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Priory of Coldingham





coldingham prioryColdingham Priory was a house of Benedictine monks. It lies on the south-east coast of Scotland, in the village of Coldingham, Berwickshire. Coldingham Priory was founded in the reign of David I of Scotland, although his older brother and predecessor King Edgar of Scotland had granted the land of Coldingham to the Church of Durham in 1098, and a church was constructed by him and presented in 1100. The first prior of Coldingham is on record by the year 1147, although it is likely that the foundation was much earlier. The earlier Columban Abbey founded by St. Æbbe sometime circa 640 AD. Although the monastery was largely destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1648, there are still extant remains of the priory. The choir of which forms the present parish church of Coldingham, and is serviced by the Church of Scotland.

Today the ruins are in a very poor state, badly eroded, overgrown and at risk of collapse. With the help of Heritage Lottery funding the site will be rejuvenated: the ruins conserved, footpaths reinstated and a wasteland transformed into a community garden with a monastic theme concentrating on plants with culinary, medicinal, and aromatic properties. There will be interpretation for the first time explaining the hundreds of years of history contained within its walls while a year-long education programme will engage schools and community groups in many diverse activities relating to the Priory and its conservation.
The Tweed Forum has been awarded a grant of £237,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to conserve the ruins of Coldingham Priory and encourage community use of this fascinating site.



Extracts from "History of the Priory of Coldingham from the earliest date to the present time" of 1858

The Priors in succession who followed Gretham were, Richard de Quixwood, Richard de Whiteworth, (these two Richards are probably the same person) Adam de Pontefract, William de Scaceario, Walter de Scarisbeck, Adam de Lamesley, William de Bamburgh, Robert Walworth, Robert Claxton, John Steel, John de Akecliff or Oakcliff, William Drax or Drake, John Olle or Oil, John Ayre, Thomas Nesbyt, John Pencher, Thomas Haighton, Thomas Wren, Alexander Stuart, natural son of James IV., David Home, Robert Blackadder, William Douglas (1519 -1526, Becomes Abbot of Holyrood.), Adam, whose surname is not ascertained, John Stuart, natural son of James V., created Prior, with consent of the Pope, though a mere infant ; John Maitland, on whom the title of Commendator of Coldingham was first conferred ; Francis, eldest son of the late Prior, John Stuart ; Alexander, Lord Home ; Francis, Earl of Bothwell ; and John Stuart, the last who bore the title of Commendator. The period during which the names of these parties are found presiding over this establishment extended from 1311, when Gretham ceased, to the year 1622, when John Stuart was appointed Commendator.


During the regency of the Duke of Albany, in the feeble reign of Robert III., the Priory passed, by an act of its own inmates, under the surveillance of Alexander, the Laird of Home, as under-Keeper of it for the powerful family of Douglas ; and, in consequence, it soon became limited in its resources, and shorn of its authority, and eventually acknowledged the family of Home as the lords of all its possessions. The grants by the Pope were, however, declared null and void by King Edward.


In 1522, William Douglas, brother of Lord Angus, seized the office of Prior by force, and successfully resisted all efforts to expel him. He was constituted Abbot of Holyrood (1526-1528) by his brother Angus, and died in 1531. Adam, his successor, who presided till 1541, was removed to Dundrennan, to make way for John Stuart, the infant and illegitimate son of James V. During John Stuart's infancy, the King enjoyed the revenues, but found his possession of these less luxurious and undisturbed than any of his ecclesiastical predecessors. In November 1544, the church and town, after being seized by the English, were successfully fortified against the Regent Arran ; and, in September 1545, the Abbey, during the devastating incursion of the Earl of Hertford, was once more, to a great extent, destroyed by fire. After such a succession of fires, assaults, and batteries, it is indeed not surprising that so little of the old Abbey should be now extant. John Stuart, having now attained maturity himself, drew the revenues of the Priory.


The Prior, now designated Commendator, performed no ecclesiastical functions. For a period then of about fifty years after the Reformation, we are unable to discover the names of the ministers of this Church. During a part of the Commendatorship of Alexander, Earl of Home, it appears that one Alexander Watson officiated as clergyman. He was appointed in 1608, and possessed the living till 1623.

In 1616 we find the name of William Douglas, who, it is presumed, may have been at first assistant to Alexander Watson during the last seven years of his incumbency, and then continued in the living till 1653. His successor was Christopher Knowes, who held the cure only three years, having died in 1656, when Samuel Douglas succeeded ; and, coupled with his name, there is also that of David Home, but their joint duties appear to have lasted only one year, though the name of the latter is connected with the Church till 1664. In 1665 we find the name of Alexander Hewell, who held the living till 1671, and was succeeded by Alexander Bannatyne ; and in 1692 Alexander Douglas' name is mentioned in connection with this parish.

