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 Lochleven 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 Sojourns.


Copyright©2022 Paul Martin Remfry