Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Wandering Wallace Tower

“The name’s Keith, not Wallace!” the indignant Robert Keith might have bellowed had he known his carved likeness had been mistaken for the Guardian of Scotland. It was indeed the brother of George, the 4th Earl Marischal, who commissioned the building of the Z-plan towerhouse in 1588 in the Netherkirkgate.

Jealous of his brother’s new university, Robert Keith, Lord of Benholm, deliberately sited his new home within sight of Marischal College. Such was their sibling rivalry that Sir Robert took a group of miscreants to occupy the Abbey of Deer which also belonged to his brother. This resulted in an armed standoff which thankfully ended without bloodshed. 

By 1595 the two brothers were reconciled without further incident. Robert died in 1616, and ‘Benholm’s Lodging’ as it was known, then passed through a number of owners, including Patrick Dun, principal of Marischal College, and James Pirie, spirit dealer, turned the basement of Benholm’s Lodging into “The Wallace Tower Bar”, while the other floors were let out. The council continued to use it as housing from 1918, as they were desperate to fill the shortage after the Great War, and the pub remained a well-known drinking establishment.

Fast forward to 1964 and retail giant Marks & Spencers, having bought over ‘Raggie Morrisons’ drapery store next door, wanted to expand, right onto the site where the tower currently stood. It looked like the Wallace Tower would be destroyed for the sake of ‘development’! Enter Dr Simpson, historian, who headed the campaign to protect the B-listed property; thankfully he prevailed, and ‘Markies’ offered to foot the bill to move it brick by brick to its new home in Seaton Park.

Sketch of Netherkirkgate with the Wellhead by Benholm's Lodging
The Wallace Tower now sits empty and forlorn on the edge of Tillydrone, having lost all historic context. But why Wallace? Benholm was soon forgotten, and the effigy of a knight was thought to be William Wallace, mainly because the old site developed the nickname ‘Waal Hoose Close’, after a public well which stood on Carnegie’s Brae nearby. 

Confusion reigned as the Doric tongue was dismissed as uncouth, and some proper Victorian thought it must mean Wallace, and thus refer to the Scots hero. The tower has not only lost its name, but its true identity as a nobleman’s townhouse – perhaps it is time to bring it back to life rather than allowing it to disintegrate and disappear forever?


  1. Hi - Fascinating. I was methodiclly retracing family places in Aberdeen including a walk my mother did many times as a girl and described in her war time letters - so came across the 'Wallace tower' - and I did wonder to the validity of the name connection! So many thanks for the clarity. My GG Uncle was Harbour Master and Chief Pilot up to 1856 and lived in the Roundhouse. I have traced 8 uninterrupted generations of seafarers and some great family tragedies all Aberdeen centred. Still some significant mysteries. Photos at and restored family photos with resume of some stories in the earliest chronological album in the Picaca site.
    Many thanks for the excellent QI Aberdeen pages

  2. Wow, David, that sounds amazing! Any buried at St Clements Kirkyard? There seem to be lost of seafarers there