The present-day Crusoe Hotel occupies the entirety of a building that was originally built as a granary in the 1820s. Constructed so that local landowners and farmers had a safe and secure place to safely store grain, close to transport links (i.e. the harbour), the granary originally comprised two levels. Storage facilities that protected produce from damp and vermin, as well as theft, went a long way to ensuring a good price could be obtained for crops. Granaries of a similar design were springing up along the Fife coast around this time, including at neighbouring Elie and Pittenweem. The images below show the similar style of the Elie structure (top) and the Largo granary.
Below are interior views of similar granaries showing the typical long low-ceiled attic floor (top photo) and the more spacious lower floor with its many beams and small deep window openings, constructed so as to keep the rain and insects out. The windows often had a pair of wooden shutters to control ventilation, as well as mesh coverings. These paired shutters are evident in photographs of Largo Granary.
The notice above from the 7 October 1824 Fife Herald describes the newly built facility at Largo Harbour. The wording of the notice suggests that, depending upon the responses to the proposition, the inside of the building would be subdivided to suit those taking up a lease. Note the intention for one floor be let as a single lot (likely the attic), while the other would be arranged into smaller lots (a more spacious lower floor where beams could mark partitions). The target audiences would include farmers looking to export grain out of Largo and corn-dealers looking for a location close to weekly markets (such as Colinsburgh and Leven). An example is shown below of one of the farms (Monturpie) which produced grain at the time and benefitted from its proximity to the "shipping port of Largo". Note the name of Alexander Beveridge appears in both notices above and below. He was a farmer at Buckthorns, factor to Largo Estate and the treasurer of Largo Granary Company.
Steam boats were also serving Largo by the early 1820s. A wooden paddle steamer named 'Surprise' had made regular calls at Largo in 1821 and 1822 before being wrecked off Leven. In the summer of 1824 when the Estate of Gilston was advertised for sale, the particulars noted "there is a steam boat daily from Leith to Largo". The potential for the granary building accommodating an inn must have been obvious from early on. Within a few years at most, part of the building contained the inn that would eventually become the Crusoe Hotel.
The advert below for the 'Victory' (22 April 1829 Scotsman) details two daily sailings from Largo and connecting stagecoach services. George Duff the innkeeper at Largo is noted as agent at the foot of the advert. The notice further below from 11 October 1838 Fifeshire Journal indicates that Duff's coach services were well used. The cart sheds at ground level were used as stables for George Duff's horses and coaches. In this era the thriving inn was variously referred to as 'Duff's Inn', 'Harbour Inn' and 'The Steamboat Inn'.
In 1846, George Duff became ill and eventually died of consumption (tuberculosis). His wife Ann, moved up to Kirkton of Largo to run the inn there, while the inn at Lower Largo harbour was advertised for let (see below from 30 April Fife Herald). It transpired that the man named in the advertisement, village grocer Alexander Selkirk, took over the lease of the eleven-apartment inn. He continued to rent the inn from the Largo Granary Company for many years.
Meetings of shareholders and tenants of the Largo Granary Company often took place in the inn (now sometimes referred to as 'Selkirk's Inn'). The 13 December 1855 Fifeshire Journal above details one such meeting. On this occasion, the focus was on the imminent arrival of the railway. The success of the East of Fife Railway was toasted at the event and those that had not already subscribed to the scheme were encouraged to do so. Note also the reference to the Crimean War and British allies France and Sardinia. The principal tenant at this time was Robert Hutchinson of Kirkcaldy. In 1830, at the age of 21, Robert Hutchison opened an account in the name of Robert Hutchison and Company and began trading in wheat, barley oats, flax, butter and flour. By 1856 the company would own all the land in East Kirkcaldy where the present flour mill now stands.
The arrival of the railway and the increasing popularity of Largo as a visitor destination would have further boosted the inn. In the 1860s and 1870s, David Russell of Silverburn, owner of Largo Mill, was a major tenant at the granary. He used the building to store imported seed for crushing, as well as oil and oilcake for export. At some point around this era the granary seems to have acquired a third storey in the form of an additional loft space.
Alexander Selkirk died in 1867 aged 67 and the advert above for 'inn to let' dates to the 30 Jan 1868 Fifeshire Journal. Shortly after this, James Gilchrist is recorded as the innkeeper at the harbour. His mother was a Selkirk too. I strongly suspect that James could he have introduced the Crusoe name to the inn. The name first appears around the mid-1870s. It was in 1872 that James's brother Robert Gilchrist was involved in the creation of the Robinson Crusoe Lodge of the Independent Order of Good Templars. Clearly the family were keen to commemorate their Selkirk relative and make use of the well-known Crusoe name.
James Gilchrist died in 1873. His wife Margaret appears to have been in charge for a short while but in 1875 the tenant innkeeper was James Methven. The next innkeeper, John Forrester, had the inn for a much longer period. The next post in the series will pick back up by looking closely at his time in charge of the inn - now styled the Crusoe Hotel (see advert below from the 2 April 1875 East of Fife Record).