Public buildings have a range of purposes (Gifford 1992, 65ff) such as schools, almshouses and poorhouses, inns, shops, banks, theatres and music halls, community halls and even public conveniences – some of which were built over burns as at Golspie (MHG53669). Many public buildings are known only from maps, while others have changed functions over the years. Few surviving remains date back to before the 18th century. Exceptions include Dunbar’s Hospital in Inverness, an almshouse built in 1668 (Gifford 1992, 202). Most poorhouses date from after the introduction of the new poor law in 1845 and most were organised as combination poorhouses serving a number of parishes. In addition, there were many much smaller poorhouses built to serve local needs.
There are some schools are known from early in the period (Withrington 1986), and later school provision has been covered in a number of local studies (Lawson 1975; Mowat 1981, 122ff; Bangor-Jones 2000a). This information remains to be brought together, with attention being paid towards the different types of schools; Gaelic, church schools, SSPCK schools, grammar schools, side schools etc. Old schools are dotted throughout the Highlands, most from the 19th century or later (Gifford 1992, 66–67).
Some banks are grandiose, including the Greek revival Caledonian Bank in Inverness (MHG15526), now (as of 2020) a bar. Many late 18th-century and later hotels are also grand affairs (Gifford 1992, 69); some are converted castles or hunting lodges, but some are purpose built as at Strathpeffer.
Civic buildings include tollbooths (for housing taxes and prisoners), town halls, courthouses (many made redundant in the last decades), post offices (again many made redundant in recent years) and a prison in Inverness (Gifford 1992, 65ff; RCAHMS 1996). Although libraries are now part of the local authority provision, many in the Highlands were funded by Andrew Carnegie who owned Skibo estate in Sutherland.
Few excavations of public or civic buildings have been undertaken in the Highlands. The recently excavated inn at Wilkhouse Inn in Sutherland, probably of mid-18th century date, is exceptional in its early dating and details (Adamson and Bailie 2019; Case Study Wilkhouse Inn). Much more work could be done researching these public buildings, this placing them in local and regional contexts.
Some aspects of urban infrastructure also have archaeological imprint, such as the public water supply and sewage (MacAskill nd), electricity substations, gasworks and telephone exchanges. All required supplies when building, providing evidence of local and long-distance networks. Few have seen much other attention.