On windy nights, the derelict and romantic ruin that is Crawford Priory is reputed to have a familiar visitor. A wandering spirit walks through the estate which she once owned accompanied by a retinue of the per animals that she knew and loved. This is the ghost of Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford who is rumoured to walk the grounds when the wind is high.
Is she keeping a watch on the crumbling building or her crypt which is a mile away. Or does she see the Priory as it once was with its fine furnishings and decoration and a butler opening the front door to visitors as she, smiling, descends the sweeping staircase to meet them?
Deep in the Fife countryside lies the shell of a derelict, once grand country house. For over 25 years it has been abandoned to nature which is fast obscuring it from memory and the world. Ivy and saplings have thrust their way through broken windows and doors and a fire in 1995 was the final indignity. In 1997 its current owner applied to have it demolished but it may just eventually fall down by itself.
The cawing of crows or the wind whistling around what’s left of the Gothic styled Crawford Priory are the only sounds that the casual visitor will hear now.
However, it was never actually a priory and no religious order ever lived there. But the name went with the romantic Gothic touches such as the pointed windows and the battlements and so it became one.
A mile away near Lady Mary’s Wood lies an equally ruinous crypt dedicated to the Priory’s creator and the last of her line, Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford. From urban explorers websites, the last great recorders and finders of the abandoned, the crypt is in no better state than the Priory. Its door is now bricked up although a hole has been made in it and the crypt is falling in on itself. The pet cemetery is rumoured to be still there but I haven’t seen any photos of that while researching this article.
To add to the romance of the place there is also a belief that the pale wraith of Lady Mary drifts across the site as she gathers her pet animals around her. She had the crypt built so that she would always have a good view of the Priory even in death.
I am indebted to a Facebook friend who lives in Scotland with her family. They like to go out and explore the local countryside and share their photos and adventures online. They have been kind enough to give me permission to use their photos to illustrate this article. Crawford Priory was a real gem as it’s the sort of place that I would like to explore myself.
Crawford Priory was originally merely a hunting lodge built by the Earl of Crawford in 1756 and then completely remodelled in the then fashionable style in the early 1800’s. Lady Mary employed well known architects of the time to create it. She died in 1833 and was known as a reclusive, religious woman. The pet cemetery was also created by her to remind her of her favourite animals. They flocked to her and she was frequently attended by tame foxes, birds, dogs, cats and even a pet deer. However, I have been unable to find any images of Lady Mary but she must have been formidable as well as kind. There is a tombstone near the outer wall of the Priory dedicated to a pet deer which is what caught my attention and intrigued me enough to research further.
Lady Mary lived alone, except for her servants, and administered a large country estate as well as the Priory. This included limestone kilns, coal mines and farms amongst other business interests. This was remarkable in the 19th century for a woman alone.
This keen business sense and her managerial abilities led to Lady Mary being regarded as odd and her obituary, according to alex cochrane’s blog, considered her eccentricities as
‘lean’d to the virtue’s side for the cause of humanity .’’
Also, according to adcochrane, a distant relative of the family, quotes from one of Lady Mary#s letters on his blog, in which she says:
‘this hall is raised under bad and awful auspices ‘
and then goes onto to describe how her dog:
‘howled in the most dreadful manner in the next room to the new building…yet in spite of its cries would not leave the dining-room’
It sounds like a page from a Gothic novel as the heroine eats her dinner at a candle-lit dining table while her dog howls and the wind picks up speed around the battlements.
Lady Mary left generous bequests to the local poor, friends, servants and her animals. The Priory then came into the possession of the Earls of Glasgow and the Cochranes The photos on adcochrane’s blog and now in the possession of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (rcahms for short) reveal how lavishly decorated The Priory’s interior was:
‘The grand hall was magnificently decorated with fan vaulting and hanging pendants; suits of armour stood under canopied gothic niches; medieval style stained glass lit the hall. The drawing room and morning room opened off a rib vaulted chamber decorated with gargoyles, both with gothic fireplaces inlayed with coloured marbles. The principal staircase…was decorated with gilded armorial panels and armorial stained glass of the Earls of Glasgow.” adcochrane
ADcochrane also goes onto recall that
‘The grand bedroom was hung with panels of wallpaper depicting the life of Psyche from the ancient Latin story by Apuleius.’
He adds that in 1990 a lot of the internal decoration was still there but now it’s all gone. Even the sweeping staircase has finally collapsed. To see archive photos of the Priory in its glamorous heyday please visit his blog:
Eventually the Priory became just too expensive to maintain like many country houses. They usually required a retinue of servants to maintain them and after the Second World War these were in short supply. Adcochrane adds that both his godfather and cousin remembered exploring huge unused rooms and clambering about dusty piles of trunks.
In the 1960’s the Prior needed an expensive and major restoration but this never happened. No use has been found for it since and so it was left to lie empty until it fell into its current state.
If Lady Mary does walk in her wood and the Priory grounds then one hopes that she sees the Priory as it was and not how it is now.
© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.
Helen Grant FB page