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Tongland Abbey

Abbey (Medieval), Church (17th Century)

Site Name Tongland Abbey

Classification Abbey (Medieval), Church (17th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Old Tongland Parish Church

Canmore ID 64048

Site Number NX65SE 12

NGR NX 69768 53925

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Dumfries And Galloway
  • Parish Tongland
  • Former Region Dumfries And Galloway
  • Former District Stewartry
  • Former County Kirkcudbrightshire

Archaeology Notes

NX65SE 12 6979 5391 to 6977 5392.

(NX 6979 5391) Tongland Abbey (NR)

Site of, 12th century Church (NR) (In Ruins)

OS 6" map (1852)

Church (NR) On site of Tongland Abbey (NR) 12th Century (NAT)

OS 25" map (1907).

A small fragment of Tongland Abbey which stands in the modern churchyard west of the church has been altered and adapted as a post Reformation church and now measures 48ft by 17ft 7ins inside with wall 2 to 4 feet thick standing, at the west gable,to about 19 feet high; elsewhere the walls are no more than 8 feet high. The north wall is perced by a doorway suggesting an early 17th century date. The modern church is said to occupy part of the site of the abbey.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1896; RCAHMS 1914, visited 1911.

The Premonstratensian Abbey of Tongland was founded in 1218, probably by Alan of Galloway . In October 1529 the abbey is described as ruinous, with few monks remaining and, in the following January, it was united with the bishopric of Galloway.

D E Easson 1957

The remains of the church described above are at NX 6977 5392. Only part of the north wall and the west gable remain. The north wall is now c.9.0m long and c.3.0m high. The west gable stands to its full height of c.6.0m and is surmounted by a stone belfry. The doorway in the north wall formed part of Tongland Abbey, having been moved c.10.0m from its original position to be incorporated in the later church.

Visited by OS (WDJ) 1 February 1965

Architecture Notes

NX65SE 12 69768 53925

See also:

NX65SE 349 69794 53914 Tongland Parish Church


Geophysical Survey (1 May 2015 - 31 May 2015)

NX 69762 53894 (Canmore ID: 64048) A geophysical survey was undertaken, 1–31 May 2015, as part of the Magna Carta 800 Project, which aimed to detect remains of the Premonstratensian abbey and its associated monastic buildings. The area best suited for investigation was the lawn of the former manse lying to the immediate S of the N wall of the old parish church and SW of the later parish church. Resistivity and magnetometry survey of an 800m2 area recorded several anomalies, the largest of which may represent accumulations of stonework interconnected at greater depth by short stretches of wall. Lying c30m S of the old parish church wall, this complex, which corresponds to slight surface undulations, covers a c35 x 15m area and is orientated roughly NW/SE. Its S side has a well defined linear boundary.

Archive and report: Dumfries and Galloway Council HER

Funder: Tongland and Ringford Community Council

Richard Jones

(Source: DES, Volume 16)

Archaeological Evaluation (19 April 2016 - 6 July 2016)

NX 69762 53894 (Canmore: 64048) A programme of trial trenching was undertaken, 19 April – 6 July 2016, following a geophysical survey in 2015 by Richard Jones over the lawn of the former Tongland Manse (DES 2015, 60). The evaluation aimed to locate any structural evidence for the

Premonstratensian Abbey of Tongland, founded in 1218.

Three trial trenches were excavated on the N and E periphery of the survey area. A fourth was excavated in the SE corner of the lawn to investigate a particularly clear, linear positive anomaly. Trench 1 in the N revealed a 0.6m wide wall foundation, aligned cN/S and parallel to the extant W gable of the former parish church, built in 1633. An early 19th-century drawing of the church suggests that this served as a retaining wall for an access path to a doorway in the gable.

Trenches 3 and 4, to the E of the lawn, indicated that this part of the Manse garden has been considerably raised by deposition of material in the late 19th to early 20th century. This created a terrace over the natural slope down to the River Dee to the E. Consequently, any archaeological evidence for the abbey and its precinct in this part of the site may now lie at some depth.

Trench 5 was placed over the positive anomaly in the lawn, which proved to be a section of an abandoned 18th-century road running N through the site from the Old Tongland Bridge. The line of the road is depicted on a plan

of 1794 surveyed by John Gillone. The road foundation lay over a distinct occupation level characterised by small and amorphous areas of burnt earth and charcoal and a relatively high density of animal bone. The only artefact found in this context was a disc-shaped stone gaming counter, of c28mm diameter, similar to examples found at Whithorn Priory in early medieval contexts. The occupation level may therefore possibly relate to an outlying area of the Abbey precinct.

