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Elgin, Lady Hill

Castle (Medieval), Motte (Medieval)(Possible)

Site Name Elgin, Lady Hill

Classification Castle (Medieval), Motte (Medieval)(Possible)

Alternative Name(s) Elgin Castle; Castle Of Elgin

Canmore ID 16686

Site Number NJ26SW 7

NGR NJ 2118 6281

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2019.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Moray
  • Parish Elgin
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Moray
  • Former County Morayshire

Archaeology Notes

NJ26SW 7 2118 6281

(NJ 2118 6281) Elgin Castle (NR) (Ruins)

OS 6" map, Morayshire, 2nd ed., (1906)

For watching brief at NJ 2110 6282, see also NJ26SW 119.

For (1858) excavations, see NJ26SW 14.

For cross fragment found at Elgin Castle see (NJ26SW 7.01).

The castle chapel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary

J S Richardson and H B Mackintosh 1950.

The Castle of Elgin was a stronghold at a very early date and became a royal fortress in the 12th century. It was occupied by Edward I of England. The Castle appears to have been a ruin since the 15th century, and so little now remains of its buildings that it is impossible to say to what period the few surviving fragments belong. The walls at the NE angle may represent the foundations of the great tower.

R G Cant and I G Lindsay 1954.


Field Visit (12 December 1962)

The extant remains of a rectangular structure at the east end of Lady Hill, are all that survive of the castle. The ruin measures 19.6 x 10.6m and consists of thick rubble walls 2.5m thick with a maximum height at the north end of 2.6m. The top of the hill is considerably mutilated with hollows, and hollow-ways, presumably the result of quarrying materials for the construction of the Duke of Gordon's Monument, and the Observatory, both on the summit, but the latter now demolished. A large circular depression west of the NW corner of the castle is 0.5m. deep, and may also be the result of quarrying, or excavation. A fragment of an incised cross from the castle is in Elgin museum.

Visited by OS (R D L) 12 December 1962.

Excavation (July 1972 - August 1973)

A research excavation on the site of the castle was begun in July 1972 and continued in August 1973. Also in 1972 a full survey of the site was undertaken. It was intended that these two seasons would represent the start of a fairly large-scale operation, carried out over several years, but the proposed work was not undertaken. The initial aims were to establish the outer limits of the castle, to ascertain whether the hill was natural or artificially raised and to determine the earliest occupation of the site.

Excavations showed that the outer defences on the N side comprised a stone-based earthen rampart with a timber revetment or palisade on its outer face. At the southern or upslope end of Trench C1 there may have been another rampart line with a stone revetment. Between the two ramparts was a line of postholes and an undefined stone structure. A considerable number of iron nails were found in association with the palisade trench and it is likely that this defensive element relates to the earliest (timber?) phase of the castle, although it is reported that there was no associated dating evidence.

No evidence was found within the excavated areas that the mound had been raised or enhanced by importing quantities of redeposited soil, though it does appear that the outer defensive lines were partly achieved by scarping or terracing the natural hillslope.

No positive evidence of Dark Age or earlier occupation was recorded.

Sponsor: Dept of Extramural Studies of Aberdeen University

Hall and MacDonald 1998.

Publication Account (1982)

It seems likely that David I would have constructed a castle, probably of wood, on the convenient hill at the western boundary of his burgh of Elgin: but the first documentary reference to it occurs in 1160 in the reign of Malcolm IV. At the end of the thirteenth century, in the early stages of the Wars of Independence, it suffered the fate of many Scottish royal castles, being 'slighted' by the Scottish forces themselves. It appears to have been maintained in some degree of order by the earls of Moray down to the fifteenth century (Mackintosh, 1914, 170-2). But eventually only a chapel, that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, survived and by the mid-sixteenth century, and probably earlier, the hill was known as the Chapel Hill or Lady Hill (Cramond, 1903, i, 85).

Information from ‘Historic Elgin: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1982)

Watching Brief (July 2010)

NJ 2118 6281

A watching brief was conducted in July 2010 immediately to the SW of Elgin Castle during the excavation of a new path and the foundation for a toposcope. Two modern concrete blocks and mixed demolition remains were recorded in an area which had been disturbed by 19th- and 20th-century excavations.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Ashley Bartlam Partnership Architects

Geophysical Survey (5 April 2012 - 7 April 2012)

NJ 2118 6281 A geophysical survey was undertaken 5–7 April 2012 prior to the construction of a public footpath. The work was considered sensitive as it was in the vicinity of the Castle of Elgin, which became a royal fortress in the 12th century and is thought to have been a ruin since the 15th century, and has few surviving extant features.

The data from the gradiometer and resistance surveys was interpreted with caution as modern activity, including the construction of the Duke of Gordon Monument and an observatory, quarrying for building material and the suspected burial of rubbish, is known to have taken place. This activity was reflected in the gradiometer results which show a high level of background noise. The resistance survey detected a complex of rectilinear high resistance anomalies suggestive of a potential structure with enclosing walls and associated structures. A possible enclosing ditch may have been identified in the data. While the location and alignment of these responses is not consistent with the expected location of the castle, they may indicate possible ancillary structures within a bailey. However, given the past use of the site a modern origin cannot be dismissed.

Archive: Rose Geophysical Consultants

Funder: Ashley Bartlam Partnership

Susan Ovenden, Rose Geophysical Consultants


Watching Brief (14 July 2015 - 23 August 2015)

A watching brief was conducted between July and August 2015 for a new path on Ladyhill, Elgin (NJ26SW 7). Work revealed debris relating to the construction of the Duke of Gordon Monument (NJ26SW 119) in the form of sandstone fragments, mortar and sand, no archaeological features or deposits were located, the path mostly lying on a steep south-facing slope.

Full Report submitted to Moray SMR and NMRS.

Funder: Ashley Barlam Partnership Architects for Moray Council

Stuart Farrell

Watching Brief (27 February 2017 - 28 February 2017)

NJ 21188 62814 (centred on) A watching brief was carried out, 27–28 February 2017, for four new interpretation panels and a base for a park bench on Ladyhill (NJ26SW 7). A few cockle shells were found in a subsoil in a heavily disturbed area close to the castle.

Report: Moray SMR and NRHE

Funder: Ashley Bartlam Partnership Architects

Stuart Farrell

(Source: DES, Volume 18)


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