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