Biggar Town – Urban Archaeological Project and brief history

1 May 2018

A Project to investigate the townscape of Biggar was initiated in 1999 by Biggar Archaeology Group (BAG). The intent was to test pit at available locations within the town boundary to establish the nature of any archaeological deposits which may have existed.

The town of Biggar is surrounded by ancient archaeological sites dating back to the Late Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Early and Late Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages, and Roman and later periods. The Roman road from the south almost certainly passed somewhere through the town (RCAHMS 1978). Artefacts from all these periods have been found out with the town, which also has a history dating back to the mid-12th century.

Biggar appears on historical record in 1164 with mention of Robert, who was the first parson of Biggar (Irving & Murray 1864). Stone fragments of a 12th century church are preserved in the existing church which dates to 1545-7. The town has a massive motte which probably held the timber castellated caput of Baldwin De Bigre, the first Sheriff of Lanark who is on record from 1170. The plan of Biggar still retains the classic early medieval layout with the nucleus of church, castle mound and Main Street. Later medieval land boundaries are traceable in the closes and pends, which lead off the broad market street, itself originally much wider, to the back lands of crofts and rigs.

The surviving architecture, apart from the church and motte is primarily 19th and 20th centuries in date with only a few buildings dating to the late 18th C. Nearly the entire street frontage in Biggar dates to the 19th C, blocking off the earlier medieval layout and foreshortening the earlier and much broader market street. There is evidence that the corner of a building at Townhead dates to the 16th C and may be part of a tower house. The surviving fragments of Boghall Castle date to the 16th and 17th centuries and these lie just to the south of the town, certainly there was a 15th century tower on the site. The 17th C merkat cross was dismantled from a prominent knoll (now removed) on the main street in the 19th century; fragments of the cross are built into the south gable of the prominent Corn Exchange building, built in 1864 on the main street. The War Memorial at the foot of the town takes part of its design from the old market cross. Beside the War memorial is the Cadgers Brig, reputed, but dismissed here, as having been crossed by William Wallace prior to the equally mythical ‘Battle of Biggar’ (more in the report).

Even though the town has such an ancient history, very little material evidence of that has ever been recorded. A watching brief for several decades or so of most disturbances in the town, for example the installation and repair of services has revealed nothing of ancient structures or artefacts. This Project attempted to address the apparent dearth of ancient material cultural evidence from the town of Biggar, and add some additional information to the history and development of the settlement.

BIGGAR TOWN MAP

Biggar town map showing principal locations and trenches detailed in the report.

Download the full report pdf (3.03 MB).

 

 

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