The Repentance Tower
Hoddom Castle in Dumfriesshire is one of those places that have a special significance in our families own history. It was here that my mother and father first met while both were stationed there at the end of World War II when the castle was used a a military camp. The castle was never occupied again after the war and has gradually deterioriated to the point where it has become dangerous and the grounds are now home to a sprawling caravan park. A short walk out from the grounds and up a nearby hill takes you to the enigmatic ‘Repentance Tower’ which once stood on the castle’s estate. The tower and the small graveyard it stands in yields some interesting stories about the people who once owned Hoddom Castle and the surrounding lands.
The first curiosity is in its name “Repentance Tower”. Dating from around 1560 local legends suggest that it was built by Baron Herries as a form of atonement for cutting the throats of some English prisoners while on a stormy crossing back over the Solway Firth and dumping the bodies at sea.
Another version of the story however has gained more credibility:
During the mid 16th century warfare between Scotland and England was common over this disputed border land. In the 1540s the English had captured Dumfriesshire and forced many to become ‘assured Scots’ pledging allegiance to England and giving up hostages to help them keep their promises. Among these Assured Scots was John, Master of Maxwell. Maxwell had an eye on Agnes Herries and the lands and title that he would inherit on marrying her. However as long as he sided with the English this could never be. At the Battle of Durisdeer Maxwell had turned out for the English but the signal of a black flag was given to his men and they turned against their English allys. The Scots were victorious and the English fled back to Carlisle. Maxwell won the maiden and the title of Lord Herries but paid a heavy price as all but one of the 15 hostages that had been taken to assure his loyalty were executed.
The hill on which the tower stands was once used as the location for part of the chain of defensive beacons which stretched along the border lands to warn of English invasion. The new Lord Herries built this tower on the spot using stones from the ruin of nearby Trailtrow Chapel. Standing not only as a defensive structure the tower would serve as a monument to the hostages who died and as a memorial that showed his personal remorse.
Later the estates passed into the hands of the Murray family and a small graveyard sprung up around the tower. John Murray, who’s family owned lands nearby travelled to America in the 18th century and returned with a young black slave called Moses. As time went on the slave become a close friend of Murray and took on his surname. No longer a slave but a free man he was given the honour of being buried in the family graveyard as an everlasting symbol of their friendship.