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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1968 (SND Vol. VII).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

PEEL, n.4, v.3 Also peal, peil, pele; pale; pil(l)-. [pil]

I. n. 1. A palisade or fence of stakes, a stockade; the ground enclosed by such. Obs. in Eng. since 15th c. Now only hist. Combs. (1) peel-house, a fortified dwelling or refuge built orig. within a palisade, = 2. below; (2) pilmuir, -moor, -mure, appar. a piece of common land enclosed by a fence and cultivated as arable ground, common in place-names in various counties of Scotland, e.g. Mry., Fif., Lth., Bwk., Rxb.; specif. in Morebattle and Yetholm in Rxb., an individual allotment in the local pilmuir, now used by village proprietors as cropping-ground or pasture; (3) peel-rig, peil-, id., a ridge or strip of land on a pilmuir. Found in place-names, as Pilrig in Edb.; (4) peel-tower, = (1).Sc. c.1800 Jamie Telfer in Child Ballads No. 190. A. iv.:
When they came to the Fair Dodhead, Right hastily they clam the peel.
Sc. 1808 Jam.:
The site of this fortification at Linlithgow is still called the Peel.
Sc. 1893 Trans. Arch. Soc. Gsw. II. 127:
It is remarkable that to this day the good people of Linlithgow apply the term “the peel” not to the castle . . . but to the meadow ground outside the walls of the palace, and lying virtually all round it.
Sc. 1927 W. M. Mackenzie Mediaeval Castle 197:
A timbered enclosure would be known as a peel or pele, the barmkin being a similar enclosure of stone and lime.
(1) s.Sc. 1810 G. Chalmers Caledonia II. 919:
There was a Peel-house at Lour, in Drummellier.
Sc. 1816 Scott B. Dwarf i.:
Your father . . . wad hae been sair vexed to hae seen the auld peel-house wa's pu'd down to make “park-dykes”.
Peb. 1872 Trans. Highl. Soc. 227:
Drumelzier is the last of the chain of fortresses, commonly called peel houses, placed on the Tweed, all of which are now in ruins.
(2) Rxb. 1723 Caled. Mercury (11 June):
There is a Piece of Silver-Plate . . . to be run for at Hawick, upon the Common Moor thereof, in that Place call'd Pillmuir rigs.
Rxb. 1889 J. Tait Border Church Life 114:
This land was divided into portions suitable for occupation by working men. These pendicles, locally called “pilmuirs”, were twenty-six in number.
Rxb. 1934 Scotsman (6 Jan.):
That desirable Selfcontained Dwelling-house . . . containing . . . Wash-house and Garden, with access to Garden together with pilmuir.
(3) Peb. 1754 Session Papers, Hay v. Home (8 Jan.) 2:
Wedderburn's Father run a Ditch from a Place called the Peilrig Eastward.
(4) Sc. 1881 J. C. Shairp Aspects Poetry 330:
All the way down, not a “Hope” or a burn joins Yarrow from either side, but had its Peel-tower, the scene of some tragic or romantic incident.
Sc. 1927 W. M. Mackenzie Med. Castle 198:
A habit has grown up of denominating every simple Border tower a “pele-tower.” For this usage there is no historical justification, while the implication that it differed significantly from the same type of tower in any other part of the country is erroneous.

2. A small fortified or moated rectangular stone tower of a type found esp. freq. in the border counties of England and Scotland, mainly dating from the 16th c. and used as a dwelling and place of refuge for human beings and livestock against the depredations of border reivers. Gen.Sc., hist. The name was later extended to other fortified towers of earlier or later date. Common in place-names, as the Peel of Gargunnock, the Peel in Linlithgow and Yarrow, the Peel of Drumlanrig. The usage is prob. short for peel-house, see 1., sc. a house built within a peel (see 1893 quot.).Sc. 1726 A. Gordon Itin. Septent. 54:
At this Town [Kirkintilloch] there is another Fort upon the wall, called the Peel [a Roman fort].
Ayr. 1789 Burns Five Carlins v.:
And Black Joan, frae Crichton Peel O' gipsy kith an' kin'.
Rxb. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XI. 330:
Many buildings . . . are scattered over the country, especially on the Border, which were called peels.
s.Sc. 1814 Scott Border Antiq. I. lix.:
The smaller gentlemen, whether heads of branches of clans, or of distinct families, inhabited dwellings upon a still smaller scale, called Peels, or Bastle-houses. These were surrounded by an inclosure, or barnkin, the wall whereof was, according to statute, a yard thick, six yards in height, surrounding a space of at least sixty square feet. Within this outer work the laird built his tower, with its projecting battlements, and usually secured the entrance by two doors. . . . There was no stair at all, and the inhabitants ascended by a ladder from one story to another.
Sc. 1893 G. Neilson Peel 29:
The rude and relatively temporary peel was supplanted by a stone tower set on its site or within it, and the “peel-tower” or “peel-house” in course of time by insensible gradations became so thoroughly identified with the “peel” that it is now difficult to conceive that “peel” ever meant anything except what it means now — a small tower. Moreover the term is now applied to many towers to which the name was never given in the 16th century. It is in scores upon scores of cases a mere modern misnomer, of savant not traditional origin.
Dmf. 1964 Dmf. Standard (8 July) 7:
The lost Dalswinton, Conggleton and Wigtown, the pele at Lochmaben are a story in themselves.

II. v., tr. To stake up, support or protect with stakes.Dmf. 1779–88 Tailors' Incorp. MS. Accts.:
1779 For timber to Piel the hedges round the Tradesland. 1782 For peiling and cleaning the Hedge. 1788 For the Hedge Pilling.

[O.Sc. peill, a stockaded fort, Linlithgow peel, 1375, to stake, 1584, peil dikis, the wall or rampart of a peel, 1505, Mid.Eng. pel(e), O.Fr. pel, piel, Med. Lat. pelum, -a, ad. Lat. palus, a stake, a doublet of pale (cf. paling, etc.). In Eng. records the Border peels are described as piles, which may be of a different etym.]

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"Peel n.4, v.3". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jun 2024 <>



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