This page was copied from: for informational and historical purposes. Please note original copyright at bottom of page. Duffuses had an early presence in Elgin.



Elgin Burgh Survey Archaeological Update


The main aim of the Scottish Burgh Survey is to identify which areas within Scotland's historic burghs are of archaeological interest and therefore require sensitive treatment in the event of any proposed ground disturbance. Some fifty - six burghs were surveyed during previous campaigns of the Scottish Burgh Survey (1978-90); another twelve will be published during 1995 and 1996.

This account of the archaeology and ancient monuments of Elgin updates the archaeological information contained in the Elgin Burgh Survey which was written in 1982 (see Historic Elgin: the archaeological implications of development, Scottish Burgh Survey 1982, by Anne Turner Simpson and Sylvia Stevenson). Since then, archaeological monitoring of developments within the historic core and some excavations have yielded important new evidence. Only a selection of previously surveyed burghs have produced enough new information to warrant updating of the original survey in this way - Elgin has proved one of the most productive.

This updated survey is designed primarily as a working manual for the use of local authorities and archaeological curators, but will be of use to any individual or organisation needing to assess the archaeological implications of a development proposal for a specific site.

This updated survey, Historic Elgin: the archaeological implications of development, was prepared for Historic Scotland by the Scottish Urban Archaeological Trust Ltd. It was entirely funded by Historic Scotland.



  1. Use the colour coded map and/or the street index to locate the site (normally the site of a development proposal).
  2. If the site is in a BLUE area, any development proposal is unlikely to affect significant archaeological remains. No action needed.
  3. GREEN areas are designated as archaeologically sensitive. If the site is in a GREEN area, it is possible that any proposal involving ground disturbance may encounter archaeological remains. Seek appropriate archaeological advice as early as possible.
  4. RED areas are Scheduled Ancient Monuments and/or properties in the care of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and are protected by law. Refer to Historic Scotland.
  5. Use the map to determine which area of the burgh the site falls into (one of Areas 1-6), and turn to the relevant Area by Area Assessment for a fuller account.
  6. Use the general index and, if appropriate, the listing of street names for rapid access to information specific to a site, street or named feature.

Step 1

As a working manual the first point of reference is the colour-coded map.

The RED areas are Scheduled Ancient Monuments, protected by law. Under the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 all development proposals which affect them require the prior written consent of the Secretary of State (Scheduled Monument Consent) in addition to any planning consent required. These provisions are administered on behalf of the Secretary of State by Historic Scotland. Thus Section 15(j)(v) of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) (Scotland) Order 1992 and Section 5(e) of its Amendment (No 2) Order 1994 require that all applications for planning consent which affect either the site or setting of a Scheduled Ancient Monument (red area) must be referred for Historic Scotland's comments. All enquiries regarding prospective development proposals within red areas should be referred to Historic Scotland for advice at as early a stage as possible.

The GREEN areas are potentially archaeologically sensitive and may retain significant sub-surface archaeological information. Consultation should take place with the local authority archaeologist, where any development proposal or enquiry involving ground disturbance is being considered, including car parks, road schemes, environmental improvements, landscaping and drainage schemes, as well as the usual range of development and re-development proposals in built - up areas. There is no necessity for consultation where ground disturbance is not in prospect, such as applications for change of use of a building. If in doubt whether consultation is necessary, please refer to the local authority archaeologist. It is important to note that sub-surface disturbance within historic standing buildings may also affect archaeological remains, and that some standing buildings may retain archaeological features within their structures. Please seek advice as required.

The BLUE areas denote those parts of the historic burgh which have been investigated previously and are probably archaeologically sterile. Archaeological consultation is probably not necessary in the blue areas. In practice, there is rarely a hard dividing line between the green and blue areas. If in any doubt, check the account of the relevant area in the area by area assessment (see step 2), and seek archaeological advice.

Step 2

In this series of updates, each burgh has been organised locationally, in order to assist speedy consultation on any proposed development site. In the case of Elgin, the historic core of the town has been divided into seven arbitrary areas, Areas 1-7, and two areas, Areas 8 and 9, lie outside the burgh. All these areas are shown on the plan. The second step for the user then is to consult this plan and to determine into which area a specific enquiry falls.

Step 3

In the Area by Area Assessment, each area is assessed individually, the commentary prefaced with a detailed plan of that area. All known archaeological investigations, Ancient Monuments and other features within the Area are marked on the detailed plan and then described and an assessment of the Areas archaeological potential is made.

Step 4

The final part of this update is a discussion of the future management of the burgh's archaeology. This section discusses the contents of the most recent local plan for the relevant burgh and identifies any apparently archaeologically sensitive development proposals within it.


