Laws Fort and Broch

Laws hill rises to an elevation of 400 feet above sea level.  On the summit, are the remains of what had once been a large fortification.

The site occupies an area of about two acres, having an almost elliptical boundary about 370 yards in circumference. The length from east to west is about 170 yards. The greatest width 70 yards. It`s position is one of the highest elevations in the district. As a defensive position it was the strongest possible. There was a good water supply from springs, and the walls, of which vestiges remain in the shape of enormous masses of stonework, point to an almost impregnable fortification, according to the warfare of Early times. The fort belongs to the class called vitrified-—the stones being bound together by glaze that could only be produced by fire so hot and so long applied as to fuse the stones until they were connected as by a cement resembling melted ore.

The difficulty at arriving at a true conception of what the fort was like has been increased by the fact that it formed a convenient quarry for all building purposes in the neighbourhood.

How long it was so utilised is unknown, but a land steward informed a late proprietor of the Laws, that when stones were required for dykes, drains, or other purposes on the estate, it was practice to discover a wall, and then to work it out so far as the stones were suitable, leaving the larger stones lower down; and during these workings rude graves, lined and covered with flagstones were found containing human skeletons. Dr John Stuart, who examined the structure was informed that in four years from 1818, 9600 cartloads of stones were removed for drainage purposes, and that his informant remembered seeing one cist enclosed with slabs and containing human bones. Many pieces of tobacco pipes made of clay, not differing much from the modern shape, but clumsier and thicker, were also found.

From the quantity of stones carried away in the four years alluded to, some idea, of the magnitude of the buildings may be formed. Two cartloads would build rather more than a cubic yard of wall, , so that 9600 cart loads would account for 4800 yards of masonry. That amount would build a solid tower 50 feet square and 52 feet high, or a wall a mile long, 6 feet high and over 4 feet thick. This can only represent a mere fraction of the original quantity of stones with which the outer ramparts, towers buildings, and dividing walls had been constructed.

In 1834, when Mr Colville bought the property, the summit of the hill was broken up by hollows and masses of rubbish that had been thrown up when the stones were removed, and soon after this period the surface was levelled, portions of the walls thrown over near the east end, and the whole planted with trees. The formation of a garden in 1836, at the south base of the hill, revealed a large quantity of bones, both human and lower animals, and among those remains were several spearheads of iron. Dr Jamieson, however, has recorded a description of the fort as he found it in 1747. Two walls of vitrified matter surround the hill. The inner was a distance of several paces from the outer and had also served as a back wall to several houses, the foundations of which were seen. Buildings of a small size seemed at parts to have existed between the two surrounding walls. Running nearly through the middle of the fort, from north to south a wall was found, which had probably been designed to form a separation between the defenders and their cattle. The main entrance was at the north east side, but there appeared to have been another on the west side.

Mr Neish, in his excavations found all over the summit of the hill bones of animals such as the ox, the horse, the boar and deer, the greatest of which were found at the bottom of walls. Human bones and articles including a stone cup, a sword, querns and iron implements were also found. In 1854 a stone lamp, or censor, now in the Antiquarian Museum, Edinburgh, was discovered by Mr Jervise. It is a cup shaped vessel (The cavity of which has a burnt appearance) nearly five inches in diameter, with a groove encircling it and others at right angles where the cords or twigs suspending it had been drawn.

Much of what Mr Neish excavated is again covered with vegetation. The researches of these antiquaries have shed a little light upon the unwritten history of this spot, but it`s mystery remains and probably will remain. It is almost impossible with any certainty to pick up traces remaining and to reconstruct, with any certainty the plan and arrangement of the fort. Originally no doubt a small stronghold had been built on the hill as a defence against the enemies by whom the tribe was likely to be attacked, and during the centuries of intermittent warfare the walls of the defence would be continually extended and strengthened, until the whole hill-top had been covered by huge ramparts of stone surrounding central buildings, where men and stores could be housed, and with space sufficient for the accommodation of cattle, when attack was threatened by a superior force. The buildings on the Laws must have taken many long years perhaps centuries to construct.

