History 2


Original research and copyright - Michael Hickman


Introduction - Castlelaw Motte -  Hirsel Law - Hirsel Church - Coldstream Earthwork - Fireburnmill Fort -  Milne Graden Fort/Snuke Camp - Lennelhill Earthwork – Lennel/Lennel Church - The Lendon Hand Bell - Maxwell’s Cross - Howportdoudon – Parkend - Grey Stone or Devil’s Stone - Castle don nick - Spylaw Fortalice - St Cuthbert’s Chapel.


 During the Roman occupation, the land between the Rivers Forth and Tyne was occupied by a British tribe, called by Roman historians, the Votadini. The principal capitals of the Votadini are believed to have been the hill forts of Yeavering Bell in Glendale and Traprain Law in East Lothian. After the Anglian invasions, their territory was taken over and became ‘the kingdom of Bernicia’, with its principal capital at Bamburgh. All the sites mentioned below are within the old parish of Coldstream (formerly Lennel), the overall region to which it belonged had different names at different times and was variously called, Bernicia, Lothian, Northumbria, under King Edwin, and the Merse, Berwickshire. After the Battle of Carham in 1018, when Lothian was ceded to Malcolm II King of Scots, the Border was roughly decided. Lennel / Coldstream parish lies within the southern boundary of the Merse and Berwickshire; its southern boundary is the River Tweed. In 1222, Border Laws were instituted to settle disputes, many of which were not resolved until the 17th century, hence the term ‘Debatable Land’. The parish was roughly 7 miles long and 4 miles broad. To the naked eye, most of the camps and forts cannot be seen but they do exist, indicating an area rich in history.

Castlelaw Motte

The Motte and Bailey fort at Castlelaw, also called ‘the Mount’ or ‘Mote Hill’, is listed in the category of an ancient and protected monument by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) in Edinburgh. It was the Normans who introduced this type of fort into Britain after the Conqest of 1066. Many castles such as Wark and Norham in Northumberland were originally motte and bailey structures, and were still being built as such in the 13th century until they were superseded by stone structures in the 14th century. The incidence of motte and bailey castles was much more scattered in Northumberland and Scotland compared with the rest of England and Wales. Whoever occupied Castlelaw Motte would have had a particular status, if not the Earl of Dunbar as some suggest, possibly a brother, relative or vassal of the Earl, as his lands extended over most of Berwickshire.

Robert Chambers, in his History of Scotland (1828), associates the castle with the Darnchester family. This seems plausible, as a Walter, son of Thomas of Darnchester, had 12 acres in the 13th century called ‘Huyisheugh’. The castle would have dominated the landscape; it is elevated by a man-made mound called the motte which would have been surrounded by a wooden fence or palisade. The larger flatter area at its base was the bailey and was separated by a ditch. There is a local tradition that the Mount at Castlelaw was a Roman signal station, but this has been discounted, there being no evidence of Roman sites in the vicinity, north of the Tweed. However, there is a string of marching camps nearby, the nearest being East Learmouth and West Newbiggin, and they can clearly be seen by aerial photography.

Hirsel Law

The hill fort on Hirsel Law has been described as ‘one of the largest enclosed sites in the region’, (R.Cramp, 2006). In the RCAHMS archives are aerial photographs revealing ditches round the summit of the hill and, because of its size, it is put in a class of ‘minor oppida’. On Robert Gordon’s manuscript map, c1640 of a ‘Description of the Merche (Merse)’, it is referred to as ‘Hirslaw’. Hill forts of this type are typical of the Iron Age and it was probably a settlement of the Votadini. Another example is the Moneylaws Hillfort (Northumberland), which can be seen from most high places in Coldstream in the middle distance.

Hirsel Church.

During excavations in 1978 and the early 1980s at the Hirsel on Dial Knowe, Professor Rosemary Cramp of the University of Durham discovered evidence of Neolithic occupation, as well as finding the foundations of the church/chapel of Hirsel, which was mentioned in the foundation charter 1165/66 of Coldstream Priory. This was part of a gift to the Priory by Cospatric III, the Earl of Dunbar, and his wife Countess Derder. Hirsel church was dedicated by the Bishop of St. Andrews on the 31st July 1246. The church and graveyard were found to be much earlier, with the discovery of stone slabs and grave markers, some of which may date back to the 9th century AD. Within the foundations of the church, two bell casting pits were discovered. Dial Knowe overlooks the Leet Water and is approximately 150m south of the Hirsel House. In this connection, one of the holes on the nearby Hirsel Golf Club has been named ‘Dial Knowe’.

