Castle Menzies

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Location: Weem, Perthshire, Scotlandmap
Surnames/tags: Clan Menzies Menzies Menzies_Clan_Society
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Scotland Project > Topical Teams > Castles in Scotland > Castle Menzies

Castle Menzies is a spectacular sixteenth century Scottish castle, restored during the twentieth century by the Menzies Clan Society. Architecturally fascinating, it is a splendid Renaissance example of the transition in Scottish castles from earlier rugged Highland fortresses to later mansion houses.


The Castle was the seat of the Chiefs of Clan Menzies for over 500 years. Situated in a strategic location, it was involved in much of the turbulent history of the Highlands. During the second Jacobite rising the Castle first hosted both Bonnie Prince Charlie, who rested on his way to Culloden in 1746 and then, just four days later, the Duke of Cumberland, son of the British Monarch and commander of the Government forces.

Rescued as a ruin in 1957 by the then recently re-formed Menzies Clan Society, the Castle has been lovingly restored by generations of Society members and was placed into a charitable trust in 1993. It is open to all as a visitor attraction, museum, Clan centre for the Menzies Clan and venue for weddings, concerts and other hire. We use all proceeds exclusively for our continued restoration and maintenance of the Castle, its Walled Garden and the Old Kirk of Weem.

A Castle to really Explore! Because it has been restored from a ruin, Castle Menzies is much less furnished and decorated than most other Scottish castles one may visit. As a result, it has a much better feel for how it was built and what it's made of. Instead of plush carpets and furniture, one will find stone walls, shot holes, original timbers and lots of fascinating details. From May to October, Castle Menzies is open to the public, who are able to visit almost every room in the Castle and roam freely throughout the Castles Walled Garden and grounds. A key to the Menzies Mausolem set within the Old Kirk of Weem, can be collected from the Gift Shop (upon prior arrangement). The old church in Weem village which had been traditionally in the ownership of Menzies Chiefs, is where many of them who lived in the Castle are buried.

The History of Castle Menzies 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 including-

  • Comrie Castle, which is situated between the River Lyon and the high ground leading up to Drummond Hill to its south and 4 miles west of Castle Menzies, which is just a small ruin now.
  • Garth Castle, restored in the middle of the nineteenth century as a private residence.
  • Grandtully Castle, also a private residence, was, in an older version, Menzies owned.
  • Castle Mains, near Ardeonaig farther west on Loch Tay's south shore and another also left to the elements and less well-known, on the Isle of Loch Tay (eastern end).
  • The Place at Weem, after a fire at Comrie Castle, the present area under Weem Rock was chosen by Sir Robert Menzies (11th Baron of Menzies) in 1488 to build a new mansion. Considerably smaller than the present Castle Menzies, this new stronghold was called the Place of Weem.

A 'Z-plan' Castle Unfortunately the Place at Weem too was burnt down when attacked by Neil Stewart, the then owner of Garth Castle, in 1502. At some point thereafter, it was rebuilt and enlarged into the sixteenth century Z-shaped building which is Castle Menzies' most distinguishing feature.

Castle Menzies stonework

It is not entirely certain that this second building is on exactly the same site as the older one, but there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that what was the Place at Weem now forms the Eastern end of the main body of the Z-plan part of the Castle. The most striking piece of evidence for this is the incredibly thick internal wall between the Pink Room (hall) and its ante-chamber on the first floor, which only makes sense if it was once an external wall of an earlier stronghold.

The walls are of random rubble, originally harled (roughcast), but the quoins, turrets and door and window surrounds are of finely carved blue freestone. This attractive and extremely hard-weathering stone was also used for the architectural details and monuments at the nearby Old Kirk of Weem, which was built by the Menzies family and contains their monuments and funeral hatchments.

A marriage stone above the original entrance was installed by James Menzies in 1571, to record his marriage to Barbara Stewart, daughter of the Earl of Atholl.

The Marriage Stone 1571.

The Castle was designed not only as a residence but also to provide some protection from enemies, It is thought that the earliest version of the Z-plan had battlements and was topped by two towers well above the height of the current roofline, perhaps one as a belltower and one as a lookout.

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. It is thought that at this time the current shape and extent of the roof, and its ornate dormer windows, were set out as they are seen today.

Turbulent times Later the Castle had to survive through the Covenanter religious troubles of the mid-seventeenth century and the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. In 1715 it was occupied by the Jacobites. Again in the 'Forty-five rebellion’, it was occupied by the Jacobites, including their leader Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), who rested on his way to Culloden in 1746, only four days later for the Castle to be garrisoned by the Duke of Cumberland, son of the British Monarch and commander of the Government forces.

Later Additions A new wing was added to the rear of the Castle in early eighteenth century which introduced new entertaining rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms and a grand wooden staircase. The present main entrance was then formed at the front of the Castle, taking over from the smaller entrance with the old yett in the South-West tower, although the current 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 via the new staircase. An extensive complex of kitchens, storerooms, stables, game rooms, servants' quarters and other outbuildings were added to the rear of the Castle, stretching for a considerable distance. All that remains of these is now the Warden's Cottage and a few low walls.

