A brief history of Ferniehirst Castle and Clan Kerr

When the first Kerrs settled in the valley of the Jed Water in the late 13th century, the land surrounding Jedburgh was thickly wooded with great oak trees. Over the next three centuries the Kerrs played a strategic game and from the 14th century to the present day Ferniehirst Castle has remained in the possession of the the family.

Below are some notable dates from the history of Ferniehirst Castle and the Clan Kerr.
A more detailed history can be found on the Clan Kerr website.

The Cessford dynasty is born

John Kerr of Selkirk Forest, having accepted the English peace after the death of William Douglas is granted lands at Auldtonburn (known as Attonburn) near Morebattle.


A ‘peel tower’ is built by Sir Thomas Kerr

Sir Andrew Kerr’s third son Thomas of Smailholm marries his cousin Margaret Kerr of Kersheugh. He receives a grant of land in Jedworth Forest and builds a tower at Ferniehirst below Lintalee in Glen Douglas among the great oak trees above Jed Water.


Andrew ‘Dand’ Kerr is born

Thomas of Smailholm, now 1st Baron of Ferniehirst has a son and heir, Andrew. Known as Dand, this left handed swordsman proved himself a formidable opponent at an early age and established the Ferniehirst Kerrs as a ‘Grayne’ (a Scottish Border word to describe a family), distinct from his powerful forbears the Cessford Kerr.

He was recognised as the Chieftain of over 2000 ‘Men of Jedhart’ (the old name for Jedburgh).The English were afraid of Dand and believed the Devil rode at his side in battle. 

Dand Kerr Shield
Dand Kerr Shield

Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehirst dies

The young Laird Dand inherits the peel and lands at Ferniehirst. Dand builds a left handed defensive staircase at Ferniehirst and recognising the advantages of a left handed sword arm encourages his followers to learn to fight left-handed.


The Battle of Flodden

Both the Kerrs of Cessford and Ferniehirst stand together with the Huntlys and the Humes against the might of the English armies. Dand Kerr of Ferniehirst takes Kelso Abbey and installs his younger Brother Thomas as Commendator, (later Thomas becomes Abbott).

Kelso Abbey
Kelso Abbey

Ferniehirst Castle besieged

Surrey’s troops commanded by Lord Thomas Dacre besiege Ferniehirst Castle.

The castle is finally taken after many hours of hand to hand fighting. Later the same evening over 200 horses belonging to Surrey’s army are ‘spooked’ by Dand Ker’s Men of Jedhart. Many horses stumble over the cliff at Lintalee. 


The Battle of Ancrum Moor

February 27th – Enraged by the defiling of the tombs of his illustrious ancestors Archibald Douglas 6th Earl of Angus raises a force of 5000 men and rides to Melrose, enlisting the support of Walter Scott of Buccleuch. The Scots defeat the English forces, both Eure and Laiton are killed.

Dand Kerr dies at Oxnam Tower

October 5th – The English armies return strengthening their garrison at Ferniehirst with orders directly from Henry VIII to conduct a campaign of fear against the Border names.


The Battle of Pinkie

A 23,000 Strong Scottish army raised by the Earl of Arran succumb to the superior fire power of the English forces. The Kerrs of Ferniehirst fight beside the Huntlys and the Humes as they had at The Battle of Flodden in 1513.

The Battle of Pinkie
The Battle of Pinkie

Retaken by the Scots…

Ferniehirst retaken from the English by the French and Scottish troops commanded by Jean de Beaugue. Over 130 English soldiers are cruelly executed by the Scots.

Retaken by the English…

June – Ferniehirst retaken for the English by Henry Manners 2nd Earl of Rutland.

In October English troops withdraw from Scottish occupations including Ferniehirst.


1562 Sir John Kerr of Ferniehirst dies. Sir Thomas Kerr succeeds.

1565 Mary Queen of Scots places herself under the personal protection of her Royal Standard Bearer, Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehirst.

1566 Mary stays in a house rented to her by Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehirst. During her stay, the Queen makes her fateful ride to Hermitage Castle and falls seriously ill. Sir Thomas Kerr and his wife Janet attend to her for one month. 

1568 May 2nd. With the help of, Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehirst and Scott of Buccleuch the Douglas’s free Mary Queen of Scots from her imprisonment at Loch Leven. Thomas Kerr supports the Marian cause, and requests the English court to return the Scottish Queen to the sanctuary of Ferniehirst Castle.

