Old Melrose

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Feature Sets (3)


Located about 2 miles from present-day Melrose, the medieval site of Old Melrose is a raised peninsula on a bend of the River Tweed. No medieval buildings survive on the site. After the Reformation, the lands of Old Melrose appear to have been granted to Robert Ormestoun, who built a house on it. A later house, called Old Melrose House, has been built in the area of Chapel Knoll with a walled garden next to it. There is also a 19thc summer house, which was built at the tip of the peninsula.


An abbey was established at Old Melrose in the mid-7thc. Its first abbot was Eata, a disciple of Aidan, founder of Lindesfarne. Eata was later made bishop of either Hexham or Lindesfarne. St Cuthbert entered the monastery of Old Melrose in 651, under the tutelage of Boisil. He became prior of Melrose in 664, before being moved to Lindisfarne shortly afterwards, where he became prior, then abbot and finally bishop. Althought the monastery was destroyed by Kenneth king of Scotland in 859, it seems to have been rebuilt by 875, as it is recorded that it served as a resting place for the body of St Cuthbert. According to Symeon of Durham, Old Melrose, amongst other places, was bestowed to the monks of Lindesfarne c.830 by Egred, bishop of Lindesfarne. Boisel, abbot of Melrose, had been buried at Old Melrose, but his bones were taken up during the first part of the 11thc by Elfrid the priest and taken to Durham, where they were they were placed in a shrine near the body of St Cuthbert. By this time, Old Melrose was no longer functioning as a monastery. Simeon of Durham states that in 1074 Aldwin, along with Turgot, left the monastery of Jarrow and went to the former monastery of Old Melrose, which was then a solitude. There, they began to serve Christ, until Malcolm of Scotland became aware of them and harassed them. But it was not until Walcher, bishop of Durham, entreated them to depart that Aldwin and Turgot left, going to the monastery of Wearmouth, which was then ruinous. With their help, the abbey was revived and newcomers arrived. Sometime later, Aldwin became prior at Durham and Turgot  became confessor and biographer of St Margaret of Scotland. On Aldwin’s death in 1087, Turgot, himself, was made prior of Durham. Later, for a short while, Turgot was made bishop of St Andrews, but he eventually returned to Durham and died at Wearmouth in 1115. A chapel was erected and dedicated to St Cuthbert at Old Melrose sometime after 1073 and it was initially belonged to Durham Priory, but it was exchanged for St Mary at Berwick by David I sometime between 1130 and 1133, and finally presented to his new Cistercian abbey at Melrose, which he founded in 1136. Evidence for the church of St Cuthbert in the 13th century comes from another charter by Peter de Haga, in which candles are to be given to ‘Capellam sci Cuthberti de veteri Melros’. About 1321 the monastery was burnt by the English and the bishop of Galloway granted indulgences in that year for its restoration.  In 1437 the Pope also granted similar indulgences, but there is no mention of the chapel in the Cuthbertine list attributed to John Wessyngton, prior of Durham 1416-46.


Exterior Features


Stone carved with face

The stone carved with a humanoid face has been re-used on an exterior wall, next to the entrance porch, of Old Melrose House. The details of the face are simplistic, with long nose, narrow mouth and rounded eyes, a curved indent under each eye. Carved around the head is a rounded, recessed area. The stone is a red sandstone and the carving is weathered.

Stone carved with section of roll moulding, re-used

The stone has been re-used on the exterior of the E wall of the enclosed garden wall next to Old Melrose House. The stone is heavily weathered, but it appears to have been carved with a roll moulding at one end. Only one face of the stone is visible at present.

Loose Sculpture

Head with bulbous eyes and monstrous teeth

The monstrous head, found in Old Melrose, is now in the possession of Historic Scotland and kept in storage. See site for Historic Scotland storage for further details.


Depth 0.115 m
Height 0.21 m
Width across top 0.165 m
Width at bottom (across mouth) 0.11 m

Stone carved with billet mouldings

A pinkish sandstone block is carved with billet. Two billets on each face are carved along chamfered edges, the billets alternating from from one side to the other. The front face of the stone is carved plain, with an indent along each side. Diagonal tooling survives on the side faces.


Depth (carved front to back) 0.28 m
Height (across front face) 0.165 m
Length 0.34 m

Stone carved with part of roll moulding and rebate

The sandstone block has been cut back on one surface, but part of a roll moulding survives on the front face, with a chamfer along its inner side. The back face has been carved with a rebate.


Depth 0.26 m
Length of front face 0.39 m
Width of front face (face with angle roll and quirk) 0.18 m


Several stones found in the area are placed along the path in front of the summer house and others in a fenced enclosure outside the tea shop. These have been collected over time when found in the area of Old Melrose. Diagonal tooling survives on several stones, including plain, ashlar blocks. Not all of the stones appear to be from the Romanesque period and some may be from other, later buildings. The history of the chapel of St Cuthbert seems to suggest a building of either the later 11thc or first half of the 12thc, a dating which would accord with the carved Romanesque stones.


  • A. Anderson, Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers, A.D. 500 to 1286, London 1908, 22-24 no. 651, 27 fn.1, 32 no. 664, 60 no. 796.

  • Bannatyne Club, Liber Sancte Marie de Melros, Edinburgh 1837, 298 no. 334, 390-91 no. 427, 570 no. 561.

  • Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, 135, 186-187, 205, 210.

  • K. Cruft, J. Dunbar and R. Fawcett, The Buildings of Scotland: Borders, London 2006, 644.

  • S. Crumplin, Rewriting History of the Cult of St Cuthbert from the Ninth to the Twelfth Centuries, PhD thesis, University of St Andrews, 2004, 8-10, 26, 87, 102, 135.

  • A. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters prior to 1153, Glasgow 1905, 79 no. XCIX, 264 no. XXVIII, 341 no. XCIX.

  • D. MacGibbon and T. Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, Vol. 2, Edinburgh 1896, 345.

  • Oxford Archaeology North, Old Melrose, Scottish Borders, desk-based assessment, for the Trimontium Trust (2006)

  • Royal Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments Scotland, An Inventory of Ancient and Historical Monumnents of Roxburghshire, Vol. 2, Edinburgh 1956, 265 no. 567, 303-4 no. 592.

  • J. Stevenson (trans.), The Historical works of Simeon of Durham, London 1855, 632, 642, 678, 705.

House on site of Old Melrose Abbey


Site Location
Old Melrose
National Grid Reference
NT 588 340 
pre-1975 traditional (Scotland): Roxburghshire
now: Scottish Borders
medieval: Glasgow
now: n/a
medieval: St Cuthbert
Type of building/monument
Site of former monastery  
Report authors
James King 
Visit Date
08 May 2015, 26 Sept 2016