23. Archaeological Fieldwork at Ellem and Windy Windshiel

23. Archaeological Fieldwork at Ellem and Windy Windshiel


On 24th July, 1513, in anticipation of what became the Battle of Flodden, James IV of Scotland sent out four messengers to different parts of his realm with instructions to muster at Ellem in Berwickshire, which Caldwell (this publication) argues should be understood as the final muster point for the Scottish army following a series of local and regional muster points.

Although there is no direct evidence that the muster at Ellem actually took place (Edinburgh’s Burghmuir has been cited as an alternative, but is in fact more likely to have been a regional gathering point),it must be regarded as highly likely on the grounds of the above instruction and on the basis of precedent - Ellem having been designated as the muster point for the Scottish invasion in September 1496 - and because it is strategically well positioned as a point from which to launch attacks on the East March, including the castles of Norham and Wark. In 1496 the church is specifically mentioned, but a likely camping place for a large body of men is on the haughs close to the river.23 Image 1 2Ellemford shown on Roys map of 1747                           Ellemford - view of excavations on the heugh

Although it was not a significant settlement or centre of population in the early 16th century, Ellem was something of a routeways hub, located some 15 miles (24 km) from Coldstream at the gateway to the lowlands, conveniently situated at the foot of the Lammermuirs adjacent to a ford of the Whiteadder Water. In addition to the ford and adjacent heugh-land through which the Whiteadder flows, the site of Ellem comprises the remains of a medieval church, abandoned in the 18th century, which sits alongside other earthworks on high ground directly north of the current Whiteadder bridge, site of the earlier ford. The distribution of other farmsteads in the locality, including the 19th century Ellem farm, a ruined smithy on the heugh and Rigfoot farm on the south side of the Whiteadder, more or less follows the pattern recorded by Roy on his military map of 1747, suggesting that the pattern of settlement there has been long-established. A mile or so east of Ellem, after skirting Abbey Hill the Whiteadder turns east again to Abbey St Bathans, site of a medieval Cistercian nunnery, but the main road route south has probably always followed tributaries of the Whiteadder, the Kidcleugh and Mill burns, passing the medieval settlement of Windshiel and branching south-east towards Duns and Coldstream before reaching Preston.

Fieldwork at Ellemford and Kirk

The purpose of geophysical survey and subsequent excavation at Ellemford in October 2014 was to seek for and record traces of James IV’s Scottish army, which is presumed to have camped there over a period of several days in late August 1513. The areas chosen for this work were riverside heughs either side of the bridge on the north side of the river and a gently sloping field bordering the kirk site, but metal-detecting surveys were carried out further afield, notably on heugh land and adjacent river terraces further upstream towards the abandoned farmstead of Ellemheugh.

23 Image 3 Plan showing the positions of excavationsPlan showing the positions of excavations carried out at Ellem kirk and ford in 2014While geophysical survey carried out adjacent to the current bridge produced a number of anomalies, none proved to be archaeologically significant and no other archaeological features of note were recorded during excavations which revealed riverine gravels and cobbles at very shallow depths, with no archaeological features of note and very few artefacts recovered. Even finds of modern origin were sparse here, despite the field on the east side of the bridge having been used as the annual showground for many years. A series of test pits excavated by the Young Archaeologists’ Club in this area also recovered few finds and none of pre-nineteenth century origin. An explanation for the paucity of finds from this area was provided by local information, suggesting that the heugh-land east of the present Ellem bridge had been scoured repeatedly by flooding, thereby minimising the likelihood of the survival of archaeological remains there. A single trench on the area west of the bridge produced a few sherds of medieval pottery in mixed deposits and, in retrospect, it is considered more likely that significant remains are more likely to survive in this area, or on raised terraces above the flood plain, although metaldetecting failed to produce significant results.

23 Image 4 Ellem Kirk remains of the church viewed from the eastEllem Kirk - remains of the church viewed from the eastSubsequent to the main phase of archaeological excavation, a number of exploratory test pits were opened in the area north of the medieval kirk which lies on a narrow ridge on the edge of a steep drop to the flood plain of Whiteadder Water. The one metre square test pits were arranged 10 metres apart in a grid pattern between the bottom of the hill adjacent to the medieval kirk (and putative ‘tower’ site) and the first major incline to the north. The results here were more promising than elsewhere, with medieval pottery discovered in association with possible building remains in the form of apparent demolition rubble and possible gulleys which could be interpreted as foundation trenches. While the size of the test pits and lack of any follow-up work prevents secure identification of these features, it is clear from the survival of several large, relatively un-abraded sherds of pottery that these were associated with disposal related to local domestic activity, perhaps associated with the kirk or a putative tower, rather than dispersed to this location by manuring and subsequent ploughing. Although neither pottery nor any other finds from the excavations are of the right date of origin to be associated with the Flodden muster or others from the end of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, it is known that the kirk was in use at the time, so is considered highly likely that it was visited by James IV, along with a tower/house on the same site or in the wider vicinity, the site of which has yet to be confirmed by excavation.

