On a recent trip to Edinburgh University I took the opportunity to pop into the National Museum of Scotland. The original 1860s building that houses much of the museum is a fantastic structure in its own right; behind the Romanesque brick and stone facade is a grand central exhibition hall formed by tall cast-iron frames supporting lofty iron roof trusses. I was drawn to the Scotland galleries, especially the Kingdom of the Scots (AD 900-1400) section. Why? Because of the background research for our book on Buckton Castle, to be published later this year.
Buckton sits on the edge of a hill in the Pennines above, and to the east of, Manchester, its outline on the horizon dominating the immediate landscape of the Tame Valley. Like the view of Edinburgh from the south-west (with Calton Hill and Arthur’s seat etched on the skyline) it is visible from the train, in this case the line from Manchester to York running along the valley below. The castle was almost certainly built by one of the earls of Chester in the 12th or early 13th centuries, and its landscape position suggests that it looks north and west.
So what is the Scottish connection? Between 1136 and 1157 northern England was ruled by David I of Scotland, David the Great, who controlled Lancashire north of the River Ribble. Lancashire south the Ribble was occupied by the Earl of Chester. Buckton, with its views to the west and north across the Mersey Basin towards the Rossendale uplands, may have been part of the response of the earl to this threat; it was in effect a border castle (more of this in the forthcoming book). In the 11th and 12th centuries the boundary between Scotland and England was still fluid with strong cultural ties either side of the border; Carlisle was only captured by the Normans in 1092 but was retaken and held by the Scots in the period 1136-57, and subsequently besieged by them on several occasions. Further south the 9th to 11th century standing cross fragment from Prestwich Church near Manchester, found during the 1990s, has an Anglian style of decoration that can be seen on similar examples from Yorkshire to the Lothians. Similarly decorated cross fragments are on display at the National Museum of Scotland. Elsewhere in North West England the frequency of defended manor houses with stone towers increases the further north and closer to the Scottish border you get; they are a physical reminder of the instability of the Anglo-Scottish frontier and the continuing border warfare and raiding of the 14th to 16th centuries.
Buckton Castle may not feel like a border site today, but it was on the edge in more than just its topographical location for many centuries.