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Choir of St Nicholas' Collegiate Church, Dalkeith

A Scheduled Monument in Dalkeith, Midlothian

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Latitude: 55.8955 / 55°53'43"N

Longitude: -3.0686 / 3°4'6"W

OS Eastings: 333274

OS Northings: 667449

OS Grid: NT332674

Mapcode National: GBR 7008.GG

Mapcode Global: WH6T1.T2ZR

Entry Name: Choir of St Nicholas' Collegiate Church, Dalkeith

Scheduled Date: 14 January 1936

Last Amended: 12 June 2023

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM1188

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: collegiate church

Location: Dalkeith

County: Midlothian

Electoral Ward: Dalkeith

Traditional County: Midlothian


The monument comprises the choir of St Nicholas' Collegiate Church which dates to the late 15th century. The choir, which is roofless, has two bays and a three-sided eastern apse. It is  attached to the east end of the current parish church, which formerly served as the nave of the church (designated as a listed building separately). A sacristy survives on the north side of the choir and is roofed with stone slabs. The ground floor of this two storey rectangular structure serves a burial vault for the Scotts of Buccleuch. The monument stands within the graveyard of the parish church located on Dalkeith High Street. 

The choir dates to the late 15th century and is a heavily buttressed pentagonal structure. There is a round headed doorway with an ogeed hoodmould though the south wall. Another doorway in the north wall provides access to what was the sacristy. The outer wall has five-off diagonal buttresses dividing the bays, each of which has a canopied niche and the remains of a gargoyle (carved waterspout). The choir has traceried windows on all but the north side. The windows are hoodmoulded, with three lights with uncusped loop tracery of around 1500. The lower parts of these windows were later infilled, apart from the central apse window which was originally kept short to accommodate an altarpiece against the inside of the east wall. Internally, several decorated vault corbels survive. These would have carried ribs that decorated the now lost pointed barrel vault the ceiled this space. Against the north wall there is the restored Morton Memorial, a medieval funerary monument consisting of two effigies on a stone tomb chest. It is to James Douglas, 1st Earl of Morton (d. circa 1498), and his wife Princess Joanna, daughter of King James I. The former sacristy is a two-storey structure which projects from the north wall of the choir. It is vaulted at the ground and first floor levels, the first floor vault being a pointed barrel vault which supports a saddle and trough stone slab roof. The upper storey is accessed via a boarded door at 1st floor level on western exterior. The ground floor is used as burial vault for the Scotts of Buccleuch.

The scheduled area is irregular and extends 2m out beyond the former sacristy and up to but not including the retaining wall of the sunken pathway around the choir. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The modern wooden walkway and the wooden cover for the effigies within the choir are specifically excluded from the monument to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17): 

a.  The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past or has the potential to do so as the remains of a medieval collegiate church with an important collection of medieval architectural features. 

b.   The monument retains structural, architectural, decorative attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past. In particular, it retains many original features which are good examples of late medieval ecclesiastical architecture.

d.   The monument is a particularly good example of a choir of a late medieval collegiate church and is therefore an important representative of this monument type. 

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past, in particular study of the architectural fabric could help in our understanding of late medieval building techniques. There is the potential for undisturbed archaeological deposits within the choir which could enhance our understanding of earlier iterations of the church. If burials are present within the choir, scientific study of the human remains found can add to our understanding of health and diet of those buried here as well as potentially providing DNA evidence.

f.   The monument makes a significant contribution to the townscape of Dalkeith as an important element on High Street. Together with the much-altered Dalkeith Castle (Dalkeith House), the former collegiate church, are  important features in understanding the development of medieval Dalkeith. 

g.  The monument has significant associations with the Douglases of Dalkeith the Scott of Buccleuch, notably James Douglas, 1st Earl of Morton and Joanna, Countess of Morton (daughter of King James I) and Anna Scott, 1st Duchess of Buccleuch. The choir also has associations with General Monck, Oliver Cromwell's Commander-in-Chief in Scotland. 

