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Melrose Abbey, Commendator's House

House (Medieval), Museum (20th Century)

Site Name Melrose Abbey, Commendator's House

Classification House (Medieval), Museum (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Abbot's House; Priory Museum, The Priory

Canmore ID 168642

Site Number NT53SW 130

NGR NT 54835 34289

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Melrose
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Ettrick And Lauderdale
  • Former County Roxburghshire


Development History (1919 - 1947)

Plans and photographs showing the improvement and development of the monastic buildings carried out by the Ministry of Works since 1919 of Melrose Abbey.

Publication Account (1998)

To the north-east of the cloister and ranges are the foundations of the Abbot's Hall figure 20.C, which date from the thirteenth century. It was probably a two-storeyed building, accommodating storage on the ground floor and the abbot's private chambers on the upper. Little of this now remains. A little further west stands the Commendator's House 20.D, first built in the fifteenth century, but largely converted in 1590 by James Douglas, the last commendator of the abbey. Originally consisting of at least three rooms on the ground floor, each with a hooded fireplace, the upper floor was reached by an outside staircase to the north and a timber gallery on the eastern facade. The Douglas reconstruction removed the gallery, added a square stair-tower in the south-east corner, inserted vaulted cellars and a kitchen on the ground floor and reorganised the upper rooms.

Information from ‘Historic Melrose: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1998).

Project (January 2011 - March 2011)

NT 54767 34168 This group of stones was accessed January–March 2011 during a renovation project at the museum. A planned second phase of work will examine stones set into the first floor walls of the museum.

The collection includes possible shrine fragments, small fragments of a funeral effigy, and several small column bases, shafts and capitals. A very fine vault boss is carved with animals (possibly a lamb and a lion) and luxuriant foliage. The inventive manner in which the architectural and sculptural features of the boss combine is clearly shown, with one of the attached ribs visible behind the decorative carving. The ends of the attached vault ribs are worked flat and are keyed to provide a secure junction with adjacent lengths of vault rib. The profile of these attached ribs links the boss very clearly with a vault rib elsewhere in the collection and with the vaults remaining in the late 14th- to early 15th-century S choir aisle vaults. These share the same profile, and must therefore also be of a late 14th- to early 15th- century date. However, the vault rib has the fascinating addition of a slightly irregular grid of incised lines on one end surface. This has the appearance of a gaming board, which in this case, would originally have been incised on a larger stone, later cut up for use as a vault rib (Mark Hall pers. comm.). The gaming board design was first noticed, some years ago, when the stone was inaccessible beneath a display case in the museum. The layout of the grid suggests the board may have been used in a variant of a game of chess, or possibly hnefatafl. It is difficult to establish a date for the board game as the stone could have been present on the building site long before it was used. However, if the board was created shortly before the date of the rib, it could also be an early board for draughts (a game that did not become popular until the 16th century).

Another important part of the collection are two panels, possibly fragments of the shrine of Waltheof, the 2nd abbot of Melrose, who died c1160. One of these has been in the museum display for many years, but the other, broken into two pieces, was only re-united with it this year, following a period of conservation. The panels are both worked in fine-grained sandstone and are carved with figures, all of which are damaged, and none of the heads now remain. However, small holes have been cut in the necks of most of the figures, intended for dowelling to attach additional pieces of stone, allowing for extra depth of carving.

In the original museum panel, the central figure is seated on a (just visible) throne, and is flanked by the other two figures, each sitting on the knee of the central figure. The draperies are well modelled, with angular and sharp-edged folds producing a corrugated or ridged surface texture. The central figure wears a cloak fastened by a cord at the neck, and the gown has a waist-belt. The other two figures also seem to be wearing cloaks, and their draperies are relatively voluminous. A seated animal, presumably a dog, is carved beside the left hand figure, and another dog rests on the knee of the right hand figure. The back of the panel is roughly finished to a flat surface.

The second panel has the remains of four figures set below a trefoil frame. However, because the lower part of the stone is damaged, it is possible that they were originally contained by quatrefoils, with the lower lobe now broken away. One figure on the left hand side is in a crouching or kneeling pose, and carries a hawk on the wrist. The tail feathers of the bird can be seen, incised faintly behind its body. The hand is missing, as well as part of the bird, but an iron dowell indicates that there was probably an additional piece of stone here, giving extra depth and higher relief to the carving. The heads of three of the figures are broken away, but the fourth remains, encroaching slightly on the frame, and it can be seen that the figure had shoulder length hair. A small circular mortice is cut in the neck of the far right hand figure, similar to that on the other side of the stone, suggesting that as with the kneeling figure, extra depth was required. Similar holes are cut in the necks of the two side figures of the other panel, and again the likely reason would be to accommodate additional depth of carving. There is little detail remaining on these two figures, but both wear gowns fastened by a belt at the waist, and one wears a voluminous cloak which is caught up under the elbow. In both fragments, cloaks are fastened by a cord at the neck. The drapery style is similar throughout, with clothing falling in sharp-edged folds, breaking in an angular manner at the waist and elbows, and creating a ridged surface texture.

This and other inventories of carved stones at Historic Scotland’s properties in care are held by Historic Scotland’s Collections Unit. For further information please contact

Mary Markus, Archetype 2011

Project (March 2011)

NT 548 342 The items in the pottery and tile collections in the museum were re-identified and re-catalogued during March 2011, as part of the refurbishment and reinterpretation of the displays by Historic Scotland. A number of ceramics from Deer Abbey, Aberdeenshire, which have been on display in this museum since at least the early 1950s were included in the work. This group includes sherds of Beauvais Double Sgraffito, a Loire-Type jug and sherds from a Martincamp flask. The assemblage from Melrose Abbey includes good examples of vessels in the local Scottish Redware and Scottish White Gritty Ware tradition, a Cistercian ware vessel from the Wrenthorpe kilns in Yorkshire and probably the most important assemblage of floor tiles and roof furniture in Scotland This includes the very rare survival of floor tiles with incised lettering.

Funder: Historic Scotland

National Museums Scotland, 2011

Sbc Note

Visibility: This is an upstanding building.

Information from Scottish Borders Council.


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