Old Buildings of Inverness
@ William Glashan
The Burgh developed on the east bank of the River Ness around Castle Street, Church Street, High Street, and Bridge Street. There were also houses along the west bank. The gardens behind the houses were gradually built over, with narrow closes for access and some of these are still there. Animals were kept in the closes and water was drawn from adjacent wells. All rubbish was thrown into the street even the Duke of Cumberland complained to the Provost. There were no cobbles in the streets, no public drains or water supply before about 1830. Epidemics, including cholera, occurred from time to time. The houses were mostly thatched, and this, together with the congestion, led to frequent fires. Such conditions were common in other towns.
As can be seen from old maps and the paintings of Delavault, Slezer and others, changes had always been taking place, but during the period 1950-1976 an increasing number of buildings had been altered, or demolished. Some good buildings were lost. Some of the replacements have been for the worse, I think. While a few, like Eden Court Theatre have interesting shapes, and some of the more recent have a little modelling of surface, others are just flat walls with rows of windows all alike. Just imagine a musical composition consisting of one note endlessly repeated, or a story consisting of "and but. . . and but. . ." right to the end!
Buildings Still Standing
In the Churchyard, which extends from the north end of Church Street down to the River Ness, is the Old High Church, the original Parish Church of Inverness . Of the mediaeval building only the lower part of the tower remains. The tower is battered (tapered) up to the point at which it was heightened in the eighteenth century; there is a balustrade above that with a graceful spire with louvres for the bells and a covering of sheet copper. The Church was re-built in 1770, a plain rectangular building with galleries round three sides and an apse on the south side. The tower had been in the centre of the mediaeval building and is off-centre with the present building which has been widened to the south.
At the east end of the Old High is the Gaelic Church (now a Free Church) which was rebuilt in 1792. It is a severely plain building. It had a remarkable pulpit the "black pulpit", very ornate and probably much older than the Church. The pulpit was removed to a warehouse after the new congregation came, and it was smashed to pieces by vandals who broke in.
Behind the Gaelic Church is the Robertson of Inshes Mausoleum (1660) an elaborate and imaginative Jacobean work which will repay attention. On either side of the entrance to the Churchyard are the little houses, eighteenth century, now restored, including a small shop.
The Old High Church (A)
In Church Street, just opposite, is Dunbars Hospital, which was built in 1668 and was given to the Burgh by Provost Alexander Dunbar. It was used first as a hospital and then as a school (the Old Academy or Latin School). At various times it has housed the fire engines, the Female School and the Female Work Society. The latter two were later moved to Ardkeen Tower. During the cholera epidemic in 1849 it was again used as a hospital. The building has very good decorative dormer heads and crow-stepped gables. Slezers Prospect of Inverness 1693 (13) shows a turret on the roof and Captain Wimberley mentions a turret in his book The Hospitals of Inverness.
In Friars Street, at the north end of Church Street, is the Friars Churchyard with one pillar of the ancient Friary. The Telephone Exchange has recently extended a corridor over the Churchyard, showing little respect.
Dunbars Hospital (B)
Bow Court adjoins Dunbars Hospital on the other side of School Lane. It was built between 1722 and 1729 and was reconstructed in 1968-70. The centre arch on the ground floor is original and the other arches were formed to provide arcades for shops. The adjoining building with bow-fronted shop and arch to match those in Bow Court, was reconstructed and added to Bow Court.
Bow Court was a U-shaped building with a court at the rear, entered through the centre arch. There were two separate houses entered from the court, but the kitchens had doors to Church Street (the back doors at the front). These doors had been made into windows at a later date. A wing on the north-east side at the rear was in the occupation of the Incorporated Trades and the Masons; latterly it was a Masonic Lodge. In the reconstruction, this wing was reduced in length and now contains a hairdressers shop and an office above. There had been a south-east wing but this had been demolished some time previously.
The court was reduced during the reconstruction; it now has a rock garden and a stone archway as a rear exit. The National Trust stipulated that the public should have access to this court.
