Alastair Maxwell-Irving

Born: October 1, 1935;

Died: February 29, 2024

Dr Alastair Michael Tivey Maxwell-Irving, who has died aged 88, was a respected antiquarian and archaeologist who in 2020 became Glasgow Caledonian University's oldest graduate and was, at 85, understood to be the oldest person in Scotland to become a Doctor of Philosophy.

In his case, the award ‘by published work’ was made in recognition of his lifetime’s research and in particular his definitive book on the history of the Tower Houses of the Scottish Borders (2000) and a second volume, The Border Towers of Scotland: Their Evolution and Architecture (2014). At the time of his graduation, he reflected, "It is the culmination of many years of research on a subject that has fascinated me since childhood.”

Born in Witham, Essex, the only son of Reginald Tivey and Barbara Annie Bell Irving, Alastair was educated at Lancing College in Sussex, before graduating from the University of London in 1957 with a degree in electrical engineering. He worked for various electrical companies and also for Annandale Estates and Economic Forestry before taking up his final post at Weir Pumps in Alloa in 1970.

Alastair was a keen reader (owning over 2,000 reference books) and a prolific writer. His books and articles were diverse, for example, on Scottish yetts and window-grilles, early firearms and their influence on the military and domestic architecture of the Borders, and the Crusader Stone at Bonshaw Tower near Lockerbie. Many of these works broadened and deepened our understanding of archaeology and antiquities, and, in recognition of these significant contributions, Alastair was both a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Alastair served as an honorary assistant with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland for more than 40 years. For more than 50 years, he painstakingly researched, investigated, excavated, photographed, sketched and surveyed the Border towers of Scotland, all in forensic detail, and “through summer, winter, snow, and sunshine.”

This labour of love was all methodically brought together in numerous books and scholarly articles on inter alia the fortified towers of Bonshaw, Cramalt, Lockerbie, the tower-houses of Kirtleside, as well as the castles of Buittle, Borthwick, Caerlaverock, Hoddom, Kenmure, Lochwood, and Torthorwald. Never one to rest on his laurels, in 2012, in The Castle Studies Group Journal, he tackled the particularly tricky question of “how many tower houses were there in the Scottish Borders?”

Read more: David Webster obituary: Athlete who pioneered World’s Strongest Man

Read more: Wayne Kramer obituary: Guitarist with rock group targeted by the FBI

His two books of “Family Memoirs”, of 2007 and 2008, provide a charming and personal collection of historical facts, anecdotes, reminiscences, photographs and memories concerning Alastair’s related families of Irving, Bell, Bruges and Tivey, and are invaluable to all of the aforementioned families. Similarly, his book Reginald Tivey – A Celebration of His Art (2011) provided a fitting tribute to his father, who was a talented amateur painter.

But it was his first major work, The Border Towers of Scotland: Their History and Architecture – The West March, for which he received the Nigel Tranter Memorial Award from the Scottish Castles Association in 2003, of which Alastair was perhaps most proud.

Collectively, the 2000 and 2014 volumes are widely regarded as definitive works on their subject matter and as having made an enormous contribution to our modern understanding and appreciation of the defensive structures of the Scottish borders, particularly the West March.

Perhaps one more of Alastair’s publications is worthy of note, for his early book of 1968, The Irvings of Bonshaw, has raised many thousands of pounds for the Bonshaw Preservation Trust, of which he was a trustee. At Bonshaw Tower, seat of the Irving clan, he gave talks to interested family members and clansmen from oversees, notably the Clan Irwin Association, based in America. Alastair also generously gave many talks to the Dumfriesshire & Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, and the Blairlogie Community and Heritage Trust, of both of which he was an enthusiastic member.

Alastair had numerous other interests, none of which may have been said to have been casual. For, in relation to horology, as well as collecting, cleaning and repairing numerous clocks and watches, he was a member of the Scottish branch of the Antiquarian Horological Society and published an article on Andrew Dunlop of the Clockmakers’ Company (1701-32).

In relation to family history and genealogy, Alastair extended and created numerous family trees, notably one showing the genealogy of a principal branch of the Irvings of Gribton, senior cadets of the Irvings of Bonshaw, which, rather ambitiously, began with Genesis’ Adam; the first 20 generations following Biblical traditions and the next 54 generations being taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

He also had a great appreciation and understanding of Scottish heraldry, matriculating arms in 1961, when, in order to matriculate Irving arms, he changed his name from Tivey to Maxwell-Irving. This was because he was an Irving through his mother, and therefore only of the half-blood, and was therefore ineligible to change his name to plain Irving. Steeped in his families’ and clans’ traditions, he was firm in his conviction that arms and heraldic devices were not a relic of the past, but rather something that could, and should, be used regularly.

Up until a couple of years before his death, Alastair had been working on the first draft of a book on Florence and the art and architecture of Tuscany, two of the places he loved to visit.

Alastair is survived by his wife, Mary (née Hamilton) whom he married in 1983. They lived in Stirlingshire, at Telford House, Blairlogie, for the following 40 years.