Historic Tain: Archaeology and Development

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Richard Oram, P. F. Martin, C. McKean, and T. Neighbour (2009)

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This survey gives an accessible and broad-ranging synthesis of the history and archaeology of Tain, and aims to inform conservation guidance for future development.

Situated in Easter Ross and overlooking the Dornoch Firth, the historic burgh of Tain developed as a pilgrimage destination in the fourteenth century. Tain lay at the centre of an ‘Immunity’ around the shrine of St Duthac, where sanctuary could be sought. Both King James II and James III made pilgrimages to the shrine, and in 1588 its status as a royal burgh was confirmed.

In the post-Reformation period Tain grew to become one of the principal towns in north-east Scotland, for much of the time the county town of Ross-shire and with architecture to suit that status.

In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the town flourished as a social, cultural and business centre; the first bank opened in 1791, the most northerly national bank in the country, and in 1813 the well-respected Academy was established, attracting pupils from a wide area.

The book examines Tain’s historic development through the medieval period, the significance of the shrine and immunity, and its transformation into a commercial centre. The town has received very little archaeological investigation and the authors consider where the areas of archaeological potential lie, in order to inform the future management of Tain’s historic environment. Distinctive building types are identified and the characterisation of the town is mapped.

This book is part of the Scottish Burgh Survey – a series funded by Historic Scotland designed to identify the archaeological potential of Scotland’s historic towns.