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The monument is an important example of a late medieval collegiate church choir with many original architectural details. The collegiate church was founded in 1406 when Sir James Douglas endowed an existing chapel dedicated to St Nicholas with six chaplains. It is unclear what form this building took but the church became the parish church in 1467, and there were further endowments in 1475-7 and 1503. By the early 16th century, the church was cruciform with an aisled nave of four bays with a south porch and chapels projecting out from the east bay of each aisle. The choir was part modelled on nearby Seton Collegiate Church (scheduled monument SM13368) with three bays, rib barrel vaulting over the apse and a sacristy in the middle bay in the north side. The interior is now empty apart from the restored tomb-chest upon which are the stone effigies of St James Douglas and his wife Joanna, Countess of Morton. The effigies are unusual in that the carvings show James Douglas in civilian clothes and is one of the few examples of this in Scotland. The carving of Joanna may be the oldest surviving image of a known deaf person in the world. The former sacristy, a two-storey rectangular structure, accessed through the north wall of the choir now serves a burial vault for the Scotts of Buccleuch.

The monument is a remarkably intact example of a Scottish medieval collegiate church. It retains a number of architectural features, including a sedilia, decorated vault corbels and fine tracery windows. In addition to the upstanding structure, there is high potential for the presence of buried archaeological remains that can provide information about the sequence of development of the church and its reuse. Burial deposits can also inform us about medieval Christian burial rituals and belief, while skeletal remains can provide evidence for health, diet, illness and cause of death. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our ability to understand the form, character, architecture and decoration of medieval collegiate churches in lowland Scotland and their role in the expression of status.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

Collegiate churches were a typical expression of aristocratic piety in the late medieval period in Scotland, whereby a powerful family maintained a college of priests in a special church to offer continual prayers for the family's salvation (and particularly for the souls of its deceased members). These churches were often elaborate architecturally and comparatively richly furnished, depending on the patron family's means and status. The collegiate churches in Scotland arose out of an earlier system of "chantries". This was a long standing tradition where the wealthy members of society would fund an altar which was primarily used as a location to hold masses and prayers for the founder and their deceased relatives. The earliest collegiate church in Scotland was St Mary's on the Rock, St Andrews (scheduled monument SM13322) and last constructed was St Mary's, Biggar (Listed Building LB22257). The 15th century was the peak building period with around 40 collegiate churches known to have been constructed across the country with other notable examples in the Midlothian/ East Lothian area including Crichton (Listed Building LB753), Rosslyn Chapel (Listed Building LB13028), Seton (scheduled monument SM13368) and Dunglass (scheduled monument SM13313).

The choir of St Nicholas at Dalkeith can make a significant contribution to our understanding of medieval ecclesiastical foundations in the Lothians and in particular medieval patronage of collegiate churches. Study of the monument alongside other examples has the opportunity to increase our understanding of the role and function of these churches. It also represents an important component of both the medieval and contemporary urban landscapes of Dalkeith.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

The monument has strong associations with the Douglases of Dalkeith and the Scotts of Buccleuch, notably James Douglas, 1st Earl of Morton and his wife, Joanna, Countess of Morton and Anna Scott, 1st Duchess of Buccleuch. The sacristy of the collegiate church is now a burial vault for the Buccleuch family. The collegiate church is also associated with General Monck, Commander-in-Chief in Scotland for Thomas Cromwell, as the resting place of Monck's infant son.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 53417 (accessed on 20/01/2023).

Local Authority HER/SMR Reference MEL8335 (accessed on 20/01/2023).

Anonymous (2013), 'Deaf People in History: Joanna Stewart, Countess of Morton', Deaf Life, Vol. XVIII, No. 2 (February 2013), pp. 12-15.

Brydall R (1895). 'Monumental Effigies of Scotland from the Thirteenth to the Fifteenth Century, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. 29, pp. 329-410. Accessed online at

Easson, D E (1948). 'The collegiate churches of East Lothian', in Transactions of the East Lothian Antiquarian & Field Naturalists' Society, Vol.4. Accessed online at 1948 East Lothian Antiquarians and Field Naturalist Society Transactions Vol IV

Fawcett R (1994). The Architectural History of Scotland, Scottish Architecture from the Accession of the Stewarts to the Reformation 1371 – 1560. Edinburgh University Press.

Fawcett, R (2002). Scottish medieval churches: architecture and furnishings. Stroud.

MacGibbon D and Ross T (1896-7). The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland from the earliest Christian times to the seventeenth century, Vol. 3, pp. 205-14. Edinburgh.

RCAHMS (1929). The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Tenth report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the counties of Midlothian and West Lothian, pp. 58-61, No. 75 fig. 87. Edinburgh.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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