Inverness, A Brief History.

Inverness has a rich tapesty of history with a long and sometimes chequered past, there are mentions of some historical names having spent time within the perimeters of this location and for the most part these visits often were not of the tourism kind! Here is a brief account of when and how this now fast growing city began.


Inverness is regarded as the capital of the Scottish Highlands. Inverness, meaning the mouth of the River Ness.

Beginning as an ancient settlement, in the 6th century AD St Columba is supposed to have visited the Pictish King Brude at his fortress there.

Centuries later in 1040 it is told that Macbeth murdered King Duncan at his castle, which stood on the site of Auld Castlehill.

Inverness was made a royal burgh early in the 12th century by King David (1124-1153) who also erected a new stone castle (there had been a wooden fort for centuries before), later in that century King William the Lion gave Inverness four charters (A charter was a document that gave townspeople certain rights).  By 1180 a ditch and a wooden stockade surrounded Inverness.

In 1233 a Dominican Friary was founded in Inverness. The Friars were like monks , however, instead of retreating from the world they went out to preach, earning the name the Black Friars due to the colour of their costumes.

Medieval Inverness was a busy place, and though the Middle Ages were a troubled time for Scotland, it was a violent and lawless age, industries such as fishing and shipbuilding flourished. During this period the main exports were wood, fur and hides. By the middle of the 13th century a bridge had been built over the River Ness.

Early in the 14th century the stone castle was largely destroyed by Robert the Bruce, it was rebuilt early in the 15th century.

It was during the Middle Ages that the Abbot of Arbroath’s men burned the friary and part of Inverness, the buildings being mainly constructed from wood with thatched roofs made this easy, however, it also made it easy to re-build.

In 1411 Donald, Lord of the Isles, burned down part of the town, regeneration again, then in 1428 the King arrested the Lord of the Isles Alexander MacDonald (Donald’s son), and some clan chieftains in Inverness. After his release the Lord attacked Inverness and partly destroyed it, Inverness again recovered and continued to prosper.

Inverness in the 16th and 17th Century

During this period Inverness continued to be a busy port and market town. In 1591 it was granted a new charter called the Golden Charter.

In 1562 Queen Mary visited Inverness, she tried to enter the castle but was refused by the governor as there had been a family disagreement with the Queen, She stayed elsewhere in Inverness but the governor’s fate was sealed and he was later hanged.

One of the oldest surviving houses in Inverness, Abertarff House was built around 1593. In 1644 the wooden bridge over the Ness collapsed. It was replaced with a stone bridge which survived until the 19th century. In the period between 1652-1657, during the English occupation of Scotland, Cromwell’s men built a citadel in Inverness, but it was demolished in 1662. Today only the clock tower (Cromwell’s Clock tower) remains. The rubble was put to good use, helping to build Dunbar’s Hospital (almshouses) in 1668 by Provost Alexander Dunbar. The Old Town Cross or Mercat Cross was erected in 1685. Nearby is the Clach-na-Cudain or stone of the tubs, where women would rest on their way back home from washing their clothes.

Inverness in the 18th Century

Inverness Castle was enlarged early in the 18th century by George Wade. The Jacobites captured the fort in March 1746. Later the Jacobites were crushed at Culloden and government forces’ laid mines under the fort to destroy it. After the collapse of the Jacobite rebellion the government erected Fort George some miles from Inverness.

Several new important buildings were erected in Inverness during the 18th century. Balnain House was built in 1726. The Court House was built in 1789. In 1791 a steeple was built to be part of Inverness prison, it still stands! Inverness Academy was built in 1792.  Most of the houses built during this time were still simple huts, most had thatched roofs ad many had clay floors.

During the 18th century Inverness continued to be a busy port and market town. In 1732 Citadel Quay was built which help enhance the fortunes of many dwellers in the city. Though many, now having a little more money to spend probably developed a liking towards alcohol as the brewing and distilling industries started to become very important in the late part of the 18th century. The first bank in Inverness opened in 1775.

Inverness in the 19th Century

The building of the Citadel Quay led onto more waterways construction, in 1817 Thornbush Quay was built, and later (1822) the Caladonian Canal to link east and west Scotland. However, it was not a great success. Where-as the railway which reached Inverness in 1855 was extremely popular as it made it very easy for tourists to travel to the Highlands and to transport goods, thus boosting the economy again.

A boom in building was to follow with The Royal Northern Infirmary opened in 1804 and a new ‘castle’ was built in Inverness between the period of the period of 1834-1846, it was designed by Alexander Ross. The Town House was also built during this period (1882) as was the first public library (opened 1883), as well as the towns first public museum.

Inverness gained several big improvements during this period for its inhabitants also, its first newspaper rolled into production in 1808, and the city gained gas light and water supply, however, many of the houses still had thatched roofs and clay floors.

The Ness Bridge which had stood since the 17th century was destroyed in a flood in 1849, It was replaced by a new bridge in 1855. Meanwhile a second bridge called Waterloo or Black Bridge was built in 1808. Infirmary Bridge was built in 1817.

Trades began to reach new heights in Inverness during this period, shipbuilding, rope making, sail making, tanning and wool all proved profitable and in 1817 a sheep market began in Inverness.

Inverness in the 20th Century

By the early 20th century Inverness had a population of 21,000; it would double in size during the 20th century.

As in the past industries like shipbuilding and distilling continued to prosper, these were now joined by tweed production and engineering amongst others. The port continued to be busy.

Tourism also boomed for Inverness becoming a major industry.

The Highlands College opened in 1960. A new Ness Bridge was built in 1962. Eden Court Theatre opened in 1976. The Eastgate Shopping Centre was opened in 1980 and the Kessock Bridge was built in 1982.

Inverness in the 21st Century

Inverness was officially made a city in 2000. Today the population of Inverness is 47,000 and is continually growing.

The Eastgate Shopping Centre was enlarged in 2003 and the museum (though given a number of transformations over the years) was totally overhauled in 2007.

The college was renamed UHI and moved to a new site on the outskirts of the city given an upgrading to University status in 2015.

And there has been rumours of the Castle being opened to the public as a visitors centre (currently used as a Court House).

Inverness is a city at the heart of the beautifully wild Scottish Highlands and as its past has shown it will continue to grow and evolve but will not lose any of its rustic charm.



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