The secret of a mystery ‘marriage stone’ placed in an historic Scottish house has been solved after almost 350 years.

Abertarff House is one of the oldest residential buildings in Inverness, and is thought to have been built some time in the 1500s.

But at its heart lies a curious puzzle which has baffled staff for years – the identities behind two initials carved in stone above the fireplace.

The carving is known to be a marriage stone – an old custom to celebrate a couple’s wedding and residence which died out in Victorian times.

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Ever since the building came into care of the National Trust for Scotland in 1963, the conservation charity’s heritage experts have been intrigued by the identities of ‘AS and HP’, which are worked into the marriage stone alongside the date 1681.

Now Black Isle historian Dr Jim Mackay has helped to solve the puzzle. Through his extensive research, Dr Mackay, who chairs the Kirkmichael Trust in the Black Isle, discovered that the daughter of a Cullicudden minister, Reverend Charles Pape, married an Inverness sea captain and merchant, Alexander Stewart – and they lived in what is now Abertarff House. 

The Herald: A closer look at the marriage stone A closer look at the marriage stone (Image: NTS)

It is thought that Alexander married Helen Pape, and they resided in the house from 1681 until his death in 1720. Thereafter his son John, the subject of the antiquarian history The Letter-book of Bailie John Steuart, lived at Abertarff House until he died in 1751.

It was finally sold in 1771 on the death of Bailie John’s daughter Margaret. The Stewart family owned the building for three generations during a time of unrest and turmoil, notably the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion.

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Gail Cleaver, the National Trust for Scotland’s Operations Manager for Culloden, Abertarff House and Hugh Miller’s Cottage, said: “We are grateful to Dr Mackay who has helped us to solve a puzzle more than 300 years old, adding further colour to the history of this significant building and the stories we share with our visitors.

“As Scotland’s largest conservation charity, we are privileged to protect, care for and share the heritage of places like Abertarff House, which has witnessed huge moments in our country’s history: the Covenanters’ era, Jacobite risings and two world wars."

The Herald: Abertarff HouseAbertarff House (Image: NTS)

Ms Cleaver added: “An example of Scottish domestic architecture of the 16th and 17th centuries, it makes an important contribution to the historic streetscape of Church Street in Inverness and to what we know about the city’s heritage. 

“We look forward to welcoming our visitors, members and supporters as we reopen the doors to Abertarff for the coming season.”

Abertarff House is open from Friday 29 March over Easter weekend from 10am until 4pm, and thereafter Tuesday to Saturday 10am until 4pm.