The Blue Toon castle

Castle Street on Keith Inch in Peterhead is the only reminder today that the Blue Toon once had its very own castle to protect the approaches to the town from sea-borne raiders.

Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 11:53 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 2:28 pm
Keith Inch Castle
Keith Inch Castle

Keith Inch (inch being a common Scottish word for an island), lies on the eastermost point of mainland Scotland and forms the north point of Peterhead Bay.

The story of Keith Inch Castle begins back in 1589 when George Keith, Fifth Earl Marischal, returned from Denmark.

He is described as one of the most important and powerful men of his day in Scotland and had been sent as an ambassador to Denmark in 1589 to negotiate the marriiage of King James VI of Scotland to Anne of Denmark.

He founded the Marischal College in Aberdeen in 1593 and was also Royal Commissioner to the Parliament of Scotland in 1609.

He rebuilt his family seat of Keith Marischal in 1589 and also constructed new buildings at Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven.

Upon his return to the north-east of Scotland, he decided to build a castle in Peterhead which is believed to have been modelled on Kronborg Castle (immortalised by Shakespeare’s Hamlet’s castle).

It took two years to complete and was built as a traditional Scottish L-shaped fortified house.

According to records the main wing was 54-feet long and 24-feet wide.

The South wing was 22-feet square and the annexe towards the north, some 20-feet wide.

It also boasted quite a large cellar although it had no dungeons.

The material used to build the castle was broken out from the granite rocks on the town’s foreshore in what is now the South Harbour.

If you can imagine, looking at modern-day Peterhead, the castle would have stood approximately where Alex Buchan’s fish factory is, at the beginning of the port’s Albert Quay.

A well was built to provide water for the castle and it was sunk into the rock located not far from the castle.

The well was watched over by George Phinnie, who was granted leave to build a house next to the well to ensure heightened security.

Phinnie’s house became a landmark on Keith Inch for many years, and it was only demolished in 1937.

In 1644 around 500 of Cromwell’s English soldiers rampaged in the Peterhead area and were encamped on Keith Inch with their headquarters located within the castle.

When the plague came to Peterhead in 1645, the castle was at the time occupied by some 300 Covenanter soldiers allied to Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army.

Many of the soldiers in the castle succumbed to the disease and their bodies were buried in the plague pits which were located within the Roanheads/Gadle Braes area. The castle was eventually deserted by the Keith family in the mid-18th century and stood empty for many years.

At various times it was used by its then current owners, The Merchant Maiden Company of Edinburgh, as a storehouse, fishhouse and, latterly, for the storage of gunpowder and shot for the gun battery which was situated on Keith Inch.

By 1812 the castle had become dilapidated and the Merchant Maiden Company decided to have it demolished. It was gone completely by 1813 and the sale of the materials from the demolition raised the grand total of £57 16s 1d.