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Dunkeld, The Hermitage, Ossian's Hall

Gazebo (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Dunkeld, The Hermitage, Ossian's Hall

Classification Gazebo (Period Unassigned)

Canmore ID 164278

Site Number NO04SW 109

NGR NO 00870 41780

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Perth And Kinross
  • Parish Little Dunkeld
  • Former Region Tayside
  • Former District Perth And Kinross
  • Former County Perthshire

Archaeology Notes

NO04SW 109 00870 41780

NO 0086 4177 A historic building survey in April 2002 revealed that this structure, sited within the designed landscape of Dunkeld House, comprised two principal phases in the 18th century. The first was represented by the W part of the existing building that had formed the major portion of a small hermitage, dated by documentary sources to c 1757. The building was a square rubble-built structure with apsidal ends, that to the W containing a bay window overlooking the Falls of Braan. This structure had most probably been thatched and harled externally, but lined out internally and decorated in the manner of an 18th-century summer house. Evidence for a documented sub-floor chamber was not revealed during a ground-sensing exercise within the structure undertaken by Glasgow University.

The second main phase consisted of the recasting of the early structure as 'Ossian's Hall' in c 1782-3, under the auspices of the architect George Steuart for the 4th Duke of Atholl. The E wall of the early hermitage was removed and an additional chamber added. The latter was circular internally and faced with droved ashlar externally, and apparently surmounted by a domed, top-lit leadwork roof structure (now gone). The interior of the principal chamber to the W was reached by means of a sprung door bearing a painting of the Celtic poet Ossian. The chamber itself was adorned with paintings of the cardinal virtues (significantly in such a 'pagan' building none of the Christian virtues appear), and lined with mirrors designed to reflect the waterfall below. Much detail as to the appearance of the building at this phase came from an exhaustive documentary survey that examined estate documentation at Blair Castle and numerous visitors' accounts of the building while on the 'Highland Tour'. A suite of original furniture - green painted lyre-backed chairs and settee - from Ossian's Hall survives at Blair Castle. Such detail has permitted a tentative reconstruction of the original appearance of the interior.

The building was badly damaged by an explosion in 1869 but repaired again in the 1880s. The early 20th century saw vandalism, decline and dereliction before a further restoration to the design of Basil Spence in 1952 for the NTS. This saw the consolidation of the structure and the replacement of the W bay window with the existing balcony. The subsequent history of the structure has been one of repeated repair, and the partial restoration and re-paintings of the interior decoration. The present building survey was undertaken in advance of proposals for a further scheme of repair by the NTS.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: NTS.

T Addyman 2002

NO 0087 4178 Excavation took place in May and June 2003.

Trenches 1 and 3 were located in order to investigate structures believed to be heating furnaces on the N and S elevations, indicated by the entry flues.

Trench 3 contained a rubble projection which proved to be the base for a furnace, of which the lower 15cm or so survived, showing a chamber lined with brick and accessed from the E at the existing ground level.

Trench 1 had no obvious existing similar structure, with the exception of masonry projecting out from the S main elevation; this may have formed the S wall of the probable furnace.

A mix of rubble, mortar and brick appears to represent the demolition of the structure, with the rubble levelled and a gravel path laid over. The unused and probably derelict furnace structure on the N corner would have been much more visible and accessible to visitors than the southern one, which may explain why it has not survived as well, being demolished for aesthetic and possibly safety reasons.

Trench 2 was excavated across the line of a possible vertical construction break within the S wall of the building, to expose the stepped foundation. The exposed foundations within the trench appeared to be continuous across the whole length; the large rubble courses alternated between large, roughly rectangular stone and vertical stacks of smaller stones. The soil butting the foundation (no cut for the found was observed within the trench) appeared to change colour between the E and W of the trench, although root disturbance meant that there was no definite interface between.


During previous recording work at Ossian's Hall, it was observed that the droved exterior masonry bore scores of graffiti names, many dated. Within the small intramural chamber entered from the S exterior, it was also noted that pencil and crayon graffiti survived on the roof beams and stones.

The graffiti falls into five broad categories: 1856-99; 1900-38; 1939-49; 1950-9; and recent.

The early graffiti is found within the side chamber on the stone of the walls and on the ceiling beams; the earliest recorded from 1856 bears the initials 'DM'. Much of the early graffiti is drawn in pencil using a longhand script.

The greatest number of graffiti marks are from the WW2 period. It is interesting to note the number of Polish names carved into the exterior but, surprisingly, two items of Nazi graffiti are also present.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: NTS.

D Connolly 2003

NO 0086 4177 Resurfacing works and other improvements were being made between December 2002 and February 2003 around The Hermitage, in or close to the designed landscape. Removal of existing surfaces revealed orange and yellow sands and gravels, and organic forest soils. All appeared to be natural. The only find of significance was an architectural stone fragment of unknown origin with a lip at the base and a small metal bracket attached.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: NTS.

D Bowler 2003

Architecture Notes



Box 40 D6: 27-31:-

A/c for work at The Hermitage total expenses. Begun 25th August finished 8th November 1757. #38.0.0.

11th November 1757, recieved #21.0.0 sterling for work done and material furnished at The Hermitage by me David Gee.

Expense by John Neaper, mason, in building the Hermitage.

To James Cumming, painter, November 1757. To painting in the Hermitage, 28 yards of dead white in oil at 8p per yard. Dunkeld November 10th 1757.


'Chronilcles of Tullibardine II, 44. Oct. 14 1704.


Field Visit (1999 - 2000)

The building known as Ossian’s Hall has been studied in depth a number of times, and has considerable amounts of records relating to it, both in NTS archives and elsewhere. Ossian’s Hall has experienced an eventful life, being prone to vandalism and damage resulting from moisture. In summary, it has been through two major phases, originally being built in 1757, and substantially altered, possibly even completely renewed in 1787, by the 4th Duke of Atholl (Dingwall 1995, 17).

The original building appears to be very different from the 1782 design, although the latter was probably an extension and remodelling of the first, reusing elements such as the windows overlooking the falls. It is known to have originally contained a fireplace and chimney, and have been decorated with shells, roots and other natural ornamentation, however, none of this survives. The current building comprises of a circular vestibule of ashlar stonework with a covered skylight, and a partition separating the two rooms that originally held a sliding door, operated by a hidden mechanism. The second room is plaster panelled, with a curved ceiling and open balcony overlooking the Falls of Braan. It is painted in light blue and white, to match early plaster found during recent renovations (B. Notley, pers. comm.).

The Hall also has a small room on the southern side of the building, presumably intended originally as a store cupboard for furniture and equipment for entertaining guests. Interestingly, it contains graffiti dating back to the 19th century. The condition of this is deteriorating, as much was inscribed in pencil. The door into this space is padlocked. This may be the ‘cellar’ referred to by Forbes in 1762 (Dingwall 1995, 18).

It remained more or less unchanged for over 80 years, as a letter of 1863 demonstrates (ibid. 69), until following a dispute over tolls, the building was blown up by unknown individuals (presumably disgruntled local residents), who placed a gunpowder keg at the entrance. It was restored some years later by the Duchess of Atholl, who reinstated the mirrors and had the furniture within the hall restored. Occasional bouts of during the early 20th century led to the furniture being removed to Blair Castle for safe-keeping. In 1930 though, the non-movable interior was deliberately destroyed by intruders, who smashed or removed the mirrors and windows, and slashed the paintings. The building was partially restored in 1951 by the National Trust for Scotland, when the windows were replaced by the existing railings; the tiled floor being replaced in 1979 with yorkstone slabs.

(HER99 01)

Information from NTS (SCS) June 2015


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