The Kerr surname of Borders fame came to Scotland from Normandy, and in Old Norse means ‘marsh dweller’. Yet it was not in a marsh, but in the luscious, expansive Jedwood, in the valley of the Jed Water, that the Borders’ Kerrs first settled, sometime in the 13th century. In the ensuing years, the Kerrs grew to prominence as a powerful reiving family, building their two main strongholds at Ferniehirst and Cessford. Though often at odds with each other, the Ferniehirst and Cessford Kerrs were more notably the long-time enemies of the Scotts, another infamous family of Border reivers. Their feud culminated in the daylight murder of Sir Walter ‘Wicked Wat’ Scott, 1st of Branxholme, 3rd of Buccleuch, on Edinburgh High Street in 1552.
The history of the Kerrs is written concomitantly with that of Jedburgh, as for a long time they were most powerful family, and wealthiest landholders in the area. Often favoured by Scottish kings, and feared by English, their castle at Ferniehirst was taken by the English only once, after its founding around 1470, when Lord Dacre’s men sacked it in 1523. Reclaimed in 1549, the castle has not left Kerr hands since. During the 16th century, Kerrs from both the Ferniehirst and Cessford branches served terms as Wardens of the Middle March of Scotland.
The Kerr Clan’s heraldic symbol is a sun, front-facing, and their motto is Sero sed serio (‘Late but in earnest’).