Border-Reivers-The-Clay-Biggin & Border-Reivers-Pele-Tower-as-a-Refuge

There-were-Six-Border-Marches-East-Middle-and-West-on-each-Side-of-the-Border
Border-Marches-of-England-and-Scotland.

To the left is a little map of the Border Marches on each side of the English Scottish Border from the Solway Firth in the west to the North Sea in the east. This is the area that dominated the national history of England and Scotland from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries.
These Marches were the haunt of the Border Reivers for centuries and I will talk about them later: when and how they were formed, how local authority endeavored to control them, the main characters in the reiving times, and how and why they were no longer needed after the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603.

The houses of the Border Reivers, how they were built and why they were built in that way. In a land which was a hotbed of feud and violence for hundreds of years, it goes without saying that the Border Reivers would take defense of life and property with all due seriousness. A man slept easier knowing that he was well protected by the stone that surrounded him.

Yet for the majority of the folk on both sides of the Border, on both the English and Scottish side, stone was a commodity that was little used in the reiving times. Nor was heavy wood in the form of the traditional log cabin considered. Instead they made their homes from the flimsiest of materials available at a time when defense was a serious priority. Why?

It is as well to know that from the time of the Scottish Wars of Independence between the two countries, the  lands on each side of the Border were often the stalking ground of armies, marching north or south for the relentless military confrontations. Both countries were bent on achieving dominance and the Border folk found themselves locked in the bitter wars of attrition for no other reason than they were there, a larder for an army on the move. No match for the hordes of armed men who penetrated their lands, they suffered every atrocity: loss of life, livelihood and home as armies foraged and stole in the surge forward to clash with the enemy.

The wars between England and Scotland endured, off and on, for nigh on three centuries and the commoners soon learned that it was futile to build a home of stone or wood. They were weeks in the making yet could be lost in minutes when fired by the next marauding army unit that appeared over the horizon.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 330px-HeiligenstadtFachwerk.JPG

Thus eventually the Borderers resorted to building out of wattle and daub, known as a ‘clay biggin’. It might be lost in minutes but it could be re-built within a day in the wake of the latest round of destruction.

Wattle and daub is a composite building method used for making walls and buildings, in which a woven lattice of wooden strips called wattle is daubed with a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw. Wattle and daub has been used for at least 6,000 years and is still an important construction method in many parts of the world. Many historic buildings include wattle and daub construction, and the technique is becoming popular again in more developed areas as a low-impact sustainable building technique.

See the source image

The roofs were of similar construction in that the interlaced branches of trees were used but they were normally covered in turves and  often weighed down with boulders suspended on ropes slung over the roof.

Young hazelnut tree branches have been used for wattle & daub house construction

The walls of the house were build around the interwoven, interlaced thinner branches of trees to which mud or even dung mixed with leaves and small twigs was plastered. When dry and hard it provided an effective barrier to the harsh Border climate.

There were no windows and the door was usually fabricated from an animal hide. Around the outside of the building a trench would be dug and filled with small stone to aid drainage.

Wattle and daub is a composite building material used for making walls, in which a woven lattice of wooden strips called wattle is daubed with a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw.

In a land which was a hotbed of feud and violence for hundreds of years, it goes without saying that the Border Reivers would take defence of life and property with all due seriousness. A man slept easier knowing that he was well protected by the stone that surrounded him.

Inside the floor was tamped down soil covered in rushes; the walls plastered by the same method used on the outside of the building. The fire was in the middle of the floor; smoke emitted, if lucky, through a small hole in the roof.

Thus the common Border folk resorted to the building methods of their ancestors from a previous millenium, a move which succinctly epitomises the condition of the Border country. In other areas of England and Scotland men were beginning to build in stone more often and in a more decorative manner than at any time in their history, such was their confidence in a more settled age.  Yet for the majority of the folk on both sides of the Border, on both the English and Scottish side, stone was a commodity that was little used in the reiving times. Nor was heavy wood in the form of the traditional log cabin considered. Instead they made their homes from the flimsiest of materials available at a time when defence was a serious priority. Why?

