Waterloo Monument

This is the story of a Monument built, by the 6th Marquis of Lothian, on one of the most enviable sites in Great Britain. One cannot fail to notice it, and be amazed by the site. Planning permission did not exist in those days! It stands on a small hill prominent because the surrounding landscape is fairly low lying, not far from the Scottish Burgh of Jedburgh just north of the border with England. A little over an hour’s drive from both Newcastle and Edinburgh. The Kerr family have been in the area of Jedburgh for nearly seven hundred years, since the days of Ralph Kerr of Kersheugh in 1330. The first Lord Jedburgh was created in 1622, the first Earl of Ancram at the coronation of Charles I in 1625. By marriage in 1630 to Anna Ker (3rd Countess of Lothian) William Kerr became the 3rd Earl of Lothian. (Titles were able to descend through the female line at that time in Scotland.) In 1814 while the 6th Marquis was still the Earl of Ancram he began to plan a project, the size of which his family had never undertaken before. He was going to build an enormous structure on the hillside He had chosen the place 781 feet above sea level on the farm at West Nisbet tenanted by George Currie. There is evidence of there already having been two forts in that area, the older of the two is of an early Iron Age pattern while the other is probably Sub-Roman date. (This comes from RCAHMS) The structure he was going to build was to commemorate Arthur Wellesley, (Duke of Wellington) and his victories against Napoleon. The Iron Duke as he was called was a cousin of the Earls mother. On the 5th of January 1815 the Earls father died in Surrey. Now as the 6th Marquis of Lothian he could push on with his plans for the monument. So, on the 27th February just seven weeks after his father died, he drew up a list of tenants who were to supply sand and lime for the project, but then suddenly, Napoleon escaped and the country was plunged into disarray, however he was quickly defeated at the hands of Wellingtons men. A fortnight after the battle of Waterloo on Friday 30th June 1815 the estate families who were all dressed in their finest clothes climbed to the top of Penielheugh to watch the Marquis lay the foundation stone of the monument. The Marquis asked Richard Cranston (Jedburgh building firm) to be in charge of the construction of William Burns design. Their estimate back then was £770 for the construction of the structure. Cranston’s men started on the pillar, but there were to be frequent worries and veiled comments about the standard of workmanship. During the months of July and August 256 bolls of lime were brought to the site by the farmers. Sand was also needed and a total of 645 cart loads were brought on site. During August 60 carts of stones arrived from Nisbet. The Marquis was anxious that the work should proceed quickly so when harvest time came, he paid some men extra wages for Sunday work, so that they were not tempted away. The work continued throughout much of the winter and into the spring and summer. In the August of 1816 Lord Lothian was in Edinburgh and went to see William Burn to discuss the problems of repairing the angles of the monument which were not in good condition. Burn suggested Cranston should insert 3” cast iron beams in at the corners but not skimp on the stone work. The corners of the building really were not in good shape everyone was worried!! THEN DISASTER STRUCK!!! The children of Lord Lothian were the first to announce it to him, they came running from the hill exclaiming “Oh, papa, the monument has tumbled down.” Lord Lothian kept calm he was not about to panic. Where was he to find a new architect?

The person he chose was Archibald Elliot, he was a local boy who had been born in Ancrum, and was probably a distant relative of Lord Minto. His father had put him into a joinery apprenticeship, he then moved on to cabinet making in London. There he was influenced by the modern trends in architecture. He studied hard and returned to Edinburgh, where he set up practice with his brother John. Archibald came down almost immediately the Marquis contacted him and surveyed the debris. However, he was very concerned about using the same base for his design, he sensed that lord Lothian was trying to keep costs down as well as cutting corners. The site was still an enormous pile of rubble as seemingly the work clearing it had been delayed, therefore the architect could not see the old foundations in detail. He suggested delaying work until the spring giving them a chance to clear the area and they would discuss the base again next time he was down. It was not until October that Archibald was in the area, he had sent a message to the Marquis asking him to meet him on site. Archibald still wanted a new base either on the original site or a little to one side, he was determined to build a monument of a better and more interesting design than the first and also one which would not collapse eventually they agree the base as it stood was insufficient to support the Colum. The thought then was not to completely remove the base but to take it down, all round, to six feet from the ground. Then to leave the outward shell, and excavate the interior down to the rock, which will make a secure foundation. Hen on January 1817 Archibald yet again talks about putting the foundation on a new site and using the old site as a quarry. He must have won the battle as an ariel view of the site shows a quarry to one side of the present Monument. The building started in May of that year, and on the 2nd anniversary of the victory at Waterloo, the union flag was hoisted and the tenants of the Marquis assembled around the monument on Penielheugh, where they were met by the Marquis. He addressed them and toasts were given. Work was progressing at a steady rate, the architect had decided to make life easier for the men and installed a crane, which pleased the Marquis. Work was stopped on 18th October for the winter. It was a hard winter and when work started it progressed slowly. The late summer months saw the men still at work. The Monument was built in a very substantial way from whinstone quarried on the site. Progress was slow but Elliot was being more precise and stricter than William Burn had been in his requirements. Over the next year he was able to keep a close eye on things as he spent a lot of his time in Jedburgh. During this time, he thought things were not happening quickly enough, Cranston had been very ill, and it was decided to bring in a full time Mason. John Scott from Edinburgh took up the reins in 1820. Then in 1821 the Marquis of Lothian was made a peer of the United Kingdom. The men left the site in September that year, except John Scott, who was laying the floor of the monument, he was not putting the roof on for the winter as the weather was so fine for drying the building. Alas two days before Waterloo day in 1823 Archibald Elliot died in Edinburgh therefore did not see the Monument completed. In October the Monument was within sixteen feet of the summit, work again stopped through the winter. The Marquis of Lothians health was not in a good state and on 27th April 1824 relinquished all his tasks and died at the home of his relation the Duke of Buccleuch. Lord John Kerr was thirty years old when he succeeded to the title 7th Marquis of Lothian, Penielheugh was still not quite finished, and work was allowed to continue, but there are no other records or details regarding the monument after this time. Therefore, a definite date for completion can not be ascertained. Although it must have been completed before March 1835, when the Marquis unveiled a plaque on the monument displaying information which Sir Thomas MakDougal- Brisbane had supplied. Sir Thomas was an officer in the army, when he returned to Scotland, he married Anna MakDougal of Makerstoun house. He attached her surname to his. He had an amateur’s passion foe astronomy he constructed an observatory at Makerstoun and wanted to have his name commemorated somewhere. The most important building in the area was at Penielheugh. So, he set to work and calculated the latitude, longitude and elevation of the monument and made an offer to the 7th Marquis, to have this information inscribed on the Monument as long as his initials were there too. In 1867 the 8th Marquis wanted to complete the work his grandfather had started on the monument. He found his architect for the job a John Pollen and once everything was agreed, they decided to ask Alexander Herbertson & Son (builder Galashiels) to proceed with the work. Herbertson took the most unusual step of erecting the whole creation in his yard for inspection. When everyone was happy, they treated the wood against the wet and dry rot. Only after all this was it dismantled and transported to the base of the monument where it was erected again on top of the pillar. To this day flags fly from the top and beacons are lit for family celebrations. It has had work carried out a few times in its history and can now be entered and climbed for a panoramic view of the surrounding area.

Garrett O'Brien