A tablet on the School Lane elevation has the arms of the Duffs of Drummuir and an inscription "Katherine Duff Lady Drummuire gifted the six Incorp Trades and Masons of Inverness the ground on which this building stands 1729". The inscription had been puttied up except for the date and was discovered only when the stone was being cleaned and a coat of paint removed. I infer that the stone had originally been in the wall of the north-east wing and had been moved to its present position when that wing was rebuilt in the early nineteenth century and the inscription obliterated as being no longer relevant.
The wrought iron lamps in the courtyard and along School Lane were formerly in Raining Stairs, but new brackets have been added.
The two halves of Bow Court had been in separate occupations; at one time the northernmost one had been the residence of the Rector of the Academy and the other a hostel for boys. As the years passed, the building was occupied by tenants with a room or two each. Latterly, there was progressive dilapidation and disrepair.
Above the shops there are now flats with all modern amenities. Stairs, wall partitions and floors are reinforced concrete. Four of the original rooms had very good panelling, which had rotted. In one of the new rooms the panelling has been reproduced.
Bow Court (C)
Abertarff House, about the middle of Church Street, is the oldest secular building in Inverness. It is an excellent example of Scots domestic architecture. Built in 1593, it was occupied by the Frasers of Lovat, and by others at different times . For years it was hidden by houses in front of it and had become ruinous. It was restored by the National Trust for Scotland and is now the headquarters of An Comunn Gaidhealach. It houses an exhibition, open to the public. There is a stone spiral stair and the interior is very interesting.
Abertarff House (D)
The Steeple is at the corner of Church Street and High Street in the very centre of the town. It was built in 1791 and is 150 ft. high, with walls 5 ft. thick at the bottom . The architect was William Sibbald of Edinburgh, who designed the spires of St. Andrews Church in Edinburgh and Inveresk Church. The upper part of the spire was badly bent in an earth tremor in 1816 and had to be rebuilt. In the larger of the two balls near the top there is said to be a bottle of whisky from the Millburn Distillery. The Court House, now the Prudential Assurance Office, adjoins the Steeple and was built just after it in the same good classical style. The balustrading along the top has been replaced by solid masonry.
The Steeple (E)
The Castle in its present position has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The earlier Castle where King Duncan was said to have been murdered by Macbeth was on the Crown (Auldcastle Road) but nothing remains of it now. The appearance of the Castle in 1745 can be seen in Sandbys drawing. It showed a mixture of styles. It had been repaired in 1718 and extended by a barrack wing on the north . It was called "Fort George" at that period not to be confused with the later Fort George at Ardersier. Bonnie Prince Charlie took the Castle in 1745 and had it blown up to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Hanoverians. The French sergeant who lit the fuse was killed; his dog was blown across the river and escaped with the loss of his tail. The castle lay in ruins until 1835. A small part was used by the weavers. It became a quarry for builders; one stone said to have come from the Castle was built into the front garden wall of No. 16 Culduthel Road it has a large V and the date 1620. It suffered badly when the wall was rebuilt after road widening.
The Courts, at the south end, were the first part of the Castle to be re-built . The architect was William Burn of Edinburgh. The foundation stone was laid in 1834 on the same day as that of Ardkeen Tower, both with Masonic honours. The second part to be re-built was the prison , which was converted into offices for the County Council after Porterfield
Prison was built. This part of the Castle was built in 1846. The name of the architect is not defmitely known, but the building looks very like Calton Jail in Edinburgh, the architect for which was Archibald Elliot. The architecture is Victorian Tudor or castellated revival. With its magnificent site and pleasing pink sandstone it is much admired by visitors. It gains by comparison with its recent neighbouring buildings.