In a report of the parish in 1627, the churchyard is referred to as Granton churchyard. Granton is shown on the map of the Merse by Timothy Pont in Blaeu’s atlas of Scotland (1654). Included in the grave discoveries were two scallop shells, with two holes at the base. These were usually affixed to a staff, or worn on a hat, signifying they had been pilgrims to the shrine of St James, whose relics are in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, Spain). The scallop shell is the traditional symbol of St James the Greater. In the Hirsel Homestead Museum, there is an informative exhibition of the discoveries and the different phases of this important archaeological work. Rosemary Cramp and Caroline Douglas-Home produced a report of the work (1982) within its historical context, which was published in various academic/archaeological journals.

Coldstream Earthwork

In an article for the Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club (1863), David Milne Home records an earthwork discovered when they were making the road to the bridge over the River Tweed:  ‘two ditches between embankments were discovered. ….In one of the ditches, deers’ horns and wild boars’ tusks were found besides a stone font, which was in the possession of Captain McLaren of Hope Park.’ (c1860). 

Fireburnmill Fort

Described by the RCAHMS as a fort, its location is clearly delineated from aerial photography. The fort overlooks the River Tweed, and the haugh to its south. Earthworks can be located about 250 metres south-west of the former Coldstream Cottage Hospital, left of the track that leads to the River Tweed, beyond what was the old refuse dump for the parish. Only a part of the fort’s southern ramparts are discernable.

Milne Graden Fort/ Snuke Camp

There is a  large earthwork remains of a cliff fort overlooking the River Tweed at Scartheugh, Milne Graden. In the same area, possibly within the same site, was a fortified tower, which existed during the 16th century, and referred to as Snuke Fortalice, adjoining the lands of Graden (Milne Graden). According to James Bell DD, in the Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-99), ‘there are two tumuli[1] in the Kersfield estate on the top of a steep bank of the Tweed. The tradition is that the bodies of those who fell in one of the border battles are buried in them.’ Kersfield was the name given to Graden in the 18th century and later the Milne Home’s changed it to Milne Graden. Reverend Bell may have mistaken the earthwork defensive embankments as tumuli. The camp is marked on the 1862 Ordnance Survey Atlas of Berwickshire and is within an area called Snuke field . The fort is listed by the RCAHMS.

Lennelhill Earthwork

This earth work, also described as a semi oval fort by the RCAHMS in 1915, is located on a 70m high bank overlooking the River Tweed, and is described by the RCAHMS as ‘an earthwork of unknown date and purpose’.Two cists (stone coffins) were discovered after ploughing on a field at Lennehill in 1982.

Lennel/Lennel Church

The first mention of Lennel is to be found in the Cartulary of Coldingham in a charter by King Edgar of Scotland 1097-1107 where he grants to the ‘monks of St Cuthbert’ (Durham Priory)  the ‘mansione of leinhale’ and others in Berwickshire. The old village of Lennel, of which nothing remains, was to the east of Lennel Church. Lennel Church predates Coldstream Priory (founded 1165/66) and was included in the foundation grants to the Priory by Earl Cospatric and his wife Countess Derder. Henricus, presbyter de Lienhale, is mentioned in a document of 1127, meeting with the Archbishop of York. Lennel church was in the Diocese of St Andrews and was dedicated to St Mary on 31st March 1243 by the Bishop of St. Andrews, David de Bernham. From the Priory charters is learnt that there was a Northtun and Suthtun of Lennel, both of which were in existence in the 12th century. Only a shell of the church exists, the ruined west gable stands to its full height in Lennel Cemetery. Some restoration would prevent further decay of this important ruin.

In October 1962, the Parish Minister of Coldstream, the Reverend William (‘Paddy’) Browne, alluded to the ‘lost’ old village of Lennel, and conversations with tractor drivers, when they reported to him that in ploughing, they often came across the foundations of houses and even a roadway running through it.