It is as well to know that from the time of the Scottish Wars of Independence between the two countries, the  lands on each side of the Border were often the stalking ground of armies, marching north or south for the relentless military confrontations. Both countries were bent on achieving dominance and the Border folk found themselves locked in the bitter wars of attrition for no other reason than they were there, a larder for an army on the move. No match for the hordes of armed men who penetrated their lands, they suffered every atrocity: loss of life, livelihood and home as armies foraged and stole in the surge forward to clash with the enemy.

The wars between England and Scotland endured, off and on, for nigh on three centuries and the commoners soon learned that it was futile to build a home of stone or wood. They were weeks in the making yet could be lost in minutes when fired by the next marauding army unit that appeared over the horizon.

Within the documented history of the 16th century is a reference from 1570 which tells of the trials and tribulations of the Percys of Northumberland following the Rising of the North, an attempt by this most notable family of Northumberland, to re-instate Catholicism as the religion of England. When the Rising failed the Percys sought sanctuary with the Armstrongs of Liddesdale in Scotland. It is recorded that Lady Ann, Countess of Northumberland was taken in by Jock of the ‘Side’, a noted Border Reiver, and was harboured in a hovel ‘not fit for a dog kennel in England’.

Such were the abodes of the common folk. It should be noted that the clay biggings were in close proximity to the fortified pele towers of the richer members of the same family.

Every clan and family had their own lands. The biggins of the clan or family members usually clustered around the pele tower of the Laird or Lord of the same name.

The clay biggins of the common folk of the clan ,scottish side of the Border, and the surnames or families who lived on the English side were always built in close proximity to the pele tower where the leader of the family resided. He might be Laird or Lord and all swore undying allegiance to him. In return he offered protection in times of strife, confrontation and war and a living in the brief intervals of peace.

In the days of the Border Reivers only the holmes which were adajacent to the rivers were suitable for the cultivation of the crops. These provided bread and a limited amount of winter fodder for the animals. The rest of the land, undrained then, was usually given over to the nurture of beasts: cattle, known as ‘kye’ or ‘nolte’, sheep and goats and the car or automobile of the day, the trusty little horse called a hobellar.

Though the tower would always be built adjacent to a stream or ‘burn’, it was usually in a position which was naturally defensive, on a ‘knowe’ or small hill, in boggy ground which impeded easy progress to its walls or away from the flatlands, the holmes, on a cliff or high escarpment. Crops, then, growing for the most-part, away from the tower were hard to defend.

The beasts were free to wander but always watched over and tended.

Household goods and farming implements which were scarce and thus valuable commodities were known as ‘insight’. They were guarded with due diligence; their loss was every bit as catastrophic as the beasts which provided the food.

The people, the Laird or Lord, their beasts and possessions were a magnet to armies on the move or  Border Reivers ever-ready to exploit any weakness which resulted in material gain.  An army moved on its belly, lived off the land, the Reiver for his own gain and the distress of another.

At the top of each tower was a beacon fire ever-ready to be lit should any enemy be spotted by the watch that patrolled the tower parapets day and night. At the first sign of trouble it would be fired, warning both the clan or family that lived in close proximity to the tower and hopefully folk in the next valley, that mischief was afoot.

At such times the common folk living outside the walls of the tower would gather as much of their ‘insight’ as they could handle whilst driving their beasts within the ‘barnekin’ ( a surrounding wall ) of the tower to some safety. The walls of the barnekin, up to sixteen feet high and three feet thick would hopefully survive the ferocious onslaught, a fifty fifty chance.

Needless to say, the clay biggins were fired in wrath by the intruders. They would be rebuilt within the day when peace once again spread its balm over the valley.

Posted 16th November 2010 by tom moss Posted 14th January 2013 by https://wwwborderreiverstories-neblessclem.blogspot.com/ Location: Canonbie DG14, UK

http://www.reivershistory.co.uk/

Labels: border reiversfortified towershistory of the english scottish borderpele towersreivers

Published by Clan Carruthers Society - USA

We are all passionate about where we came from and where we're going. We set this website/blog up so we can all share our family stories along with the history for future generations.

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