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Culross, Sandhaven, Town House

Town House (18th Century)

Site Name Culross, Sandhaven, Town House

Classification Town House (18th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Tolbooth

Canmore ID 48022

Site Number NS98NE 13

NGR NS 98572 85916

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

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Administrative Areas

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

Archaeology Notes

NS98NE 13 98572 85916.

(NS 9857 8591) Town House (NR)

OS 25" map, (1962)

Culross Town House was presumably erected in 1626, this date appearing on a lintel lying above the lintel of an inserted doorway, later converted into a window, in the W end of the S wall. The front of the building was altered, and the forestair and clock-and-bell tower were added, in 1783.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92; RCAHMS 1933, visited 1928; SDD nd.; Visited by OS (M H) 9 July 1953.

Of 17th century origin but transformed into a symmetrical two-storey block and central tower in 1782. Apart from the 1626 datestone early detials include a 1637 hatchment and portions of two open-beam painted ceilings.

M R Apted 1964

Architecture Notes

Information from Architecture catalogue slip: 'Building dates from the year 1626, but the tower was only erected in 1783. Vaulted ground floor containing the "iron house" or prison.'


Photographic Survey (1950 - 1956)

Photographic survey by the Scottish National Buildings Record in 1950.

Publication Account (1996)

The town-house stands at the NE side of Sandhaven, at the foot of the hill on which much of the burgh is built and facing the shore of the Forth across an open green. It comprises two storeys and a garret and has a steeply-pitched slated roof, with a crow-stepped W gable and straight skews to the E. The rectangular main block measures some 16m from E to W by 7.8m and the S front is faced with sandstone ashlar, the remainder being of coursed or random rubble. Its five-bay S 66A front is distinguished by a three-stage central steeple added in 1783, and a double forestair of the same period, but the original building was probably erected in 1626. It was renovated for the burgh by lan G Lindsay and Partners in 1957-9 and is now maintained by the National Trust for Scotland. A tolbooth already existed in Culross by 1588, but its site is not known.

The windows of the S front are disposed slightly off-centre. The ground-floor openings have rounded arrises, while those at first-floor level have roll-and-hollow mouldings. The ground floor is entered by doorways at both ends of the S front. Their masonry is disrupted, particularly that to the W,which had formerly been contracted to a window, and their surrounds appear to have been renewed. The W doorway has an over-lintel, probably re-used in its present position, inscribed ANNO DOMINI 1626. The first-floor windows and doorway appear to have been heightened, probably when the steeple and forestair were built, and the 1626 lintel may have been moved from an original position above the main doorway at this period. The stepped character of the stonework at the S wall-head suggests that there were originally dormer windows, which may have been removed when the steeple was built, and one dormer pediment, bearing the burgh seal, survives in reuse (infra).

The ashlar-built steeple, which is of more refined construction than the original block, is set slightly E of centre to correspond with the internal walls that support it. It has channelled angle-quoins rising to a fluted frieze and a bold cornice below the ogee-shaped roof. The lowest stage is marked by a round-headed S window with projecting springers and keystone, which is matched by similar belfry-openings below the cornice. In the S front, below the belfry-stage, there is a clock-face set in a circular recess. The ground storey contains two large rooms and two smaller ones, set slightly to the E of centre. Until about the beginning of the 19th century one of the large rooms was used as a prison, and the smaller rooms were presumably cells. The front one has an inserted doorway in its W wall, and a small window in its S wall has been blocked by the addition of the double forestair in 1783. The small cell to the N may originally have housed a straight stair to the vestibule above, where there is an original newel-stair.

Access to the centrally-placed main doorway is provided by the forestair. The first floor has two rooms divided by a narrow vestibule set slightly to the E of centre. Both rooms are now entered by doorways in the centre of the vestibule, but the E room had an earlier roll-moulded doorway to the N,which was blocked in the late 18th century. At this period the chimney pieces of both rooms were renewed and the walls of the council-room to the W were lined with raised and fielded panelling. Although the E room houses two inscribed panels (infra), it became 'the debtors' room', and in the early 19th century was also used for criminal prisoners. Both rooms had original painted open-beam ceilings, although the surviving boards and beams from the W room have been re-set above the vestibule. They show a thin flowing arabesque pattern which is also found at Culross Palace and elsewhere. The ceiling of the E room has a unique pattern of repeated draped heads and cherubs' heads, stars and faceted rectangles. To the rear of the vestibule there is a stone newel stair, partly contained in the thickness of the N wall and partly encroaching on the vestibule, which gives access to the garret.

The garret is laid out similarly, with two rooms, which are believed to have provided additional prison-accommodation, flanking a slightly off-set vestibule. The only external openings are two small windows in the front wall, but a third below the steeple has been infilled. The side-walls of the vestibule support the steeple, whose rear wall is carried by a round-headed arch inscribed 1783. The roof-structure, which is largely intact, is of 17th-century type, with double-collared rafters having half-lapped joints and ashlared soles.

Above the fireplace of the first-floor E room there hangs a wooden panel painted with the arms of King Charles I, the date 1637 and the motto UNIONUM UNIO CA union of unions'). Built into the same wall there is a stone panel bearing, within a heavy gadrooned margin, the date 1628 and the arms and name of Sir George Bruce, who died in 1625. Another stone panel, built into the W wall of this room, records a benefaction to the burgh in 1721 by Sir George Preston of Yalleyfield. A damaged pediment, framed by raking volutes and showing a church and the inscription SIGILLYM BVRGI DE CY[LROSS] (' seal of the burgh of Culross'), is set into the W wall of the vestibule.

The belfry contains a bell 0.58m in diameter, which is inscribed: THIS BELL IS FOR THE TOWN HOUSE OF CULROSS / GEORGE WATT FECET ST NINNANS EDIN(BU)R(GH) 1783. The original clock-mechanism, which now stands in the garret vestibule, bears the maker's plate of Laurence Dalgleish, Edinburgh, 1783. A collection of weights and measures, including early 17th-century examples, is displayed in the E ground-floor room.

Information from ‘Tolbooths and Town-Houses: Civic Architecture in Scotland to 1833’ (1996).


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