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King of the castle: The life of Premnay master stonemason Slesser Troup

The 81-year-old's handiwork made Bennachie cairns and restored Harthill and Leslie castles.

Stonemason Slesser Troup of Premnay.
Stonemason Slesser Troup of Premnay.

Multi-award-winning master stonemason Slesser Troup from Premnay has died.

The 81-year-old Aberdeenshire craftsman gained a reputation for restoring castles and conservation work.

Hard work in his blood

Born in Ellon in November 1942, Slesser Arthur Troup was named after his father.

Son of Agnes and Arthur Troup, when his dad went to register the birth he “got all in a tizzy”. His baby boy’s name was then recorded back to front.

The grand – and rarely matched Slesser – became his first, and not his middle name as planned.

While Agnes stayed at home with Slesser, and his siblings Sheila and Bill, Arthur worked as a gamekeeper.

Grafting, and moving, from estate-to-estate was the family norm. Slesser began at Kemnay School before completing his education at Insch.

The dux winner with a flair for making money, his innate drive to work hard, combined with academic talent, saw a budding entrepreneur emerge.

While catching rabbits to sell to the local butcher earned him the nickname “the family banker”, it was the opportunity to become an apprentice mason that proved to be the cornerstone from which the rest of his life was built.

Building a life together

His first job in stonemasonry was with John Sharp of Premnay. Though he initially hoped to become an electrician his aptitude for stonework and plastering was clear from the get-go.

Still a teenager, at a night out at the dancing, Slesser was acquainted with Clatt quine Anne Munro. Both in the same school on a Monday, Anne maintained she’d never noticed her future husband until that night in the Railway Hall.

Slesser and Anne Troup on their wedding day.

A machinist in Huntly, they got the same bus home to Insch before biking off to their respective homes.

By summer 1965 the couple tied the knot at Insch Parish Church.

Family home in Premnay

Determined to provide for his family in every way possible, Slesser and Anne began married life living in a static caravan on land owned by Anne’s parents. The temporary accommodation was to allow Slesser to build their “forever” home.

Six years and two daughters later, Slesser, Anne, Linda, and Pamela were able to finally move into the new house in Premnay.

Named Dailgrainach – “sunny dell” – Slesser was very proud of the turreted home he built by himself.

In 1973 son Arthur was born and around the same time, Slesser was approached by writer Ann Savage (then Remp) to restore Harthill Castle.

Castle commission

The wife of an American oilman who founded Ramco plc, she fell in love with north-east Scotland. With the assistance of historian Nigel Tranter, she found the Oyne castle and turned to Slesser to help bring it back to its former glory.

Committed to historic methods she asked Slesser to do as much as he could by hand, and even requested that every stone he made be embossed with a letter T for Troup.

Harthill Castle where Slesser Troup’s restoration masonry helped bring the private home back to life.

The restoration won a Saltire Society Award for excellence in design and the Geraldine Scott Design Award for exceptional quality craftsmanship. A third accolade – from the Civic Trust for a contribution to the quality and appearance of the environment – was of particular pride to Slesser who cared deeply about conservation.

His name was even mentioned in the New York Times when Savage praised his work in her newspaper column.

Sought after skills

With his reputation as a master craftsman gaining prominence, in 1976 he started his own business. Under the banner of Slesser Troup Master Stonemason, he employed other craftsmen but still insisted on doing work best suited to heavy machinery, himself.

Next came a project at Pitfichie Castle – owned by antique dealer Colin Wood. The historic Monymusk property was Slesser’s favourite castle. He relished his time as foreman before moving on to Leslie Castle, west of Auchleven.

16th-century Jacobite home, Pitfichie Castle, that Slesser helped restore.

In the years to follow, Slesser would bring his restorative skills to Terpersie and Lickleyhead castles, and numerous manor houses. He also crafted the cairns at Mither Tap and Craigshannoch, peaks of Bennachie.

Home and away

When he did take a break, Slesser liked to spend time in Scotland, only occasionally venturing to England’s Lake District, Yorkshire and London. Cherishing an opportunity to peruse local stonework and antique shops, no vacation was complete without bringing home another addition to his Cranberry Crystal collection.

Slesser and Anne were delighted when they became grandparents to Ethan, Calum, Anna, Rohan and Lexie.

A caring man, Slesser loved wildlife but also numerous family pets over the years.

In later years Slesser’s garden was both a personal oasis and yet another place for his handiwork to be seen.

A haven for wildlife he kept bees for many years, selling honey to local shops, and cultivated his own fruit and vegetable patch. “Mesmerising” trowel work ensured a meticulous garden which he and Anne enjoyed with their family and friends.

Kind and considerate

Stonemasonry took its toll on Slesser’s body. By 63 he was forced to retire due to pain in his knees and spine in particular. His mobility declined further in recent years resulting in several hospital admissions.

Always keen to get the family together they continued meeting up for meals. However, over the last 18 months, Slesser’s health worsened.

An “intelligent, gifted man” determined to “leave the planet better than he found it”, and “as hard-working as he was kind”, Slesser died earlier this month aged 81.

His funeral took place on Friday January 19. You can see the family announcement here.