By Richard Gwynallen
Below the Brae of Crombie, nestled among fields, hills, and patches of woodland, Crombie Castle (to the right of the leaning fencepost in the foreground) awaits the advancing haar or sea-fret blanketing the distant hills, the sea-fog brought to shore from 10 miles away by sea breezes and easterly winds to creep inland.
Old maps show this approach as a track. From here the modest summits of Black Law, Cranna Hill, Gallow Hill, and the Crannabog Hills loom northeast of Crombie Castle.
In this part of Marnoch parish the ground rolls and rises, most of the summits capped with woodlands.
The soil is commonly humid and mossy, the extensive peat moss known as the Moss of Crombie west of Crombie Castle being the most humid.
To the south the ground levels as it nears the River Deveron and is rich and fertile. To the north, the ground becomes more peaty.
Crombie Burn is a small burn that rises in the Moss of Crombie near the Ordiquhill parish border.
Here below the Brae of Crombie, Crombie Burn lazily flows by Crombie Castle weaving it’s way to enter the River Deveron at the old Marnoch Manse.
The website for the village of Foggieloan or Aberchirder records that in 1790 “. . . the minister lived there rent-free and had an income of 90 bolls of meal, and 22 bolls of bere. He could also grow food on the glebe and had the right to fish a stretch of the Deveron at what is now called the Minister’s Pool.” A “boll” was a basic unit of dry capacity. 1 “boll” equals 3 bushels or 1.944 gallons (145.145 litres). So, he received (annually I presume) 270 bushels of meal and 42.77 gallons of bere, which is an ancient form of barley now grown mostly in the far north and western isles of Scotland.
Crombie Castle in the manor house for the Mains of Crombie, the main farm of the old Crombie estate.
Of the various farms that would have once existed on the estate, the below farm is one of the few still occupied.
In The Surnames of Scotland, George Fraser Black writes that “Crombie” is derived from the Gaelic, with the b silent, so you get the local pronunciation of Cromee or Crummy. In fact, today the structure is referred to as Crommey Castle. For consistency, I’ll refer to the building as “Crombie” unless I am referring to a document where the spelling is “Crommey”. Crom refers to something that is crooked, bent, or winding, such as the horns of a sheep or a winding creek. The original Scottish Gaelic spelling of Crombie might have been Chrombaidh, as it appears in Obair Chrombaidh, the Scottish Gaelic original of Abercrombie.
The Surrounding Area
The current name of Marnoch is derived from St Marnoch, an Irish missionary of the 7th century who is said to have settled near what is now the Bridge of Marnoch.
Some vestige of the Celtic Sacred Well tradition lives on in a pool near the manse called the Saint’s Well. It was nearly destroyed by the road passing above, the remains simply appearing as a hole of dirty water. Another referred to as Pettrie’s Well is near to St. Marnoch’s Well. Another nearby is the Lady’s Well, which has been completely destroyed by drainage. None are marked and all the sites require the direction of locals. (Scotland’s Places, Banffshire, Vol. 22)
The nearest village in the parish is called Aberchirder, but more popularly known as Foggieloan, often shortened to just “Foggie”.
Foggieloan lies in the valley of the Burn of Auchintoul, east of Crombie Burn, which flows southwards to join the River Deveron. This was one of the many planned towns that were founded across Scotland in the decades following the collapse of the ‘45 Rising after the Battle of Culloden. Foggieloan was founded in 1764 at south end of Auchintoul Moss by Alexander Gordon of Auchintoul who owned the estate at the time.
Prior to the town’s founding, there was a fermtoun on the site called Foggieloan, the name being derived from two Gaelic words foidh (peat moss) and lòn (meadow). So, Foggieloan means peaty or boggy meadow. Alexander Gordon gave his village the same name.
I reference changes in settlement patterns in 18th century Scotland, including fermtouns and planned villages, in the article Life in Banffshire in the 17th & 18th Centuries.