Archive: NRHE (intended). Report: Dumfries and Galloway HER and NRHE

Funder: Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society

David Devereux

(Source: DES, Volume 17)

Archaeological Evaluation (18 April 2017 - 31 October 2017)

NX 69764 53916 (Canmore ID: 64048) A further programme of trial trenching was undertaken, 18 April – 31 October 2017, in Mansewood, Tongland, with the objective of establishing more precisely the location of the principal structures forming the Premonstratensian Abbey of Tongland, founded in 1218, (see DES 2015, 60; DES 2016, 53–54 for previous work).

Three main trenches were opened at the N end of the garden, immediately to the S and SW of the ruin of Tongland Old Parish Church. These revealed that the ground level here had been raised by 0.5-0.6m by the spreading of natural subsoil over the area, thereby burying the previous ground surface. This activity may be related to civil engineering works for the construction of the nearby Tongland Hydro- Electric Power Station in the 1930s. Subsequent excavation of the buried top soil revealed a post-medieval demolition layer overlying stone wall foundations. A 6m length of a substantial, c1.30m wide foundation aligned cNE/SW was exposed in Trench 6, and could be seen continuing beyond the N and S limits of the trench. There was no evidence for a parallel foundation in Trench 7 immediately W of Trench 6. However, the corner of an c0.8m wide wall foundation was found here, with a drainage channel through it. This may

indicate a rectangular structure butted against the broader wall. On the assumption that part of the standing N wall of the Old Parish Church is an original section of the S wall of the abbey’s nave, or possibly its S aisle, then the broad NE/ SW wall foundation might be identified as that of the W or outer wall of the W range of the abbey cloister. If so, then the cloister yard would lie to the SE of the area investigated this year, but further trial trenching will be required to test this hypothesis.

One notable find was a Nuremberg jeton or ship penny, of possible mid-16th-century date, which was found in Trench 7 on a possible outer yard surface to the W of the presumed W cloister range.

Archive: NRHE (intended). Report: DGC HER and NRHE

Funder: Hunter Archaeological and Historical Trust

David Devereux

(Source: DES, Volume 18)

Archaeological Evaluation (17 April 2018 - 13 November 2018)

NX 69764 53916 A further programme of trial trenching was undertaken, 17 April – 13 November 2018, at the N end of the garden of Mansewood, Tongland (see DES 2015, 2016 and 2017 for previous work). The line of the substantial 1.3m wide wall foundation found in 2017 was found to continue to the NE, though heavily robbed out, and also to the SW in Trench 15, in a better preserved state. The wall foundation here includes very large blocks of porphyry, which outcrops nearby. The presumed post-medieval wall foundation, found parallel to the W gable of the Old Parish Church in 2016, is also on this alignment and may therefore be medieval. Overall, the length of the wall line found so far is over 27m and it continues to the SW. Trench 14 was excavated at a right angle across and eastwards from the NE/SW wall line, to a depth of 1.4m at a point 5.4m from the E side of the wall. No evidence was found of a parallel wall foundation to indicate a building range here. The distinct buried top-soil layer, noted in 2017 lying over the wall foundation, could be traced sloping E at an approximate fall of 1 in 12 from the present horizontal ground surface, further confirming the extent of levelling activities for garden landscaping. Below it were mortar-rich and dense rubble layers, probably representing a demolition phase of the abbey. These sealed one posthole. Given the original sloping nature of the site, it seems likely that the abbey complex will have been constructed at different levels dropping down to the E. Assuming that the abbey church lies in the churchyard to the N of the Mansewood garden, then the wall line found may define the W side of the cloister garth, as is the case at Dryburgh Abbey, where the cloister simply has a W wall rather than a W range. The narrower foundations of the rectangular structure, found in 2017 immediately W of the 1.3m wide foundation, were noted to be integral and therefore contemporary with the larger foundation. The external dimensions of this structure were c2.25m x 3.20m. It may possibly represent a gatehouse. At Glenluce Abbey, a gatehouse of similar plan and dimensions gave access to the W range there. A further season of trial trenching is planned for 2019.