The Town House in High Street is a late nineteenth century building in a Gothic style. It had a big turret in the centre, but it was removed, leaving only the base. The Merkat Cross and the Clach-na-cuddain stone stand against the front wall. (The Clach-na-cuddain was the stone on which wash tubs were placed.) There is a dignified entrance hall and staircase, and the large Hall and the Council Chamber are on the first floor. In 1921, Lloyd George held a Cabinet Meeting in the Council Chamber in an emergency when most of the Cabinet members happened to be in the North of Scotland. The crystal candellabra on the staircase and Council Chamber were taken from the Northern Meeting Rooms before they were demolished. The Burgh Arms on the north gable came from the old stone bridge over the Ness which fell in 1849.
The Bank of Scotland is in High Street opposite the Town House. It was built in 1848, the architect being Thomas MacKenzie of Elgin. It is a dignified building with Roman Corinthian columns, a richly sculptured pediment and large urns. It is well sited to be seen down Castle Street.
In Academy Street we come to the entrance to The Markets, an excellent classical composition with three arches and sculptured sheep and cattle. The arcades are glass-covered with brick arches to each shop. The large central space has an interesting roof good engineering and pleasing in appearance.
Entrance to the Markets
Dr. Bells Institution in Farraline Park was built in 1841 , and is externally one of the best buildings in Inverness. Built in Greek Revival style it has a Doric portico and Pediment, with wreaths in the frieze instead of the orthodox triglyphs. The windows have their jambs tapered as in the classical Greek style. The architect was almost certainly Archibald Simpson of Aberdeen. The playground occupied the whole of the present bus station. There were two lodges, one now altered into a cafe and the other now demolished.
Near Farraline Park, at the corner of Academy Street and Margaret Street is the East Church, the main part of which was built in 1798. It was a "Chapel of Ease" for the Old High. In 1843 it became a Free Church and about the end of the century it was extended to include the staircase and tower and an enlarged gallery. Dr. Ross was the architect for the extension.
Dr Bells Institution (O)
A little to the south, along Academy Street was the Old Academy School which was built in 1792. The building has now a bank and a supermarket on the ground floor and a dental surgery and offices above. A wing of classrooms had extended behind, with two playgrounds and a Rectors house.
The Customs House in High Street, opposite Inglis Street, was probably designed by Archibald Simpson about the same time as Dr. Bells Institution. It has Greek Ionic columns and the details are also Greek. The ground floor is ruined by the insertion of "modern" shop fronts. The Ordnance Survey Map of 1864 indicates shops on the ground floor and rooms for music and dancing on the upper floors.
The Customs House (N)
Looking to the east to the high ground over Eastgate one can see from here the Crown House (also known as Abertarif House and not be confused with the old house in Church Street). It is a Regency house, well massed and well detailed. One of the wings was unfortunately demolished recently.
Ardkeen Tower standS at the corner of Culduthel Road and Old Edinburgh Road. It was known as the Observatory Building or the UnitedCharities Building. Originally it was occupied by the Infants School, the Female Work Society and the Juvenile Female School, later united as the United Charities. These were formerly in Dunbars Hospital. The dome was used as an observatory by a separate body. The foundation stone was laid in 1834 on the same day as that of the Courts. The children walked up from Dunbars Hospital to attend the ceremony. The building was enlarged in the late nineteenth century to become a private residence for a Canon of the Cathedral .
Ardkeen Tower (P)
It was originally approached by a flight of steps from the corner of the streets and the entrance hail was under the dome.
The former hall is now the drawing room it is a fine elliptical room and has excellent views from the windows. The dome has lost its weather-vane. The original scheme was apparently more ornate, but as carried out it is a good classical building. Behind Ardkeen Tower was the first Burgh reservoir, where the first houses of Old Edinburgh Road now stand. It was still there in 1868. The water was raised from the river by a pump powered by a water wheel at the Islands; the wheel was adjustable to the water level in the river. On the opposite side of Culduthel Road (adjoining the Wayside Hotel) was a long, narrow Bowling Green, now a car park.
Also in Old Edinburgh Road is St. Stephens Church (architect Robert Carruthers), built about 1900. It is Gothic and has a small needle spire. For quality of design I think it is the best of the Inverness churches.
