would enter the Balmoral Estate!

wind farms in vicinity of Balintore Castle and Macritch Hil
Yet, the map above still does not represent the totality of the threat. The Lindertis scheme, near to Macritch and in the direction of Kirriemuir, is not shown.

Indeed, here is a view of Macritch from the north, from well within the national park.

view of Macritch from well inside Cairngorms National Park

In fact, if one looks at the 31 viewpoints considered in the environment statement, you will see that only one (#12) is within the Backwater Reservoir area - the place of natural beauty that will be spoiled. Only three viewpoints (this, and #9 and #22 to the north) are within the "bowl" of the wind farm development at all.  Viewpoints #12 and #22 are located suspiciously near a bank of trees, and  #22 is not taken beyond a wireframe representation. I went to the Eneco exhibition in the Kingoldrum Village Hall, and the visualisations on the computer screen of the planned turbines around Backwater Reservoir that I was shown are not represented in this ER. They were truly shocking. In short there is misrepresentation by omission. To describe the viewpoints that were chosen here, the phrase "over the hills and far away" comes to mind.

31 "selective" viewpoints used in Macritch Environment Survey

The only visualisation which gives some idea of what I saw at the exhibition is viewpoint #9, to the north of Backwater, as below. However, my real concern is the views from around the banks of Backwater, and there are no good representations of the impact in the ER. Backwater is used by many, including my friends, my neighbours and tourists as a scenic amenity: fishing, picnics, cycling and water-sports.

The acoustics in the Glen around Backwater are exceptional. The only sounds to puncture the usual silence are those from predominantly natural sources: birds, animals, water and wind. Macritch would introduce continual man-made noise pollution, contrasting with the current, decidedly occasional, such sounds from the odd farm vehicle or car.

visualisation of Macritch wind farm

The ER is trying to say the visual impact is minimal because of the majority of far-away viewpoints used. In fact close to the wind farm, around Backwater Reservoir, and from Cat Law on whose lower slopes Balintore Castle was build, the consequences are devastating. Balintore Castle was saved by public money (an 8 year compulsory purchase by Angus Council). It would, in consequence, be a Scottish heritage "own goal" to jeopardise its future by allowing this development to proceed.

Eneco, themselves recognise the heritage importance of Balintore Castle. I quote from the report:

4.5.16 The submitted layout is an evolution of Option E (with the working title of Option F)
and varies from Option E in the following respects only:
Turbine 1 has been adjusted a short distance downslope to remove the last
trace of visibility from Balintore Castle (previously a single tip was visible)

I truly wish, I could feel grateful. You are welcome to visit Balintore Castle to see the time, effort, care and money that are being expended on the restoration; to inspect the use of traditional materials, traditional techniques and quality local craftsmen; and to see the astonishing setting of the building for yourselves.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. David Johnston
Balintore Castle