Inverness (surveyed in 1868)


Situated at the north-east end of Glen Albyn, or the Great Glen, Inverness occupies the flood plain of the River Ness as it flows into its estuary on the Beauly and Inner Moray Firths. The name means 'mouth of the Ness', from Scots Gaelic inbhir, meaning 'river mouth', and ness or nis, a pre-Celtic word of unknown origin. The vitrified hillfort of Craig Phadrig, west of the river, was occupied from the fourth century BC, and the area has long been supposed to have been the capital of the Pictish Kingdom of Brude, or Bridei I, who lived in the sixth century AD. A castle on the present site was erected by King Malcolm III (1031-93), and Inverness was granted its royal burghal charter around 1153. The burgh was a significant market town and enjoyed sea trade with the low countries, but Inverness's early history is more notable for the town's military strategic importance. In 1411 Inverness was burned by the Lord of the Isles, in 1562 Mary Queen of Scots had to force entry to the castle, in 1652 Cromwellian troops erected a fort and established a garrison in the town, and in 1746 the castle and bridge were blown up by Jacobites, who were subsequently defeated at nearby Culloden. By the late eighteenth century, however, building, trade and industry in Inverness were expanding rapidly, and the 'Capital of the Highlands', as it become known, was a key destination on Scotland's developing tourist trail. The burgh population in 1861 was measured at 12,509.

Town Planning

The original street plan of Inverness followed the common model for new burgh foundations in Scotland, comprising a long high street sloping down to a broad marketplace (sheet XII.1.10), with secondary streets and vennels running perpendicular, forming a cross at the marketplace. The market cross sat only a few yards above the main river crossing, on the east side, and the castle occupied a high mound overlooking the river and the town centre. The parish church (sheet XII.1.5.) was built on another mound above the river, several hundred yards to the north of the High Street, castle and market cross. Despite the great expansion in Inverness, this medieval streetscape remained the core of the town throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The modern castle was built between 1834 and 1846, and the parish church, allegedly retaining its medieval foundations and some of its fourteenth-century tower, was rebuilt in 1769-72.

Trade and Industry

Wool was Inverness's main early foreign export, and the textile industry further contributed to Inverness's growth in the eighteenth century. A linen factory had been established by 1732, and master spinners for the British Linen company worked in the town by 1749. A spinning school and bleachfields were established, and then, in 1765, a large hemp factory employing up to a thousand people was opened. Other industrial developments over the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries included a ropery, a sail-maker, a boatbuilder, several tanneries, a bark mill, woollen mills, flour mills, an iron foundry, three breweries and a distillery. Trade in Inverness was enhanced by its being not only an agricultural market town, but also a port and later a railway terminus. In the period before the town was surveyed, communications between Inverness and the south had been significantly improved by the opening of the Caledonian Canal in 1822, and in 1858 the rail link between Inverness and Aberdeen was completed. Among the main exports from Inverness were oats, whisky, wool, leather, and hemp cloth, while significant imports included wines, bacon, fish, coal, pig-iron and raw hemp. Markets were held twice weekly, and fairs four or five times a year. In addition to the more typical livestock, farm and garden produce, tanned deerskins were among the wares sold.


Much of the wild country to the west and south of Inverness remained largely uncultivated and was given over to woodland or sheep farming. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, signs of agricultural improvement were evident in the cultivated areas. Ayrshire and Morayshire cattle had been imported and were farmed alongside the indigenous Highland breed. Large amounts of wasteland had been drained and reclaimed, and a five year system of crop rotation was standard practice. The staple crops grown in the area were corn, oats and potatoes. Sea fishing was not a significant contributor to the economy of Inverness and its immediate hinterland. The waters off the coast of the town were shallow and sheltered, and the larger fishing fleets operated out of ports on the deepwater coasts of the outer Moray Firth. Historically the Ness was known as a good salmon river, but the author of the 1845 Statistical Account noted that in the early decades of the nineteenth century, 'the value of the fishery has greatly decreased'.

Religious Life

The established Church of Scotland had by far the largest congregations in Inverness at the time of the 1845 Statistical Account. There were three or four Established church buildings in the town, and the Old High parish church's capacity of 1800 was described as 'too small for the increasing congregation'. However, other sects were also represented in Inverness, including Episcopalians, Seceders, Independents and Baptists, Methodists, and Roman Catholics. The number of Seceders in the town was put at just 100, but it is possible that this information was complied before the Disruption of 1843, when large numbers seceded from the Church of Scotland to form the Free Church. Certainly, by the mid 1850s, there were two significant Free Church buildings in the town, suggesting membership far in excess of 100. The other significant church buildings included the Gaelic Established church, where Gaelic was preached, the Established West Church, the Roman Catholic chapel and the Episcoplian chapel. At the time the town was surveyed, work had just begun on the construction of St Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral, which remains one of Inverness's most distinctive buildings.

Schools and Education

In the mid-nineteenth century there were several significant schools in Inverness. The Inverness Academy, designed for the education of upper class Highland children, was opened in 1792 and later merged with Inverness Grammar School, thus being partly supported by private subscription and partly by burgh funds. Raining's School, funded by a bequest from a Mr John Raining of Norwich, was administered by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Bell's Institution, founded in 1848, was part-funded by a bequest from the Rev. Dr Andrew Bell (1753-1832), and educated large numbers of boys using Bell's celebrated 'Madras system', which involved the older pupils teaching younger boys. In addition to these schools, the Merkinch area of Inverness contained a large public school for poor children, and there were various other private elementary schools and girls' day and boarding schools in the town.

Other Institutions

Inverness County Buildings and Sheriff Court were contained in the modern castle buildings built between 1834 and 1846. The town hall at the time of the survey, which overlooked the market cross, had been built in 1708, but was replaced by an elaborate baronial structure on the same site in 1878-82. Opposite the town hall was the tolbooth steeple, attached to which was a small jail. A large general hospital, the Royal Northern Infirmary (sheet XII.1.20.), was opened on the west bank of the Ness in 1804, and Craig Dunain Hospital, or 'lunatic asylum', was built further west in the 1860s. The poorhouse, at Hilton on the southern outskirts of Inverness, was built in 1859-61. Several banking companies had offices in the town, including the Caledonian Bank, an Inverness company, which had impressive headquarters on the High Street and twenty other branches around the north of Scotland. Inverness also boasted a small observatory, attached to Ardkeen Tower, which housed the Female Work Society and a ladies' school. In the 1850s there were two weekly newspapers published in Inverness, the Advertiser and the Courier. The latter is still in existence, and is now issued twice each week.

Culture and Society

The greatest event of the year in Inverness was traditionally the Northern Meeting. It was established in 1788 to promote harmony among leading Highland families in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden, regardless of which side they had supported, and attendees participated in a week of social events, including balls, Highland Games, and piping and dancing competitions. Culture and leisure in the town were also catered for by several libraries, reading rooms in the Exchange, Inverness-shire Farming Society, a mechanics' institution, a gardener's institution, a temperance society and a total abstinence society. Sports commonly played in the town at the time of survey included football, shinty, bowls and throwing the stone and hammer.

A View of the People of Inverness in 1845

The allegedly 'perfect' English spoken in Inverness has long been a matter of pride, or in other cases disbelieving mirth, to its inhabitants. Here the author of the Statistical Account suggests the origins of the myth: 'The upper classes enjoy all the comforts and elegancies of life as fully as their equals in any part of the kingdom to whose manners their own are now assimilated, – the purity and correctness of their language, in particular, having been remarked since the residence of Cromwell's troops in Inverness, as superior, and but little affected by the common broad dialect of Scotland.'