St Stephens Church
Not far away, beside the present Royal Academy School is the Crown Church built about 1900. The architect was one of the Rhind family. It is also a good Gothic building. It is unfortunate that the tower was never built to its full height as it was well placed to have been seen down several streets and from many parts of the town.
Between these two churches, in Southside Road, is St. Johns Church, which was built in 1903 to replace St. Johns in Church Street. A window and other parts of the older church were incorporated into the new.
Crossing the river we find much of interest. The river itself is one of the best assets of Inverness. On the east bank are the three spires the Old High, The Free North Church, (architect Dr. Alexander Ross) and St. Columba High Church. On the west bank is the West Church, which was built in 1834 . It is a classical building with a pedimented portico and Ionic columns, and a tower with a domed cupola on the west side. The west side is now largely obscured by a row of shops and houses, but it originally fronted onto a bowling green and with the garden of Balnain House on the north it must have looked well.
The West Church from the West, c.1860 (K)
Balnain House is an eighteenth century mansion, well proportioned, with walls battered and entasised, with dressed angle quoins. There had been a classical portico at the front door. A large garden once stretched back to King Street and included all the north side of Greig Street and the site of Queen Street Church. It was known as the "Blue House" . Used as tenements for a number of years, it is now in serious disrepair. A Trust has been formed for its restoration.
Queen Street Church is now disused as a church. It was designed by Pond MacDonald of Inverness and built in 1895.
The style is Baroque in front but very plain at the side. The tower has an ogee-conical spire formerly covered with red tiles but now with Westmorland slates after a structural restoration.
The West Church and Balnain House c 1860 (J)
St. Marys Catholic Church was built in 1837, the architect being Robertson of Elgin. It is good Gothic Revival. The details closely resemble the now demolished St. Johns Church in Church Street by the same architect.
St. Andrews Cathedral is well to the south of the Ness Bridge. It was completed and dedicated in 1869 and consecrated in 1874. Robert Eden became Bishop of Moray and Ross in 1851 and was elected Primus in 1862. In 1864 Caitlmess was added to the Diocese. Bishop Eden, like his predecessors, lived in Elgin at first, but he thought Inverness would be a better centre for the Diocese so he moved to Inverness. In 1864 he proposed that a Cathedral should be built in Inverness. This was a prodigious undertaking, but the Bishop was a man of faith, enthusiasm and driving power. He enlisted the help not only of Episcopalians but also many others. Soon an architect was appointed - he was Dr. Alexander Ross, the Christopher Wren of the Highlands. He began his work very soon and the design went through various stages.
The contract drawings are dated 1866. These show the Cathedral more or less as built except that spires are included. The towers are 100 ft. high and the spires would have risen a further 100 ft. The first scheme (not dated) is shown on linen drawings found in the Bell Tower a few years ago. If it had been possible to have carried this oUt, the Cathedral would have been marvellous, but it had to be cut down. The choir would have extended 54 ft. beyond its present length; there was to have been a semi-circular apse with an ambulatory round it, and flying buttresses. The lectern would have been where the throne is now, with the pulpit opposite. The space now occupied by the organ, choir stalls and Lady Chapel would have had pews for the congregation. The chancel would have begun at the present throne.
This early plan is marked in pencil with the cutting down shown. The Cathedral is Gothic Revival. There are nave arcades with polished granite circular columns supporting arches with clerestorys above. The nave roof has scissors trusses with wood-lined ceilings below. The original cast-iron flèche was removed in 1963 for structural reasons and was replaced by a celtic cross in copper.
St Andrews Cathedral (L)
On the outside of the transept window facing the river are a wheel and a horse on each side of the arch. The stones for the walls had been lifted by a pulley and a horizontal wheel pulled round by a horse. Towards the end of the work a stone fell and killed the horse which thus has this memorial. Within, at the springing of the nave arches are sculptured heads, including St. Margaret, King Charles I, Dr. Ross and Bishop Eden.
