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Custodian's House and Well Hut, Inchcolm Island

A Category C Listed Building in Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay, Fife

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Latitude: 56.0296 / 56°1'46"N

Longitude: -3.3024 / 3°18'8"W

OS Eastings: 318930

OS Northings: 682625

OS Grid: NT189826

Mapcode National: GBR 24.S21R

Mapcode Global: WH6S5.7PNZ

Entry Name: Custodian's House and Well Hut, Inchcolm Island

Listing Date: 28 April 2017

Category: C

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 406654

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52428

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Aberdour (Fife)

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay

Parish: Aberdour (Fife)

Traditional County: Fife

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This is a single storey, small square plan house, built on a levelled terrace by the Office of Works between 1924 and 1926 as staff accommodation for the monument custodian. It has snecked and stugged stone rubble walls with plain ashlar quoins and a piended, swept grey slate roof with overhanging eaves. The window openings are of different sizes and are asymmetrically arranged around the building, with timber, multi-pane sash and case windows and raised stone cills.

The front (southeast facing) elevation of the house is asymmetrical, with a recessed porch on the right (east) side, supported by a rectangular-plan corner pillar, and bipartite six over six pane windows on the left (south) side. The door is in the re-entrant angle of the porch while a bronze cast bell with the inscription A.M. 1940 hangs from the corbel of the corner pillar. There are two tall and robust wallhead chimney stacks.

The interior was seen in 2016. The building has a plain interior with a largely intact early 1920s plan form, which includes two bedrooms and a sitting room.

To the northeast, there is a small, square-plan stone hut with piended slate roof, partially built into the stone rubble wall to the north in 1926 by the Office of Works as a shelter for an existing draw well. The wall and below-ground elements of the well are designated as part of the scheduled monument 'Inchcolm, Abbey, Hermit's Cell, First World War and Second World War defences (SM90166).

Statement of Interest

The Custodian's House and well hut is of special interest for its function as staff accommodation associated with a nationally important monument, taken into state care in 1924. Located close to Inchcolm Abbey within its own private garden grounds, the building is little altered and visible on the approach to the abbey. It relates to both the early days of Inchcolm as a tourist and leisure destination during the interwar years, and the wider history of heritage management in Scotland.

Age and Rarity

This house was built to accommodate a custodian for Inchcolm Abbey, on the Island of Inchcolm after the monument was taken into state care by the Office of Works in 1924. Photographs on Canmore show that the house was complete by 1926, and that the well hut was partially complete (SC1209567; SC1209396). Located immediately to the southwest of the abbey, it remains in use as staff accommodation for Historic Environment Scotland.

The Custodian's House was built alongside a programme of repairs and excavations at the abbey from 1925-29, overseen by John Wilson Paterson (1887-1969), the architect in charge at the Office of Works. The Office of Works held responsibility for the upkeep of Crown property and is a predecessor body of Historic Environment Scotland. From 1911, the Office took on the management of an increasing number of historic properties and monuments (Macivor and Fawcett 1983: 15-16).

Surviving records show that Paterson had previously noted the need for some form of on-site caretaker accommodation on Inchcolm, given the remote island location of the monument (MW/1/440, minute dated 12.10.1921). The building of a good quality stone house was an investment in the care of Inchcolm Abbey. It was part of the government's overall aim for the island to become 'a great tourist and educational resort' (MW1/439), in contrast to its previous military role.

Inchcolm Abbey is one of Scotland's most complete monastic complexes. The substantial ruins date from the 12th century, with additions and alterations up to the 15th century. During the First World War of 1914-18, Inchcolm had been heavily armed with guns, batteries, control posts and other structures to support the military as an important part of the Firth of Forth defence scheme. Although the island was again fortified during the Second World War of 1939-45, the interwar years marked the beginnings of Inchcolm as a tourist and leisure destination, with regular sailings to the island, the opening of a tearoom, and the publication of the first official guide to the abbey ruins by Paterson in 1929. Following the Second World War, Inchcolm was again a popular destination, and the 1940 bell may have been used by the custodian to help manage the visitors. The island is scheduled on account of the national importance of both the medieval abbey ruins and the later fortifications (SM90166).

By comparing the Custodian's House and the well hut as they are now (2016) with photos of the building taken in 1926, we know that they have been little altered. The house shares characteristics with other simple houses of the 19th and earlier 20th centuries across Scotland, such as gate lodges. However, its precise function as purpose-built staff accommodation for a monument taken into state care is unusual and adds to its special interest as a rare building type. Located close to the abbey ruins, and prominent in views along the southeast coast of Inchcolm, the building is tangible evidence of monument management in the earlier 20th century when the Office of Works were increasing their estate of archaeological sites and monuments (Macivor and Fawcett 1983: 15-16).

Architectural or Historic Interest


The interior was seen in 2016. The internal features of the building are typical for a simple house of this date.

Plan form

The house is square in plan and the internal arrangement of rooms is typical for a building of this type.

Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

The Custodian's House and nearby well hut are of simple, but good quality stone construction and architectural detailing. They complement their wider setting, close to the stone rubble remains of Inchcolm Abbey.


Located on the south coast of Inchcolm Island, the Custodian's House stands on a levelled grassy terrace within its own private garden grounds immediately to the southwest of the Inchcolm Abbey ruins. The house and its well hut, which was built to match, are clearly visible on the approach to the abbey from the pier and Visitor Centre, and also from the higher ground on the eastern part of the island. Its proximity to the ruins, combined with its private garden setting, help indicate the buildings' role as accommodation connected to the guardianship of the abbey. The bell hanging from the porch may have helped the custodian manage visiting hours to the abbey, showing an acoustic as well as visual link between the house and its wider island setting.

Regional variations

There are no known regional variations (2017).

Close Historical Associations

There are no known associations with a person or event of national importance at present (2017).

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