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Hume Castle

Castle (Medieval), Folly (18th Century)

Site Name Hume Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval), Folly (18th Century)

Canmore ID 58561

Site Number NT74SW 3

NGR NT 70473 41394

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

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

Accessing Scotland's Past Project

Hume Castle occupies one of the highest and most dominant sites in the region, commanding views across the Merse and towards the English borderlands. The existing structure is of largely eighteenth-century date, built around the fragmentary remains of a medieval stronghold.

First mentioned in the twelfth century, the castle was the seat of the powerful Home family. The natural outcrop of rock on which it stood is precipitous at the north-west side, so most of its man-made defences are on the southern flanks

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the English besieged the castle no less than four times. During the first of these sieges, it was Lady Home who was required to defend her home and it only fell when the attackers began to hang her young son within her view. The castle was reportedly destroyed in 1651, after it fell to Cromwell's troops.

Though rebuilt as a folly in the eighteenth century, the castle resumed a military role during the Napoleonic wars, when it became the site of a signalling beacon. A nation-wide panic almost ensued when an accidental fire in Northumberland was spotted and misinterpreted. In World War II, an observation post was also located here.

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

Archaeology Notes

NT74SW 3.00 70473 41394

NT74SW 3.01 c. 704 407 Lead ball

(NT 70473 41394) Castle (NAT)

and remains of Castle (NR)

OS 6" map, (1971).

The existing ruins of Hume Castle are of comparatively recent date, having been raised on the old foundations by the Earl of Marchmont in 1794. Nothing remains of the of the ancient stronghold but the general form and extent of the outer enclosing walls, surrounding a courtyard about 130 ft square (see plan). MacGibbon and Ross note: 'In the centre of the courtyard there is a mass of ancient masonry, but it is impossible to say of what structure it formed part'. It is first recorded in the 12th century, and was demolished by Cromwell in 1651. RCAHMS 1915; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1889; S Cruden 1963; RCAHMS 1980, visited 1979.

None of the original foundations of Hume Castle are visible, the 18th century walls presenting an unbroken uniform surface. The only possible remnant of the old walls is an isolated stretch in the centre of the courtyard, 8m long, 3m high and 1.5m thick. Although the N face of this wall is similar to the 19th century walls, the S face appears to be much older. It is surrounded by an irregular tumbled mass of turf-covered masonry. The well shown on plan is 1.5m in diameter and is lined with squared masonry.

Visited by OS(JFC) 24 January 1955.

Architecture Notes

Non-Guardianship Sites Plan Collection, DC23925- DC23926, 1931.


Field Visit (23 October 1908)

180. Hume Castle.

This castle stands on a rocky height some 700 feet above the sea and distant about 5 ½ miles to the north of Kelso. The existing ruins are of comparatively recent date, having been raised on the old foundations by the last Earl of Marchmont in 1794, so that nothing remains of the ancient stronghold but the general form and extent of the outer enclosing walls. On plan it has been an irregular square measuring some 130 feet within enclosing walls averaging 6 feet in thickness. There are indications of flanking towers at the south-east and south-west angles where -the nature -of the ground necessitated additional protection. On the north-westside such precautions appear to have been considered unnecessary owing to the natural protection of a rocky precipice. In the centre of the courtyard there is a rough mass of ancient masonry of which the significance is not apparent. The original castle has evidently been of the First Period with the typical walls of enceinte enclosing a large central space or courtyard strengthened where necessary with towers and occupying a naturally strong defensive site, which has commanded a wide range of border-land.

Hume Castle was the first stage in the transmission by beacons on conspicuous places of news of coming English invasion from the ‘watchers’ on the Tweed. As a fortress, however, its importance was mainly local. In September 1545 the Earl of Hertford was explaining to Henry VIII. that the castle ‘standing upon a high rock, is very strong’. He considers that in virtue of this strength it ‘could hold out for eight or ten days at least’. For this reason and also because ‘it can only hold 60 men in garrison (and but 10 of them horsemen)’, no attack was made on it at that time. It was besieged and captured by the same Hertford, when Earl of Somerset, on his return to the Merse after Pinkie-cleuch in 1547, but recovered by Alexander Lord Home two years later. In 1569 it was battered by the guns of the Earl of Sussex and again surrendered by its garrison, which is said to have numbered 240 men. After the Battle of Dunbar (1650) Cromwell found it necessary to eliminate Hume Castle as a danger to his communications, and in February 1651 the place was reduced by Colonels Fenwick and Syler after a bombardment by mortars. The strength of the place was found to lie in its vaults, and not till a ‘culverin’ made a breach in these did the garrison give in. They numbered 75 all told. The castle was then demolished.

