Chapel Knowe    

On the page Frasers of Oliver it is suggested that the name of Oliver is in fact a corruption of Holyford and that the first castle built in the twelth century was in fact called Hollyford named after the ford that had been known as Holyford for some time.  The ford gave access to the mound - Chapel Knowe - and surrounding land on which was located something of Christian significance - hence the Holyford - however there had probably been evidence of a spiritual significance from the bronze age.  The location of the ford is confirmed in a letter from Claverhouse in 1682(8) where he states that "they (Covenanters) crossed Tweed at the Bile."  Also in 1682(2) it is recorded that there were stepping stones across the Tweed between the Bield and the Manse.  The manse then being near the present day car park.  

Naming the ford Holyford would conform to the naming of other fords on the Tweed and tributaries. For instance Monksford at Old Merose, Abbotsford on the Teviot and Priorsford in Peebles. 

The earliest mention in the records of the significance of the mound was suggested in 1775 by Armstrong(3) that the mound was a site of druidical worship - he stated that "Tweedsmuir Kirk is situated on a small mount, called the Quarter know, supposed to have been a place for the worship of the Druids, as are also a few erect stones, in a circular form above the bridge, which I have called, in the map, a Druidical Temple; but with how much truth, I cannot determine.   It is probable that the Druids repurposed what was already on the mound and also the standing stones from the bronze age.  For more about the Standing Stones see Early Peoples section page 3. Standing Stones.  

There are a couple of nuggets in the records that shed some light on Tweedsmuir Quarter Knowe. Firstly in the Peeblesshire Presbytery Records of 1626-1649(1) it states that when digging for foundations on the site then known as the Quarter or Chapel Knowe, on the lands of Menzion, skeletons were found proving an ancient burial-place and site of a chapel. The fact that Menzion is mentioned indicates that we have the right site and that the mound was known as Chapel Knowe, at that time, prior to the first Tweedsmuir Parish Kirk I think is very significant.  The actual date between 1626-1649 when the skeletons were discovered would probably have been during the 1638/9 years when the founding of the new parish of Tweedsmuir was first mooted and the requirement for a Kirk came about.

The mention of "ancient burial-place" is also significant as it raises the question that the mound could have been a burial ground for centuries prior to the 1626- 1639 period mentioned above or perhaps even for millennia! This makes the mound a very special place.

The mound is at the centre of a remarkable concentration of bronze age sites straddling the River Tweed indicating that the mound was probably very significant at that time.  See map above of Upper Tweed in Peeblesshire showing this concentration towards lower left of image(9).

James W. Buchan (brother of John Buchan) in his acclaimed 3-Vol History of Peeblesshire refers to various Writs of 1512, 1555 and of 1564 involving the Hays which clearly refer to Chapel Knowe being in the Barony of Oliver Castle and was the "chief messuage" of that Barony(2). Buchan then went on "It is not unreasonable to assume that there would be a chapel on that site in pre-Reformation times, and accordingly it would seem that the Parish Church marks the site of the Quarter Chapel - a most suitable place for the chief messuage." A messuage is a dwelling house with associated out buildings - which possibly could include a small chapel, also gardens, orchards, etc.

The mound site being suitable for a chapel is demonstrated by Tim Clarkson(4) who when writing about the site of Drumelzier church noted the following " The churchyard stands on elevated ground which falls steeply on the north-west side towards the Drumelzier Burn a stream formerly known as the Powsail. This kind of topographical setting was atttractive to the founders of churches in the Dark Ages and is sometimes a good indicator of antiquity....Such a site would have been a place of worship for Christian Britons in the sixth and seventh centuries."  The Tweedsmuir Chapel Knowe has the same style of topography as Drumelzier.

The probability of there being a chapel on the Knowe in pre Reformation times is boosted by a reference in the History of Stobo Kirk(13).   Here it states that " early medieval times was the "plebania" or mother church for a number of smaller chapels in the area which encompassed the later parishes of Stobo, Lyne, Broughton, Drumelzier, Glenholm, Dawick and Tweedsmuir."

