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Kincardine Castle - Architecture

When Kincardine was commissioned the Architects, David Niven and Herbert Wigglesworth designed an architectural essay on the history of fortified and country houses in Scotland. Essentially they were playing a joke. Sections of Kincardine are built in differing styles - from 14th/15th Century through to, what was for them, modern times (late 19th Century). 

Early stone-built Keeps were simple square-plan stone towers with battlements. Often they had a cap-house surmounting it to give the lookouts and defenders some shelter from the weather. These towers were fairly plain and had few windows, for obvious reason. Often the entrance door was at high level only accessible by a ladder. The SE tower at Kincardine reflects that early design. As built originally it was a simple plain tower with two blank walls, a door high up on one face opens to the balcony over the entrance portico – the portico being made to look like an obvious "later addition". The corner of the tower was again designed to hint at very a obvious ‘alteration’ with three floors of triple windows set in dressed stonework to contrast with the plain lime-harled walls of the tower. Battlements and a cap-house complete the illusion.

Dean Castle


Photo 1 shows the keep of Dean Castle, Ayrshire. Incorporating work from around 1350 the keep,  with 10 ft. thick walls, was completed by 1460.

Photo 2 highlights the SE tower of Kincardine in 1896. In 1930 three additional windows were added to this tower which rather ruined the architects’ intentions even if it did improve the rooms.


Some 150 years later the style of fortified house architecture had moved on from simple tower houses to more ornamental baronial architecture. By now developments in artillery meant that tall castles were vulnerable to determined attack. The castles of Aberdeenshire simply became grander country houses.  One of the grandest in the county is Fyvie Castle where, over the centuries, a succession of owners added towers. At Fyvie Castle, the Seaton Tower of 

Fyvie Castle - Seaton Tower

1599 consists of two circular ‘drum’ towers extending upwards where corbelling brings them to a square section which links the two towers with an arch. Further corbelling supports circular turrets.  

Photo 3 shows the Seaton Tower of Fyvie Castle

The SW tower at Kincardine shows remarkable similarities. At Kincardine the architects even went so far as to add false machiolation – through which defenders dropped boiling pitch or oil onto attackers.

Photos 4: the SW tower of Kincardine.


Around the end of the 16th century, at nearby Crathes Castle, which was largely completed by 1583 they added square turrets. The square turret at Kincardine is remarkably similar even down to the addition of five finials on the crow-stepped gable.


Photo 5 : square turrets at Crathes Castle (left) and at Kincardine (right).


The remaining East, West and South facades of Kincardine mimic the baronial architectural style of the 17th & 18th centuries.  It is only when you see the North façade, probably not intended to be viewed by the public that you see a much plainer building with some similarity to the later works of C R Mackintosh, at Hill House for example. Luckily for us Niven didn't go to the extent of doing away with crow-stepped gables or forsaking lime harl for concrete. Both these 'innovations' of Mackintosh have caused endless problems at Hill House. 

Photo 6 showing the plainer north façade of Kincardine.

Of course Kincardine was never intended for defence. Apart from the fact that we're clean out of boiling oil the enormous windows are clear evidence that this is a ‘modern’ castle designed to welcome people and daylight in, rather than keep them out. The balconies too, there are eight of them, are another 19th century introduction to castellated architecture.

All in all the architects clearly have had fun. Kincardine incorporates building styles from 14th – 19th centuries in a building that was constructed over two years – from 1894-6.

A note on the Architects:

David Barclay Niven (1864-1942) hailed from Dundee where he began his training. In April 1884 he obtained a place as assistant with John Murray Robertson, the most advanced office in Dundee at that time, where he became aware of contemporary American architecture; and in April 1888 he moved to the London office of Sir Aston Webb where he quickly became chief assistant. He also studied at the Royal Academy Schools.


Webb was a very influential architect. (In London, Webb's best known works include the Queen Victoria Memorial and The Mall approach to, and the very familiar principal facade of, Buckingham Palace, which he re-designed in 1913. Webb also designed the Victoria and Albert Museum's main building (designed 1891, when Niven was his chief assistant, opened 1909), the Royal United Services InstituteWhitehall (1893–95) and – as part of The Mall scheme – Admiralty Arch (1908–09).

Niven started his own practice in 1892 and among his first works were the designs for interiors of the public spaces of several of the Castle Line liners. In 1893 he entered partnership with Herbert Hardy Wigglesworth who was later to become his brother-in-law when Niven married Sarah Wigglesworth.  

Herbert Hardy Wigglesworth (1866-1949) was born in Belfast but moved when young to Dundee. Articled in 1883 to Matthews and Mackenzie in Aberdeen he worked under the brilliant draughtsman Alexander Macintosh. He followed Mackintosh to London in 1889, where he became an assistant to Ernest George and Harold Ainsworth Peto. This enabled him to study at the Royal Academy Schools. Presumably it was at the Royal Academy Schools that Niven and Wigglesworth met.

Niven and Wigglesworth set up in partnership in 1893 and Kincardine was their first major commission. Both had been involved in the arts-and-crafts movement.  

In brief the neo-Classical movement designed from the outside in. The Arts-and-Crafts movement designed from the inside out, creating a workable home and then cladding it in the local idiomatic style. In Aberdeenshire the overwhelming style of large house is the fortified house, of which there is a great many. What is interesting about Kincardine is that the architects chose to incorporate styles from the early simple tower house design from the 14th Century and continue with styles from the next five centuries in the one building. 


How did my great grand-mother come to engage Niven and Wigglesworth before they'd had any major commissions?  This is pure conjecture but I believe there is an Arts and Crafts connection. Was Niven working on the redesign and enlargement of the V&A?  As Webb's Chief Assistant that seems very likely. The V&A is the world's greatest museum of art and design and at the time closely associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. William Morris was one of the chief drivers of the movement and one of his best mates was the potter, artist and novelist William de Morgan. de Morgan was married to artist Evelyn Pickering who was first cousin of my great-grandfather Henry Pickering. It was his wife, Mary Pickering, my gt. great-grandmother who commissioned Kincardine. It seems highly likely that the connection between client and architect was along those lines. 

Andrew Bradford 2015