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- Category: A
- Date Added: 12/01/1971
- Supplementary Information Updated: 24/08/2015
- Local Authority: Fife
- Planning Authority: Fife
- Burgh: Dunfermline
National Grid Reference
- NGR: NT 9036 87379
- Coordinates: 309036, 687379
Later 16th century incorporating remains of mid-late 15th century structure; altered and extended later and late 17th century; restored 1961-63 by James Shearer; converted to heritage centre 1992-95 by J Morrison, Chief Architect, Dunfermline Council. 2 and attic rectangular-plan main block with 4-stage stair towers to north (flanked by later 17th century lean-to extensions) and at southeast corner; 2-storey and basement and attic, late 17th century 3-bay wing, set back to east adjoining southeast stair tower. Large town house, formerly divided into separate tenements. Crowstepped gables to stair towers, east wing, infill section to east and west lean-to; coped gables elsewhere; corbelled turrets to stair towers. Harled exterior (limewashed pink, 1998) with sandstone ashlar dressings.
North Elevation: lean-to section projects forward to right to either side of stair tower; vertical margin to left; moulded ashlar eaves course. Late 20th century semicircular-plan concrete steps down to main entrance at foot of tower; moulded ashlar architrave surmounted by carved plaque bearing motto SEN.VORD.IS.THRALL.AND.THOGHT.IS.FRE/KEIP.VEILL.THY.TONGE.I.COINSELL.THE ; late 20th century studded timber door with rectangular fanlight. Large architraved window above; window to each stage of tower above; upper stage corbelled out with crow-stepped gable; small window to left and right returns; corbelled stair turret set back to left return. Architraved window to each storey to left of lean-to. Irregularly spaced architraved windows to right; 2 to each storey. Single 1st floor architraved window to coped left return. Architraved entrance with late 20th century studded timber door set back to main block; adjacent blocked window to left; piended dormer above. Outer left bay built up to 3 storeys with single pitch crow-stepped gable; window with moulded architrave to 1st and 2nd floors. Window with moulded architrave to ground and 1st floors to left return and to left to 2nd floor; blocked former openings at upper levels. Small ashlar recess at ground level with replica footscraper. Slightly projecting entrance bay set back to right of east wing; panelled timber door with rectangular fanlight. 2 ground floor windows with moulded architraves to left; blocked entrance to outer left.
South Elevation: main 2 storey and attic block to left. Substantially altered ground floor. Stugged long and short surrounds, droved and chamfered at arrises to ground and 1st floor openings; rockfaced lintels to 1st floor windows. 2 large modern entrances with glazed 2-leaf doors to left. Entrance with late 20th century studded timber door to outer right; window to left; arched recess in between. 5 windows (grouped 2-3) to 1st floor. 4 pedimented architraved dormers to attic; decorative carved finials with motifs including crown and fleur de lys. Stair tower with crowstepped gable, corbelled out slightly at upper stage over stone band, projects forward to right. Architraved entrance with roll-moulded surround; late 20th century studded timber door. Window with moulded architrave to each of 3 upper stages. Small architraved window between 1st and 2nd levels to left return; larger window with moulded architrave to upper level; gun loop to lower stage. Corbelled stair turret to upper stages of left re-entrant; small window at top. East wing projects forward to right. Basement window with roll-moulded reveals to each of 3 bays; regularly spaced windows (one to each floor to each bay) with moulded architraves to ground and 1st floors.
West Elevation: late 20th century railed concrete steps up to central 1st floor entrance; late 20th century arched architrave and studded timber door. Small window to attic above and one above to left. Window with droved architrave and chamfered jambs to ground floor of crowstepped lean-to section to left.
East Elevation: small attic window to centre of crowstepped gable.
Mainly replacement 12-pane horned timber sash and case windows. Grey slate roof. Large lightly harled corniced ashlar gablehead stack to either end of original block; large ridge stack to centre; harled coped gablehead stack to east of east wing; smaller corniced gablehead stack to outer face of each stair tower and one to single pitched roof to northeast of main block. Round and octagonal cans, where in existence.
Interior: retains many interesting features relating to various phases of building s history from 15th to 20th century. 3 barrel-vaulted chambers and remains of 4th to ground floor, thought to have been constructed during the rebuilding of the house in 1570 s; large early segmental-headed fireplace to one; smaller early fireplaces to two; turnpike staircase to each of stairtowers. Small early fireplace and adjacent recess to ground floor of later 17th century lean-to extension to east of north stairtower. Remains of former external window of previous 15th century structure with Gothic foiled tracery and mullion to 1st floor of north wall of original block (prior to construction of lean-tos). Dry closet set within same wall further east. Fragments of mural paintings (thought to illustrate scenes from Virgil) of 1570 s to main room on 1st floor. Stone segmental archway with keystone (originally external and thought to have perhaps covered a viewing platform connected with an external wooden gallery) to 2nd floor to north of south stairtower. Original dog-leg staircase with moulded risers and solid newel to east wing; moulded stone fireplace surround to 1st floor chamber; walls and ceiling of chamber covered in mural depicting wartime bombing raid, painted by Alan Ronald in 1941. Ceiling of upper level gallery with mural depicting the history of Dunfermline, painted by Alasdair Gray in 1995.
