On Friday 12 May we commemorated those Scottish soldiers who were held prisoner and died in Durham after the Battle of Dunbar.

I was up bright and early to be interviewed on a BBC local radio breakfast show. I left the house at 5am regretting my career choices but felt a bit perkier by the time we got to 7am and the show went live. After this I headed up to Palace Green for other media interviews with the Project Team.

At 2pm the Project Team led tours of the Department of Archaeology, to give attendees of the commemorative event the opportunity to see where our analysis and research was carried out.

Each tour spent 20 minutes in the isotopes lab with Dr Andrew Millard (who undertook the isotope research and the dating of the human remains of the Scottish Soldiers) and Dr Beth Upex (who manages this project blog), then went along to the Fenwick Osteology Lab to meet up with Dr Anwen Caffell (who analysed the human remains for the project) and Dr Kamal Badreshany (who showed us some of the 3D scans he had been doing). Finally there were talks from Richard Annis (from Archaeological Services, Durham University who discovered the skeletons) and Professor Robin Skeates, Head of the Department of Archaeology.

Everyone seemed to get something out of it and there were many questions. An hour wasn’t long enough to describe all the techniques we employed on the project but I hope at least it gave some sort of context for the afternoon.

Following the tours we returned to Palace Green Library for the commemorative event itself. About 40 people had been invited to attend the event which began with short speeches by Professor Stuart Corbridge, the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor David Cowling, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Arts and Humanities and some words from me on behalf of the descendants. You can view the speeches online here.

After the speeches we moved downstairs to view the plaque, which has been installed in the courtyard of the café at Palace Green Library.

The words are on a cast iron plate and the design echoes a plaque we saw at Saugus Iron Works in Massachusetts, where so many of those who were transported to the Massachusetts Bay Colony ended up working from 1651 to 1658.

The iron plate has been set onto stone from the quarry which now operates on the site of the Battle of Dunbar, which I went to help select in February. The stone was kindly provided by Tarmac, who operates the quarry, and was cut by the stonemasons St Astier.

At 5.15pm Durham Cathedral held a special Evensong service which included prayers for the soldiers and the re-dedication of a memorial plaque to the soldiers imprisoned in the Cathedral. The Cathedral plaque, which was re-dedicated by the Dean of the Cathedral, lies close to the altar dedicated to St Margaret, Queen of Scotland, in the Chapel of the Nine Altars. The new plaque replaces the one dedicated in 2011 which stated that the burial place of those who died was unknown.

Among those who attended the Evensong service were Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, the Member of Parliament for Durham City, Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University and Councillor Edward Bell, the Mayor of Durham.

All of the evening’s hymns were taken from the Scottish Psalter of 1650. The service was very well attended and, I felt, a respectful occasion which was sensitively handled.

The final part of the commemorative event was a public lecture jointly delivered by Dr Pam Graves from the Scottish Soldiers Archaeology Project Team and Professor Emerson Baker of Salem State University, USA.

The focus to this lecture was to pick up on some of the new research which has been done by Dr Graves into the early lives and origins of the soldiers from Dunbar, while Professor Baker discussed his work on the 150 men who arrived in New England in December 1650 on the ship Unity. This was fascinating stuff, much of which I think was new to the audience of nearly 80 people.  You can watch the lecture on-line here.

I hope this blog has given some insight into the event. It was a very rewarding day in which I feel we offered a respectful and dignified commemoration of the Scottish soldiers.

Our research work into the soldiers continues and we will post updates on our findings in the coming months.

Chris Gerrard

Author: Chris Gerrard

Professor Chris Gerrard is the research team lead for the Scottish Soldiers Archaeology Project. He has coordinated the academic review of the scientific analysis and historical background work on the project. Chris joined Durham University in 2000 and has held a Chair in Archaeology since 2009.

Commemorating the Scottish soldiers