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Elyza Fraser Mausoleum: Plans to restore ancient ‘masterpiece’ in Aberdeenshire gather pace

She was one of the most influential and forward-thinking women in the north-east in the 18th century.

After inheriting Castle Fraser near Inverurie in 1792, Elyza Fraser took up the heavy task of managing and sprucing up the estate as one of the first female lairds in Scotland.

And more than two centuries after her death, the stories of her independence echo through the years from the granite of her mausoleum as a “symphony in stone”.

The Elyza Fraser Mausoleum in Cluny Kirkyard has now become a symbol of the rich cultural and architectural heritage of the region – cherished both by locals and tourists.

Elyza Fraser Mausoleum
The legacy of Elyza Fraser has been engraved in unique plaques, which have now started to crumble. Picture by Kami Thomson / DCT Media

‘No ordinary building, but a masterpiece’

Designed by Jacobite architect James Byers in 1808 – six years before Miss Fraser died – it is “no ordinary building, but a small masterpiece” at the heart of Donside.

But in the last few decades, the A-listed monument has fallen into “critical” state of decay, with some of its remarkable features beginning to fade away.

A group of local like-minded people – the Friends of the Elyza Fraser Mausoleum – first launched plans to save the monument and preserve its legacy in 2008.

However, they were faced with a string of setbacks – including legal issues over ownership and numerous delays due to the pandemic.

Pictured (L-R): Dave Chouman – conservation architect, Iris Walker – Friends of the Elyza Fraser Mausoleum secretary, Jill Standing – membership secretary and John Fraser – chairman of the Friends. Picture by Kami Thomson / DCT Media

And now, after nearly 15 years of efforts, members are finally one step away from starting urgent repairs to bring the mausoleum back to its former splendour.

Chairman of the group John Fraser said: “We were hoping to finish the project in 2014, which was the 200 anniversary of the death of the Elyza Fraser, but we’ve had so many delays with legal difficulties and Covid in the last few years.

“But now we have an excellent opportunity to bring it to people’s attention again.

“There has been great interest over the years locally, nationally and internationally, and we are hoping to get grants approved and money flowing in to enable us to start phase one and get the temporary protection up this autumn.”

Elyza Fraser Mausoleum entrance door.
Picture by Kami Thomson / DCT Media

Hopes to soon open the monument to the public

After securing a conservation architect earlier this year, the friends are now hoping to secure the remaining funds and complete the project within the next three years.

Conservation architect Dave Chouman, who has been monitoring the condition of the building for years and will lead the repairs, said: “We’ve had 10 years watching the water come in; there is more greenery and we have an issue possibly in the foundation stone which it’s starting to slip – but so far there are no signs of major hazards.

Some of the ancient memorial plaques in the mausoleum have started to crumble due to moisture. Picture by Kami Thomson / DCT Media

“It’s at a point where we can consolidate it before it gets worse and needs major repairs – and it would be a shame if that happens.

“It’s a fascinating building – or as we call it ‘a symphony in stone’ – and I just love it because there are so many stories that keep teasing out of it.

“We now have the opportunity to conserve this building for future generations. The effort is here, the contribution is here and the willingness is here – so if we manage to make that final step and do it, it will be a stunning thing.”

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