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Before I start with this review I will say that I am not against the English - in fact my bloke is from Yorkshire and my closest friend is from Yorkshire too so any English battering has to be taken in the spirit of history - after all they did treat us Scots extremely badly in those days.
Being from Arbroath myself it is nice to comment on a local place with significant relevance to Scottish History. For this is the spot where the Declaration of Independence from that nasty lot down south took place.
Arbroath is a fishing town on the east coast of Scotland 17 miles up the coast from Dundee and about 50 miles down from Aberdeen. We are known to most to be the home of the "Smokie" - haddock smoked in pairs over hardwood chips in square barrels and are also famous for holding the biggest win in football history against the then Bon Accord team who went on to become Aberdeen - we won 36-0. Wish we could do that now. The town takes it's name from the River Brothock which runs through the town and was originally known as Aberbrothock.
Back to the Abbey though whose main feature of the Round O can be seen from most of the town. Construction of this impressive monastery was started in 1178 ordered by William the Lionheart whose tomb is in the grounds of the abbey. A group of 50 Tironesian monks - part of the St Benedict Order - inhabited the abbey and they in turn were given the right to have a weekly market and to construct a harbour from which the town of Arbroath grew up round. The abbey was built in memory of St Thomas a Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was put to death for treason by Henry VIII and he is the patron saint of the town. There is still a school in his memory in the town today.
The church was only partially built when the King died and wasn't consecrated til 1233 and it continued to change hands from one abbot to the next for many years.
In 1320 however, Bernard De Linton Abbot at the time, wrote the Declaration of Arbroath on behalf of Robert the Bruce and signed by the nobility of Scotland for Pope John XXII to force Edward II to declare Independence of Scotland from the English and make Bruce King of Scotland. This was to change the face of Scottish history forever. The most famous phrase in the letter was 'For so long as a hundred remain alive, we will never in any degree be subject to the dominion of the English. Since not for glory, riches or honours do we fight, but for freedom alone, which no man loses but with his life.' It also gave the innovative idea that The King of Scotland could only rule with the approval of the Scottish people themselves - something very new when it came to royalty. Although peace talks did commence they proved to be unsuccessful. The sentiment is obviously still strong in the Scottish hearts today though as we still fight for devolution.
For many years the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society re-enacted this historical scene and I remember being very awe struck by this somewhat magical site when I attended with my primary school in the early 80s. This exciting rememberence of history had been stopped because of lack of funding but a successful Pageant took place earlier this year and this must only be good for the history of the town of Arbroath itself as well as all the local children who can see for themselves the importance of this event. I remember being extremely proud that this had taken place in the town where I grew up.
The Abbey was attacked by the English in 1350 and it was badly destroyed by fire in 1380 and it look more than 20 to repair.
In the late 1500s after the reformation of the church the abbey started to fall into ruin and many of the stones from the abbey are found in houses of Arbroath today but in the early 1800s a preservation order was introduced and the abbey was given a second chance.
This is also the site where the Stone of Destiny was found after being stolen from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day in 1950. Four months later it was found by the custodian on the high altar and my father remembers being in the old cinema when the announcement came over that it had been found.
The new visitor centre today is very impressive and although has a modern wave shaped design it has an amazing roof covered with moss which looks great with the red stone and glass building. The viewing gallery inside has great views of the Abbey and Church and has a terrific array of informative displays. I have included some photos below and you can quite clearly see the famous Round O mentioned earlier as well as the visitor centre and a photo of the pageant taking place. There is also a picture of the Declaration itself and a copy of this can be seen in the visitor centre. The original was sent to the Pope but a copy is held in the Register Centre in Edinburgh.
Inside the abbey itself you can walk round the ruins of the abbey and the churchyard and view some of the very old headstones which have amazing carvings on some on them, before entering the Abbot's House including his cellar. There are also stonework displays and a great vaulted ground floor to walk through.
As well as the displays there is also a cafe and a picnic area. There are some parts of the abbey which cannot be made wheelchair friendly because of the narrowness of the passages I'm afraid but don't let that put you off as the visitor centre has great access and there are toilets available too.
It is open all year round and has been awarded the following:-
5 Star Historic Attraction Award from the Scottish Tourism Board
Green Tourism Gold Award
In Summer opening times are as follows:-
25 March - 30 September:
Monday - Sunday, 9.30am - last entry 6.00pm (closes at 6.30pm).
and in the Winter months they are:-
1 October - end March:
Monday - Sunday, 9.30am - last entry 4.00pm (closes at 4.30pm)
They are closed 25th, 26th December and 1st, 2nd January.
Adult £3.30 Child £1.30 Concessions £2.50
This is a wonderful place to visit for a taste of Scottish history.
King William the Lion founded the Arbroath Abbey in 1178 in honour of the murdered St. Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was placed in the hands of the Tironensian order based in Kelso. King William granted his new Abbey independence from the mother house. He also showered it with endowments. These included the income from 24 parishes, a toft of land in every royal burgh, lands, fisheries, salt pans, ferries and of course Arbroath itself. The monks were permitted to set up a burgh, hold a market and to build a harbour. Even King John of England granted the Abbey the privilege of buying and selling goods anywhere in England, except the City of London, toll free. The function of Arbroath and every other Abbey was to provide an ordered way of life based on the Gospels teachings under which the monks could serve God and sanctify their souls. The monks did not work outside the Abbey. Their chief function was to perform the Divine Office. Arbroath Abbey hosted the most significant event in Scottish history. On 6 April 1320 the Scottish Declaration of Independence was signed by the assembled Scottish nobility in Arbroath Abbey. The Declaration was addressed to the Pope who had given his support to Edward II and excommunicated Robert the Bruce. The nobles had to intervene in the dispute between the Bruce and the Pope. The Declaration explained how the Bruce had rescued the country from a dreadful situation and for this they would support him in all things. A reconstruction of this event was staged by the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society during the 1940s to the mid 1980s. The Abbey fell into decline and after the Reformation it fell into ruin also. Many of the monks remained in the declining monastery. For a number of years the Lady Chapel was used as a parish church. In 1590 Arbroath Town Council granted the stones and timbers from the old dormitory to be used to build a proper church. The Abbey became a quarry for cash conscious burgesses. Many houses still have interesting carved details which started life in the Abbey. It was not until 1815 that any steps were taken to preserve the ruins. Arbroath Abbey has one more important date in its history. On Christmas Day 1950 the Stone of Destiny was stolen from Westminster Abbey. On the morning of 11 April 1951 it was deposited on the site of the high alter where it was discovered by the Abbey custodian. Many believe it was not the original stone that was returned or that now sits in Edinburgh Castle.