The 1999 Season

During the August 1999 season, members of the team drew three internal elevations of cross walls inside the mansion. These drawings complement the extensive recording of external and internal elevations undertaken in the previous seasons.

Aerial photograph of the site of
Fetternear. Photograph by courtesy of
Aberdeenshire Council and Moira Greig

Aerial photograph of the site of Fetternear. Photograph by courtesy of Aberdeenshire Council and Moira Greig

Excavation of Area C2 revealed a continuation to the north of the wall in C4/C3 containing the second latrine that was investigated and reported upon in previous seasons. The continuation of the wall had been cut down to permit the development of a shrubbery east of the mansion.

It was discovered that a garden path, an initial segment of which had been detected in previous seasons, was found to follow a curved section in an otherwise straight alignment (NNE - SSW). The straight sections run parallel with, and to the east of, the cut-down wall. This wall was left as a feature as part of the garden design. The path was perhaps laid in the late 18th or early 19th century.

It overlies deposits that are rich in stones, slates and other dumped material. The small finds from these deposits include many fragments of clay tobacco pipes, bottle glass, including a bottle seal embossed with the coat of arms of the Counts Leslie, an 18th century shoe buckle, vessel glass, window glass, tin glazed pottery and medieval pottery.

Medieval deposits were encountered in C2 in a sector west of the cut-down wall. A layer of slates and glazed ceramic roof tiles perhaps represents a collapsed roof that crushed pottery as it fell. The pottery was of local Aberdeen wares (Alison Cameron, personal communication). We intend to excavate further this area in 2000.

Further south in the excavation area, in Area B4, the 19th-century excavation trench that was detected and re-excavated in 1998 was further investigated in 1999. The 19th-century excavators evidently just missed a bronze dress pin, perhaps dating from the late 13th- or early 14th-century. A large pad of mortar surmounts a large dump at the east end of the 19th-century trench. It was found to contain machine-made Seaton bricks and other building rubble.

To date, two golf balls have been excavated from the site, one in 1998 and the second in the 1999 season. They are of a type with a wound rubber core that dates from after 1901 in Britain. However, the outer covering is missing in both cases. Given that these rubber cores were found in an unstable condition, it is not likely that they can be conserved (Margot Wright, personal communication) The first one was found when cleaning out the Area A, which was tentatively identified last year as the pit or prison of the bishop's palace. The second one was found in a 19th-century excavation trench in Area C4, immediately south of a wall. This find from 1999 strengthens the suggestion made in last year's report that early in the 20th century the Bishop's pit might briefly have served as a golf bunker (cf. the private golf course that formerly surrounded Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire).

In 1999, the resistivity survey was extended to the area immediately surrounding the mansion and the field behind the mansion (to its north). Three 20m square grids were completed to the west of the house, ten 20m grids to the south-west, and a further ten 20m grids to the south-east of the mansion. All these grid squares were surveyed with readings taken at 0.50m intervals. In the field behind the mansion, forty-six 20m squares were surveyed, with readings taken at intervals of 1.0m. Analysis of the results revealed evidence for complex archaeological features dating from different periods. Some of them underlie traces of rig and furrow, aligned approximately north-south.


Last year's resistivity survey showed evidence for archaeological features immediately behind the mansion (i.e. in the wooded area forming part of the shrubbery, north of the mansion).

In November 1999, a page in a 19th-century Leslie scrapbook that has become available for study in the collections of the National Library, Edinburgh (BCL.C60) was recognised as being of great significance to our work.

On it are sketch drawings of a plan, section and elevation. It is not dated, but the plan indicates that the builders constructing the Regency wing encountered the remains of what they recognised as a 'Ditch or moat', which was found to extend westwards when the work was undertaken to construct the 1840s wing. The feature is described as being 18ft wide and 9ft deep and it runs parallel with the approximate E-W axis of the mansion.

The resistivity survey shows a linear feature of high resistance, perhaps confirming that the 'ditch' was filled with stones in accordance with the verbal description that accompanies the sketch plan. We are currently considering the implications of this document for our interpretation of the medieval archaeology.

Our work to date at Fetternear has fully demonstrated that the 14th century Bishop's Palace at Fetternear greatly exceeded in scale the post-Reformation towerhouse and mansion that was developed from parts of the former castle. From historical documentation, we know that it was rebuilt in the 1330s by Bishop Alexander de Kininmund I.

Geoffrey Barrow (Robert Bruce, 1988, 308) has suggested that Kininmund was responsible for drafting the Declaration of Arbroath. It is certain that he went as an envoy to present the Declaration to the Pope in Avignon, and the scale of bishops' palaces perhaps impressed him during his journey through France in 1320. Although he was initially elected to the see of St Andrews, Pope John XXII appointed him Bishop of Aberdeen, and he was able to realise at least some of his ambitions to construct on a large scale at Fetternear. Castles constructed round courtyards consisting of integrated suites of rooms date from the late 14th-century in northern England.

In Scotland, square castles organised round a courtyard and with square towers at the corners seem to date from an earlier period (e.g. Fyvie, Fetternear, Old Caerlaverock and Old Panmure). However, it is not yet known whether the Scottish castles had integrated suites like the English ones. Northern English castles, such as Bolton castle, may have been influenced by developments occurring in France.

During the 14th century, royal and ducal palaces in France were designed to have the main rooms disposed in a sequence on the one floor. Ultimately, Mary Whiteley (in J. Guillaume, ed., Architecture et vie sociale, 1994, 47-63) traces this type of plan to the papal palace at Avignon, as developed after 1342. We anticipate that the 2000 excavation season at Fetternear will help provide more detailed evidence to examine the early development of courtyard castles in Scotland.

The project directors wish to thank Mrs C Whittall, Mr J Whittall, Mrs C Fyffe, Mr R Fyffe and Mr D Fyffe for their support and for allowing access to the site.

Aberdeenshire Council, BPAmoco, The Hunter Archaeological Trust, Alistair Massey, Royal Archaeological Institute, Russell Trust, Society of Antiquaries of London, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the Scottish Castle Survey and University of Wales Trinity Saint David.