"Free for a blast"
Motto of the Pennycuick family



Other sources

  1. The Clerks of Penicuik - portraits of taste & talent. Booklet by Iain Gordon Brown, Penicuik House Preservation Trust, 1987

Other information



The Buckstone of Boroughmuir, where the horn blasts were blown

It now stands on Braid Road, just north of Buckstone Drive, Edinburgh

Sir JohnPennycuick arms at Inner Temple
Shield of Sir John Pennycuick at the Inner Temple

Clerk family coat of arms


Clerk family coat of arms

The shield and lower motto are Clerk, the crest and upper motto are Pennycuick

Spear Gate Lodge
The Spear Gate Lodge of Penicuik House

The "Free for a Blast" crest is in a plaque in the gable of the house

Photo: Google Street View

Pennycuick crest


Coat of arms for Sir John Pennycuick (1899-1982)

Assigned in 1979

Heirloom belonging to our family


Since the middle ages the Pennycuick family have used the motto “Free for a blast”. The Penycuke family of Penicuik were rangers or foresters to the kings of Scotland, and the motto originated at that time: the head of the family was required to give “three blasts of the horn when the King came hunting on Borough Muir”.1 This moor, part of the forest of Drumselch, once covered large parts of what is now southern Edinburgh, and was a favourite hunting ground of James IV (r. 1488-1513). The horn was to be sounded from the Buckstone (or Buck Stane), a large rock (photo left) which stood on a hill on the moor.2,3 (See the map of Midlothian for the location.) For this comparatively small gesture of loyalty, the family had the freedom of the land and Barony of Penicuik. These rights were renewed in 1507 by James IV, "the reddendo being three blasts of a horn".4 The deed of succession of 1591 from Sir John Penycuke to his son Andrew1 also mentions the motto (here the number of blasts is given as six). See the page on the Penycukes of that Ilk for details.

Following the sale of the Penicuik estate to the Clerk family in 1654, the connection with the motto's original meaning for the Pennycuick family was broken, but "Free for a blast" is still used: it features for example on the arms assigned to Sir John Pennycuick in 1979 (detail shown above - for the heraldic description of the arms and crest, see the page on Sir John). The Pennecuiks of Newhall however used a different motto, "Ut resurgam" ("that I may rise again").

The motto is used by other families apart from the Pennycuicks. The Clerk family use two mottos: “Free for a blast”, adopted by Sir George Clerk in 1807, and "Amat victoria curam" ("victory and care go hand in hand"), adopted by John Clerk when he bought the Penicuik estate in 1654.4 The Rattray (or Clerk-Rattray) family use the motto, as well as “Super sidera votum” ("my desires extend beyond the stars"), and various other crests and mottos. There may also be a “Free for a blast” connection with the Maltby family (into which Jane Maria Pennycuick, daughter of Brigadier John Pennycuick, married),5 but the family crest finder does not refer to it.6

Penicuik House motto


Motto on the wall below the dome of Stable Court, Penicuik House

"This fair dome where suit is paid, by blast of bugle free"

In popular folklore, the phrase appears in a hunting song of the Borders region (“Oor hunter and his lass are now mounted for the chase… and gave ‘free for a blast’ in the morning”, to the tune also known as 'John Peel'). Walter Scott refers to it in Ivanhoe and in the poem The Grey Brother, in the form, "this fair dome where suit is paid, by blast of bugle free", which is engraved on the wall of the Stable Court at Penicuik House. The crest is also carved on a plaque set into the wall of the lodge house at the Spear Gate (see photo). "Free for a blast" is also the title of a recent book by Col. Robert ‘Rex’ King-Clark (presumably a descendant of one or other branch of the Clerk / Clark family).

Crests and shields

The subject of heraldry is an extremely complex one, but in essence, a crest is one element of a coat of arms, namely the device (picture, symbol etc.) on top of the helmet which in turn sits atop the shield or escutcheon. Crest, helmet and shield can be seen in the illustration above. (In Scottish heraldry a badge is also used, featuring the crest and motto in a strap-and-buckle design.)

The crest associated with "Free for a blast" is the huntsman with his horn. In Sir John Pennycuick's coat of arms (above), he is in blue, in the dress of a "Lowland Scot of the late 18th century". Variations on the crest, from a website dealing with silver-marks,6 are shown below. In these the huntsman no longer carries a sword (as in Sir John's crest) but another item - see below; one variant has him between the antlers of a stag, and the Pennecuik of Newhall crest shows just the stag, beneath an oak tree. In the Annals of Penicuik,1 Wilson mentions a three-stringed bow as part of the crest: this is perhaps the item elsewhere6 described as a whip. He also mentions that the seal of Sir Hugh de Penicok on the Ragman Rolls in 1296 was a griffon. The crest and motto are also listed in various websites dealing with the equally complex issue of Scottish clans (although it seems the Pennycuicks were not a clan as such, but just a family).7,8

The escutcheon or shield for Sir John Pennycuick is four-quartered red and ermine, with hunting horns on the ermine quarters. (Or more correctly, ‘Quarterly gules and ermine in the first and fourth a hunting horn or, within a bordure of the same reversed’.) One variant of this from 1977 (shown left) hangs in the dining hall of the Inner Temple in London, where Sir John was Treasurer from 1978 to 1979; the more elaborate variant from 1979 is shown above. The Scots Clans website8 shows a very different design, but still with the hunting horns (see below). I'm not sure of the reason for this difference.

The Clerk family, as mentioned above, use two mottos. Their coat of arms (shown left) also combines elements from both Clerk and Pennycuick families: the escutcheon is Clerk and the crest is Pennycuick.

Pennycuick shield


Shield from Pennycuick coat of arms

Argent, a bend, Azure, between three hunting horns, Sable, stringed, Gules




A demi-huntsman winding a horn proper

"Free for a blast"

Clerk of Penicuik, Clerk-Rattray

A demi-huntsman winding a horn proper

"Free for a blast" (Clerk, Clerk-Rattray)

"Amat victoria curam" (Clerk)

"Super sidera votum" (Clerk-Rattray)



Clark (of Cavendish Square)

Between the attires of a stag, affixed to the scalp, a demi-huntsman winding a horn, and holding in his sinister hand a whip, proper

"Free for a blast"

Pennycook of Newhall


Penniecook (of Newhall)

A stag lodged under an oak tree proper

"Ut resurgam"