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Gilnockie Tower

Carved Stone (Period Unassigned), Tower House (Medieval)

Site Name Gilnockie Tower

Classification Carved Stone (Period Unassigned), Tower House (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Hollows Tower; Holehouse Tower; Armstrong's Tower; Gillknocky Tower; Gilnocky Tower

Canmore ID 67509

Site Number NY37NE 3

NGR NY 38231 78559

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Dumfries And Galloway
  • Parish Canonbie
  • Former Region Dumfries And Galloway
  • Former District Annandale And Eskdale
  • Former County Dumfries-shire

Archaeology Notes

NY37NE 3 38231 78559

(NY 3823 7856) Gilnockie Tower (NR)

(Remains of)

OS 6" map (1957)

(Attributed to the third period). Hollows Tower. This typical Border keep was the residence of the famous Johnnie Armstrong, whose fate at the hands of James V is the subject of many Border songs and laments. It is picturesquely situated in the valley of the Esk between Canonbie and Langholm. The N end of the tower stands on the edge of a steep bank which slopes down to the haughs by the river. The bank slopes more gradually along the W end, where the entrance to the tower is situated.

The building measures 33 ft 5 1/2 ins (10.2m) from N to S by 25 ft 4 ins (7.7m) from E to W, and from the ground to the lowest level of the parapet walk it measures 40 ft (12.2m) and about 16 ft (4.9m) additional to the highest part of the ruined beacon. It contains a vaulted ground floor 10 ft 5 ins (3.2m) high with shot-holes to the N, S and W. There was probably a courtyard on the E side, which may account for the absence of shot-holes there. Above the basement there are three storeys and an attic.

The entrance-door leads directly into the staircase, which is constructed in the SW corner and partly projects into the rooms inside; the mouldings round the door consist of three flat beads separated by fillets. and the entrance was evidently secured by an outer door of wood and an iron yett. Each floor contains only one apartment, measuring 25 ft 10 ins (15.5m) by 16 ft 5 ins (5m). The first floor has two windows, about 2 ft (0.6m) wide by 4 ft (1.2m) high, with stone seats and a small window, about 14 ins (0.36m), wide high up from the floor in the S end. In the opposite end is the fireplace, the projecting jambs of which have a bead-moulding around them. The joists of the upper floors were supported on projecting corbels, placed unusually close together, being only about 2 ft (0.6m) apart. The apartments on the floors are all very similar, that on the second floor only having a fireplace. There are thus only two fireplaces in the tower.

The corbelling along the top is continuous and consists of five projections, the three upper courses of which are treated as a series of alternating projecting and receding portions of a band. Above these is a cable moulding which was wrought to go round the gargoyles which projected at this level.

The chief peculiarity of Hollows is its beacon lantern perched like a church belfry on the apex of the S gable. Built beacons like this were undoubtedly frequent adjuncts of Border keeps, and although most have disappeared, a few such as Elchieshields (NY08NE 3) and the Tower of Repentance (NY17NE 2) still exist.

The Armstrongs first appeared in the district early in the 16th century when the redoubtable Johnnie Armstrong or 'Gilnockie' settled on the church lands at Canonbie and erected this tower at the place called the Hollws.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92.

Hollows Tower, sometimes mistakenly called Gilnockie Tower, is a roofless, but otherwise well-preserved 16th century tower. It is oblong on plan, measuring about 23 ft 2 ins by 15 ft 3 ins within 6 ft thick walls, and has four storeys beneath the parapet, and a garret above. Splayed gunloops defend all except the E wall, suggesting there was a courtyard on that side. It was a stronghold of the Armstrongs, and its predecessor, built in 1518, was burnt down by Lord Dacre in 1528.

The sandstone still of the doorway into the vaulted chamber in the basement is incised with spiral and other markings. It is likely that it came with the stone for the tower from Whita beside Langholm.

N Tranter 1965; RCAHMS 1920, visited 1912; A E Truckell 1963

On a sandstone slab, built into the sill (floor-slab) of doorway into the vaulted chamber. 2 spirals (1 of 2 1/2 turns) and other incised patterns and lines. Possibly a later carving.

R W B Morris and D C Bailey 1967.

The tower, generally as described, is known as Gilnockie or Hollows Tower. Contrary to Tranter, gunloops defend all sides but there is no trace of a courtyard. The inscribed stone is as described.

Visited by OS (RD) 21 December 1970

No change to the previous field report.

Visited by OS (JP) 20 February 1973

21. (Listed as 'Decorated stone' and placed in the order of categories among the prehistoric monuments). The sill-stone of the doorway to the ground floor of the tower bears incised decoration which includes fragments of a triple ring and at least three spirals.

144. This oblong tower-house of 16th century date stands to a height of four storeys and a garret, and bears a beacon-stance on the SSW gable. Formerly known as Hollows Tower, it was restored for domestic use in 1978-9.

RCAHMS 1981, visited November 1980.

R B Armstrong 1883; J Hardy 1885; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92; RCAHMS 1920; R W B Morris and D C Bailey 1967.

Sometimes called Hollows Tower, a tower house beside the Esk, built for the Armstrongs probably in the mid 16th century. After many years of dereliction, it was reroofed in 1979-80 by W G Dawson and the interior was subsequently made habitable. It is a rubble-built rectangle, c. 10m by 7.6m, with four stories and an attic, Immediately above the projecting base, in each of the W and S walls, a rectangular gunloop; two gunloops, one above the other, in the N wall. Rioll-and-hollow moulded door at the W wall's S end. Roll-moulded windows to the upper floors. Slit stair windows at the S wall's W end. The parapet (now missing, its place taken by a rail) was originally projected on rows of corbelling, the lower ones continuous, the two upper with alternately recessed and projecting moulded corbels. Immediately under the parapet, a rope-moulded stringcourse which has jumped up at the centre of each of the four round angle turrets. Rising within the parapet is the crowstep-gabled attic. Chimney at its N gable. Corbelled out from the S gable is a stone stand on which a warning beacon could be lit in the event of an English invasion.

Inside, each floor was originally filled by a single room, the turnpike stair nudging into its SW corner. Ground-floor store covered by an ashlar tunnel-vault and lighted by a high-set window in the N gable. The sill of the door into this room is a re-used sandstone slab, incised, probably in the second millennium BC, with carving (now worn) of spirals and a key-like symbol. The first-floor hall has windows to E and W in round-arched embrasures; their stone seats have been restored. A third much smaller window high in the S gable. In the N gable, a fireplace with moulded jambs (the lintel missing) flanked by aumbries. The second floor probably contained the principal bedchamber. Windows like that of the floor below in the side walls, their stone seats original. At the N gable's E end, a plain fireplace. In the E wall, a garderobe, with the stone seating in place. The room's S end has been partitioned off as a bathroom. On the third floor, rectangular E and W window embrasures, their slabbed tops sloped towards the exterior. Window seats again. No visible evidence of a fireplace. The S end was again partitioned off in the 1980's. Featureless attic; its floor was raised in the 1980's when the door lintel was removed.

J Gifford 1996.

Gilnockie Tower. Listed as tower and cup-and-ring markings.

RCAHMS 1997.

Architecture Notes


Miss I.H.K. Beattie, architect, Dumfries: plans, elevations and sections, photographs.


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