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Greenknowe Tower

Earthwork(S) (Period Unassigned), Tower House (16th Century)

Site Name Greenknowe Tower

Classification Earthwork(S) (Period Unassigned), Tower House (16th Century)

Canmore ID 57386

Site Number NT64SW 5

NGR NT 63956 42846

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2018.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Gordon
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Berwickshire
  • Former County Berwickshire

Accessing Scotland's Past Project

The ruins of Greenknowe Tower stand on a low knoll situated about 500m to the south-west of Gordon village. The tower was once surrounded by marshland, an important factor in its defence.

Greenknowe is L-shaped on plan and consists of a three-storeyed main block with an adjoining wing which housed the main stair from the ground-floor kitchen to the first floor hall. A single doorway gave access to the tower, placed in the re-entrant angle, that is, where the two wings meet. Behind the timber door there was a yett, a heavy wrought-iron grill, which prevented attempts to batter or burn the door down.

Greenknowe was a fortified residence, well-equipped for defence. Numerous shot-holes for guns around the tower gave it a defensive appearance and would have allowed the defenders to bring their guns to bear on attackers from any angle.

Sir James Seton of Touch built Greenknowe in 1581. This date, Seton's initials and armorial, together with those of his wife, Jane Edmonstone, are carved on the lintel of the entrance-doorway.

Text prepared by RCAHMS as part of the Accessing Scotland's Past project

Archaeology Notes

NT64SW 5.00 63956 42846

NT64SW 5.01 NT 639 428 Cultivation remains

(NT 6395 4284) Greenknowe Tower (NR) (remains of)

OS 6" map, (1968).

Greenknowe Tower was built by Sir James Seton in 1581 (the date is inscribed on the lintel above the entrance). It stands on a low grassy knoll, originally defended by marshy ground on all sides. (Lyal alleges that it was surrounded by a moat, remains of which can still be seen.) It was habitable up till the early 19th century and is now a well-preserved ruin on the L-plan, with a main block measuring some 24 ft by 15 ft, and a wing at the NE measuring 15 ft 6 ins by 10 ft 4 ins (see plan). The main block now stands four storeys in height, the wing a storey higher. Three of the angles are surmounted by small turrets with gun-loops, and in the re-entrant angle above the first floor rises a stair-turret.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1889; RCAHMS 1915, visited 1912; N Tranter 1962; M Lyal 1962; A M T Maxwell-Irving 1974; RCAHMS 1980, visited 1979.

Repairs have been carried out by the D o E to preserve the remains of this tower.

Visited by OS (JD) 23 May 1955.

The remains of this tower are as described above. A rectangular portion of a stone wall, 0.8 m wide and 0.4 m high, enclosing a small paved area with steps leading off the N side, has been revealed 15.0 m NE of the NE corner of the tower; another portion of paving has been cleared in the re-entrant angle. The grassy knoll on which the tower stands appears to have been landscaped in places to give it a flattish top.

Visited by OS (WDJ) 18 November 1963.

Re-excavation within the courtyard of Greenknowe Tower revealed the disturbed footings of a stables to the NE of the tower. Final excavation to the N showed extensive damage to other buildings by stone-robbing in the late 19th century. Artefacts found include a hardhead of Mary, countersunk in 1572.

C J Tabraham 1979.

Greenknowe Tower which stands on a knoll to the W of Greenknowe, is a Guardianship monument, signposted and open to the public. It is in a good state of repair, and the datestone of 1988 that is carved into the garret dates the latest restoration. There appear to have been no defensive earthworks.

Visited by RCAHMS (RJCM, JRS) 30 September 1993.

Earthworks (non-defensive) and cultivation remains visible on J Dent aerial photographs.

Information from RCAHMS (KM) 25 September 1995.


Publication Account (1985)

'Green knowe' or 'green hill' was once surrounded by marshy ground-an important feature in its defence. Built in the late 16th century, it is a classic L-shaped tower-house consisting of a main rectangular block with a shorter wing. The entrance is found at the 're-entrant' angle, its usual position, where the two wings meet in a right-angle. It was thus easily defended or covered from the tower.

The turnpike stair just beyond the entrance leads down to the vaulted kitchen with its large arched fireplace. It also leads up to the main hall, whence the usual turret stair corbelled out from the re-entrant corner rises to the upper floors of both the main tower and the wing. Some of the all plaster survives in the hall; the fireplace is decorated with ornate side pilasters; the kitchen flue is carried up the north wall with small closets built in either side. The westward one may have been a garderobe or toilet. Along the gable-edges the crowsteps are typical, whilst three circular angle turrets spring from corbels at third-floor level.

The entrance comprises a stout timber door with a strong iron yett immediately behind-difficult to batter or bum down. Above, the lintel incorporates a finely sculptured panel dated 1581, with two sets of initials and two shields. The Seton family acquired the property by marriage in the early 15th century and the tower was apparently built by James Seton of Touch (I.S.) in 1581, with his wife Jane Edmonstone (I.E.).

Information from 'Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Lothian and Borders', (1985).

Note (19 November 2015)

The entry in the Schedule of Monuments relating to this monument was amended in 2015.

Information from Historic Environment Scotland, 19th November 2015

Sbc Note

Visibility: Upstanding building, which may not be intact.

Information from Scottish Borders Council


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