Begun in 1446 the chapel was a picturesque ruin for much of its life. It was desecrated during the Reformation, Cromwellians stabled their horses there in 1650 and it was again attacked by a mob in an upsurge of antipathy towards Catholics in 1688. None of this prevented the Roslin glen and its surrounds from gaining a reputation as a romantic and picturesque destination for tourists and the Roslin Inn seems to have been built expressly as an inn, in 1660 according to its datestone. While not a grand building, it is well-built to a standard that might be expected of a minor laird’s house and in keeping with the pedigree of the St Clair estate on which it stood. Its walls include carefully dressed sandstone blocks which may well have come from Rosslyn Castle, slated by the Parliamentarians in 1650.
Visitors to Collegehill House and Rosslyn Chapel today have some eminent predecessors. Ben Johnson visited the chapel on foot in 1618, to find William Drummond of Hawthornden resting under a tree: ‘Welcome, welcome, ye royal Ben’, said Drummond, to which Johnson replied with quicker wit than style, ‘Thank ye, thank ye, Hawthornden.’ After an all-night session in Edinburgh in 1787, Robbie Burns walked out to watch the dawn at Rosslyn with his friend James Nasmyth and then found a welcome breakfast at the Inn. He left his thanks in the form of a ditty scratched on a pewter plate. When Queen Victoria visited with her seventeen year old son in 1859, he left his mark on the Inn by scratching his name on a window pane – his writing was verified by his son, George V, who visited ninety years later. And James Boswell and Dr. Johnson lingered so long that they were late for their next appointment when they visited the inn during their Tour of Scotland in 1773. Francis Grose, J M W Turner and the Wordsworths all came to pay homage to this romantic spot.
The innkeepers who also acted as gatekeepers and curators of the Chapel were in some instances hardly less colourful than their visitors. Annie Wilson holds a particular place, having kept house at the inn first with her husband and then as a widow for some forty years. She had a set patter that she never varied, as she showed visitors around the chapel, pointing out features of interest with a long stick. A reporter from The Gentleman’s Magazine immortalised her nutcracker profile and purposeful demeanour in a sketch published in 1817.
The building ceased to be an inn in 1863 when the name Roslin Inn passed to an establishment in the village. It became known instead by the grander name of Collegehill House, in keeping with its new role as home for the Earl of Rosslyn’s factor, John Thomson. He was a Freemason and during his tenure and beyond, the Roslin Lodge met in the first floor sitting room at Collegehill. In the twentieth century the Taylor family took over as chapel custodians for three generations. In the 1940s and 50s, Collegehill House again opened its doors to guests, becoming a tearoom famed for its cakes under Dorothy Taylor, helped by her daughters Evelyn and Dorothy. The last curator, Judith Fiskin, left the house after fifteen years there in 1996. When the Rosslyn Chapel Trust was founded in 1997, the position of curator was largely superseded by the Visitor Centre there, and the appointment ceased.
The structure of Collegehill House evolved through three main phases. The original T-plan is probably contemporary with the 1660 datestone above the front door. After minor modifications in the early eighteenth century, major remodelling then followed c.1760-70 when a new rear wing was constructed and the interiors reorganised. This perhaps reflects increased trade as tourist interest heightened in such picturesque sites. Then sometime between 1790–1810 the east wing was added. Minor works seem to have taken place when it became the factor’s house, with the front entrance remodelled and some windows replaced.