Subsequent to the excavations carried out in 2014 the site of Ellem Kirk was re-visited as part of an historic buildings recording programme associated with the Flodden Routeways project. The outline of the rectangular kirk structure, measuring 17 metres by 4 metres, was clearly visible in reduced winter vegetation, with a piece of the south wall standing to about one metre high, and a few broken 17th century headstones lying nearby. The interior of the building is rather a deep hollow, perhaps suggesting that it has been previously excavated, while other earthworks in the immediate vicinity, including, a little to the west, the barely-exposed footings of further walling, may indicate domestic structures associated with the kirk. In view of the paucity of other likely sites in the immediate environs, some of these remains could represent those of a tower (actually more likely to have been what is commonly known in Scotland as a pele or bastle-house) recorded hereabouts in historic documents. This, in turn would be a likely site for the private residence in which it is recorded that King James stayed, in advance of the campaign of 1496, on the night of 19th September and probably for several days beforehand. These conclusions remain speculative, although the results of fieldwork do at least suggest significant remains of late medieval domestic activity on this site which merit further investigation.

Fieldwork at Windy Windshiel

The remains of Windy Windshiel, comprising a complex of three main buildings, lie 1 km south-east of Ellem in the valley of the Kidcleugh burn, a tributary of the Whiteadder on the south side of the Lammermuir Hills. A track shown on early maps went past the site from the road below and on over the hill to Abbey St Bathans, while the current B6355 along the valley floor below the site is an ancient route across the Lammermuirs between Duns and Gifford/Garvald, via Ellem and Cranshaws.

Fieldwork was carried out here as part of the Flodden 500 project in order to enhance the work of project volunteer, Barry Prater who had previously carried out limited survey and extensive documentary research, concluding that the site included the remains of a tower and had been occupied since at least the 15th century. Since standing buildings of this size and period are exceptionally rare in the Scottish Borders, and given its position on a routeway taken by James IV’s army from the muster point at Ellem, it was considered that the site merited further investigation in order to explore possible associations with the Flodden campaign, or at least prove contemporary occupation. The mention in historic accounts of a private residence in or near Ellem, in which James IV lodged in 1497, is tantalising in this regard.

Prater reports that the earliest documents referring to Windy Windshiels - not to be confused with the neighbouring settlement of Windshiels on the valley floor to the south - is a charter from 1404 or 1405 confirming Thomas Ereskine as holding the lands of “Ellem and Wenshelis” (Paul 1984). Amongst numerous subsequent documents, a charter dated 1589 confirming the transfer of lands to David McGill junior by his father refers to “.... lands of Wester Wynscheills with the grain- and fulling-mill ...“ (National Archives of Scotland 1588/89), and in July 1670, Charles II approved the transfer of lands to Sir Robert Sinclair of Longformacus, 23 Image 5 Reconstruction of Windy WindshielReconstruction of Windy Windshiel as it may have appeared in the late 18th century and perhaps earlier
including “...Wester Windshiel, corn and walke mills thereof ...” (Brown et al. 2007-2010). By the late 17th century the property was in the hands of the Cockburn family but by 1802 it had passed to Alexander Monro of Craiglockhart as part of the Cockburn estate, with which it remained until 1894. Later records, latterly including census data, record various families in residence there from the late 18th century until the 1870s, when it was occupied by a shepherd, John Elliot and his wife, but by 1881 it was ruinous. The 1st Edition OS map shows two roofed buildings, as well as the unroofed mill building at the east end.

The farmstead consists of buildings on three sides of a rectangular yard, aligned north-west to south-east; for the purposes of the following description south-west i.e. looking downhill, is taken as south.

The south range is formed by a structure c 8.1 by 6.3 m which has been described as a small tower house, with attached to its east end a later house of the same width, 7.3 m long.

23 Image 6 Windy Windshiel draw bar tunnelWindy Windshiel - draw-bar tunnelThe older west part has walls 0.95 m thick of heavy whinstone rubble, with some large angular blocks, and smaller pieces neatly fitted between them in a semi-coursed manner; the mortar is pinkish. No cut dressings survive, and the only extant corner, to the south-west, is rounded outside and square within. The only visible architectural feature is what appears to be an infilled doorway on the north, although any external dressings have been removed. The inner part of the west jamb has some large roughlyshaped whinstone blocks; the east jamb has gone but a section of what may be a drawbar tunnel survives in a tottering section of wall core behind. The west wall of the tower is the best preserved, with its northern section standing to approx. 5 m high and its southern to approx. 4 m, with a ragged gap between them - possibly representing a first-floor window -down to 1.5m above the ground. There is another upstand of masonry 3.5 m high in the centre of the south wall, and one approx. 3 m high (but now leaning outwards at a dangerous angle) on the north. The east wall – now dividing the tower from the later house – is more ruinous, and all that is visible are the jambs of an eastward-facing fireplace.23 Image 7 Windy Windshiel East elevation of the houseWindy Windshiel - East elevation of the house

A ragged gap in the facing of the west wall may relate to sockets for the original first floor; if so it suggests that this was a little lower in level than that in the adjacent house.

