How Many Tower-houses were there in the Scottish Borders? A few observations
By Alastair Maxwell-Irving
Castles Studies Group Journal, Vol.25 (2011-12)
Abstract: The question of how many tower-houses there were in the Scottish Borders crops up from time to time, but nobody has yet been able to give a definitive answer. This paper deals with a number of aspects of the subject, and attempts to show why there can be no simple answer. It compares the work of early surveyors and map makers in the 16th and 17th centuries, together with the written records of the period, and tries to explain some of the differences between what was recorded then and what has been learned from more recent research. At the same time, it also tries to clarify the distinction between the different types of fortified houses in the Borders during the later Middle Ages, and why this is relevant to such analyses.
Introduction: At a recent conference on castles, the old question of how many tower-houses there were in the Scottish Borders cropped up once again during a general discussion. As far as I know it is a subject that has never been seriously researched in its entirety, and despite having spent well over half a century studying and researching the towers myself, it was a question I could not answer. Indeed, I do not think anyone can give a definitive answer, for a number of reasons.
For a start: What does one mean by a ‘Border Tower’, and what point in history should one take as one’s datum? These defensive strongholds came in all shapes and sizes over a period of nearly 300 years. From the great tower-house castles of the late 14th and 15th centuries to the lesser towers of the 16th century and later, more and more of these strongholds were being built, and rebuilt, while others were disappearing from the scene, for one reason or another – English invasions, clan feuds, the official razing of the homes of those declared outlaws, or those just abandoned. And then there were the strongholds of lesser families, pele-houses, bastlehouses and simple peles. Should they also be included? There is no simple answer.