Archive: NRHE (intended). Report: Dumfries and Galloway HER and NRHE

Funder: Tongland and Ringford Community Council and Hunter Archaeological and Historical Trust

David Devereux

(Source: DES Vol 19)

Archaeological Evaluation (April 2019 - October 2019)

NX 69993 54238 Further trial excavations were undertaken, from April to October 2019, at the N end of the garden of Mansewood on the site of the Premonstratensian Abbey, founded by Alan, Lord of Galloway in 1218 (DES 2015, 60; DES 2016, 53-4; DES 2017, 68; DES 2018, 64-5).

Six trial trenches were excavated to the S and E of the 2018 trenches and recovered more structural evidence for the location and plan of the abbey. The line of the broad, 1.30m wide wall foundation was found to continue further to the SW through Trench 19 but in the form of a 0.90m wide shell-mortared stone foundation. A corner was exposed in the trench where the wall line turned through a right angle towards the SE. Immediately to the S of this wall and parallel to it was a stone-lined water channel / drain with a clay base. In Trench 18 to the N, remnants of a heavily-robbed foundation were found bonded at a right angle into the 1.30m foundation noted above. This was aligned towards the SE and could be traced for 8m within the trenches opened, and was seen to be continuing further SE. Immediately S of this wall, fragmentary evidence was found of a floor comprising a weathered red sandstone surface with a skim of mortar. There was some evidence for a wall running at a right angle towards the SW from the heavily robbed foundation.

Taken together, the evidence appears to indicate the existence of a floored, rectangular, enclosed space 5m wide (NW-SE) and 7.5m long (NE-SW), probably forming the extreme W end of the S range of the cloister; a space often identified as a kitchen on other monastic sites. The location and alignment of the water supply channel / drain to the S of the range would support this interpretation. If this interpretation is correct, then the N side of the heavily-robbed NW-SE wall would presumably define the S side of the cloister garth. If it is assumed that the area occupied by the cloister garth probably measured in the region of 20-25m square, then the site of the abbey church will probably lie beyond the N boundary of Mansewood grounds and within Tongland

Archive: NRHE (intended). Report: Dumfries and Galloway HER, NRHE (intended)

Funder: Hunter Archaeological and Historical Trust

David Devereux

(Source: DES Vol 20)

Excavation (27 May 2020 - 30 November 2020)

NX 69764 53895 After a delayed start because of Covid-19 restrictions, further trial excavations were undertaken in the garden of Mansewood, Tongland on the site of the Premonstratensian abbey (Canmore ID: 64048), founded by Alan, Lord of Galloway in 1218 (see DES 2015–2019 for previous work). The work took place between 27 May and 30 November 2020.

Four trial trenches were excavated, between May and November 2020, in the central part of the lawn area to the S and E of previous trenches, and recovered more structural evidence for the location and plan of the abbey. Trench 24 exposed the E wall of the previously noted structure at the presumed W end of the S range of the cloister. This demonstrated that the structure stood as a separate building (Building A) rather than as part of a continuous range. Its 0.9m wide, shell-mortared foundation included large rounded blocks of porphyrite. The SE corner of the building was identified and the turn of the S wall. Close to this, the N end of a second building (Building B) was found. Its E wall followed the same N–S alignment as Building A, but was offset slightly to the E. Its unmortared foundations and the absence of porphyrite blocks, may indicate that it was constructed in a different phase. Its E wall continued S beyond the limit of the trench; its N wall continued through Trench 27 (3m W of Trench 24) with no indication of a NW corner or a turn for a W wall. There was a gap of approximately 1.5m between the two buildings through which ran the stone-lined water channel or drain recorded in 2019. Aligned E–W, its S side was formed by the N wall foundation of Building B. In Trench 24, remnants of a stone surface adjacent to both buildings, together with a channel capping stone in situ, may indicate that the channel was covered and ran beneath a slype or passage between the two buildings. Similarly, Trenches 25 and 26, excavated on the W side of the two buildings, exposed a rough cobbled stone surface overlying the channel, the line of which continued W through and beyond Trench 25. Much of the stone surface had been stripped away, possibly to rob out the channel capping stones. The stone surface was bounded on the N by a 0.6m wide, unmortared stone wall foundation, largely robbed-out, but originally extending W from the SW corner of Building A. On the N side of the wall, there was a contrasting 1m thick deposit of dark grey-brown clayey-loam, possibly indicative of an open, possibly cultivated, area. Overall, the excavation provided more evidence for the general layout of the W end of the presumed S range of the cloister garth and the peripheral area to its W.

Archive: NRHE (intended)

Funder: Hunter Archaeological and Historical Trust

David Devereux


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