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Royal Deeside : The Aboyne Gazebo

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Close to the centre of Aboyne is a quaint little building. It was long neglected but recently restored. As with all of Aboyne's old buildings, its history is closely linked to the history of nearby Aboyne Castle.

The article below by Jane Kruuk, Deeside Antiquarian Society (2003)

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Aboyne History Introduction Bonty Formaston Stone Aboyne Regiment 1745
Aboyne Gazebo Wartime Poetry War Records James Thomson  

Aboyne Gazebo Aboyne Gazebo as it appears today

A gazebo is defined as a structure built for the appreciation of a view. The Aboyne gazebo, originally built where the land falls away towards the river, was a graceful, elegant building, built as an octagon with a sharply pointed roof ending in a finial of Scots pine. The door opened to the south with a magnificent view towards the Haugh of Aboyne, the river Dee and the Mounth hills beyond and the “ leaded” windows caught the sun from morning to evening. A bench ran round the inside below the windows and the roof and walls were lined with compressed mosses (Eurhynchium sp. and Hypnum cupressiforme, common species found around Aboyne). The centre of the floor was paved with concentric rings of empty inverted wine bottles, presumably taken from the cellars of the hotel, the roof timbers were pine and the supporting outside pillars were larch. Each section of the roof had 3 rows of rounded slates four rows above the base row and a further unexpected detail was a clear diamond symbol picked out in the slates of alternate sections. In the sections without the diamond symbol the slates were arranged in other patterns whose meanings have had varying interpretations: local lore is that they are symbols of suits of cards though one needs a great deal of imagination for that.

The first edition of the Ordnance Survey map of 1868 shows a circular building marked as a summer house standing in the gardens of the Huntly Arms Hotel, about 50 metres from the present one, and this is the first and only definite date we can use. We do not know who was the architect. But almost certainly it was built by Charles Gordon, the 10th Marquis of Huntly and sixth Earl of Aboyne. At that time, the Huntly Arms Hotel was part of the Aboyne estate.

The Gordons

Aboyne has been connected with the Gordon family since the end of the fourteenth century. Before his death in 1402, Sir Adam Gordon of Berwickshire had married Lady Elizabeth Keith, heiress to the castle and the Aboyne estates, and their daughter, also Elizabeth, married Sir Alexander Seton. After his marriage Alexander Seton was styled as Lord of Gordon, and his eldest son, another Alexander, inherited the Aboyne estate in 1437 on the death of his wife’s grandmother, the first Elizabeth. A Royal Charter from James II created this second Alexander Seton the first Earl of Huntly some time before 1445. His descendants have remained in Aboyne ever since, through good times and lean times, as first Earls then Marquises of Huntly and, later again in addition, Earls of Aboyne.

This inheritance was centred on what is now the village of Aboyne which was originally three settlements, all north of the Dee. These were Aboyne castle and its surrounding community, Bonty a mile or so south of the castle and Formaston (with its church dedicated to St. Adamnan) about a mile to the east. Present day Aboyne dates from the seventeenth century and owes its origin to Charles Gordon, a younger son of the second Marquis. One of the first acts of the newly restored Charles II in 1660 was to create the Earldom of Aboyne, bestowing the title on Charles for his unwavering support. A Royal Charter of 1676 established Charlestown of Aboyne, replacing the name of Bonty, and the village became a burgh of barony.

Aboyne of old and the Huntly Arms

Markets and fairs were held on the Green at Candlemas, Michaelmas and Hallowmas, and smaller ones throughout the year. Deals were struck at the mercat cross (we do not know its exact site) and there was a tolbooth with a court-house for the hearing of minor offences, built where the Victory Hall now stands. Like the other Deeside burghs, Charlestown of Aboyne also had its inn bearing the arms of the baron, the Huntly Arms, with its friendly motto “Animo non astutia - soul rather than cunning”. The church in Formaston was used until 1762 when a new church dedicated to St. Machar was built on the opposite side of the Green to the Huntly Arms (this was replaced in 1842 by the church that stands today).

The Huntly Arms, built in the eighteenth century was excellently placed for all the activity of Aboyne for as well as the horse drawn carrier trade plying to and fro from Aberdeen (a twelve hour journey each way), horses were needed for the coaches travelling up and down the Deeside turnpike road. Already described in 1842 as a commodious inn kept in excellent order, the arrival of the railway in Aboyne in 1859 further increased the importance and standing of both inn and village. The Huntly Arms, enlarged into a “large handsome hotel” was described as a first class establishment beautifying the village, and visitors began to come in their numbers for the scenery and invigorating air. Substantial houses of dressed granite with slate roofs replaced the original heather thatched cottages and the castle was enlarged for the second time in 1860.

