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The Prince and the 'Ancient Monument' at Birsley Brae

Coal Shafts and Coins

When Prince Charles Edward marched from Holyrood Park via Duddingston to Carberry Hill and Birsley Brae on September 20th 1745, little did he realise that there was treasure trove in the hedgerows close by. But he would have spotted the mine shafts there and NW towards Dolphinstoun.

The Royal Commission on Ancient & Historic Monuments in Scotland [RCAHMS] has classified Birsley Brae as an Ancient Monument on the strength of those mining activities citing:

"By the end of the 13th coal was being worked by ... the monks of Newbattle Abbey. Until the close of the 15th century the outcrops were worked by means of sloping shafts or mines, but subsequently vertical shafts with spiral stairs were developed and several dating from 1526 may be seen ... near Dolphinstoun."

"This settlement has been recorded as cropmarks on oblique aerial photography ... and is oval on plan, measuring about 120m in diameter from NNE to SSW by about 80m transversely, with a ditch about 4m wide. There is an entrance on the NNE and amorphous cropmarks within the interior suggesting the presence of at least two roundhouses."

Treasure Trove

The treasure trove of Scottish coins at Birsley Brae was discovered initially by young girls who stumbled on a few of them in 1868 after ploughing SW of Colonel Gardiner's ancient residence at Bankton House. The Minister at Prestonpans, Rev John Struthers, then arranged an extensive search of the area and a grand total of 112 was finally unearthed. [The full details are given in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume VIII, May 10th 1869, pp 167-169]

There is considerable speculation as to why they might have been left there. But the 'when' of the matter is in less doubt since the great majority and most recent coins of the collection are from Queen Mary's reign prior to 1560 including an example of Mary's gold mintage in 1555 - too late for the Battle of Pinkie in 1547!

Sad to report, the current whereabouts of the coins has yet to be established. Hopes that the Numismatics Curators at the National Museums of Scotland might be able to trace them have thus far been dashed. Please let us know about any clues our readers here might have!

Published Date: March 19th 2008

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