The fortress commands the old road running north into the
province of Mar and therefore might have been a royal or Comyn
foundation if it is this old. Alternatively the tower may have been built after
King Robert Bruce's Harrying of Buchan in 1308.
Otherwise it is thought that the rectangular keep of Drum castle
was built by Richard Cementarius who was recorded from 1272 and oversaw
the building of the Brig o' Balgownie in Old Aberdeen. This is
supposed to have been the first masonry bridge over the River
Don. Richard also became the first Provost of Aberdeen. If
he did build Drum tower this would therefore probably have been under the Comyn lordship of the district which ended in 1308.
After securing his position on the Scottish throne, King Robert the
Bruce (1306-29) granted William Irwin of Woodhouse (d.1332/5) the Royal
Forest of Drum on 1 February 1323. This was followed, at Kinross
by Loch Leven castle, of a grant of Drum
as a free barony on 4 October 1324. William also found favour
from Bruce's minor son, King David (1329-71), who made him a grant of
Whiteriggs and Redmires on 10 February 1333. Drum eventually
passed to William's son, Thomas, and then to 12 subsequent Irvine lords
all apparently named Alexander.
From the seventeenth century onwards the castle was much altered,
beginning in 1619 when a large 3 storey mansion house was added in
place of an earlier hall block. The castle saw action in the
turbulent seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the Irvines
supported the Stuart cause. Consequently the castle was plundered
by the earl of Argyll's troops during the Civil War of the time of
Charles I (1625-49) - sometimes called the Covenanting Rebellion due to
the covenant entered into by the rebels in 1638. Apparently
during this time the castle was plundered and ‘the pleasant
garden' destroyed in one of the 3 attacks made on the fortress during
this unsettled period.
The Irvines retained their Stuart alignment in 1715 and 1745, which
resulted in the reduction of their lands. From 1775 the Irvines
turned to their gardens and also added to the castle structure.
In the nineteenth century Alexander Forbes Irvine (1818-1892) had the
courtyard restored and added an arched entrance, a hall, a first floor
corridor and an angle tower to the late enceinte.
All that remains of the original Drum castle is the impressive rectangular, red granite tower keep,
53' by 40', with walls 12' thick and 70' high. Unusually this
tower has rounded corners and is also somewhat unusual in its vertical
layout. It has 3 main floors, a vaulted basement and then 2
vaulted halls making up the 2 floors above. However, each of
these halls are further divided by a mezzanine level, giving the tower
5 floors in all.
The modern keep entrance is to the south at first floor level and does
not appear to have been original. Firstly it appears external to
where early defences might have been, secondly it is a simple low, flat
lintelled doorway which looks sixteenth century or later in date.
This doorway leads into a doglegged passageway that allowed access to 2
stairways. The first led down through the east wall of the tower
in another dogleg leading to the single chamber barrel vaulted storage
basement. This was lit by a solitary loop to the west and a
narrow loop each into the stairway and a well set in the north-east
corner of the keep.
The first floor or lower hall (library) is currently entered from the
south via a passageway cut through from the 1619 mansion into what
appears to have been an early embrasure. Originally entrance
seems to have been gained from the vice via a now blocked
doorway. Within the hall is a fireplace to the west and a large
modern window to the east. The roof, unlike below, has a pointed
barrel vault. Mural chambers within the wall contained a
garderobe and possibly a buttery. These were only recently
discovered having been bricked up long ago. There was also a
fireplace in the north wall. The south-east corner vice
originally led from here to the higher floors.
The second floor contained another large hall chamber which was much
better lit than the first and boasted a garderobe in the north-west
corner as well as a large lower fireplace and a smaller, later one set
in the mezzanine floor above. Remains of a timber stair were
found in the north-east corner of the chamber and these were
dendrochronologically dated to the first half of the fifteenth
century. It therefore seems possible that this was the time when
the top of the vice was blocked.
Archaeological investigation carried out in the upper hall during 1991
turned up several interesting features. A primary construction
layer was found with wood chips and carpentry debris lying on top of
the lower vault infill. Included in this were an iron arrowhead,
a piece of fabric and a short length of thin rope made from vegetable
fibre. When this phase finished and the hall was in use, a layer
of floor debris was made, in which were found the remains of a leather
shoe possibly dated to the early fourteenth century. Such a find
might well suggest that the tower might date back to the thirteenth
century. Remains of a screen and passageway were found along the
east end of the hall, suggesting its early layout. Further, 2
post holes and 2 possible stone post plinths were found in the
north-east corner together with some cobbling. This was probably
related to the staircase that led to the mezzanine floor above.
There were also some bronze and copper pins found in an occupation
layer that overlay that of the collapsed screen. Further, over 50
masons' marks were found in the hall and vice.
It would seem odd to have the keep as a stand alone structure and
indeed there is evidence that there were external auxiliary buildings
dating from at least the mid fourteenth century, although there is no
trace of a surrounding enceinte. Around the mid fourteenth
century a single storey hall range was added to the south side of the
tower. Maybe a century or more later an entrance building was
added to the north side of the keep. This was later converted
into a brewhouse in the eighteenth century. Simultaneously the
single storey hall range was destroyed and replaced by the Jacobean
range. Dendrochronological dating suggests the wood for these
works was cut in the years 1608 to 1609.
Why not join me
at Drum and other
Great Scottish Castles this Spring?
Information on tours at Scholarly
Paul Martin Remfry