Ancrum dig hoping to confirm palace site

Mantle Walls site, Ancrum
Mantle Walls site, Ancrum

Villagers at Ancrum are hoping to dig out more information about its past during an archaeological excavation next month.

Ancrum and District Heritage Society is carrying out the dig at the Mantle Walls site in the hope of confirming that it was once home to a bishop’s palace.

The bill for the project is expected to come to about £43,000, and the lion’s share of that tab – £34,100 – is being picked up by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with the Fallago Environment Fund, Historic Environment Scotland and Scottish Borders Council also chipping in.

The dig – to run from Monday, September 16, to Saturday, September 28 – will further investigate masonry already unearthed at the site and explore hitherto-unexcavated areas.

Workshops will be held to give primary school pupils an insight into the project, and there will also be a family open day at the site and a series of evening lectures culminating in a conference day at the end of next month.

It is known that William de Bondington, bishop of Glasgow from 1232 or 1233 until his death in 1258, had a residence at Ancrum, but its location has yet to be confirmed.

Though no upstanding remains are visible at Mantle Walls has long been suspected to have been the site of the former Eddleston rector’s home.

Evidence yielded by maps and historic documents suggest there was once a large building at the site, and previous digs there have turned up ashlar masonry and pottery shards, possibly dating as far back as the 12th century.

Society chairman Richard Strathie said: “This funding means a great deal to Ancrum and District Heritage Society and the local community in Ancrum.

“The Mantle Walls field is adjacent to the village of Ancrum and locals have always known that there that there was a building or buildings in the field, and there are many local legends about the field.

“We hope that the community dig will involve everyone in the community from the children in the local primary schools to the senior citizens of the village, who have a great fund of knowledge about the history of the village.

“Large blocks of masonry are still coming to the surface of the site, and the purpose of this year’s dig will be to determine if the site is suffering from erosion, locate the boundary walls of the site and carry out a geophysical survey to determine the whereabout of internal walls.”

Ríona McMorrow, acting head of the National Lottery Heritage Fund in Scotland, added: “Uncovering where, and how, our ancestors lived helps communities to understand their own history and identity.

“Thanks to National Lottery players, the National Lottery Heritage Fund is able to support projects such as the community archaeological dig at the Bishop’s Palace in Ancrum that produce tantalising clues about the past and provide volunteers with new skills.”

Volunteers are being sought to take part in the dig. For details, go to www.adhs.co.uk

Academics and students from Glasgow University, helped by local volunteers, carried out digs at Mantle Walls site in 2011 and 2012 in an effort to uncover evidence of the palace’s existence, finding artefacts including musket balls.