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Culross Palace

House (16th Century)

Site Name Culross Palace

Classification House (16th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Culross, Main Street, The Palace, Bessie Bar Hall

Canmore ID 48021

Site Number NS98NE 12

NGR NS 98515 85951

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Fife
  • Parish Culross
  • Former Region Fife
  • Former District Dunfermline
  • Former County Fife

Archaeology Notes

NS98NE 12.00 98515 85951

(NS 9851 8595) The Palace (NR)

OS 25" map, (1962).

NS98NE 12.01 NS 98522 85985 Garden

NS98NE 12.02 NS 985 859 Coin

The Palace, sometimes called 'the Colonel's Close' was built between 1597 and 1611 by George Bruce. The buildings, (see plan) stand on the N and W sides of an enclosure, with a smaller courtyard in the NW. The name derives from a visit by James VI in 1617. In 1928, it was uninhabited, but weatherproofed.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92; RCAHMS 1933.

Visited by OS (M H) 7 July 1953.

Trial trenching in the courtyard area revealed the foundations of what appear to be two masonry buildings, one of which overlies a well-laid cobbled surface. The relationships between these features and the extant buildings of the palace are yet to be determined.

J Lewis and D Reed 1992.

NS 985 859. Excavations were carried out within the ground floor of the building known as Bessie Barr Hall and in the precinct between the hall and the W range of Culross Palace. This work was carried out in advance of development of Bessie Barr Hall for public facilities.

A series of surfaces, of various composition, were uncovered within the building, virtually all containing a range of finds indicating redeposition. A cross 'wall' feature predated the hall itself and the original ground contours had led to the depth of the wall foundations of the building varying from virtually nil at the N end to substantial construction on the S and E.

Excavation in the precinct revealed a complex of drains and cobbled surfaces. The area was split into three by two fireclay drain trenches, probably laid down earlier this century. This truncation made surface relationships more difficult to assess across the site. Part of the drainage was related to the overflow from the Bessie Barr Well (NS98NE 35), located in a covered recess in the wall bounding the N end of the site. Cobbling varied from functional to cosmetic in quality and none thought to be contemporary vath the surrounding buildings of c 1600.

A large, well-constructed, sandstone tank (3m long, surviving to 0.3m high) at the N end of the site probably indicates some light industrial activity in the late 18th/early 19th century. The excavated depth on site was restricted and only in the NW comer did contexts uncontaminated by Georgian/Victorian/later material appear.

Sponsor: National Trust for Scotland.

R Murdoch and J Lewis 1994.

Excavations by Scotia Archaeology Limited of the 'Palace' courtyard, which measures 23m N-S by 17m E-W, revealed structures and other features dating from the 18th (and perhaps the 17th) to the 19th century.

In the SE comer and towards the NE comer of the area were the well-constructed cobbled floors of two chambers which may have formed elements of a range of buildings along the E side of the courtyard. Much of the remaining area was covered with a rude metalled surface, consisting of small stones and flags set into thick clay. Although not physically linked to the putative E range, the two features are thought to have been contemporary and perhaps dating to the 18th century. Overlying the metalled surface were the remnants of a substantial, kerbed path which led from an entrance in the S wall of the courtyard to the main buildings on its W and N sides.

There was considerable evidence of 19th-century occupation towards the NE corner of the area - paths, drains, pits and the remains of a small building which overlay one of the earlier cobbled floors.

Excavation is still under way.

Sponsor: National Trust for Scotland.

J Lewis 1994a.

NS 985 859. The investigation of the courtyard, begun in autumn 1994, was completed by Scotia Archaeology Limited in March 1995 following the removal of a flowering cherry tree from the E side of the palace precinct. Further evidence was uncovered of a range of buildings set against the multi-phased E precinct wall, elements of which are thought to date from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

Sponsor: National Trust for Scotland.

R Murdoch 1995.

NS 985 859 A new drain was installed within the inner courtyard of the palace to remove rainwater from the N end of the W range. The 0.35m wide trench for this drain cut through 0.2-0.3m of soils and rubble deposited during the installation of another drain (probably earlier this century); nothing of archaeological interest was uncovered.

Sponsor: National Trust for Scotland

R Murdoch 1997.

NS 986 860 A watching brief was carried out during the construction of wooden buttresses to support a stone boundary wall. Evidence was found for the levelling of the terrace to create suitable cultivation conditions.

A further watching brief was carried out during the excavation of a service trench in a small courtyard area close to Culross Palace. External ground surfaces were uncovered, including a cobbled track.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: NTS.

A Daly 2003

Prior to reconstruction of a garden wall sloping up to the north from Culross Palace, a full building record was undertaken which showed 4 main phases of build, rebuild, repair and alteration. 2 investigative trenches were excavated on the site of potential retaining buttresses, no archaeological deposits were encountered to a depth of 700mm .

David Connolly, 30 July 2007. (Information from Oasis - connolly1-31187).

Architecture Notes


19th century view of Culross Palace in the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust Catalogue No. CDT 974

(Undated) information in NMRS.


