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Ferniehirst Castle
Chapter II - Architectual History

According to the following extracts from "THE COUNTY OF ROXBURGH", Vol. 1 pp. 218-221.

The house itself has an unusually long main block of three storeys, running NE and SW and having a circular tower projecting from the E. angle, but two wings, both at the SW end and in alignment with the W. gable, make the plan T-shaped. The wing projecting northwards contains the main staircase as well as three floors above it, while the other, extending southwards, had a kitchen on the lowest floor. Its upper floor is fragmentary. At some later time an outbuilding has been built at right angles to the kitchen wing and extends southwards towards the steep bank of the river. House and cottage form two sides of a kitchen courtyard, a small level area otherwise bounded by the declivity and by a wall running off to the NW form the staircase wing, the access to the enclosure being a fine 17th Century archway adjoining the wing just mentioned.

Within living memory (the work quoted here was published in 1956) the house was in occupation. Towards the end of the 19th century a systematic restoration was begun but not completed, and since this survey was made, the building has been adapted for use as a youth hostel. The fabric therefore shows many signs of alteration. The original house was built about 14901 and during the century that followed, it suffered many changes. In 1523 it was thrown down, and after its rebuilding it was besieged by the French in 1549. Then in 1570 it was attacked and burnt by the English, and in the following years it was almost wholly destroyed. Rebuilt once more, it remained in occupation until 1593, when James VI decided to demolish it on the ground that the laird had succoured the Earl of Bothwell. This was done, but the cellarage survived to become, in 1598, part of the existing main block. In that year the surviving walls were repaired and carried to their present height; the E. tower, if not already in being, and the staircase wing being added at the same time, together with a newel-stair and an outshot for a fireplace, both projecting from the facade. The kitchen wing may be a contemporary after-thought, for there is some reason to suppose that the original intention was to place it on the other side of the house, extending from the staircase wing... A third and still later wing, which no longer exists, now projected NW from the N. corner of the main block in correspondence with the staircase wing at the other end of the front.

The lowest storey of the circular tower was originally lit by gun-holes of "dumb-bell" shape which have either been built up or removed bodily. The two upper floors, however, each have three windows and are also provided with gun-holes. The East gable of the house shows a small chamfered window on the lowest floor, and a large window with rounded arrises on each of those above.

The principal entrance opens at the foot of a wide scale-and-platt staircase which has been partly renewed. This stair rises no higher than the first floor, the ascent being continued from this level by an adjoining turret-stair. Beneath the upper turn of the main stair lies a small vaulted cellar entered from the stair-foot. A second cellar, which is reached from the kitchen courtyard and communicates with the floor above by a service stair (the small mural staircase mentioned on p. 10) occupies the West end of the main block, the remainder of which is divided into five other cellars, all entered from the front, the E. one opening into the basement of the E. tower. An arrangement such as this is neither usual nor convenient, but it would have been improved had another stair been provided within the wing that has been demolished.

The LibraryIn the 17th century the first floor of the main building was given additional height. It is now divided unequally into three apartments, the central one being the largest. Between this and the stair-head lies an anteroom lit from the W. and communicating with the cellar beneath it by means of the narrow service-stair within the W. wall (the mural stair-case referred to above). Beside the entrance there is an arched recess, and in the wall opposite, a relatively modern fire-place. The ante-room is shut off from the largest apartment by a modern partition containing a wide archway. The apartment into which this opens was almost certainly subdivided before the 19th century restoration commenced. It has two fireplaces, the N. one, which is 10 ft 101/2 in. wide having a modern joggled lintel resting on jambs enriched with paterae, stars, the triquetry and the fleur-de-lys. These jambs, like the lintel, appear to have been inserted at the time of the restoration to replace a 17th century fireplace illustrated by MacGibbon and Ross2. The E. fireplace, which is smaller in size and entirely plain, has been considerably rebuilt, but the locker formed within one of its jambs is original. The four S. windows have all been enlarged; a fifth window, octagonal in shape, seems to have been struck out through the back of a recess intended for a dresser; on the N. two windows flanking the larger fireplace are original and a third can be traced further E. beside the remains of two doorways. These doorways must have been opened at different times into the missing wing. The N. wing also contains the entrance to the newel-stair that rises from the first to the second floor. At the end of the room a doorway, seemingly broken out to replace an original doorway on the other side of the E. fireplace, opens into the E. chamber of the main block. The latter room has a fireplace in the partition and IS lit from E. to S. At the E. corner there is a room giving access to the tower-room, and within the wall thickness at one end there is a close garde-robe. This tower-room was the library; it had a fine timber ceiling divided by moulded ribs into compartments, with carved knops pendent from some of them as well as from the centre. The book-shelves were supported on carved brackets. Half a century ago this woodwork was in exceedingly bad repair, and it has now been almost wholly renewed. Small as the room is, it has three windows and two shot-holes.

