Burgess, Merchant, and Priest: Burgh Life in the Scottish Medieval Town

Burgess, Merchant, and Priest: Burgh Life in the Scottish Medieval Town

Burgess, Merchant, and Priest: Burgh Life in the Scottish Medieval Town

Burgess, Merchant, and Priest: Burgh Life in the Scottish Medieval Town

Synopsis

Scotland's towns are almost unique in Western Europe. They do not derive from Roman models but grew from planned medieval burghs. The first of these were founded by David I in the 12th century and includes towns like Perth, Aberdeen, Elgin, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. This is the first popular synthesis to be attempted of what life was like in these new communities - not simply with regard to houses, clothes and lifestyles but also in relation to the religious houses which played such an important part in their life, the hospitals which treated the sick, and the industries and trade which provided their life blood. Extensive use of reconstruction illustration and photographs combine to create a vivid picture of the bustling nature and wealth of the original new towns.

Excerpt

Urban archaeology can often provide the most information and in some ways the most striking finds of any sort of excavation. This is because many medieval towns are situated on sites where continuous occupation can often result in archaeological deposits up to 3 or 4 metres deep. the burghs of Perth and North Berwick and parts of the Old Town of Edinburgh probably represent the best Scottish examples of such survival. These deep deposits are often waterlogged and produce what are described as ‘anaerobic’ deposits, in effect conditions where the process of decay of organic material like leather or wood is either very slow or does not happen at all. This is why the archaeological deposits of Perth are so rich and contain artefacts and materials that do not survive elsewhere. This can often mean that artefacts are found that it is difficult to find parallels for from other burghs.

Whilst this offers the opportunity to be able to reconstruct an accurate picture of lifestyle and living conditions of up to 700 or 800 years ago, it comes at a very high financial cost. All the excavations mentioned in this book took place as the result of modern development projects, a side of archaeology that since the 1970s has been known as ‘Rescue’ because the material is being excavated and examined before it is destroyed by the new development. It is now the norm for such projects to be funded by the developer and in an urban context this can be so expensive that a redesign of the proposed foundations is often the preferred option thus preserving the deposits in situ for future archaeologists.

Medieval deposits survive better in some of Scotland’s burghs than in others. Important centres such as Elgin, Forres and Dunfermline often prove to have no archaeology surviving on their street frontages. All three of these burghs are built on ridges, and their High . . .

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