The Royal Burgh of Lauder is a town in the Scottish Borders council area. It was a royal burgh in the county of Berwickshire until 1975 when both were abolished. It lies on the edge of the Lammermuir Hills, on the Southern Upland Way.

Medieval history

Although Lauder sits in the valley of Leader Water, Watson notes that the names Lauder and Leader appear to be unconnected. In the earliest sources Lauder appears as "Lauuedder" and "Louueder". [Watson, "The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland", Edinburgh, 1926, reprinted 2004: 271.]

Below Lauder are the lands of Kedslie which were bounded on the west by a road called "Malcolm's rode," and it is thought this formed part of the Roman road known as Dere Street, which passed through Lauder. Hardie suggests that it had been reconditioned by Malcolm III for use in his almost constant warfare against England. It is the only old road in Scotland that is associated with the name of an individual person. [Hardie, R.P., "The Roads of Mediaeval Lauderdale", Edinburgh, 1942: xi and 85]

The ancient settlement was further up the hills on the edge of the Moor. [Hardie, R.P., "The Roads of Mediaeval Lauderdale", Edinburgh, 1942: 85] Its name is unknown, but it was tiny. [ Maine's "Village Communities", 1871, pps:95-6]

With the introduction of the feudal system to Scotland by David I, a provincial lordship of Lauderdale was created for the King's favourite, Hugh de Morville (who founded Dryburgh Abbey), which covered an extensive amount of territory, although Thomson states that the Lauder family were "there in the previous century". [ Thomson, A., FSA (Scot)., "Lauder and Lauderdale", Galashiels, 1902: 21] Joseph Bain states that the de Morville's held one-third of half Lauder and Lauderdale for one knight's service. It would appear that de Morville's superiority did not extend over the entire valley of Lauderdale which, by his own demarcation recorded in the "Chronicle of Melrose", stopped at the Lauder burn south of the town. [Hardie, R.P., "The Roads of Mediaeval Lauderdale", Edinburgh, 1942: 72-3]

The origins of the Lauder family are unclear. One its earliest attested members, Sir Robert de Lawedre of The Bass (d. September 1337) was Justiciar of Lothian as early as 1316. [ The "Great Seal of Scotland", charters, numbers 92 & 93 signed at Berwick-upon-Tweed, confirmations to the Jedburgh Abbey, have as one of the witnesses, Robert de Lawder, knight. They are both dated 20th December 1316. James Young (1884, p.19) quotes a document written in French, and dated 4th September, 1319, entitled: "Lettre d'attorne pur doner seysine," and is granted to "Robert de Lawedir Justice de Lounes, [Lothians] ....Donez a la langley en la terre de Meuros [Melrose] le quartior de Septembre en lan de grace MCCC et disneifme."]

Above the burgh of Lauder, abutting Lauder Moor and the boundaries of Wedale and the lands of Ladypart, were the lands of Alanshaws, granted to the monks of Melrose by Alan of Galloway, the Constable of Scotland although by 1500 these too were already in the hands of the Lauders of that Ilk [ Romanes, Charles S., CA., "Melrose Regality Records", Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1917, vol.3: xxxv-xxxvi] , probably by feu. The superiority of Ladypart remained in the hands of the Lauder of Bass family until the 17th century. The "Exchequer Rolls" record a reconfirmation of them to Robert Lauder of The Bass who died in 1576. [ Mackay, A.E.J.G., MA,LL.D, editor, "The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland", volume XIV, 1513-1522, Edinburgh, 1893: 619-620]

This family erected a Scottish tower house, "the beginning of authentic history as far as the town is concerned", [ Thomson, A., FSA (Scot)., "Lauder and Lauderdale", Galashiels, 1902: 21 ] around which the present town grew, and "Alan Lawedir of the Tower of Lawedir" is mentioned in 1445. [ Historic Manuscripts Commission - "MSS of Colonel David Milne Home of Wedderburn Castle", London, 1902: p262] The Registers of the Privy Council of Scotland refer to an inter-family litigation over the tower in 1598. [ Stodart, R.R., "Scottish Arms", Edinburgh, 1881, vol.II, p174, (following Alexander Nisbet, 1722), mentions the granting of Arms to Sir John Lauder, 1st Baronet c1672, as "descended of the old family of Lauder of that Ilk", which Arms carried "in dexter canton a tower" representing Lauder Tower.]

Lauder Tower stood in what in 1903 was known as Tower Yard, a garden area then bounded by the Free Kirk Manse and the County Police Station, close by the Easter Port. The road west from the town crossed the Midrow and passed Tower Yard, then passed by Lauder Mill. A continuation of the road went onwards to Chester Hill. [Romanes, Robert, "Lauder: a Series of Papers", 1903] It was not taken down until 1700. ["Lauderdale Accounts" in the National Archives of Scotland] Interestingly, in "Lauder & Lauderdale" [ Thomson, A.,FSA(Scot), "Lauder & Lauderdale", Galashiels, 1902] it is stated that in 1837 "the new United Presbyterian manse was built on a site which was purchased, for £115, from Baillie [George] Lauder."

The "New Statistical Account of Scotland" (vol.II) says that Lauder existed as a kirk-town in the time of David I (1124 - 53), and Sir J.D.Marwick says, in his preface to the "Records of Convention", that the present town of Lauder existed in the latter half of the twelfth century and probably at an earlier date.

