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Bishops' Manor, manor house and chapel

A Scheduled Monument in East Garioch, Aberdeenshire

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Latitude: 57.2192 / 57°13'9"N

Longitude: -2.1479 / 2°8'52"W

OS Eastings: 391168

OS Northings: 814284

OS Grid: NJ911142

Mapcode National: GBR XN.9T8G

Mapcode Global: WH9Q9.ZTC1

Entry Name: Bishops' Manor, manor house and chapel

Scheduled Date: 6 July 1973

Last Amended: 6 February 2010

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3282

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel; Secular: manor house

Location: New Machar

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: East Garioch

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire


The monument comprises the remains of a manor complex, known as Bishops' Manor, which is probably of later medieval date and survives as the turf-covered remains of a group of three buildings situated on a peninsula projecting into Bishops' Loch. The monument was originally scheduled in 1973 but owing to changes to the water levels of Loch Goul the scheduled area was inadequate to protect all of the archaeological remains. The present rescheduling rectifies this.

Formerly an island in Bishops' Loch (also recorded as Loch Goul), the site now occupies a peninsula covered by woodland. The manor complex is visible as the turf-covered wall-footings of at least three buildings that stand on the flattish top of a low rise. Owing to falling water levels, the island became a peninsula from around the 1970s and is accessed from the north across a neck of boggy ground. The manor complex is arranged informally, with the larger buildings 1 and 2 forming a T-shaped group. Building 3, smaller than the others, stands a short distance apart to the S. Building 1, on the NE, is a single compartment building aligned NW-SE measuring 14.9m by 4.6m internally. Building 2 is a two-compartment structure aligned NE-SW with the main compartment measuring 14.9m by 4.3m and the second compartment, attached to the SW end at a slight angle, measuring 8.5 by 2.4m. Building 3 lies approximately 10m SW of building 2 and is aligned WSW-ENE; it measures approximately 9m by 4m.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described and an area around in which evidence for the site's construction and use may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is an example of an ecclesiastical manor, believed to date to the later medieval period. Owing to the site's isolation, having been an island until the late 20th century, there is a high potential for well-preserved archaeological deposits relating to the site's construction, occupation and subsequent abandonment to survive in-situ. Proximity to Bishops' Loch suggests potential for waterlogged deposits that could preserve paleoenvironmental evidence and organic remains. In particular, the area of the modern shoreline, likely to have been beneath water until relatively recently, may preserve organic deposits. Preservation of organic deposits at site of this type is particularly rare and this material would significantly enhance our understanding of the lifestyles of the people who occupied the manor buildings.

Bishops' Manor possesses considerable potential to improve our knowledge of the workings of a medieval ecclesiastical manor. Without documentary evidence, such sites are almost indistinguishable from their secular counterparts. Bishops' Manor is known to have been one of several official residences used by the pre-Reformation Bishops of Aberdeen. As well as being a residence, offering accommodation for the bishop, his retinue and his guests, the manor probably served as the administrative centre for the medieval estate of Goul, one of several owned by the See of Aberdeen. Surviving documentary evidence suggests the Bishops of Aberdeen visited this site during the late 13th century, although they may have stayed less frequently following the development of a new episcopal residence at the Chanonry in the 14th century. However, as noted above, the complex may have latterly functioned as an estate centre.

Contextual characteristics

Like their secular counterparts, ecclesiastical manors functioned as the administrative centres of landed estates as well as serving as an official residence. Typically ecclesiastical manors show few obvious structural differences to those associated with secular landholdings, although excavated evidence could, possibly, highlight such differences. Ecclesiastical manors can inform our understanding of role the church played as one of the major landowners in later medieval society.

