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Since the early 1800’s the Duff family have had a connection with Argentina, and specifically since 1824 so has the town of Banff, through giving the Freedom of the Town to José de San Martin, a friend of the 4th Earl Fife.  While José visited James in Banff, James never travelled to Argentina.  As far as can be found the first Duff to visit Argentina was James’ brother, Alexander Duff in 1807.  Alexander was brought up in Banff, and currently rests, with his wife, in the Duff House Mausoleum.

Alexander, born 1777, was the second son of the 3rd Earl Fife, and as was quite common, as a second son his career was probably always destined for the army.  The 2nd Earl brought both brothers – his nephews – to Banff for their initial education (see also “Duff House’s Own Local Hero”), firstly at Duff House, but then with Dr Chapman at Inchdrewer.  

General Sir Alexander Duff in later life

In May 1793 Alexander joined the Army as an Ensign at the age of sixteen, joining the 65th Berkshire Regiment at Gibraltar.  In 1794 he was promoted to Lieutenant and the next year to Captain in the 88th Regiment (the Connaught Rangers).  With the 88th he served in Flanders and in 1798 was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel at just 21 years old.  He served in the East Indies and Egypt, taking part in the capture of Alexandria.  In 1806 he was part of the force that took control of Montevideo as part of the British aim to gain a part of the riches in South America, by wresting some areas from the Spanish.  In 1807 he was commanding one of three columns which landed in Buenos Aires, but due to the poor tactics of General Whitelocke, later court-martialled due to his incompetence, he surrendered before reaching his objective of reaching the Great Square.  No censure was placed on Alexander, and he was promoted full Colonel, then Major General in 1811. 

Grand Cross of Hanover

He was clearly a capable and well-liked officer as reported in several accounts.  In 1821 he was promoted to Lieutenant-General, and full General in 1839.  He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Hanover in 1833 – the same as his older brother James 4th Earl Fife had received in 1827.  King William IV knighted Alexander in 1834.

Delgaty Castle 1887 (ex Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland)

General Sir Alexander became the local Member of Parliament from 1826 to 1831 continuing the family practice, although his first attempt in 1820 failed by one vote, and nearly resulted in civil insurrection between the Duff and Grant supporters in the town of Elgin – fortunately defused by Lady Anne Seafield (on the Grant side) by sending her 700 clansmen back to the Highlands.

Alexander’s home was Delgaty Castle, part of the family estate at the time.  In 1812 he married Anne Stein, and had five children.  The oldest died at just a few months old, but James, born 1814, became 5th Earl Fife when Alexander’s brother, James 4th Earl, passed in 1859.  Their fifth child, born 1824, they named Louisa Tollemache – an unusual Christian name; whether this was in memory of her uncle’s late wife’s family, the Tollemache’s of Helmingham in Suffolk, has not been confirmed (James 4th Earl had married Mary Manners, the daughter of Lady Louisa Tollemache and John Manners, who died in 1805 – see “Duff House’s Own Local Hero”).

HMS paddle steamer Lightning – hand-coloured engraving by Henry Moses in 1827

In 1851 Alexander passed away in London, but his body was transported to Banff on HMS Lightning to be interred in the Duff House Mausoleum; Anne, his wife, was also interred there 8 years later.

For interest, the HMS Lightning was one of the first steam warships in the Royal Navy, 126 foot long, driven by side paddles, launched in 1823 and in service until the late 1860’s.  She must have been quite a sight coming into Banff Bay.  There is a detailed model of her is in the Royal Museums Greenwich.


A rare photo came to light recently showing some members of a Brass Band, partly in uniform, in the grounds of Duff House.  With the kind assistance of Gavin Holman who has extensively researched early Brass Bands throughout the UK, as well as our own research, we have been able to ascertain that in the last half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, four different Banff Brass Bands have been recorded.  The first was around 1857/1860 when there was also the Banff Rifle Volunteers Brass Band.  Mr Sutherland then organised a Brass Band in 1893, but it seems that was different from the one conducted by Mr R W Hutcheson around 1899.  This latter is recorded as parading around the streets of Banff on Hogmanay for the turn of the century – although they did stop for midnight!

