A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 4 February 2017

ECW - Work on Sieges, and the Distraction of Local Ruins

Within the next few weeks I intend to get out my ECW siege bits and pieces, and have a more formal attempt at a siege. One of my invited guests will be David the Cruncher, my chiropractor, who appeared in this blog a little while ago when he came here to be introduced to wargaming. In honour of his South Shields origins, on that occasion we played a game based on the Battle of Boldon Hill, which in reality had never quite been a proper battle at all, but the fact that David’s uncle lives in one of the villages on the battlefield was an overwhelming case in favour of the scenario.

My intended action this time will be "Something a Little Bit Like the Siege of Newcastle" (1644) – you will hear more of this shortly. Because of the impending presence of guest generals (and my experience of guest generals is that the beggars sometimes wish to have some idea what is going on), I am working on tidying up the rules, and writing them out in a form which might be understood by someone apart from me – in particular, all the scribbled pencil tables and post-it notes need some attention.

Anyway – I hope to set out more details of all this over the coming few weeks, including (maybe) a revised draft of the siege rules. In the meantime, I have become a little diverted by some of our local castles here in East Lothian.

It is, in any case, a topic which I find interesting, and there are a great many sites around here which have history related to the ECW. The most recent distraction came during my studies of the activities of the Covenanter Armies – I was reading about the East Lothian regiment which marched into Northumberland with Lord Leven (subsequently appearing at, for example, Marston Moor and the sieges of York and Newcastle), and it seems that the colonel and patron of this unit was Sir Patrick Hepburn, who lived at Waughton Castle.

Now I know Waughton – it is about 4 miles from where I am sitting – and I know there is a pile of old stones and the remains of a medieval doocot (dovecot, to English readers) on the farm at Old Waughton, but I know nothing about the history of the place – it really doesn’t look very interesting.

Wrong. A quick look at Andrew Spratt’s splendid website devoted to reconstructions of Scottish castles reveals that Waughton Castle was a fine thing – in fact here it is.

So, if it was still the home of an important local family in the mid 17th Century, how has it vanished so completely? – so much so, in fact, that a reclusive old nerd like me (who has plenty of free time, a camera and walking boots, and lives, as I say, 4 miles away) did not even know it was there.

Mr Spratt likens the disappearance of these old fortified houses to children’s sandcastles on the beach being swept away by the tide. Yes, it is true that there were a number of dramatic incidents such as Cromwell and Monck destroying the places, but even in the cases where the places just fell into disuse there was a sort of gradual tidal wave as the locals requisitioned the stone to build houses, barns, field boundaries. I must have seen the stones of Waughton Castle many times, but they are built into farm steadings and stane dykes. They must have migrated in countless small carts and barrows over the centuries. There may be some on our garden rockery…

So I have resolved that I will take a bit more trouble to spend some time looking at Andrew’s website, and visit what is left of these local places. Apart from the well-known National Trust sites at Tantallon (Douglas family) and Dirleton (Ruthvens), within a very few miles of here I know of Waughton (Hepburn), Hailes (more Hepburns), Innerwick, Yester and many others, I also now see that the ruin in the woods on the farm here at Auldhame, which is less than a mile away and which I had previously believed to be an ancient abbey, is now thought to have been a house destroyed by Monck after the Battle of Dunbar. Hmmm – Andrew, you have my full attention. There is also a tale that the Laird of Lochhouses (2 miles from here, now a working farm) was wounded at the Battle of Dunbar, followed home by English dragoons and shot on the doorstep of his “tower” – this patently is not the extant Victorian farmhouse, so I think there must be another ruin somewhere nearby.



Auldhame - 15 minutes squelch from here
The church at Whitekirk (also about 2 miles away) is reputed to have been used to stable some of the Roundheads’ horses after Dunbar, but there are innumerable such stories, and there is a whiff of resentful outrage in this one – as an example of the sort of heretic rascals these chaps were.

Whitekirk Parish Church
Anyway – if the weather starts to improve, I would welcome the excuse to go squelching round the local countryside in search of ancient stones. I shall have to stock up on pork pies to add excitement to the packed lunches.

Please note that I use Mr Spratt's illustrations without any permission to do so - if you are interested in this, I would recommend that you visit his website via the link in this post - well worth the time.


  1. This is great stuff, Tony, please keep us up to date on your discoveries. It's a marvellous area you live in, just packed with history waiting to be explored, from a succession of periods.
    Scots armies of the 1640s are a fascination of mine (The covenanters approaching an obsession - I've got an army in 6mm, 15mm and 28mm.) My first wife's auntie had a cottage on the side of Duns Law - a bit south of you I know - but it was walking up there many years ago that I found you could still see the trace of earthworks dug for Sandie Leven's guns in 1640. Been hooked ever since.

    1. Thanks Chris - maybe you could join me for a walk some time! My wife was born and raised in Duns, though she says there was surprisingly little local history taught in the schools or handed down. I am keen to have a look at the Duns Law camp - I got very interested in the details of Leven's boys heading down that way in 1639 - in fact my reading of Terry's biography of Alexander Leslie really fired me up on the Bishops' Wars - it's a pity that it was a bit one-sided to make a decent miniatures campaign.

      The Covenanter army is fascinating - I love to work out where the regiments came from, who raised them, and which local areas supported and provided for them. Not long ago I tried to identify a local expert to walk me around the Dunbar battlefield - I failed - I'm sure there must be someone, but I didn't find him.

    2. I know what you mean; my wife was born and bred in Ayrshire and can point out relics of the later covenanting period and the 'Killing Times', but likewise wasn't taught any of it in school. She was taken aback to find there had been a battle at Mauchline Moor, right on a former doorstep of hers.
      I think you might struggle to find a Scot who would ADMIT to knowledge of the Battle of Dunbar.

      I've been looking at some earlier stuff recently - 16th century - and found an intriguing plan of a fort built on the promontory north of Eyemouth harbour in 1549. It's a single bastion and ditch across the neck of the promontory, with buildings inside. Looking on Google Maps, you can still make out the outline of the bastion and ditch, so I think that will have to get a visit next time we're passing, to see what's 'on the ground'.

  2. Ah living in the Auld World certainly has its upsides. Round here the closest we get to faded history is the place where people swear there used to a dog track and the remains of a RAAF base. You can still see the embankment of the velodrome of course, down at the local park.

    1. That made me chuckle! It's kind of ironic that in these parts there is no general awareness at all of the traditions and the history that surround us - it is, I regret, not on trend - merely an eccentric indulgence for old fogeys like moi. Maybe that's how it should be - knowing what time Lidl opens on a Sunday is a more pressing matter.

      At a more humble historical level, I understand that RL Stevenson, the noted pioneer wargamer, was related to the family that own the farm next door, and spent childhood holidays here. Treasure Island is said to stem from his visits to the islands in the Forth (other relatives built the lighthouse on Fidra), and his story about the Wreckers is based on old tales of the activities of some very bad people who used to lure ships onto the rocks by placing fake harbour lights at Scoughall and Ravensheugh.

  3. I had never thought of the stone from castles being repurposed for building materials, but it makes sense. I remember a tour guide telling me that the practice was common there, and that the Colosseum was only spared from being dismantled when the church declared it a site sacred to martyrs, and to the future tourist industry.