A recent visit to Hawick in the Scottish Borders was an opportunity to visit the oldest building in this charming county town of Roxburghshire. The Black Tower as it once known was built by James Douglas of Drumlanrig in the 1550’s when he became warden of the Middle March and Baron of Hawick. It was an L-shaped tower and was possibly an enlargement of an earlier rectangular structure. A barrel vaulted ground floor supported at least two further floors above with chambers, in the normal Scottish towerhouse manner. The tower later came into the hands of the Scott family and in 1703-08 Anne Scott, Duchess of Buccleuch extended the old tower by filling in the “L” to create a comfortable town-house. In 1773, the building became the “Tower Inn” a local watering hole, a mail coach stop and centre for political discussion, and social gatherings.
The building is now the Borders Textile Towerhouse, opened in 2009 celebrating the Borders’ textile industry. Textiles, garments, artefacts, paintings and documents describe 200 years of innovation in textile production in the local knitwear and tweed industries. There is also a temporary exhibition space which shows the best of the Scottish textile artists, historical and contemporary costume, fashion and design. In the barrel-vaulted ground floor there’s a small exhibition of the tower’s history. Running on a single display monitor is a ten minute documentary on the development of the building’s architecture and the social and political context in which it grew. There are a few artefacts including some 16th century cannon breeches and also an architectural scale model of the building representing the period in the mid-16th century when it was being constructed. This a remarkably useful model since it is big enough to represent real detail and appears to be architecturally accurate. The use of physical architectural models to explain historic buildings should not be underestimated, they have particular advantages of longevity and low maintenance that are often absent in digital or virtual forms of representation. They also become artefacts in the own right in due course and are permanent and tactile reminder of previous generation’s interpretation of their history.