Spanish Gordon's Text

Wardhouse

or Gordon House

North East Scotland Preservation Trust

Wardhouse

The Secretary of State’s Listing of Wardhouse mansion describes is as "Dated (A)RTHUR’S SEAT BUILT IN THE YEAR 1757 and 17(?)". But where this inscription is situated is far from clear.

If this date is correct it appears that six years later the estate passed to Arthur Gordon’s nephew Alexander Gordon, aged 15. A likely lad, his career was unfortunately cut short when in 1769, aged 21, he was arrested as a spy in Brest and decapitated.

The estate then passed to his younger brother Charles Edward (1750-1832), aged 20, who continued the building - the house itself is, said not to have been completed until 1815 - at the same time as being a Captain and Paymaster of the 6th Regiment of Scotch Fenciblemen, marrying two wives, and becoming the father of ten children. His domestic life seems to have been rather sad, his first wife dying young, and his second wife after 14 years of matriage took up with a Lieutenant Colonel Woodford and gave birth to his child, so poor Charles, a mere Captain, was obliged to divorce her.

While there is a wealth of information and anecdote about the Gordon of Wardhouse family, information on the house itself is very sketchy. Clearly it seems to be a case of a Gordon hoping to create a seat, if not to rival, at least to emulate his kinsman at Haddo (built in the 1730’s). As James Macaulay describes Wardhouse:

"the plan is the conventional one of Haddo although with variations. For example. the central portion of the main block not only breaks forward but it rises clear above the wall-head. As is usual with the majority of eighteenth century Aberdeenshire mansions, the basement is not sunk, because of the need to excavate rock, and so at Wardhouse the basement is also the principal entrance although the Palladian window above, with its Gibbsian surrounds, would seem almost to demand a grand outer staircase leading up to it as at Haddo. Internally, the staircase was contained in a bow which was expressed externally as a half hexagon."

Wardhouse Picture1.jpg (24251 bytes)

Wardhouse in its prime

 

Of the identity of the architect there is no sign, certainly not William Adam, since he died in 1748, but it has been suggested by Ian Gow of the National Monuments Record of Scotland that John Douglas might be a possibility. Some of Douglas’s drawings have recently come to light, and although much cut up were exhibited in Edinburgh in 1989. None of the surviving drawings is of Wardhouse, but as Gow describes "Douglas’s design vocabulary betrays marked idiosyncrasies which include..., a fondness for circular headed windows or blind arcades where the springing of the arches begins at an apparent floor n level." This would appeai tO be the case in the central window at Wardhouse. Douglas was certainly familiar with the North East, as he was employed to measure up Duff House nL the outset of William Adams’s lawsuit with Lord Braco. He died abnout 1778, so was 4ctive for much of the middle of the 18th century. At least he is a possibility.

Frequently, as apparently was the case with Wardhouse, building of a Palladian villa would take several decades and very possibly include an older building in the new symmetrical structure. The pavilion wings, usually built first, would provide accommodation, and one wonders whether the "Chapel" wing is indeed an older building when one considers the size of the fireplace and the aumbry which looks as if it was built to accommodate a good-sized baking rather than a reservation of the Sacred Host. (And although the family was Catholic, Charles Edward had become an Episcopalian).

On the death of Charles Edward Gordon in 1832 the estate passed to his eldest son, who had spent most of his adult life in Spain - the thixd generation member of the family to do so. From then onwards the Lairds of Wardhouse were Spanish Scots who spent varying lengths of time at Wardhouse. Charles Edward’s grandson Pedor Carlos, "The Mad Laird", was responsible for building

 

The Home Farm 1842

This design of a great bullyard displays Spanish influence, and as can be seen from the surviving plan was very modem, with "liquid manure tanks", while chains for only thirty cattle would suggest pedigree breeding rather than general farming.

 

WARDHOUSE, IT’S HEYDAY AND DECLINE

Despite the family living much of the time in Spain, Wardhouse flourished in the 19th century, being used as a sort of Balmoral, and as a home for various unmarried aunts and cousins. The Granary was used for large entertainments. Carlos Pedro, the Laird who spent most of the year in Scotland, gave a grand dinner and ball at New Year 1873; ninety gentlemen were at the dinner and 190 couples at the ball. In 1906 the King of Spain spent his honeymoon at Wardhouse - having survived an assassination attempt on his wedding thy. But the fall of the Spanish monarchy in 1931 led to the fall of his friend Rafael Carlos Gordon, who arrived at Wardhouse destitute, having left his Countess and son in Spain. He died a few months later. The house was then let to shooting parties and was requisitioned by the army during the Second World War, but all rents and compensations found their way to Spain.

In 1952 the estate was sold and ravaged. The mature trees were felled, the house was unroofed and gutted, and all the doors and interior woodwork removed. Mr and Mrs Norman Smith, owners of the Home Farm, bought the sad ruin a few years ago, although Mrs Smith has lived there most of her life, as her father had the tenancy of the farm since 1931. She can recall some of its grandeur and the grand behaviour of the Countess, who seemd unable to distinguish between Spanish peasants and North East folk!

 

Sources

Secretary of State’s List.

All three Statistical Accounts of Scotland.

Laing: Donean Tourist (Aberdeen, 1828)

HyIth Smith: Where and What is Kildrumniy (Aberdeen, 1990)

James Macaulay: Eighteenth Century Country Houses in Aberdeenshire (Deeside Faeld Club, 1981)

David Toulmin: The Clyack Sheaf (Aberdeen, 1986)

Robert Smith: G~gioch Dynasty (Leopard Magazine, Dec. 1990)

Ian Gow: "John Douglas, William Athm’s Rival?" (Notes for the Exhibition, Edinburgh, 1989)

 

We are particularly indebted to Mrs Annie Smith for her kindness in allowing us to see the plan of the Home Farm and her other material concerning Wardhouse.

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