Issue 219
Winter 2021/2022


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Nov 27, 2021

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ArtWork Newspaper Issue 219
Winter 2021/2022 (6.02MB)

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Historic achievement:

When he found his restoration path blocked by an unhelpful Historic Scotland, Phill Plevey went right back to basics

BACK IN the early 1990s I spent five years looking for a ruined Scottish fortified tower house to restore and make my home. Initially I looked in the Aberdeenshire area, where there are quite a number of ruins of various descriptions and state of disrepair. Later I expanded my search to cover a much larger area of Scotland as I was having issues with Historic Scotland and the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. This and, in addition, some owners of these ruins.

However, it was the issues with HS that finally made me give up on my search for a ruined tower house and instead built my own from scratch. This task took me 25 years to complete, but it was worth it, and I have lived in my tower house now for three years.

So, what was it that prevented me purchasing a ruin to restore? Mainly the rules and conditions that were imposed upon me by Historic Scotland which had to be met without any allowance for compromise. Further, no grants to assist with the restoration were available, based on the statement by HS that: “The castle/tower has no historical significance; therefore, it is not worth restoring."

Strange that, when HS was 'responsible for safeguarding Scotland's built heritage.'

I will not name the tower houses or castles I contacted HS about with regard to restoration, but will list the reasons they gave and also the conditions they would impose upon me should I wish to go ahead with a restoration project.

I have already mentioned the fact that unless the ruin was of significant historical value no grant would be available to assist with the restoration project.

Prior to any restoration works commencing the 'castle' site had to be fully investigated by a team of archaeologists who would report on all findings to the HS, not to me, who was having to pay for this investigation.

Having purchased a ruin I was informed by one HS inspector that I would have to differentiate using a course of 'red' bricks what was original and where the new modern build started. Can you imagine seeing a line of red bricks running all around your restored castle..??

When I suggested that I could hide this eyesore by harling the castle, I was informed that harling could only be used if the castle was from a period where harling was used, but the line differentiating new from old would still have to be visible, even if it meant painting a red line on the harling..!!

On a number of ruins I did, or had my architect, outline drawings of what the castle would look like once completed, these were based on old photos, old engravings of the castle and assumptions made from what actually remained of the castle, L-Plan, Z-Plan, etc.

On each occasion HS disagreed with my outline plans and stated that they would not approve the restoration project unless I changed my plans to what they believed the castle would have looked like. Again, this would all be to my cost.

The choice of building material would be specified by HS and not me: modern brickwork (concrete blocks) could not be used, I would have to employ a stonemason to cut stone for the restoration, precast stone could not be used either.

The list just goes on, but the sad thing in all this is that a couple of the ruins I had looked at have now deteriorated to such an extent that restoration would now not be possible, or so expensive as to make it not worthwhile. In one particular case, a Z-Plan castle, one of the corner round towers has completely collapsed, taking part of the central tower block with it.

As I mentioned earlier, I built a reproduction 16th century Scottish fortified tower house called Craigietocher Tower in a little glen just south of Turriff.

Am I happy with it?

You bet I am and building it to 20th and 21st century building regulations was a dawdle compared with trying to work with the HS.

This build was helped considerably by the Building Inspector at Turriff, who made suggestions on renaming rooms so that I could install gun loops rather than conventional windows and adding temporary fire walls to meet the twentieth and twenty first century Building Regulations.

This also including having a ground floor door and secondary fire escape stairs, in addition to the spiral stair in the thickness of the six foot walls.


Foot Note:

Historic Scotland was an executive agency of the Scottish Office and later the Scottish Government from 1991 to 2015, responsible for safeguarding Scotland's built heritage, and promoting its understanding and enjoyment.

Under the terms of a Bill of the Scottish Parliament published on March 3, 2014, Historic Scotland was dissolved, and its functions were transferred to Historic Environment Scotland (HES) on October 1, 2015. HES also took over the functions of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.


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