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Archaeology Notes

Event ID 839207

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Archaeology Notes


NT08NE 1.08 09036 87379

(NT 0904 8737) The Abbot's House, Dunfermline: Two adjacent tenements, 21 Maygate and 11 Abbot Street, lying N of the churchyard, are together known as the Abbot's House. They were built in the late 16th c and originally formed a single structure which consisted of a long, rectangular, main block, three main storeys in height. Towards the close of the 17th c, there was some alteration and addition. The space on each side of the northern stair-tower was filled in and the present entrance to 21 Maygate formed in the tower itself. The masonry is of rubble, harled. Both the original house and the additions have to some extent been modernised.

RCAHMS 1933.

An undated deed granted by David I (1124-53) provided a residence for the abbot of Dunfermline in Dunfermline.

The first authentic reference to this house (Abbot House) is when, following the Reformation, Robert Pitcairn became commendator of the abbey (1561).

J M Webster 1948.

'The Abbot's House' is as described.

Visited by OS (D W R) 18 February 1974.

Abbot House is situated at the northern perimeter of the abbey precinct. S of the junction where Abbot Street meets Maygate, the site lies at the foot of a steep slope from the High Street to the N. An excavation was carried out between April and September 1992 in advance of a restoration scheme undertaken by the Dunfermline Heritage Trust.

It has been suggested that the present building incorporated the ruins of an earlier building, in particular an E-W wall containing a distinctive window, perhaps part of a 1460's building programme. This wall now forms the N side of rooms 3 and 4 and the S side of rooms 7, 8 and 9. Current restoration work inside the house also suggests that the nucleus is a small Z-plan tower house built up against the earlier facade, and then extended E and W along Maygate.

Excavations in rooms 7, 8 and 9 uncovered a series of metalled road surfaces. The earliest is dated to the mid 15th century by the pottery assemblage and therefore contemporary with the E-W facade wall. This shows that not only did the building front onto the Maygate but that the alignment of the Maygate has changed considerably over the centuries.

An excavation on the frontage, in a gap site to the W of the house, revealed a similar but more complete sequence of metalled surfaces, sealed beneath two post-medieval buildings. Earlier in this sequence the precinct wall of the abbey was found, partially robbed out but continuing unbroken across the gap site on the same alignment as the facade wall. Therefore it seems that the facade wall was built directly on top of the earlier precinct wall.

Excavations in rooms 1, 2, 3 and 4 do not archaeologically support the existence of a Z-plan tower house. However the N-S internal wall between rooms 2 and 3 is 0.1m thicker than the other visible internal walls, and could therefore represent the western external wall of the Z-plan tower house. This would comprise of rooms 3 and 4 with two towers at the NW and SE respectively. Preliminary phasing suggests that rooms 1, 2, 3 and 4 are probably contemporary. Whether the facade wall is also contemporary is not clear and it may in fact relate to an earlier building demolished prior to the construction of rooms 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Possibly pre-Abbot House activity is represented by a low wall found in room 4 with two large reused window fragments incorporated into it.

This suggests a gateway or entrance to or from an associated cobbled surface area to the E and bounded by a series of kerbstones.

A number of hearths, a kiln, burnt layers and quantities of slag all point to the rooms being used as semi-industrial units in the post-medieval period. Although fragmentary floor surfaces do survive in all the rooms, later activity has largely destroyed their relationships within the rooms of the building.

Sponsors: HS , Fife Regional Council, Dunfermline District Council, Carnegie Trust

For details of 1992 excavations in garden, see NT08NE 1.12.

In the past 23 years much archaeological work has taken place in Dumferline, Fife. A wealth of information has been uncovered on the medieval burgh, revealing aspects of its development, society, trade and industry. In particular, the recently restored Abbot House has been found to contain a complex architectural and archaeological history.

D Perry 1999

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