Little Cumbrae Castle stands on an island in the Firth of Clyde opposite the Ayrshire seaside town of Largs. It can be reached by boat from the latter and provides an excellent day’s excursion.
A simple tower house of the 15th century Cumbrae rises through 3 storeys to a checkered corbel wall walk equipped with rounds. The entrance is at first floor level by means of an external wooden stair. The walls are pierced by gun loops and the tower was once surrounded by a rampart and ditch. It was burned by Cromwell in 1653 and was ruinous but is now in splendid condition though unoccupied.
However, this simple little tower is rescued from obscurity by an incident in 1599 as recorded in the Register of the Privy Council when Robert Boyd inhabited it.
At this date he had purchased oak joists at a cost of £1,760 Scots in order to construct a harbour. Rather than viewing this as a benefit some saw this as a threat to their livelihoods and so one morning 30 men under the leadership of the Montgomerys, came to the tower with 'hagbuts, pistols, culverins, swords and other weapons' and with the help of smiths 'violently broke up the doors and gates'. Having gained entry they destroyed the 'windows, doors, ironwork, furniture' together with the material gathered for the construction of the harbour. They then garrisoned the tower with ‘four men, ammunition and armour’.
Boyd had recourse to the law and the ensuing legal case provides an unique insight into how these simple tower houses were furnished.
His losses were 'four stand beds' (ie not portable) of fir and oak; a 'fauldant buird' (dining room table); a 'silver piece' of 17 oz in weight and a cup with a silver foot weighing 7 oz; 'contracts, obligations, evidents and books worth £2,000'; a ‘lock fast chest’ in which were 'a doublet and breiks of dun fustian, a pair of tawny worsted stockings, two linen shirts, two pairs of linen sheets, four pillowslips, two pairs of tablecloths, two broad cloths of linen of five ells in length, two broad towels and two dozen serviettes'.
In the kitchen were two brass pots, two pans, two spits, a pair of andirons, an iron ladle, a dozen and a half of plates, knives, forks and spoons for six people, a dozen trenches and a folding table.
The only weapons were two 'cut-throat guns of iron', which were in the hall.
The total cost of damage was estimated at £4,776, 10s 6d Scots.
Whether or not Boyd was successful in his lawsuit is unknown (one hopes that he was) but his misfortune has provided us with a rare glimpse into a moment of time. It demonstrates, perhaps, why Scots at this late date still required "a house as thieves will need knock at ere they enter".
Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle