The Tower With the Fire on Top

Picture via Wikipedia

Picture via Wikipedia

“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. 





19 thoughts on “The Tower With the Fire on Top

  1. When I tried to look HERE my browser gave a scream and died. After CPR restored it, I’m too scared to risk it again. Oh, wait a minute – you are doing a serial. Was that an example of a serial killer?
    Looking forward to the continuation. Now … do I dare try that again …?
    P.S. Aaargh! Now it has forgotten who I are ,.. er, were… er…am!

    1. Oh, Col, a thousand apologies! Nancy’s got in from the USA: I wonder why it is balking? Will try to find something more benign. It’s a page from a company called ‘ Very popular. If you dare, try looking up property 25366: a pele tower which is open for vacationers.
      Or alternatively, go and pour yourself a stiff gin and vow never to follow one of that pesky Shrewsday’s links ever again 😀

      1. I eventually got there – but it had again labelled me an outcast, barred from my own blog. Something to do with my browser, perhaps.

  2. I clicked HERE and thought: we should plan a Writer’s Sleep Over for 16 ~ at 100 pounds each for 3 nights, it’s a bargain. And if we get writer’s block (or tongue tied), we can loosen up with the pool table.

  3. And we think life is violent and terrifying now! nowadays they ward off the baddies with signs. i went into a fabric shop yesterday and on the door was a little sign. It had a picture of a black revolver with a big red cross drawn on top of it. Apparently i was not allowed to bring my gun into the fabric shop. Lately these have appeared in the front windows of grocery stores, restaurants and hairdressers! I think I am going to be building myself a castle tower!.. morning kate! c

  4. I followed the link, saw the price and reckon i’d have to revive border reiving to ba able to afford it….as the saying went –
    Nothing too hot or too heavy to be fetched awa.

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