The Lendon Hand-Bell (‘Lendon Handbel’)

In the same report of the Reverend Browne, he referred to Lennel as often being named as Lendon in the ‘olden days’. There is a wonderful old hand-bell in the Parish Church and this is the ancient ‘Lendon Handbel’. There is a missing ‘l’ on the inscription on the bell, indicating the great antiquity of this ancient instrument. The bell was called the ‘Passing Bell’ or ‘Funeral Bell’; the former because it was tolled all through the village immediately any person died, in order to call upon the people to pray for the spirit passing onto eternity and the latter because it was also tolled again before the cortege on the day of the funeral. It was sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church, the Church before the Reformation. Its tolling was tied up with the Roman Catholic idea of purgatory. In those days people believed, and were taught by the priest, that when a person died his/her soul passed into purgatory. There the soul had to endure all the purifying discipline of that place until it was finally made fit to enter heaven. The more sins a person committed in their life, the longer their soul would remain in purgatory. There was contradiction in this however. The more the people paid the priest to pray for that soul in purgatory, the shorter would be their stay in that dreaded place!

It was a grand device to raise money for the Church and at the same time to fill the pockets of the priests. It is a wonder that people believed all this, but of course the word of the priest could not be doubted. Hence in those days, wealthy people bequeathed their wealth and property to the Church for the same purpose. This was done under charter, and the Reverend William Browne believed these charters to still exist. Each charter was cast in the same mould and it sounds like taking out a fire insurance policy against all possible contingencies in the next world! It always read something like this: ‘The Earl of Dunbar: to all the faithful in Christ Greeting. At the bidding of Charity, for the safety of my soul, and that of my wife, Mary, and of my children, and the souls of my ancestors and successors, I grant to the Prioress of the Abbey of the Blessed Mary of Coldstream, and to the holy nuns serving god therein, all my lands with titles, offerings and anything justly pertaining thereto, to be held by the said nuns in free and pure and perpetual Alms. I append my seal before witnesses’.

Such was the form of the Charter, and it is no wonder that in those days the Church rolled in wealth as the result of such primitive belief. People eventually started to smell a rat and in the end, all the corruption was swept away during the Reformation and through the teaching of people like John Knox and other reformers. In their reaction, people were scared of prayers for the dead and for two and a half centuries after the Reformation, not even a divine service was allowed at a funeral. Then from about 1812 the custom of having a funeral service crept in again. Before a funeral in those days, a feast was held and to it the Minister was invited, and he was asked to say the Grace, after which he would make some special reference to the occasion. This developed into our funeral services of today. But getting back to the Lendon Hand Bell. This bell has allegedly never been rung at any death or funeral since the Reformation in 1560, some 450 years ago, and never at all in the town of Coldstream.

The Reverend Browne was annoyed that in Coldstream Town Guides, one written in 1962 and one a few years prior to that, the bell was represented as being tolled along the streets immediately after the death ‘of a parishioner’ or ‘an inhabitant of the Burgh’. He seemed to be quite clear that the bell had not been used in this way. It is amazing that this Ancient Bell, with all the superstition connected with it, survived the upheaval of the Reformation and the Protestant Reformers’ bids to wipe out anything Roman Catholic. Instead, along with other ecclesiastical property, it was taken over by the Reformed Church and it has been preserved to this day through the succession of many Parish Ministers. It is said to be by far the oldest instrument in the Parish..

The Reverend’s account of the Lendon Hand Bell is not the only one and in a Coldstream Town Council meeting of 1923, there was quite an unnecessary commotion over the loss (false) of the bell. It was in fact in safe hands but this nurtured discussion on the age of the bell. Councillors deliberated that it was nearly 1,000 years old since the word ‘Lendon’ gave way to ‘Lennel’ and it was said that the sexton, draped in mortcloths, used to precede all funeral processions to Lennel kirkyard, tolling the bell. If the bell had been used 1,000 years previously, that would have meant it had been used prior to 923 AD. This seems unlikely and Reverend Browne’s account of the bell is preferred.

Maxwell’s Cross

According to the second Statistical account (1834), an ancient cross once stood on the roadside  between Tweedmill and Lennel Church, but was removed in the 1730’s. Nothing more is known about the cross. It may have been a boundary marker (sanctuary cross) delineating the limits of Coldstream Priory or Lennel Church.


