The bastle house

The Bastle House

This beautiful old building was converted for use as a chapel during the early years of the 17th century, with a loft above reserved for the use of the Laird of Ferniehirst and his family. The original stone lintels can still be seen that supported the upper floor in centuries past. Used in the 19th century as a stable, the building became dilapidated and only a re-roofing during the 1930’s rescued it from ruin. On the north gable wall a circular window has been added to illuminate the Lairds loft, sitting rather uncomfortably on the lintel of an original doorway, at one time coloured glass would certainly have filled the frame.

The monograms of Sir Andrew Kerr (1570-1631) and his wife Dame Anna Stewart can be seen above the main doorway, the older monogram beneath belonged to his Great Grandfather, the famous ‘Dand’ Kerr (1480-1545)

The unusual and decorative door would have been an addition after 1600, influenced by a European style, possibly Italian and perhaps a copy of something seen on one of Sir Andrew Kerr’s travels on the continent during the early years of the 17th century. Above the door are the two monograms of Sir Andrew Kerr and his wife Dame Anna Stewart while beneath an older monogram of the famous and notorious ‘Dand’ Kerr.

Restored in the 1980s with new beams and floors this lovely old building is used today as a visitor centre with historical displays and a small gift shop. The date of construction is unknown, but it may have been the work of Dand Kerr during the early years of the 16th century, it bears his shield and monogram beneath those of his great grandson Andrew Kerr. The building has all the features typical of a bastle house, a defensive structure comprising a storage area below and domestic apartments above. One narrow entrance below gave access to the lower area and the outline of this door can be seen on the south gable, converted into a small window. Access to the upper story would originally been by ladder or a collapsible staircase. In times of attack the residents would drive livestock into the ground floor area through the narrow doorway, boiling water or hot sand (made by heating dry earth) would be poured through a narrow fissure above the door to further exacerbate any attempt to gain access to the livestock and goods, meanwhile after retreating to the upstairs quarters the stair would be collapsed or a ladder drawn up. These constructions were commonplace throughout the Borders in Scotland and Northumberland, rubble built often featuring crow-stepped gables typical of a defensive building.

The interesting 17th century corners stones are known as Buckle Quoins, they were originally designed by James Murray, appointed Master of Works to Charles I and appeared only on houses of distinction owned by men close to court, they continued to signal attachment to the Stuarts over the following turbulent decades.