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Fordell Castle


This early-19th-century landscape design by Thomas White, Jnr. (1764-1836) incorporates a 16th-century castle, gardens, early-18th-century designed landscape and industrial complex. It is a multi-period landscape of some complexity and includes the archaeological remains of the Fordell waggonway, first established in 1756.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Type of Site

18th and 19th century parkland landscape around an earlier fortified house and garden. The site incorporates a woodland glen.

Location and Setting

Fordell lies 4.8km/3 miles east of Dunfermline, and 1.5km/1 mile off the B981 (Inverkeithing to Crossgates road).

The Fordell landscape, situated between the M90 and the sandstone Cullaloe Hills to the east, is highly distinctive. The undulating topography is steep in parts, with extensive broadleaved and softwood policy plantations. Fordell Castle lies on level ground, on the east banks of the Fordell Burn which encloses the Castle and its gardens on three sides. Fordell Glen, some 50 feet deep, is formed by the deep course of the Fordell Burn which flows south to meet the Keithing Burn, issuing into the Forth at Inverkeithing.

The Castle is secluded and sheltered by the extensive woodlands. Principal views extend northwards from a raised garden terrace, over the Fordell Burn and from the castle gates eastwards along the lime avenue. Other views are limited to enclosed views and vistas within the gardens. From the site of Fordell House (demolished 1962) there are expansive views south over open parkland towards Dalgety Bay and the Firth of Forth. The policy parkland and woodland around the site of Fordell House are important in views from the A921.

By the mid 18th century Fordell Castle was set amidst a designed landscape comprising gardens, plantations and square parks (Roy, 1747-55). Although Roy's plan erroneously sets the castle on the west bank of the Fordell Burn (a drafting error?), the parkland layout shown relates to the core area, later extended.

A number of mid 18th - early 19th century estate surveys survive. Following Roy's survey (1747-55), a 1756 estate survey (showing a comparable layout to Ainslie's map of 1775) adds little although it does depict the Pittadro walled garden, west of the Fordell Burn (see below). By this period Vantage Farm existed to the east of Fordell Castle.

Bell and Reid's 1796 plan was drawn up after Fordell House had been built to the east of Fordell Castle, described as the 'Old Castle', and shows the extension of parkland southwards, from the new house. Further tree belts had been laid out by 1808 (Bell, 1808). Thomas White's improvement plan (1818) seems to have been implemented. The scheme extended the parkland northwards by incorporating old field boundaries and woodland belts, and reinforced the existing parkland planting with clumps and dispersed trees (1854, OS 6"). The extent of the designed landscape remains unchanged.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Fordell Castle, a Z-plan fortified house stands on the site of an earlier castle, dating to 1580. Fordell Chapel was founded in 1650 as the Henderson mortuary chapel. The Castle, garden and Chapel sit within a roughly trapezoidal area enclosed by a rubble wall, probably the Old Barmkin, modified on the east side in the 19th century with castellations and a bastion. The principal entrance lies on this side and is marked by large wrought-iron Entrance Gates and Gate-piers, with large urn finials. The Sundial in the garden is a copy, c. 1860, of one dated 1644 at Pitreavie Castle, Dunfermline. It comprises a square pedestal on four globes supporting a lectern dial.

The Walled Garden lies to the west of Fordell Castle. Its east wall is stone with a brick lining; the other walls only partly survive. There is a lectern Doocot to its east. The Site of Fordell House is now plantation woodland with, to its south, a rubble Ha-ha. The 19th-century, stone-built Kennels and Clinkhill Cottages lie south-west of Fordell Castle.

A single-span stone Bridge over Fordell Burn, south of the Castle, is on the route of the south drive to Fordell House. The bridge parapet is missing. Two other small Stone Footbridges lie over the burn, to the south of the castle. North-west of the castle, the remains of an Iron Footbridge, lie across an estate road, linking Strawberry Bank to lakeside walks. The Chalybeate Spring, on the south side of the Fordell Burn and north of Hillend Lodge, is marked by a shallow stone basin. A large rubble-built structure to its south-west, may be the only remains of Nether Mill (1894, OS 25"). St Theriot's (Thereota's) Well, south of the castle was not found.

