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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNO64SW0018
NRHE Card No.NO64SW18
NRHE Numlink 35546
HES SM No. 90018
HES LB No. 21130
Site Form Standing Structure
Site Condition Incomplete
Details Remains of an abbey, with remaining sections including an A-listed conventual building (remains of), a pend, a regality tower and an Abbot's house. Arbroath Abbey, a Tironensian foundation of 1178, was dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury. Its founder was King William the Lion, who was later buried according to his wishes before the high altar. The Declaration of Arbroath was issued here in 1320. A battle took place in front of the great gate of the Abbey on 29 January 1446 between the Ogilvys and the Lindays. The bodies of the 'gentlefolk' were interred in the Abbey, with the 'humbler people' buried in the cemetery. The abbey wall is said to have been of great height and to have extended 150 feet (46 metres) on the east and west, 760 feet (232 metres) on the north and 480 feet (146 metres) on the south. There were great towers at the angles (the north-western one is still extant), and entrance gateways on the north (still extant) and at the south-east angle. Where the walls have been removed either the foundation has been exposed by excavation or the course is indicated by kerb stones. It is depicted on the 1st and 2nd edition OS maps as 'Abbey of Aberbrothock', and the main abbey building as the ruins of 'St Thomas's or Abbey Church'. The main body of the Abbey (NO 6431 4133) is a red sandstone ruin. It is cruciform in plan, with an aisle-less presbytery, transeptal chapels and twin towers with a great western doorway. There are the remains of a 13th century conventual building to the south-west of the main Abbey (NO 6428 4130), which form the two-storey remains of a west range, forming part of the enclosure to the Abbey precincts. A 13th century three-storey square keep (NO 6421 4129) formed the north-west corner of the Abbey precincts, adjoining the regality courthouse. It is a three-storey keep with vaulted floors and a corbelled parapet. To the south-west of the main building is the Abbot's House (NO 6428 4128), parts of which date to the 13th century. It is a three-storey building with a groined roof to the ground floor, and is the best example of its kind remaining in Scotland. It is now preserved as a museum. To the west of the main building is a 15th century fortified gatehouse and pend (NO 6424 4130). It has the remains of a groined roof, and there is a corbel course at the upper floor level over the pend archway. It was formerly defended by a portcullis. Excavation in the Chapter House in 1938 uncovered ten internments within stone coffins, presumed the remains of abbots or other senior members of the abbey. In one there were the remains of a wool habit. It was noted that the graves had been rifled at some later period. A watching brief was carried out by SUAT Ltd in 2001 over mains replacement work close to Arbroath Abbey. Three test pits were excavated on the Abbey boundary. In one a small pit and sherd of medieval pottery was found, in another a deposit of demolition debris was found. Nothing of archaeological significance was observed in the third. A watching brief was maintained by Kirkdale Archaeology in May 2011 during the excavation of one trench (at NO 6429 4129), and another was archaeologically excavated, to allow the installation of two new information signs. Deposits seen mostly represented later levelling material but some possibly structural remains were seen in the southernmost trench (NO 6430 4124) which were left undisturbed. Four small trenches were excavated by Kirkdale Archaeology in January 2013 to assess the impact of the roots of apple trees recently planted in the abbey grounds. The trenches, to the south and southwest of Little Cloister showed that to the west the area has been raised substantially in the recent past, but further east, closer to the Abbey ruins, probable medieval deposits occur at relatively shallow depth. Seals (NO64SW0078), a gaming board (NO64SW0079) and a ring brooch (NO64SW0080) have also been found in the grounds of the Abbey. Geophysical survey was carried out by Rose Geophysical Consultants in March 2018 within the grounds of the Abbey and Abbey Green to the east. Several anomalies indicate elements of structural remains and also numerous possible drains, however, interpretation is cautious given later occupation and other activity on the site. An evaluation of twelve trenches was carried out by CFA in February 2020, within the grounds of the Abbey ahead of the installation of a new scriptorium installation in the Abbey grounds. The evaluation was to test a range of geophysical anomalies, to try to answer research questions on the extent of 19th/20th century clearance and the survival and sensitivities of any archaeological remains within the grounds. It was apparent that archaeological structures and deposits survived in this area, particularly in Trenches 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 12. Stone walls were recorded in Trenches 1 and 7. A linear clay feature with a groove was recorded in Trench 3. Negative cut features were recorded at the base of Trenches 3 and 5. Two concreted, flat-topped sandstone structures were recorded in Trench 6, their purpose and function is unknown but it is almost certain that they were contemporary and functioned together. Possibly in situ medieval deposits were recorded in Trench 8. The top of a possible vaulted flue was recorded in Trench 9. A metalled surface was recorded in Trench 12. Trenches 2, 4 and 10 did not contain any archaeological features. The presence of live tree roots did not allow the full evaluation of Trench 11. A watching brief was carried out by CFA in June 2021 during groundworks for installation of a new interpretation panel east of the outer cloister, but no archaeological features, deposits or artefacts revealed. A watching brief was carried out by CFA Archaeology in March 2022 during groundworks associated with construction of a temporary scriptorium in the grounds southeast of the Abbot's House. No features or artefacts of archaeological significance were observed. See NO64SW0622 for abbey precinct wall.
Last Update21/02/2024
Updated Bycsimpson
Date of Compilation23/11/2009

Google Map for NO64SW0018

National Grid Reference: NO 6433 4129

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
1980 Field Survey
2011 Watching-Brief
2013 Excavation kirkdale1-31416
1938 Excavation
2001 Watching-Brief
2018 Geophysical Survey
2020 Evaluation cfaarcha1-386049
2021 Watching-Brief cfaarcha1-425050
2022 Watching-Brief cfaarcha1-436074

Excavations and Surveys

Date MDate YTypeDurationDirector / OrganisationAuspicesFundExtent
12013 Excavation  Kirkdale ArchaeologyHSHS 
61958  JLDOS  
 1980   RCMRCM 
22020 Excavation  CFAHESHES 

Artefact and Ecofact

Date MDate YArtefact TypeFinderRecovery MethodConditionStorage LocationAccess No.
 1938 WOOL HABIT Excavation  
22020 ANIMAL BONE CFA Excavation  
22020 BURNT SHALE CFA Excavation  
22020 CHARCOAL CFA Excavation  
22020 CLAY PIPE STEMS CFA Excavation  
22020 GLASS CFA Excavation  
22020 IRON OBJECTS CFA Excavation  
22020 LITHICS CFA Excavation  
22020 POTTERY CFA Excavation  
22020 SHELL CFA Excavation  
22020 SLAG CFA Excavation  
22020 STONE CFA Excavation  


Ecofact Notes

Monument Types

Monument Type 1Monument Type 2Monument Type 3OrderProbability
PITS  H100