Kilwinning Abbey

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Site Type ABBEY
Canmore ID 42113
Site Number NS34SW 6
NGR NS 30324 43274
Former District CUNNINGHAME
Former County AYRSHIRE
Datum OSGB36 - NGR

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Architectural Notes


National Library. Uncatalogued MSS of General Huttin Vol II No 28. 2 Sketches.

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Archaeological Notes

NS34SW 6.00 30324 43274

NS34SW 6.01 NS 3040 4326 Abbot's House

(NS 3030 4327) Abbey (NR) (rems of)
OS 6" map (1971)

The early history of the Tironensian Abbey of Kilwinning is obscure, it was most probably founded by Richard de Morville 1162 x 1189. It was secularised in 1592. MacGibbon and Ross state that it was built on the site of the cell of St. Winning (i.e. Findbarr of Moyville, d. 579).
The extant remains consist of the S wall and gable of the S transept and its E aisle; the doorway from cloisters to nave; the chapter-house entrance, the wall of the S aisle of the nave; and some parts of the W end of the nave and W tower. Modern buildings now occupy the site of the cloisters, and incorporate the old cloister wall. The church appears to have been built early in the 13th century. Its plan was obtained from excavations by Galloway. The buildings of the Abbey appear to have been destroyed shortly after the Reformation. Part of the church was repaired and used as the parish church until 1775, when it as removed and the present parish church was built. The tower of the abbey fell in 1814; it ws then rebuilt on a smaller scale. At the same time considerable restorations were made on the choir of the abbey church and in parts of the nave.
W Galloway 1878; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1896; H Scott 1920; W J Watson 1926; I B Cowan and D E Easson 1976.

The remains of Kilwinning Abbey are as listed above, and are in a fair state of preservation, some walls currently being restored by the DoE. The masonry is all of ashlar. The gable of the S transept has three large pointed windows, the bases of which are at successive levels, and a wheel window is situated above them. Buildings have been demolished on the S, revealing three vaulted compartments on the W side of the cloister garth. Details are not yet clear as rubble covers most of the block. Church and detached tower are modern, and no other traces of old fabric are to be seen in the churchyard, which contains a few 17th century gravestones.
Visited by OS (JLD) 13 September 1956

Excavations carried out by the DoE in 1961-3 showed that the work of building the Abbey was well advanced by the end of the 12th century, but was suspended before the W end of the church or W claustral range were completed. Work was restarted on a more ambitious plan in the 13th century, but this also was never fully carried out.
S H Cruden 1961; MOPBW 1962; 1963

The Abbey is generally as described and illustrated. SDD restoration work continues.
Visited by OS (JRL) 27 September 1982

Limited excavation was carried out within the slype, and in the area of the E processional doorway and E cloister, in order to establish original occupation surfaces in advance of a programme of restoration.
G Ewart 1983.

NS 303 433 A watching brief was carried out during the excavation of trenches and pits prior to the installation of floodlighting at Kilwinning Abbey in February 1997. The skull and upper chest area of a skeleton was excavated from a pit dug close to the N entrance to the abbey grounds. The corroded remains of a small iron plate were present over the chest area of the skeleton; no evidence of a coffin remained. The skeleton overlay a compact surface of decayed yellow sandstone which may relate to the abbey buildings.
Sponsor: T Brown & Son.
I Cullen 1997.

NS 304 433 A watching brief was maintained in August 2003 during the excavation of a single trench immediately NW of and abutting the existing clock tower to facilitate the laying of an electric cable. No deposits or features of archaeological significance were observed.
Report lodged with WoSAS SMR and the NMRS.
Sponsor: TCI.
P Duffy 2003

22 July 2010 to 30 September 2011

Notes A programme of archaeological intrusive works and survey was undertaken at Kilwinning Abbey from August 2010 to September 2011 as part of the Kilwinning Community Archaeology Project. In total twenty-four trenches were opened within the grounds of the Scheduled Monument. The trenches were in general 3m by 2m in size and investigated the three Ranges, Cloister Garth, Southern Aisle, Western Transept and the Abbey Green. These trenches excavated through redeposited excavation spoil from the earlier excavations to re-expose the upper surface of the retained significant archaeological horizon to enable its characterisation. A large amount of artefacts were recovered, throughout all of the trenches. While the majority of the material was eighteenth to modern in date; far older artefacts were recovered in the form of medieval white gritty ware and reduced ware pottery. The most significant finds recovered were two pieces of incised slate one of which had been incised with graffiti gaming boards, also known as a Merelles Board. In addition to these trenches a series of six test pits were excavated in open public ground around Kilwinning to continue to search for medieval material in other portions of the burgh. Building recording works sought to recover an accurate base plan of the Abbey and to survey the boundary wall of the parish church graveyard to identify visible architectural fragments that derived from the medieval Abbey.
Information from Oasis (rathmell1-146723) 27 March 2013

Further details

Books and References

Cowan and Easson, I B and D E (1976) 'Medieval religious houses, Scotland: with an appendix on the houses in the Isle of Man', London
Page(s): 69 Held at RCAHMS C.3.2.COW

Cowan, I B (1986) Ayrshire Abbeys: Crossraguel and Kilwinning, [Ayr]
Page(s): 267-95 Held at RCAHMS P.8

Cruden, S (1961c) 'Kilwinning Abbey, Ayrshire', Discovery Excav Scot
Page(s): 54

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