Bemersyde Architecture

The existing house reflects the lifestyle of its owners through the centuries.

The old Border Peel Tower most probably built on the site of an earlier dwelling was completed in 1535 during the reign of James V as the result of an Act of Parliament requiring defensive towers to be built along the English Army.

It was intended as a watchtower and signal fires would be built to warn of approaching danger from reivers or the English Army.

Built from stone from the quarry on Bemersyde, the original tower had four storeys and a vaulted roof. 

The walls are up to three metres thick and the stone spiral staircase is built within the thickness of the walls.  Stones from the ruined Dryburgh Abbey are incorporated.

Torched in 1547 by the English Army under the Earl of Hertford during the Reformation it was 1580 before it was rebuilt.  The politics of the time perhaps explain the delay as the intervening 30 years had been tumultuous in Scotland and James V had died leaving infant Mary as Queen. She, in turn, had been deposed in favour of her infant son James VI and by 1580 was imprisoned in England.

Four generations after the tower was rebuilt, Anthony Haig made alterations to make the tower more comfortable.  Fireplaces and glass windows were installed.  A slate roof was added and there were internal alterations. The stables and byres were moved from the south side of the tower and rebuilt to the north.

He was imprisoned in the Tolbooth on account of being a Quaker and released in 1667. Anthony devoted himself to the improvement of the estate.

The next alteration to the house came 1761.  James Haig added first the west wing and then James Zerubabel Haig, added in 1796, the matching east wing.  A friend of  Walter Scott and an educated man who had been on a Grand Tour of Europe, James Zerubabel was living in the era known as the Scottish Enlightenment.

The great French philosopher and historian Voltaire (1694-1778) said: “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilization.”

By the middle of the 19th century, the family was living in Italy and the house was let. Bemersyde had been let to a judge, Lord Jerviswoode who remodelled James Haig’s west wing as a 3 storey extension.

Miss Barbara Haig, returning from Italy was grieved to find the changes to the house.

In the 20th century Field Marshall, Earl Haig took over the house from his cousin.  The property had been purchased as a result of public subscription and presented to the Field Marshall following the victory in World War 1.

The house was in a poor state of repair and some £40,000 was spent making alterations and improvements including adding a storey to the stables. The present dining room was designed by the Field Marshall in the 1920s. 

During  World War II the house was occupied by the Edinburgh Asylum for the Blind and the Women’s Land Army. From 1947 the house became the private home of the 2nd Earl and his family. 

Between 1959 and 1961 the west wing was reduce to a height of two storeys. A large window was added to the staircase designed by Victor Pasmore.

Following the death of the 2nd Earl in 2009 the estate passed to his son, the 3rd Earl, who has carried out extensive repairs to the house.