In 1799 the estate was bought by John Morison of Bognie, who renamed it Aberchirder after the Thanes of Aberkerdour who lived at Kinnairdy Castle overlooking the River Deveron in earlier times, which had also been the original name of the parish. Aberchirder in Scottish Gaelic is abhir-chiar-dur, meaning “confluence of the dark brown water”. Frances Groome’s Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland states that “the name Aberchirder, originally borne by the whole parish, referred probably to the moss-burn of Auchintoul’s confluence with the Deveron.”
However, the name Foggieloan lives on and is the name commonly used by the villagers.
The Old Marnoch parish church was built in 1792 on the site of an older church, and within a Caledonian Standing Stone circle, of which two remain, and can be seen in one of the pictures below. All that remains of the previous church is the bell and the graveyard.
The 17th century graveyard is downhill from the church built in 1792, but still contains the gabled ruin of the old church.
The graveyard also includes a number of old grave enclosures, including the Baroque monument of Bishop Meldrum, who died in 1692. A mid 19th century watch house stands in the southeast corner of the graveyard.
Why should this matter to us?
We are not able to document the connection yet, but we speculate that our 17th and 18th century Allans from Banffshire were one of many Allan families who descended from Allan M’Farlane and Margaret Innes, who married about 1435, and who received the lands of Easter Crombie as Margaret’s inheritance. As a side note, it is unclear whether Allan M’Farlane’s wife was named Margaret or Janet, or perhaps both. For simplicity, I refer to her here as Margaret.
Margaret Allan, heiress of Easter Crombie seven generations descended from Allan M’Farlane and Margaret Innes, married Robert Innes of Crombie, son of John Innes of Crombie and Elizabeth Sinclair, and nephew to Robert Innis of that Ilk, who had married Grizel Stewart daughter of “Bonnie” James Stewart, 2nd Earl of Moray, some time after 1580, and they came to possess all of Crombie. It is likely they resided in this house. Their son, Allan Innes, sold the whole of Crombie to Thomas of Urquhart, who re-sold it to Meldrum of Laithers, who gave it to a younger son, George Meldrum, minister of Marnoch, where his monument still exists. His eldest daughter married James Duff, a younger son of Duff of Drummuir, and their son William Duff sold it to the Earl of Findlater in 1744, who was an Ogilvie.
The building Allan M’Farlane and Margaret Innes lived most likely no longer exists. There is no evidence that any of our known relatives ever lived in this building. However, this could have been a central place for Innes and Allan families of Crombie and the wider area of Banffshire to gather for communal festivities, and the family likely hired and rented land widely within the family. So, it’s reasonable to think some of our ancestors might have been here in some capacity. In any case, the building touches on our broader Banffshire family and heritage.
Crombie Castle sits 1 1/2 miles north of the manse and overlooks Crombie burn and the manse. “Castle” is a bit misleading in that the building resembles a manor house more than a castle, and may never have been fortified. However, it may have originally been intended to have appearance of such for decorative purposes. Canmore; National Record of the Historic Environment describes renovations that were underway on the building from 2011 – 2012, and includes digital copies of floor plans. In their description, they note: “The tower preserves extensive evidence for an important remodelling, perhaps of 17th-century date, that involved major modification of the roof structure and reduction and reordering of the original wall heads. Effectively the building was ‘demoted’ from one of mock-martial, lairdly appearance to a structure of more domestic character.”
A 1453 charter of the barony of Crombie to Sir Walter Innes, 12th of that Ilk is the earliest indication of Innes possession of the area. However, the property was most likely obtained earlier through the marriage of Sir Alexander Innes, 9th laird of Innes, to Janet, the daughter of Sir David Aberchirder, last Thane of Aberchirder. Alexander Innis died in 1412. This Janet Aberchirder and Robert Innes were the parents of the Margaret (or Janet) Innes who married Allan M’Farlane.
The tower house was built by James Innes, 2nd of Crombie, soon after he acquired the estate in 1542, most likely on the site of an earlier house. The building was originally a three and a half storey L-plan towerhouse.
His residency was short as James Innes of Crombie is recorded as falling at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547.
