Introduction to Ardgrain


An brief tour through Ardgrains past, which spans nearly 600 years


Ardgrain Barony

Nether Ardgrain, or Ardgrain as it was originally known, has had tenants on this site from the late middle ages onwards, and historical records suggest a tenancy at Ardgrain as early as 1422.

Erected to Royal Charter in 1528 with the Crown as superior, the main house at Ardgrain is sited on top of a much earlier structure built by the Innes family. Ardgrain was erected by John Kennedy of Kermuck (or Kermuick, Kinmuck), after he purchased the Ardgrain Barony in 1629. The Kennedies were the hereditary constables of Aberdeen, whose ancestors built Ellon Castle. This purchase of the Ardgrain Barony, which included Piltochie and Coldwells, nearly doubled the Kennedy landholding, highlighting the extent of the Ardgrain lands.

Following this purchase, John Kennedy rearranged his lands, including his ancestral possessions of Kinmuck together with some lands in Ellon, and added these to the Ardgrain Barony. This included his hereditary dignity of 'Constable of Aberdeen', and he fixed this title formally to Ardgrain.

Not long after building Ardgrain, the Kennedies fled from Aberdeenshire following 'The Slaughter of Watertown' in 1652.


Ardgrain Building Features

The main Ardgrain house as it now stands is especially unique. Sharing Tower House features, Ardgrain was built during the transition period from Tower Houses to large estate houses. Ardgrain was lightly fortified, with bars on the windows and huge entrance doors, but was built with wooden joists to support floors - Tower Houses typically had vaulted stone floors.The 1629 structure was added to by its new owner, John Edward Bean, from 1740 onwards. John Bean added a separate kitchen wing to the house, which gave Ardgrain an L plan shape. The original house three storeys high, and the kitchen wing a single storey. Much of the interior woodwork, which still exists today, is thought to date from this period. The initials JEB are carved into the lintel above the main double doors, along with a date, 1757.

Ardgrain Main DoorsArdgrain Main Doors

Being a feudal a Barony, a carved stone royal coat of arms was fixed high above the entrance. Carved into this is a date, 1664, which is still visible in the lower corners of the crest. A simple sundial is also appears on the front of the house, just above the main doors. Historic Scotland, who visited the site in 2006, believe that this sundial dates from a much earlier period, perhaps from an earlier house on the site.

Ardgrain is mentioned within the text of Blaeu's atlas of Scotland, published in 1662, which highlights the importance and stature of the Ardgrain Barony within Aberdeenshire and the North-East. Ardgrain was sighted adjacent to the Aberdeen to Fraserburgh road. Times have changed over the centuries, and the Fraserburgh road now runs a few miles away. The road leading to the Ardgrain is now only a winding single lane, with the road coming to an end just past the Ardgrain entrance.

Ardgrain Today

The Ardgrain site, which includes a curtilage of outbuildings, walls, Bothy and track were awarded Grade A status by Historic Scotland in 1971, and the house won a design award in the 1980's for its sympathetic restoration. On the site is a single room Bothy, which is also thought to be the last of its kind in the North East of Scotland.The Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments in Scotland (RCAHMS) describe Nether Ardgrain as:

One of the crispest, sparest and most truly Scots houses in the north-east.
Two storeys and attic, harled with skewputs, thin jambs and a central, slightly projecting, one-window gable which is the pleasing focus. Steeply battered walls (including the centre gable), roll-moulded doorpiece and chamfered jambs to all front windows are 17th-century work. The doorpiece is crowned with an arched panel inscribed HOW HAPPY WOVLD THE HVSBANDMAN BE IF HE KNEW / HIS OWN GOOD (VIRGIL) LET IMPROVEMENTS AND LIBERTY FLOVRISH which could stand as a text for the whole Improving Movement, and there is a sundial over. The interior woodwork is all 1751.

Popular Ardgrain history articles:

Judicial Proceedings (1493)

Judicial proceedings: acts of the lords auditors of causes and complaints

22 June 1493  Read more » 

Letter by John Allerdes on the lands of Ardgrane (1485)

Ancient texts describing the lands of Ardgrain in 1495

Taken from Antiquities of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff (Vol III) 1857 - Page 32.  Read more » 

The Slaughter of Watertown

Not long after constructing Ardgrain, the Kennedies became embroiled in a bitter land dispute, which later became locally known as the slaughter of Watertown.


Clan Rivalry

Thomas Forbes, whose stately mansion with courtyards and stables was built beside the Ythan river to the east of Ellon, was in his middle years, with nine sons and daughters. John Kennedy, the hereditary constable of Aberdeen (this title tied to the Ardgrain site some years earlier) was the latest of a long line of Kennedies of Ellon.  Read more »