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Smailholm Tower, tower, buildings and enclosures

A Scheduled Monument in Kelso and District, Scottish Borders

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Latitude: 55.6045 / 55°36'16"N

Longitude: -2.5762 / 2°34'34"W

OS Eastings: 363796

OS Northings: 634691

OS Grid: NT637346

Mapcode National: GBR B3GM.2S

Mapcode Global: WH8XX.DDHC

Entry Name: Smailholm Tower, tower, buildings and enclosures

Scheduled Date: 29 January 2016

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13614

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: tower

Location: Smailholm

County: Scottish Borders

Electoral Ward: Kelso and District

Traditional County: Roxburghshire


The monument comprises Smailholm Tower, built between the mid 15th and early 16th century, together with the remains of associated buildings and enclosures around the tower. The tower-house itself is a roofed building standing five storeys high. It occupies a highly prominent position on a rocky outcrop 2km SW of Smailholm village and 400m W of Sandyknowe Farm. The site stands a relatively modest 195m above sea level, but offers very long views in several directions.

The tower-house is a relatively plain, rectangular tower, entered by a door at ground level on the S elevation. The tower-house measures 12m ENE-WSW by 9.5m transversely, with walls a little over 2m thick. It stands about 20m high and offers five storeys of accommodation. The lowest two floors comprised a ground floor cellar and loft beneath a stone barrel vault. A small hatch communicates with the third storey, the laird's main room, with a good sized fireplace and three windows. The fourth storey is similar, though slightly smaller, and probably represents a private chamber. The top storey has been significantly altered, obscuring its original function. A narrow spiral stair in the SE corner of the building links the floors.

The elevated platform around the tower was almost completely surrounded by a wall, forming an enclosed courtyard or 'barmkin'. Parts of the W barmkin wall and entrance gate are visible as upstanding features. Excavations in 1980-81 located the foundations of N and S building ranges in the barmkin W of the tower. The first phase of the barmkin N range has been interpreted as a hall block and chamber, with a service block to the S. The remains of a 17th-century fireplace from a later house that replaced the hall are still visible above ground. Outside the barmkin, the remains of associated buildings are represented by low earthworks or stone footings, some with attached yards. Earthworks of a split-level building tentatively identified as a stable lie 15m SW of the barmkin gate, terraced into the slope. A building complex comprising a stone-founded house and yard lies some 30m NW of this, while another house and yard lie 100m to the E. These may be houses of the laird's 'cottagers'. Several other banks lie below the tower to the NW and may suggest cattle enclosures. There are also numerous drainage gullies, lades and cultivation remains.

The scheduled area is irregular on plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them in which evidence for the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. On the N, W and S sides, the scheduling extends up to but excludes post-and-wire fences. On the E side it follows the edge of the pond, then extends N to the SE corner of the car park. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of all modern structures, fittings and fixtures within and around the tower. The monument is scheduled under section 1 (2) of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979; the present amendment provides documents to modern standards.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument has significant potential to contribute to our understanding and appreciation of late and post-medieval domestic fortified dwellings, their architecture, construction, maintenance, development and abandonment. The tower retains its structural characteristics to a marked degree and is an excellent example of a fortified dwelling of a locally important landowner. There is considerable potential to appreciate and study both the upstanding fabric of the tower and the archaeological remains in the wider area. The monument would have been a prominent part of the Border country when occupied, and remains an evocative and striking focal point in the Scottish Borders landscape today. Documentary records enhance the interest and potential of the monument, providing information about the families who owned the tower, and even documenting individual raids; the recorded losses of large numbers of cattle and horses suggest that the livestock of the locality could not have been protected within the relatively small barmkin and were more probably held in enclosures below the tower. Our understanding of the form, character and use of post-medieval towers in eastern Scotland would be diminished if this monument was lost or damaged; for example, Smailholm provides a rare opportunity to compare a tower-house with surrounding houses and yards, potentially of the laird's cottagers. Castles such as this have a significant place in the national consciousness, and Smailholm's influence on Walter Scott is widely appreciated.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as NT63SW 2. The record includes a full bibliography.

Good, G L and Tabraham, C J, 1989 'Excavations at Smailholm Tower, Roxburghshire', Proc Scot Antiq Soc 118, 231-66.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Smailholm Tower
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Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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