But this photo clearly shows the band members in and around a motor car; now identified as a Renault Limousin (there were several models) which were only built from 1912 onwards.

A new Banff Brass Band was formed by Mr Arthur Wilson in the summer of 1913 and it is supposed that this photo must be this band.  One of their first engagements it seems was at the Macduff Swimming Gala on Wed 20th July, held of course in the harbour (20 years before Tarlair was built).    No doubt they also attended many other local events.  They also organised their own dances including at St Andrews Hall.  But on Wed 30th July they played at the opening of the new Tea Rooms at Duff House Golf Course on Wed 30th July 1913 (by this time Duff House itself was a Sanatorium); in view of the location of the photo perhaps this is the date of the photo.

The first Duff House Golf Club Pavilion / Tea Rooms, circa 1913

The location is shown on this map by the red arrow. 

1926-8 map of The Barnyards showing location from where the main photo was taken (courtesy of Ordnance Survey and NLS Maps)

The Vinery can be seen in the photo and on the map, and it is of course more than fifty years before the present “New Road” was built from Banff Bridge to the town.  The present road is raised on an embankment, but the original Duff House drive was not, as show in the photo below.  The main photo of this Story was taken just to the centre left of this image, looking left to right across the driveway.

Photo looking W along Duff House drive

The view in the main picture above therefore, looking north, is through gaps in the hedge, to the original Airlie Gardens (as they are known today) as laid out in the 1860’s by Lady Agnes, wife of the fifth Earl Fife, through to the Vinery.  The map shows the part of the old Barnyards – the old Duff House stables – that can be seen to the left in the photo.  The first Golf Club Pavilion – Tea Rooms? – is out of sight to the right of the main photo.  The main photo of this Story was taken towards the centre right of this photo of the Pavilion.

Note: For eagle-eyed readers please note the 1928 OS map as shown above depicts the new Golf Club Pavilion opened in 1926, not the original as in the photo above.  It also shows an extra greenhouse in Airlie Gardens built circa 1925, not there in the main photo where the view is right through to the Vinery.

If any reader has any further information, or insights, into this Brass Band or photo, we would welcome them being in touch.


At the present time, in the Grand Salon in Duff House, is a magnificent Christmas Tree, helping to create a festive and relaxed atmosphere within Duff House.  Many thanks to the Friends of Duff House.

However it seems it may be only a pale reflection of the tree that stood in the same room 155 years ago, in 1868.  This was at the behest of James the 5th Earl Fife and his Countess, Agnes.  Not only that, they held a party with numerous guests, in the manner of what was becoming a tradition in Victorian times; those invited were not just the Duff family but all the servants from the House and the estate, including all their wives and families.

First UK image of a Christmas Tree, ILN 1848

The magnificent and beautiful tree was “prettily decorated with flags and loaded with a multitude of presents”.  Having a Christmas Tree was a practice introduced by Prince Albert in circa 1840, bringing the tradition of several decades from his native Germany.  The drawing above of the Royal Family’s Christmas Tree was published in 1848 in the Illustrated London News – the first known picture of a Christmas Tree in the UK.  The idea quickly caught on around the country.

The inclusion of flags as part of tree decorations was not just a Duff House practice at the time, but is illustrated on this cover below from the 1860s.  The Duff family was clearly right on trend!

1860’s flag decorated Christmas Tree (courtesy of Ironbridge Museum)

Music for the occasion was provided by Lady Alexina Duff, aged 17 at the time, on a harmonium; and some solos were sung by one of the servants.

But what made the occasion so special it seems, was the effort taken by Lady Agnes and three of her daughters, Anne, Alexina and Agnes (it seemed they liked names beginning with “A”, also having an Alice and Alexander – later the 6th Earl Fife and first Duke of Fife!) to choose presents for each of the individuals at the party, all piled high under the tree.  Each present was wrapped – a practice introduced from America in the 1850s, and each had a name on it – one for every guest.  The servants got dresses or articles of clothing, children had toys or books all chosen specifically for the person; “not a few of the presents were valuable and costly” said the Banffshire Journal.

