Discovering the King's Wall: Excavations at 144-166 Cowgate, Edinburgh

Author(s): Magnar Dalland

Contributor(s): Stephen Carter, Morag Cross, Dianne Dixon, Nicholas Holmes, Stephen Lancaster, Catherine Smith, Scott Timpany

Summary: This report details the discovery of a late medieval building and the remains of extensive walls running along the north side of Cowgate, excavated in advance of a housing development. The wall remains were dated to the late 14th century and are believed to have been part of Edinburgh’s early town defences. Edinburgh’s medieval town wall is referred to as the ‘King’s wall’ and is linked to a James II charter of 1450. However, there are references to the King’s wall in property documents as early as 1427, indicating that a town wall had been built prior to the charter of 1450. The remains uncovered at Cowgate are likely to be part of this early town wall. Previously the line of the King’s wall was thought to have been located approximately halfway up the slope between Cowgate and the High Street. In view of the new discoveries a revised line is proposed that runs further south along the north side of Cowgate. The clay-bonded stone building was constructed up against the north side of the wall, probably in the late 15th century. It may have been an animal shed, possibly a stable that was the only medieval stone building erected in this area along Cowgate, leaving most of the site as open wasteland as described in late medieval documents. It was replaced by more substantial mortared buildings at the beginning of the 17th century.

Keyword(s): wall, burgage plot, town defences, pottery, coin, dress and personal accessories, dress fastener, nail, spindle whorl

Period(s): Medieval, Late Medieval

Location(s): King's Wall, Cowgate, Edinburgh, Scotland. NGR: 325851,673489

Permissions: Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivatives licence.

Published: 01-01-2017