Generally-speaking, ecclesiastical manors tend to be better documented than their secular counterparts, however the survival of such records may be variable. For example, many of the early charters of Aberdeen Cathedral are known to have been lost in antiquity and gaps in the archives were apparently rectified by a 14th-century scribe who created new versions of missing charters from the 11th and 12th centuries. Whether these represented faithful copies of the lost documents or completely fictitious forgeries is not known. Bishops' Manor, however, is particularly poorly documented. Our principal pre-Reformation source is Hector Boece's 'Vitae Episcoporum Murthlacensium et Aberdonensium' (Lives of the Bishops of Murthly and Aberdeen) which, although written in 1522, was probably composed with access to records that have not survived today. Boece specifically mentions Bishop's Manor in his biography of Bishop Hugh de Benham, Bishop of Aberdeen from 1272 to 1282, noting that the bishop died on an island in 'lacus de Gowlis', (Loch Goul) and that this was where the bishops had their lodging before the chanonry in Aberdeen was built. This lack of documentary sources for Bishops' Manor significantly enhances the importance of the archaeological remains.

Boece also offers some insight into the way the bishops used their residences. In his biography of Bishop Alexander Kinninmund, who held the See of Aberdeen from 1329 to 1343/4, Boece comments that the bishop progressed around the diocese with the seasons, lodging at each of the main residences. Although Bishops' Manor is not specifically mentioned, it may have been part of this annual procession around the estates owned by the See. As Bishops' Manor lies close to Aberdeen, it may have served as a retreat rather than seasonal residence and the development of the Chanonry in the 14th century may have reduced the frequency of episcopal visits to Bishops' Loch. Prior to the Reformation, the See of Aberdeen represented one of the most important landowners in Donside, controlling several estates such as the Barony of Fetternear and controlled rights to forests as well as the revenues of villages and parish churches across the region. Manor complexes are known to have existed at Fetternear, Mortlach, Rayne and Loch Goul and all are likely to have served as episcopal residences. Fetternear, subsequently occupied by the Leslies of Balquhain, developed into one of the largest and most significant and favoured episcopal residences.

As well as the bishops of Aberdeen, the See of St Andrews and the Tironensian abbeys of Arbroath and Lindores also held lands and various rights across Donside and documentary evidence shows that the Abbot of Lindores maintained what is likely to have been a moated manor-house at Hatton of Fintray. As well as providing an administrative centre for the abbey's interests in the region, the residence allowed the abbot to entertain important guests. Surviving records reveal that James IV visited the abbot several times at Hatton of Fintray, probably to hunt in the abbey's nearby forest. Sites such as Hatton of Fintray offer an example of how an ecclesiastical manor could be used in fulfilling wider social obligations as well as operating as estate centres and retreats.

Associative characteristics

Bishops' Manor appears only once in the documentary record as a residence, this being a note by Hector Boece in his History of the Bishops of Aberdeen that Bishop Hugo de Benham (or Hugh de Benim) died here in 1282. Boece describes the manor as something of an idyll, commenting that the old bishop 'found such delight in the pleasant groves that he sought no other retreat'.

The antiquarian William Orem, writing in 1725, described the site as comprising a large hall, with houses to the east and west and an oratory to the south, an account that appears to tally with the remains visible today although only excavation could confirm the date and purpose of these buildings. The New Statistical Account of Scotland of 1845 notes the former presence of a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary at Bishops' Loch. Bishops' Loch (or Loch Guevil) is depicted as a church on Robert Gordon's mid-17th century map of Aberdeenshire.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to inform us about the past, in particular the construction, use and abandonment of a later medieval episcopal manor complex. The potential for the survival of buried archaeological deposits is extremely good as the site's isolated location has prevented development or agricultural activity. Similarly, there is potential for the survival of organic and palaeoenvironmental remains in waterlogged deposits, particularly in the area of the modern shoreline where such remains may well be preserved.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record this site as Bishops' Loch, Chapel, Drain, Manor House, NJ91SW 2. Aberdeenshire SMR records the site as Bishops' Loch, Manors; Palaces NJ92SW0003 and St Mary's Chapel, Chapel, NJ92SW0003.


Bogdan N Q 1995, 'Bishop's Loch', Discovery Excav Scot, 1995, 32.

Fetternear Trust 2003, Fetternear: A Brief History, 6.

New Statistical Account of Scotland 1845, Volume 12, Edinburgh, 1029.

Orem W 1830, A Description of the Chanonry, Cathedral and King's College of Old Aberdeen, in the Years 1724-5, Aberdeen, 89-90.

RCAHMS 2007, In the Shadow of Bennachie, Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 145, 146, 151, 161-3.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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