The archaeological evidence accumulated during the monitoring of developments in Elgin since 1982, as well as any unpublished reports of small-scale excavations and watching briefs, are housed in the National Monuments Record, John Sinclair House, 16 Bernard Terrace, Edinburgh EH8 9NX, telephone 0131 662 1456, facsimile 0131 662 1477/1499.


In the thirteen years since the production of the Elgin burgh survey (Simpson and Stevenson, 1982), there have been several opportunities for archaeological investigations in the historic core of the town. This burgh survey update aims to provide an accessible synthesis of this fieldwork in a format which will be useful to planners, archaeologists and archaeological curators, and students of local history. This report updates only the archaeological elements of the original (1982) burgh survey.No attempt has been made to update the historical background though a brief summary is outlined below. In addition, historical information of relevance to individual historic buildings or to documented monuments whose precise location is not known, has been extracted from the original burgh survey and summarised here.


Elgin was founded as a royal burgh by David I in the 12th century. The successors of David I evidently viewed the burgh as an important centre of government as William the Lion (1165-1214) granted fourteen of his charters there. The establishment of the cathedral of the diocese of Moray at Elgin in 1224 also indicates the importance of the settlement at that date. It is only recently that modern development has begun to have a marked effect on the surviving medieval street plan.


The burgh of Elgin is situated in Grampian Region, and lies c 6 miles south of the Moray Firth. It lies on the southern edge of the fertile Moray coastal plain, and is protected by hilly, rising ground to the south. The main street of the burgh, High Street, runs from east to west along a ridge, with the ground falling off to the north towards the River Lossie. The site of the royal castle lies on Ladyhill at the western end of the burgh, while the important cathedral and chanonry lie to the north east of the burgh.

It has become apparent from the archaeological work undertaken in Elgin that the location of the High Street on a ridge has an effect on the scale of preservation in the burgh. From limited observations at the west end of the High Street it seems that there may be no surviving deposit on the frontage at all, but further work is needed to confirm or deny this. However, preservation in the backlands can be very good (see Area 2). The topographic implications are discussed in the relevant archaeological area discussions and summarised at the end of this document.



The medieval burgh has been subdivided into nine discrete areas. Areas 1-4 lie to the north of the High Street, 5-7 to the south, Area 8 encompasses the cathedral and its precinct, and 9 the eastern approaches to the burgh.

Elgin Subdivisions and
Areas of Archaeological Sensitivity

Click here for a full size map (32K)


Development Pressures

Over the past eighteen years several major redevelopment projects have taken place in Elgin. These include the Relief Road, St Giles Centre and the Safeway and Norco supermarkets. Careful monitoring has ensured that most major threats to the town's archaeology have been dealt with. With the creation of a new Local Plan for the whole district it is now possible to identify those proposed developments that will require some archaeological response.

Elgin Town Centre Strategy

The District Council proposes to pursue a comprehensive strategy for the centre of the burgh. Part of this project is currently under way and the results of the archaeological work in Area 6 (no 1) reflect the sensitive way that this is being handled.


The Local Plan identifies two sites for future housing that lie either within or on the fringe of two of the identified archaeological areas. One of these lies on the west side of Hill Street within Area 1 and the other on the south east side of Maisondieu Road on the fringe of Area 9. Both sites may repay assessment prior to any redevelopment.

Local Environment

The definition of an environmentally protected corridor along the River Lossie will include the Cathedral, the Bishop's Palace and the northern part of the Cathedral precinct. Development is not permitted in this corridor unless it is:-

In all three cases any new buildings have to be designed to blend sympathetically with their surroundings. The defined corridor does not include the remainder of the Cathedral Precinct (see Area 8) which means that it remains uprotected and open to redevelopment. Any future proposals for this area should include provision for a full archaeological assessment.

It is proposed that the road verges on the eastern approach to the burgh are retained as landscaped screens. As part of this area may include the Leper Hospital (see Area 9) any tree planting or renewal of services may need to be monitored. The western end of the High Street from the Post Office to Dr Gray's hospital is to be widened on its southern side. This work may need to be archaeologically monitored given the possibility that the western limit of the burgh has moved (see Archaeological Potential Area 1).


From the archaeological monitoring and excavation of the last 20 years the following statements can be made about the archaeology of Elgin.

As a rule very little deposit will survive on the northern High Street frontage. From a point about 20-30 m north, preservation begins to get better with waterlogged material surviving. Any existing or previous close lines will preserve deposits. In effect this means that on the northern side of the High Street one could have strips of deposit surviving right up to the street frontage. On current evidence the rest of the High Street deposits have probably been destroyed. Deposit preservation may be better on the southern High Street frontage although this needs to be proved by further observation. As one moves uphill towards South Street preservation begins to become very poor.