Then there was a sumptuous supper served (not sure by who!) and at midnight Lord Fife gave a speech.  The news he gave was that he, his wife and son, Lord Macduff, loved living at Duff House and would spend as much time there as they could – which was greeted by cheers and applause.  He also gave the news that an extension would be built on the west side of Duff House, with the work starting in February 1870 – the wing that we now know was bombed in 1940 and no longer exists above ground (except for the war memorial).


This Story was prompted by the finding of a rare postcard as shown above.  The Royal Army Medical Corps used to hold an annual camp, and Banff – specifically Canal Park – was the location in 1912.  The Banff skyline really hasn’t changed that much! 

Canal Park skyline Feb 2023

Five hundred years ago, Canal Park was a swamp, part of the Deveron estuary.  It was drained, perhaps by the influence of the Carmelites in Banff, and has had several uses since.  It’s name came from four hundred years ago, at the time of the building of Duff House in the early 1700’s, when a canal was built from Banff Bay to the back of Duff House.  The canal was the means of getting the stones that had been carved at William Adam’s works on the Forth, to the building site; brought to Banff Bay often on William Duff’s own ships, and then onto barges to Duff House.  Even though the canal no longer exists the name has stuck.

Canal Park was part of the Duff House grounds, the wall now visible just behind the silversmiths, extending along the side of Bridge Road to the gatehouse still existing in the Co-op car park.  In 1906 the Duke of Fife gifted the land to the Burgh Councils of Banff and Macduff for recreational uses and it seems much use was made of this Park.  In the early 1900’s Canal Park was one large park, including where the Princess Royal centre is today, as well as the football pitch and tennis courts nearer the river, although officially by then the whole area had been designated Princess Royal Park (named from the 1889 wedding of the 6th Earl Fife (1st Duke of Fife) to Louise the Princess Royal, daughter of the future King Edward VII.

In this 1909 image the line of trees at the back of the Park, which are no longer there, is where the road to the Princess Royal centre and Airlie Gardens sheltered housing now is.

1909 postcard showing Canal Park in centre

By 1912, the Park was under the care of a joint board from Banff and Macduff Burgh Councils.  Activities such as the important Banff Cattle Show were held there, and lots of smaller events such as a Fancy Dress parade.

Early 20th century Fancy Dress Parade Canal Park

But in 1912 the Trustees received an application from the Royal Army Medical Corps to hold their annual “camp”, partly because it was such a sheltered location, sheltered on two sides by a high wall, and to the west by the line of trees.  This was finally agreed, finding enough space for them and the Cattle Show.  The camp started on 20th July 1912 although the whole area was only available after the Cattle Show on the 24th !  It seems both were a great success.

18 officers and 231 men came to the camp, with 52 horses.  Two special trains were laid on from Aberdeen to bring the bulk of the men and horses,  All were living in tents and a special water supply had been laid out across the park for both the men and the horses.  The RAMC officers however received their meals at Duff House Hotel !

A number of activities, drills and exercises and demonstrations were laid on, as well as various parades, sports activities and musical events.  What the townsfolk felt about the 05.30 Reveille isn’t reported, but generally the RAMC Camp provided a lot of local attention.  On 23rd July a major exercise was held on Doune Hill, setting up a field hospital and transporting “injured” personnel. 

The camp was made to be inclusive of the town, local people able to come to some of the events, such as the Banff Pipe Band joining the RAMC Corps Band for various parades and concerts; football and tug-of-war matches between RAMC and towns’ teams.  Cricket matches were also played with the Banff team; although the RAMC easily won the cricket they were roundly trounced in football !

