James Gordon was an affluent merchant and Baillie of Edinburgh. Born in 1665,[1] he was the son of a farmer, and originated from Bourtrie.[2][3] In 1691 he married Elizabeth Glen in Canongate, Edinburgh.[4][5] The couple had three sons: John, Alexander,[6] and James.[4] On 28 April 1717, the two older boys, John and Alexander, both around eight years old,[7][a]Pratt incorrectly gives the year of the killings as 1718.[7] were murdered by their tutor, Robert Irvine.[8][b]The broadside published at the time describes Irvine as a chaplain.[6] They were killed in Edinburgh after they reported seeing Irvine with their mother’s servant in a compromising situation.[9][c]Irvine was executed on 1 May 1717 for the crimes; before carrying out the hanging, the executioner cut off both Irvine’s hands.[6] Gordon’s youngest son, James, died in 1783; he “served with some distinction in the American War”.[4]

Fortalice of Ardgith

Gordon purchased the Fortalice of Ardgith and its lands in 1706.[2][10][d]Sources differ as to the year of acquisition; Reverend McLeod quotes 1708[2] whereas most modern day historians, for instance W. Douglas Simpson,[3] Ian Shepherd[11] and Historic Scotland,[10] give 1706. He integrated the fortalice into a new sizeable structure that he rechristened from its former name of Fortalice of Ardgith to Ellon CastleHistoric ruined castle remains, formerly Fortalice of Ardgith, focal point within a formal walled garden in Ellon, the first time the building became known by that name.[4]

As well as extending the castle, he established a formal walled garden[5] and landscaped a large area of ground.[4]


Gordon died “some years” after his sons were killed.[1] In 1752 the estate was sold to George Gordon, 3rd Earl of Aberdeen for £17,000. Writing in the mid-twentieth century, historian Cosmo Alexander Gordon attributes the sale to Gordon’s widow, Elizabeth, and his youngest son, adding that she also received 200 guineas to buy a gown in recompense for relinquishing her life rent entitlement.[4] Other historians, such as Christopher Dingwall, indicate the transaction was made by the baillie with his surviving son.[12]




Anonymous. Broadside Regarding the Trial and Sentence of Robert Irving. 1717.
Chambers, Robert. Traditions of Edinburgh by Robert Chambers. W. & R. Chambers, 1869.
Dingwall, Christopher. “Ellon Castle Gardens.” Ellon and District Historical Society, vol. 14, Oct. 2007.
Gordon, Cosmo Alexander. “The Ellon Castle Estate.” A History of the Burgh and Parish of Ellon, Aberdeenshire, edited by James Godsman, Lindsay, 1958, pp. 61–72.
Historic Environment Scotland. Ellon Castle (Old). 2020, https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/SM7333.
McLeod, N. K. “Ardgith Castle - Abbotshall.” Transactions of the Buchan Field Club, vol. 3–4, 98 1892.
Murray Archaeological Services. Ellon Castle Garden, Aberdeenshire. Survey, MAS 2016-24, Archaeology Data Service, 2016, http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/greylit/details.cfm?id=53085.
Pratt, John B. Buchan. 4th ed., Lewis Smith and Son, 1901.
Shepherd, Ian. Aberdeenshire: Donside and Strathbogie (Formerly Gordon) : An Illustrated Architectural Guide. Rutland Press, 2006.
Simpson, W. Douglas. “Ellon Castle, the Fortalice of Ardgith, and the Abbotshall of Ellon.” A History of the Burgh and Parish of Ellon, Aberdeenshire, edited by James Godsman, Lindsay, 1958, pp. 49–57.
Somerville, Andrew R. “The Ancient Sundials of Scotland.” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 117, 1987, pp. 233–64.