Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Newbattle Abbey, abbey church, cloisters and associated buildings

A Scheduled Monument in Midlothian East, Midlothian

We don't have any photos of this monument yet. Why don't you be the first to send us one?

Upload Photo »

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.


Latitude: 55.8828 / 55°52'58"N

Longitude: -3.0674 / 3°4'2"W

OS Eastings: 333326

OS Northings: 666031

OS Grid: NT333660

Mapcode National: GBR 700F.Q0

Mapcode Global: WH6T1.VDJJ

Entry Name: Newbattle Abbey, abbey church, cloisters and associated buildings

Scheduled Date: 11 October 1960

Last Amended: 5 October 2011

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM1190

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: abbey

Location: Newbattle

County: Midlothian

Electoral Ward: Midlothian East

Traditional County: Midlothian


The monument comprises the remains of Newbattle Abbey, a Cistercian establishment, surviving as buried structural foundations and deposits. The abbey was founded in 1140 by David I as a daughter house of Melrose Abbey. Newbattle fell into secular hands in the 16th century and the upstanding remains of the abbey were largely dismantled. Above-ground elements of the eastern range were retained, however, and are preserved within the present house. The monument is located on the north bank of the River South Esk, at a height of around 45m above sea level. The monument was first scheduled on 11 October 1960 and is being rescheduled to improve the associated documentation and mapping and to extend the scheduled area to cover all of the remains.

Excavations in the late 19th century revealed the buried foundations of the abbey church, cloister and associated ranges, allowing the plan of the main abbey complex to be reconstructed. The abbey church, situated at the north of the cloister, comprises an aisled structural nave of ten bays, crossing and two transepts. Each transept has two eastern chapels and a square-ended and aisled eastern arm or structural choir. The length of the church, from ESE-WNW, is 80m. The nave measures 22m ENE-WSW by up to 45m over the transepts and is 48m long, with a central aisle around 7m wide and side aisles 2.8m wide. The choir and presbytery are one and a half bays, with two large piers 3.7m in diameter. The crossing has four similar piers which supported a tower. Burials have been noted to the north and east of the abbey church, some in stone coffins, within an enclosing wall; at least two graves are recorded from within the wall at the NW end of the nave. The cloister enclosure, oriented ENE-WSW by ESE-WNW, measures around 37m by 38m and was entered on the west side. The east range, measuring around 60.5m by up to 20m, comprised the sacristy, chapter house, workroom, a large hall and lavatories. The south range, linking the east and west ranges, measures around 40m ENE-WSW by 12m transversely and comprised a kitchen and dining hall. The west range, measuring around 70.5m by 11m transversely, comprised lavatories for the lay brothers, cellars or workshops, a possible porter's room, the entrance to the cloisters and more cellars.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. On the south side, the scheduling extends up to and includes a wall that has a medieval foundation. Specifically excluded are the above-ground elements of the main college building (which is a category A listed building), but not the underlying foundations and ground. The 1960s residential block and its footprint, at the north end of the main college building, are entirely excluded from the scheduled area. Also specifically excluded are the above-ground elements of Unit 25 and Unit 27, Newbattle Abbey College Annex. Also excluded from the scheduling are the top 30cm of areas of hard standing and paving, the top 30cm of all modern path and road surfaces, and the above-ground elements of all existing fences and telegraph poles to allow for their repair and maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument was systematically revealed through two episodes of excavation undertaken in the 1870s and 1890s by John Ramsey, clerk of works for the 9th Marquis. From documentary records it is known that the abbey complex was developed and extended as a result of both endowment and patronage and also as a result of the need to rebuild after episodes of attack. Ramsey's plan remains the only known record of the abbey complex, as the complex was neither drawn nor described prior to the post-Reformation dismantling. The plan reflects the final layout of the abbey complex and shows similarities to the monasteries at Fontenoy in Burgundy and Byland in Yorkshire. It appears to follow a standard Cistercian layout, in which the church is located to the north of a central cloister, whilst to the east are the monks' areas and to the west those of the lay brothers. The four piers of the crossing are interpreted as supporting a tower over the crossing. The piers to the east of the crossing are of a similar large scale and may have supported a high gable wall which may have had lower chapels located to its east. This is a plan that originated in early 12th-century England, but was favoured by the Cistercians. The orientation of the church, and hence the cloister complex, is not strictly E-W, but WSW-ENE, in order for the complex to run parallel with the river. In other foundations where this is the case, the direction in which the church faces is known as 'ecclesiastical east'. The abbey was founded next to the river and the slope to the river aided the drainage and hygienic arrangements of the abbey.