Early 20th century RAMC badge

The RAMC was formed in 1898 to centralise the provision of emergency first aid at the front line, as well as staffing health centres and hospitals and promoting health and disease prevention.  The unit still exists today.  Their badge – an early 20th century version shown here – has the “Rod of Asclepius” at it’s centre; the Greek God Asclepius of healing and medicinal arts, typically depicted by a non-venomous snake; a similar badge is used by some Scottish Community First Responder teams today.    The RAMC motto is In Arduis Fidelis; “Faithful in Adversity”.


Part 2 of 2

James returned home in September 1813 as the 4th Earl Fife, his father having died in 1811.  He was received in Banff and Macduff with huge rejoicing, met by the Magistrates, the principal inhabitants of Banff, the incorporated trades and “all the inhabitants of Macduff”.  Flags were displayed at the forts, the shipping, the hills; a salute was fired from the battery and “all the bells of Banff and Macduff rang a merry peal.”.   In the evening there were illuminations and immense bonfires in every street, and on Doune Hill there “was one of such extraordinary size and brilliancy as completely illuminated the whole road from the bridge of Banff to Macduff”.

King George IV (as Prince Regent) made him a “Lord of the Bedchamber” (a trusted confidant and advisor), and later – 1827 – conferred on him the “Order of the Thistle” (of which there are only 16 at any time) and the Grand Military Cross of Hanover.   James is wearing these insignia in the painting in Duff House’s North Drawing Room.  He was also elevated to the British peerage as Baron Fife.

The three medals in paintings of the 4th Earl Fife; the St Ferdinand is on the red ribbon.

James became the Whig Member of Parliament for Banffshire in 1818, holding it until 1826.  He was a keen Mason, becoming the Grand Master Mason for Scotland.  In that capacity he laid a foundation stone for Waterloo Bridge in 1815 (opened 1817) and the Regent Arch in Edinburgh (opened 1819) amongst others.

James unfortunately found his resources were substantially curtailed.  In 1816 James had to go to court to contest the Will of his uncle, who had left almost everything to his natural son, James Duff of Kinstair.  He was ultimately successful, helped by the legal knowledge he displayed, to the delight of his friends and the surprise of his opponents. 

During the 1820’s his name was linked to a few actresses, specifically Mademoiselle Noblet, on whom it is alleged he spent a fortune.  It was also claimed by some he was the father of Maria Mercandotti, a very pretty dancer and actress he brought over from Spain – but the dates don’t fit with when he first met her mother!

Maria Mercandotti, James god-daughter that he brought over from Spain, and who was a much sought after dancer.

Local good deeds

It is hard to imagine the esteem in which James was held locally, both before and after his almost permanent residence at Duff House from 1833.  A very few of the many reasons for him being held in such high regard locally include:

  • his support for the local farmers during times of hardship; supplying seed to them and most notably during the potato famine of 1847;
  • several improvements and expansions at Macduff harbour;  this picture shows men working on the harbour wall in 1842.  This added to the prosperity of the town which had been planned by his uncle;
Macduff Harbour wall being built in 1842 (from Finden’s contemporary Ports and Harbours).
  • creating, planning and growing the town of Dufftown (1817), intended to provide accommodation and employment for veterans of the Napoleonic wars;
  • paving the pavements of Elgin;
  • repaired and renovated much of Pluscarden Abbey;
  • building the Fife Arms Hotel on Low St, becoming one of the finest hotels in the north;
  • starting a soup kitchen;
  • assisting with funds to erect a new church for the Episcopal communion (St Andrews);
  • furnishing the County Hall;
  • opening the Pleasure Grounds of Duff House to the public for walking and riding;
  • developing his lands, planting new trees (including the huge Monkey Puzzle tree in memory of his friend from Spain, the Libertador of Argentine and Chile, Jose de San Martin); this led to the planting one hundred years later in 1950 of the Monkey Puzzle in Banff Castle grounds;
  • and his particular delight of seeking out those that needed help.  He is said on one occasion to have relieved an aged woman by carrying a sack of meal to her home for her; telling her to sieve the meal well before using it.  On her return home she did, and was filled with joy at finding several golden coins.

