A tale of crime and punishment – Jedburgh Castle Jail

Blue metal prison door

A few weeks ago we took a trip to Jedburgh for the day. Though I often go to visit The Lovatt Gallery, The Jedburgh Chocolate House or stop for a meringue at the fabulous Border Meringues, I had never visited Jedburgh Castle Jail. It looks like a grand castle, but inside it’s most definitely a jail.  The Jailer’s House explores the history of the Royal Burgh of Jedburgh.  While a visit to the cellblocks gives a taste of the life for wardens and prisoners in a 19th century  Howard Reform  prison.   Outside there are fine views across Jedburgh and the surrounding countryside.

Crime and Punishment

The idea of prison as a punishment for crime is a relatively new idea. Before 1820 felons were usually executed and petty criminals banished or transported to the colonies. Prisons collected people awaiting trial, to prevent them from escaping justice.  The courts took little interest in the actual conditions in prisons. Prisons were filthy, overcrowded and disease-ridden, with debtors, criminals, children and the unconvicted all crushed together.

The Great Prison Reformer John Howard

Jedburgh Castle Jail is the only remaining example in Scotland of a prison designed in line with the ideas of the great prison reformer John Howard. Opened in 1823, the jail  was considered to be one of the most modern in its time.

There is indeed not a more comfortable place of confident in Scotland

Rev John Purves, 1834

Howard’s 500 page expose on “The State of Prisons” (1777) is a shocking account of the appalling conditions in British jails. His reforms began a new era in prisons, based on more human conditions and the idea that jails should be places of improvement as well as punishment. His proposals included a better diet, fresh air, exercise and religious education. But after 1820 Howard’s approach was seen as too lenient and was replaced by a much tougher regime. Howard  was honoured as the first civilian, with a statue in St Paul’s Cathedral. Today his name lives on in the Howard Reform League, who work to make our communities safer and promote lasting solutions to crime.

Watch out there may be some spooks

The ghost of Edwin McArthur, a prisoner  executed in 1855, is said to haunt the jail. His ghost is said to threaten visitors, but we didn’t see or hear him! The jail attracts ghost hunters each year on organised visits to seek out the ghosts.

Archibald Elliot

Ancrum born, Archibald Elliot, one of the best known Scottish architects at the time, designed the jail. He contributed to many significant buildings and streets in Edinburgh, including St Paul’s and St George’s Church, Rutland Square, the Regent Bridge, Waterloo Place and Calton Prison (now demolished). Elliot also worked on many country houses in Scotland, including Stobo Castle in Peeblesshire.

Jethart Castle

Jedburgh Castle Jail sits on the former site of the 12th century fortress Jethart Castle, built by King David I to protect the town of Jedburgh. The castle was one of the most important strongholds in the Borders.  King Malcolm IV died at Jethart Castle in 1165.  The Castle frequently changed hands between the English and the Scots during the wars of Scottish Independence. The Scottish Parliament ordered the destruction of Jethart Castle in 1409 to stop it falling into the hands  of the English again.  So it was

most happily captured {from the English} by Teviotdale men of middling rank and pulled to the ground.

The town gallows occupied the site until the prison opened in 1823.

12 More Museums for free

Jedburgh Castle Jail is one of 12 small museums and galleries provided free by Live Borders.  Each offers a unique insight into Borders’ history, people and culture.  There is something for everyone from archaeology to art, hosiery to history, jumpers to jailbirds and mini beasts to Mary Queen of Scots.  We highly recommend you pick up a copy of the Museums and Galleries Guide produced by Live Borders or you can download it from their website here.

You can find out more about Jedburgh on the town website

How to Find Jedburgh Castle Jail

Address: Castlegate, Jedburgh, TD8 6QD
Opening Times: Mon-Sat 10am to 4.30pm, Sun 1pm-5pm
Open: Mon 21 March – Mon 31 October
Audio tour, foreign language and children’s tides, audio visual display on ground floor for wheelchair users.
Admission: free

Lilliard’s Tomb

Tomb of the  warrior Lilliard
In case you hadn’t spotted the press it’s National Walking Month. So on Sunday we decided to go in search of Lilliard’s tomb. The weather was glorious and the sun shone on the fields of yellow rapeseed, turning them into pools of gold. The trees were heavy with blossom and the birds were singing their hearts out.  It was a perfect walking day.

