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Durris - History

The name “Durris” comes from  dorus (Gaelic - a door or opening), which in fact it was - for Durris lies at the northern end of the Crynes Corse Pass over the Mounth.

The Hammer of the Scots

Due to its geographical location and the politics of its overlord Donald, 7th Earl of Mar, Deeside became involved in the War of Succession and Independence.

On the death of the Maid of Norway - successor at the age of three to her grandfather, Alexander III - the number of claimants to the Scottish throne rose to thirteen. Adjudication as between the claimants fell to Edward I of England.  Manipulating the situation to his own benefit, he first appointed John Balliol and then harassed and humiliated him to the point of abdication. At Stracathro, near Brechin, on 10 July 1296, John (1292 to 1296) resigned the kingdom into Edward’s hands.

To consolidate his possession of Scotland, Edward marched his considerable army (30,000 men-at-arms and 5,000 knights) over the Crynes Corse Pass - even perhaps across the Kirkton Auld Brig - to the motte-and-bailey Durris Castle.  The motte of Durris Castle is still visible close to Kirkton of Durris.

Edward and his army remained just one night at the “manour among the mountains”, as Durris Castle was then described, before marching to Aberdeen. He held court there for five days and received submission and homage from several Deeside barons including Sir William de Cluny, Sir Thomas le Durward, Gilbert de Mar and Sir Robert Wauchope de Culter.

From there he marched north via Kintore, Fyvie, Banff and Cullen, reaching Elgin on 26 July - the most northerly point of his invasion of Scotland. The return journey brought Edward to Kildrummy Castle on 31 July 1296, where he was joined by Anthony Beck, the warrior Bishop of Durham. From there, the English Army moved south to Kincardine O’Neill, forded the Dee and took the Cairn a’ Mounth route into the Mearns, on their way back to England.


Sir William Wallace

The following year brought Scotland’s national hero to Deeside.  No complete record of his activity on Deeside survives, but this is understandable as his tactics were of guerilla warfare and concealment.

However, his initial success in the North East was to capture Dunottar Castle and to burn to death the English garrison by torching the chapel. He then crossed the Mounth - probably via the Crynes Corse route - to reach Aberdeen. Although he failed to capture Aberdeen Castle, he created such havoc in the port that the English garrison could not escape by sea.

Wallace was on Deeside again in 1298, but little is known of his movements for that year.


The Frasers

The Fraser family was settled in Durris by Robert the Bruce. Durris was erected into a barony by David II.  The first line of the Frasers of Durris terminated in the mid-17th Century, but in 1669 the barony was acquired by Sir Alexander Fraser (sometimes spelt Frazier), a descendant of the original family.

Sir Alexander was born in 1610 and educated in Aberdeen and Leyden, where he studied medicine and graduated as a doctor. In 1635, he took the degree of MD at Montpellier in France.  He returned to Britain and became physician-in-ordinary to Charles I and subsequently the confidant, doctor and favourite of his son, Charles II, who - in 1674 - honoured him with a baronetcy.

Sir Alexander famously carried out the trepanning of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, the “Mad Cavalier”.

Around 1673, Sir Alexander settled down at Durris and remained there until his death in 1681.  He had been married twice - (1) to Elizabeth Dochty by whom he had two sons and a daughter (2) to Mary Carey who bore him a son and daughter. The son - Sir Peter Fraser, Bt., succeeded to the barony of Durris on Sir Alexander’s death. He was the last of the Frasers to possess the property.

Sir Peter’s daughter and heiress, Carey (maid of honour to Catherine of Braganza - the consort of Charles II) married Charles Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough and Monmouth. Their only daughter, Henrietta, married Alexander Gordon, 2nd Duke of Gordon, which carried the estate of Durris to the ducal family.

The Statistical Account (for Durris), 1791 click here


The Gordons

In 1795, Durris was let on a long lease to John Innes of Leuchars, near Elgin.  He carried out extensive improvements to the estate but when, in 1824, Durris passed to the Gordons, Innes - after a lengthy and expensive lawsuit - was ejected and virtually ruined.

Keith’s Tower” was built to celebrate the Gordon victory in the lawsuit.

In 1837, the Gordons disposed of Durris to Anthony Mactier, a wealthy East India merchant and Registrar of the High Court of Calcutta. He died in 1854 and was succeeded by his son Alexander, who in 1871 disposed of the property to James Young - perhaps one of the most remarkable lairds Deeside has ever known.


The Muckle Spate of Twenty-Nine click here

This epic humorous poem by David Grant, written circa 1851 in the Aberdeenshire dialect, describes the effects of the great rainstorm of 3/4 August, 1829, in the Parish of Strachan, just upstream of Crathes and Durris.  This great rainstorm caused unprecedented floods throughout the North-East.


James Young

Born of humble parents in Glasgow in 1811, James Young was apprenticed as a youth to a local joiner. However, his interest lay in chemistry and when his limited means permitted, he attended evening classes in that subject then being conducted by Professor Thomas Graham at the Andersonian University.

When Graham went to London, Young accompanied him as his assistant.  In 1851, Young’s labours were crowned with success when he discovered paraffin.  He amassed a considerable fortune.

James Young’s childhood friendship with the explorer David Livingstone is a matter of history. It is said that “no request for help on an old bit of leather or piece of bark and bearing Livingstone’s signature was ever presented to Young but it was honoured”

Young died in 1883.  In 1890 “Paraffin Ha’” - as Durris House was locally known - was acquired by William Baird of Elie in Fifeshire.

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