Apart from his friendship with the King, he had many friends, British and international, and knew most of the key society people of the early nineteenth century.  He often had grand parties at Duff House.  In 1850, James’s birthday was celebrated (on Mon 7th Oct as the 6th was a Sunday) with flags and decorations throughout the town; arches of flowers were erected at the Fife Arms and Oak Hotel (bottom of Strait Path); even the coaches from Inverness and Aberdeen were decorated with “fantastic and yet beautiful” shapes of flowers.  Bells, musicians, guns and mortars entertained a crowd that filled all the space from Bridge St to Greenbanks.  There was a huge Ball, held at the Barnyards (now Duff House Royal), another for the youngsters, and a dinner attended by hundreds.

Although enjoying robust health for most of his life, apart from occasional after effects of his wounds from Spain, James took ill in February 1857 and died on 9th March.  The Banffie reports that 10,000 people turned out for his funeral.  James Imlach, historian of Banff, summed him up as “A warrior and a courtier, a nobleman and a statesman, he rejoiced most of all in the title of the poor man’s friend.”


Part 1 of 2

James Duff – the future 4th Earl Fife – was born in Aberdeen on 6th October 1776 to Alexander, younger brother to James Duff 2nd Earl Fife, and Mary Skene of Skene.  The older James, at this stage, realised he probably wouldn’t have a direct heir, and was also somewhat critical of his brother as being “weak”; also his sister-in-law had been described as having “moral laxity and emotional instability”  So from the age of 6 our future hero was brought up in Duff House under the care of his uncle, to be groomed as the future Earl Fife.  He went to the renowned Dr Chapman’s school at Inchdrewer, and then in 1789 to Westminster School, before going in 1794 to Christchurch, Oxford.  However he soon became a student at Lincoln’s Inn and received legal training for three years, which would stand him in good stead in later life.

By 1793 his uncle had described “Jamie” as much “improved”, with “really good principles, and temper, with every prospect of application and good parts”.  He had an aptitude for languages, learnt Latin and Greek, and frequently visited the Houses of Lords and Commons.  He learnt the style and manner of great public speaking.  In 1794 Jamie abandoned his legal studies in London and joined the Allied army on the Continent, fighting against the French Republic.  He was present at the Congress of Rastatt, trying to resolve the French occupation of the left bank of the Rhine – until the French resumed fighting in 1799.

Jamie returned to London and on 9th Sept 1799 married Maria Caroline Manners.  This was most definitely a love match; the couple enjoyed society living in London and Edinburgh while also spending some time at Duff House.  He was appointed to the command of the Banff and Inverness Militia, and he reportedly much improved their discipline.

During a stay in Edinburgh on his militia duties, his wife was scratched on the nose by her pet Newfoundland dog.  Not much notice was taken of this incident, perhaps because rabies was only just starting to become known; not even when the dog became bad tempered and bit a groom; the dog was then put down.  Within a month however Maria became ill, and although the physicians realised the nature of the malady, it was too late to save her and she died on 20th December 1805 of “undoubted hydrophobia”.  She was described as “so well known and so universally esteemed” and was much mourned.

Although James was overwhelmed with grief it was several aspects of his life to date that led to the events that made him a true here.  He went back to Europe, joining a combined force of British, Swedish and Prussians, anticipating an inevitable war with Napoleon.   Looking for action he shifted to Vienna and joined the Austrian army under Archduke Charles, fighting in battles at Wertignen, Ulm, Munich and others.  Even though the French were victorious, James learnt much of military tactics.  On hearing of the disturbances in Spain he sailed from Trieste to Cadiz to assist the Spaniards against the French.   He learnt Spanish and fought with several of the Junta, but later uniting with an army under Lord Wellesley, later the 1st Duke of Wellington.

He fought at the  battle of  Talavera in which he was instrumental in moving some guns that then inflicted much damage on the French, and although wounded by a sabre cut to the neck during a counter-attack, still saved the life of a Spanish officer and led a harrying force on the fleeing enemy.

