As with so many Scottish castles, Castle Menzies was on the brink of utter ruin by the mid-20th century. Roofs were in a state of collapse and ancient walls were crumbling. Once the seat of one of Scotland’s powerful Clans, it has apparently come to a sad end.
That is, until the re-formed Menzies Clan Society stepped in, in 1957. They bought the ruin and set about planning its restoration. Thankfully they did! Today, the restored castle can be visited by the general public, and we can once again appreciate the history of the Castle, Clan and wider area.
Clan Menzies and the Castle
Castle Menzies was by no means the only – or first – castle in the Menzies family’s hands. By the 12thcentury, the family had strongholds all over Perthshire. Comrie Castle, Garth Castle, Grandtully Castle and Castle Mains all belonged to the Menzies at some point or another.
Comrie Castle was the family’s main residence, until a fire destroyed it in the mid-15th century. Sir Robert Menzies then chose the current location for a new residence and a small mansion was built here in 1488. It was called the “Place of Weem”.
In the year 1502, disaster struck again. Neil Stewart, the then owner of Garth Castle, attacked the Menzies’ and burned down the Place of Weem. A larger, more fortified, castle was then built – Castle Menzies.
Castle Menzies Evolves
The oldest part of Castle Menzies is the Eastern end of the current castle’s main body. It is believed that this early part of the Castle had battlements and two towers but none of this remains today.
In 1577, several changes and upgrades were made. The roof structure was changed, and ornate dormer windows installed. These can still be seen today.
In the 18th century, a new wing was added to the rear of the Castle. This greatly increased the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and entertaining rooms. It was at this time that the main entrance was moved to its current location, at the front of the building. An extensive complex of kitchens, storerooms, stables, game rooms, servants’ quarters and other outbuildings were added to the rear of the Castle, stretching for a considerable distance. All that remains of these is now the Warden’s Cottage and a few low walls.
In 1840, yet another new wing was added, under the direction of architect William Burn. He used stone from a nearby quarry that matched the older stone, creating a uniform look.
Notable Visitors and Connections
Castle Menzies forms part of the turbulent history of the Scottish Highlands. Many notable visitors stayed at the Castle over the centuries.
During the Jacobite War of 1745, the castle was garrisoned by the Jacobites. Bonnie Prince Charlie himself rested here for two nights before setting off for the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
A letter written by Mary Queen of Scots to the “Laird of Weym” (Lord of Weem), dated 31 August 1566, was sold at auction in 1914 for £300.
Duleep Singh, last maharajah of the Sikh Empire, lived at Castle Menzies between 1855 and 1858, following his exile from the Punjab in 1854. He was officially the ward of Sir John Spencer Login and Lady Login, who leased the castle for him.
Falling Into Ruin
In 1665 Sir Alexander Menzies of Menzies had been created a Baronet of Nova Scotia and this title continued until the 8th Baronet, Sir Neil Menzies, who died without heirs in 1910. In 1914 the extensive Menzies estates were divided and auctioned by his trustees.
Even before its sale in 1914 the Castle had begun its sad decline, as it had been rented out and not lived in by the Menzies family, who had moved to Farleyer, a smaller mansion, a mile or so to the West. After its first passing from the Menzies family the Castle had various owners and tenants, none of whom were able to maintain it properly.
By the 1950s, Castle Menzies was a ruin and deemed uninhabitable.
The Castle Stands Proudly Again
With the extinction of the main Menzies of Weem line, the Clan was therefore without a Chief until Ronald Steuart Menzies of Culdares and Arndilly (the lineal heir of Col James Menzies of Culdares, a prominent Covenanting officer and cousin of the first Baronet), petitioned Lyon Court in 1957 and obtained arms in the title of “The Menzies of Menzies”. His son, David Steuart Menzies of Menzies, has been the present Chief of Clan Menzies since 1961.
The newly re-formed Clan Society bought the ruin in 1957 for less than £300. With raised funds, the Castle was repaired and rebuilt over many years. By the 1970s, enough of the Castle was restored to unofficially open it to the public. Small groups could go on guided tours, and this helped raise more funds for further repairs.
Today, most of Castle Menzies can be explored by the public and it is also used as a wedding venue.
Nearby Historical Sites
- The Culloden Battlefield lies 101 miles north, along the A9
- Urquhart Castle is located on the banks of Loch Ness, 119 miles north
- St Giles’ Cathedral is in the centre of Edinburgh, 76 miles south
- St Andrew’s Castle lies 67 miles east, along the A9
- Site visit and observation
- On-site information boards
- Castle Menzies website
- Wikipedia website
- Visit Scotland website