Site Name Roxburgh

Classification Burgh

Canmore ID 58422

Site Number NT73SW 20

NGR NT 71840 33969

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Kelso
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Roxburgh
  • Former County Roxburghshire

Accessing Scotland's Past

While little remains on the ground of the medieval burgh of Roxburgh, it is known to have occupied a hill to the north-east of the castle known as Kay Brae. Aerial photographs of this area show cropmarks of what appears to be two streets crossing at right angles.

Documentary evidence offers a means of piecing together the layout of the town. These sources include several charters and wills that name a number of streets. Several accounts describe walls and ditches around the town, which were probably necessary given its location near the English border.

Text prepared by RCAHMS as part of the Accessing Scotland's Past project at

Archaeology Notes

NT73SW 20 c. 717 340

NT73SW 20.01 NT c. 717 340 Hospital (St Peter)

NT73SW 20.02 NT c. 717 340 Hospital (St Mary Magdalene)

NT73SW 20.03 NT c. 717 340 Hospital (St John?)

For Kelso, General, see NT73SW 44.

The Burgh of Roxburgh (Site). Not a vestige now remains of this ancient and important burgh. It first comes on record in the foundation charter of Selkirk Abbey, granted about 1120 by Earl David, later David I (A C Lawrie 1905); and like its neighbour at Berwick, which is mentioned in the same document, it was a going concern at that date, although possibly a recent foundation. From the first it was an enclosed and defensible place, occupying Kay Brae, the high W end of the lozenge-shaped haugh at the confluence of Tweed and Teviot, and it thus stood immediately NE of the royal castle of Roxburgh (RCAHMS 1956, No.905). There are casual references to its defences in early documents. For example, in an early charter to Kelso Abbey (Tomus Primus, Liber de Melros 1837), the fosse on the E side of the burgh is mentioned as a boundary running from the Teviot to the Tweed, while the wall (see infra) and the W gate are both mentioned in charters of the mid-12th century (A C Lawrie 1905). Unlike some other burghs, Roxburgh soon became both prosperous and populous, its position on the Tweed beside the lowest bridge above Berwick-the Tweed fords being notoriously unsafe-marking it out as a convenient entrepot for the rising trade in hides and wool. Thus by the middle of the 12th century at latest, and possibly some thirty years earlier, it had been extended in a "new burgh" (A C Lawrie 1905); this addition was formed on the E side of the "old" burgh, but the two soon coalesced. A similar development took place at Peebles, where in 1492, there was both an "old" and a "new" burgh (Tomus Primus, Liber de Melros 1837).

The buildings of the extended burgh included both churches and schools (A C Lawrie 1905). The first church to come on record is that of St James, dedicated as early as 1134 (A O Anderson and M O Anderson 1936); and the dedication is perpetuated in St James' Fair, still held annually on the Fair Green at the bend of the Tweed. About the middle of the 19th century, during the levelling-up of the W end of the Green, the cemetery of St James ' church was discovered, (T Craig 1879), and it may be assumed that the church stood a little farther W. Several of the tombstones then unearthed have now come to rest in the Abbey Church of Kelso (RCAHMS 1956, cf, 246). Another church, that of the Holy Sepulchre, although its dedication suggests that it was roughly contemporary with St James', only comes on record in 1329 (Registrum de Dryburgh 1847); it is described as standing on the S side of the main street and was presumably a "round church". These churches apart, most of the buildings of the burgh were as yet of wood with roofs of thatch-so much at least is suggested by the significant entry "combusta est magna pars Rokesburch accidentaliter" appearing in the Melrose Chronicle under the year 1207, while a later entry records that in January 1216-17 "combusta est...Rokesburgia cum viculis et suburbiis quamplurimis" (A O Anderson and M O Anderson, Melrose Chronicle 1936). Fordun (Goodall ed. Scotichronicon 1759) continues the story, recording that Roxburgh and seven other Scottish burghs were burnt to ashes in 1243.

Some little time before this latest disaster a house of Minorites or Greyfriars had been established at Roxburgh. These friars, who came to Scotland in 1231 (A O Anderson and M O Anderson, Melrose Chronicle, 1936), set up their first house at Berwick. The Roxburgh house, their second foundation in Scotland, was situated under the wall of the burgh of Roxburgh (J Morton 1832). Its buildings included the church of St. Peter, beside which was a cemetery dedicated in 1235 (C Innes ed. Liber de Calchou 1846). The friars sold their property at the time of the Reformation to Sir Walter Ker of Cessford and part of one building survived into the 19th century; the situation of the friary is therefore known and has been marked upon the OS map. The position of the S wall of the burgh can thus be fixed approximately.

The first street heard of in Roxburgh is the Senedegate, which comes on record in 1290. This may be identical with "the King's Street", so frequently mentioned in documents from 1329 onwards. Market Street is referred to in a single charter of 1345 (C Innes ed., Liber de Calchou 1846). During the Wars of Independence in 1296, the alderman and community of Roxburgh swore fealty to Edward Il and in 1309 Edward II authorised his burgesses of Roxburgh to raise a tax for the walling-in of the burgh for its better security (Rotuli Scotiae 1814-1819). As the burgh had been enclosed from the outset (supra), it may be inferred that the early wall was an earthen rampart, probably surmounted by a palisade in the fashion of the time, and that the new wall was to be of stone and lime. Both these inferences are supported by the parallel case of Berwick, where, in 1296, the burgh was "not walled but enclosed by a high embankment", and in 1305 was enclosed by a stone wall (H Maxwell, Scalacronica 1907). In the year 1311 the burgesses were reinforced by a small English garrison, (Calendar of Documents iii), but this garrison, instead of protecting the lieges, is said to have plundered and imprisoned the merchants resorting to the place (Calendar of Documents). Castle and burgh were recaptured by the Scots in the spring of 1313-14, (Calendar of Documents), but in 1334 the castle, town, and county of Roxburgh were granted by Edward Balliol to Edward III (Calendar of Documents). The castle was again captured by Sir Alexander Ramsay eight years later (Calendar of Documents). During the captivity of David II, after the battle of Neville's Cross (1346), Roxburgh and the whole March were dominated by England, neither Roxburgh nor Berwick being included in the list of burghs represented in the negotiations for the king's ransom, (Calendar of Documents) and this state of affairs continued for upwards of a hundred years. The burgh was burnt by the Scots in July 1377, and again in 1398 (Calendar of Documents iv). With the capture of the castle in 1460 the burgh fell once more to the Scottish Crown. Nevertheless, Edward IV still claimed it as his property as late as 1475-6 (Calendar of Documents iv). By the latter date the place was already in decay. Its omission from the lists of places destroyed by Hertford in 1545 is significant (L and P, Henry VIII; D Laing 1855). In 1649 it is referred to in the past tense, W Macfarlane 1906-8), and although the church of St James' was still in existence in that year the number of its communicants as given, six in all, speaks for itself (Dr Leishman 1897). The burgh does not figure in the list of royal burghs compiled in 1651 (Acts Parl Scot, W Thomson and C Innes eds.).

The low-lying flat at the confluence of Tweed and Teviot is still called "Vigorous Haugh", after Thomas de Vigurus, a prominent burgess who flourished in the first half of the 13th century. (D Paul 1923).

RCAHMS 1956, visited 14 June 1932.

(For the House of Minorities see Roxburgh. 10 NW 7.)

No remains and no further information.

Visited by OS (RDL) 4 December 1963.



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