With reinforcements the French soon attacked outposts around Cadiz, and during the battle of Ocana, James was badly wounded while going to the successful aid of a beleaguered fort.  The Madrid Gazette said “Lord Macduff and Colonel Roche are the active and indefatigable agents of England with the Spanish armies.”  James received much praise and recognition, even if his name was pronounced “Maucdoov” !  He soon recovered and took an active part in many other battles. 

Meanwhile, in 1811 his father had died and James had become the 4th Earl Fife, and he prepared to head back to Scotland. Lord Wellesley presented him with a magnificent Damascus sword, ornamented with precious stones on a ground of solid gold, to mark his meritorious services.

4th Earl Fife medal as Knight of the Order of St Ferdinand (hanging on the red ribbon in the painting in Duff House)

The Cortes Generales, the Spanish Parliament, not only made him a General but also a Knight of the Order of St Ferdinand, Spain’s highest gallantry award – their equivalent to our later Victoria Cross.  On paintings of him after 1813 he is wearing this medal.

James later life and the good deeds he did around Banff and Shire are in Part 2 of his story to follow.


Many thanks to Douglas Lockhart and the Scottish Local History journal for the background to this Story.

In 1908 the American Roller Rink Company established skating rinks in four Scottish Cities. This became so popular that dozens of rinks followed in many Scottish towns. Some rinks were in converted premises, and sometimes there were touring rinks. However the rink in Banff, opened on 8th January 1910, was a specially built one, sited at The Barnyards – behind the Duff House Golf Club – on the present car park. The Rink can be seen in the headline photo of Duff House grounds, to the right just above centre; the smaller building in front was the original Golf Club House. This was three years or so after Duff House and the estate had been gifted by the Duke of Fife to the Burgh Councils of Banff and Macduff, and they had established Duff House Ltd; DHL opened Duff House as a hotel in May 1910, but had already laid out and opened the golf course (initially 9 hole), the skating rink and a number of other businesses by that time.

Duff House American Skating Rink

The Grand Opening of the venue was on Saturday 8th January 1910 at 3 in the afternoon! The floor space was 100 feet by 40 feet, with a wide promenade from the main entrance around the whole floor. The skating floor itself was laid with imported maple and highly polished. There was also a balcony on one side of the hall, plus cloakrooms, lavatories and a store for skate hire – the latest skates with ball bearings! The hall had been built by D McAndrews of Aberdeen, with the heating and lighting from companies in Dundee. The hall, “exceedingly crowded”R, was opened by Mr J E Sutherland, MP for the Elgin Burghs. The Macduff Brass Band and the Banff Pipe and Drum Band played outside, and at the far end of the hall there was a “fine orchestral organ”. It was claimed that the Rink was one of the finest in Scotland.

During the next four months or so the Rink was a hive of activity. Some of the events included a carnival and gymkhana held on 2nd February 1910: “So large was the turnout on the occasion that hundreds were unable to gain admission” reports the Aberdeen Daily Journal. On 2nd March there was a “Barnyard and Fancy Dress Carnival” held, with 50 people in fancy dress costumes, included a potato race, a speed race and musical chairs! An exhibition skate was given demonstrating the two-step waltz, the two step promenade and the “Dutch roll”. One of the highlights seemed to be Mr Brett, a local instructor, jumping over 8 chairs while wearing skates, believed to be a world record!

Inside the Duff House Roller Skating Rink 1910 or 1911

Skating was seasonal, and by April the season was drawing to a close. The fifth gala since opening was held, another event with fancy dress. The Banffie notes: “One of the most striking representations was that of the flying machine. Besides being entirely novel and original, the workmanship of the model was very realistically reproduced. The aeronaut, who was costumed in white, supported the framework of the car with his hands, while o his broad-brimmed cap rested the body of the “machine” whose cigar-shaped form was furnished with propellers.”