It has been generally understood that the Reverend John Dysart was the first Presbyterian minister appointed to the Church of Coldingham after the Revolution in 1688. It appears that Alexander Bannatyne was incumbent at the time of the Revolution, and was succeeded by Alexander Douglas, son of Samuel Douglas, in 1692. In all probability, during these troublous times, the church duties in the Church of Coldingham were, like those of many other churches in Scotland, in a state of abeyance ; ministers having been expelled from their homes, and driven to seek shelter in caves and among the mountains. The people were not permitted to meet for worship publicly ; yet, devoted to their religion, they assembled themselves on the hill-side, or in the glen, well armed and accoutred, that they might be prepared to defend themselves against surprise and attack by the Government troops. Often, indeed, were they interrupted in the midst of their devotions, and the clashing of swords succeeded to the voice of prayer. Such we may conceive to have been the state of Coldingham during the incumbency of Alexander Bannatyne. With regard to Alexander Douglas, we find conclusive evidence in the session records that he was the minister ejected previous to the induction of John Dysart ; and not only so, but that he carried with him the communion vessels and other articles belonging to the Church. Of date 28th April 1695, Thomas Aitchinsone, an elder, reported that he went to Mr Alexander Douglas, late incumbent here, and required of him the utensils of the kirk, before Sir Patrick Home, particularly the " cups, bason, kirk Bible, session books, y e boxes for y e collection, the roller and box for the mortcloth and communion table-cloths ; who answered, y* y e kirk had not cups, nor bason, nor table-cloths, nor kirk Bible, and y* for the boxes for the collection y* he had a receipt for them ; y* the session book was in y e hands of y e Earle of Home, and y* y e box for the mortcloth should be delivered on demand ; but for the roller, he knew not what had become of it. Thomas Aitchinsone was approven for his diligence. Ordered y fc John Smith and Tho? Aitchinsone, elders, do go to Mr Alexander Douglass, & require the session furnitl, communion tickets, & bonds of money mortified for the poor. All that he was pleased to restore was, y e box for the mortcloth, the lid qrof being rent & broken, & wWt lock & bands." There can be no doubt that this Alexander Douglass was the Episcopalian clergyman who officiated in the barn afterwards referred to, sometimes called the meeting-house. We find it repeatedly recorded, that when the elders rebuked parties for Sabbath-breaking, they retorted that they did not attend the church, but the barn. The Reverend John Dysart was virtually the first minister ordained to the parish after the Revolution.


John Dysart had been ordained minister of Langton on 30th April 1691. He was a man of bold and determined character, and a steady advocate of the rites of the Reformed religion. By the advice of the Privy Council, he was translated from the parish of Langton to that of Coldingham on the 24th March 1694. The greater portion of the inhabitants were then staunch Episcopalians, and were consequently strongly opposed to his induction ; so much so, that it was deemed necessary to employ the aid of a body of military to prevent a riot. Dysart having resolutely held possession of his charge, an Episcopalian clergy-man for several years continued to officiate in a barn, which stood at a short distance from the Church, and was supported by the voluntary contributions of the people. This was no doubt Alexander Douglas.


There was now a fair prospect of the remains of this once stupendous structure being restored to their pristine beauty in the decorative parts, and of the whole being comfortably adapted as a place of worship. A committee, consisting of David Milne Home, Esq., convener ; John Hood, Esq. ; Matthew Norman Macdonald Hume, Esq. of Ninewells ; Henry Home Drummond, Esq. of Blair-Drummond ; George Turnbull, Esq. of Abbey St Bathans ; and the late factor of Lord Douglas, was appointed to confer with Mr Matheson, on the part of the Crown, to procure plans and specifications, and generally to superintend the details and the completion of the work. To these gentlemen, but most particularly to Messrs Milne Home, Hood, and Macdonald Hume, the chief merit belongs, on the side of the heritors, in carrying through this important undertaking ; and these three gentlemen have truly been indefatigable in discharge of the duty imposed on them. Their labours and exertions are the more disinterested and praiseworthy, seeing not only that they had a large portion of the expense to bear, but, none of them being resident heritors, they had no direct personal interest to serve, either as to the grandeur or comfort of the church. It is but due to the other heritors to record, that, while several of them gave valuable advice and assistance, all of them gave their most cordial approbation and support. This is the more to be applauded, considering that they were not only bearing an expense beyond what in law they were probably bound to bear, but they had recently been heavily assessed in relation to the manse and school-houses, and were here also at the expense of purchasing land to enlarge the burial-ground, and to increase the area, to give effect to the beauty of the church. We have sub-joined a list of the present heritors, who in so liberal a spirit bore the expense of these several works. It seems not too much to say, that one-half the expenditure might indeed have put both the church and manse in a state as sufficient as the law could have demanded. (Lord Douglas was one of the heritors).



