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About a year ago I was given a packet of records concerning a project I was
working on. This week I went through it again and found a copy of a full
page newspaper article (Toronto The Star Weekly Dec. 6, 1952) "THE QUEEN
MOTHER'S NEW CASTLE" by W. G. Mattters
There is a picture of "Charlie Tate, gardener at Borrogill castle for the
past four years, has been retained by the Queen Mother to care for the
And a picture of the "Queen Mother descends from a plane at Wick, Scotland,
on her first visit to look over the castle near the village of Mey,
I gather that what we call Castle Mey today, was once called Barrogill
"In 500 years, most of the time the ancestral seat of the Earls of
Caithness, the gray stone castle of Barrogill has seen many events. The
famous Scottish family of Sinclairs, Earls of Caithness since 1455, were not
always wealthy. Several times the castle had fallen into disrepair, its
"Earlier this year its future again was in the balance when the last
owner, an Englishman who bought the property 20 years ago, began selling his
estate in lots to farmers and tenants. Caithness is dotted with ancient
castles, moldering stone memories of a gay and tempestuous past. Barrogill
might have been yet another name listed among these "honorable ruins."
Instead, the "Auld Hoose" is to be given a new lease of life. And more than
that, the new occupant is to be none other than the Queen Mother, a Scot who
always has been especially popular in her native country."
Then follows a description of the estate and inside the house and the
future renovations planned.
"....Climbing up the staircase, hugging the wall to get the best foothold,
is almost like walking up the wall itself. For the novice it produces a
peculiar sensation, not the least part of which is the thought that one
false step must mean spiraling downward to the flagstones at the bottom.
This staircase must have exacted a heavy toll of broken crockery, if not
limbs, during its five centuries. The only other stairway to the upper
floors of the castle is a similar one at the rear of the building."
But a modern electric elevator, installed by Capt. Imbert-Terry serves
the four main floors. It is powered by a motor-driven dynamo. Soon it will
be linked to the main electricity supply which already is available locally
from a new North Scotland hydro plant. Main current will mean that the Queen
Mother will not have to rely on oil lamps, which until now have served as
the castle's only lighting. Another innovation will be the installation of
a telephone connected to a new automatic exchange at Thurso, the nearest
town, 13 miles distant."
Then there is a reference to the 15 Earl (George Philips Alex. of Mey 15th
1881-1889-more details at Clan Sinclair website www.clansinclairusa.org
"History", "Earls of Caithness") who died unmarried and left the property to
a college friend, Frederick Granville Heathcote, on condition that he took
the name of Sinclair. Heathcote-Sinclair was 'a country gentleman with a
bent for things scientific." He had the room (a bedroom) fitted up as a
laboratory and carried out experiments with rats and frogs......"
"When the Queen Mother looked over the castle before deciding to
purchase, she thoroughly inspected every room, looked into all the
cupboards, opened all the doors. But there is one doorway through which she
could not pass."
It seems that in the east tower is a room which legend says is haunted
by the ghost of a fair young maiden. Certainly no one knows what is inside
the turret. "Long ago the doorway was bricked up and although workmen have
been repairing the damaged turret battlements and could easily have removed
the bricks, it was decided not to attempt to unravel the mystery of what
might lie behind. The story is that centuries ago a daughter of one of the
earls was locked up in an east tower room because she had fallen in love
with a farm laborer. She escaped from the room to the tower-top, only to
fling herself to death in the courtyard below."
And then there is a legend about another Barrogill ghost. She was an
"old lady who starved to death in the dungeon and still walks the vaulted
stone passageways, her petticoats rustling."
"Near the post-office, with the Sinclair crest above the doorway, is the
Berriedale Arms, the village inn run by George Begg. Berriedale was the
second title of the earls of Caithness."
This article ends with "The people of Mey wish her many more pleasant
visits in the years to come. They are proud and happy that she decided to
make their "Auld Hoose" her summer home"
And now I am sure they will miss these visits and mourn her passing
today as we all do.
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