It is very noticeable from excavated assemblages that there is very little material that can be confidently assigned to the occupation of David I's burgh. This may be because deposit preservation is so poor, or there may be some truth in the story that the early burgh once extended further west than it does now (Shaw 1827 p 263). This may make any work in Area 1 and the western end of Area 7 all the more important.


Anaerobic - Oxygen free, no bacteria present to cause decay.
Chancel - That part of a church, east of the nave or crossing, in which the altar is placed.
Dominican - An order of preaching friars founded by Dominic Guzman in the 12th century.
Extended Inhumations - Human burials where the body is laid out in the grave as opposed to being crouched.
Franciscan - Order of Friars founded by Francis of Assisi in 1209.
Maison Dieu - House for the support and lodging of the poor; sometimes a hospital.
Midden - Accumulation of debris and domestic waste products resulting from human use.
Natural - The level of subsoil undisturbed by human activity.
Nave - Body of church from inner door to chancel or choir usually separated by pillars from aisles.
Observantines - Members of branch of the Franciscan order observing the strict rule.
Picts - Ancient probably pre-Celtic race formerly inhabiting parts of Scotland, particularly north of the Forth-Clyde line.
Precentor - One who leads the singing of the congregation in church or has control of musical arrangements
Precinct - Space enclosed by walls or other boundaries of a place or building, especially cathedrals or monastic houses.
Quern - Hand-mill for grinding corn.
Residual - Remaining or left over, in archaeology refers to artefacts that have been displaced from earlier levels into later ones.
Revetment - Retaining or facing wall.
Sherd - Broken piece of pottery.
Stank - A ditch or open watercourse, frequently a natural stream which had been straightened to serve as a boundary or drainage system.
Tolbooth - The most important secular building; meeting place of burgh council; collection post for burgh tolls; often housed town gaol.
Transept - Transverse part of cruciform church.


Cachart, R 1989 Thunderton Place, Elgin SUAT Archive record.

Cachart, R 1989 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1989, 24.

Cachart, R 1990 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1990, 21.

Cachart, R 1993 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1993, 40.

Cant, R 1974 Historic Elgin and its cathedral (Elgin).

Colman, R 1993 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1993, 40.

Fawcett, R 1994 The Architectural History of Scotland : Scottish Architecture from the accession of the Stewarts to the Reformation 1371-1560 (Edinburgh).

Hall, D.W. 1982 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1982, 13.

Hall, D.W. 1986 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1986, 11.

Hall, D.W. 1987 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1987, 23.

Hall, D.W. 1989 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1989, 24.

Hall, D.W. 1990 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1990, 21.

Keillar, I 1971 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1971, 30.

Lindsay, W.J. 1976 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1976, 44

Lindsay, W.J. 1977 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1977, 24.

Lindsay, W.J. 1977 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot 1977, 24.

MacDonald, A 1973 `Ladyhill', Discovery Excav Scot 1973, 38.

MacKintosh, H.B. 1914 Elgin Past and Present (Elgin).

Mackenzie, J.R. 1993 Excavations at 213-225 High Street Elgin SUAT Archive report.

McKean, C 1987 The District of Moray an illustated architectural guide (Edinburgh)

Moray District Local Plan 1993-1998 (Elgin).

Shaw, L 1882 The History of the province of Moray (Elgin).

Shepherd, I 1989 `Elgin', Discovery Excav Scot, 1989 , 24.

Simpson, A.T. and Stevenson, S 1982 Historic Elgin: The archaeological implications of development Glasgow (Scottish Burgh Survey).


Street Name Area
Alexandra Road 2, 3, 4
Ashgrove Road 9
Batchen Street 7
Bibby place 1
Blackfriars Road 2, 3
Cathedral Road 8
Collie Street 8
Commerce Street 6
East Road 9
Glover Street 5
Greyfriars Lane 5
Greyfriars Street 5
Haugh Road 1
High Street 5, 6, 7
Hill Street 1
Hill Terrace 1
King Street 8
Lazarus Lane 4
Lossie Wynd 4
Maisondieu Road 9
Murdochs Wynd 1
North College St 4, 8
North Street 3
North Port 4
Pansport Road 9
Pinefield Road 9
Priory Place 9
South Street 6, 7
South College St 4, 8
Thunderton Place 7
Victoria Crescent 9
Victoria Road 9
Weaver Place 4
West Park Road 7

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