The History of Abbot House

Abbot House Dunfermline's Oldest House

Abbot House is Dunfermline’s oldest house and is steeped in a rich heritage, dating back to at least the 16th century. Throughout this time, it has stood strong through the destruction of The Great Fire of 1624, national and international wars, and religious unrest.

The mid-section of the house was reputedly upgraded as a modest two-storey building for use by the Commendators of Dunfermline Abbey in the mid-1500s, around the time of The Scottish Reformation. In the 1990s evidence of a 14th-century tracery window was found on the 1st floor of the house, indicating the possibility of an earlier existence.

Over the following centuries, the building underwent several extensions and upgrades, resulting in the house that stands today.

For many years the house was known locally as ‘The Old Grey House’, but this changed to ‘The Pink House’ when the house was lime-washed pink in the 1990s. This was possibly its original colour when the limewash was often dyed with animal blood or earth pigment to give a distinctive pink colour.

The residents of Abbot House have been wide and varied, reputedly beginning with the Abbots and Commendators of Dunfermline Abbey. The most well known of which was Robert Pitcairn, a leading character in the protestant led Scottish Reformation of 1560, later becoming the Secretary of State for Scotland.

He is said to be responsible for the motto above the main door which is a stern warning against idle chatter:

Sen vord is thrall and thocht is free, Keep veill thye tonge, I counsel the’.

This roughly translates as ‘Words are exciting and thoughts are free, but I advise you to keep your tongue still’.

Abbot House Dunfermline Black and White

In 1593 the house fell into the hands of the Crown and was possessed by the various Earls of Dunfermline. A well-known resident included Lady Anne Halkett, a noted writer, herbalist and midwife. She is said to have written her memoirs within Abbot House around 1677, detailing political intrigue and romance, considered extremely candid for a woman of her time. As a practising herbalist, Lady Anne would heal the sick who flocked to her from far and wide. Lady Anne’s memory continues within the current Abbot House herb garden and our gift shop logo, which incorporates a herbal design with an AH monogram.

By the 1700s the house came into civilian ownership and was owned by the townfolk, including merchants, tailors, a naval Master, a glass stainer and a pharmacist. The Carnegie Dunfermline and Hero Fund Trustees acquired this eastern part of Abbot’s House in 1909 and the whole property in 1948.

Abbot House is now owned by the Abbot House SCIO (Scottish Incorporated Charitable Organisation).

The Tree of Dunfermline's History Abbot House

The Tree of Dunfermline’s History

For hundreds of years, the history of Dunfermline has evolved around Abbot House and it could tell many a story of the people who have passed through its walls.

One of Scotland’s great artists, Alasdair Gray, painted a ceiling mural in the 1990s of ‘The Tree of Dunfermline History’ in the Long Gallery and depicts the significant events and people of the town.

The mural is located on the 2nd floor which is home to our resident artists and is being restored and protected.

Abbot House War Room

The War Room

Abbot House has been used for many purposes from iron forge to Laird’s mansion, flatted dwellings to art school, doctor’s surgery to heritage centre.

In the 1940s it was even used by a naval officers’ club before becoming a headquarters for the RAF Training Corp. In 1941 this room was painted with a large mural depicting a WWII bombing raid. This room is still referred to as ‘The War Room’.

Some of the mural was painted over through the years, but the remainder is being restored and protected by a noted art restorer.