Publication Account (1987)

Culross Palace was built between 1597 and 1611 as the town mansion of George Bruce (later Sir George) of Culross, later of Carnock. Bruce, the third son of Edward Bruce of Blairhall, acquired a fortune about this time from his interests in commerce, coal mining and salt manufacture. The house was built in stages but, after its completion, remained comparatively unaltered. The title 'Palace' is somewhat pretentious but it is described in the title-deeds as 'the Palace of Great Lodging in the Sand Haven of Culross'. The layout of the house is difficult to understand when considered in relation to the present courtyard but the site appears to have been purchased piecemeal, as ground became available, and the house and courtyard developed accordingly. The detached north range of domestic accommodation over a byre-stable is difficult to interpret, particularly since it has the same high quality painted decoration as the main house, yet lacks kitchen accommodation. The house on the other hand has the remains of a kitchen at the east end of the 1597 range and a kitchen and bakehouse in the vaulted north range. Perhaps the north range was an independent house, with a detached kitchen or a kitchen in the basement, purchased by Bruce and converted to his requirements.

Whilst the buildings of Culross Palace are of considerable interest and encourage speculation, they are not the only features of interest. The internal paintwork of tempera and oil on the timber lining to the walls, ceilings and roof beams gives it additional importance.

When looking at this picturesque house with its white harled walls and red pantiled roofs, it should be remembered that the external appearance may have changed many times since the 17th century. At that time the walls would have expressed their honey coloured stonework, the timberwork may have been silvery coloured oak and the roofs, dark thatch. Change in buildings is inevitable and buildings of quality accept this change with little loss of character, indeed they sometimes gain from each successive change.

See also no. 24 for the market cross and discussion of the medieval street plan of Culross.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Fife and Tayside’, (1987).

Excavation (26 October 2006 - 2 November 2006)

NS 985 859 In advance of repointing on the N wall of the Palace, four trial trenches were excavated at the base of the wall. This work was undertaken between 26 October-2 November 2006. This exercise demonstrated that the present ground level is associated with the current kitchen garden and had been raised. The height of any earlier external ground surface was not revealed in the trenches excavated (maximum depth 600mm). A further trench was excavated up to a depth of 1.20m in the sloping pathway immediately W of the Palace in order to reveal any earlier pathway surfaces. No evidence of an earlier surface was found. In addition, the N wall of the Palace was surveyed and principal features recorded.

Archive to be deposited with RCAHMS.

Funder: National Trust for Scotland.

Standing Building Recording (9 March 2012)

NS 9853 8596 Further to work carried out in 2006 (DES 8, 96–97) a programme of standing building recording was undertaken on 9 March 2012 specifically targeting the N-facing external elevation of the N range of Culross Palace.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: The National Trust for Scotland

Gordon Ewart, Kirkdale Archaeology


Standing Building Recording (March 2012 - October 2012)

NS 98515 85951 A building survey was undertaken March – October 2012 in advance of re-harling of the N, W and E elevations of the N range, and of the N wall and E gable of the lower extension to E. A full drawn stone-by-stone survey was undertaken of the three elevations that were stripped of their harling. The survey included small-scale roof investigations; however, no evidence of earlier roofing materials or eaves and verge details survived.

Construction breaks and the remains of quoins indicated the survival of an earlier structure, incorporated and enlarged by Sir George Bruce’s remodelling of the N range in 1611. The earlier building generally corresponds with the footprint of the existing structure, but was smaller in its S extent. MacGibbon and Ross recognised similar evidence in the 1880s, which they interpreted as an earlier stable.

The survey also identified the remains of a cross wall and sill stones that suggest the previous existence of a stair tower at the rear. This would have provided access to the hall at attic level in a more elegant manner than the extant internal turnpike stair within the W room on first floor. A rear stair tower would also mirror the arrangement of the W range, remodelled by Bruce only 15 years earlier.

Evidence for reset quoins, inserted flues and apparently blocked fireplaces combine to suggest a now lost W extension; this apparently was of similar height to the extant N range. Historic photographs underpin the evidence for a pre-existing W extension as the W gable of the extant N range is shown without crow-steps. This implies that the roof had at some point continued further W, with the present crow-steps being rebuilt with reused stones, probably after the NTS acquired the building in 1932. Some of the stones used to block flues and the fireplace serving the W extension retained internal plaster and paint on their underside. These represent a possible resource for paint analysis, as they were probably reused from a demolished building on site, perhaps even from the demolished W extension. Further details such as the removal and rebuilding of the E dormer at rear, the reduction in height of the loading door to the E extension loft and the complete reroofing in pantiles all combine to reveal that Culross Palace’s N range has a far richer building history than the overall presentation of a homogenous structure might suggest at first glance.

Archive: NTS and RCAHMS

Funder: The National Trust for Scotland

Tanja Romankiewicz, Addyman Archaeology

Kenneth Macfadyen,


OASIS ID - addymana1-136588


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