The font is well placed under the south-west tower, and is seen through a glass screen when one enters the narthex, or vestibule. The altar and reredos are very fine and are composed of coloured marbles and tiles. There are alto-relievo sculptures on the reredos and pulpit. There are a number of interesting memorials, including the fine eighteenth century tablet to Bishop Hay who was the last Bishop to occupy the Old High Church. The tablet was removed from the Old High but was rescued and given to the Cathedral.
There are eleven bells, restored as a memorial to Bishop Maclnnes. Ten are hung for ringing and one for tolling only. The bells can also be chimed.
Eden Court was the residence of the Bishops and was built just after the Cathedral. It now forms part of Eden Court Theatre and has offices and rooms for small meetings and rehearsals.
The Royal Northern Infirmary was begun in 1803 and was extended from time to time. Most of the wards were built in the 1920s, the architect for these being Sir John Burnet, of Glasgow and London. The Chapel was built by Dr. Rosss firm; the nave is for Presbyterian worship and the transepts for Catholic and Episcopalian respectively. There was originally a flèche in the centre of the Chapel, but it has gone.
Map with locations of Buildings
Buildings now Demolished
Queen Marys House was at the foot of Bridge Street, on the north side. It was demolished in 1968 to make way for the Highlands and Islands Development Board block, with Lows and Littlewoods beneath. Mary Queen of Scots stayed there for a short time in 1562 but from that period, only the mcdiaeval vaults remained in 1968. Part of them has been rebuilt in the entrance hail of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. The house was ruinous for some time and had been rebuilt and altered several times. The interior was very confused and the staircases led to rooms at various levels in a nightmare fashion. It was a plain building, but the Burgh lost character with its removal.
Between Queen Marys House and the Prudential Assurance were two eighteenth century houses with cornices and balustrades. On the Bank Street side of Queen Marys House were two pleasant houses with pink stone walls with climbing flowering plants and little gardens and next to them were the Parish Council building and the "Inverness Courier" building. The latter alone remains of the little group, the only bit of Old Inverness for some distance around.
The Suspension Bridge was demolished in 1960, to be replaced by the new Ness Bridge. The suspension bridge was built in 1852-55 . It grouped well with the Castle and was asymmetrical, the higher pylon being at the east side with a big centre arch and two smaller side arches for pedestrians. There were two small pylons at the west side. Before the suspension bridge, there was a stone bridge with seven arches, built in 1685 and destroyed by a flood in 1849. When the suspension bridge was being taken down the abutment of the west arch was exposed for a time before being encased in concrete. On one side of the centre arch of the old stone bridge there was a cell below carriage level which was used as a prison.
River Ness and Suspension Bridge c 1955
Close to the north-east end of the old stone bridge was Castle Tolmie, a mediaeval building, demolished in 1849 . It had 19 good stone dormer heads which were later built into Redcastle on the Black Isle, but there they have suffered from neglect. A later group of houses called Castle Tolmie was built at the south-east end of the suspension bridge, designed by Robert Carruthers about 1900. These were very good indeed and grouped well with the Castle. Unfortunately they were removed in 1960 to make way for a contemporary block.
Before the second Castle Tolmie was built, there was a pleasant row of small houses called Gordon Place, shown in one of Delavaults paintings .
The south side of Bridge Street was demolished in the 1960s for street widening. The buildings varied from late eighteenth to late nineteenth century. The best of these was the Workmens Club, a classical building with columns and arches. The architect was John Rhind, a former Provost of the Burgh.
The Workmens Club
On the site of the present Town House stood the Old Town House, at one time the town house of Lord Lovat. The town acquired the building from the Cuthbert family and it became the Town House proper in 1716. With an arcade of seven arches it was not as wide as the present Town House, and some say that to the west was The Horns, the hotel where Dr. Johnson and Boswell stayed on their journey through the Highlands.
On the site of the Social Security block in Church Street were the Northern Meeting Rooms (10), built in 1790 and demolished in 1960. It was a severe classical building with a good and ornate interior, used for great social occasions. The town house of the Frasers stood at 23 Church Street.
23 Church Street
A dignified town mansion, it was later used as a bank, then as a solicitors office.
