Ancrum Bridge


In 2018 one of our members, Judith Coulson brought an extract from the Minutes of the Council of the Royal Burgh of Jedburgh to our attention. She thought it would be worth investigation.

It led to the rediscovery of a long forgotten but significant piece of the Borders and Scottish history and architecture. The extract describes a bridge that was far older than the two bridges that presently span the River Teviot at Cleikemin and was in need of repair at the time.

It reads

"It was the only bridge within the shire of Roxburgh by which the Lieges has only passage to and from Edinburgh and that it had been built by the Abbey of Jedburgh.

ADHS did a riverbank survey of the River Teviot below Ancrum, using a drone piloted by Richard Strathie, to see if any trace of the structure could be found.

Richard with his drone.

​We confirmed the size and shape of the platform in a wade along the riverbed.

His aerial survey produced this remarkable photograph of a stone platform in the middle of the river. You can see the remains of the outline kerbstones and large oak timbers of a structure under the arch of the 1784 bridge.

It is shown on this extract of Blaeu’s Map of Teviotdale in 1654, 130 years before the Toll Bridge was built


Researching old documents and archives from places such as The Heritage Hub in Hawick, the library of the Society of Antiquaries in Newcastle, the Library of the Berwick Naturalists Society and the Central Library in Edinburgh we have been able to build up a picture of how important the medieval bridge of Ancrum was to the Borders and Scotland. The minutes from the Royal Burgh of Jedburgh in 1699 record, that from 1638 to 1704 that many attempts were made to find the funds to repair the bridge. The Royal Burgh appealed to the Scottish Parliament, The Convention of the Royal Burghs and The Church of Scotland for help. (The Church of Scotland went so far as to organise a church door collection across Scotland. It flags up how important this bridge was to Scotland.) Unfortunately, this was the century of the Bishops War, The English Civil War and the Covenanters War. It was a hard time to raise money for anything other than arms, men and provisions. The bridge suffered flood damage and deteriorated.


As you can see from the map below left, the bridge (in brown) connects Jedburgh, it’s Abbey and Royal Castle and the Border, to the rest of the Royal Castles and Abbeys built in the reign of David I. These Castles (in red) and Abbeys (in green) were vitally important as centres of power and trade and the manufacture of wealth to the Kings of Scots, up until the time of the Wars of Independence. The wool trade that the abbeys fostered, for instance, was worth a fortune in taxes, which were gathered for the King at Roxburgh, before being shipped from Berwick. Trade was a vitally important part of the economy, but the River Teviot (in blue) cuts across this line of trade, isolating it. The recently confirmed Palace of the Bishop of Glasgow at the Mantle Walls in Ancrum (yellow triangle) underlines the importance of this, the bridge connects Jedburgh to Ancrum, and from Ancrum, the trade routes run to Selkirk, Melrose and Roxburgh, and on from them to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Berwick, servicing the abbeys and castles.

Geographically, as well as historically, the site of Ancrum Old Bridge is interesting. The raised river terraces on either side of the Teviot converge here and ‘funnel’ the river flow in a narrowed gap. As you can see from the projected SEPA flood map of the area (below right), the low lying lands upstream and downstream allow the river floodwaters to spread out, whereas at the bridging point, whilst it does allow for a higher bridge with fewer spans to avoid flood damage to the structure, it is subjected to a more powerful river current onto the cutwaters.


Aware that there was significant timbers lying on the riverbed, ADHS were extremely lucky to be able to call on the services of Coralie Mills of Dendrochronicle, who assisted in obtaining dendrochronological (tree ring) samples from the timbers in the river. Funding was also obtained from CARD (Community Archaeology Radiocarbon Dating) Both dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating was used to try to obtain a date for the felling of the oak timbers that lie in the stone platform or pier base. The timbers lie under the stone kerb foundations, and therefore must have been the earliest part of the construction we can see.

This was a great start, but there was more to achieve. In the hope of obtaining more information and help, (and under heavy prodding by Dr Chris Bowles of SBC), in November 2019 the find was reported in a presentation to ELBAC (Edinburgh, Lothians and Borders Archaeology Conference). This resulted in Historic Environment Scotland (HES) becoming involved in the investigations. They generously provided funding for surveys and further radiocarbon dating.

This project is unusual in that investigations of old bridge remains in Scotland are few and far between. it is said that the last serious study of a Scottish medieval bridge foundations was in 1907, during restoration the Old Bridge of Ayr. There was a study of old Stirling Bridge (Wallace’s) in the 1990s, but the conditions were very difficult, as the Forth is tidal there, so the current and visibility precluded a detailed study of the remains on the riverbed.

DESTRUCTIVE DEBRIS: The bridge remains are under threat: As you can see from the photograph of these timbers that were dragged down river like a great plough during a storm in 2019, and are now lodged against the A68 Bridge downstream from the Toll Bridge.

FLOOD SURGES: The comparative photographs above are of the River Teviot at low water and in spate, taken just a week apart in February 2020. Monitoring over the past 2 years has led ADHS to suspect that bit by bit, the remnants of the medieval bridge are being affected by Climate Change and are being eroded away.

Our first goals were therefore to:

1) Establish the extent and age of the medieval bridge.

2) Confirm the state of the remains on the riverbed and to assess their vulnerability to erosion.


To further those aims, Historic Environment Scotland provided funds for an initial underwater survey by Wessex Archaeology Coastal and Marine Team. In two highly successful visits this summer, Wessex were able to survey, map, record and sample the remains, aided by ADHS and Dendrochronicle.

Wessex Archaeology begin their survey of the bridge remains.

Richard of ADHS, Coralie of Dendrochronicle and Steph and Bob of Wessex Archaeology demonstrate the length and width of the stone platform under the 1784 Toll Bridge.

Bob retrieves an excellent sample of bridge timber - Coralie examines it for tree ring data

The reverse of the same sample: Eoin Cox, ( owner of ‘Buy Design’ craft workshop), was able to identify four different woodworking toolmarks on this piece: auger, adze, saw and chisel.








This Project has been a great example of what a local archaeology group can achieve. It has brought together a wide range of people in a multi-faceted project in a common cause to help explore and understand a newly revealed medieval structure in a spirit of great good humour and enthusiasm.

Richard Strathie, joint chairman of ADHS, has been a tremendous driving force, sounding board and support, supplying the technical expertise, besides much else. He piloted the drone that took the first photographs of the bridge remains, devised a method of taking timber samples from the riverbed and built a remote-control rig to take underwater pictures of the structure. Big thanks also go to the volunteers of ADHS, with special mention to Eoin Cox and Judith Coulson.

Kevin Grant and Iain Anderson of HES for their generous support and guidance, both behind the scenes and financially. It has been invaluable to have their HES experience behind us.

Coralie Mills and Hamish Darrah of Dendrochronicle for their outstanding contributions to the new discipline of extreme dendrochronology. We have learnt so much about wood from them.

Bob Armstrong and his colleagues at Wessex Archaeology Coastal and Marine Team. They have done a fantastic job of the underwater survey and fully embraced the idea of a community driven project by welcoming the participation of the ADHS Semi Submersible Unit.

Dr Chris Bowles and Keith Elliott of SBC Archaeology for giving us invaluable advice backed by huge enthusiasm for the Project and for ADHS in general over the past few years.

Ben Burbidge, the Factor of Lothian Estates, who has been extremely helpful and enthusiastic in facilitating our access to the site and hinterland.


"We are working with our partners in this Project to digest all the information we have acquired before pursuing our next steps. This will include further archive research as well as the possibilities of gleaning more data from the remains in the river and the surrounding hinterland."