ARCHAEOLOGISTS say the grounds of a Borders peel tower could be hiding some of the best preserved remains of what life was like in the early 1540s.
While the A-listed 16th century tower just outside Ettrickbridge has been extensively renovated by owner Peter Clarke since he moved in back in the 1990s, the structures that once existed around the tower have lain buried and undisturbed for centuries.
Built originally by the infamous Scotts of Harden, Kirkhope Tower was transformed from a virtual ruin by Mr Clarke and his late wife, Gillian.
An exciting early find during the revamp 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 TheSouthern: “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: “We are here basically because Mr Clarke had questions about his house which he wanted answered.
“As part of the so-called ‘Rough Wooing’ of the 1540s, there were numerous border raids. The Armstrongs who raided Kirkhope are believed to have been in the pay of the English at the time and probably looked at it as just the continuation of a local feud.
“But 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 aScotland 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.”
While 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 what would once have 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.
Mr Cameron says, staying in Selkirk during the last few weeks of the Kirkhope project has opened his eyes to the Borders.
“There is so much potential history here in the Borders waiting to be discovered,” he added.