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Publication Account

Date 1982

Event ID 1017709

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The foundation of the Abbey dedicated to St. Thomas Martyr in the second half of the twelfth century gave Arbroath burgh its identity. William the Lion, founder and benefactor of the Abbey, granted the monastic establishment a total of twenty-four parish churches, including Inverness, Fyvie, Tarves, Abernethy and Haltwhistle in the north of England (Arb.Lit., 1843, i, xvi). Tironensian Monks were brought from Kelso but that monastery exercised no authority over Arbroath (Arb. Lib.,1843, i, xxii). The church was dedicated in 1233 and is said to have suffered damage from English ships in 1350 and from lightning in 1380 (Cowan, 1976, 66, 67). In 1517 the Abbey passed into lay commendatorship (Cowan, 1976, 67) and in 1600 a charter was issued in favour of the Marquis of Hamilton confirming the dissolution of the monastery and erecting its vast possessions into a temporal lordship (Mackie, 1954, 15).

From the period of the Reformation and down to the eighteenth century, the Abbey buildings suffered greatly through the effects of quarrying and nature. In 1580 the magistrates applied to the commendator of the Abbey for a grant of stones and other materials for the building of a new parish church. The necessary material was granted to the burgesses from the Abbey's dormitory (Hay, 1876, 91). In the reign of George I the town council acquired land within the precinct wall to the south of the abbey church and allocated building plots. This led to the destruction of both the greater part of the precinct wall and the final obliteration of the remaining conventual buildings (MacKie, 1954, 16). Part of the Abbey walls was still visible in 1782 and described as twenty feet (6.10m) high (Douglas, 1826, 46). The Abbey wall is said to have extended 150 feet (45•72m) on the east and west, 760 feet (231?65m) on the north and 450 feet (137•16m) on the south (MacGibbon and Ross, 1896, ii, 45). The two western towers blew down in two separate storms, one in 1739, the other in 1772 (Anon, 1799, 60). Douglas wrote that 'the church and remaining ruins are on an eminence on the west of the town and in spite of the depredations of time and enthusiasts still have a majestically grand appearance' (1826, 46).

On plan the Abbey church is cruciform. It had an aisled nave of nine bays and an aisled choir of three bays; The transepts each had two eastern chapels and a tower rose over the crossing. The southern transept with its famous 'round O' window is still largely complete, although the foundations of the northern transept have suffered due to the encroaching cemetery. Part of one of the western towers survives, as does the latter day 'Abbot's House'. The cloisters to the south which have recently been excavated are of no great size (MacKie, 1954, 20).

Information from ‘Historic Arbroath: The Archaeological Implications of Development’, (1982).

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