“It is agreed and asserted that every liege man of our Lord, the King of the said counties, who chooses to build a castle or tower house, sufficiently embattled or fortified,within the next ten years to wit 20 feet in length, 16 feet in width and 40 feet in height or more, that the commons of the said counties shall pay to the said person, to build the Castle or Tower, ten pounds by way of subsidy.” (Gerrard Ryan: Mediaeval Tower Houses in the Barony of Bunratty Lower)
These words of an English King are almost 600 years old.
It was a feature of the reign of Henry VI that strings of towers grew up at the borders to his realm. In Ireland – the towers with which this announcement is concerned – they shared the same layout, all constructed in a similar way. And in England, every tower put up to ward against the ruffians roaming the Scottish Marches had at least one shared feature: an iron brazier on its roof.
The Pele, or Peel towers were a vital part of the defence communications of England: in times of strife, fires would be lit on the top, to signal from tower to tower, and messages would travel at the speed of light even in 1455, tempered only by the stoutness of the legs which ran up the stairs of the peel tower to light the fires.
The local Lords or landowners would traditionally live there, and in a cross-border raid everyone in the locality would cram into its fortified walls for protection.
Whilst the northernmost ones followed the course of the Tweed Valley, the southernmost stretched down a very long way: to Lancashire and the Yorkshire Riding. The towers of the Tweed Valley sound like poetry: Fruid, Hawkshaw, Oliver, Polmood, Kingledoors, Mossfennan, Wrae Tower, Quarter, Stanhope, Drumelzier, Tinnies, Dreva, Stobo, Dawyck, Easter Happrew, Lyne, Barnes, Caverhill, Neidpath, Peebles, Horsburgh, Nether Horsburgh Castle, and Cardrona .
One of the Yorkshire Pele towers has a strange history attached to it.
I say history. Like all good yarns, no-one can quite pinpoint when the strangest occupant of the tower lived there. Mallory would have been proud of her, Tennyson also. She has all the attributes of a true tragic anti-heroine.
But tracing her through the syrup of the 19th century is not easy. Sentiment has had its way with her story.
Alas, one post is not long enough to to make you aware of her odd home, herself and her story. So I shall tell that in the next post, leaving you to pore over one of the Cumbrian Pele towers which has survived: and at which one may stay.
At a price.
Take a look here.
Don’t miss the next gripping episode: The Bearnshaw Tower.