The area now known as Tweedsmuir Parish was originally the southern part of Drumelzier Parish and known as South Drumellzier.  During the early part of the seventeenth century it was decided that a new parish should be created and it was named Tweedsmoor.  A roll of tenants for the new parish was taken in 1639  (5)only one year on from the signing of the National Covenant in Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh in 1638.  This roll included Johne Chisholme of Stanehope and Thomas cheisholme of houpcarton indicating that the new parish would extend as far north as Hopecarton.   However, when the parish came into being in 1644 when the new Minister the Rev Alexander Trotter was appointed the northern boundary of the parish had been set at south of the Polmood Burn then moved to the Polmood Burn as it is today.  A new custom-built Presbyterian Kirk - a God Box - was built but was not completed until 1648 The Kirk could be classed as a Covenanting Kirk.  As late as 1684 the Privy Council in Edinburgh still referred to this church as the New Tweedsmoor Kirk - this was in the context of Covenanting activity and the Privy Council obviously thought that this new church was responsible for the troubles in the area. More about this time on page 9 Covenanters in Upper Tweed.

The Kirk was obviously not of the highest quality as the Kirk Session Records show that in it's early days it was quite often "in a ruinious state"  as indeed was the manse.  The existing church in Drumelzier remained as the Parish Kirk for that parish.   

The etching of 1790 by Francis Grose(6) on the left shows what is presently considered as the first church on the site that was commenced in 1644 and completed in 1648.  The etching shows what is probably the manse near the present day car park and also shows the artificial terraces on the mound.

The mound must have been very much larger than it is now.   The RCAHMS in their survey of the site in 1959(9) stated that the east side of the mound had been cut back by the river.   The RCAHMS also noted that although it is marked on the OS map as a "Motte" the mound is natural.   The observation of the cut back of the mound is confirmed by the 1790 etching where it can be clearly seen that the terraces, as can be seen today, do not continue around the east end of the mound as one would have expected.  The cutting back of the mound must have been the result of exceedingly high river levels caused by heavy rains some time in the past after the formation of the cultivation terraces and before the construction of the first kirk in 1644.   Apart from the mound being much larger , the River Tweed and the Talla Water, particularly the latter would have been much closer to the mound which was probably at the confluence dof the two waters.   This lack of flat ground around the mound would account for the requirement for the cultivation terraces to provide areas for vegetables/fruit for the occupants of the mound within the boundaries of the rivers. 

The mound being natural as noted by the RCAHMS above was also noted by William Chambers(10) where he noted "On the opposite side of the valley of the Tweed, is the church of Tweedsmuir, situated on an alluvial knoll, with the manse and a few cottages in the neighbourhood". 

The Rev. George Burns in the second statistical Account for 1834(11) noted "The parish church stands upon an eminence resembling a Saxon Moat, triangular in form and 30 feet in height.   It has sometimes been called the Quarter Knowe and supposed to have been a place of druidical worship.... A veil of mystery hangs over it which will probably never be dispelled ....observing the vast accumulation of stones which at one time or other may have been brought together by human hands."   It is unclear whether The Rev. Burns thought that the "vast accumulation of stones" had been an addition to the mound or had in fact been part of an ancient cairn.

Forsyth in his Beauties of Scotland(12) said "that it generally supposed to be an ancient tumulous, and incorrectly called a Roman Work   Some of the old inhabitants suppose that it is an elevation left by the confluence of the Talla and Tweed , which they say at times overflowed the low ground now forming the glebe" 

The Rev. John Dick, Minister of Tweedsmuir, also thought that the mound was alluvial(2).  The Rev. Dick was the minister in Tweedsmuir in 1874.   This was the date that the first church was demolished and a new church built more or less on the same footprint of the first church.   The Re v. Dick would have observed the foundation work for the new building, including the extensive excavation for the basement area to house the heating boiler  and coal bunker.   This area would have been much larger than the current basement room that contains the electrical switchboard as evidenced by the presence of modern brickwork.   The Rev. Dick along with other ministers would have taken an interest when new graves were being dug on the site.

It has been noted that river bed gravel/shingle has been found as an underlay on parts of the grounds in the present day properties to the east of the mound.   Indeed a large river boulder was discovered in the 1970s during the excavations for the foundations of LPG gas tanks.   This perhaps confirming that at least the Talla Water used to be closer to the mound.   One of the properties is known as the Insch - an old Scots word for an island.

A map of 1856 on the left shows the Quarter Knowe with a large island on the Talla Water near the confluence with the River Tweed.  Was this island the left over debris from the collapsed east end of the knowe mentioned above by the RCAHMS?  If there had been a large cairn on the site - alluded to by the Rev. Burns above then this could account for the quantity of gravel/shingle at both end of the island and also the extensive banks of gravel/shingle on the Tweed.  See map on left.   However, the banks could just be natural.

 The Google map of 2018 above shows a boat shaped feature to the east of the Talla Water at the location where the island was located.   The feature is now dry land, although it does flood at times,  and is now part of the neighbouring estate of Hearthstanes.   It has recently been planted with woodland tree saplings that should show up with future satellite passes. 

