Walter Elliot – Medal Award

Dorothy Marshall Medal Laudation

The Medal commemorates Miss Dorothy Marshall who in her own long lifetime contributed so much to Scottish archaeology and especially in the area of her beloved Island of Bute and marks the Society’s gratitude for the bequest to the Society following her death in 1992.  It is given to an individual who, in a voluntary capacity, has made an outstanding contribution to Scottish archaeological or related work”. Dr Simon Gilmour, Director of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

On Monday 31 January, 2011 the President of the Society read the following tribute to Walter in the Royal Society building in George St, Edinburgh, before making the presentation.  

We are delighted this year to award the prestigious Dorothy Marshall medal for an outstanding voluntary contribution to Scottish archaeology to Walter Elliot of Selkirk. Walter has been involved in the archaeology and history of his native Borders for over fifty years, in active fieldwork, in popularising and in preserving the area’s past.

Born in Selkirk and brought up in the Ettrick valley, after National Service he ran a sawmill and worked as a fencing contractor. He describes himself as a “poor but honest woodcutter”, and this took him across the Border landscape, developing a deep first-hand familiarity with the traces of the past and a curiosity about the antiquities he picked up on the way. This led him to contact the Mason brothers, great fieldwalkers of the Borders, and sparked a passion for fieldwalking, particularly at the Roman fort of Newstead but also over many flint scatters. His practical field involvement included digging with Dorothy Marshall when she excavated at Hangingshaw in Selkirkshire.

Roman Newstead has been a happy hunting ground for many years, and important finds led to a string of papers in our Proceedings, both alone and in collaboration with specialists; the finds were donated to the National collections. Walter played a major role in the establishment of the Roman museum in Melrose for the Trimontium Trust, and served as the Trust’s chairman for 13 years. His enthusiasm for the Roman past led him to see the value of metal-detecting at a time when many professionals were sceptical, and he has acted as a valuable channel for information and finds over the years.

His interests go beyond the archaeological; he played a key role in ensuring that the Walter Mason Papers, a substantial collection of late medieval Selkirk Burgh Records, were preserved, and has been involved in their translation and publication. He writes poetry, most evocatively in Border Scots, and recently published a collation of Border poets, The New Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, picking up where Sir Walter Scott left off. His desire to spread the word about Borders archaeology and history has seen him writing a regular column for the Southern Reporter and broadcasting for BBC Radio Tweed and Border TV, as well as advising various TV and radio programmes and authoring a number of books and pamphlets, most recently the first volume of his substantial Selkirkshire and the Borders, with his perspective on the area’s archaeology and early history.

Walter’s work over the decades has greatly improved our knowledge of the past of the Borders, and helped bring it to life for many people. We are delighted to honour this “poor but honest woodcutter” with the Dorothy Marshall Medal tonight”.

The recipient (who had been prevented by snow from receiving the Medal in late 2010) thanked the Society and modestly apologised to the assembled archaeologists and historians for pestering them over the years.


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