The whereabouts of the original archive of Ramsey's excavations are unknown, but surviving accounts would appear to indicate a process of clearing down to the level of the abbey foundations. There is a high potential for the survival of intact archaeological features and deposits as the 19th-century excavations did not apparently extend beyond the level of the foundations, nor seek to remove the remains. The works appear to have been prompted by a need to reorganise the interior of the house, but work later extended to the immediate exterior as well. Correspondence from the 9th Marquis in 1875 relates that: 'within the last few years, the Crypt of the Abbey which forms part of the ground-floor of the present mansion, has been cleared of the partitions and encumbrances which obscured its dimensions'. Other accounts report that human remains were found within a wall and a tomb, thought at the time to be a royal burial, within an area of floor in the vicinity of the billiard room. A visit by the Edinburgh Architectural Association in 1884 recounted: 'the excavations made by the directions of his lordship the present Marquis, some six years ago, laid bare the foundations of the church and a portion of the walls of the conventual residence - viz that on the south side of the cloister'.

The 19th-century excavations also revealed a great door in front of the west of the house. Several graves and the boundary wall of the burial ground were found to the north of the north transept, many of the burials in stone coffins. Only a few were disturbed by the excavations, but these were replaced, and all were then left in situ. The Marquis had the foundations outside of the house marked out in gravel and edged in brown glazed fireclay. Fragments of these are still visible today, most notably the north side of the abbey church, its east end, north row of piers and north transept. In the cloister, a well was uncovered, as well as architectural fragments, including charred beams, an old bell, pieces of pottery and stained glass. Excavations undertaken in 1953, due to sewer works, uncovered the foundations of the north transept of the abbey church at a depth of around 70 cm. The work revealed: a 13th-century tiled floor, one of the finest recorded in Scotland; evidence for intact burials within the west wall of the transept; and confirmed the potential for undisturbed archaeological remains. The exposed tiles were removed, but the burials and any uncovered tiles were left untouched. A study of these tiles confirmed the rarity of such a pavement found in situ; the only other known example is Melrose Abbey. Limited excavations during further sewer works in 2000 revealed more of the cemetery to the north-east and north-west of the abbey church and recorded 127 inhumations and 9 stone-capped graves, as well as demolition debris and numerous artefacts.

Given the available evidence it is clear that significant parts of the monument have survived in good condition with intact stratigraphy and undisturbed architectural features. The investigations undertaken in 2000 confirm that more of the buildings and related features are likely to survive; the report states: 'the probability of such survival is enhanced perhaps by significant depths of made ground occurring in locations within the precinct, as found to the west of the abbey church'. These surviving elements have high potential to inform research into Cistercian foundations, the original architecture and architectural development through the life of the abbey. There is also the capacity for deposits and artefacts to illustrate the daily lives of the inhabitants, what they wore, ate and how they lived. Documentary records attest to the potential for the survival of burials of abbots and royal consorts within the abbey church, as well as more ordinary burials to the north and east of the church. These have the capacity to inform our understanding of medieval lifestyle, diet and pathology and burial practices. In addition the monument has the potential to inform our understanding of the demise and reuse of the site.

