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Pringle’s of Soutra Aisle

Location
Located on the western  flank of Soutra Hill, 2 miles (3 km) southeast of Fala is the noted Soutra  Aisle. It lies just to the northwest of Dun Law, with its wind farm, and  just within the Scottish Borders at its boundary with Midlothian. (It's  well signposted off the A68 trunk Road - South of Dalkeith and Fala  village, Midlothian). You can see 60 peaks clearly from the Soutra Aisle.  - The Pentlands, Ochils, Sidlaws, Lomonds and the majestic sweep of the  Firth of Forth.

History
Soutra Aisle is all  that remains of a grand hospital, monastery and church which occupied a  location half-way between Edinburgh and the Borders Abbeys. Served by what  was at the time the most important road in southern Scotland, Dere Street,  built by the Romans but still the main route south from Edinburgh for many  centuries afterwards. Parts of Dere Street remain and can still be traced  on the ground near the Aisle

At first sight, Soutra  Aisle isn't obviously all that remains above ground of one of the most  important institutions in medieval Scotland. Yet in its heyday, the House of the Holy Trinity at Soutra was one of the three most  important hospitals in Scotland and occupied a walled area measuring some  700m square. The House of the Holy Trinity at Soutra, as the mediaeval  hospital was formally known, was founded by the Augustinians at the  request of King Malcolm IV in about 1160, and run by Augustinian monks to  assist the poor, travellers and pilgrims, the aged, sick, the infirm and  sanctuary to fugitives. Funding came from vast monastic estates which were  augmented by benefactors grateful for their treatment in the hospital. It  was undoubtedly the largest and best endowed hospital of mediaeval  Scotland.

Royal road for pilgrims
Soutra Medieval  Augustinian Hospital was certainly established by the 12th century. In  1164 AD King Malcolm IV "confirmed the foundation charter". It was a  refuge for travellers, pilgrims, the aged and the needy, midway between  Edinburgh and the Border Abbeys on the Via Regia (royal road). In the 12th  century it would have been funded by income from estates covering 20  square miles.

Archaeology
Soutra Medieval  hospital has been the site of unique " archaeo-medical investigation"  (1986-now.) Exploring actual medical practice in Southern Scotland,  through the distinctive waste produced. Augustinian medicine was  mainstream and well funded. The research analyzed waste from mud on the  site, compared it with medieval medicine recipes.....and was able to draw  conclusions about medical practices and patient outcomes. Perhaps this  research will show us old and forgotten medical practices which can still  apply today. Archaeological excavations since 1986 have found traces of  medicinal products from all over the known world, including cloves from  Eastern Africa. Also found in one of the cellars were traces of a mixture  of the seeds of hemlock, black henbane and opium poppy, used as a general  anesthetic in the case of amputations. Calculating the correct dose of  this highly poisonous mixture must have been fairly critical to the  survival of the patient.

Archaeological excavations  have given a unique insight into mainstream mediaeval medical practice,  through the discovery of human remains and the residues of herbal  treatments. However, only very limited evidence remains of the numerous  buildings which would once have existed.

Decline
Soutra Hospital  declined following a scandal in 1460 when a renegade Master, Stephen  Fleming, was deposed after many offences were reported to Papal  authorities. The Scottish Crown then confiscated most of Soutra's estates  and re-assigned them to the new "Trinity College Hospital" (now beneath  Waverley Train station on Princes Street, Edinburgh). At the stroke of a  Royal signature Soutra was impoverished. Thus a hospital of international  status was reduced to local significance. Soutra hospital struggled on  until around 1650 as a local service. Soutra's loss of course laid the  foundations for Edinburgh to become a medical center of international  renown. Soutra Asle was restored in 1998 after its collapse.

The Pringles of Soutra
Soutra Aisle is just a fragment of the church and it survives only because it became the family burial vault of the Pringles of Soutra/Beatman's Acre in 1686.

The Pringles of Soutra, in Alex Pringle’s book ‘The Records of the Pringles of the Scottish Border’.

 

Fala, Soutra & District Historical & Heritage Society

Dr Moffat, SHARP, 5 Fala Village, Midlothian EH37 5SY. TEL; 01875 833 248

The Society offers guided tours by prior arrangement and can offer more information about the research at Soutra.

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Aerial view of Soutra Aisle

 

© 2005-14 James Pringle. All rights reserved.

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