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Finds go on show at Smailholm

26 March 2009

Bone buttons, buckles, spurs, half a cannon ball and some early clay pipes are included in a new display of archaeological finds at Smailholm Tower.

The finds were made in the 1980s during an excavation by Chris Tabraham, who is now Historic Scotland’s principal historian.

His excavations suggest that the owners of the tower were among Scotland’s first smokers.

It is hoped that the artefacts will give visitors an insight into what life was like in an isolated Borders castle during the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods.

Rachael Dickson, collections manager, said: “We are trying to show that the tower was a cosy and comfortable place to live, but there were times when people had to be concerned about the danger from raiders and be able to defend themselves.”

It will be the first time many of the objects have been on show.

Chris said: “I am delighted that these finds have gone on show for visitors to enjoy.

“Smailholm is a fascinating site and this excavation helped us put together a much better picture of what life would have been like for its inhabitants.

“It would have been a remarkable place to live – on the one-hand far more luxurious than the sort of homes most people lived in, but there was often the fear of attacks mostly from England.

“Some of the most interesting finds we made were the many early 17th-century clay tobacco pipes in the kitchen block.

“These show that the Pringles were among the first in Scotland to take up the habit of smoking which we are now working so hard as a country to discourage.”

The tower was owned and occupied by the Pringles up to 1645 and the Scotts until the 18th century.

The contents of the two new display cases, and the approach taken in the interpretation, are designed to complement the exhibits dedicated to Sir Walter Scott elsewhere in the tower.

Scott is intimately associated with Smailholm as he spent much of his childhood at Sandyknowe, close by, and the tower was an important inspiration for his later work and his fascination with Borders folklore and ballads.

Notes for Editors

  • Smailholm Tower is near Smailholm village, six miles west of Kelso. Telephone: 01573 460365.

  • The tower is open all year (weekends only in winter). Access is restricted for those with mobility problems. Tickets are £3.70 for adults, £3 for concessions and £1.85 for children.

  • It dates from the 15th century and was built by the Pringle family who were close supporters of the Black Douglases. The family suffered terribly at Flodden in 1513 when David Pringle, the laird, lost his elder son and three brothers fighting the English. In the 1540s matters got worse when the tower and surrounding area were raided by English reivers and their Scottish allies.

  • Insolvency forced the sale of the tower after the death of Sir James Pringle in 1635 when it was bought by Sir William Scott of Harden.

  • The castle houses an exhibition of figures and tapestries reflecting the intimate link between Sir Walter Scott, his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border and his early childhood at nearby Sandyknowe Farm. Scott stayed at his grandfather’s farm as a “wee, sick laddie” in 1773 and his grandmother and aunt, Janet Scott, told him tales of the Borders countryside.

  • Scott later said that the sight of the tower “standing stark and upright like a warden” was a powerful inspiration.

  • In the 1790s Scott and his friend Robert Shortreed spent a great deal of time in the area collecting tales from countryfolk which formed much of his minstrelsy which was published in 1802.

  • Historic Scotland is delighted to be supporting the 2009 Year of Homecoming with a series of initiatives including family trails, spectacular events and the creation of a Homecoming Pass for heritage attractions in association with other heritage organisations.


For further information


Rebecca Hamilton
Marketing and Media Manager
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8685 / 07788 923871
rebecca.hamilton@scotland.gsi.gov.uk