A recent Planning Application - 2018- on a site adjacent to the Chapel Knowe raised the requirement for a Archaeological Survey.   This was raised by the Scottish Borders Council Archaeology Officer in response to the Planning Application.(7)   The following is an excerpt from the response. "In preparing his 1770s map of Peebleshire, Mostyn Armstrong recounted that the Quarter Knowe was the supposed site of a ‘Druidical Temple’. This was relayed to him, no doubt, by local members of the church congregation. The church appeared on his map although the Druidical Temple label was applied to the know largely destroyed Tweedsmuir stone circle further to the south. The belief that Quarter Knowe was a place of prehistoric ritual was also relayed by George Chalmers in his 1810 book Caledonia, and repeated again by the Ordnance Survey Name Book in 1849. By this point, the description of the site had changed to that of a ‘tumulus’. The RCAHMS later recorded the Quarter Knowe as a wholly natural feature.

It is difficult to know whether there is any validity to the story of a temple have existed near the development site as the there has been church and churchyard on the Quarter Knowe since the 17th century. Nor is it possible to determine the origins of the story and whether there had ever been archaeological evidence of either structural remains (e.g. a cairn) or burials on the site. However, presuming this were the case (and there are certainly a number of prehistoric monuments in the area), then it is conceivable that it was a site that was continually visited and used in prehistory. Such sites often accumulated related ritual features, objects and burials."

The editor of this site did take a great interest in the origins of the mound and I thought that it should have more protection than just being listed as Category B.   I did suggest in writing to Historic Scotland on 22nd  January 2003 that they should consider making it a scheduled monument.  Dr. Richard Fawcett - Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments responded on 31st January 2003.  He stated that "He had visited the site a few months ago and was greatly intrigued by many aspects of it; clearly it has a very complex history.  ....  For a monument to be worthy of scheduling, the sole criterion is that it should be of "national importance", and it is essential that we are able to justify that designation.   In the case of this site, while there is much that is of great interest, I do not feel that we are as yet able understand it sufficiently to be able to say with any conviction that it is indeed of national importance.   Nevertheless, I can assure you that we shall keep your letter on file, and if we come to feel that we have a better understanding of the site, we shall certainly consider the possibility of scheduling it."

Although Chapel Knowe is not yet scheduled there  are two other important sites in the parish that are scheduled.  Namely Hawkshaw Castle and a prehistoric settlement site on Grange Hill that overlooks the Tweed adjacent to the Fingland Burn.   Both of these sites are on the proposed Whitelaw Brae Windfarm site.   There are several other scheduled monuments in the parish including the forts at Oliver and Nether Oliver.


1)  Grant, Will; Tweeddale, Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, 1948. pp 110-111.

2)  Buchan, J W, and Paton H, Rev; History of Peeblesshire, Jackson Wylie, Glasgow, 1927. For Chapel Knowe Vol III P287 - Footnote. For stepping Stones Vol III p360. For alluvial mound Vol III p361.

3)  Armstrong, John, Mostyn; A Companion to the Map of the County of Peebles or Tweeddale, W. Creech, Edinburgh, 1775. p104.

4)  Clarkson, Tim; Scotland's Merlin a Medieval Legend and its Dark Age Origins, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2016. pp85-86.

5) Robson, Michael; Surnames and Clansmen Border Family History in early days, Michael Robson, Isle of Lewis, 1998. p131.

6)  Grose, Francis; The Antiquities of Scotland, Hooper & Wigstead, London 1797. Vol 2 p224.

7)  Bowles, Christopher, Dr; Consultation Response to Planning Application, Scottish Borders Council, Newtown St. Boswells, 2018.

8)  Scottish History Society; Miscellany, Claverhouse Letters, Edinburgh, 1990. Vol XI p183. 

9) Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland; Inventory for Peeblesshire, HMSO, Edinburgh, 1967.  Map,Vol I, Fig 2 p22. Chapel Knowe, Vol 2, No 488 pp216-217.

10)  Chambers, William; History of Peeblesshire, William & Robert Chambers, Edinburgh, 1864. p430.

11)  Burns, George, Rev.; Statistical Account of Scotland, Tweedsmuir Parish, 1834. For Chapel Knowe pp63-64.

12)  Forsyth, Robert; Beauties of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1808.

13)  Randall, John; Stobo Kirk A Guide to the Building and its History, Walter Thomson, Selkirk, 1997. p9.