Black and white photo

Across each of the front and back of Duff House there are three statues.  On the front of the house, the south with the horseshoe stairs, are from left to right, Mars, Apollo and Minerva; and at the back as you face it from left to right, are Bacchus, Mercury and Diana.  (NB, the Guide Book has Apollo and Bacchus swapped in it’s text!).

These have an interesting history.  They were originally made as outdoor statues to decorate the Bowling Green at Airlie House, now the lower part of what is called Airlie Gardens.  This austere building and land was bought by the Duffs, and in 1743 we know the statues were moved to Duff House, where they have been placed above the pediment.

These statues were made of lead and are very fine work indeed.  Today, the versions on the outside of Duff House are glass fibre reproductions erected in 1995 when the whole House was refurbished, but the quality of the originals can be seen on the two original lead statues (Mars and Minerva) now displayed at the bottom of the Grand Staircase on the 1st floor.  The other four have all been refurbished but are in storage.

In the early nineteenth century they were apparently painted white; whether this was for protection or some other reason is not known, but it seems it all wore off!

There is also a first-hand story by a local resident that the statues may have been stored on the roof in the ‘40s and early 50’s, but we do know that by 1953 they were in place.

Mars – God of war, rage and passion

Apollo – God of prophecy and politics, patron of musicians, poets and doctors

Minerva – God of wisdom, war, the arts, industries and trades

Bacchus – God of wine, viniculture, creativity and revelry

Mercury – God of commerce, communication and travel

Diana – Goddess of the hunt, the moon and the underworld

The statues are attributed to a sculptor, Jan van Nost.  Some people attribute them to Jan van Nost the Elder (who died circa 1729) and others to Jan van Nost the Younger, his nephew, who may have made them in about 1740. An interesting further fact however is that the 1743 account refers to the statues for Duff House, but also for “the temple”.  The only temple for Duff House is “Temple of Venus” on the top of Doune Hill, and just by the name the other statue therefore must have been of Venus!  Sadly, the whereabouts of this statue are unknown.

Colour photo of Duff House surrounded by woodland

One of the consequences of having woodland, is that wildflowers find their way to grow. During the late nineteenth century a number of lists of wildflowers around Banff were given, mostly under the auspices of the Banffshire Field Club, but they admit these were just partial surveys.
The local historian Allan Mahood, in his 1919 book, provides a chapter on local wildflowers, contributed to by several knowledgeable botanists. They conclude that the area around Banff has an unusually great “profusion, variety and charm” of its wild flowers. There is also a comment that there may not be rare plants – which may be true except for one exception – a plant perhaps not identified until more recently (see Part 2).

The examples below are just a few noteworthy wildflowers in the Duff House woods – most accompanied by images of some nineteenth century water colours of the plants.

Impatiens Roylei – or I. glandulifera – better known as the Himalayan Balsam. It was introduced into the UK in 1839 as a garden plant, and by early in the twentieth century a small patch was noted next to the Gelly Burn, near to where it joins the Deveron. A hundred years later and there are patches on both sides of the river, and not just by the banks, but even at an elevation of about 20 metres above the river. This has perhaps taken place because the plant can shoot it’s seeds up to 7 metres distance, which are easily transported on water as they are viable for about two years. This plant is now listed as an invasive species, overbearing many native plants; it seems to be slowly expanding locally. The picture is taken from Favourite (Garden) Plants in 1897 – not a favourite garden plant nowadays, not even a favourite wild flower!

Colour image of a hand drawing
Better known today as Himalayan Balsam – an invasive species that used to be a garden plant

Allium Paradoxum – few flowered leek. Anyone that has walked through Duff House woods in June and July can hardly of missed the garlic smell in the area south of the Mausoleum. Follow the footpath just on the river side of the Mausoleum, and this leads you down to “Hospital Island”, a Leper Hospital many years ago. Garlic is a traditional natural remedy to ease the symptoms of leprosy; and few flowered leek is also called few flowered garlic. It is not known if that is the reason there is so much of this plant, completely covering Hospital Island and now spread to the surrounding woods. Two things to note; Hospital Island is not really an island any more as the channel has silted over; but this 1908 postcard shows it really did used to be. Secondly, please note it is illegal to replant because of it’s extreme spreading habit!

Colour photo
Few Flowered Leek
Black and white image of a boat on a river channel

Mercurialis Perennis – Dog’s Mercury. This is, and was reported to be, very abundant in the low lying part of Duff House woods; it is very tolerant of shade and grows to about one foot (35cm) in height. It may not be considered to be the prettiest of plants, with just some very small greenish flowers. It has at least two special features however: firstly it is hermaphrodite – more accurately dioecious – as it has both male and female versions of the plant. Secondly and most important, it has nothing to do with “dogs”, and is highly poisonous to both dogs and humans, causing vomiting, jaundice, coma and eventually death. The word “dog” in this context means “false”. The painting, male on the left, female to the right, was done in 1831.

Colour image of a plant painted over text in a book
Male version on the left, female on the right.