St Abb's Head, St Abb's Nunnery

Castle, Ditch, Hall

Site Name St Abb's Head, St Abb's Nunnery

Classification Castle, Ditch, Hall

Alternative Name(s) Rampart Hall

Canmore ID 60174

Site Number NT96NW 6

NGR NT 91093 69387

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Ordnance Survey licence number 100020548. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Coldingham
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Berwickshire
  • Former County Berwickshire

Archaeology Notes

91093 69417

(NT 9108 6940) St Abb's Nunnery (NR) (remains of)

OS 1:10,000 map, (1976).

This is the traditional site of the 7th century double monastery founded by St Aebbe (for further details, see ). The remains here consist of a rectangular foundation (said to be a chapel - D MacGibbon and T Ross 1896; OS 6"map, annotated by O G S Crawford 1 September 1933 - although it runs NE-SW) lying on a rocky promontory which is cut off at the neck by a partly rock-cut ditch with the remains of a mortared wall on its inner lip. According to Carr further traces of this wall were visible in 1836 round the 'precipitous margins' of the promontory. The foundations, of undressed local stone bonded with lime-and-shingle mortar measure internally 60ft by 22ft within walls about 4ft thick. In the centre of the W wall there is an internal recess, about 6ft long by 2 1/2ft wide. An annexe, 9ft by 13ft, adjoins the E end of the NE wall. Crawford noted two additional foundations, one at NT 9111 6940 and the other immediately outside the E end of the ditch, also suggestions of cultivation patches outside the ditch.

The site is referred to in indentures as the 'Promontory of Abbsbrugh' (D MacGibbon and T Ross 1896) and, in spite of the strong religious tradition, it was known to the inhabitants of Coldingham and vicinity, in 1856, as 'Rampart Hall'(Name Book 1856).

J Stuart 1868; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1896; A A Carr 1836.

This site is as described above. The large rectangular foundation measures 18.7m by 6.6m and 0.5m high. The walls, however, are mainly of drystone construction except for the recess which is bonded with lime mortar. Three blocks of mortared masonry remain of the wall which lay behind the rock-cut ditch, which is 2.0m deep. There is a slight scarp behind this again, which may denote the line of an earlier (?) wall or rampart.

Two platforms at NT 9180 6941 and NT 9111 6940 may denote the sites of buildings, and at NT 9110 6931 is the small square foundation of a possible building outside the ditch. No traces of walling around the perimeter of the promonotory were found.

(Surveyed at 1:2500 by Field Surveyor.)

Visited by OS(RD) 11 March 1966.

Limited excavations were carried out in September 1980 in an attempt to locate the early fortification implied in the 7th century place name Colodaesburg. Excavation at this site revealed that the defences were not finished. An internal building appeared to be secular rather than ecclesiastical. There were no datable finds, but a late medieval date seems likely.

L and E A Alcock 1980

Over the past century, this defended promontory has been identified as the site of St Aebbe's monastery. This identification has been accepted by eg Crawford (O G S Crawford 1934), who saw the defence-work as a sub-Roman mortared wall, and by Thomas (C Thomas 1971). However, this poses problems as (i) the promontory seems too small, and the amount of level ground too restricted, to hold a double monastery. (ii) sea access, as required by Bede's story about St Cuthbert, is impossible. (iii) when seen in 1978, the supposed remains of the nunnery (OS 1:10,000 map {1976}) appeared to be those of a later medieval hall rather than an ecclesiastical building.

This view has also been reached independently by staff of the RCAHMS and the Society of Antiquaries field surveyors (RCAHMS 1980). It should also be noted that prior to the O S identification (Name Book 1856), the traditional site for this monastery had been Kirk Hill ( ) (Information from A D S Macdonald).

In 1980, a trench was cut through the wall crossing the promontory, and it was deduced from the results that here was an unfinished work, intended to be a masonry wall, 10ft wide, founded on solid rock at one end (or perhaps both ends) but elsewhere to be based on a clay-bound raft of rubble. Only part of the raft and wall was completed. Excavations were also carried out at the building identified at the remains of St Abb's Nunnery, in the recess noted by OS field surveyor (RD), and the adjoining gable wall. Little evidence was obtained; it was inferred that the building originally had a flagged floor, and on its abandonment, the flags were lifted. There were no datable finds. The mortared wall of the recess seemed to mark an improvement to the original structure. The mortar itself was not inconsistent with that in the wall across the promontory, so it is probable that both the wall and the building are contemporary. For both, a secular rather than an ecclesiastical function seems likely. At best, this is an unlikely site for the monastery.

RCAHMS 1980, visited 1979; L Alcock and E A Alcock 1981; L Alcock 1981; C Thomas 1971.

The traditional site of the 7th century double monastery founded by St Aebbe. A rectangular foundation which was said to be a chapel lies on a rocky promontory which is cut off at the neck by a partly rock cut ditch with the remains of a mortared wall on its inner lip. The RC considered this site to be rather of a later medieval hall. Excavations in 1980 provided no datable finds. The mortared wall is exposed to erosion. The foundations of the possible chapel are grass covered and not exposed to marine erosion.

Site recorded by GUARD during the Coastal Assessment Survey for Historic Scotland, 'The Firth of Forth from Dunbar to the Coast of Fife' 10th March 1996.

NT 87 70 to NT 91 67 An archaeological survey was undertaken by Headland Archaeology Ltd of land owned by the National Trust for Scotland at St Abb's Head, Lumsdaine Shore and Blackpotts. A total of 18 features, or groups of features, of archaeological and historical interest were recorded, ten already documented, at least in part, in NMRS records.

NT 9108 6940 Hall, defended promontory

Sponsors: Historic Scotland, National Trust for Scotland

S Carter 1997

NT 9108 6940 As part of the survey conducted by Headland Archaeology Ltd on behalf of the National Trust for Scotland on its land at and near St Abb's Head, mentioned above (S Carter 1997), this site was examined and recorded. Headland Archeology Ltd say that the site is as previously described, a substantial rock-cut ditch with a fragmentary mortared stone wall cuts off a promontory which contains a large rectangular stone foundation and at least two other possible building platforms. The site was plotted in detail by Ainslie in 1782 (Plan of Northfield, Scottish Record Office RHP 43284) and the principle surviving fragment of mortared enclosure wall was clearly the only visible portion of that wall even then. The promontory is well vegetated with a stable grass cover, the most substantial visible fragment of the mortared enclosure wall is undermined and must be at some risk of collpse. Furthermore there is an active erosion scar adjacent to this fragment. Some rabbit burrows were noted at the outer end of the promontory, beyond the hall, but they do not appear to be a significant issue but should be monitored.

Sponsors: National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland

NMRS MS/899/44 (Headland Archaeology Ltd. 16/10/1997)

It is suggested that the name Rampart Ha has been shortenend from 'Rampart Haugh', 'haugh' meaning 'flat ground'.

Information from R Weatherhead, 13 February 2003.

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