The earliest charter in the Henderson of Fordell papers dates from 1217, when Richard, son of Hugh de Camera, with consent of his wife & son, grants small parts of the lands of Fordal to the Abbey of Inchcolm. By 1240, William de Hercht had the lands of Fordell, when there was a dispute with Inchcolm over their respective boundaries. No further charters are known to survive until the 15th century. Part of the lands of Fordell were already in the hands of John Henrisoun of Fordell, Sergeant of the Barony, by 1465, when he was witness to a charter, later confirmed by the crown in 1488-9. A further portion was bought from Alexander Drummond of Ardmore on 6/3/1510-11, which sasine was confirmed by King James IV in 1511, and the castle was built in 1567 on the site of an earlier structure.Mary, Queen of Scots, stayed here when Marion Scott, one of her ladies-in-waiting, married George Henderson, the laird. The castle was destroyed by fire, but rebuilt c.1580. The castle was damaged again by Oliver Cromwell's army in 1651.
In the 19th century, the family built a new mansion nearby, but kept the castle in good repair. In 1866, the estate passed by marriage to Hew Duncan, second son of the Earl of Camperdown. The mansion was demolished in the 20th century, and there is now little visible evidence of its existence, other than the remains of stonework, foundations and the overgrown detritus of human habitation. Pine woodland has wholly taken over its former location, although a stone bridge over the former railway shows the position of the entrance, from the south-east, and the formal carriage-turning circle is still visible as a clearing.
The ruins of Fordell Castle were purchased by the lawyer and Conservative politician Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (1933–1995) for one hundred pounds sterling. The castle was restored and used as a private residence by Sir Nicholas and his wife Lady Sam Fairbairn, who continued to live there until 1997 when it was sold on to a local veterinary surgeon, before being sold on again to multi-millionaire businessman Andrew Berry. In November 2007, Fordell Castle was sold for £3,850,000 to an undisclosed buyer, making it the fifth-highest-priced home ever sold in Scotland. The Castle remains a private residence, albeit a second home, and is a category A listed building.
Following his death in 1995, Nicholas Fairbairn was laid to rest in the crypt below the Chapel of St Theriot in the castle grounds. Andrew Berry's family initials have been added to the stonework surrounding the Chapel's entrance.
Within the grounds is a chapel dedicated to St. Therotus, or Theriot, which was restored between 1999 and 2007. The grounds consist of Italianate gardens, which are currently being restored. The entrance to the Castle passes over a bridge, past a weir that formerly held back the waters of the Fordell Burn, and forming a lake that has now all but silted up. Rhododendrons surround the former lake and are a feature of the estate as a whole, lining the avenues through the Estate. The Castle sits in dense woodland, with very little opportunity to view it from anywhere, other than up close, or from a significant distance to the south-west. The former walled garden is now a commercial plant nursery.
Other features on the estate
Close to the Castle, the Fordell Day Level surfaces. This is a mine "river", connecting the foot of numerous former coal mines, from as far afield as Cowdenbeath, and draining the pits. It is now one of Scotland's worst pollution issues, issuing iron-polluted water into the nearby watercourse. Ongoing open-cast mining being carried out by ATH Resources promises to solve this issue as part of their reparations. A Planning Application is currently being considered by Fife Council for the first extension to the Muir Dean mine, in an area south of the current mine, towards Vantage Farm.
One of Scotland's oldest railways runs 400m to the east of the Castle. The Fordell railway route took coal from the Fife coalfields, to the ships in St David's Bay, now part of the Dalgety Bay settlement. The original wooden rails are long gone, although the embankments, cuttings and stone bridges remain, and carriages and equipment can be viewed in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. A winding house existed, location unknown, but thought to be in the vicinity of the Vantage Farm Steading, to assist coal down the incline to the coast, or more importantly, the empty wagons back up.
The former entrance avenue and gates to the east lead to Vantage Farm, a small steading featuring Scotland's only octagonal doocot and ornate farm buildings including clock tower and three storey granary. The steading is largely residential, and conversion works are ongoing.
There is a Lodge to the West, known as North Lodge on the Inverkeithing / Crossgates Road, and South Lodge on the Aberdour Road, marking the primary entrances to the former Estate. The chains at the North Lodge stone gates were recently stolen.
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