Scotsborough: Imaging a Medieval Mansion House
By Roger Turvey
Scotsborough is located on a sloping hillside overlooking the Ritec less than a mile north-west of modern Tenby or Tenby extra-mural. When it was built sometime in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, it stood more than a mile from the town walls of medieval Tenby and lay within easy reach of the sea. Prior to its silting and reclamation the marsh that is the Ritec today was then an inlet of the sea. Like Boulston on the Cleddau it may have possessed a landing bay but this is not certain. Indeed, we know comparatively little about the origins of this house, who built it, when and why which is perhaps surprising given its standing as one of the more significant gentry houses of the late medieval and early modern period. This short piece is not intended to be a definitive study of the house and its history but simply to serve as an introduction to a larger project currently in hand and to highlight its existence in a selection of the images that still survive of this once great Pembrokeshire manor house.
The families most associated with the house are that of Perrot and ap Rhys. The Perrots were first on the scene in the early fifteenth century but it is not certain if they were the original builders of the house. A cadet branch of the senior Perrot line of Eastington and Haroldston, the first of the family mentioned as being of Scotsborough (c.1405) was Thomas Perrot, burgess, merchant and one time bailiff and Mayor of Tenby. That said it is possible that Thomas’s father Peter was the man responsible for founding this particular branch of the family sometime in the mid fourteenth century. Whatever the truth of the matter it is certain that by the beginning of the fifteenth century Thomas Perrot and his brother David were well established members of Tenby’s social and mercantile community.
As the century wore on the family acquired more property to add to their landholding in the vicinity of the town, namely, Knightston and Cornishdown both of which lay in a line rising up the valley from Scotsborough. By the time of John Perrot’s death in 1569, the last of the family in the male line, the three manors had largely become synonymous in terms of landholding forming a solid block of territory. It was the marriage of Perrot’s heir Catherine with John ap Rhys of Rickeston that put Scotsborough, and its two sister manors, at the disposal of new owners. With her death, in September 1614, and burial in Gumfreston Church, the Perrot interest in the property ceased. Henceforth Scotsborough would pass through several generations of the ap Rhys family, one of whom was named Perrot ap Rhys in acknowledgement of the debt the family owed to the Perrots, before they too divested themselves of the property, first by way of mortgage in 1689 and then by sale in 1706. Thereafter, the house declined both in status and repair as it was leased out to a succession of tenants.
One of those tenants was a well-to-do squire from Tenby, Walter Middleton, who may have been responsible for inviting the great Welsh antiquary and scientist, Edward Lluyd, to stay at Scotsborough in February 1698.1 It is from ‘Scochburg’ that Lluyd wrote to his friend ‘ye Revnd. Mr. John Lloyd, at Gwersylht (Gwersyllt), near Wrexham’ in which he complained of the less than hearty welcome he received from the people of Tenby who suspected him and his companions of being tax collectors or ‘Jacobite spies’.2 By the early nineteenth century Scotsborough had been subdivided into separate units housing several families of agricultural workers. By 1824, plagued by disease, it had been abandoned and the rot set in. Ironically, while Scotsborough decays Cornishdown and Knightston still survive albeit in modern reconstructed form.
It is probably fair to say that today Scotsborough stands as a monument to our apparent indifference to the care and consolidation of our built heritage. Long forgotten and much neglected it will likely fall further into disrepair and perhaps even disappear if nothing is done to save it. In the twenty-six years since I first visited the house, it has deteriorated to such an extent that it is now fenced off with signs warning visitors of the dangers from falling masonry should they dare to approach its ruins. Twice only in the near two centuries since its abandonment has the house attracted the serious attention of historians; firstly in 1906 when Edward Laws surveyed, photographed and wrote about the house and, secondly, in 1989-90 when Paul R. Davis 3 surveyed and reconstructed through various line drawings the development of the house from its medieval origins to its heyday in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Scotsborough truly is one of the lost houses of Wales.4
- Edward Laws, ‘The House of Scotsboroug h, near Tenby’ , Archaeologia Cam brensis, Sixth Series, Vol. VI (1906), 81-92. Francis Jones, ‘ Rickeston and Scotsborough’, The Pembroke Historian, II (1966) , 19-47. There is some dispute over who leased the house when Lluyd came to stay; Laws has Henry Hilling, yeoman, while Jones has Middleton. In terms of social status and dating of the material evidence, Middleton is preferred.
- Laws, op.cit., 91.
- Paul R. Davis, ‘Scotsborough House, a survey of a ruined mansion near Tenby,’ Archaeology in Wales, 30 (1990) , 28-32.
- E. L. Barnwell was the first to put pen to paper with his historical survey of the house and its owners, the Perrots, which he published in a series of articles printed in two volumes of the Archaeologia Cambrensis over two years in 1865 and 1866. They were republished in book form and entitled Perrot Notes in 1867.