Issue 148

Newsletter – Issue 148, June 2004

Visit to Corstorphine Church

Several of us visited Corstorphine Church where we were given a warm welcome and an extremely interesting guided tour around the building.
A church was built on the site in 1128 but was replaced by another in 1429 and later given collegiate status. Over the years it became extremely dilapidated until it was extensively restored in the early 20th century. This was done in a sensitive manner true to the original design so that the church retains the aura of a medieval building.
A western entrance porch joins a larger vestibule, which in turn opens onto the crossing under the tower. On either side is a transept, the south containing an early medieval baptismal font. Then there is the nave with a northern aisle supported by pillars and arches. To the east there is the chancel that used to contain the high altar. North of this is a three storey building that used to be used by the prebend. The main external feature is a tower supporting an octagonal tower.

Proposed Trip to Haddington

We shall be visiting Haddington on Saturday, 19th June. This is a lovely market town full of interesting historical sites. We shall be starting our visit at Haddington Church, the largest medieval parish church in Lothian. Arrangements have been made for a volunteer to take us round.
On leaving the church we shall pass Haddington house, the home of the Duke of Lauderdale, a scourge of the Covenanters during the reign of Charles II. We then go across a 15th century bridge, which still has the hook used on felons given a suspended sentence. This will take us to St Martin’s Church, originally part of a convent. It has no roof but is otherwise in excellent condition.
The town was originally renowned for its many churches and religious communities but most have disappeared without trace. It is ironic that this centre of Catholicism should have been the home of the young John Knox, although no one has found the actual house.

Excavation at Penicuik

Regular Sunday digs are now taking place at Castlehill on the estate of Sir Robert Clerk at Penicuik. I would like to have said ‘on a motte and bailey site’ but despite a 17 by 3 metre trench on the top of the hill and investigation of stone revetting round the north eastern end we have no finds to confirm the date of the site.
The line of the stone revetment that starts from the north side of the hill is lower down the slope than that which curves from the south side northwards. We have not progressed far enough to confirm fully that they contour round at different levels. It would be an achievement if we could show that the upper one encircled the motte and the lower one included the bailey. The erosion of the sides of the promontory, which still slopes down to the burn at an angle of nearly 40º, is such that I suspect a lot has been lost, and old maps and the Ainslie plan would appear to confirm this.
Within the trench we have found an area paved with sandstone slabs and edged, at one side, with a stone curb. On extending the trench to find the southern edge of the paving it stopped abruptly and appears to have been robbed out.
The dig will continue until the end of July when, once again, the shooting season will take precedence.
Shorewatch Members ‘shorewalked’ at Blackness on 7th and 25th May. While not getting stuck in quicksand, they identified the position and structure on many fish traps. The next walk is planned for 6th July.

Dig at Dalmeny

The dig at Cobble Cottage field on the Dalmeny estate in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh Archaeological Department is likely to take place in August but precise timing depends on when the current cereal crop is harvested. Test pits will be dug in areas where our fieldwalking of five (!!) years ago produced most lithics. There is a possibility that a Mesolithic site to match that found in our Cramond dig exists on the west side of the River Almond.

Survey in the Borders

We will be returning, probably in September, to continue work around Eddleston in conjunction with Peebles-shire Archaeological Society. The site that Trevor Cowie is suggesting is shown on Sheet NT24/34 (Peebles) in the ‘White Barony’ area to the east of Eddleston and is marked as Hopeton Tower (site of).

Survey at Cramond

Having completed 10,400 readings (26 of our standard 20 by 20 metre squares) we have reached a point to pause and consider what more can be usefully done before it is written up.
Further squares to the north, over the edge of the raised beach, would takes us into very different geology confusing what might be archaeological with Devonian boulder clay. Extending to the east would take us into very disturbed ground with buried sewer pipes and over a dozen manhole covers. Neither area seems likely to add much to what has already been recorded.
Two additional items of survey could help in our interpretation of the site. The first of these is to survey in all the existing trees to see how they relate to the alignment on Berwick Law and also whether they seem to have influenced the ground resistance around them. The second relates to a few ‘amorphous blobs’ of both high and low resistance that may mark linear features. The highs could be gravel banks and the lows residual dune-slack ponds, both formed in the rear of the raised beach. Linear array resistance measurement in section across the blobs to a depth of four metres should clarify how deep these features are and whether there are linear features above them. The fact that these features show up in the area survey indicates that they are not more than 0.75 metres from the surface but how far down do they go and is there anything above them?

Ground resistance survey at Corstorphine

We now have written permission from John Lawson, the City of Edinburgh Archaeological Officer, to conduct surveys on the south side of the church and in St Margaret’s Park.
Sir John Forrester had, some time before 1429, assigned three acres of his estate for the use of three chaplains ministering in the collegiate church. Each acre was to have a house and ‘pasture for 3 horses and 3 cows’. The area around the war memorial to the south of the church is reputedly the site of the house of one chaplain but some time before 1538 a ‘hospital ‘ was built on the site which later is designated ‘alms house’. This was ruinous by 1679 and about 1810 the Kirk Session sold the site on a 99 year lease and one John Cowie built a house. The City acquired the site in 1924 and all the buildings were demolished in 1928. We should certainly find something in the way of foundations but interpretation may present a problem.
The Dower House (or Gibsone Lodge) in St Margaret’s Park is possibly the much-altered house of another chaplain. By 1765 the house was owned by an Edinburgh lawyer, Samuel Mitchelson, who made alterations and added stables, coach houses, a barn and gardener’s house. Again plenty of wall footings to look for but the interpretation is likely to be just as confusing.

Ground resistance survey in Dalmeny Village

This survey, which will be done as a joint project with the City of Edinburgh Archaeological Service, will form our project for inclusion in Scottish Archaeology Month organised by the Council for Scottish Archaeology. The survey will take place over the weekend 18-19 September with CECAS doing the topographical survey. Between us we hope to identify the foundations of the buildings that formed the medieval village.