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Old Rayne, episcopal manse and moat 45m ENE of Old Rayne School

A Scheduled Monument in West Garioch, Aberdeenshire

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Latitude: 57.3456 / 57°20'44"N

Longitude: -2.5409 / 2°32'27"W

OS Eastings: 367541

OS Northings: 828470

OS Grid: NJ675284

Mapcode National: GBR N929.QP3

Mapcode Global: WH8ND.YM6N

Entry Name: Old Rayne, episcopal manse and moat 45m ENE of Old Rayne School

Scheduled Date: 2 November 2011

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12924

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: Manse, priest's residence, etc; Secular: moat

Location: Rayne

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: West Garioch

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire


The monument comprises the earthworks of a moat that encloses the buried remains of an episcopal manor house. It is situated in a formerly cultivated field approximately 30m east of Old Rayne School. The complex dates to the later medieval period, with occupation possibly from the mid 12th to mid 16th centuries.

The complex survives as a low but conspicuous mound, enclosed by a broad U-shaped hollow. The moated enclosure is approximately 90m N-S and up to 80m E-W, although the western parts of the site have been built upon by the village school and housing. Excavations in 1990 and 2008 identified the course of the moat and revealed the remains of buildings on top of the mound.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described above 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. The above-ground elements of all post-and-wire fences are specifically excluded. The above-ground elements of the stone boundary wall running along the W side of the scheduled area are also excluded.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

Old Rayne belongs to a known group of manors and residences used by the pre-Reformation bishops of Aberdeen and represents a fine example of a medieval episcopal estate centre. Old Rayne is, so far, the only known moated episcopal site. Although regularly cultivated for arable crop in the past, excavations in 1990 and in 2008 have demonstrated that archaeological deposits survive in very good condition. As a result of these excavations, archaeologists have located the wall footings of buildings and ovens, together with some high quality building materials and artefacts. These indicate that this site enjoyed high status.

Old Rayne possesses high potential to enhance our knowledge of the layout and day-to-day activities of a medieval ecclesiastical manor. In the absence of documentary evidence, such sites are almost indistinguishable from their secular counterparts. As well as being a residence, and providing accommodation for the bishop, his retinue and guests, the manor probably served as the administrative centre for local estates owned by the See of Aberdeen.

Contextual characteristics

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

Generally, ecclesiastical manors tend to be better documented than their secular counterparts, although the survival of such records is 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 are largely fictitious is not known. The 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 is known to have lived at Old Rayne and 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 not specifically mentioned, Old Rayne was probably part of this annual procession around the estates owned by the See.

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 the 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 and Loch Goul, as well as Old Rayne, 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 of the 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. 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 this offer examples of how ecclesiastical manors could be used to fulfil wider social obligations, as well as operating as estate centres and retreats.

Associative characteristics

As a residence of the Bishops of Aberdeen, who were powerful political figures as well as important landowners, Old Rayne is likely to be associated with several prominent individuals from Scottish history. Many of Aberdeen's bishops held important offices of state, such as Bishop William Elphinstone. Already an important statesman and diplomat, having held offices such as Keeper of the Great Seal and Lord High Chancellor, Elphinstone undertook the task of setting up Aberdeen's King's College following the granting of a Papal Bull in 1498.

Another notable individual associated with Old Rayne is the celebrated Scottish medieval historian and academic Hector Boece, who may himself have visited Old Rayne as a guest of the 16th-century Bishop William Elphinstone. Boece composed two important historical works, publishing Vitae Episcoporum Murthlacensium et Aberdonensium (Lives of the Bishops of Mortlach and Aberdeen) in 1522 and Historia Gentis Scotorum (History of the Scottish People). The latter work became a favourite of scholars across Europe, and was translated into French and then into Scots, subsequently becoming part of Hollinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, a work heavily used by William Shakespeare (most notably in the composition of 'Macbeth'). Boece names Old Rayne as one of four estates used by Bishop Alexander Kinninmund on a seasonal basis, usually in the autumn, and this procession around various estates may have been the normal practice of many of Kinninmund's successors. According to surviving documents, Old Rayne became part of the episcopal estates in 1137 and, while Bishop Kinninmund had previously been credited with developing a residence there between 1329 and 1344, archaeological evidence now suggests that the complex already existed, at least in part, by this time. Kinninmund, who instigated several building projects in his diocese, may have enlarged or rebuilt parts of Old Rayne. A noted scholar and expert in Canon law, Kinninmund is suggested as a possible author for the Declaration of Arbroath and travelled to Rome in 1320 to present the document to Pope John XXII. Kinninmund is also credited with the founding of episcopal residences at Fetternear, Mortlach and Aberdeen.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular the construction, use and abandonment of a later medieval episcopal manor complex. The site represents an excellent opportunity to compare an ecclesiastical manor to its secular counterparts. Moreover, Old Rayne appears in the documentary record, linking the site with several pivotal figures in the development of Aberdeen and Scotland. As demonstrated by excavations in 2008, there is high potential for the survival of buried archaeological deposits, despite centuries of arable cultivation, together with the possibility of organic and palaeoenvironmental deposits in waterlogged sections of the moat. Such remains can significantly enhance our understanding of the daily lives of those occupying the manor, as well as assisting in the reconstruction of the local environment in the past.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



The RCAHMS record the site as NJ62NE 2, while Aberdeenshire Council's Sites and Monuments Record record the site as NJ62NE0002.


Grieg, M and Shepherd, A 1990 'Old Rayne', Disc Excav Scot, 31.

Murray, H K and J C 2008 Bishop's Manor, Old Rayne, Aberdeenshire: Archaeological Evaluation, Phase 1, report no. MAS 2008-12A.

Ordnance Gazetteer: Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, 1st edition 1882 (the 2nd edition of 1896 can be viewed in facsimile at

Ordnance Survey, 1st edition (6 inch to 1 mile); maps on-line at

Roy, W, Military Map of 1747-55; on-line at

RCAHMS 2007, In the Shadow of Bennachie: A Field Archaeology of Donside, Aberdeenshire. RCAHMS, Edinburgh.

Shepherd, I 2006 Aberdeenshire: Donside and Strathbogie, An Illustrated Architectural Guide.

Statistical Account: The Statistical Account of Scotland (1834-45) on-line at

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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