Letters and Paper's (Henry VIII.), vol. xx. Douglas's Cromwell's Scotch Campaigns.

See Cast. and Dom. Arch., iii. p. 106 (plan and illus.).

RCAHMS 1915, visited 23rd October 1908.

OS Map: Ber., xxvii. NE.

Project (March 2015 - August 2018)

In March 2015 a UAV survey was carried out at Hume Castle, covering the castle and field immediately around it. This survey was at the request of the Hume Castle Preservation Trust who wished to learn more about the site which they had purchased. The survey was a test of the use of UAV generated low level photography to create an accurate 3D model of the castle and its surrounding landscape where there were significant issues of height difference. Cyberhawk were contracted to do the survey by RCAHMS. This included the establishment of ground control points recorded by GPS to fix the accuracy of the survey data. Overlapping imagery ensured a resolution of 3m. However, the accuracy of the 3D model of the castle folly was impaired by the lack of enough control points close to the walls of the structure and further measurements were taken with a terrestrial scanner to supplement the data. A 3D model was created with Photoscan software and interpreted by RCAHMS/HES staff through a mixture of field and desk-based observation. Visualisations of the data were prepared from which plans were drawn up at a scale of 1:1000 for the whole field covering the castle and village remains. More detailed recording of the castle was required at 1:250. This included a ground plan of the castle and folly as well as profiles of the castle mound in two directions.

Sbc Note (15 April 2016)

Visibility: Standing structure or monument.

Information from Scottish Borders Council

Note (August 2017)

The village and church

The modern hamlet of Hume occupies a rocky ridge overlooking the Merse and the English border to the south. A church and village are recorded at Hume from the mid-12th century, but direct reference to the castle does not appear until the later Middle Ages. This site is remarkable for its 18th century folly and the juxtaposition of castle and village: and not just any village but the largest deserted village in south-east Scotland. While today’s village comprises a row of twenty 19th century and modern houses along the north side of the public road through the village, in the late 17th century there were 86 houses in the village according to the Hearth tax returns.

The Hume and Greenlaw estate was granted to a son of the Earl of Dunbar in the early 13th century whose family name, Home, became eponymous with the name of the land they had acquired and was a well-known surname in the eastern borders. It is possibly from that time that a castle was built on the outcrop of rock now crowned by the fantastical castellated folly erected by the Earl of Marchmont in the late 18th century. The village was devastated in the 14th century during the Wars of Independence and cleared in the late 18th century, while the castle, fought over in the 16th and 17th centuries, was finally destroyed by Cromwell’s army in 1650.

The size of the settlement was revealed in a survey by Piers Dixon and a local team of young people in 1987. The sites of many houses and ridge and furrow cultivation was mapped that stretched from modern village for half a mile to the west on either side of the loaning that leads to the churchyard of the former parish church of St Nicholas. The church itself has been robbed of stone and can only be traced as a platform surrounded by gravestones. The village houses that were located did not stand to any great height and the walls were mostly reduced to footings or robber trenches, suggesting that the superstructure of the walls may have been of perishable material, such as clay, on a stone base.

The 1987 survey lay dormant in the local records for almost 30 years until the Hume Castle Preservation Trust acquired the site. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland answered a request for help from them to interpret the site that led to a resurvey of the castle and surrounding field using a low level aerial survey by UAV in 2015 (including a video). A 3D model of the ground surface was produced from which a plan of the castle and surrounding part of the village was mapped. Within the field in which the castle stood some 25 houses and yards alone were located forming rows of properties along the hollow ways of the village streets to north and south of the castle rock. However, this is only about one third of the late 17th century village, the rest of which still lies, further to the west. On the slopes to the south of the village, two phases of ridge and furrow were revealed, with straight narrow, Improvement period ridges over curving broad ridges of medieval origin, hitherto unnoticed.