Gateways and Decorative Ironwork to East and West: short swept harled boundary walls with sandstone ashlar coping flank square-plan corniced sandstone ashlar gatepiers with obelisk coping to west; pair of decorative wrought-iron gates and similar pair with short railed section to east, illustrating works by Robert Henryson and James I, by Ratho Byres Forge, 1995. See separate listing of Dunfermline Abbey walls for rear garden walls.
Statement of Special Interest
A substantial early townhouse (incorporating workshops at ground floor and later converted to a tenement) retaining a number of significant early features. The existence of the remains of a 15th century window in the original north wall proves the existence of a pre-reformation building on the site. Whilst there is no evidence that this was the residence of the Abbot of Dunfermline (the earliest reference to Abbot House is in the 19th century) it would appear that the property stood within the grounds of the monastery. The original (probably rectangular-plan) structure appears to have been rebuilt probably in the later 16th century to more or less the same dimensions with a vaulted ground floor and stairtowers added to the north and southeast. Since the southeast stairtower did not communicate directly with the rooms on the east side galleried access seems the only reasonable explanation; a former external stone arch at 2nd floor level just to the north of the southeast stairtower may have sheltered the gallery access at this level and possibly have provided the foundation for a viewing platform above. There is some dispute about who was responsible for the rebuilding of Abbot House - James Murray of Perdieu and Robert Pitcairn, Commendator of the Abbey being leading contenders. For most of the 17th century Abbot House appears to have been in the possession of the Earls of Dunfermline. It was during this time that most of the subsequent extensions were added, including the lean-to additions to either side of the north stairtower, the infill section to the north of the southeast stairtower and the east wing (the latter probably dating from the late 17th century). The 17th century inscription above the main north entrance to the main block on Maygate derives from the poem The King s Quair by James I. Between 1672 and 1699 the house is thought to have been rented by Lady Anne Halkett, a herbalist, physician and Jacobite supporter. Archaeological excavations have shown that the ground floor of the building was used as workshops (probably for small scale metalworking) rather than domestic accommodation from the 15th to the 19th centuries (with a break during the 17th century). An absence of any significant addtions/alterations from the 18th century onwards suggest that the building declined in status during this time. It was in multiple ownership during the 19th century. The east wing was purchased by the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust in 1908/09 (and subsequently used as a craft school), followed by the main block in 1948. During the Second World War the east wing was used as a naval officers club and then as the headquarters of an air training corps (it was during this period the 1st floor murals illustrating bombing raids were painted). Following the renovation of the building in 1961-63 it was opened as meeting rooms for public hire and as the headquarters of the Dunfermline Presbytery. Dunfermline Heritage Trust was set up in 1989 to convert it to a heritage centre and it was opened as such in 1995. Renowned Scottish novelist and artist Alasdair Gray was commissioned to create a ceiling mural for the upper gallery. His Thistle of Dunfermline s History (1995) depicts the timeline of the town in the form of a tree of life with branches dividing the centuries. Shaft fragments from a former Market Cross, reputed to be of 17th Century date, have been re-erected with a modern base and unicorn capital in the east garden.
David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, THE CASTELLATED AND DOMESTIC ARCHITECTURE OF SCOTLAND VOL 4 (1892) pp17-20; Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, INVENTORY OF MONUMENTS AND CONSTRUCTIONS IN THE COUNTIES OF FIFE, KINROSS AND CLACKMANNAN (1933) pp121-22; Nigel Tranter, THE FORTIFIED HOUSE IN SCOTLAND VOL II (1963) pp32-33; John Gifford, FIFE, in the Buildings of Scotland series (1988) pp194; Scottish Urban Archaeological Trust, STRUCTURE REPORT, ABBOT S HOUSE, DUNFERMLINE (1993); Fife Regional Council, THE CAPITAL IN THE KINGDOM - THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF MEDIEVAL DUNFERMLINE (1994) pp18-28; Russel Colemean, Excavations at the Abbot s House, Maygate, Dunfermline , in TAYSIDE AND FIFE ARCHAEOLOGICAL JOURNAL VOL 2 (1996) pp70-112; Bert McEwan, DUNFERMLINE - OUR HERITAGE (1998) pp 13-17.
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