This is my second and final blog about a heretofore unknown chapter (see pt. 1) in the history of Lickleyhead Castle involving a branch of the Leslie family who lived here from the end of the 18th century until late in the 19th. If you haven't yet read the first entry on the topic, I would urge you to first read that before proceeding onto this. In part 1 I dealt largely in the bare bones of the family's existence such as could be gleaned from public records. This time, I will be considering the topic in more intimate detail. For this I will be more reliant than I was in pt. 1 on family records and traditions passed down by some of the descendants of the Leslie family, most especially that of Lillian Barron Lenholt. My focus will be on the life of Ann Leslie, whom I mentioned in part one. None of these tales are particularly outlandish and many of them correspond with what can be seen in and around the site today. I will back up statements where I can with source material from elsewhere.
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: The Bennachie range, a piper, children pick wild flowers, a highland cow
Ann Leslie was the daughter of George and Jane (nee Reid) Leslie. There is disagreement among my sources as to her birth date, but it seems most likely she was born in March of 1827. Births typically happened at home at the time and church records also support this conclusion. She was the second youngest of nine children. As the castle had 7 bedrooms at the time and with parents and possibly extended family living here also, there must have been a lot of rooms shared between siblings. The family would likely have had domestic servants who lived at the castle or in outbuildings, placing further demand on space. Family records mention a 'cook' who prepared jam using berries picked on the hillside. Out in the woods behind Lickleyhead Castle is the 'game-keeper's cottage', and there would also have been a gardener and others to look after the grounds. With the Leslies also running a sizeable estate, many of the locals of the village of Premnay must have been employed directly or indirectly to serve its needs. The whole community therefore was connected to the castle and it would have been very familiar to them as they came to deliver or receive payment etc for services.
In terms of diet, porridge (made from oatmeal) was commonly eaten at the castle. Family records mention brown sugar being sprinkled on top of Anne Leslie's porridge and by the 1820's this would have been a fairly everyday luxury for members of the gentry. Vegetables such as potatoes and leeks, fish, and meat including beef would have been commonly eaten also, at least by the Leslie family. They also ate game animals, including pheasant, rabbits and venison. The servants would have eaten simpler though similar fare with more vegetables and less meat. Running water was likely not installed until the time of Guillermo De Landa Y Escandón or his daughter Maria in the 1920's/1930's, so water would have been brought in by hand in buckets for drinking and washing. We have found no evidence of a well, possibly water would have been drawn straight from one of the burns that run on either side of the castle from Bennachie. There was always the risk that water could become contaminated further upstream. Tea drinking, which reduced the chance of infection by boiling the water, had become very popular by this time and most members of the household, including children, would have been tea drinkers.
For transport the family relied on a horse and cart, both of which they would have owned outright. Trips to local towns such as Inverurie would have taken a few hours but may have been made once a month or so for supplies and business by the men. There is mention in family records of a journey to a beach north of Aberdeen, possibly Balmedie Beach, and this trip was supposed to have taken from early morning till late at night.
More often family records report the horse and cart being used to take them to church. The family were members of the Calvinist Scottish Kirk and as gentry they sat in the same pew each time, right at the front of the church. This is illustrative of the fact that Scottish society was both more religious and far more highly stratified than it is today.
Naturally there would have been no electricity or central heating at Lickleyhead Castle in those days. Whale blubber lamps and candles would have been the primary sources of light in the absence of daylight. Night comes early here in the winter with it being so far north and it's likely that the whole family would have congregated in the great hall in the evenings to save on candles/lamp fuel and also just to keep warm. The fire is large and once roaring gives off a lot of heat and light. An account of Ann Leslie slipping into a burn and sitting to dry by the fire in the great hall suggests that it was kept lit for much of the day. Each bedroom and most of the other rooms have their own fireplaces also. These are no longer in use but at the time they would have been essential if the family was to keep warm. Carrying wood in, lighting the fires and sweeping them out must have been one of the most arduous everyday tasks for the servants.
For entertainment the family went ice-skating or sledding in the winter and they would explore the woods and hills in the summer. At special times of year, such as Halloween, a piper would be brought in to play and the whole village was invited to come, listen to the music and sing songs around a bonfire. There were numerous parties and balls held at the castle and it was at such an event that apparently Ann Leslie met her future husband, William James Shearer. I referred to this individual as simply James Shearer in my earlier blog. William was a few years younger than Ann. The couple were married on October 12th 1850 in the parish of Premnay according to church records. The ceremony was most likely held at the church, although it may have been at the castle itself. Certainly family records put the wedding at the castle and doubtless the celebrations were held here either way. As a married woman, Ann moved out of the castle then and set up home with her husband on the far side of Bennachie, in Monymusk, according to the 1851 census. They were frequent visitors at the castle for many years thereafter. In their forties they decided to make the journey to the United States and the family of Ann Shearer has lived there ever since.
Our next historical blog will be about the next resident at Lickleyhead Castle, Captain Brooke. I hope to have this written before the summer, but these things have a habit of being pushed back. Please bear with me!
If you have any interesting stories about the history of Lickleyhead Castle we would love to hear them. Please share to email@example.com
Thank you for reading,
James Davies, 23/03/23