The second floor of the main block has not been gutted with a view to restoration and it remains pretty much as it was when last occupied. The existing subdivision into rooms with a passage along the N. wall is probably not of earlier date than the 18th century, but several of the fireplaces are moulded and are as old as the 17th century. The upper floors of the wing, however, have been restored; the two immediately above the main staircase having been thrown into one to form a galleried hall, while the top floor remains as a single chamber from which entry is obtained to the "studies" at the outer angles of the wing. The roof of this chamber seems to be vaulted. The kitchen has a wide fireplace in the S. gable, with a sink in its W. jamb. On the N. a staircase, which could also be entered from an external doorway facing E., rises to the floor above, two presses being contrived beneath it.

The adjoining outbuilding, oblong and one-storeyed with a garret within the roof-space, is divided equally by a cross-partition, containing a doorway which forms the only access to the W. division, since the original access, a wide arched doorway in the N. wall, was built up. This division shows one original window built into the N. wall, but another window as well as a fire-place, the latter subsequently reduced in size, have been introduced into the W. gable. The E. chamber has no fireplace. The doorway and window in the N. wall both seem secondary. In the S. wall there is an original window; the doorway beside it is secondary.

CHAPEL. The chapel which dates from the 17th century and was reroofed about 1935 after a period of deterioration, is an oblong rubble-built structure with steeply pitched crow-stepped gables. The quoins are of freestone shaped in a Renaissance manner. The entrance is enriched with oval rustications on each voussoir of the arch-head and on each course of the jambs. Its impost bears a dog-tooth enrichment. Its cornice is surmounted by an armorial panel bearing, on the lower part, a shield charged on a chevron, three mullets. Beneath the chevron are the initials AK for Sir Andrew Kerr and DAS for his wife Dame Anna Stewart, partly framed within a scroll-work. On each side of the entrance there is a window with a mullion and transom, the rybats being alternately plain and moulded, a treatment also represented on the lintel. Above these windows may be seen the last vestiges of two dormers. The provision of a second doorway in the W. gable suggests that the interior of the chapel must have been divided into pews; this entrance, which is now built up, has chamfered arrises. At the E. end of the building there has been a lairdís loft entered from an external doorway in the E. gable, which must have been reached from a forestair. Above the doorway there is a round window with plain projecting voussoirs alternating with the moulded ones.

STABLES. This structure may be rather later in date than the chapel and is even more ruinous. The N. end accommodated the coach-house, identified by the wide built-up archway surmounted by a small window in the crow-stepped N. gable. While the remainder of the structure may have been a stable, the dimensions of its windows and doors suggests rather that it was a dwelling.

SUNDIAL. A 17th century sundial has been inserted in the SE face of the round tower at the E. end of the castle. On the lower part a sun in splendour is carved and above this there are two dial-faces.


The site itself also calls for comment. Most castles are highly conspicuous and were always intended to be such: one need only think of Edinburgh and Stirling in this country, or of Durham and Carlisle among many others in England. Ferniehirst is a hidden castle, and was built where it is for Precisely that reason, in a fold of the ground but on top of a steep slope above the Jed Water. The present approach road did not exist when it served as a fortress commanding one of the main invasion routes across the Border. Raiding parties could get past Ferniehirst, and often did, but any more substantial force would have been seen and heard from a distance through the trees which concealed Ferniehirst itself. This would have given time for the Kerrs to come down and intercept the enemy, for instance at Lintalee or near the Capon Tree (the last survivor of the ancient Forest) while the Jedburgh men were alerted ó and Jedburgh was quite a large town by medieval standards, probably Scotlandís fourth or fifth ó and the Laird of Ferniehirst called out others, whether kinsmen or associated with him by "bonds of man-rent", together with their own armed followers.

Jedburgh also had its own Castle, more conspicuous but for that reason less functional: it was ultimately pulled down by the Scottish kings themselves because the English kept on capturing and defending it. The present Jedburgh Castle is quite modern, built about 1800, and has never seen a shot fired in anger: the town was defended, like ancient Sparta, not by its walls but by its men.

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