Knockhall Castle, which was probably built in 1565, is an L-plan towerhouse of three stories and an attic with a projecting staircase tower on its north side. The tower does not have a parapet and the gables have skews rather than crowsteps. To the south of the castle there was an enclosed courtyard, but all that now remains of this is a fragmentary round tower at the SE angle of the enclosure which incorporated a dovecot on its upper level (the latter is shown intact in a sketch by MacGibbon and Ross). The tower has undergone significant alteration, probably in the second quarter of the 17th century.
The tower is lit by large rectangular windows in the south and east walls. These are arranged more or less symmetrically, and their raised margins suggest they are insertions dating to the mid-17th century. The earlier windows which have survived have a typical roll moulding of mid-16th century type, and some appear to have had gunloops in their sills. The basement is pierced by a number of wide-mouthed gunloops but also has some fairly large windows which have the raised margins of the 17th century windows.
The entrance is in the re-entrant angle and the lintel of the door is inscribed with the date 1565. Above this are two empty heraldric panels and at eaves level there is a projecting stone shelf which appears to have been intended to shed water away from the entrance doorway. The doorway gives access to a corridor running the length of the building and leads to the main stair. Entered off the corridor, on the left, is the kitchen, complete with fireplace, sink and drain. The main block contains a large cellar also with a sink and drain. Both spaces are vaulted although that over the kitchen has collapsed.
The circular stair is comfortably wide and provides access both to the the principal upper floors in the main block and to those in the wing. It may be an addition, but if so the original access arrangements are unclear. The main block of the tower contained the hall and again there is evidence that this space was significantly re-ordered when the large windows were inserted. The second floor of the main block was divided into two, each chamber supplied with a latrine and fireplace. The attic floor was reach by a small internal staircase, with the space above the main stair being a small room with a fireplace.
The lands of Newburgh were held by the Sinclair family from the 13th century, with a settlement estabilshed there in 1261. The tower was probably built for Henry, Master of Sinclair, the future 6th Lord Sinclair. It is recorded that James VI stayed with him at Knockhall on 9 July 1589. The castle was sold in 1633 to a son of Udny of that Ilk and was damaged in 1639 when taken by the Earl Marischal for the Covenanters. It was later returned to Udny hands and it may have been at this time that the building was altered.
The family occupied the castle until 1734, when an accidental fire gutted the building. This episode is assoicated with James Fleming better know as Jamies Fleeman, the laird of Udny's fool. A servent of the laird, Jamie is said to have saved the laird's iron charter chest, which usually took three men to lift, from the fire by picking it up and throwing it out of a wondow. The laird rewarded Jamie with a peck of meal and sixpence per week for life.
The castle seems to have undergone some early conservation work as the remaining vault has been tanked with concrete, while some of the gunloops have been carefully repaired albeit using a cement-based mortar.
The castle is located just outside Newburgh, Aberdeenshire. Externally the tower is very complete, with intact gables and chimney stacks, although its surrounding courtyard has been swept away. Internally many of the dressing and almost all the stair treads have been robbed. The owner has aspirations to restore the tower to some form of use.
The tower is externally complete and in an example such as this there is often sufficient evidence for a tower to be restored for modern occupation without detracting from its historic significance. The planning of this tower, with a large stair serving the two wings, and with ample light through the large rectangular windows, would also make its adaptive re-use possible. It should be noted that there is significant potential for associated archaeology surrounding the tower. In schemes of adaptive re-use, archaeology is an important issue to be addressed.
D. MacGibbon and T. Ross, The castellated and domestic architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, vol. 2, 1887, pp 165-166.
Ian Shepherd, Gordon, illustrated architectural guide, Edinburgh, 1994, p. 212
N. Tranter, The fortified house in Scotland: North East Scotland, Edinburgh, vol.4 , 1966, pp 61-62