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Pitcairn House

A Scheduled Monument in Glenrothes North, Leslie and Markinch, Fife

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Latitude: 56.2108 / 56°12'38"N

Longitude: -3.1777 / 3°10'39"W

OS Eastings: 327045

OS Northings: 702648

OS Grid: NO270026

Mapcode National: GBR 29.DL1N

Mapcode Global: WH6RG.5511

Entry Name: Pitcairn House

Scheduled Date: 2 October 1981

Last Amended: 22 July 2011

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM4330

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: house

Location: Leslie (Fife)

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: Glenrothes North, Leslie and Markinch

Traditional County: Fife


The monument comprises a mid 17th-century laird's house, surviving as a ruinous building. The monument lies on a flat, grassed amenity area within the new town of Glenrothes, at about 120m above sea level. The monument was scheduled in 1981 but the scheduled area was drawn on an old map, created before Glenrothes was founded in 1948. The present rescheduling rectifies this by clarifying and depicting the extent of the scheduled area on a modern map.

The house is rectangular in shape and measures 16.5m by 6.8m maximum. Its east gable stands to a maximum of 5.5m high and the surviving fragments of gable-head confirm it originally had 2-storeys. The other three walls are much reduced and stand about 1m high. Excavation of the interior has shown that the ground floor was not vaulted and was divided into three rooms, one of which contains a large fireplace and may have functioned as a kitchen. There is a smaller fireplace in the west room and a first-floor fireplace with chimney in the east gable. The walls are randomly coursed in local whinstone, with a rubble core and dressed yellow sandstone quoins and jambs. Excavation has also shown that the building was constructed on bedrock, with little evidence to suggest a construction trench. There is an entrance off-centre in the north wall and two possible entrances in the south wall, all indicating that the building's facades were not symmetrical.

The area to be scheduled is irregular in plan, to include the building and an area of amenity land around it within which associated remains are likely to survive. The above-ground elements of Fife Council's interpretation board and the paving stones on the path are specifically excluded from the scheduling to allow for their maintenance. The scheduled area is bounded on the south and west by kerb stones demarcating the amenity area.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is an example of an early modern laird's house, built around 1650. Ceramics recovered from the interior date to the late 17th to early 18th century. Other finds include a Charles I twopenny coin from beneath the floor. The interior was not excavated to subsoil and the floor and make-up levels were preserved following the excavation by a covering of soil and turf. There is therefore a strong likelihood that further archaeological deposits associated with the monument's construction, use and abandonment survive. No excavation took place outside the house and therefore the area immediately around the building retains significant archaeological potential, notably for any remains of a putative outside stair, and any middens or formal gardens.

Contextual characteristics

Lairds were landed proprietors who held land directly or indirectly from the Crown. As the homes of the lesser gentry, laird's houses are a crucial part of the settlement pattern in this period, standing between towerhouses and mansions on the one hand, and more humble dwellings on the other. They have the potential to inform our understanding of the nature of settlement and society in the early modern period. The occupation of this laird's house seems to have spanned the pre-Improvement and Improvement periods and has the potential to shed light on lairds' involvement in this process.

Fife's wealth and distinctive land ownership pattern led to a relatively dense distribution of laird's houses in the 16th and 17th centuries. Pitcairn House retains the potential to inform our understanding of this regional variation. It is the oldest standing building in Glenrothes.

Associative characteristics

Pitcairn House was the seat of the Pitcairnes, a family that produced several eminent figures. A stone with the inscription 'AP JS 1678' was found in the adjacent farmhouse (since destroyed). This most likely came from Pitcairn House as the initials are those of Alexander Pitcairne and his wife, Janet Sydserff.

Alexander and Janet's son, Archibald Pitcairne (1652-1713), was a famous physician, controversial religious playwright and Jacobite. He is recorded as owning Pitcairn House in 1710. Pitcairne was the youngest founding member of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1681 and was involved in an initial attempt to found a medical school at Edinburgh University, where he was given a professorship. He developed Harvey's ideas on the circulation of blood through the body and was made Professor of Medicine at Leiden University, Holland, in 1692. He was a correspondent of Sir Isaac Newton, the physicist and mathematician who first described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, and visited him in Cambridge in 1692. Pitcairne was also a close friend of David Gregory, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. Archibald Pitcairne is buried in Greyfriars' Kirkyard, Edinburgh.

Pitcairn House is marked on Blaeu's 1654 Atlas of Scotland, Moll's Maps of Scotland of 1745 and Ainslie and Bell's map of 1770-75. It is missing, however, from Roy's Military Survey of Scotland, 1747-55. The land was purchased by the Rothes estate in 1761 and the house is described in the Statistical Account of Scotland of 1793 as ruinous.

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to contribute to an understanding of the past, in particular the construction techniques and domestic life of an early modern laird's house, as well as wider early modern society. The monument may also shed light on the nature of land ownership in Fife in particular. The site's relatively good preservation, and the survival of historical records and maps relating directly and indirectly to the monument's occupation, enhances this potential. Its loss would diminish our ability to understand the early modern architecture of Fife and the nature of land ownership in this period.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as NO20SE1.00, Pitcairn House: Laird's House.

The monument was listed as Pitcairn Old House at category C(S), but was de-listed in 1994.


Bateson, J D 1989, 'Roman and medieval coins found in Scotland, to 1987', Proc Soc Antiq Scot 119, 165-188.

Guerrini, A 1987, 'Archibald Pitcairne and Newtonian Medicine', Medical History 31, 70-83.

Guerrini, A 1989, Isaac Newton, George Cheyne and the Principia Medicinae in French, R and Wear, A The Medical Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 222-245.

Nicol, J 1836, 'Parish of Leslie, Presbytery of Kirkaldy (sic), Synod of Fife' New Statistical Account (1834-45) 9, 111-123.

Pride, G L 1992, The Kingdom of Fife: an illustrated architectural guide, Edinburgh: RIAS/Landmark Trust.

RCAHMS 1933, Eleventh Report with Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife Kinross and Clackmannan, Edinburgh: His Majesty's Stationery Office.

Reid, M L 1980, 'Pitcairn House (Leslie parish): Hall house', Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 1980, 5.

Reid, M L 1980, Pitcairn House Excavation, Glenrothes: Glenrothes Development Corporation.

Strachan, S R 2008, The Laird's Houses of Scotland: from the Reformation to the Industrial Revolution, 1560-1770 (unpubl PhD Thesis, University of Edinburgh).

Zeune, J 1992, The Last Scottish Castles: Investigations with particular reference to domestic architecture from the 15th to the 17th century, Internationale Archäeologie 12.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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