For three hundred years the Anglo-Scottish border was a dangerous frontier region where despoiled land, theft and massacre were regular occurrences.  The people of the Borders lived in a bleak war zone and adapted to survive by using their skills as light horsemen, skirmishers and cattle rustlers. Even in times of peace raiding became a way of life. By the sixteenth century theft of livestock and attacks on property were endemic. History has christened the raiders as the Border Reivers.

Border Reivers were ruthless men who murdered, kidnapped and set up protection rackets. They brought bereaved and blackmail to the English language. Family loyalty was vital for strength and protection. Powerful Border families emerged such as the Grahams, Armstrongs, Elliots and Kerrs. A complex network of alliances and feuds developed across the border marches. Nationality was considered of secondary importance to that of the family. Such families could put large numbers of men in the saddle and raid across the border. In a society of raid and counter raid, murder and reprisal, the ‘riding families’ fortified their homes to build bastles and pele towers.

In 1603 King James VI of Scotland became James I of England. The new king wanted peace in the centre of his British kingdom. To achieve the ‘middle shires’ Reivers were executed, exiled and their lands confiscated. The border was pacified and reiving had ended. Yet the descendants of Grahams, Armstrongs and others still live across the region today.

Objects in this collection