Places of Interest, Castle Menzies

By James Irvine Robertson

T

he chiefs of Clan Menzies used to have their seat at Comrie Castle on the south bank of the river Lyon three miles west along the strath, but it was destroyed by fire in 1487. Enough remains to show that this was a highly attractive little building and would amply reward a deep-pocketed restoration.

The Menzies family were Normans who came to England with William the Conqueror. The first recorded chief was at the Court of King Alexander II by 1224. He became Chamberlain of Scotland and received grants of property on the north side of Loch Rannoch and in Strathtay. Throughout their history the chiefs were loyal to the government of Scotland and dutifully changed their religion and their politics accordingly. Many of their neighbours were not so law abiding and the Menzieses often suffered. The charters of the chief were burned when Neil Stewart of Garth torched the new castle at Weem in 1502, and so obscurity fogs the earliest history of the family.

In 1745, Sir Robert Menzies's factor ignored his chief's commands and raised the clan for the Jacobites. The Menzies regiment joined up with the Atholl Brigade and was annihilated, but Sir Robert succeeded in obtaining compensation for the damage to his mansion caused by the government garrison. Although Sir Robert was no Jacobite his wife was, and Prince Charles stayed two nights in February 1746 during the retreat that finished at Culloden. The last resident chief, Sir Neil Menzies, died in 1910 but his lugubrious image still stares down from the walls of many local houses. He supplied a foot-square engraving of himself to each of his tenants and, on rent day, they found he had billed them for it.

The castle was in a dire state when it was bought by the Clan Menzies Society in 1950 and it has been painstakingly restored. At its core is a fine Z-plan mansion built at a time when comfort was beginning to overtake the absolute priority of security for a gentleman's residence. Although it has gunports, the castle was never seriously attacked or defended. It was taken by Alexander Robertson of Struan in the Rising of 1715 when its garrison was carousing at the inn in Weem.

To keep up with the Breadalbanes, a Gothic wing was added to the Castle in 1848. A Jacobean wing was demolished during the restorations. The castle is in excellent heart and its sparse interior furnishings allow the visitor to see how such houses were constructed and used.

The white house adjacent to the House of Menzies, an excellent coffee stop just along the road, is a typical example of a laird's house of the eighteenth century. These are uncommon since most were razed and replaced by grand mansions, buried in the midst of Victorian and Edwardian extensions, or burned by government troops after the '45.