THE LOST MEDIEVAL BRIDGE AT ANCRUM
The Discovery and Research on a nationally important crossing point of the River Teviot
“THIS IS A MULTI-FACETED, LOCAL COMMUNITY DRIVEN PROJECT BASED ON THE VILLAGE OF ANCRUM, TEVIOTDALE, IN THE SCOTTISH BORDERS"
"It has led to the discovery, historical research, investigation, survey, sampling and monitoring of a newly discovered, nationally significant monument, which tells a forgotten story in Borders History.”
DISCOVERING THE REMAINS OF THE MEDIEVAL BRIDGE AT ANCRUM
Two years ago one of our members Judith Coulson brought this extract of 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
We soon came to realise that this bridge was of real importance. It is shown on this extract of Blaeu’s Map of Teviotdale in 1654, 130 years before the Toll Bridge was built.
Could we locate the remains of the old bridge?
In 2018 we did a riverbank survey of the River Teviot below Ancrum, using a drone piloted by Richard Strathie, to see if we could find any trace of the edifice.
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.
THE HISTORY AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MEDIEVAL BRIDGE AT ANCRUM
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.
WHY WAS THE BRIDGE SO IMPORTANT?
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.
INVESTIGATING AND RECORDING THE REMAINS
Aware that there was significant timbers lying on the riverbed, last summer we were extremely lucky to be able to call on the services of Coralie Mills of Dendrochronicle, who assisted us in obtaining dendrochronological (tree ring) samples from the timbers in the river. We also obtained funding from CARD (Community Archaeology Radiocarbon Dating) Fund. We are using both dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating 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 we reported our find in a presentation to ELBAC (Edinburgh, Lothians and Borders Archaeology Conference). This resulted in Historic Environment Scotland (HES) becoming involved in our 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. We understand 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.
MONITORING THE BRIDGE REMAINS
DESTRUCTIVE DEBRIS: The bridge remains are under threat: As you can see from the above 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.
UNDERWATER SURVEY BY WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGY
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, (ADHS member and owner of ‘Buy Design’ craft workshop), was able to identify four different woodworking toolmarks on this piece: auger, adze, saw and chisel.
THE PARTICIPATING BODIES INVOLVED IN THIS PROJECT:
ANCRUM AND DISTRICT HERITAGE SOCIETY (ADHS) www.adhs.co.uk
The Society was formed to promote: The study of the history, archaeology and heritage of Ancrum and its surroundings. To advance the conservation and understanding of the archaeological heritage of Ancrum and surroundings. To communicate this knowledge to the wider community. ADHS is a local community group of volunteers.
A consultancy led by Dr Coralie Mills, a dendrochronologist and landscape archaeologist, who is also investigating timber samples taken from nationally important monuments (such as St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh and Cowanes Hospital, Stirling) for tree ring dating evidence.
WESSEX ARCHAEOLOGY COASTAL AND MARINE TEAM www.wessexarch.co.uk/archaeological-services/marine-maritime-archaeology-and-cultural-heritage-services
The Coastal & Marine team upholds the Codes of Conduct and required high standard of archaeological practice in delivery of our commercial and research services. Our work supports different marine sectors, from the very largest international projects to more local commercial and community work.
SCOTTISH BORDERS COUNCIL (SBC) www.scotborders.gov.uk/info/20013/environment/603/archaeology
With more than 15k registered entries in their Historic Environment Record (HER) and growing, the Borders is one of the richest regions for archaeology and built heritage in Scotland.
LOTHIAN ESTATES www.lothianestates.co.uk
Lothian Estates is the local landowner. The Estate woodlands extend to 1008 hectares, centred around Jedburgh. The two and half mile stretch of mainly double bank fishing on the river can accommodate six rods. The Estate retains its own Works Department to carry out many of the day-to-day property repairs and improvements, working closely with local tradesmen on specialist tasks.
NATURE SCOT (formerly SCOTTISH NATIONAL HERITAGE) www.nature.scot/about-naturescot
Are Scotland’s nature agency. They work to improve our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. So that all nature in Scotland – our key habitats and landscapes, all our green space and our native species – is maintained, enhanced and brings us benefits.
Established in 1967 at Glasgow University, the Radiocarbon Laboratory has been based at SUERC since 1986. In addition to taking an active part in a number of research projects, the laboratory carries out age measurements under contract to Historic Environment Scotland. They also provide a radiocarbon dating service to national museums, academic staff in a large number of universities worldwide, and many UK and European commercial archaeology units.
The Community Archaeology Radiocarbon Dating (CARD) Fund was established and funded by Archaeological Research Services Ltd and the SUERC Radiocarbon dating laboratory in January 2016. The fund consists of a set number of radiocarbon dates available on an annual basis that British community archaeology groups or projects can apply for. Each year we will fund 10-15 radiocarbon dates. The fund is not open to universities, students, professional archaeological organisations or large charities. It is directed specifically at community groups seeking to obtain radiocarbon dates on key samples from sites they have investigated.
We believe 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.
THE PROJECT AND COVID-19.
As with much work being done across Scotland during this unprecedented period of the Covid-19 Virus, the many facets of our Project have suffered delays. There is much ADHS had hoped to do that we have been unable complete. However, the work we have been able to do has been compliant with Scottish Government regulations, and we are extremely grateful to all our volunteers for their help in this respect.
WORK IN PROGRESS
"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."
(on behalf of ADHS)