Connecting the dots at Kinneil House

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Three trenches opened in the walled garden of Kinneil House revealed evidence of a metalled surface that may represent remnants of the Military Way. (PHOTO: Falkirk Local History Society)

Kinneil House in Bo’ness, just outside Falkirk, is not only a striking 16th- to 17th-century structure, once the principal seat of the wealthy Hamilton family: its estate preserves a rich historic landscape that is also home to a stretch of the Antonine Wall and the only visible example of an Antonine Wall fortlet, as well as the workshop where James Watt perfected the steam engine.

To learn more about this property, archaeologists and volunteers recently opened nine trenches in areas around the house and walled garden, as well as carried out a geophysical survey. These efforts have uncovered aspects of the site’s past spanning the Roman to medieval periods.

Three of the trenches in the walled garden contained evidence of a metalled surface – completely preserved in one of the trenches, and surviving as loose gravel in the other two. This surface lay approximately 52m south of the Antonine Wall, and continuing westward it would have crossed the Gil Burn, north of the so-called ‘Roman Bridge’. These characteristics indicate that this could have been part of the Military Way – the road linking the forts and fortlets located along the Antonine Wall – the team suggests.

These Roman features seem to have also served as a focal point for medieval activity on the site. In the north-west corner of the garden, where the Antonine Wall and bedrock coincide, there is a conspicuous hill. Here, the team uncovered a large ditch that appears to have been earlier than the garden wall (which was built in 1552). Green-glazed wares from the 16th and 17th centuries found in the backfill suggest that the ditch – which from its size appears to have been defensive in nature – was filled in at the time the walled garden was created. There were also traces of road surfaces, suggesting that this may have been the location of the late 15th-century castle built by the Hamilton family after the land was given to them by Robert the Bruce. These buildings then appear to have served as the starting point from which the still-standing 16th-century palace was constructed.

This article appeared in CA 344.

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