The castle

The 3D model also showed that there was a rampart on the east end of the castle rock outside the stone walls of the folly suggesting there might have been an earthwork and timber castle here, possibly dating to the 13th century. There was also an outwork of the castle on the west which can be traced from the stone footings around the squared shape of the outcrop at this end. Further indications of the early castle were shown clearly by the 3D survey to include an earlier wall outside the present west wall which included a round tower immediately in front of the present entrance and another round tower on an outcrop outside the north wall which had been invisible until the UAV survey. This evidence suggested an enclosure castle replaced the earlier earthwork in the 13th or 14th centuries, which was in turn replaced by a large tower and artillery defences in the 15th and 16th centuries, when the Homes acquired baronial status. Part of the tower still stands as a ruin inside the folly, a 15th century dumbbell gun-loop is built into the west wall and the sloping artillery defence of the south wall is of late 16th or 17th century date. The outer approach to the castle was via a ramp from the west between two robbed-out buildings, with a large terraced garden on the south, which gives a more pleasurable aspect to the castle than hitherto appreciated.

Dr Piers Dixon, Deputy Head of Survey and Recording, HES

Project (10 August 2018 - 21 August 2018)

NT 70004 40836 (Hume Old Parish Church) and NT 70469

41392 (Hume Castle) A three year project, led by the

Hume Castle Preservation Trust and working with local

volunteer groups and organisations, is being carried out

to investigate the remains of Hume Castle, the medieval

village of Hume, the former parish Church of St Nicholas,

and the surrounding landscape, in order to provide a better

understanding of the history of the sites. Over the course of

the three years a series of workshops and field seasons will

be conducted to investigate their historical background,

complete a walkover survey of the study area, conduct

a geophysical survey and graveyard survey at the former

parish church, conduct a historic building record of the

castle, and carry out excavations at key sites identified

during the survey works.

Contextualising Hume: Gravestone detail © HARP

A programme of work was undertaken 10–21 August 2018.

A walkover survey was conducted within land owned

by the Hume Castle Preservation Trust and surrounding

Hume Castle by HARP, supported by volunteers from the

local community. The walkover survey was used both as a

training opportunity, and to identify the extant remains of

sites surrounding the castle. The survey used results from

a former drone survey completed by HES to target specific

sites identified from the air. The survey identified a number

of the sites picked up by the drone, in particular a series of

house platforms and terraces relating to the former medieval

village and castle structures. Vegetation cover and terrain

made it difficult to identify all of the sites, but those that

were found could also be analysed on the ground, sometimes

suggesting different site types than previously identified.

A possible track way running around the N and E sides of

the castle was also revealed, which appears to have been

subsequently overlain by the dry stone walls of the loaning

to the E, suggesting an earlier date for the trackway. The

survey was able to highlight a number of suitable sites for

future excavation.

A graveyard survey was conducted within Hume Cemetery,

formerly housing the parish church of Hume. The graveyard

contains >100 visible memorial stones which were recorded

by plane table survey, and during 2018 survey and condition

recording were completed on 47 of the stones. A large

proportion of the stones are located within the bounds of the

former church, now visible as an earthen mound, towards

the centre of the graveyard. The earliest stone identified thus

far dates to 1717, and five of the 47 recorded stones have

been found to no longer be located in their original position.

The graveyard survey will continue in 2019.

Geophysical survey was completed within the graveyard

of the church of Hume, along with two fields located

immediately to the E, and S, which formed the glebe once

associated with the church. Within the graveyard the

geophysical results have highlighted a number of graves,

mainly marked by gravestones, and the likely foundations of

the former church. Within the footings of the church there

is evidence of possible internal divisions, while the exterior

of the church has also produced some linear anomalies

that may be representative of earlier walls of the church, or

possibly earlier boundaries of the graveyard. In the glebe

to the E there is evidence for possible pits and postholes,

possibly related to an earlier structure. Further pits have been

identified in the glebe to the S of the graveyard.

Historic building recording was conducted at Hume Castle,

with an enhanced survey taking place to record the exterior

elevations of the W, S, SE, and E-facing walls of the current

folly. The recording has been carried out in order to identify

architectural features within the castle, and to provide a

baseline record. The recording will continue in 2019 with an

aim to complete the record of the exterior elevations, and to

conduct the same level of recording on the interior elevations.

Archive and report: NRHE (intended)

Funder: Heritage Lottery Fund and Fallago Environment Fund


Ian Hill, Kieran Manchip, Samira Hill, Gern Midlane, Iain Pringle

and Rebecca Barclay – Heritage and Archaeological Research

Practice (HARP)

(Source: DES, Volume 19)


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