A wing was added circa 1570, probably by Alexander Innes . It was at this time that the 3-storey wing to the east at right angles to the earlier tower was built; single windows added to second and third floors; and a corbel course at the second floor which probably carried a bartizan, which is an overhanging corner turret.
In the early part of the 17th century further renovations converted the building to form a U-plan structure. It remained this way for 150 years when even further lower gabled additions were added circa 1820, 1860 and 1910.
The following photographs are from 1978, taken by the owner of the Arjayempee Flickr site, who offered a description of the exterior and interior well before the existing phase of renovation work began.
“Essentially what we are looking at here (from the south side), are two L-plan buildings, one in front of the other. . . .The oldest parts form the taller L at the back. The original building was an oblong tower, orientated north / south . . . the south gable of which can be seen to the rear-left, with the remains of an angle turret on one corner.
“. . . about 1820 . . . the two storey wing on the [lower] left [foreground] was added onto the south gable of the old . . . tower. In 1860, another wing was added, out of sight to the left of this photo, . . . built onto the west side of the old tower. This was built as a single storey, but was later raised in height.
“Finally, in 1910, a two storey extension was made to the 1820 wing [lower right foreground], eastwards, parallel with the old 1570 wing, completing the second L. There is a narrow space between this 1910 wing and the 1570 wing, with an arch across its opening, which allows access to the castle’s main entrance. “
The photographer inclines toward the point of point of view that the original did have a defensive structure beyond gun ports and arrow shot openings: “The position of that doorway can be worked out from this photo, because it was once defended by a machicolated projection directly above.” A machicolation is a feature of medieval fortifications where an opening between the supporting corbels [a projection jutting out from a wall to support a structure above it] of a projecting parapet or the vault of a gate, through which stones or burning objects could be dropped on attackers. “While the projection itself was removed when the roofline was lowered, the three corbel stones that once supported it, and from between which, missiles were dropped on the heads of any attackers below, can still be seen, a little below the modern roofline.”
Canmore; National Record of the Historic Environment offers an alternative: “Various shot-holes and gun-ports beneath windows and elsewhere were newly revealed or better defined. It is possible that the three corbels at the upper level above the entrance at the re-entrant supported an oriel rather than a more defensive feature.
This photo by Arjayempee is the view from the “south-west. From here the 1860 wing can be seen [lower left], added onto the west face of the main block, and the c1820 wing, half obscured by trees to the right. The rather unsightly dormer windows were presumably once the second floor windows, from which floor there would have been access to the now butchered angle turrets. Above the 2nd floor, there would probably have been a garret storey, now removed, with proper dormer windows.
“Internally, the old castle doorway opens into the 1570 wing, where the kitchen occupies the wing and vaulted cellars the ground floor of the old tower. A stair climbs up opposite the door to the 1st floor, where the old tower is entirely occupied by the Hall. There is a peculiar inward projection at the north-west corner, which looks as though it should house another stairway, but does not.
“In the main block, there is a large bedroom, in the floor of which is a trap-door, no doubt hidden when the place was furnished, under which is the explanation for the curious inward projection in the corner of the Hall below. It is a “laird’s lug” [Lord’s ear] – a small secret compartment from which the laird could spy on people in the Hall.”
The description of the building in British Listed Buildings indicates that the first floor of the 1542 tower included a Great Hall with a large fireplace to centre of the north wall. The “Laird’s Lug”, with diamond opening below the ceiling was entered from the second floor through a trapdoor”, allowing him to use this secret listening system to overhear conversations in the Great Hall.
The Banffshire OS (Ordnance Survey) Name Books, 1867-1869, Banffshire, Volume 22
indicates that at the time there was a stone in the garden “which was taken from the Castle bearing the initials and figures GM./M.S” from the period it was occupied by George Meldrum, Episcopal Minister of Glass, after Allan Innis sold the property.
Crombie/Crommey Castle Today
Today the building is inhabited again, and by an Innes family. The renovations started in 2011 resulted in a commendation in the Aberdeenshire Design Awards in 2014 for the external conservation work was commended . The work on behalf of the Innes family owners is described in Excellence Excels in Mediaeval Restoration.
Below are photographs of the building in 2014.