Balmoral Castle had been completed in 1856 and at the end of their train journey north, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would wait in their carriage outside the Huntly Arms until the whole horse-drawn cavalcade of their family and retinue, with luggage, were ready to start off for Balmoral along a road claiming the smoothness of a gravelled walk. It is tempting to think they may have also have sat in the peaceful haven of the gazebo, recovering from the long journey.

By the 1870’s the stables of the Huntly Arms could accommodate 40 pairs of horses and a large variety of horses and carriages was advertised as being constantly at the command of travellers at all seasons. The hotel continued to prosper, especially under the management of Francis Sandison who came from Tullich as tenant to both hotel and adjacent farm in 1882. Francis was succeeded on his death in 1901 by his son Alexander, who continued to build on the achievements of his father and ultimately became the owner in 1918. This period, until Alexander’s death in 1926, was probably the heyday of the Huntly Arms for visitors were now coming for the sporting opportunities of fishing, shooting and golf, as well as the Aboyne Games held on the Green at the end of the summer. Alexander greatly enlarged the hotel and leased the salmon fishing of the Aboyne beat of the Dee for his guests, marking this by installing the salmon weather vane still to be seen above the front door.

The sale of the hotel

But if the Huntly Arms prospered, the same was not true for the family who owned it. The ten years of the marquisate of the 10th Marquis, 1853-1863, were really the lull between two storms for the Gordons of Aboyne and, going by the Ordnance Survey map, it would have been during this relatively calm period that the gazebo was built. As 11th Marquis, Charles in 1863 inherited substantial financial problems, which really originated before his birth with the protracted bankruptcy of his grandfather, the 9th Marquis, who had held the title from 1836 until his death in 1853. Charles’s unorthodox and risky efforts to obtain funds unsurprisingly failed necessitating the sale of massive amounts of land starting in 1882, and the eventual sale of the Huntly Arms Hotel. By 1890 his father-in-law, Sir William Cunliffe-Brooks, was the owner of the castle and a large part of Aboyne

Although the gazebo was built in the middle of the 19th century, before Charles came into his inheritance, stories still abound in Aboyne of his building it as a commemorative folly to his own gambling. People refer to the card symbols cryptically laid out in the roof, and to the Prince of Wales joining him here in card games (where Charles was heavily the loser), and there are tales of gambling with the adjacent neighbours amidst a flower garden laid out in the forms of card suits. In his memoirs Charles describes the Prince of Wales as “a sterling friend” and writes of him coming to shoot at Aboyne, but it seems unlikely that they would play for high stakes in so public a place. More probably the gazebo was used by the guests of the Huntly Arms revelling in the views, by golfers, the wives of salmon fishers and people enjoying the spectacle of the Aboyne Games, and perhaps the excitement of knowing that the Royal family would also be holidaying on the Dee.

Charles Gordon, 11th Marquis of Huntly, died childless in February 1937, two weeks short of his ninetieth birthday. His first wife, Amy Cunliffe-Brooks, had died in 1920 a year after their golden wedding and two years later he remarried. After the sale of the Huntly Arms to Alexander Sandison it had been agreed that Charles could stay there when he was in Aboyne for, after the death of his father-in-law in 1900, the castle had been resold. The hotel changed hands after Alexander’s death but the new owner honoured the arrangement, and Charles still stayed there. Maybe it was during these years that Charles gambled in the gazebo with the neighbours when in reality he must have had very little to gamble with. The last memories of him in Aboyne are of rather a forlorn figure, walking around the village calling in on the few older people he still knew.

Nothing stands still though and Charles’s great nephew and successor to the title was able to buy back the castle and a small portion of the estate. In 1975, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, who is the present holder of the title, rebuilt the castle completely, stripping it back to its seventeenth century core to create a manageable house. The gazebo was repaired in the lifetime of the 11th Marquis but subsequently no one thought much about it. It was left to languish, unloved and neglected, until 2002 when Mid-Deeside Limited successfully obtained funds for the dramatically successful re-creation we see today.

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Introduction A History of Royal Deeside The Deeside Railway The Old Military Road Old Kirkyardst
Queen Victoria and Royal Deeside John Brown, Loyal Servant Francis Farquharson Lord Byron, poet Alexander Gordon
Macbeth and Braemar Braemar Gathering and Highland Games History of Braemar Clan Farquharson Bridges of Ballater
19th Century Ballater History of Dinnet area Aboyne History Aboyne Wartime Poetry Aboyne Great War Records
History of Dinnet History of Tarland Scott Skinner, the Strathspey King Glen O' Dee Hospital Brunel's Bridge
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