The legend of Lilliard

The legend of fair maiden Lilliard is well known (and recited) in the Borders. She was a local lass from Maxton who followed her lover to the battle of Ancrum Moor (1545) When he was killed by the English, she took up his sword and set about slaying the English. Despite being severely wounded she fought on until her death.

Fair maiden Lilliard lies under this stane
Little was her stature but great her fame
On the English Loons she laid mony thumps
And when her legs were off, she fought upon her stumps

The tomb sits just a few steps to the side of the St Cuthberts Way (St Boswells to Jedburgh). Despite this we observed that none of the St Cuthberts Way walkers, took the very short detour from the path, to visit her tomb.

We then walked in the Jedburgh direction to Woodside Garden Centre for tea and ice cream. The walk just gets prettier and prettier, particularly the last part, though the forest with wildflowers, over bridges and streams. Close to the end you’ll see a sign pointing right to Woodside Garden Centre. Definitely worth stopping for tea and cake or an ice cream. The car park is a popular place for those walking St Cuthbert’s way to get picked up by a taxi and shuttled to their hotel for the night.

How did the legend of Lilliard grow?

As with so many legendary figures how much is fact and how much is fiction is difficult to assess.

Lylliot Cross

Over 800 years ago the monks of Melrose erected a a great stone here, beside the Roman Dere Street, and close to a place called ‘Lilisyhates’. By1372 this stone had become known as ‘Lylliot Cross’. For the next 10 years representatives of the English and Scottish crowns met here to try and resolve disputes by peaceful negotiation. Sadly these meetings were not successful and war followed. The ballad of ‘Chevy Chase’ celebrates the death of a squire at The Battle of Otterburn (1388). The ballad includes a description of the heroic death of a mortally wounded squire

For Witherington needs must I wayle
As one in doleful dumpies
For when his legs were smitten off,
He fought upon his stumps

The Rough Wooing

When James V of Scotland died, his daughter Mary Queen of Scots was one week old. Henry VIII thought he would gain control of Scotland by marrying his young son Prince Edward to the infant queen. But the Scots had other ideas and so the period known as “the Rough Wooing” began. During 1544 and 1545 much of the Borders Henry’s army raided, plundered and looted in an attempt to persuade the Scots. In 1545 Governor Arran set out from Edinburgh Castle for Lyliattis cross, with a soldiers and artillery on hearing that Henry’s forces were at Jedburgh. On the 7th February 1545 the 5,000 strong English contingent, led by Sir Ralph Evers and Sir Brian Latoun were returning from plundering and looting Melrose and its’ Abbey. On the ridge at Ancrum Moor they were thrashed by a much smaller Scots contingent and Evers and Latoun killed.

Nearly 200 years later in 1743 the Rev Milne of Melrose ascribed the name ‘Lilliards Edge’ to the ridge. He claimed it was named after a woman who had taken part in the battle of Ancrum Moor, and whose burial monument was all broken into pieces. No inscription survived but Milne quoted the famous lines above about Lilliard.

Adding to the legend

Sit Walter Scott and others were inspired to add to this basic account, including one account which attributed the death of Evers to Lilliard. So the legend Milne recorded grew from at least 3 historical sources: the ruins of Lilliot Cross, the ballad of Chevy Chase and the battle of Ancrum Moor. Lilliard may be a myth but she represents the heroism of many women on both sides of the Border who endured the raiding and wars of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. Today we also have a Lilliard Gin named after the Fair Maid. So head over to Born in the Borders or the  Ancrum Pantry buy yourself a bottle and toast the Fair Maid Lilliard.

How to Find

The quickest route is to park at Lillardsedge Holiday Park (TD8 6TZ) cross the main road and walk about 500m. You will reach a sign just after the farm marked as Lilliard’s Tomb. You’ll have to climb over the fence and then turn left and walk round two edges of the field, crossing into the next field. Walk along the edge of this field until you come to another sign and a large tree stump that looks like it has been hit by lighting. Look to your right and you should see the tomb on the brow of the hill. This isn’t quite our route as we walked straight ahead on climbing over the fence. We then turned right and walked along the edge of the adjacent field. Eventually we came to St Cuthberts Way and turned left slightly uphill. Then, over a stile and you’ll see the Information Board ahead. Over the stile, up the hill a few steps and you’re there.


Please follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and respect the various land-uses evident, in particular sheep grazing, lambing and the rearing of young lambs or cows.