MHG7784 - Fairburn Tower


A C16-C17 towerhouse, formerly ruinous but now restored by the Landmark Trust.

Type and Period (1)

  • TOWER HOUSE (16th Century - 1545 AD (built) to 1600 AD (built))

Protected Status

Full Description

A C16-C17 towerhouse, formerly ruinous but now restored by the Landmark Trust.

Fairburn Tower {NR} (remains of) OS 6"map, (1971)

The ruins of a 16th-17th century tower-house, standing to wall-head, high on a long ridge. It dates from 2 periods, original having been a massive oblong keep with crow-steps and angle-turrets, to SE of which a stair tower 4 storeys and a garret in height has been added in early 17th century. The entrance, in S face of this tower, is defended by gun-loops and shot-holes. The original entrance to the keep has been at first floor level. There has been a courtyard to S and W. Tower, of rough harled masonry, was stronghold of MacKenzies.
D MacGibbon and T Ross 1889; N Tranter 1970

Fairburn Tower, a roofless 16th century tower house, is generally as described. The barrel-vaulted basement is still intact. There is no trace of alleged courtyard. Only some toothing at SE corner of 17th century addition suggests there may have been one. Later, now ruinous, domestic buildings are attached to the W side of the tower and a wooden farm building to the E side.
Visited by OS (J B) 2 May 1975

No change. Visited by RCAHMS (JRS) March 1989.

Full desc (incl desc of 1762) Inverness FC visit, VolVI p116 - HAW 9.2002

A historical study of the building was undertaken by M Bangor-Jones in 2016, Commissioned by the Landmark Trust. <1>

An archaeological assessment and architectural analysis of the building was undertaken by Addyman Archaeology in 2017. The assessment, which includes the tower, the ancillary range on its west side, and the surrounding site, was intended to inform the conservation decision-making process in advance of repair and rehabilitation of the tower by The Landmark Trust. Though not all parts of the site were fully accessible the study permitted an extensive review of the analytical history of the site to be made. The understanding of the architectural evolution of the standing remains has been considerably progressed and the phasing of the upper levels of the tower better elucidated and some key new observations made. <2>

A comprehensive historic building recording exercise was carried out by Addyman Archaeology in 2017-18. It followed on from an archaeological assessment and architectural analysis of the structure and its site undertaken by Addyman Archaeology in March 2017. The detailed recording exercise, which included the tower and the ancillary lying range on its west side, was conducted for a number of objectives and in relation to the proposed repair and rehabilitation of the tower by The Landmark Trust. The first aim of these works was to generate a set of dimensionally accurate drawings of the tower that could be used both for architectural purposes and upon which to build a more systematic record and analysis of the building in its present state, in advance of conservation and repair works and in order to better understand the nature, planning and details of the structure and to more properly decipher its evolutionary history. Such information was intended to inform the conservation decision-making process during the stage of developing detailed proposals for the tower. Survey of the tower involved a combination of digital and hand recording technique. <3>

A watching brief was undertaken by Addyman Archaeology in 2018 during the excavation of geotechnical test pits in the grounds to the southwest of Fairburn Tower. These works were undertaken in order to assess the water absorption rate of the underlying drift geology. A photographic record was made of each geotechnical pit – several of the photographs are reproduced below. The character of the trial pits is outlined below. No archaeological features or deposits were observed in any monitored location. <4>

A Conservation Plan for the building was produced by Simpson & Brown in 2019. <5>

