Standing within the precincts of Melrose Abbey, the Cloister House was built in 1815 as a residence for the minister of the local parish church. Disused after 1902, when a new home for the minister had been built, the Cloister House eventually passed into the care of the Ministry of Works, to become offices. In 1994 Historic Scotland (successors to the Ministry of Works) restored the house for residential purposes and five years later it was refurbished by the Vivat Trust, who manage the house as holiday accommodation.
The Cloister House
When a new church for Melrose was built in 1810, provision was also made for construction of a new manse, or residence for the minister, now known as the Cloister House. The house was designed and built by John Smith of Darnick (near Melrose), the elder of the two brothers who had designed the church. Between them the Smiths, craftmen - designers rather than architects, were responsible for a number of houses, churches and bridges in the area - including a revolutionary suspension bridge at Dryburgh and the enlargement of a farmhouse some two miles west of Melrose into Abbotsford, a substantial residence for Sir Walter Scott. John Smith was also an occasional sculptor, his best known work in this capacity being the colossal statue of William Wallace at Dryburgh.
The manse was completed in 1815 and the building contractors were John Gray and William Clark. The local pink rubble was used for the walls with a higher quality creamy-coloured stone, which could be carved, for the surrounds to the windows and doors. The roof is of the hipped type, with no gables, known in Scotland as 'piended' and is covered with slates. It is thought that the large two-storey bay window on the front was a later addition, possibly from the 1840's. The windows are glazed with 'lying panes', a typical Scottish architectural feature. Over the door is a charming neo-classical fanlight. Internally, many of the windows retain original shutters.
The ministers of Melrose lived in the manse until a new one was built in 1902 nearer to the parish church at the western end of town. The old manse eventually passed into State care and became offices; at one time Ordnance Survey staff occupied the house. A change of name was required as a manse which ceases to be used for its original purpose must be given a new name. In 1994, Historic Scotland returned the house to residential use. The Vivat Trust have now furnished the house and manage it as holiday accommodation. The Cloister House is listed Grade C.
The original abbey at Melrose was not on the present site but in a loop of the River Tweed, some two miles to the east of the town. It was founded by St. Aidan in the mid-seventh century with monks from Lindisfarne and survived for nearly two centuries. Its most famous inmate was St. Cuthbert who entered the monastery - following a vision on the very night that St. Aidan had died in 651.
In 1136 King David I of Scotland invited the Cistercian order to establish their first abbey north of the border and chose the site of the old monastery at Melrose. The new colony of monks came from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire but they decided to move to a different part of the estate granted to them by the king, the present location of the abbey.
The Cistercian order was intent on establishing a monastic existence totally devoted to the religious life, with their monasteries set up in remote locations away from urban temptations. For the manual work and farming which supported their abbeys the order admitted 'lay brothers', leaving the choir monks free for their devotions.
Construction of the abbey was sufficiently advanced by 1146 for a dedication service to take place. Little of the Cistercian's first abbey-church is now visible. The years passed peacefully and Melrose grew into one of Scotland's wealthiest monasteries.
The monastery became a favourite house of the Scottish kings; in 1249 Alexander II chose to be buried here and King Robert the Bruce, a month before his death in 1329, instructed that his heart be laid to rest here. However, the quiet and contented life at Melrose came to an end when the English King Edward I began to cast his eyes over the border. Edward II also caused damage to the abbey during his campaign of 1322 but most harm was wrought by Richard II in 1385 when much of the building was destroyed. Reconstruction using the local rose-tinted sandstone began almost at once and in the course of the succeeding century the abbey became one of the jewels of Scottish medieval architecture. The rebuilding was never finished; the west front of the abbey-church was still incomplete by the reformation.
A New Religion
By the middle of the sixteenth century Melrose was once again embroiled in border warfare. The abbey-church was desecrated but by then the will to repair it had gone; the concept of church reform began in the 1520s, culminating in the Scottish Reformation of 1560. The few remaining brothers at Melrose renounced monasticism and embraced the new religion; the last monk died in 1590 by which time much of the abbey had already been dismantled.
From Abbey To Kirk
Meanwhile the town of Melrose had grown up at the abbey gates; space for the parishioners to worship had been provided from the fifteenth century in the former lay-brothers' choir, following the disappearance of the latter when the abbey estates became tenanted farms. After the Reformation the crumbling abbey continued in parish use; around 1610 the former monks choir was permanently converted for this purpose when it was fitted out with seating galleries, and a belfry was erected at the top of the south transept gable. For the minister of the church - or kirk - a manse (from the Latin word for dwelling) was built within the site of the old abbey brewery, the south wall of which still survives.
The New Kirk
In the early nineteenth century a decision was made to move the parish church out of the abbey and to build a new church. Work on the new church commenced in 1809 and it opened in the following year. It was dedicated to St. Cuthbert and designed by the Smith brothers, John (1782-1864) and Thomas (1785-1857). The church was square in plan and had a tower, while inside there were galleries and a central pulpit. It was destroyed by fire in 1908; only the tower survived to be incorporated in the present church, opened in 1911. The historic connection with the abbey is maintained by the ringing of the abbey bell each Sunday and on special occasions, such as the annual Melrose Festival when ceremonies are held within the grounds.
The Vivat Trust would like to thank the following for their generous support for this project: Historic Scotland, The Garfield Weston Foundation, Addis Housewares Ltd, Bart Spices, Bentley Brushes, Brabantia (UK) Ltd, The Bristol Guild, Cally & Co, Chef Set, Chortex, J. Chromette & Son Ltd, Dimplex, Dorma, Dexam International Ltd, General Domestic Appliances Ltd, Greengate Furniture Ltd, Hoover European Appliances Group, Isis Ceramics, Jean Monro Ltd, John Jacques Ltd, Lewis & Wood, Michael Vee Designs, Morphy Richards, Mulberry (Company) Design Ltd, The Newcastle Furniture Company, Relyon Group plc, Titley & Marr, T&G Woodware Ltd, Ravenshead, Ryalux Carpets, Samuel Heath & Son Ltd, Slumberdown Enterprises Ltd, Viners plc, Wedgwood, Zoffany Ltd.