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This birch wood comb, made in the 1400s, is carved from one piece of wood. It has relief and incised decoration and may once have been highly polished and painted. It is double-sided, with coarse teeth on one side and fine teeth, probably for removing nits, on the other.

Both sides of the comb are decorated with carvings of hearts and letters. One side reads ‘r o’ and the other reads either ‘n o’ or ‘m o’. The comb may have been a love token. In the medieval period the heart was a romantic symbol, and the letters may represent the initials of the couple. Combs were common gifts from husbands to wives at the time of their marriages, and hair was a symbol of beauty and sexuality. During a mother’s time in the birth chamber, to which only women had access, it may have served to remind her of her husband.

The comb was recovered from the moat during excavations at Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries and Galloway, between 1955 and 1966.

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock’s triangular shape is unique among British castles. A walk around the castle gives a sense of its strength, economy of form and pleasing geometry.

Three lengths of defensive curtain wall are linked at their three angles by high corner towers. On the north side is an impressive twin-towered gatehouse, where the Maxwells had their private rooms.

The Maxwells repaired and upgraded Caerlaverock over the years. The impressive machicolations (slotted defences) at the top of each tower date from the late 1300s or early 1400s – by which time the Wars of Independence with England had taken their toll.

Inside the castle walls is the remarkable Nithsdale Lodging, built in the 1630s by Robert Maxwell, 1st Earl of Nithsdale. Its attractive façade, with its ornate Renaissance stone carvings, is a sharp contrast to the severe castle walls.

Tale of two sieges

Caerlaverock was besieged and captured on numerous occasions, but two sieges in particular stand out.

The first, in July 1300, involved Edward I himself. The small garrison surrendered within two days of facing the full might of the English king’s army. A contemporary account of the siege is one of the most fascinating recorded for any castle in the British Isles.

The second siege, in 1640, was the castle’s last. It was brought about by Lord Maxwell’s loyalty to Charles I during his struggles with the Covenanters. The garrison held out for 13 weeks before surrendering.

Afterwards the castle was stripped of valuable fixtures and fittings and its great south curtain wall demolished so that Caerlaverock could never again be used as a place of defence.

Natural history

Many rare animals and plants live in the castle grounds, which lies next to Caerlaverock Nature Reserve.

There are 15 habitats in the grounds, including:

  • semi-natural ancient woodland
  • swamp and ponds
  • unimproved grassland

That so many nationally important habitats survive is testament to Caerlaverock’s protection as a significant historical site.

 

Find out more about Caerlaverock Castle

Details

Date Made
15th century
Dimensions
75 x 510mm
Time Period
Medieval
Property Information
Caerlaverock Castle
Object Number
CAER175
Access Status
Storage

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