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The Scottish Castles Association
Preserving the Past for the Future

Tower Houses in the Scottish Borders.

How many Tower Houses were there in the Scottish Borders?

According to SCA member Alastair Maxwell-Irving we can never know for certain. In 'The Castle Studies Group' Journal of December 2011 he sets out his case.

Early maps have their limitations as many sites were not recorded and those that were lack accurate nomenclature. Again many sites are so spoiled that they are impossible to classify but what really occupies the writer is just what 'qualifies' as a tower house?

Structures such as Neidpath, Bonshsaw, Drumlarnig, Kirkhope and Hillslap are obviously towers but what about Bastle-Houses, Pele Houses and Peles - are these to be classified as towers? Maxwell-Irving regards the latter 3 as being architecturally distinct (though he admits that this does not meet with universal acceptance).

Bastle and Pele Houses, according to Maxwell-Irving, were never more than 2 storeys high with only the former being vaulted but it is with the 'Pele' that things become a little bit more thorny. The author sees Peles as the 'simplest of all towers' and not necessarily restricted to 2 storeys (based upon the sole survivor, Sundaywell). Further, he states that Peles were not vaulted; did not have stone staircases and were built using clay mortar with walls 3' thick.

On a final note he reckons that the majority of sites listed on early maps were fermtouns without any tower at all (but see Lour pic below).

The difficulties in classifying a site:

Tower Houses

Lour Township and Tower Peebles with Tushielaw Tower Selkirk

Lour, Peebles and Tushielaw, Selkirk - my wife Annick posing for scale!

Bastle Houses

Windgate Lanark and Queen Marys House Roxburgh

Windgate, Lanark and Queen Mary's House, Roxburgh

Pele Houses

Slacks and Mervinslaw (Roxburghshire)

Slacks and Mervinslaw (Roxburghshire)


Sundaywell and Brockloch (Dumfries)

Sundaywell and Brockloch (Dumfries)

Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle

Date posted: 09 Jan 2012Last updated: 10 Dec 2014

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