Scheduled Monument

Woodhouse Tower, tower houseSM12071

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Secular: barmkin; castle; tower
Local Authority
Dumfries And Galloway
NY 25074 71492
325074, 571492


The monument comprises the remains of Woodhouse Tower, a late 16th-century tower house, sited in a commanding position on the escarpment east of the Kirtle Water. The tower is believed to have been constructed by the Irvings shortly after their purchase of this section of the lands of Woodhouse. It also underwent restoration work in 1877, following the collapse of a sizeable amount of the wall.

Tower houses were a popular form of late-medieval fortified dwelling house, particularly popular in the 16th century and found across Scotland in a variety of styles and locations. The surviving fragment of Woodhouse Tower (also known as Wardhouse Tower) consists of the NE wall, which survives to wall-head height, and parts of the adjoining NW and SE walls. The SW wall is still indicated by grass-grown foundations. From the remains the tower was evidently rectilinear in plan, measuring around 9.6m NW-SE by around 7m transversely. The walls vary in thickness up to maximum of around 1.7m.

From the remains, it appears that the tower originally accommodated three floors and an attic. The entrance is likely to have been located in the W end of the SW wall, where a surviving jamb (side post of a door, arch or window) is currently located. The stairwell for a newel stair (spiral staircase with central column) in the E corner of the tower is believed to date from the 1877 restoration work, to allow access to the wall-head. Only the stubs of the stairs remain, the remainder having been almost entirely removed. The two slit windows lighting the stairwell are square-arrissed (angled corners bevelled) and obviously added as part of the restoration work. The wall-head carries a two-strand corbel (stone block(s) projecting from wall) table with a rolled sill and cyma-recta (concave upper half and convex lower, slightly S-shaped in profile)moulded cornice, apparently for a continuous parapet (low protective wall on outer face of main wall) of slight projection. The N wall terminates on the north with a plain-coped gable for a garret (open space under a roof, similar to a loft space). The basement of the tower was vaulted, as evidenced by the remains of the springing on part of the NE wall. The partial remains of this springing further indicate the 1877 restoration work. The basement appears to have been lit by splayed gunloops set central to each wall, with additional light from a vertical splayed window just below the projected soffit (underside of arch or vault) of the vault. This may also indicate the presence of an entresol (mezzanine floor over the ground floor) at some point. At first floor level, the NW wall displays the ingo (return face of a recessed wall), with aumbry (recess) and roll-moulded jamb, for the hall fireplace. Beside this is another aumbry, checked for wooden frame and door. In a similar position in the NE wall is a window embrasure, with segmental lead and ashlar rear arch, cut-back window seats and an aumbry in the ingo. The window itself, originally barred and checked for a fixed frame, has a stout roll-moulded arris. Two corbels in the NE wall, together with a projecting jamb for a fireplace in the NW wall, indicate the former position of the joisted timber floor for the second floor level. The only surviving features on this level are an aumbry in the NW wall and a window embrasure with segmental head in the NE wall, which also has a stout edge roll externally. The presence of the garret is indicated by a sole corbel towards the N end of the NE wall indicating the floor level and a fireplace in the NW wall with a plain ashlar jamb. Extending along the escarpment and the WSW side of the tower are the turf-covered footings of the barmkin (defensive enclosure attached to the main tower, allowing storage of supplies and enhancing defence) wall. This appears to return around 15m to the SW of the tower, at this point evidenced by a turf-covered stony bank up to 2.5m thick and 0.6m high. A shallow rectangular depression ab...

Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

A sizeable amount of the structural elements of the tower survive and are clearly visible in the landscape. Although part of the tower and its associated structures are now reduced to foundation level or no longer visible on the surface, the survival of the remaining section of the tower is relatively good, and the surviving sections appear stable. In addition to the standing remains, there is a high potential for buried remains to survive on and around the tower and its barmkin, as it does not appear to have been heavily cultivated in recent history. Such deposits could not only enhance our understanding of the construction, layout and socio-economic circumstances of this particular monument, but also provide valuable data on the economy and inhabitants of the surrounding area. By comparative analysis between this site and others of a similar age and class, the information uncovered at this site could be used to advance our knowledge of this period of history across the country. The renovation work carried out on the tower in 1877 also gives an idea of methods and reasoning used in such work, which may then be applied to the understanding of other monuments where such work has, or is suspected to have, been carried out.

Contextual characteristics

Woodhouse Tower is representative of a class of architecture popular in the 16th century among late-medieval estate owners. Tower houses were found across Scotland, although many examples have since been badly ruined, or lost entirely as upstanding features. Woodhouse tower is directly related to two other towers in the vicinity, those at Bonshaw and at Robgill. Robgill lies around 325m WNW of Woodhouse, and Bonshaw lies around 1km WNW. All three towers appear to have very similar designs, although very little now remains of Robgill, and they all appear to have been built and owned by the Irving family. It is rare to have such a relationship between such structures, and analysis of this relationship has the potential to inform us of similar associations between other structures of this date and type. In addition, the towers control a stretch of the valley of the Kirtle Water, with commanding views and imposing positions. Such a situation has the potential to inform us on the socio-economic situation at the time, which may then be related further afield.

Associative characteristics

Woodhouse Tower is known to have been associated with the Irving family, who appear to have been a relatively strong presence in this part of Scotland, having slowly managed to gain complete control of this section of the Kirtle valley from rivals. In addition, we have records indicating the continued ownership of the castle by the Irving family until it was sold in 1818 by General Sir Paulus Aemilius Irving. There is no record of who carried out the repairs in 1877, but from the fact that repair work was carried out on the apparently increasingly ruinous tower, it is clear that the tower still held a significant place in the local area and in local consciousness.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to contribute to the understanding of the past, in particular later medieval tower houses and their relationship with the land surrounding them. Spatial analysis between this and other contemporary monuments may reveal valuable information on the layout and patterns of later medieval tower houses within the landscape. The loss of the monument would impede our understanding of the placing of such monuments and the nature and purpose of their construction and use.



RCAHMS record the monument as NY27SE 5.


Gifford J 1996, DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY, The Buildings of Scotland Series, London, 573-4.



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Printed: 02/04/2023 07:38