The Mingary Castle blog is written by Jon Haylett, who lives in the local village of Kilchoan.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Crenellation Compromise

The weather over the last week has been.... terrible.  Some 200mm, four inches, of rain has fallen, causing water to pour through the walls of the castle, and when builder Mark Thompson had to rush down to Glasgow last weekend to pick up urgently-needed materials, the main A82 road he was returning along was blocked by landslips and the Corran ferry was off due to high winds, so he slept two nights parked at the roadside.

Despite these dismal conditions, building has continued apace, and one of the main areas of development has been along the battlements.


As with most castles, when Mingary Castle was under siege, the main defence came from the tops of the walls - the battlements - which consisted of a walkway protected by an outer wall.  This wall had crenellations - higher parts, the merlons, separated by lower sections, the embrasures.

The problem with the tops of Mingary's walls at the time rebuilding started was that they were ragged from loss of stone, so the exact location of all the merlons and embrasures wasn't clear - picture shows the battlements of the north and east curtain walls before work started.  One solution would have been to have pointed up the ragged edges and left them.  At the other extreme, with advice from the archaeologists, it would have been possible to recreate the crenellations, which appear, as with most castles, to have been fairly regular.

The compromise that has been adopted has been to level off the tops of the walls with the highest points of the ragged edges.  It's quite difficult to see the end result as, in this picture at least, it's hard to separate the north range's stone chimneys from the north curtain wall.  Anyway, we've ended up with what might best be described as irregular crenellations.

What isn't in doubt is the quality of the workmanship that's gone into rebuilding these walls.  Every piece of rock, and all the mortar, has had to be carried up manually.  One of the builders estimated that there was sixty tonnes of it in all.

Some idea of the result can be seen from this picture, taken in August, which shows the crenellations along the southeastern, southern and western walls, with....

 ....this one taken more recently, when the work had been completed except for the cappings of York stone.  Along these sections the crenellations are fairly regular, but....

....this picture shows one of the bartizans, a small defensive tower at the corner of the wall, and the west wall to its right, where the regularity of the crenellations ends.

The full effect won't be visible until the outer scaffolding comes down.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Weather Turns Nasty

October is often one of the best months in this part of Scotland, and the first half of this one didn't disappoint, with midday temperatures over 20C and days of sunny weather.  But all good things have to end, and the spell of fine weather ended spectacularly, with a force 10 gale on Tuesday followed by three inches of rain in the following days.

In these conditions, all exterior work has come to an end, yet much remains to be done on the outside to make the interior fully weather-tight.

With it continuing to rain on Thursday, when I visited the castle, work was largely concentrated in the interior of the north range. Yorkshireman and specialist joiner Martin Chandler, who did the roof timbers, is back, this time working on the landings in the stairwell.  He's seen here on the left with Ashley Thompson's Mark Thompson.

This picture shows a room on the second floor, one of several where the steel tracking is going in.  On the room side of this framework there'll be a damp proof course and a layer of plywood, to which will be fixed the Georgian-style wooden panelling.

The gap between the tracking and the stone wall will allow ventilation, essential while the wall remains at all damp, and the gap will also take all the services.

None of the angles in the original stone-walled rooms is a right-angle.  The corners have to be ninety degrees for the panelling so, as an example, the tracking here is only a few centimetres from the wall at the nearer end, and about fifteen at the further.

This neat little laser device is used to get the corners true.  While I was there are great deal of care was going in to this exercise as the company which is building the panelling will be here shortly to measure up and, to put it simply, there can't be any mistakes.

Across the courtyard and under the shelter of a temporary roof, Richard continues work on the walls of the west range, rebuilding the stonework of the gable end.  The men are working very hard, but there are plenty of smiles around the place.

A final walk around the battlements during a brief lull in the weather offered this view of a very grey sea and the north range's completed slate roof - and a very neat job it is.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Memoir of Life at Mingary

We are very grateful to Don Sheppard for allowing the Trust to reproduce the following.  It is part of a document which describes the life of his great-great grandmother, Margaret Riddell Moore, nee MacDougall, 1806 – 1896, who lived the first twelve years of her life at Mingary Castle.  The document is held in the Charlottetown Archives.
Margaret was the youngest of the children of the family of Elizabeth and Alexander MacDougall. She was born in Mingary Caastle in 1806, and lived there with her parents until her twelfth year, and she remembered the family life very well.

Sketch by MacGibbon & Ross, 1889.
Mingary was a rambling old castle of the first period of Scottish castellated architecture, inside a fortified wall surrounded by a moat and the sea. The life there was interesting for a large family. They had their mounts and rode as soon as they could walk. They were early trained in boating and the management of sailing craft, and they were as much at home on the water as on the land. There was also work to do in the way of study. The girls had a governess and the boys a tutor, besides dancing masters and music teachers, piano and singing. They all sang.

