Queen Victoria

and

Royal Deeside,

Scotland

 

A brief history of how Queen Victoria's purchase of Balmoral Castle affected the development of Braemar and neighbouring Ballater

 

 

The 22nd of January 2001 marked the centenary of the death of Queen Victoria, the longest reigning British monarch. During her reign Britain changed enormously and at the end of her reign Britain ruled a vast empire. But the last few years of her reign also signalled many problems that were to come with the new century. Britain was involved in a tough little war with the Boer farmers of South Africa and the old Queen was affected by the large loss of life. Germany was growing more powerful and was seeking an empire of her own.

 

Queen Victoria's connection with Deeside began in 1847 when she spent a holiday at the Balmoral Estate. Within a year she and her husband Prince Albert had bought the estate. By 1854 the old castle on the estate had proved too small and was replaced by a grander building, that which know today as Balmoral Castle. The Queen grew ever fonder of Deeside and even described it as a 'dear paradise'. After the premature death of Prince Albert in 1861 the Queen spent as much time as she could at Balmoral, sometimes staying at a house on the shores of Loch Muick to make it as difficult as possible for visitors from London to reach her.

 

The purchase of Balmoral created a great interest in Deeside and many wealthy people now chose to holiday here, often bringing family and servants with them. By 1861the railway had been built from Aberdeen through to Ballater but plans to extend it through to Braemar were opposed by Queen Victoria herself. (This was possibly a blessing in disguise as such a railway would probably increased 'logging' in the upper reaches of the valley.) The station at Ballater was specially adapted to take the very long Royal trains that had often set out from London or Windsor. The wooden station building will be re-opened this year after major refurbishment as a visitor centre. Royalty and other visitors to Balmoral would leave the train here before proceeding by horse-drawn carriage to Balmoral and the station still contains the waiting room specially built for Queen Victoria. However, the railway itself was responsible for a new wave of holiday makers because less wealthy people from Aberdeen could now travel easily as far as Ballater. In both Braemar and Ballater many of the fine summer houses built for wealthy visitors now serve as small hotels or guest-houses.

 

 

 

The old station at Ballater still contains Queen Victoria's private waiting room

 

Castleton (of Braemar) was an old settlement while Ballater was a new town but both expanded quickly during the latter part of Queen Victoria's range. Both town are essentially Victorian in that the main buildings were constructed then. Furthermore, most of the charming bridges, such as that at the Linn of Dee and the beautiful white footbridges spanning the river Dee were built at that time. Ballater became the Royal shopping centre and to this day many shops display Royal Warrant signs. Even Lochnagar distillery, built at the base of the famous mountain, adjacent to the Balmoral Estate, gained the name 'Royal Lochnagar' and the area came to be called Royal Deeside.

 

Queen Victoria extended the Balmoral Estate to include Birkhall, close to Ballater, where the Queen Mother usually stays when in Deeside. She also bought, and saved, the ancient Ballochbuie Forest on the edge of Braemar. Local lairds and businessmen competed for attention by constructing public buildings that they named after her or Prince Albert. Thus Ballater has both the Victoria Hall and the Albert Hall. At Castleton and Auchendryne village halls were built and named after Queen Victoria. Now that Castleton and Auchendryne have merged to form the village of Braemar, they have left the village with the oddity of having two Victoria Halls (although the latter is usually called the Village hall). The Queen took a great interest in the Highland Games held annually at Braemar and started a tradition, still maintained whereby the Monarch regularly attends the Braemar Gathering and Highland Games each September.

 

 

 

The Braemar Gathering has received regular support from members of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria first attended over 150 years ago. Here the Highland Games are being held at Braemar Castle in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1864.

 

A local resident who developed a close relationship with Queen Victoria was John Brown. He was her personal servant and helped her recover from the tragic loss of Prince Albert. The story of their relationship was told in the film ' Mrs Brown ' in which Dame Judi Dench played Queen Victoria and Billy Connelly played John Brown. Brown is buried in Crathie kirkyard. (More on John Brown)

 

The Victorian heritage of Royal Deeside is still much in evidence. Balmoral Castle is open for three months each year and is the centrepiece of the Victorian Heritage Trail. At Ballater, in addition to the old station there is an annual Victoria Week festival in August. The stone buildings and houses of Royal Deeside are excellent examples of Victorian architecture. Most of the fine churches, including the famous kirk at Crathie are Victorian. Moreover upper Deeside has been well preserved so that the village of Braemar and its surrounding countryside appear today much as they would have done at the end of Queen Victoria's reign.

  

 

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Pages on Braemar : Brief History of Braemar and Royal Deeside

Braemar History

Queen Victoria and Balmoral

John Brown of Crathie

Old Churchyards near Braemar

The Clan Farquharson

 

 

Pages constructed by Mike Franklin, Braemar, 27th January 2002

Web: Callater Lodge Hotel

e-mail mike@hotel-braemar.co.uk

Photographs by Sandra Geddes, Mike Franklin, Steve Heyes and others.