Archaeologist unearths more of Historic Kilbride’s past

Dr Claire Ellis uncovers more of the past at Historic Kilbride.

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Recycled gravestones and a drystone wall built across a ruined church’s doorway to keep grazing animals out – or in – are just some of the latest discoveries being made by archaeologists at Historic Kilbride.

Archaeologist Claire Ellis spend two days on the site, three miles out of Oban at Lerags Glen, after Historic Environment Scotland gave permission for more of the church’s past to be uncovered.

A stonemason has been waiting for the exploratory dig to happen first so he could start urgent work on the western gable that is crumbling and in danger of collapsing.

The work at the scheduled monument is all part of a massive conservation and restoration scheme being run by The Friends of Kilbride charity.

The archaeology team at work during the two-day exploratory excavation either side of the west gable doorway at Historic Kilbride.
Friends of Historic Kilbride Seymour Adams and Liam Griffin are looking forward to welcoming back visitors and raising more funds again.
A letter B is just visible on this chunk of stone unearthed at Historic Kilbride.

The charity says  fundraising to help pay for the scheme has been devastated by the coronavirus but members hope visitors will  start to return and make generous donations now the site has been allowed to open to the public again as lockdown eases.

Heaps of fallen rubble, including roof tiles, overgrown with turf and vegetation, had to be removed so a doorway in the west gable could be seen clearer and the original floor level of the church revealed down to a layer of cobbles.

Included in the pile was a number of what are believed to be medieval stones, one inscribed with a single letter ‘B’ and nothing else. The stones could well come from the original church that stood on the site from that era – the first mention of it is 1249. In 1671 the church there was described in records as ‘altogether demolished’ and in 1707 the prayer house was built. In Victorian times, the ruined walls were topped with a kind of concrete to make it look like a folly.

Chunks of white sandstone buried until last week look similar to the stone, which came from Morvern or Mull, to decorate Lismore’s 13th century cathedral.

Dr Ellis also found some ironwork that could have been from a coffin or part of a lock from the 1707 prayer house, shards of plasterwork, pottery and a 50p coin from the Sixties were also in her haul.

The metre or so high drystone wall blocking the western gable door was put up in a ‘rough and ready’ manner and probably to keep stock in or out as the kirk grounds were used for grazing animals when the site was de-sanctified in the mid 1800s.

Trowelling also exposed a flat stone with no visible carving or lettering that could have been recycled from an earlier medieval grave to be turned upside down and used as a doorstep into the church. Because every step of the excavation work had to be agreed in advance, Dr Ellis was not able to turn it  over.

All her findings will now go into a detailed report to help the Friends of Kilbride secure more grants for future work and a copy will be sent to The National Archive in Edinburgh for posterity.

The Friends hope to have a grand opening, sticking to Covid guidelines, in few weeks time, once the stonework is finished and the west gable wall is standing strong.

The whole conservation project, covering three phases of works, could cost around £300,000 and take years to complete. A grant of £7,000 from Carraig Gheal Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund has helped but more money is needed, says chairman of Friends of Historic Kilbride, Seymour Adams.

Urgent work needs to be carried out first but a future plan could be to expose the church floor to turn into another visitor area but, ‘We’d need a rich benefactor first’, said Dr Ellis.

To find out more, go to friendsofkilbride.scot or visit its Facebook page.

A donation can be made by writing to Friends of Kilbride C/o The Secretary Friends of Kilbride, An Tobar, Lerags, Oban, PA34 4SE.