When the children had their meals in the main dining hall they were seated at a side table, where they were supposed to remain until the meal was ended. John once ventured to disobey, and stole up behind his father's chair thinking he would not be observed. The father looked over to the children's table, and missing John pretended he was lost, and made a great 'to do' about John being lost; when a frightened voice said, “I am here, Sir.”

Another thing the children might not do was visit the kitchens, which were in another building, because the servants spoke Gaelic, and the parents wished the children to speak English until later, when the use of Gaelic would not influence their English accent.

Margaret when quite small found herself standing by a fire on which something was moving; she had never seen water boil before. Just then her father appeared! She was reprimanded for being in the kitchen.

It was 'infra dignitatem' at that period to eat an egg from the shell at the dining table; to do so, one must go to the sideboard where the eggs were ready, and eat it there. One guest was allowed to infringe this rule, and that was Elizabeth's uncle, Sir James Riddell of Mount Riddell, Falkirk. Margaret was called after his mother, Margaret Riddell.

Daniell & Ayton, 1814-25
There were many dangers for the children in that historic spot, and it speaks well for their nurses and attendants that they never seem to have fallen down precipices or into the sea. From the postern door, a bridge and a railing kept them from falling down a deep precipice to the right, and on the left, a rail kept them from falling into the moat, which was dry in times of peace. It must have been a wonderful place to play; but it was probably too deep to allow them to use it.

From the seaward door they could easily fall down a flight of steps into the sea. The door, it is true, was guarded by a 'yett' – an iron door with openwork bars of steel. This was made for defence purposes and not to keep the children prisoner. To have kept ten children safely must have been a problem.

Margaret's mother had a sufficient supply of linen to do her during her housekeeping days, and also enough for her children during theirs, and Margaret handed some of her share on to her children.

The finest of 'damask' was used and made on the Estate, from the finest handkerchiefs of cambric to heavy sheeting, mattress and pillow covers, sail cloth, etc. Margaret remembers seeing the weavers spread it to bleach on the beach. Some of the table linen made on the Estate was extant in 1916; it was in a checkered pattern and shone like silk. Cotton was not in vogue, linen was used instead.

Margaret remembered great fields of wool drying in the sun, which the shepherds had sheared off the sheep. This was manufactured by the spinners and weavers for family use. The head of each department had a cottage on the Estate in which to live. There were the shepherds, the cowherds, the calfherd, the farmer, etc. The family never had fewer than seven house servants, but usually twenty sat down in the servant's hall to their meals. All that are left of the cottages is the farmer's. In it is preserved the last remaining leaded diamond-paned window from the castle.

When Alexander, Margaret's father, decided in 1819 to cross the ocean, he chartered three vessels to transport his family and goods. Alexander commanded the leading vessel, while his sons followed, in command of the other two. Alexander, the father, reached Miragimish first, and when the sons arrived he had planned to occupy 2,000 acres of unbroken forest, but the sons would not think of such a place and they went on. After viewing several places, they settled on Platt River, Prince Edward Island.

When the family left Scotland for overseas, Margaret and John, the two youngest, remained at school in Fort William. Margaret's cousin, the school headmistress, was Miss Chisholm. Margaret never forgot the look on her mother's face when she parted from her.

For two years they remained at school in Scotland, and then their mother returned for them. On arriving, she went first to her sister's who surprised her by having Margaret and John hidden behind a curtain in a window embrasure. After deploring that the children were yet so far away, she had them appear before her. Margaret was now grown into a beautiful girl, and John quite a man.

When they reached the Platt River in 1823, they found the members of their family settled in various parts of the Maritimes.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Last Stage for the Curtain Walls

The intricate web of scaffolding that encloses Mingary Castle has just been added to.  Although most of the exterior of the great curtain walls has been pointed, the one area which remains is where the base of the walls sits on the top of the granophyre sill.  Not only does this have to be pointed but, to make absolutely certain that the castle will be stable into the next few centuries, further pinning has to take place at this level.

So scaffolder John Forsyth is back, inserting access ladders to the lowest 'lift' of the scaffolding - a 'lift' being a boarded walkway.  This lowest lift has been there since the scaffold was first erected, but hasn't been accessible.

Builder John-Paul Ashley demonstrates the scale of the task ahead: the base of the wall, thick and strong as it is, has taken 700 years of attack by the wind, rain and waves, so some of the holes are pretty deep.