A geophysical survey was undertaken by Rose Geophysical Consultants in 2019 within a field surrounding Fairburn Tower. Resistance survey was carried out to map possible structural remains associated with the extant tower. A range of responses has been recorded across the survey area. Some small areas could not be surveyed due to bushes and trees and dense areas of rubble / stone. In addition, trenches associated with geotechnical test pits were open at the time of survey. As a result, small areas over the trenches and their associated spoil heaps could not be surveyed. However, this has not detracted from the overall results of the geophysical survey. Two very well defined high resistance anomalies has been recorded immediately to the northwest of the later domestic structure to the west of the tower. The well-defined limits of the anomalies suggest these may indicate in-situ structural remains. Although a modern origin is possible, some documentary evidence suggests that a courtyard associated with the tower existed to the west and south of the tower, and as a result an archaeological origin, contemporary with the tower, cannot be dismissed. A concertation of broad rectilinear anomalies has been recorded in the south of the survey area. Taken together these anomalies give the impression of a collection of buildings, potentially associated with a courtyard, some 35m to the south of the Tower, although no clearly defined courtyard walls leading off the tower are apparent in the data. However, such an interpretation is tentative given the rubble spreads across the site and the lack of archaeological deposits revealed during the excavation of geotechnical test pits. The responses may simply be due to natural variations in the subsurface or due to ground compaction / disturbance associated with the geotechnical test pits themselves. <6>

Archaeological works were undertaken by Addyman Archaeology in 2020 during the excavation of scaffolding footings and a number of other associated site set-up related ground-works at Fairburn Tower in advance of repairs to the structure so as to bring it in to residential use. Monitoring was carried out over a series of groundwork activities between January and March 2020, continuing up to the time of the site shut-down necessitated by the outbreak of the Covid19 virus, at which point all works were temporarily suspended. However during the archaeological monitoring of groundworks carried out between January and March 2020 significant new information about the earlier history of the Fairburn Tower site was revealed. In summary the principal discoveries were the existence of a very fine and exceptionally well preserved area of cobbled surfacing that extends southwards from the tower, along with apparent evidence for surrounding structures in three areas. The latter were perhaps enough to demonstrate the former existence of a courtyard configuration. The arrangement of the cobbling itself, which had been carefully laid in panels, suggested there had been a causeway approach from the east that had presumably provided access from the existing farm track, a route that was long-established, at least from the time of Roy’s military survey of the mid-18th century and presumably before. The fact that the eastern part of this causeway was not bounded by further panels of cobbles along with the presence of slight remains of footings to either side suggest it had been flanked by walls or ranges. Whether there had been some form of gate-structure remains unclear but a gated entrance seems a likelihood. To the south the cobbled surface appears to terminate at an east-west aligned masonry footing that corresponds well with the position of the north side of the parallel range that appears on the early estate plans. However only a very short section of the footing was revealed. The arrangement of cobbled panels also included one of anomalous alignment and arrangement being trapezoidal and splaying out as it ran up to the south side of the early tower. This may have been deliberately aligned on an early exterior timber stair structure. It certainly also seems that the existing secondary stair tower cuts across the pattern of cobble panels, apparent evidence to demonstrate that the surface related to the earlier tower rather than to later works. Though heavily impacted by more recent farming-related activity to the south-west, where there is a substantial cut and a general scouring-away of the ground, it is clear that the cobbling had formerly extended further in that direction. It does extend beyond the limit of excavation to the north – evidently running up to the south side of the early tower and westwards along the south side of the kitchen range. To the east the surface seems to peter out and towards the east boundary there seems to have been much relatively recent disturbance relating to farming activity. This was certainly the case on the immediate east side of the tower where there had been a 20th century farm shed with associated metalling. It is as yet unclear whether the latter overlies significant earlier remains. Other trenching towards the south end of the site, to the north of the kitchen range and to the west of the range’s west gable revealed little of archaeological significance. The main area of cobbling was temporarily protected while conservation and repair works to the tower proceed, the nature of its future presentation or protection as yet to be determined. <7>

A digest of the history, owners, decline and eventual restoration (including the archaeological work and historic research) of the tower was published by The Landmark Trust in 2022. <8>

Sources/Archives (11)



Grid reference Centred NH 4694 5235 (40m by 40m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH45SE
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY
Civil Parish URRAY

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