During the beginning of the medieval period, there were many more smaller towns, or ‘touns’ as they were known in the Old Scots language, than there are today throughout Medieval Scotland. In fact – the Scottish Borders are one of the few places left in the Scottish landscape that still retain many of their ‘touns’. Evidence of them can be seen on the maps made of Scotland prior to the agricultural revolution of the 18th century. By the 18th century many of these towns had either shrunk to single farmsteads surrounded by fields, or disappeared entirely having been abandoned for the more popular outskirt areas of large towns.
At the beginning of the medieval period, prior to the 14th century there were even more little touns scattered about the landscape. The decline in the towns after this point can be attributed to a decline in population. The outbreaks of plague and the ravages of the Wars of Independence devastated the populations of the rural towns, with many towns being abandoned for lack of people - because there was no one to work the farms.
Little is known about their layout, with many areas that once held these tiny touns now having been transformed into the farm fields we see today. Many of the houses would have been made of organic materials such as wood and turves (cuts of turf) which do not survive well, and evidence of them is easily ploughed away by our modern farming methods. There are also only a few records that tell us the makeup of the towns. From medieval charters we can tell that their makeup was varied across the country. Some touns were made up of a few 'tofts' (a parcel of land with the house of the local Lord or large landholder on it),
Check out the activity below to see if you can find some of the Tiny Touns that have now disappeared!
Activity - Tiny Touns
Several of Scotland's 'tiny touns' have disappeared since the beginning of the medieval period. Some of these touns disappeared due to a drop in the population during the 14th century from both the Scottish Wars of Independence and outbreaks of plague. Unfortunately we don't have any maps that depict these early touns, but we do have some that date to the 17th century which can show us some of the towns that disappeared later during the agricultural revolution.
1. Print out the modern map located in the resources section below.
2. On a computer, smartboard, tablet etc click the National Library of Scotland Map below in the resources section to go to the website. On the website there is a zoomable map of Teviotdale from Blaeu's 1654 Atlas of Scotland.
3. Zoom around to find Jedburgh - this may be a little tricky! Quite a few places are spelled differently, and some of the letters even appear different! One hint - for an 's' in the middle of a word, the symbol people used at the time looks like a long 'f'!
4. Find Jedburgh on the modern map and zoom the online map to fit what you can see on the modern map. This also may be a little tricky as historic map makers weren't particularly measured in their details and the roads will have all been different. One hint - rivers change much less often!
5. See how many towns on the historic online map are not on the modern map! These can then be written onto the modern map.
6. The old spellings of the towns we still have can then be written on too! Just write the old spelling underneath the modern town name.
The map on the right is a downloadable modern map of some of the towns and roads around Ancrum and Jedburgh to use with the above activity.