THE royal burgh of Jedburgh, the county town of Roxburghshire, occupies a very beautiful site on the river Jed, forty-six miles, by way of Lauder, south of Edinburgh.
Its grant antiquity, and to the present hour, its prime architectural ornament, is the ruin of its ancient abbey. The description given of this magnificent pile by the Rev. John Purves, in his report in the New Statistical Account of Scotland, is singularly complete and happy. “This venerable structure,” says he, “stands on the south side of the town on the declining bank of the river, which winds past it in front, washing some remnants of its outworks. The chapter-house, cloisters, and other appendages have perished; and nothing remains but the church, which in the form of a cross, extends from east to west 230 feet. The choir is much dilapidated, bearing marks of great antiquity. The two lower stories consist of massive pillars and semicircular arches, with the diagonal or zigzag mouldings of Saxon architecture, whilst the upper windows and some other parts are Gothic, evidently added at a more recent period. The north transept is entire, presenting traceried Gothic windows, especially one of great size and beauty. The south transept has disappeared. Above the intersection of the transepts, with the nave and choir, a large square tower rises on four pillars to the height of 100 feet, surmounted by a projecting battlement, and crowned with turrets and pinnacles. The nave, measuring 130 feet long, presents on each side three tiers of arches; the first opening into the aisle consists of pointed arches, deeply recessed, and richly moulded, supported by clustered columns, with sculptured capitals; the second, which opened into the galleries, consists of beautifully moulded semicircular arches, with two pointed arches inserted in each; and the third, of elegant pointed windows. The lofty western gable possesses a Norman door of uncommon beauty, the archway exhibiting a profusion of ornamented mouldings, supported by slender pillars to the depth of 7½ feet. Above it is a large window, with a semicircular arch, flanked by small blank pointed arches, in long slender shafts, and this is surmounted by a beautiful St. Catherine’s wheel. On the south side of the choir, there is a chapel which was once appropriated to the use of the grammar-school. * * But the chief object of architectural interest in this abbey is the Norman door, which formed the southern entrance to the church from the cloisters. This, for the elegance of its workmanship, and the symmetry of its proportions, is unrivalled in Scotland. Its sculptured mouldings spring from slender shafts, with capitals richly wreathed, exhibit the representations of flowers, men, and various animals, executed with surprising minuteness and delicacy. ‘This venerable pile,’ says the late Archibald Elliot, architect, in his report to the heritors respecting some of its projected repairs, ‘in my opinion, is the most perfect and beautiful example of the Saxon and early Gothic in Scotland.’ Its grand appearance is imposing, and admirably accords with the scenery of the romantic valley in which it is situated.”
St. Kennoch is reported to have been Abbot of Jedburgh in the year 1000, and to have laboriously but effectually exerted his influence, during a considerable period, for the conservation of the international peace. The traditional history respecting him, and the apparently high antiquity of the remains of the choir, would seem to indicate that the abbey had a very early existence. But the Melrose Chronicle, under the year 1174, has the entry, “Obiit Osbertus primus abbas de Jeddewrtha;” and, on this and other grounds, the abbey is perhaps regarded correctly, by the author of Caledonia, and other writers, as having been, not re-edified or extended, but originally founded in the year 1147, by David I. Its monks were canons-regular, brought, in the first instance, from Beauvais. During twenty years from the commencement of the 13th century, the abbot was embroiled with the bishop of Glasgow, fighting a stiffly contested battle for the prerogatives of the mitre and the crosier; and he was eventually compelled to acknowledge more of the bishop’s authority than comported with the loftiness of his own pretensions. During the early wars of the succession, the abbot and his canons were involved in ruin, – their house becoming so unsafe that they could not inhabit it, and their possessions so wasted that they could not enjoy them; and, at the end of the year 1300, they threw themselves on the bounty of Edward I., and were billeted by him on some religious houses in England. During the long succession of international conflicts which followed the peace of Northampton in 1328, the abbey rocked under the violent rush of invasion and repulse, and underwent many a desolating change. In 1523, it was pillaged and partly burnt by the Earl of Surrey; and, in 1545, it was extensively dilapidated and converted into ruin by the Earl of Hertford. Even in very recent times, portions of it have been demolished by worthies such as those who destroyed the surpassingly fine cross of Edinburgh, or the gateway on the ancient bridge of Jedburgh, – wiseacres who sagaciously calculate the worth and beauty of an old ornate building by the number of shillings which they can procure for its stones! But now a better taste prevails, and, not contented with averting further dilapidations, has busied itself in making such repairs as promise to extend the duration of what remains of the pile. After the Reformation, the abbey became vested in the Crown by annexation. As the Kers of Fernihurst had long been the bailies of Jed Forest, they, after a while, became bailies of the canons of Jedburgh. In March, 1587, Sir Andrew Ker obtained from James VI. a grant of the bailiary of the lands and baronies of the abbey; and – the transition being easy in those times from connection of any sort with ecclesiastical property to entire possession of it – he afterwards obtained a charter converting the whole into a lordship, by the title of Lord Jedburgh.