Dig hope for Old Melrose

Dr. Chris Bowles, SBC archaeology officer with some of the stone in the field of Mantle Walls, Ancrum  which is believed  to be part of a medieval bishop's palace. Archaeologists from Glasgow University are to begin investigations in october 2012.

Dr. Chris Bowles, SBC archaeology officer with some of the stone in the field of Mantle Walls, Ancrum which is believed to be part of a medieval bishop's palace. Archaeologists from Glasgow University are to begin investigations in october 2012.

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LOCAL enthusiasts are hoping to find out more of the history of Old Melrose, once one of the most important religious sites in Scotland.

The Trimontium Trust last Friday agreed to meet officers from the Melrose Historial Society to talk about a possible archaeological investigation in the area.

Scottish Borders Council’s archaeology officer Dr Chris Bowles has had informal talks with landowner William Younger. But everyone involved stressed the project was in its infancy with those interested still at the stage of putting ideas on the table.

Dr Bowles said: “I hope something can happen at Old Melrose that would add significantly to our knowledge of the Borders’ historic environment.”

He continued: “Old Melrose is internationally important as being the first spiritual home of St Cuthbert in the 7th century AD and one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon monasteries in northern Britain.”

St Cuthbert, later the abbot of Lindisfarne monastery, may have been from the Borders and he spent many years at Old Melrose before moving on to other monasteries.

After his death his fame grew into a cult, said Dr Bowles, adding: “Old Melrose may have continued as a monastic community for much of this period, and was even raided by Kenneth MacAlpin in the 9th century.”

He continued: “By the 12th century, the Scottish King David I founded a chapel on the site of Old Melrose, perhaps with the aim of placing a new monastery at the site. It was ultimately felt that the site was inappropriate for the new Cistercian community, so David founded Melrose Abbey instead (taking the name from Old Melrose).”

The chapel survived as a site of pilgrimage for most of the medieval period, but Dr Bowles said: “There is no trace of this rich history at the site today apart from a scheduled series of earthworks that cut across the neck of the promontory.”

From records there were a number of monks’ cells in the early mediaeval monastery at Old Melrose.

Five years ago the Trimontium Trust, with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund through Tweed Forum, undertook initial geophysical studies in the area.

The Trust’s Donald Gordon said: “The details are still there and if we put them through more modern machinery we might see something better now.”

The local historians hope there will be some kind of archaelogical investigation into the layout of the peninsula. At one end of the scale would be the reprocessing the geophysical data the trust has already and investigating the non-scheduled section of the ancient ditch which cuts off the neck of the peninsula, said Mr Gordon.

“At the other extreme are the possibilities of the new very detailed LIDAR aerial scanning of not only Old Melrose but the Eildons and Trimontium also, to kill several birds with one multi-purpose stone,” he said.

But he added: “In order to have a hope of raising through grants the finance to undertake such projects a first step would be to be assured of sufficient local interest to make applications feasible.”

Old Melrose’s hexagonal 19th century summerhouse has already been refurbished. It opened in September, containing interpretation boards by Newtown St Boswells and St Boswells schoolchildren about ,early Christianity and how life might have been lived at the monastery.

The panels have been moved to the Old Melrose tearoom for the winter.

The Trimontium Trust also hopes to help with planned guided monthly walks in the area.

Dr Bowles said: “The next stage is to form a project design that we’re all happy with and can then use to begin discussions with Historic Scotland and funders.”

He said it was impossible to say how much any project would cost until there was a firm plan of what would be done at the site.