Nicholas Bogdan

Archaeologist with a passion for castles

Gordon Casely
Wednesday August 28, 2002
The Guardian

Nicholas Bogdan, who has died aged 55 from a heart attack, was an archaeologist and architectural historian whose passion was castles and whose work at Fetternear, a medieval palace in north-east Scotland, has attracted European interest.

Since 1995, Bogdan, and his partner Penny Dransart, of the University of Wales, Lampeter, have demonstrated through archaeological excavation and research that Fetternear is one of the more important medieval sites in the British Isles, with significant links to Hungary, Austria and Slovenia.

Fetternear includes the remains of a 14th-century palace, home of Bishop Alexander Kininmund who, in 1320, drafted the Declaration of Arbroath, the letter sent to Pope John XXII in Avignon declaring that the Scots would never be subjected to English rule. It also incorporates the remains of even earlier palaces and sites of settlement dating back 4,000 years.

After the Reformation in Scotland in 1560, Fetternear became the principal Scottish seat of the Leslies of Balquhain and Fetternear. It had been granted to the family as a reward for saving St Machar's cathedral, Aberdeen, from destruction. In the 17th century, the family became successful mercenaries, acquiring through might, diplomacy and marriage a string of properties in central and eastern Europe. Their strong Catholic faith helped sustain Fetternear as a centre of recusancy, as evidenced by a religious plaque carrying IHS and MRA monograms set into the facade of the existing 17th-century palace, now only a shell. Given Leslie links with central Europe, it is significant that the combination of monograms, extremely rare in Scotland, is characteristically used in the Alps.

Bogdan's research and that of Penny Dransart resulted in invitations to London to present papers to the Royal Archaeological Institute at the Society of Antiquaries. Earlier this year they travelled to Slovenia to trace ge nealogical links with Fetternear Leslies. Having worked on the site, Bogdan found that he himself was distantly related to the Leslies of Balquhain and Fetternear.

European by vision, with an interest across all periods of history, Bogdan seized on learning. Castles, architecture, heraldry, history and genealogy formed some of the many planks in his platform of knowledge

Tall, bustling and energetic, he would fire off questions as much as supplying answers to them, all the time expounding any one of a dozen theories. Although he was an excellent lecturer and presenter, his cheerful disdain for administration gave nightmares to those seeking funding for some of his projects.

Not that he was merely a theorist; he helped pioneer urban rescue archaeology, where remains are carefully excavated and recorded during redevelopment of town centres. His experience was recognised when, in 1975, he was appointed director of the massive dig in the centre of Perth, the largest and most complex urban site in Scotland ever to be excavated. He was closely involved in the formation of a number of archaeological bodies, notably the Scottish Castles Survey. With Penny Dransart, he formed and was co-director of the Scottish Episcopal Palaces Project.

Nicholas Bogdan was educated at Gordonstoun. His Russian emigré father, Andrew Bogdanovich, was a doctor at London's Great Ormond Street hospital, who altered his surname after anti-Russian attention. After Gordonstoun, Bogdan read archaeology at Queen's University, Belfast, later undertaking postgraduate research on the origins of Scottish castles at St Andrews. Castellated architecture was in his blood, for his grandmother, who married into the family of Straloch and Barra, became a major force in the restoration of Barra Castle in Aberdeenshire, his home throughout his life.

His active and forceful mind never let a fact go unrecorded, though his written output never matched his prodigious notes. Passionately interested in castles and their relationship within the wider history of Scotland, his genealogical expertise knitted a living fabric for his researches, wherever possible placing people into context. With his friend Ian Bryce, Bogdan wrote, and nearly completed, the manuscript of a definitive work on the heritage of castles and historic houses in north-east Scotland.

He is survived by his mother, Mhairi, his brother, Robert, and his partner Penny.

· Nicholas Quentin Bogdan, archaeologist and architectural historian, born June 18 1947; died August 16 2002.

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