Queen Mary House, Berwick

Here’s a quick post in response to a question by a follower.

The house known as Queen Mary House abuts the Elizabethan ramparts just behind Cumberland Bastion, on Coxon’s Lane.


Queen Mary (or Rampart) House to the left of Cumberland Bastion (Photo courtesy Hamish Fenton)

Historic England’s National Heritage List describe it as being called Rampart House, a grade II listed building built c.1799 with late 19th century additions.  Certainly, a detailed map of 1792 does not show it but it is seen in that of 1799.

So why Queen Mary House? My correspondent shared some grainy footage featuring some shots of the house and of particular interest was a carving on the gable end by the walls.  It could be construed as being of a 16th century woman wearing a typical atifet headdress as commonly worn by Mary (note the slight forward point of the headdress in the centre), but equally, might be a monk or a judge even.  Strangely, this feature is not mentioned in the Historic England listing.  This is possibly why it has been given the name.  But that then just begs the question, why is it there?  


Carving on Rampart House, taken from a film of Berwick in 1945.  The caption card on the film at about 14:10 calls it Queen Mary’s House.


Mary in captivity, c. 1578 after Nicholas Hilliard.  She is seen wearing an atifet.  The forward central peak might be detected in the carving.

Obviously there is no direct connection with Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–1587).  After the birth of the future James VI (by Lord Darnley) in June 1566, and her suspected affair with and the subsequent murder of Rizzo, her marriage with Darnley was doomed.  Mary often travelling through her realm, as was common practice, in order to keep support from her nobility.  She was holding court at Jedburgh in October that year.  After her recovery from a near fatal illness, she set off to return to Craigmiller in Edinburgh to discuss the “problem with Darnley”.

Mary visited Berwick (sort of) on 15th November 1566.  Accompanied by 800–1000 horsemen, she was riding from Kelso to Coldingham and requested right of passage through the Bounds of Berwick.  Sir John Forster,  the Deputy Governor and other Berwick officials and 40 horse rode out to “pay their respects” to the Scottish monarch, having first ordered he town gates be locked behind them and ordered the Master of the Ordnance to prepare the cannon, and that all the soldiers to be on the walls with armour and weapons.  As first, this seems odd as the Elizabethan walls were being built at the time and one would not have thought the English would welcome any Scots spying the new works.  Was Forster was preparing for some sort of surprise attack or was he really was there out of respect for the queen?  His orders may have been intended as a show of strength masquerading as a royal salute as “while she was there, the great ordnance shot off all that night.”  The meeting was not without diplomatic incident: Forster’s horse reared up and, when coming down, struck the queen on the thigh.  It seems to have been of no consequence.

So, returning to the house, what are the plausible reasons for the name?  

1.  Romance.  Mary Stuart is a popular figure in Scottish history.  A stone seat on the White Wall of Berwick Castle, probably Victorian/Edwardian, is known as Queen Mary’s Seat.


Queen Mary’s Seat upriver of the Royal Border Bridge.

2.  The Other Mary.  While we call them the Elizabethan walls, they were initiated during the reign of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s eldest daughter.  Not very probable as she doesn’t have the “romance factor” of her Scottish cousin.

3.  It’s St Mary.  Another really long shot.  The house stands close to the site of  a “lost” medieval church called St Mary’s.  The name then gets corrupted.

4.  Robbed.  It may have been taken from a previous structure somewhere.  After all, there is only one carving (on the west end of the gable).  One might expect there to be a matching one on the other side but it may have been lost over the years.  This is not likely as it does appear to be very much part of the rest of the stonework.

5.  Catholicism.  Giving the theory the benefit of the doubt and that it is a depiction of a Queen Mary, as both Marys were Catholic, it may have been that the original owner was Catholic and this was a subtle display of his faith.  Until the 1778 Relief Act, Catholics were very much treated as second class citizens and were not allowed to own property.

My own thoughts are that the carving is original to the house and that over the years people have come to believe it is a representation of Mary Queen of Scots (who knows—it may have been) and the local story has stuck.  As with so many of these things, it may well be a relatively modern name.  The furthest I can get back is a 1862 newspaper obituary of Margaret, married to James Leith, a taylor of Rampart House, Subsequent articles all call it Rampart House.

So there you have it.  You decide.  Has anyone got a better theory or any further knowledge? I’d love to hear it.

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