The north wall and east end of the house are rather better preserved than the adjoining ‘tower’ to the west, although little remains of its south wall. It is built of smaller whinstone rubble, with red sandstone quoins to the east end, and dressings to a first-floor window in the same wall. At the east end the quoins survive to their full height at the north-east corner and the partially-surviving gable coping, of large irregular blocks, slopes down to end approx. 0.30 m inside the line of the quoins, leaving a step to allow for the depth of an original thatched roof, probably of heather. To the north of the centre of the wall is a pitching door with its sill approx. 1.5 m above the ground, probably an insertion, while to the south of centre is a first-floor window with red sandstone block in its jambs. The north wall of the house is almost complete, standing approx. 2.7 m high, but its only feature is a ragged hole approx. 1m from the east end, which might perhaps have begun as a small window. Apart from the remains of a fireplace in the dividing wall, the only significant feature in the internal walls of the house is a series of ragged sockets for first-floor beams, the easternmost hard up against the east end wall.

The north side of the yard appears to have been occupied by a continuous range of three buildings 31.7 m long; the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map shows the central structure as roofed and the other two as roofless,2 but there is now no visible evidence of any front wall to the eastern structure. All three compartments of the range back up against a common wall, 1.5 m high, which is set into the hillside and acts as a retaining wall, but only the central part of the range, measuring 7.5 m x 4.5 m, is well-preserved enough to delineate its original form; its south wall, with a central doorway, standing 1 m high; the end walls are little more than rubbly mounds, but their positions are clear. Further west the rear wall is similarly well preserved, but heavily mortared.

23 Image 8 Windy WIndshiel view over the cobbled floorWindy Windshiel - view over the cobbled floor of a farm building exposed north of the farmhouseThe other major structure on the site is the rectangular mill building, 13.9 m x 5.7 m, and associated wheel-house against the centre of its east wall, set on quite a slope and occupying the greater part of the east side of the yard. The building is constructed of whinstone rubble and its north end has a central gap, probably a doorway, between two upstands of walling approx. 1.5 m. high. At the north end of the west wall there is a approx. 2m length of wall and what looks like an infilled doorway, while towards the south end of the east wall is another doorway, the rebated south jamb of which survives. 23 Image 9 Windy WIndshiel fireplace revealed in the partition wall of the farmhouseWindy Windshiel - fireplace revealed in the partition wall of the farmhouse
The south-east corner is reduced to one big whinstone boulder at base, but a central part of the south end wall stands to 1. 5m, its western part founded on bedrock. Just above the site on the hillside is a spring which feeds a mill pond (also still present, though perhaps modified) and must have been connected to the mill by an above-ground wooden launder; the mill tailrace is still visible as a 22 m long shallow depression running SW from the site. While the building is in a very poor state, enough survives to show that it is similar in form and dimensions to a later example at neighbouring Windshiel farm.

23 Image 10 Windy WIndshiel view of excavations across and against the south wall of the farmhouseWindy Windshiel - view of excavations across and against the south wall of the farmhouse
Fieldwork initially focused on surveying the structural remains to produce a plan and written description. Targeted trial excavation then focused on attempting to answer certain questions posed by the physical appearance of the remains. Thus, a trench was placed in the northern of the two buildings shown as roofed on the 1860s OS plan, while a second was positioned in the centre of the south side of the multi-period long building described above, in order to determine the age of both and whether the original footprint of the tower house once extended south.

Excavation revealed that the northern building, with cobbled floor and intact lower door jambs, was a barn rather than a house. Uncovering the central dividing wall in the south range led to the discovery of an intact 19th century fireplace and partly-flagged flooring, while in the east side at low level a late small quernstone of probable late prehistoric origin had been built into the face, but no secure indication of a floor was found. Excavations against and beyond the south wall did not elucidate, in the time available for excavation, whether the early, west part of the range once extended further south, nor were any early artefacts discovered. Some significant artifactual discoveries were made in the wider vicinity by metal-detecting, however, including, in the field west of the buildings, an Edward I penny and a number of copper alloy buckles of 16th or 17th century type.


While the scope of enquiry did not enable questions of chronology and phasing to be fully answered, activity on the site in and prior to the 16th century has been confirmed, with residential activity probably always focused on the South Range. Despite the fact that parts of its walls stand quite high, and form a prominent object in the landscape, frustratingly few diagnostic architectural features survive in the putative tower at the west end of the range, but it was almost certainly a small defensible dwelling of some type, probably a two-storeyed house of the type termed a bastle on the English side of the Border or a bastle or pele house in Scotland. The attached house, distinguished by the use of imported red sandstone for quoins and dressings, is probably of 18th century date and the mill may be contemporary. Considerable potential for further archaeological investigations remain, particularly in relation to the South Range and mill building, but any future work should be on a larger scale and be prepared to tackle conservation issues.


  1. In March 1517/8 when the Earl of Arran specified that an army should muster at Lauder on 21st March but that contingents from the southern Highlands should first meet at Edinburgh on 19th March
  2. Although it shows the layout of the range rather different to that suggested by the visible evidence, with the western section much shorter.