Perth Lodge, a single storey, 19th-century lodge with later addition, has stone gate-piers with ball finials. Wooden gates have replaced the original iron gates. West Lodge is a much altered, single-storey, 19th-century lodge. Aberdour Lodge is single storey, stone-built, with a cast-iron trefoil ridge decoration. The Gate-piers are of vermiculated ashlar with large half-ball finials. There is a side hand-gate. A new two-storey Farmhouse has been built opposite Aberdour Lodge behind the entrance railings. Vantage Farm, is part of a substantial 18th century, Improvement farm steading remodelled in 1873. Vantage Farm Doocot is an octagonal two floor, early to mid 19th-century doocot with cupola. The survival of the Incline Plane Wheelhouse at Vantage Farm, known to have been associated with the waggonway, has not been established. The earthworks associated with the 4 mile long Fordell Railway (c. 1770) survive east of the site of Fordell House. The line was closed in 1946.

Drives and Approaches

Four approaches to the castle also led to Fordell House, Perth Lodge drive, the main approach, leads eastwards through ' a finely wooded glen with many handsome specimens of conifers on either side' (The Gardeners' Chronicle 1887, p.834). Leading across a tributary of the Fordell Burn, the drive then turns to lead west along a straight approach to Fordell Castle gateway.

The Aberdour Lodge drive, from the south-east corner of the park, leads through the former east park. It superseded an older track leading to the Inverkeithing road. By 1808, the drive had been laid out on a more sinuous route (Bell 1808).

The Hillend Lodge drive, leading into the policies from Pargillis Bridge along the Clockluine Road, appears to have been laid out by 1796 (Bell and Reid, 1796) perhaps on an earlier road servicing Fordell Mill.

The Garden Lodge or west drive leads to the Pittadro walled garden. It was certainly in use by 1818 when it led northwards past Fordell Garden House, to link up with the new Perth Lodge drive (White, 1818). It crossed the Fordell Burn at its junction with the lake (now silted-up) and, by 1894, continued westwards to Vantage Farm. This west drive is now only used for access to the nursery and caravan park.

Paths and Walks

Walks led along both banks of the Fordell Glen and around the silted-up lake, north-west of the castle but the majority are now unmanaged and overgrown. The path network linking the castle with Pittadro walled garden and Fordell House is no longer extant.


The construction of Fordell House in the mid 18th century led to the parkland being extended. By the late 18th century, new parks had been laid out to the south of Fordell House. These south parks are now arable and no trees survive. With the building of Perth Lodge and drive c 1818, which comprised a major north-west approach, further parkland was laid out. These areas are now predominantly commercial plantations. 'Sheltie Park', immediately to the north of Fordell House, was described as pleasure ground in 1808, and by the late 19th century it had a dense coverage of mixed deciduous and coniferous trees. This area is also now mixed commercial plantation.


The policy woodlands are extensive. Fordell Glen is covered along its length with mixed woodland and commercial plantations. Strawberry Bank, north of the castle and Sheltie Park are mixed conifer and deciduous plantings. Clinthill Bents which form the eastern perimeter woodland, is entirely Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) plantation with small coupes of Japanese larch (Larix kaemferi), planted in 1985 and 1987 respectively. Clinthill Plantation is an area of maturing conifers and broadleaves which provide some amenity value. Here, the Norway spruce date from 1948, the Sitka spruce from 1957 and the Scots pine from the 1970s. Perniehall Plantation consisting of Norway spruce (Picea abies), Sitka spruce and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) planted in the 1970s, is due for felling. Todhill Plantation is a mix of Norway spruce and Scots pine.

The Gardens

There is mid 16th century evidence for a castle garden. A contract, dated 7 June 1565, details an agreement between Mariota (Marion) Scott, Lady Fordell, and William Raa (Rea?), gardener, whereby 'the said William shall labour, manure and game the yard at Fordell in all manner and in due time and season, and at convenient time shall plant and set trees and prune those of North and South wards. And shall sow no manner of corms in the yards except peas and beans '' (Roxburgh Muniments NRAS 1100).