As with everything on this site, once access is available work starts immediately.  Chris Taylor is seen here at the very beginning of the pointing job and, although it doesn't show in the photo, it was both windy and chilly in this exposed position.  The fact that the weather has remained fine through most of September and October has helped immensely, as can be seen in the progress made in other parts of the castle

It's possible to follow where stonemason Damien Summerscales has been by during the last week by the new pieces of stone that have been inserted into window and door surrounds.  This is the entrance to the chapel.

I caught up with Damien at the front to the north range, where he's working on the surround to the door that will be the main entrance to the building....

....while inside Nick Smith and Martin Theaker were starting to put in the fittings to which a complex steel framework will be attached.  The wood panelling of the formal rooms in the range will be fixed to this framework, behind which will be a layer of insulation and a space to allow the walls to breathe.  The biggest worry is that these walls are damp from hundreds of years of exposure, and it will take ages for them to dry out.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

A Race Against the Weather

I've been away for the last three weeks so today's visit was particularly exciting, as I knew that the weather had been unusually good for most of the time, and that I was likely to find plenty of progress - and I wasn't disappointed.

The north range is transformed.  Andy Gow and his men have done wonders with the slate roof, which is all but finished.  The vast majority of the slates are on, and the main work today seemed to be....

....on completing the leadwork along the bay window and roof ridges.

The slates have already had their first trial by Ardnamurchan weather.  We had a full and prolonged gale on Sunday night, with winds gusting over force 10 from the southeast, which is straight into the face of the building, and some 41mm of rain in 24 hours.  No damage occurred....

....except to the temporary roof over the courtyard, which covers the east and west ranges, where some of the Visqueen sheeting will have to be replaced.

One new face on site is that of Martin Theaker, a subcontracted joiner who has worked with Ashley Thompson before.  This is his first experience of Scotland, and he says he was very impressed with our gales.  He has weeks of work coming up on the interior of the building, but at present he's working his way round the sash windows, applying layer upon layer of paint - when they're finished, they'll have a coat of Butinox 3, one of primer, two of undercoat, and two of topcoat.  They'll need it: the weather here happily strips the paint off woodwork.

Stonemasons Damien and H have been hard at work.  There's progress all round the place, but it's particularly noticeable in the two other buildings in the courtyard.  The stonework of the east range, shown here, is complete, so it's ready for the roof to go on and the windows and doors to go in.

The west range is a much bigger and more complex job as it has three stories, was almost completely destroyed, and has existing walls to tie in to the new.  Here there's probably a month's work still to go.

There's a real sense of drive on site.  Everyone knows that the fine weather won't last, and that it's essential to get the exterior work completed before the next round of rain and gales, and before we plunge into winter proper.  So now it's a race against the weather.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Progress in the Chapel

Deep inside the north curtain wall, the builders have been steadily working away in the chapel area.  Readers may remember that, at some point in Mingary's history, this had been infilled in order to strengthen the wall once cannon had been introduced as a siege weapon.

The transformation has been remarkable.  When I first entered the room, water was dripping from the ceiling, and, despite the steel props everywhere,  it felt as if, at any moment, the whole roof would collapse on us.

No such fears today!  Reinforced concrete lintels, held in place by lengths of steel with L-shaped cross section which have been bolted to the walls, have been manoeuvred in to hold up the ceiling.  Above this is a layer of damp-proof membrane so, although there are still one or two drips coming through, the place is drying out.

The outer wall, which had been severely damaged by cannon fire, has been rebuilt and pointed.  Huge chunks of oak now form the lintel above the unique double lancet window.  The space is now almost ready to be transformed into its modern use, as two bathrooms.

Friday, 19 September 2014

The Craftsman

Damien Summerscales in one of several true craftsmen that builders Ashley Thompson have employed on the Mingary Castle restoration project.  He's a stonemason, a man who takes huge pride in the work he does.

In the picture he's cutting a piece to go in to the surround of one of the lancet windows.  Some of his tools may be modern, but....

....the stone he's carving is ancient.  It's York stone, quarried near Halifax.  Formed in the Carboniferous period some 360 million years ago, it was originally laid down as a sand in the delta of a river.  Being a very durable, fine-grained sandstone, it's ideal for detailed carvings and moulds.

Damien's skill is in carving each piece of stone so it fits exactly in to the place where the rotten stone has to be removed.  So, as can be seen, not all the stonework in the lancet's surround is being replaced.  Once the new block has been fitted and mortared in, Damien then has to infill the gaps round the edges.

The stonework he's removing may be over 700 years old.  It would be good to think that Damien's work will still be there in another 700 years time.