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Melrose Historical Association - Bulletin No. 5

The Fairfax Mission-hall Carved Stones. An interesting find.

By William Lonie BSc PhD FSAScotland

photo: Newstead from the air.

Set in the road-wall of the former Fairfax mission-hall site are three fragments of carved stone of some antiquity. Fragments (i) and (ii) are set in the original site wall and are probably dedicatory, a status which implies both sanctity and rarity. Fragment (iii) was found buried on the mission-hall site during housing development and is set in recent wall-work.

(i). A grey sand-stone fragment presents a rectangular face 130 X 110mm showing a loop and two short lengths of single-strand rib forming an inter-lace of five crossings, The style is Northumbrian of the later 9th century. The patron of the mission-hall was Dame Harriet Fairfax so that It is not improbable that the stone came from the site of Mailros Abbey , now Old Melrose, on the then Fairfax estate of Ravenswood.

(ii) A fragment of pink sand-stone moulding 280 X 80mm, set vertically, is much defaced but shows the root curves of a deeply cut round, finely worked. These features suggest the Early English style of the later 12th century which would not be inappropriate to either St Cuthbert's Chapel or an early build of Melrose Abbey.

(iii) A rectangular panel of pink sand-stone 190mm long X 110mm high over a flat border shows an oval array of eight leaves radiate around a four-petalled ball-flower. A receding concave moulding extends the top border by 15mm. This moulding appears to extend along top edges of the stone hidden in the wall. The deeply undercut carving suggests a 14th century date. The stone has no parallels in Melrose Abbey. The provenance suggests an ecclesiastical source of some status.

The mission-hall and the road-wall were built in 1902 to the order of Dame Harriet Fairfax, of Ravenswood estate, after the death in 1900 of her husband Admiral Sir Henry Fairfax. The estate includes Old Melrose, the site of Mailros abbey, founded ca.635AD by king Oswald of Northumbria as a daughter-house of Iona abbey. In the late 11th century St.Cuthbert's Chapel was built on the abandoned site. The Chapel was active as a place of pilgrimage into the 15th century. The association of the Fairfax mission-hall, Ravenswood and Old Melrose makes it probable that carved stones (i) and (ii) are from the Old Melrose site: see refs (1),(2),(7) below. In an Agreement of Gift of 1902, (3) Dame Harriet retained particular rights to build the road-side wall. The build and weathering of the wall are consistent with an early 20th century construction date (4). Only two other carved stone fragments are attributed to Old Melrose (5). Fragment (iii) was almost certainly in Dame Harriet's possession before its deposition on the mission-hall site, again probably as a dedicatory stone.

  • W.G.Collingwood,1927 : Northumbrian crosses of the pre-Norman age : Llanerch,1989.
  • The stones were examined by Dr John Dent, Scottish Borders Regional Archaeologist , and the styles and datings discussed with him.
  • I am endebted to Mr.Peter Wood for sight of the Agreement of Gift and other documents. Mr.Wood is currently researching the life of Sir Henry Fairfax.
  • The Commendator's House of Melrose Abbey is in partly enclosed by a wall of closely similar build and weathering which could, in the opinion of the foreman in charge of maintenance, date from the early 20th century.
  • The RCAMS Inventory of Roxburghshire,1956, entry 594, describes the Gattonside stone. This is probably of 10th century date from Old Melrose and is held by the National Museum The Official Guide to Melrose Abbey,1973 makes mention of a carved corbel of 12th century date, from St. Cuthbert's Chapel, held in the Abbey Museum. This could not be located during major alterations.
  • The information on fragment (iii) is from Mrs E.M.Ellis, of Fairfax Cottage, on the mission-hall site.
  • John Henry Parker,1875 : Classic Dictionary of Architecture : New Orchard,1986 facsimile.

Return to Melrose Historical Society Bulletin No. 5 contents.