The nearby location of the prehistoric settlements or `earth-houses` at Ardownie, Ardestie and Carlungie, were according to learned historians occupied by a people who were farmers and fishermen. In times of danger from other peoples was the fort a place of safety for families with their animals.

According to Roman historians the Picts had neither forts or cities. In the sixth century forts undoubtedly existed, as Columba on his visit to Brude found `the gate of the castle was shut against him`.

Grange Farm would give some indication of Roman Occupation in the area with two of the fields named North Romans and Mid Romans

Owing to the peculiar succession of the Pictish monarchs by which the son of the previous king was excluded from succeeding to the throne—the successor being drawn from the female side—the capital of Pictland was continuously changing. Each King would make his headquarters in the district where he possessed territory, and where he would be surrounded by retainers, personally devoted to him. Queen Fichem was the wife of King Oengus, (Hungas or Angus) who reigned from 729 to 762 AD, and was in residence at Balmossie when she gave the gift of the hall and royal place to the monks, who had with them the relics of St. Andrew. It may be therefore that Fichem or Finchem belonged to some family of consequence, whose possessions lay in Forfarshire, and whose stronghold was the Laws Fort, to the neighbourhood of which she retired for safety among her relatives when her husband, the king was absent on warlike expeditions. Nothing can be certain however, little is known of the origin of this or any other hill forts of Scotland and the process by which vitrifcation of the stones was accomplished has never yet satisfactorily accounted for.

Towards the close of the eighteenth century two workmen, who had been employed in some operations about the hill, came upon the foundations of a building , where they found a considerable treasure of gold coins. They went to London and sold them for gold bullion, and the incident only came to light, when upon the division of the spoils, one of the finders, being dissatisfied with his share, accused his comrade of defrauding him to the extent of fifty pounds .(New Statistical Account)

The earliest owners of the Laws are unknown. Its commanding situation and the vestiges, which remain of the vitrified fort show that it has been a place of great importance in prehistoric times. The first proprietor of Laws, of whom we know anything was the sixth Earl of Angus, who having married the widow of James 1V and secured the young King in prison ward, was named as rebel, and in 1528 forfeited all his possessions among which were Laws, Omachie and one third of Monifieth.

Master Thomas Erskine, King James`s Secretary received these estates along with others from his Royal Master, but his speedy transfer of Laws to Henry Ramsay, suggests that cash was more to the purpose of the secretary than landed property. Three years later in 1540, Henry granted to his son John, the sunny side of Laws and the shady side of Baldovie..

A few years later the Ramsays have disappeared from Laws their place being taken by William Durham of Grange and his family.

Successive generations of the Durham family remained in the possession of the Laws until about the close of the seventeenth century, when the estate passed into the hands of that land speculator, George Dempster, son of the minister of Monifieth.

In 1771 the lands were again on the market, when Sir Alexander Ramsay Irvine of Balmain was the purchaser of the estate, along with Omachie Shank, part of Drumsturdy Muir and the Templelands of Laws now called Muirheads.

These estates which Sir Alexander Ramsay Irvine purchased and entailed, passed in 1806 to the ownership of Sir Alexander Ramsy, formerly A Burnet, Esq, Advocate. He reduced the entail in 1807, and in 1818 sold the whole to David Millar of Ballumbie. Two years later the estates were sold a small part of the Templelands of Muirhead of Drumsturdy, by Patrick Anderson, the son of the tenant of Balmossie. In 1834 Laws was purchased by Mr Thomas Colville who had large interests in India. Mr Colville built the mansion house.

The estate was purchased from the trustees of Mr William Colville on 16th August 1850 by Mr James Neish, merchant. After a lifetime in production of fabrics, in 1857, Mr Neish retired. The estate passed on to Mr William Neish, Barrister-at Law in 1882.

One response to “Laws Fort and Broch

  1. Interesting article…..I’ve visited the site and have struggled to make sense of what I’ve seen…this article has been helpful…. but still many puzzles remain!
    Particularly the pond like remains in the fort, and some of the remaining walls and “piles” (??)of stone .
    I’m surprised there’s not been further archeological investigation of the site, but maybe the extensive removal of stone over the centuries has made further investigation of likely limited benefit / interest.

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