Coldingham Priory is open to visitors on Wednesday afternoons between 2.00pm and 4.00pm and also on Sundays in July and August at the same times.

There is a Sunday Service every week at 10.00am where all denominations are very welcome.


Research notes:

SAMUEL DOUGLAS, M.A.; Minister of Coldingham; pres. by 1641 Charles I. 6th May 1641; suspended June 1648, and dep. by the Presb. On the recommendation of the Assembly, the Commission on 14th Feb. 1651 "do open his mouth and declare him to be in capacity for the ministry "; trans, to Eccles after Oct. 1652. " [Reg. Sec. Sig.; Haddington Drumoak in 1653, but was reponed to the ministry 2nd Feb. 1654, on condition that he should not accept a charge without special consent of the Presb. He was pres. to Edrom, and coll. there 11th Nov. 1662. In the following year he exchanged with the min. of this charge; was pres. by Charles II. 17th Feb. 1664; adm. in Presb. Reg.; Acts of Ass. ; Baillie's Letters.]  He was a son of Archibald Douglas of Pittendreich, himelf an illegitimate son of the 4th Earl of Morton.


ALEXANDER DOUGLAS, son of Samuel D., min. here in 1041 (?1641); M.A. (Edinburgh 1GG9 (?1669)) ; adm. min. of Longformacus in 1G72 (?1672); pres. by Charles II. 15th Oct. 1077 (?1677) ; deprived by the Privy Council, 8th Sept, 1689, for not reading the Proclamation of the Estates, nor praying for William and Mary. He was accused of taking away the Presb. Records. He died Jan. 1704, aged about 55. He marr. Margaret Bannatyne, probably daugh. of his predecessor, and had issue Samuel of Burnhouses ; Helen (marr. 27th Dec. 1729, John Johnston, writer, Edinburgh) ;Katherine (marr. July 1735, Yaxly Davidson, merchant, Edinburgh). [Min.-book Rey. Sec. Sir/., v. ; MS. Ace. of Min., 1689 ;Edinburgh Marriage Reg. ; Treasury Sed. Rook, 22nd July 1696.]


Additional comments by Laurie Pettitt

On September 2nd 1650,Oliver Cromwell wrote to Sir Arthur Hesilrige from Dunbar. He said that the Scots had occupied the 'Pass at Copperspith', making it impossible for Cromwell to retreat into England. The Pass was said to have been possible to hold by very few men against many. Being that the Tower guarded a bridge over the Pease gorge, this was the pass which Oliver mentioned.

There is also reference to 'The Tower at Coldingham in many State records. What other historians have missed is that the tower mentioned is Cockburnspath Tower.. In the Parish of Coldingham. This has led to the false assertion that Oliver reduced Coldingham Priory in 1648,andwhenthat was disproved, the year 1650 is substituted. If there had been any action at Coldingham Priory at either of those dates, it would have been mentioned by Cromwell, but in 1648,Cromwell had beaten the Scots, under Hamilton and was in the process of meeting with The Estates with a view to assisting them in mopping up the Engagers. The only action in the area was when some troops from the Bishopric of Durham raided into Scotland and were sent back to Durham with their Captain Cashiered. Also, in both 1648 and 1650, speed of movement had been essential and Oliver was not pulling great guns weighing 3tons which were said to have been used against the Priory at Coldingham.

Cockburnspath Tower is a shameful indictment of the Scottish disregard for Borders' history. It was part of the marriage settlement from King James the fourth (Perfidious Jim) to Margaret Tudor. It forced Cromwell to fight the Battle of Dunbar. In that, it influenced World History, just as the Battle of Dunbar also changed Scotland and England.

If you visit Dunbar, you will find a stumpy memorial to the Battle, but a visit to Doon Hill, overlooking the battle site reveals no signage to advertise this battle which left 3,000 Scotsmen dead on the field, 5,000 prisoners (Cromwell notes them a 'sick, injured or starving and like to die of their wounds) These 5,000,he released to the care of their fellow countrymen and the remaining (rough estimated) 5,000 prisoners marched to Durham.

Further to the assertion that Coldingham Priory was destroyed by Cromwell, one only has to look at pictures of the Priory drawn by Francis Grose in 1790. You will see that the bell tower is still standing. No srlf respecting gunner would have left the bell tower standing!

Francis Grose also drew Cockburnspath Tower. The block work leading to the bridge is identical today as that which he drew in 1790.

I speculate on the site at Cockburnspath being more ancient than the 1256 which is recorded.

The Post Road which ran from Ayton, via East Reston and onwards to Dunglass and Dunbar, is said to have been built by the Romans. The bridge at Cockburnspath Tower was part of the pistons road until the 1780s when the New Pease Bridge was built.

I believe it to be probable that the site is of far greater historical importance than people realise.

Source: Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell





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