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Castle History


It is believed that Menzies families were well established in Perthshire by the middle of the 12th century. They had earlier strongholds before the present castle such as Comrie Castle situated between the River Lyon and the high ground leading up to Drummond Hill to its south and 4 miles west of Castle Menzies and just a small ruin now.

Garth castle is another which has early Menzies ownership. It was restored in the middle of the last century as a private residence. Likewise what is currently also a private residence Grandtully Castle was in an older version once Menzies owned. Others, left to the elements and less well-known, are on the Isle of Loch Tay (eastern end) and Castle Mains near Ardeonaig farther west on Loch Tay's south shore.

After a fire at Comrie Castle our present area under Weem Rock was chosen by Sir Robert Menzies (11th Baron of Menzies) in 1488 to build a new mansion. It was called the Place of Weem but unfortunately was itself burnt down when attacked by Neil Stewart the then owner of Garth Castle in 1502. At some point thereafter the older Z-shaped building was erected (ie excluding the

Victorian wing to the west or left of castle when looking at it from the front). It is uncertain if the second building is on exactly the same site as the older one.

It was designed not only as a residence but also was required to provide some protection from enemies. By 1577 this latter problem was thought to have diminished and alterations were made, particularly to the roof area, making it less of a fortress and giving it its present appearance.

However it later had to survive through the Covenanter religious troubles of the mid-17th century and the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and the '45. In 1715 it was occupied by the Jacobites and in the '45 again by the Jacobites including their leader Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) only to be rapidly occupied 4 days later by the Duke of Cumberland's forces.

A new wing was added at the back in early 18th century but not too expertly as it turned out when it was found in the current restoration that it was causing dampness problems in the middle of the building and it was therefore demolished. The present entrance was then formed instead of the old yett in the s-w tower but the porch was added later in Victorian times. The older building was much altered and decorated to incorporate the access to the new wing on all floors.

In 1840 another wing was added by architect William Burn using the same stone (quarried from the hillside on south side of Loch Tay) and the style in keeping with the old building. It connected up with the 18th century added wing.

At the beginning of the 20th century all the family had died out and in fact the castle had begun its difficult time before then, as it had been rented out and not lived in by the family who had moved to Farleyer to the west - a smaller mansion. From its first passing from the family it had various owners and tenants until in 1957 it was bought by the decision taken at the first meeting of what is now The Menzies Clan Society. This was a re-forming from an older Society first started in 1892 but had to stop activities during both World Wars.

It was bought very much in faith and hope as there was very little money or means to do anything with it. However it was thought important for the newly resuscitated society to have this very appropriate historical base. Thus the members replace the family and it is thought this is a unique situation for a clan castle and a very enviable one. Other clans have lost their castles into complete ruins or the old residences have been sold out of their clans to others and a few are still owned by their own Chiefs. Some have built modern centres for themselves as headquarters.

Some roof repairs and some demolition of eastern outhouses took place during the first 14 years of ownership. It was visited by members when on holiday and on the Gathering day afternoon (not a weekend event then). This was due to the kindness of Mr William Hood (Willie) and his wife Mrs Mary Hood or Menzies in keeping the key and an eye on it from their home in the South Lodge and often in guiding people round the castle. It was not open to the general public as it was in far too dangerous a condition for that.

It was not until 1971-2 that surveys were carried out which indicated that some much more active work would be required or we would lose it. Plans were drawn up for the restoration of the oldest part - 16th century Z-tower and appeals put out for funds. A grant was obtained from Historic Buildings Council for Scotland (now Historic Scotland) and work commenced in September1972. This was an extremely big piece of restoration and not surprisingly took many years. It was undertaken by Dr A D Dewar (Bill) and his late wife Ann who spent a great deal of time and effort into researching what was needed, raising funds and often hard physical graft in a very hands-on style.

As things progressed it was in an unofficial way open to the public. Mostly they had to be guided round as there were still dangerous areas. But this was the way forward - this way it might pay for its normal running costs. Although some contributions of money and physical help came from the Society members and some local people, it was insufficient and much more of the work had to be grant-aided and it needed staff. The unoffical viewings continued until there was a house available for a permanent warden. This was completed out of the old western outbuildings in 1983 and the first Castle Warden was appointed. Our fourth and current Warden is Mr George B Menzies and the first with the right name!

The restoration of the Victorian or West wing began in 1990 - this building having been isolated up until then to prevent spreading of rot. Again we were advised that action would need to take place as one part was in danger of collapse. A connecting passage between the 16th century building and this one had to be built so that access was restored. This work allowed a tearoom to be opened on the ground floor and the first floor room known as the ballroom was fully restored. It has now been renamed the Dewar room to mark the work done by Dr & Mrs Dewar.

The first Society dinner was held in this room in 1995. There is a library on second floor for Society members but there is still scope for further restoration of this floor and the top one above. As well as books donated copies of family trees are stored here but are not catalogued at all. The Dewar room is being increasingly hired out for weddings and other special celebrations and concerts.

The Menzies Charitable Trust was set up in 1993 and ownership of the castle was transferred to this Trust along with the castle's original walled garden which had been purchased in 1984 and the Menzies Mausolem, the old church in Weem village set in the graveyard which had been traditionally in the ownership of Menzies Chiefs and where many of them who lived in the castle are buried.

The above can only give a flavour of what Menzies connections can be discovered in a very large area around the castle but even if delving into these historical connections is not to your liking it is a very beautiful part of the country and worth exploring on scenic grounds alone. A booklet on sale at the castle gives more details of its history.

 
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