Presumably during the late 18th/early 19th century this garden was of secondary importance to the Fordell House pleasure grounds, as there is no further mention of them. They may have functioned as the kitchen and flower garden until the Pittadro walled garden was established as the kitchen garden in accordance with Thomas White's plan. Sometime during the mid 19th century the castle garden became the principal flower garden. The Gardeners' Chronicle, 1887, described 'a very handsome flower garden of beautiful design ' with fine spiral shrubs and old trees as a backing, principally of Plane and Beech'. On its west side, a winding walk led down to the 'wishing well' (St Thereota's well). A description of the garden in 1902 describes the garden layout,

'The garden ' extends principally east and west of the castle. On the north side is a very elaborate parterre, which is hardly in keeping with its simple surroundings; to the east of this a long bowling lawn, with raised grass terraces on two sides, while close by is a triangular shaped piece of land bordered on one side by a gravel path, and with beds in circles and heart shapes cut out in the grass. On the south side of the bowling lawn is an oblong plot, with clipped yew trees and flower beds, whilst round the castle are some massive old trees. South of this plot, is an oblong parterre with circular beds; the design being formed in box edging nine inches wide, and the points marked with little balls. All the south part of the garden is laid out with curiously shaped beds of circular, oval, square and pear shaped forms, arranged without much regard for symmetry, though they are nonetheless picturesque.

From the castle a massive yew hedge, 25 feet high and 11 feet thick, runs north and south dividing the garden into two parts. The eastern part has been already described; the western has an oblong parterre, about 170 feet by 50 feet, with circular beds of flowers divided by box edging; the remaining part of this enclosure, a triangular space, is arranged as a rose garden, with a circular arbour in the centre.' (Triggs, 1902)

These garden compartments survive although simpler in form. Little is known of the garden from 1902 until c. 1960 when the property was acquired by Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. A long canal has now been laid out on the site of a double flower border, on the southern side of the garden.

North-east of the castle, a large sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) is situated on the bastion walk. The walk is planted with a mixture of trees and shrubs including cherries (Prunus sp.), beech, (Fagus sylvatica) and roses. North-west of the castle a plain grass lawn lies on the site of a formal garden. South of this, a gravel path oriented west-east, is bordered by a formal pear avenue, while further south there is a formal garden with gravel paths, retaining few traces of 'the curiously shaped beds of circular, oval square and pear shaped forms' (Triggs, 1902). It is now laid out as a shrubbery with small trees including Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), Magnolias (Magnolia stellata and Magnolia denudate), underplanted with a mixture of other shrubs, bulbs and herbaceous perennials. The box border on the north side has been replaced with a mixed shrub and herbaceous border. To the south-east of the castle is a cedar (Cedrus deodara) and, closer to the building, a Foxglove tree (Paulownia tomentosa). The woodland walk below the castle is accessed through a hand-gate with two ashlar gate-piers surmounted by ball finials, on the west side of the garden.

The gardens around Fordell House do not survive and the area is now covered in scrub.

Walled Garden

The Pittadro walled garden is now a commercial nursery and caravan park. Sections of walling have fallen down, although the east wall is intact with an 18th-century doorway with dressed stone surround. No glasshouses survive.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

An early 19th century landscape design by Thomas White, Jnr. (1764-1836) incorporating a 16th century castle, gardens, early 18th century designed landscape and industrial complex. It is a multi-period landscape of some complexity and includes the archaeological remains of the Fordell waggonway, first established in 1756.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Mid 18th century, 19th-century, 20th-century

Site History

Lands at Fordell were granted to a Flemish family called de Camera, along with a keep, said to have been built c. 1210. In 1220, Richard de Camera presented 13 acres of his lands, between Dalgety and Leuchat, to the Monastery of Inchcolm. These lands became known as 'St Thereota's lands', where there was a chapel by 1510.

In 1511, the Hendersons who had acquired Fordell Castle in the early 16th century, acquired a charter of barony from James IV. The castle was enclosed with walls, had a portcullis gate and drawbridge. Following a fire the castle was rebuilt c. 1580, by James Henderson, a favourite of James VI. The modified barmkin wall forming the castle enclosure is probably part of this work. During the late 16th century, the Hendersons began working coal from outcrops near Broomieside Farm, starting the exploitation of the rich coal seams on the estate which, in the future, came to form the basis of their wealth and the estate economy.

