The Big Dig, Paisley Abbey Drain

The medieval drain Abbey Drain at Paisley was rediscovered in 1990. This stone-built drain is a tunnel-like structure with a high arched roof.  After the discovery, a deep layer of compacted mud and silt was removed and numerous artefacts, including an almost intact large pottery chamber pot, buckles, coins, a knife handle, a tuning peg, pieces of slate inscribed with polyphonic music and thousands of pottery sherds were discovered.

Since 2010, members of Renfrewshire Local History Forum have participated as volunteers in the numerous GUARD Archaeology excavations at Paisley Abbey Drain. ‘The Big Dig’ in 2019 surpassed all expectations. Two trenches were dug on the site. In Trench 1, the intact arch covering the outlet from the drain into the river was revealed. In Trench 2, the outer top stones covering the internal arched roof of the drain were uncovered.

Trench 1: Top of the arched outlet from the Drain into the White Cart

Trench 2    Outer Top Stones on the roof of the Drain

The most interesting find was a number of fragments of a glass wine bottle with the seal intact. The seal, considered to be the seal of the Cochranes of Paisley, shows a coronet and a horse and dates from the late 17th century to early 18th century.

The Forum’s involvement with the Abbey Drain began in 1999 when it organised the Abbey and Drain Conference held in Paisley Town Hall. The resounding success of the conference led to the Forum’s publication of The Monastery and Abbey of Paisley, edited by John Maldon, in 2000. The book includes the lectures from the conference with additional papers. Our interest in the Drain continued and, in August 2009, volunteers from the Forum assisted at Glasgow University in washing and sorting the pottery recovered from the Drain in 1990. Since then, Forum members have volunteered over the years at all of the six excavations led by GUARD Archaeology at Paisley Abbey Drain. In the earlier digs the Victorian remains of Abbey Close, which had been built directly on top of the drain site and, at a deeper level, a medieval wall beside some cobbled paving and an enigmatic circular feature. The Forum also assisted at Doors Open Day in 2018 and 2019 and some lucky members were privileged to have a tour down the Abbey Drain.

© 2019 Helen Calcluth