Contextual characteristics

The Cistercian order was founded in 1098 in southern France. It expanded rapidly and, by the 12th century, the order was the most influential in Europe. By 1250 there were over 8,000 monasteries and convents in Europe. In Scotland the main houses were Dundrennan, Glenluce, Sweetheart, Coupar Angus, Sandal in Kintyre, Culross, Deer, Balmerino, Melrose and Newbattle. Newbattle, the 152nd Cistercian foundation, was founded in 1140 by David I and was known as 'New Bottle' or 'new building', to distinguish it from its mother foundation at Melrose or 'Eld Bottle'. Initially the Cistercian order was founded on asceticism and this ideal influenced the location of the foundations: a sheltered and secluded place close to water was favoured, as at Newbattle which is next to the River South Esk. The early ideals were gradually eroded as the order gained royal and noble patronage and the initial simple architecture at many sites was embellished and replaced by more elaborate structures.

The Cistercian order was renowned for the way in which it exploited its lands and active management of resources was encouraged. The order introduced new management techniques, which was spread throughout their estates; they actively exploited coal, constructed new roads and profited from the construction and management of ports. The monks at Newbattle also profited from sheep rearing and salt production and were especially renowned for their cart making. At Newbattle the monks are credited with the introduction of coal mining to Scotland. Throughout its history Newbattle was granted further lands and properties, including a number of granges and farms. By the time of the Reformation, Newbattle was connected to a number of other lands in Scotland including Monklands in Lanarkshire, mining and agricultural lands in southern Scotland, Prestongrange harbour and Morrison's Haven in East Lothian, and much of Leith. The abbey had also been granted the Moorfoot Hills near Peebles, the Vale of Leithen, Innerleithen and both Inveresk Lodge and Halkerston Lodge at Inveresk. The monks actively reordered these estates to make them profitable and daily manual labour was a prescribed part of a monk's life.

The dissolution of ecclesiastical foundations in Scotland occurred later than in England. Consequently the conversion of abbeys to secular dwellings which retain ecclesiastical elements is much rarer in Scotland. It is thought that, at Newbattle, the fact that the new owner was a reformer may have protected the abbey from attack and destruction with a process of careful dismantling and retention of some elements. The stone was probably retained and used to build both the new mansion and the new parish church, which was constructed to the north of the abbey church. The mansion has seen episodes of remodelling throughout its life, but still retains elements of the monastic buildings in the south part.

The plan of the abbey complex recorded by Ramsey covered the area immediately around the later manor house. Comparative sites, such as those at Fontenoy, Burgundy and Byland, Yorkshire, demonstrate the high potential for associated buildings outside of this area. To the west it is common to find a guest complex for people visiting the abbey and, to the east, it would be reasonable to expect the abbots lodgings and infirmary. The wider abbey complex was not developed after the Reformation, a fact which is noted as unusual in Scotland. The lack of development in the wider area enhances the potential for further undisturbed remains to survive intact and increases the capacity of the monument to inform our understanding of the pre-Reformation monastery where other sites have been more significantly disturbed. In 1907 it was noted that: 'all along the park from the abbey to the Maiden Bridge, traces can be found of the monastic village for shepherds, masons, wrights, and artisans of all kinds, who served the abbey'.

In 1833, when the formal gardens were first created to the east of the house, the factor reported: 'Goodall is well through with trenching the flower garden it is an expence it being composed of old foundations and stone rubbish'. Further substantial foundations, interpreted as a potential infirmary building, were identified during excavations to the north-east in 2000 during sewer replacement work. The original precinct of the abbey is thought to have been defined by the Esk on the south side, and on the north by the boundary now marked by the Monkland Wall. Sections of this medieval boundary wall survive, although its exact date is unknown. In addition a picturesque stone archway, located in the gardens to the east of the house and erected probably in the 18th century, is built of stones taken from the abbey, including 13th-century pieces. Along the banks of the river are caves with evidence for medieval mining activity, which is likely to be directly associated with the abbey.

