Hunting for the 1540s at Kirkhope Tower

Archeologists Kenny Macfadden and Ross Cameron digging at Kirkhope Tower.

Archeologists Kenny Macfadden and Ross Cameron digging at Kirkhope Tower.

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AN Ettrick Valley tower has been the focus of attention from archaeologists, hunting a unique preserved glimpse of what life was like in the Borders in the 1540s.

Lying hidden beneath the surrounding grounds of the A-listed 16th-century Kirkhope Tower, just outside Ettrickbridge, are believed to be some of the best preserved remains of what life was like in the early 16th century.

Although the tower has been extensively renovated by owner Peter Clarke since he and his late wife, Gillian, moved in back in the 1990s, the structures that once existed around the tower have lain buried and undisturbed for centuries.

An exciting early find during the revamp of the tower was a letter from a young soldier in the service of King Henry VIII.

Writing in 1547, the soldier explained he had “burned down the villainous tower of Kirkhopp” and that he had “killed all the Scottis, taken the kyn (cattle] and plenishings (furniture]”.

Kirkhope was burnt and its stock removed as part of what was known as the ‘Rough Wooing’ of Mary, Queen of Scots, by the English king.

The actual raiding itself is believed to have been carried out by Armstrongs. The tower is then thought to have been rebuilt by Wat of Harden around 1578.

But Mr Clarke and archaeologists hired to investigate believe surrounding buildings, possibly including domestic rooms, stables and bakehouse and brewery, were never rebuilt and have been left untouched by the passage of time under tons of earth and rubble.

Mr Clarke told TheWeePaper: “Our assumption is that the ‘courtyard’ structures at Kirkhope are as largely left in August 1547 when Henry VIII’s lads burned it down. We assume the tower either survived or was rebuilt.”

Ross Cameron, one of the archaeologists working for Addyman Archaeology – a division of Edinburgh architects, Simpson & Brown – explained: “While the tower was rebuilt, there is no record of the courtyard structures ever having been rebuilt and Mr Clarke is hoping those structures could be a time capsule of 1540s Scotland.”

As well as research into the tower’s history and a topographic survey of the surrounding area, Mr Cameron and his team opened up seven trenches at various points in the tower’s grounds.

Obtaining permission from Historic Scotland to conduct the digs was not easy, as Kirkhope is a protected scheduled monument.

“But our argument to Historic Scotland was, because there is so little known about Kirkhope, Historic Scotland did not really know what it was protecting. So we got our permissions to dig some exploratory trenches.”

Although the seven trenches failed to reveal any evidence of the destruction or uncover any noteworthy historical artefacts, they did reveal the remarkable depth involved and the substantial thickness of the walls involved in the courtyard’s buildings.

Expecting to find the floor level of the ruined buildings after digging down a few inches, Mr Cameron and his colleagues were staggered to discover remnants of what had been the top of the buildings located more than a metre below the surface.

But being on a very strict timetable meant digging time was limited and with Kirkhope classed as a site of national importance, it seems unlikely Historic Scotland will grant consent for a bigger archaeological investigation.

However, the plan is for two more trenches to be opened later this year and, being outwith the site’s boundaries, such restrictive permissions will not be required.

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