The Rink became a “Palace” during the summer, and it opened for the next season on 24th August 1910. A band frequently played, and on two afternoons a week, teas could be served on the lawn at the front of Duff House! A Miss Mab Holding, an accomplished roller skater, had been engaged, and she gave clever exhibitions of “trick and fancy skating, including threading a maze of lighted candles” to a large and appreciative audience. During the winter there were more Fancy Dress Carnivals, Polo matches and much more, but by early March 2011 the Banffie was reporting “the pastime of roller skating seems to be waning locally” apart from a few enthusiasts who quite often had the rink to themselves. The hall started to be used for a variety of other events, dances, concerts, bazaars, and by the end of 2011 skating was only two evenings a week.

By 1912 the hall was leased out as a Picture Hall and in July 1913 the Duff House Sanatorium, now the owners, had an auction of surplus goods including roller skates. It is not known exactly when the hall, or “Pavilion” as it was called in the Valuation Rolls was demolished, but it last appears in the Valuation Rolls for 1916/17.

Further thanks and acknowledgements for this Story go to:
The British Newspaper Archive and D C Thomson & Co for the newspaper excerpts;
Banff Preservation and Heritage Society for the internal photo.

The bombing of the Duff House Prisoner of War camp on 22nd July 1940 is well known – there are other stories on this website and a book by the Friends of Duff House, “Out of the Blue”; not least the joint British and German memorial outside Duff House close to where one of the bombs exploded.

There are however several so far unexplained mysteries around the whole matter of PoW Camp No5; ie Duff House.

Why were there so many regiments represented at Duff House in July 1940.  We know – mainly from the hospital records – that men from at least 8 regiments were stationed here. 

Secondly, although the British did a monthly report called “General Return of the Strength of the British Army”, Duff House is not listed as having any soldiers in July 1940  – although clearly there were!

Thirdly, is this tied in with why there is no MoD file on PoW Camp No5 ?  There is a file on 4 and 6, but no 5 – or at least not until 1944 when PoW Camp 5 was opened at Cookstown in Northern Ireland.  Yet there is a 1940 War Office letter referring to Duff House and PoW Camp No5, so there Is firm evidence!

Fourthly, what was the reason that the prisoners were housed inside Duff House itself, and the guards were in the Nissen huts to the east?  We know for sure the prisoners were inside, we even know which rooms some of them had, based on their own later correspondence.

But the biggest mystery of all might be just why was the whole crew, except the captain, of the U-26, were transported all the way from southern Ireland to the north of Scotland.  An admission from the submarine radio operator, to a Canadian radio station, a couple of years before he died in 2013 might provide a clue.  Previous reports had always implied that the Germans had sunk the submarine before the British, from HMS Rochester, had been able to get on board, even though every single German crew member was rescued.  But Paul Mengelberg amended this in his radio interview, and admitted that the British did board the submarine.

Black and white photo of a WW2 sloop
HMS Rochester

There is no evidence but one possible reason this had not become known earlier, and perhaps explaining why 40 Germans had been transported hundreds of miles to Banff, has to do with the code that the Germans were using, and the British were trying to break – the Enigma machine.  The official records show that the British were not able to read the german messages until at least March 1941.  But did they actually get their hands on an enigma machine in July 1940 – and needed to keep that quiet so the Germans would not know they were reading messages? 

It seems unlikely we’ll ever know, but it is intriguing that Duff House may have been part of such an important element in the war.

The earliest known photo of Duff House appears in Imlach’s book “History of Banff” and is dated 1868.  Before that there are a number of etchings (starting with one after Cordiner in 1779) and some paintings.

The earliest photo shows the main house looking not too dissimilar to the Duff House of today.  The east extension that was bombed in July 1940 was only built in 1871 and hence doesn’t appear in this photo.  Instead, the photo shows a smaller separate building immediately to the east of the House; this was a kitchen building, because the original main part of the House didn’t include one – it had been designed for the west wing that was never built.

A small photo found in a private collection is believed to date from about 1885 to 1890.  This has three carriages, each with two horses, drawn up outside, with the vestibule door open to the balcony.  This was perhaps on the occasion of some party being held by the Duffs – although the grass at the front doesn’t look very tidy!