Lady Drummuirs House was on the site of 43, Church Street. During the 1745 uprising, Lady Drummuir was hostess to Bonnie Prince Charlie and later, to the Duke of Cumberland. Lady Drummuir was aged seventy-seven in 1746 and it was her
daughter Lady MacKintosh who bore the burden of the visits and who said "I have had twa Kings bairns living with me in my time and 1 wish I may never have another" . The house was demolished in 1843. Alexander Ross, father of Dr. Ross, the architect, watched it being taken down with regret Unfortunately he does not appear to have left a sketch of it.
Some of the houses opposite Lady Drummuirs House had fine dormer heads, some of which are preserved in the Clydesdale Bank, one above the entrance. Further to the north in Church Street, where Lawsons shop now is, was the town house of the MacKintoshes of Raigmore. Where Frasers Auction Rooms now are, was St. Johns Episcopal Church, which had a fan-vaulted roof and an uncompleted tower. It was designed by Robertson of Elgin. At the north end of Church Street stood the Technical College (next to the Gaelic Church), a late eighteenth century building. After its demolition the site was not built over, and a grassy bank gives a good view of the Old High Church.
The present Post Office in Queensgate was built in the 1960s after the demolition of the previous building which was built in 1888. The older office was a very good classical building in Italian Renaissance style, all in sandstone and well detailed.
While it was probably necessary to enlarge the building, it is not clear why the front could not have been retained or rebuilt. The new front is of the same width and height as before and has the same number of windows and doors, but the original local sandstone has been replaced by drab grey concrete facings and a dog-toothed "cornice"
The Old Post Office
The Y.M.C.A., at the corner of High Street and Castle Street, was a classical building well fitted to stand opposite the Bank of Scotland. It had Roman composite columns and a group of statutary on top locally supposed to represent Faith, Hope and Charity. The statutary was removed to Orkney after the demolition, c. 1960. There were also heads of various religious leaders in spaces between the ground and first floor windows. One of these was John Wesley and it was removed to the Methodist Church in Union Street, and later to the new Methodist Church in Huntly Street.
Faith, Hope and Charity
The greater part of the west side of Castle Street has been demolished, and a grassy slope left in front of the Castle. On the east side, certain of the buildings will probably be demolished. At the back of one of them is a dormer head built into the wall, probably from an older building on the site with the initials I L.
The little early nineteenth century church at the corner of Inglis Street, terminating the vista of Academy Street, known as the Wesleyan Chapel is to be demolished to facilitate the Eastgate development. Designed in the Norman style, more or less, (because the rose window was Gothic rather than Norman), it had been a pleasing building. It gradually deteriorated through the convertion of the lower part into shops, and the upper part first into a cafe and then a betting shop, with the outside walls painted tastelessly.
The Methodist Church in Union Street was the successor to the Chapel in Inglis Street. It was originally the Burgh Public Hall and had shops below it, the latter still in use. It was burnt down in the 1960s and an ugly gap left in the street. A number of schemes for rebuilding have been considered.
The Gas Holder in George Street was the most dominating feature in the town when seen from a distance. It was well-proportioned and as it was encased it did not change its height like its successor at Seafield it remained clean and tidy. It was demolished in 1978, and although not liked, I think it was a loss.
Mile End Cottage, which stood on a side road near the canal bridge leading from the Fort William Road to Craig Dunain, was the last thatched cottage in Inverness. It was vacated in the late 1950s and rapidly fell into decay. Everything that could be moved was stolen and the stones were removed, presumably by boys, and dropped into a nearby lochas. The cottage made a pretty picture with its background of hills and a line of trees in front (since cut down). Two old ladies lived there with an old black dog. There was a little windmill in front and a pump behind.
The surroundings of the Kings Mills on the road to Culcabock were greatly altered by road alterations in 1978. The water-wheel is gone a good overshot wheel. There was an old cottage with cart sheds attached just opposite the mill. An old man lived in the cottage and there were two brown and white cats who came out of the mill to be stroked. Another pretty picture gone.
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