Kincraig House

Hamish Mackenzie OBE, was born in 1937, graduated from Oxford, qualified as a Chartered Accountant and held senior executive positions in industry. In retirement in Ross-shire he has been President of the Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland and the U.K., played a leading role in the Tain & Easter Ross Civic Trust and chaired Tarbat Community Council, and he continues to research local history. During lockdown he published A Highland Legacy: the Maitlands of Tain, their Work and their World. The book tells the story of a family of architects who designed an astonishing range of buildings across the Northern Highlands in Victorian and Edwardian times. It brings to life the people who commissioned them, some of whom left footprints on the sands of time, others long since forgotten but interesting in their historical context, and it explains the social, religious and political factors that underpinned their demand. An earlier book, Tain, Tarbat Ness and the Duke, 1833 (about the efforts of the first Duke of Sutherland to incorporate the area between Tain and Tarbat Ness into his empire) is available from the Tain & District Museum.

The prosperity of estate ownership reached its high water mark in or around the early 1870s, but it was soon to be hit by a prolonged agricultural depression. Out of a total population of 80,955 in Ross-shire and Cromartyshire in 1871 a mere 49 people owned land representing 67% of the gross annual value for the twin counties, and, reflecting the lower rental values in Wester Ross, 90% of the land area.[i] In the countryside the heritors [landowners] still played a prominent role in local affairs and enjoyed considerable social prestige. Their status was, fortunately for architects like A. Maitlands & Sons of Tain, frequently reflected in a desire to improve and often to ‘baronialise’ [convert to the Scottish Baronial style] their ancestral homes.

One of the most distinctive examples of the Maitlands’ work is Kincraig House, near Invergordon – Scottish baronial in style, white-harled and highly visible from the present A9.[ii] Its present eye-catching appearance reflects the dramatic transformation that baronialisation could achieve.

Kincraig Castle Hotel, Invergordon, Monday 07, October, 2019. Image by: Malcolm McCurrach | © Malcolm McCurrach 2019 | New Wave Images UK | Insertion and use fees apply | All rights Reserved. picturedesk@nwimages.co.uk | http://www.nwimages.co.uk | 07743 719366

Permission to use image received – further details can be obtained from the author or the editor of this blog.

In recent times Kincraig House has become a hotel and it is now a popular and well-respected venue. One earlier hotelier tried to raise its profile by calling it the Kincraig Castle Hotel and describing it as the former seat of the chiefs of the Clan Mackenzie. Though the name has stuck it was never a castle, and it had no direct connection with any chief of the clan. The Mackenzies of Kincraig were a ‘cadet’ branch which descended from a sixteenth century Mackenzie clan chief, and at the time he commissioned Andrew Maitland in 1872[iii] the 27 year old Captain Roderick Mackenzie with his 1,086 acres was only fourteenth among the largest Mackenzie landowners in the twin counties of Ross-shire and Cromartyshire.

The captain’s inheritance included a mansion house, built around 1800, with wings at the rear, perhaps used as farm offices, close to each side but not attached. This is shown both in the first 25 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map and in a photograph taken before the Maitland alterations.[iv] To-day the original mansion house, given a steep crow-stepped gablet flanked by conical-roofed bartizans on the southern elevation, forms the central portion of the enlarged house. The additions include crow-stepped projecting wings at each side, a round tower with a conical roof at the south west corner and a gabled bay with a new main entrance in a hoodmoulded Tudor arch on the west elevation.

Improving his mansion house may have put some strain on Roderick Mackenzie’s finances, and the situation seems to have been aggravated by the agricultural depression. The inventory on his death in 1889 suggests that he was on thin ice financially. His heritable estate was burdened by loans of £6,680, and his personal estate showed a deficiency of £2-13s-8d. He owed his tenants money for farm buildings, and shortly before the work on Kincraig House he had borrowed from the marriage settlement of his wife Georgina, known as Georgie. They had no children and the widowed Georgie became liferentrix. The Maitlands were engaged during her occupancy to design farm buildings for the estate at Broomhill in 1890 and Tomich in 1896 and further additions and improvements to Kincraig House itself in 1901.

The estate passed in 1918 to Roderick’s nephew William Martineau, a scion of a sugar refining dynasty. William (later Sir William) appears to have carried out further work to Kincraig House, said to have been completed in 1923. The Dictionary of Scottish Architects entry for the house suggests that he employed the leading Highland architect Alexander Ross and his son John Alistair Ross. But what the Rosses did for Martineau is uncertain – did it include the white harling? and did it include any part of the Scottish baronial features we see to-day? Whatever the answer it is likely that the bulk of the baronialisation is a result of the Maitlands’ involvement.[v] One thing we do know is that when the Macleods of Cadboll, the largest land owners in the Invergordon area, disposed of their estates after the Great War Martineau bought the Invergordon Castle estate. He then demolished the castle, built in 1873 on a site occupied since the fifteenth century, in order, it was rumoured, to improve his view from Kincraig House.


[i] Author’s calculations based on the Report of the Land Ownership Commission 1872-3, NRS GD149/560.

[ii] Historic Environment Scotland LB15044, Highland HER MHG16341.

[iii] Inverness Advertiser, 2nd July, 1872.

[iv] The photograph is on a postcard marked Macpherson’s Series 158, reproduced in the online Invergordon Archive. It is  said to be dated 1907 (presumably from the date stamp on the back), but there is reason to believe that Macpherson’s postcards sometimes showed historical rather than contemporary views.

[v] Map evidence seems to be non-existent. The Ordnance Survey does not appear to have fully re-surveyed Kincraig House between the first 25” to the mile edition and the second half of the twentieth century.

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