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The Regency and Victorian Leslies of Lickleyhead Castle pt. 1

Back in September we had a family over from America who told me they were excited to see their ancestral home, Lickleyhead Castle. When they said that their family lived in the castle in the 19th century and that their ancestor's surname was Leslie, I was at first sure they were mistaken or had their dates wrong as I knew already that the Lumsden family owned the estate. However it was I who was mistaken and this has led me to discover a whole new chapter in the castle's history and further cements the Leslie connection with Lickleyhead!

A series of drawings by Lillian Barron Lenholt created in the 1960's. They depict scenes from Lickleyhead Castle either from descriptions she heard of how life was at the castle in the 19th century or from her experience of visiting the castle in the 1960's. From top left: The Leslie coat of arms (modified), the bottom of the laird's staircase, skating on a frozen pond, the great hall fireplace, the grocery man's coach, the long garden at Lickleyhead.

George Leslie was a tenant of at least two different owners of Lickleyhead. Born in 1771, he was recorded as living at Lickleyhead in 1799 when, for the first time, properties were assessed for Aberdeen County taxes under the Inhabited House Duties Act of 1798. The same George Leslie appears in tax records all the way through to 1830-1831 and we have good reason to believe he died at the property in 1840. This means that he must have been a tenant of Elizabeth Ogilvie and her husband John Maitland before they sold the property to Henry Lumsden in the 1810's. Such a long term tenancy, through the ownership of potentially multiple landlords, though not entirely unusual, was impressive, as landlords had the right to turn their tenants out at any time. I say multiple as although the first record I have found of George Leslie living at Lickleyhead was in 1799, Elizabeth Ogilvie and John Maitland only themselves married in 1799. It is possible therefore the property was given as part of the dowry by Elizabeth's father and that George Leslie was thus the father's tenant before he became her husband's.

To give a sense of the relationships between the parties involved, one has to have some understanding of the class system of the time. Aberdeenshire society was highly stratified, as was wider British society. It is useful here to think of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Among the gentry, the lairds, there were those such as the Lumsden family, who owned large tracts of land and multiple properties.Then there were those lower down the pecking order, but still classed as gentry, who would have rented the estates in order to farm them (typically sheep/cattle) or to sublet to peasant farmers, crofters. George Leslie and James Leslie, heads of household at Lickleyhead Castle for much of the 19th century, and their family can be counted in this lower bracket of the gentry. They were the lairds in the Parish of Premnay and therefore persons of great importance locally.

The census of 1841, the year after the death of George Leslie, records two interesting facts. Firstly, Jane, wife of the deceased, did not record her own name but simply wrote 'widow'. The reader can interpret that perhaps as reflective of gender norms at the time. Secondly, the oldest son, another George, apparently didn't take over the lease (he is recorded as living in Inverurie in 1841). Instead the second son, James Leslie, became the new laird at Lickleyhead Castle and he remained so for many years afterwards. This means that James Leslie also saw three landlords as the leadership of the Lumsden family changed hands twice in fairly quick succession during the 1850's. James Leslie is still there in the 1871 census which records his age as 51. By the time the 1881 census comes around he is no longer living in Premnay however, nor are many members of the family. Further digging revealed that he passed away in 1874 at the age of 54. For whatever reason the castle lease wasn't taken up by his sons, though his widow Helen (née Ironside) was still recorded living in Premnay in the 1881 census. As an aside, she records herself on the 1881 census as being younger than she actually was!

Certainly by February 1886 we have a Captain Brooke living at Lickleyhead Castle according to a Press and Journal article written at the time, so this marks the latest possible date that the family could have lived at Lickleyhead. Many family members may have moved to America as James's sister, Ann and her husband James Shearer did in 1872. It is through this link that the story came to my attention as our guests were descendants of James and Ann Shearer.

This chapter in the story of Lickleyhead Castle captures nearly a hundred years and two generations of the Leslie family. There are many Leslies today who may be descended from this line or others like our guests who carry the blood but not the name. Others may be associated with Lickleyhead Castle from the other 2 periods of Leslie occupation (of which I'm familiar!), during the middle ages and the twentieth century. So common is the name in these parts in fact that it is said-

'Thick sit the Leslies on Gadie side, at the back of Bennachie.’

However you are linked to this historic building, you are welcome back, to walk in the footsteps of your ancestors. Make a new chapter in the history of this place. Come, bring the family. Your escape from the present day begins at Lickleyhead Castle!

In my next blog entry I will dive into more detail about the lives of the Leslie family members of Victorian Lickleyhead Castle, focusing on Ann Leslie whom I mentioned above.

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