Lindean Kirk/Selkirk Abbey.

From 1948 to 1952 I lived at Lindean and knew the site before serious decay had set in on the ruined kirk and before the house, stables and exercise yard were built on the north and west side of the graveyard. The fields around the graveyard had been a fertile field-walking site for Bruce and Walter Mason with pottery and dateable evidence in coins from Edward I to Mary, Queen of Scots. Judging from the spread of finds and visible ground patterns, the settlement must have covered about four acres at some period.

For interest initially, I researched all contemporary documents on Selkirk Abbey and agreed with Craig Brown’s History of Selkirkshire and the Royal Commission’s Inventory of Selkirkshire that the site of Selkirk Abbey (Selkirk Abbatis, the Abbot’s Selkirk) was at the ruined kirk at Lindean. It was on the convenient road between David’s ‘Selkirk Regis’(present day Selkirk) and his ‘dominium meum de Mailros’ (Old Melrose) with no rivers to cross en route.

For better or worse, I crammed this research into ‘Selkirkshire and The Borders, Book One’ and followed the fortunes of the abbey/kirk of Lindean and its lands in the ‘Liber de Calchou’.

To give a brief resume of Selkirk Abbey. Earl David brought Abbot Ralph and twelve monks of the Reformed Order from Tiron in France and settled them on a ‘pleasant site near The Tweed’ in 1113 AD. In 1116 David returned to Tiron with Abbot Ralph and brought back Abbot William and more monks. William returned to take charge at Tiron in 1118. The new Abbot, Henry, ruled until 1126 when the monks of Selkirk Abbey together with the abbey lands were ‘transported’ to Kelso to a new foundation there. So for thirteen years, there were twenty-five to thirty monks in station at the Lindean site and, believing they were settled there, it is more than likely that they would have started building an abbey (my opinion).

A foray across the site with divining rods showed that I had under-estimated the extent of the township because there were rows of houses c 8m by 4m, in street formation. The Abbot’s Selkirk was probably bigger and more important that the King’s Selkirk at this period.

Even although the main body of monks were taken to Kelso and the Selkirk Abbey lands were subsumed into the Kelso Abbey land register, the Lindean site was still an important place sited where the road between Selkirk Regis to Old Melrose was crossed by the Dark Age hill road between Peebles and Jedworth.

In 1234, Alexander II gave lands on both sides of the Ettrick to erect and maintain a bridge over the river on the Dark Age hill route.

In the 1300 entry of the Liber de Calchou, in Selkirk Abbatis there were 15 husbandmen and 10 cottars paying a yearly rent in cash and kind for their land as well as an unknown number of ‘nativi’( serfs or carls) who had no land. In addition there was the Abbot’s mill to which all the above were thirled.

In August 1353, Sir William Douglas the Flower of Chivalry who served the Kings of Scotland and England alternately, was ‘accidently’ killed in Ettrick Forest and his body lay one night in front of the altar in Lindean kirk before being taken to Melrose Abbey.

On 16 Feb 1523, Master George Ker, canon [of Glasgow] gave to the kirk of Morbotill ‘a chalice of silver of 18 ounces and vestments of [black] with gold fringe and in the kirk of Lyndene a chalice of silver of 18 ounces and double gilt.’ The Lindean kirk lost any glory it once had along with its land at The Reformation in 1560.

The Royal Commission’s Inventory report on the Old Kirk.

‘ the building was abandoned about 1586 and is represented today only by the lower part of its rubble walls which remain banked up on the outside but have been cleared on the inside showing a height of 3ft 6in above the floor level. On plan the building is rectangular and single-chambered measuring internally 56ft 3in from ESE to WNW by 17ft 2in from NNE to SSW’.

This is correct as far as it goes except it could formerly be seen that the structure was built in two sections. The section marked A on the plan below is 11m by 5m internally and B is a 6m extension, probably when the memorial stone was placed there. ‘The incomplete memorial near the E. end of the N. wall’ of the extended kirk is more likely to be for one of the William Kers of St Helen’s Shaw whose ground adjoined the kirk lands.

New Thoughts.

I am trying to remember and record details of the many ecclesiastical sites which have left nothing but their place names on the Border countryside – the ‘kils’ of the early Christian hermit monks, the ‘kirks’ of the Anglians and the ‘chapels’ of the later, more established Catholic church. Although on many sites no visible trace of building can be found, they have the one thing in common that they buried their dead as close to the holy place as they could. And divining rods find graves very easily.

This led me back to Lindean where I had long considered that there was still much more to be found on the site. The first step was ground inspection. Even though the ground was been ploughed many times, there are still many clues on the surface - a low spread bank does not turn at a right angle in nature; and divining rods, the poor man’s geophysics, reflect changes in ground structure underneath the surface. By these means, I produced the plan below; it is not to scale or well- drawn but I am confident that what it shows is actually there.

Rough Sketch of the Ruined Kirk and Graveyard at Lindean. NT 483 308.

Lindean sketch


The dark line is the enclosed space usually taken to be a graveyard but it is only in the area to the south of the extended kirk that I find graves.

In the North-East corner of the enclosure, there is a hollow which is usually filled with nettles. This is a walled enclosure/building c 11m by 9m.

Outside the enclosure dyke on the East and South sides, low/spread mounds are visible. On investigation with divining rods, these were two rows of conjoined buildings each c 7m by 3.5m internally and doors which opened into the enclosure. The same type of building was continued inside the enclosure dyke on the North and West sides, making a nearly square enclosure of buildings.

This was totally out-with my experience and I sought published help. Could this structure be a cloister attached to the infant Selkirk Abbey? In a 1517 report on Kelso Abbey ‘the cloister has a wide court round which are many houses and lodgings; there also are guest-quarters common to both English and Scot.’

Walter Elliot. 16 April 2016

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