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Inchcolm, Abbey, hermit's cell, First World War and Second World War defences

A Scheduled Monument in Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay, Fife

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Latitude: 56.0279 / 56°1'40"N

Longitude: -3.3053 / 3°18'19"W

OS Eastings: 318745

OS Northings: 682438

OS Grid: NT187824

Mapcode National: GBR 24.S7C4

Mapcode Global: WH6S5.6R88

Entry Name: Inchcolm, Abbey, hermit's cell, First World War and Second World War defences

Scheduled Date: 6 April 1921

Last Amended: 28 April 2017

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90166

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: 20th Century Military and Related: Battery; Ecclesiastical: abbey

Location: Aberdour (Fife)

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay

Traditional County: Fife


The monument consists of the whole island of Inchcolm, comprising the following principal elements: the remains of the Augustinian Abbey of Inchcolm, a hermit's cell, and the remains of World War I and World War II defences, together with miscellaneous associated remains.

The Augustinian Abbey of Inchcolm, established first as a priory for Augustinian Canons, was elevated to the status of a full abbey in 1235. It suffered repeatedly from the English raids of the 14th century, and, following the Reformation, the community was disbanded. The church was partially dismantled in 1581 and in 1611 the Abbey lands were translated to a secular Lordship. The monument passed into state care in 1924.

The remains of the Abbey church point to a building programme which spanned some 300 years. The original, simple mid 12th-century building was enlarged ca.1200, at which date a bell tower was raised above the original chancel. The octagonal chapter house, one of only three in Scotland of this shape, was added to the S side of an extended choir in the 1st half of the 13th century. Also constructed about this date was a transept on the N side of the tower, built to house two additional chapels.

This church was abandoned in the early 15th century and replaced by a new one further to the E. The nave of the old church was then converted into domestic accommodation. The cloister buildings, the most complete in Scotland, appear to date from this period of rebuilding and are unusual in that the ground floor of all three ranges was occupied by covered walkways.

The Canons' dormitory lay above the E walk, reached by two staircases both at the N end. The warming house was entered off the E side of the dormitory and the reredorter off the S. Over the S walk lay the refectory and kitchen which linked with the Guest Hall in the W range. To the SE of the cloister is a residential block, possibly the Abbot's house.

To the NW of the Abbey stands 'the Hermit's Cell', traditionally said to be the place where Alexander I took refuge during a storm in 1123 which resulted in his vow to found a monastery on the island. The simple structure was rebuilt in the 15th century and used as a mausoleum in the 17th.

Remains of some of the various World War I defences, and most of those from World War II, survive. Inchcolm was heavily fortified in World War I as part of a scheme to provide three defence lines across the Forth comprising shore-based batteries complemented by batteries on the various islands. Inchcolm was armed with two 12-pounder guns, two 6-inch breach-loaders, four 4-inch quick-firers and four 4.7-inch quick-firers. Accommodation for army personnel was erected around the Abbey.

In 1930, the guns were removed from the island although the aprons for the 4.7-inch guns and the observation posts still survive in the W of the island. On the outbreak of WWII the island was once again fortified. Although many of the installations were demolished in the 1950s, the extant remains comprise the concrete aprons for Bofors Anti-Aircraft guns, for two twin 6-pounders and for the remnants of a 12-pounder battery.

Also still visible are searchlight installations, a tunnel through the hill to give quick access to the guns and the line of a small railway built to haul equipment from the main slope up to the pier. These are all concentrated in the E of the island although the remains of the NAAFI canteen survive in the W.

The scheduled area corresponds to the island of Inchcolm as defined by high-water mark of ordinary spring tides and includes the monastic buildings, a hermit's cell, and the remains of fortifications dating to WWI and WWII, as well as the area between and around these various remains, all as marked in red on the accompanying map extract.

The scheduling specifically excludes the hog-back stone in the visitor centre which is now in a securely curated environment. The scheduling specifically excludes the Custodian's House, the Visitor Centre, the generator house adjacent to the Visitor Centre to the south and an area 1m around these buildings. The scheduling specifically excludes the pier and jetty on the north shore of the island; the above ground elements of all structures, fixtures, fittings and plant dating from after 1945; the top 300mm of all tracks and paths; the above ground elements of the well and Well Hut near the Custodian's House and of the existing navigation lights and fog signal station.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Each of the principal elements of the monument is of national importance in its own right: the remains of Inchcolm Abbey, which includes the most complete set of cloister buildings in Scotland, the hermit's cell for its historical associations, the fine hog-backed tombstone and the wartime defences.

The whole complex on the island has the potential to add to our knowledge and understanding of the ecclesiastical history of the island, of domestic architecture relating to the daily life of the Augustinian Canons, and also to our knowledge of the defence of the Firth of Forth in the 1st half of the 20th century.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as NT 18 SE 7.


Cross, M. (1994) Bibliography of monuments in the care of the Secretary of State for Scotland, 355-360.

Cruden, S. (1960) Scottish abbeys: an introduction to the medieval abbeys and priories of Scotland, Edinburgh, 75-6.

Easson, D. E. (1957) Medieval religious houses in Scotland: with an appendix on the houses in the Isle of Man, London, 76.

Murdoch, R. (1996) 'Inchcolm Abbey (Aberdour parish), watching brief', Discovery Excav Scot, 43.

Paterson, J. W. (1950) Inchcolm Abbey, Edinburgh, 1-22.

Wordsworth, J. (1984) 'Inchcolm Abbey (Aberdour p), building remains', Discovery Excav Scot, 7.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Inchcolm Abbey
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Related Designations

Designation TypeListed Building (A)StatusRemoved

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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