1569 Sir Thomas Kerr marries his second wife Janet Scott, a ‘confident’ of Mary Queen of Scots. The reconciliation between these two powerful families causes great concern to their enemies. Both the Scotts and the Kerrs supported the Marian cause.

Sir Thomas Ker
Sir Thomas Ker

1582 Sir Thomas obtains a licence to go into self exile on the continent where he continues to plot with the Catholic French against Elizabeth I of England.

1584 King James VI admonishes Sir Thomas Kerr from blame for his part in the murder of Regent Lennox in 1571 and appoints Sir Thomas as Warden of the Middle Marches. Queen Elizabeth I of England describes him as ‘ane grit enemie‘ (a great enemy). Now there is a claim to fame!

1585 Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehirst is falsely accused of murdering Sir Francis Russell after a wardens meeting at Hexpethgate on the Scotland/England border.

1586 Sir Thomas Kerr dies in Aberdeen. Sir Thomas Ker’s oldest son, Sir Andrew Kerr inherits Ferniehirst.


Ferniehirst’s near complete destruction

James VI orders the destruction of Sir Thomas Kerr’s properties, including Ferniehirst Castle after Sir Andrew Kerr is accused of supporting the renegade Francis Stewart 5th Earl of Bothwell.

In 1594 Sir Andrew Kerr is denounced a rebel and put to the horn.

In 1597 Ferniehirst Castle is returned to Sir Andrew Kerr who is forgiven his past misdemeanours after taking his seat in Parliament and supporting the King’s request for revenues to strengthen his claims to succeed to the English throne after Elizabeth I.


Ferniehirst Castle repaired and rebuilt

The castle we see today was designed, repaired and rebuilt by Sir Andrew Kerr in 1598. At that time in Scottish history there was still a danger of further trouble and uprisings on the Border. Doors were designed to open outwards and gun holes placed strategically around the building for defence.


Throughout the 1600s

1622 Sir Andrew Kerr granted the title 1st Lord Jedburgh. After Sir Andrew dies in 1633 with no male issue. The title passes to his brother James. After this date the estates are assisted out of debt by a cousin, Robert Kerr who became 1st Earl of Ancram in 1633. He also oversaw the design and conversion of the old bastle house into a chapel for family use. In 1645 James Kerr 2nd Lord Jedburgh dies, his son Robert succeeds to the title. 1692 Robert Kerr dies without issue, the Ferniehirst estates pass to Robert 4th Earl of Lothian.

Robert Ker Earl of Ancram
Robert Kerr Earl of Ancram

William, 3rd Marquis of Lothian dies. He was the last of the Lothian Kerrs to reside at Ferniehirst until 1976.

After 1767 The castle was used both as an estate house and let to a number of tenants. 


Extensive alterations

1822 Plans were made for extensive alterations to the castle. The ruined tower would become a ‘parading’ staircase designed to lead straight into the Great Hall. The sketched plans show how the castle would have looked after the hall was divided into several apartments.

1880 – 1900 Extensive alterations were carried out by William Schomberg 11th Marquis to convert the ruined building into a hunting lodge. His oldest son died in a shooting accident and the Marquis abandoned his project. During the works a 17th century fireplace was uncovered and the bottom portion of the original left hand tower staircase.

Ferniehirst Castle 1822
Ferniehirst Castle 1822

1935 – 1985 Ferniehirst was one of the most popular Youth Hostels in Scotland. Leased to the Scottish Youth Hostel Association by Phillip Kerr 11th Marquis of Lothian in 1935.

Over night stays only if you arrived under your own steam. Motor vehicles not allowed – Shanks’s pony or bicycles only permitted!

1985 – 1987 A complete transformation was made. The hall furnished with care and designed by Peter Kerr 12th Marquis of Lothian and his wife Antonella, the library relined in sweet cedar wood and the upstairs rooms restored to the beautiful apartments we find today at Ferniehirst. A tiny chapel was created from one of the 15th century undercrofts and a display of Kerr memorabilia in another. 

Ferniehirst Castle Youth Hostel
Ferniehirst Castle Youth Hostel

Please visit the Clan Kerr website for a more in-depth history of the Clan Kerr.