By the very late nineteenth century picture postcards were starting; the earliest postmarked date found for Duff House is two in 1903.  As the views show different aspects of what is at the front of Duff House, one of the photos must be earlier in date!  Based on other, later, photos, it seems the fence around the apron was added later, some postcards showing it was effective at keeping sheep out. 

By 1908 Duff House was a hotel.  There are a couple of photos with old cars in front of the House, and one dated 1913 shows the first tennis court in front.

After 1913 it became the Sanatorium, a sort of health spa but also conducting research into diabetes and other digestive disorders.  A booklet was produced at this time, and although no date is given, the wording suggests it has not been open very long.  The west wing, now gone, also appears to have gained a taller chimney.

Then from 1923 it was once again a hotel, advertising it’s golf course, and other sports.  This clearly included tennis as the courts out the front seemed to have been improved and with a higher fence.

Once this closed down in 1928 the House stood empty – and the grounds look quite uncared for.  This particular postcard was postmarked and dated by the sender as 1947 – after the bombing – but clearly the photo must have been taken before 1940 as the east wing is shown as undamaged.  This highlights the care that must be taken when using postcards! The War Office took over Duff House in 1940, initially as an internment camp, then POW Camp No 5.  Although no photos exist until after the war, from that point on Duff House is much better documented.

Agnes was a grand-daughter of King William IV, and married James Duff in 1846 while he was serving there as part of the Diplomatic Service.  She was born in 1829, and most unfortunately died in 1869 as a result of falling out of her carriage while in London.

A quote from one of the poems written after her death, demonstrates how well liked she was:

“Beloved by all, like springtide’s flowers,

Her presence did a joy impart;

In and around her princely bowers,

Her presence was a joy of heart.”

James became the fifth Earl Fife in 1857 on the death of his uncle.  During his marriage to Agnes they had six children, the last who died in infancy.  Their eldest son, Alexander, became the sixth Earl Fife, and on marrying the Princess Royal became the first Duke of Fife.

Agnes and James were quite often at Duff House.  Agnes masterminded a major decorative overhaul of Duff House, and today a room is entitled her boudoir, just off the first floor Vestibule.  Her body was brought back to Duff House where it lay in state.  The Banffshire Journal of the time says “the ceiling and wall of the room were entirely draped in black, the only relief being a wreath of white roses in the centre of the ceiling.”  Apparently “as usual”, there were three coffins; the inner being mahogany richly lined in white satin, then a lead coffin, and outside it was encased again in mahogany.  During the funeral Agnes was taken to the Mausoleum and lowered into the crypt, the “whole of the top of the coffin was covered in white camelias”. There are a number of art works of Agnes.  The newspaper reports that a beautiful bust of her was in it’s usual place in the Vestibule.  From an old low resolution photo it seems this sat alongside one of her husband, now in the Aberdeen Art Gallery; both believed to have been done by the renowned sculptor Alexander Brodie.

One of the best known paintings of Agnes was initially believed to have been done by Sir Francis Grant, but is now attributed “after” him, ie in his style.  A small photo of it hangs in the Lady Agnes Boudoir today.  One interesting aspect of this picture is the dog at her feet, believed to be Barkis.  The painting was presented to Agnes by a grateful tenant in 1863, and Barkis was born that year.  The dog is commemorated on the gravestone in Wrack Woods.

James and Agnes youngest daughter, also called Agnes, did gain some notoriety in her time.  She eloped in 1861 aged just 19, married and had a child, but was soon divorced.  Her second marriage, also by elopement, lasted four years.  Shunned by much of polite society, the younger Agnes then went to work in a London hospital, and met the eminent surgeon Sir Alfred Cooper.  One of his medical interests was venereal diseases, and a scurrilous remark that arose is reported as “Together they knew more about the private parts of the British aristocracy than any other couple in the country”!   They had four children, and they and other descendants became quite prominent in society.  The best known most recently being David Cameron, Prime Minister 2010 to 2016.