Henderson's eldest son, John, was knighted by James VI. In 1650, Sir John's son, Sir John Henderson II of Fordell, rebuilt St Thereota's Chapel which had fallen into ruin. In the late 17th century, the Henderson family acquired the lands of Pittadro, which extended along the west banks of the Fordell Burn, thereby joining them with their own lands to the east to form the Fordell Estate.

A new house, built on higher ground to the south-east of Fordell Castle, is said to have been built in 1721 (Millar 1895, p.186). However, this house is not depicted on mid 18th century plans (Roy 1747-55; Winter 1756). Knowledge of the configuration of the landscape in the mid 18th century from contemporary sources shows that the East Avenue existed. By 1756 the Fordell waggonway or track, to transport coal from the pits at the north end of the estate, southwards to the coast, was in existence (Winter 1756).

Sir John Henderson 5th Baronet, M.P. for Fifeshire (d.1817), inherited the estate in 1781. Two estate plans depict the layout of the estate at this period (1796, Bell; 1808, Bell). A walled garden at Pittadro used during the mid 18th century (Winter 1756) still existed as a productive garden, while the walled garden around Fordell Castle was used as a kitchen garden. A ha-ha, that still survives, separated Fordell House from pleasure grounds situated to the south. Beyond the pleasure grounds, the park was enclosed by a sinuous line of trees, the remnants of this scheme largely survive (1854, OS 25'').

Following Sir John Henderson's death, his brother Sir Robert Henderson inherited the estate and title. He in turn died childless. The estate devolved on Isabella, Sir John Henderson's daughter, who married Admiral Sir Philip Calderwood Durham, KCB. They commissioned Thomas White to prepare 'A Design for the Improvement of the Grounds of Fordel' in 1818. He proposed extending the 1808 design northwards to incorporate old field boundaries and woodland belts, and reinforced the existing parkland planting with clumps and a scatter of trees. Comparison of White's scheme with the 1st edition OS 1854, show White's design was implemented and is, largely, extant. Sir Philip actively developed mining on the estate; re-laying the waggonway and replacing the wooden rails with iron ones. Although the rails have been removed the line of the waggonway is clearly visible running through the estate, to this day.

During the mid 19th century the estate passed to the Mercer-Hendersons. On the death of George William Mercer-Henderson in 1881, the estate passed to his sister, Edith Isabella Mercer-Henderson. She married, in 1866, the Hon Hew Adam Dalrymple, second son of the Earl of Camperdown, who added Mercer-Henderson to his name. In 1887 the castle was described as a 'picturesque ruin' with 'a handsome flower garden of beautiful design' (Gardeners' Chronicle 1887, p.835). A measured survey of the flower garden was prepared by L. Rome Guthrie and published in 1902 (Triggs 1902; for Rome Guthrie q.v. An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, Supplementary Volume 2: Highlands & Islands p.38). This illustrates a series of formal compartments within the walled flower garden, the layout corresponding to both the account in the Gardeners Chronicle and to a series of photographs of c 1885. A bowling green, parterre, rose garden, knot garden with box hedging, box-edged walks, formal walks lined with yews and geometric bedding schemes indicate a number of different phases within the garden, all incorporating specimen trees, some of considerable antiquity.

In 1902, the estate passed to Georgina Wilhelmina Mercer-Henderson, married to Sydney Carr, 7th Earl of Buckinghamshire. Following her death in 1937, the estate was inherited by her son, John Hampden Mercer-Henderson, 8th Earl of Buckinghamshire (1906-63). He divided the estate, selling land to the west of Fordell Burn in 1953. The walled garden at Pittadro was sold for use as a commercial nursery and, in 1961, the castle and 73 acres were sold to Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. Sir Nicholas demolished ruined Fordell House in 1962, and restored Fordell Castle as the principal residence. The gardens retained their basic late 19th-century formal layout, which were replanted and renewed, to include a new water garden.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland

Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





  • Historic Scotland