architecture, Borders, country house, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Scotland, sham castle

Hume Castle, Borders

Hume Castle stands on a prominent site, visible for miles round. Initially, this gave it great defensive strengths, but by the later 18th century the ‘considerable eminence’ was thought the perfect site for an eye-catcher. The ruins of the ancient fortification were pulled down and the stone reused to create a curiously crenellated sham castle.

Hugh Hume-Campell, 3rd Earl of Marchmont (1708 – 1794) by Pierre Falconet. Oil on canvas, 1769. PG1184, National Galleries of Scotland.

The original castle is said to have been destroyed after it fell to Cromwell’s troops in 1651. It remained a scant ruin until Hugh Hume-Campbell, 3rd Earl of Marchmont (1708-1794), ‘restored and rebattlemented’ it in the later 18th century. An exact date seems elusive, but it was complete by 1789 when this sketch was executed.

Hume Castle, Berwickshire, S.E. View, 1789. Architectural plans and drawings made by and for Lieutenant-General G H Hutton in his researches into the ecclesiastical antiquities of Scotland, Adv..MS.30.5.23, National Library of Scotland. License: CC BY 4.0

The new and very dramatic tower stood bold on the skyline, and could be seen from Marchmont, the new Palladian house the earl began in 1750 a few miles away.

Marchmont as it looked when first built. Engraving from Marchmont and the Humes of Polwarth, 1894.

18th century accounts of the new Hume Castle seem hard to find, but later visitors could be quite scathing. In 1908 Alexander Curle, the secretary of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, wrote in his ‘private journal of a Wandering Antiquary’ that Hume Castle was a ‘ridiculous fantastic erection, a modern ruin raised on the site of the ancient fortress’.

Hume Castle postcard sent in 1905. Courtesy of the Dave Martin Collection.

A few years later A.G. Bradley described the castle in his The Gateway of Scotland. He thought the ‘terrible mock battlements’ were not even up to the standards of ‘the comic opera stage’.  Clearly the Earl of Marchmont rebuilt the castle with the view from Marchmont House in mind, and a journalist in 1927 best summed up the situation when he quoted the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell’s line that ‘distance lends enchantment to the view’. There is no denying that at close quarters the giant crenellations are distinctly odd.

In 1970 The Scotsman ran a story by William Chisholm headlined ‘Future of freak castle in the balance’. The Earl of Marchmont’s descendants had sold the castle (as part of the Humehall estate) to the tenant in 1914, and in 1929 it had passed into the ownership of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. By 1970 this body was keen to dispose of the castle but both the National Trust for Scotland and the Ministry of Public Buildings declined to take it on.

There was an impasse for more than twenty years, but we can follow the story via Chisholm’s regular updates in the newspaper. In 1981 there was still ‘extreme difficulty’ in disposing of the building, and in 1984 it was announced that the castle was crumbling and in urgent need of restorations.

The hero of the hour was the Berwickshire Civic Society, under the chairmanship of Major-General Sir John Swinton. The society took a lease on the castle and raised £150,000 to stabilise the walls, install a door and replace railings. The project was managed by architect David Mylne from 1985 until completion in 1992. Chisholm could then write in The Scotsman that the future of Hume Castle was at last secure. It is now in the care of the Hume Castle Preservation Trust and the public are welcome to visit.

Marchmont House passed out of Hume family ownership early in the 20th century and became separated from its lands. The estate was reunited by the Burge family in the later years of that century, and a hugely impressive restoration project has seen the house restored and filled with a collection spanning more than five centuries.

A bust of the 3rd earl stands above the fireplace in the Saloon at Marchmont.

Hume Castle is no longer an eye-catcher from Marchmont as mature plantations block the view, but the Flâneuse was reliably informed that it can be seen from the roof.

Marchmont House can be visited on open days and you can read more here

For more on the castle see

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