Associative characteristics

The abbey church was consecrated by the Bishop of Moray to St Mary in 1233-4, but it is not known if this reflects an earlier dedication. From its foundation Newbattle Abbey was associated with the Scottish royal family and was often used for royal councils. In 1241 the abbey was visited by Alexander II and his consort, Marie de Courcy, who was subsequently buried within the abbey church. Edward I of England visited Newbattle in 1296. Catherine Mortimer, a mistress of David II, is also buried at Newbattle, reputedly standing upright within one of the church walls having met a violent death at Soutra in 1360. In 1503 Princess Margaret stopped at Newbattle en route to her marriage to James IV, and in 1526 her son James V visited the abbey when he granted the monks the right to build the harbour at Prestongrange to ship their coal and salt. In 1557 Mary of Guise, Regent and widow of James V, held a conference of nobles at the abbey. Also recorded as buried at Newbattle are various members of the Douglas family.

Politically, the abbey is reputed to be the place where a great council of nobles met to consider questions of Independence prior to the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, arguably one of the most important documents in Scotland's history declaring independence from the English. The abbey also experienced a number of attacks from the English, testifying to its strategic importance. In 1385 the abbey and many of its granges and farms were attacked by troops of Richard II and his uncle John of Gaunt. The abbey was attacked at least twice more during the period known as the Henry VIII's 'Rough Wooing', in 1544 and 1548. The number of monks recorded at the abbey fell during this period from a peak of 80 to fifteen and, unlike the previous attacks, it is not clear if any substantial rebuilding was attempted after 1548.

The abbey and estate fell into secular hands in 1560 as a result of the Reformation. The last abbot proper was John Haswell who resigned in 1542, whereupon Mark Kerr, from a well-known local family, was appointed Commendator. Kerr's descendents retained Newbattle until the 20th century when it was gifted to Scottish Universities as a college. The abbey estate was converted to a barony in 1587, and by 1606 the Kerrs had been created earls of Lothian. The importance of the monument is greatly enhanced by its well-documented history: in addition to the historical detail recounted above, all the abbots are recorded, from Ralph of Melrose at the time of the abbey's foundation, right through to John Haswell.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the past, in particular of medieval ecclesiastical foundations and, more specifically, Cistercian establishments. The monument was the largest religious house in the Lothians, with connections to lands across central Scotland and pioneering land management and exploitation activities. The monument is a rare survival, with high potential for the good preservation of buried features and deposits, including architectural remains and burials. The monument is associated with many important historical people, including several members of royalty, the Douglas family and the Earls of Lothian, and with significant historical events, such as the Declaration of Arbroath, the 'Rough Wooing' and the Reformation. The monument is located in parkland, which itself retains several features likely to relate to the monument and has high potential for the survival of other buried remains, including buildings. The lack of active development within the surrounding area since the Reformation is unusual and enhances the archaeological potential of the monument. The loss or damage of the monument would diminish its potential to contribute to our understanding of ecclesiastical history in central Scotland and beyond. There is great potential at Newbattle to study the establishment of a religious order, the effect this had on the surrounding lands, the way in which the community lived and died, the structures that were created, and the impact of the Reformation and the subsequent demise of a way of life.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as NT36NW 14. East Lothian Historic Environment Record lists the monument as MEL 8356 - Newbattle Abbey, MEL 8357 - Newbattle Abbey Garden, MEL 8358 - The Monks Well, MEL 9380 - Cemetery and Monastery and MEL 9381 - Infirmary for Monastery.


Carrick, J C 1907 The Abbey of S. Mary Newbottle. Selkirk

Gooder, J 2004 Excavation at Newbattle Abbey College Annexe, Dalkeith, Midlothian, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol 134

MacGibbon D and Ross T 1896 The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland. Vol 2, p251-63

McFarlane, C Sanders, J Addyman, T and Austin, J 2006 Newbattle Abbey: Conservation plan Volume 1. Simpson and Brown Architects.

Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland 1929 Tenth Report with Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Midlothian and West Lothian. Edinburgh 142-5

Robertson W N 1954 Newbattle Abbey, Midlothian: Report on Medieval Floor-tiles Recovered in 1953, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol LXXXVII, Session 1952-53

Robinson D 1998 The Cistercian Abbeys of Britain: Far from the concourse of men. Batsford Ltd

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Other nearby scheduled monuments is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself. is a Good Stuff website.