“A place steeped in history”- grand re-opening for Priory

Newly restored grounds of Coldingham Priory
Newly restored grounds of Coldingham Priory

COLDINGHAM Priory is a place full of history which has certainly had its highs and lows over the centuries but last Thursday was most definitely another high as the sun shone down for it’s grand re-opening.

It’s taken a group of dedicated project workers close to five years to transform the ruins of the Priory and its gardens - which had been described as a “wasteland” - into a place that residents can take great pride in and a place where visitors will be keen to spend time.

The £480,000 project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Robertson Trust, Russell Trust and Scottish Borders Council and representing SBC at last Thursday’s ceremony, Andy Miller paid tribute to the hard work of architects, local stonemasons, landscape gardeners and stone carvers to name but a few.

And most importantly Andy singled out the dedication of the community of Coldingham and the friends of Coldingham Priory.

Secretary of the Friends, Julia Carter said she was “absolutely delighted” that a day locals had been pushing for, for close to 20 years had finally come.

She commented: “The project has been made possible by the sustained effort and hard work of people over several years and drawn from different generations.

“We are very pleased to see the results which we have helped to plan and contribute to in many practical ways.

“We hope to continue caring for these surroundings and make Coldingham a special place.

“Having the Priory looking so good once again will be a big boost not only to tourism but to residents who will have something they can be proud of.”

Luke Comins, director of the Tweed Forum, who helped develop and co-ordinate the project, added: “This has been a real partnership effort from a number of organisations, individuals and funding bodies

“However, special mention must go to the community who made the whole project work through their enthusiasm, dedication and hard work.”

The story of the Priory begins with St Ebba, the daughter of Aethelfrith, the first King of Northumbria. In 616AD he was killed in battle by a rival to the throne and the family fled north. This was a crucial move which would shape the history of Coldingham Priory as Ebba later established a small community of monks and nuns at urbs Coludi, now known as Kirkhill (St Abbs Head).

In 683AD, after Ebba’s death, the settlement at Kirk Hill was destroyed in a fire and a church was built at the more sheltered site at Coldingham.

Fast forward to the 12th century and Prior Thomas de Melsonby set about building a new and much larger church. But this building was sacked in 1216 when King John of England laid waste to much of northern England and southern Scotland to suppress any thoughts of rebellion in the area.

But work continued in the Priory and over the years it prospered until the Black Death, border troubles and the Reformation all took their toll.

And the monument was finally destroyed around 1650 when it was besieged by Oliver Cromwell in an attempt to evict some Royal sympathisers sheltering inside, along with their share of gunpowder.

Those present at Thursday’s re-opening were given a whistlestop tour through the centuries of the Priory by the children of Coldingham Primary School, who were blessed with fine weather for their performance of ‘Our Saints’.

Taking on the roles of St Aidan, St Cuthbert and St Ebba were Marcus Horne, Toby Aitchison and Leoni Tait and all three said they’d thoroughly enjoyed the performance, although they admitted they’d been a tad nervous beforehand.

Marcus said: “We had lots of lines to learn but it was great fun getting to dress up.”

Leoni added: “I was a bit nervous but we had a rehearsal at the Priory a few days before and that went really well.”

Primary School pupils have been studying different eras of the Priory’s history and this has involved them working with the team behind the restoration as well as taking trips to Lindisfarne Priory to learn more about the saints in their play.

Their performance ended with a rousing rendition of ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ and it was then left to East Berwickshire Councillor Michael Cook to say a few words.

He said: “I’m sure I speak on behalf of everybody when I say that we’ve had an absolutely wonderful day and a big thank you to the children of Coldingham Primary for giving us a tour through the Priory’s history.

“The Priory is a place steeped in history, and 17 years ago I even got married here!

“It’s down to the effort and initiative of the ‘small cogs and big cogs’ involved in restoring the Priory that we are standing here today celebrating it’s re-opening. And let’s hope people can come back here in 1000 years time and hear similar words echoed again.”