Castle Menzies New Wing built in 1840.

In 1840 a major change to the Castle came with the addition of an entirely new wing, designed 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.

Decline and Sale In 1665 Sir Alexander Menzies of Menzies had been created a Baronet of Nova Scotia and this title continued until the 8th Baronet, Sir Neil Menzies, who died without heirs in 1910. In 1914 the extensive Menzies estates were divided and auctioned by his trustees. With the divided estates were also sold the Castle and its contents, including many Clan Menzies relics.

The Auction at Castle Menzies

To recreate a tragedy little less than the earlier destruction of the ancient Clan documents by the burning of the Place of Weem in 1502, the contents of the muniment room were apparently bundled into lots and sold, scattering four hundred years of documented history of the family and district. Even before its sale in 1914 the Castle had begun its sad decline, as it had been rented out and not lived in by the Menzies family, who had moved to Farleyer, a smaller mansion, a mile or so to the West.

After its first passing from the Menzies family the Castle had various owners and tenants, none of whom were able to maintain it properly, until in 1957, it was bought as a ruin by the decision taken at the first meeting of what is now the Menzies Clan Society. This was a re-forming from an older Clan Society first started in 1892 but which had to stop activities during both World Wars.

Outbuildings at the back of Castle Menzies.

Menzies Clan Society ownership In 1957 the Castle was re-purchased as a ruin, for under £300, by the Menzies Clan Society 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 Clan Society to have this very appropriate historical base. Thus the members of the Clan Society have replaced the Menzies 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 to 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.

Repairs and Renovations Some roof repairs and some demolition of eastern outhouses took place during the first 14 years of ownership by the Clan Society. It was visited by members when on holiday and on the annual Clan 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 1971-1972 that surveys were carried out which indicated that some much more active work would be required or the Castle would be lost.

Restoration of Castle Menzies

Plans were drawn up for the restoration of the oldest part, the sixteenth century Z-plan part, and appeals were put out for funds. A grant was obtained from Historic Buildings Council for Scotland (now Historic Scotland) and work commenced in September 1972. This was an extremely significant piece of restoration and, not surprisingly, took many years. It was led by Dr A D Dewar (Bill) and his 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.

Open to the Public As things progressed, it was in an unofficial way made 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 Clan 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.

The Chiefs Chair (c1600) returned to Castle Menzies in the 21st Century

Nowadays this role has developed into our Castle Manager. The restoration of the Victorian (or West) wing began in 1990, this part of the building having been isolated up until then, to prevent spreading of rot. Action would need to take place as one part was in danger of collapse. A connecting passage between the sixteenth century Z-plan building and the Victorian wing had to be built so that access was restored, although only at ground level. 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 Menzies Clan Society dinner was held in this room in 1995 and it is the largest and grandest of the rooms in the Castle. The Dewar Room is being increasingly hired out for weddings and other special celebrations and concerts. The second floor of the Victorian wing now houses the Menzies Clan Society's library, the Society's Clan archive and a fine room which we currently call the Chief's Sitting Room which is used for Society and Trustees' meetings. There is still scope for further restoration of this floor and the second floor above.

Menzies Clan Society Formal Dinner in the Dewar Room, Castle Menzies.

Menzies Clan Society (MCS) is based at Castle Menzies. Originally formed on 6 October 1892, the present day MCS was re-established in 1957, after ceasing operation throughout 2 World Wars. In the same year, MCS purchased the very neglected Castle Menzies and since then it has been lovingly restored by generations of the Society’s members. In 1993 the Castle was placed into a charity, ‘’’The Menzies Charitable Trust’’’, created by the Menzies Clan Society. The Society and Trust work together, side by side, to maintain the Castle, Walled Garden and the Menzies Mausoleum which are a part of Clan Menzies historical roots.

Menzies Charitable Trust (MCT) 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, donated by the current Chief Menzies of Menzies, set within the Old Kirk of Weem in the village of Weem nearby.

Castle Menzies Walled Garden

Friends of Castle Menzies Friends of Castle Menzies is a donors' club, run by the Menzies Clan Society on a voluntary basis, for the benefit of the maintenance and continued restoration of Castle Menzies, its Walled Gardens, and the Old Kirk of Weem. Members of Friends of Castle Menzies (FoCM) contribute a regular monthly or annual donation and, in return, are involved in how the funds are spent. Members can propose projects, receive updates on how the projects are going, visit the properties for free and attend FOCM events to get involved in even greater depth. FOCM provides an exciting opportunity for those living near and far with an interest in Castle Menzies, its Walled Gardens and the Old Kirk genuinely to be, and to feel, involved in the safekeeping of these historic monuments


Castle Menzies

Clan Menzies and Menzies Clan Society

WIKIPEDIA- Castle Menzies

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