The gate leading to an old right of way into the old Lennel estate from the Lennel road is called Howportdoudon. A port is the old name for a gate, eg. Cowport, Sallyport etc and Howport may be a corruption of Cowport. Be that as it may, Edmund Bogg in his: ‘A Thousand Miles of Wandering in the Border Country’ (1898) describes his approach to Coldstream from Lennel, ‘nearing Coldstream, we cross an early British road, its name Howdon-Dondon…’ He seems to be describing Howportoudon. In R.P.Hardie’s ‘The Roads of Medieval Lauderdale’ (1942), he affirms that a road mentioned in the Melrose charters called ‘Ricardisrode’, was an important road which led from Haddington to a ford across the Tweed, ‘at or near Coldstream’. Just as retired gentlemen can be seen strolling today around the Coldstream town and its perimeter, so in 1950 the daily stroll of retired gentlemen had come to an abrupt halt when the gates at the Marriage House were locked. In a letter to the ‘Berwickshire Advertiser’ by James W. Marjoribanks, the gates had been unlocked in the previous 50 years and the blockage was depriving men of their daily walk along the Craw Green and round by Houportdoudon.


To the north of the town there was a small settlement of Parkend. In the vicinity, two cists were found in 1864 and documented by Captain A.D. McLaren of Hope Park.

Greystone or Devil’s Stone

A large boulder can be seen within the woodland and grounds of Belmont (Lennel), nearly 200 metres from the Marriage House. Captain McLaren described it as being chert limestone and of a type which can be found in the Cheviots, and he believed it to have come down during the Ice Age. It may have been a ‘Gathering’ or ‘Trysting’ stone. It was also called the ‘Devil’s Stane’ according to William Anderson, who was a keen local historian. He spoke of it being called the De’ils stane. On being asked why that was, he replied with that mischievous humour of his: ‘If ye went roond it twelve times withoot breathin’ the devil would get ye!’ 

Edmund Bogg in his ‘Wanderings in the Border Country’ describes the scene in the 19th century: ‘On Caw Green ….. a large boulder of grey limestone, which  in bygone days was an object of mystery and reverence, for on the celebration of a Border marriage, when the bride and bridegroom paid a visit to the stone and joining their hands across it, completed the nuptial ceremony’. On 19th century Ordnance Survey maps, it is called the Greystone and the field was called the Greystone field.


Opposite Lennel is the site of an early fortress, still known as Castle-don-nick. Its position must have been well nigh impregnable, defended on the north by the River Tweed and on the south by deep, narrow ravines and earthworks, and on the west side by ditches. It is mentioned in the chapter (13) on Cornhill.

Spylaw Fortalice

There is very little information about this fortalice or tower, and it is not recorded by the RCAHMS, however there are some pointers that it did exist. A ‘Spielawe fortalice’ is mentioned in the charters of the Earl of Home. Prior to the Home’s aquiring the Hirsel, in an excambion (exchange of land) of 1611, the Ker’s were in possession with the title, Laird of Spielawe. Sometimes they used both names : Sir John Ker of Spielaw/ Hirsel.’  That this tower was actually sited on Spylaw, in sight of Wark Castle, is highly probable. Another pointer is that in 1539 the Border Wardens proposed a meeting at ‘the Spilawe near Caldestreme’.

St.Cuthbert’s Chapel

In terms of Coldstream, St.Cuthbert will forever be connected with the current St. Cuthbert’s Centre on the High Street. However, a few paces to the west of the mouth of the River Till and just within the angle of land where the Rivers Tweed and Till meet, is St. Cuthbert’s Chapel. This is a dilapidated building and not by any means harbouring any antique or venerable interest. Tradition has it that here the stone coffin containing the body of Cuthbert, which had floated down the river from Melrose, found its resting place. The ruins of the present chapel are probably those of the second chapel which has stood there for a very long time.

References and Sources

Gordon, R. manuscript map , A description of the province of the Merche, c1640. National Library of Scotland.


Bogg, Edmund, A Thousand Miles of Wandering in the Border Country, 1898.
Rodgers, C . ed .Chartulary of the Cistercian Priory of Coldstream, London,1879.

Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments (Scotland), 6th report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Berwick ( revised 1915)

Cramp, R. and C. Douglas–Home, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1980) New Discoveries at The Hirsel, Coldstream, Berwickshire.

Hardie,R.P. The Roads of Medieval Lauderdale,1942.
1st Statistical Account of Scotland, Parish of Coldstream, County of Berwick 1791-1799.
2nd Statistical Account of Scotland, Parish of Coldstream,County of Berwick 1834.
Raine, J. History and Antiquities of North Durham ,London, 1852.
Berwickshire Advertiser, 1950
‘Our Precious Heritage’, Reverend William Browne (1962) and developed by Doctor Brian Sproule (1996)

[1]A tumulus (plural tumuli) is a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves. Tumuli are also known as barrows or burial mounds.