Pringle’s of Soutra Aisle
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.
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.
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.
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.