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7 May 2019

Abertarff: the little house in the Highlands

Written by Jacky Brookes
Katey stands at the door of Abertarff House, with one hand on the handle
Project Manager Katey Boal outside Abertarff House
Following a successful first year of opening to visitors in 2018, we have opened Abertarff House again from Easter 2019.

Built in 1593, and now the oldest house in Inverness, Abertarff has witnessed the Covenanters’ era, Jacobite risings and two world wars. Project Manager Katey Boal introduces Abertarff and gives a hint of what visitors can expect this season.

Abertarff House is the oldest secular building in Inverness.
The oldest secular building in Inverness

Abertarff is the oldest secular house in Inverness (there are a few older churches) – that’s some record! Why has it survived while other similar buildings didn’t?

First of all, it was tucked away in a close, so it wasn’t immediately visible.Secondly, in the 1950s and 60s the Inverness Field Club advocated very strongly for its preservation and played a major part in ensuring its survival.

A 1903 illustration of Abertarff House
Drawing of Abertarff House taken from 'Old Inverness' by Pierre Delavauly (1903), thanks to Am Baile - High Life Highland

How important is Abertarff in the history of Scotland as a whole?

Abertarff House is a good example of Scottish domestic architecture of the 16th and 17th century, with its crow-stepped gable and circular stone stair tower leading to the upper floors. There are not very many of these buildings left in Scotland. It also makes an important contribution to the historic streetscape of Church Street in Inverness.

The marriage lintel at Abertarff
The marriage lintel at Abertarff; credit: SPP Group

What do we know about the people who lived here?

There are a lot of gaps in the history of the house. It has been linked to Clan Fraser of Lovat, who fought for the Jacobites at Culloden, but as far as we know the house was never owned by Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat (who was executed for treason after the battle). Abertarff was, however, purchased by his younger son, Colonel Archibald Fraser, in the early 1800s. In 1815, upon Col Fraser’s death, the property went to his illegitimate grandson Archibald Thomas Frederick Fraser. We believe that it was then sold to the Commercial Bank (which would eventually become the Royal Bank of Scotland) in the mid-1800s.

Abertarff House
Abertarff House

Can you explain what work was undertaken to restore it?

In 1963 the house came into the care of the National Trust for Scotland, and in 1966 the Trust carried out significant work on the fabric of the building. We reharled the exterior (a controversial move at the time) and repaired floors, windows and the roof. Further work has been carried out recently, which involved re-pointing works using lime-based mortar, repair of stonework, flashing works and limewash.

Spiral staircase inside Abertarff House
Spiral staircase inside Abertarff House

Whats the building like inside?

On the ground floor there is a small exhibition space, which helps visitors to discover the hidden history of Inverness in the 1600s. We tell the story of the town through the Covenanting period, and explore what life was like for the people who lived there.

There is a meeting room on the first floor. We can also host exclusive small events, small weddings and small private bookings. Keep an eye on our property page for details of events that are planned over the season.

Entrance to Abertarff House
Entrance to Abertarff House; credit SPP Group

When is the house open?

Our opening times for 2019 are 11am–6pm from Easter to 6 October. And, admission is free!

We’re also planning a shop and take-away café (coming soon).

Abertarff House sign
Abertarff House sign; credit: SPP Group

Are there opportunities for supporting local heritage?

Volunteering with the National Trust for Scotland brings a whole range of benefits. As well as supporting local heritage, our volunteers get the chance to learn new things, meet new people and build new skills. And of course, every single one plays a vital role in supporting the Trust and all that we do for the love of Scotland.

Staff from the engagement team at Culloden will be helping out and volunteers are being recruited for this season, to help visitors enjoy their experience at Abertarff House. Volunteers will play a very important role in keeping the doors open and we’re very keen for anyone interested to get in touch via nts.org.uk/volunteering or by emailing mferguson@nts.org.uk

Circular stone tower, reharled by the Trust
Circular stone tower, reharled by the Trust

Are there any research opportunities, given that Abertarff has such a long history?

There will be a need for the Abertarff story to be researched in more detail, as not a huge amount is known and we’d love to find out more about the people who lived here. Many fascinating stories came to light as we chatted with visitors last season, including a Beauly resident who was born at Abertarff over 80 years ago!

We look forward to welcoming you to this special place soon.