The town was once surrounded by walls with gates commonly referred to as 'ports'. Two major mills, which dated from at least the 13th century, also served the town. Notable buildings in the town today include the Tolbooth or Town Hall, which predates 1598 when records show it being burnt by a party of Homes and Cranstouns led by Lord Home, in a feud between them and the Lauder family who were at the time sitting on the bench as hereditary baillies. [Mackie, J.D., CBE., MC., LL.D., editor, "Calendar of the State Papers relating to Scotland 1547-1603", Edinburgh, 1969, vol. XIII, Part 1, number 156, pps: 205, 207-8]

The last of the ancient proprietors, Robert Lauder of that Ilk (d.c1650), bequeathed the tower house and other lands to his daughter Isobel, who had married Alexander Home of St.Leonards, in Lauderdale, both dead by November 1683, the inheritance sold. The old family is today represented by Sir Piers Dick-Lauder, 13th Baronet.

Thirlestane Castle

Below the town, on Castle Hill, stood the Crown Fort, a scene of many skirmishes over the years. It is shown on Timothy Pont's map. Early records give de Morville a castle at Lauder, but it would appear that there was a new erection of it by the English in the reign of King Edward I. James III and James IV both used the castle. In 1548 the fort was occupied and stengthened by Somerset, the Protector, and garrisoned by Sir Hugh Willoughby 'in the end of winter and beginning of spring'. After a minor siege with French cannon, it was evacuated on March 22, 1550. The following year John Haitlie in Fawns and William Haitlie in Redpath (near Earlston) were arrested for "treasonably supplying the English in the Castle of Lauder, thereby enabling them to hold out longer." [ Thomson, A., FSA(Scot)., "Lauder and Lauderdale", Galashiels, 1902: 178-181] The Crown which had in any case abandoned the fort during its occupation, had given it to Robert Lauder of that Ilk (d. bef July 1567), who provided it, in 1532, to his daughter Alison as dowry when she married. [ The Great Seal of Scotland, charter no. 1186, confirmed at Edinburgh July 1, 1532.] Following she and her husband's deaths in feuds in 1547 it reverted to Robert Lauder whose wife was Alison Cranstoun. A Cranstoun relation later sold it on to Chancellor John Maitland in 1587. He commenced the building of the magnificent Thirlestane Castle upon that site two years later, parts of the original walls of the ancient fort being included in the walls of the new edifice In 1670-7 Sir William Bruce (architect), known as a 'gentleman architect', supervised its transformation into a palace through remodelling for the Duke of Lauderdale.

By the 18th century the Maitlands had supplanted the ancient Lauders as the pre-eminent local family, and had managed to acquire most of the properties which had belonged to the ancient family, although Windpark/Wyndepark (which overlooked Thirlestane Castle) and its Pele Tower remained in the hands of John Lauder of Winepark and Carolside (near Earlston), until about 1750.


Near to the old Crown Fort stood the ancient parish church of St.Mary (a dependency of Dryburgh Abbey). In a Writ of c1217 an "Everardus" is recorded as pastor of Laweder, and in 1245 there was a Chapter of the Clergy of East Lothian at Lauder on Saturday after the Feast of Saint Peter, "ad vincula", when a dispute was settled between the Priory of St. Andrews and the nuns of Haddington, regarding the tithes of Stevenstoun, nr.Haddington. [ "Liber de Dryburgh", pps: 13 and 269] In this original church many of the old Lauder family were interred, including two bishops, William de Lawedre, Bishop of Glasgow and Lord Chancellor of Scotland, and Alexander Lauder, Bishop of Dunkeld. It was from this church, in 1482, that James III's favourites, including the architect Cochrane, were dragged by envious nobles and hanged from the (earlier) Lauder Bridge. With their local ascendancy, and with Thirlestane Castle becoming even grander, John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale decided he would demolish the ancient kirk, and had a new church erected by Sir William Bruce in 1673 in the centre of the Royal Burgh. Around it is a walled graveyard, with a watchhouse built after a bodysnatching raid in 1830.

There was also (now demolished) a large United Presbyterian Church at the West Port. The manse still stands, but is now a private residence.


The current population of the town is around 1500 although it is rapidly expanding as over 100 new homes are being built on the southern boundary. This means that, at the beginning of the 21st century, the population is approaching what it was at the beginning of the 20th century before the period of depopulation over the last 100 years.

Lauder is today strongly influenced by its proximity to Edinburgh as it is now considered to be close enough for people to commute into the capital for work. The bus service to Edinburgh is good - but infrequent.

Current issues for debate in Lauder are the town's expansion - whether it is needed or desirable - the location of a new primary school (and how soon one will be built), and the location and extent of wind farms on the surrounding hills.



* "Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland", edited by Joseph Bain, Edinburgh, 1881-8, vol.2, p.215-6.
* "The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland", by William J. Watson, Edinburgh, 1926, reprinted 2004. ISBN 1-84158-323-5
* "The Grange of St.Giles", by J.Stewart-Smith, Edinburgh, 1898.
* "Lauder and Lauderdale", by A.Thomson, Galashiels, 1900.
* "Lauder, a Series of Papers", by Robert Romanes, Galashiels, 1903.
* "Borders and Berwick", by Charles A Strang, Rutland Press, 1994, p.190. ISBN 1-873190-10-7

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