Nestled in a bend in the Ale Water lies an enigmatic site. Long suspected to be the location of a residence belonging to one of the Medieval Bishops of Glasgow, and used by Alexander II for the signing of important documents, the Mantle Walls has captivated the interest of local residents for decades.
In 2019, Ancrum and District Heritage Society led a new community heritage project focused on understanding the rich history and archaeology at Mantle Walls. Volunteers were able to engage with the project by participating in excavations, workshops, public talks and event days.
The project was kindly funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Fallago Environment Fund, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Borders Council.
About the Site
East of the village of Ancrum, overlooking the Ale Water, a field known as Mantle Walls has long been suspected to be the site of a Bishops residence dating from the 13th Century.
It is known from documentary evidence that William de Bondington, Bishop of Glasgow from 1232/33 until his death in 1258, had a residence at Ancrum, famed for its gardens.
At least three royal charters were signed at Ancrum by Alexander II on the 3rd of December 1236, all assigning grants of land to Melrose Abbey.
Although no upstanding remains are visible on the ground, several historical documents have referred to buildings on the site, primarily the Old and New Statistical Accounts.
“the most venerable fragment of antiquity in the parish is the Malton wall or walls, upon a rising ground at the bottom of the village of Ancrum, close to the side of the river, where it turns its course towards the SE. These walls were strongly built of stone and lime in the figure of a parallelogram, and, ascending on one side from the plain adjacent to the river were considerably higher than the summit of the hill which they inclose; but are now levelled with its surface, and a small part of them remain. Vaults of subterranean arches have been discovered in the neighbouring ground, and underneath the area inclosed by the building. Human bones are still found by persons ploughing or digging in the plain at the side of the river, which is an evidence of its having been formerly occupied as burying ground” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, 294).
“the ruins of Maltan Walls… enclosed, at no distant period, an acre and a-half, within the area o which weer visible various vaults and subterranean passages, but of which there is now nothing to be seen except a small remnant of the outer wall." (NSA 1845, 243).
In 2010, masonry was recovered from the field margins and stones were being uncovered as the field was ploughed, as they had done for a number of years. Medieval and post-medieval pottery was identified when a local archaeologist inspected the site. Based on these discoveries, a geophysical survey was carried out in November 2011 (Maldonaldo 2011) and excavations were carried out informed by the survey in 2012.
Results of the excavations and further documents can be found here.
Where is Mantle Walls?
The site of Mantle Walls is located to the east of the village, in a high field overlooking the Ale Water.