Case Study 18: Inveraray – The Birth and Development of a Planned Town in Argyll

Tom Parnell, Historic Environment Scotland

The existing town of Inveraray (from the Scottish Gaelic, Inbhir Aora (mouth of the (river) Aray)), dates to the mid-18th century when Archibald, the 3rd Duke of Argyll started construction of a new planned town on the western shores of Loch Awe. There was a pre-existing settlement (Figure 122), located to the north-east of the current town, on an area just south of the existing castle, which is mentioned as early as 1472 in a charter that promoted it as a burgh of barony. This smaller town became a royal burgh in 1648.

Figure 122: Engraved view of the old Castle of Inveraray and Market Place of the old town, drawn by Paul Sandby c1750 (Sandby was stationed in Inveraray in 1746)  © HES

The earlier 15th-century Inveraray Castle was entirely demolished in the 1740s – it was largely uninhabitable by the time the 3rd Duke inherited it. He appointed William and John Adam to design a new castle, and the foundation stone was laid in 1746. Development of the new town of Inveraray also began in the 1740s, and was located ‘about half a mile lower down the loch’ as the Duke described in a letter to Lord Milton in 1743. The site of the new town was out of sight of the new castle, but deliberately placed on the headland at Gallows Foreland Point for both picturesque and practical purposes: the town could be viewed from a distance, yet was separated from the estate parkland by The Avenue, a 17th-Century avenue of beech trees. The original plan from 1743 worked by the 3rd Duke with Lord Milton envisaged two North East-South West streets on either side of The Avenue, crossed by a short central street, and fronted by a further short street on the north shore. William Adam produced a further plan around 1747, of which the idea of a double church to house paired Gaelic and English congregations was taken forward in John Adam’s plans of 1750. The final form of the town focused on a single North East-South West street (Main Street) centred on the double church on an enlarged cross street, terminating on a North East-facing cross street looking up the loch (Front Street).

Figure 123: 1927 postcard view of Front Street, with The Avenue Screen Wall to the right © HES

Progress of both the new castle and town was slow, although the growth of population (partly to serve the construction of the new castle) had led to the construction of a number of houses and cottages, including a couple on Main Street and Front Street by the time of the 3rd Duke’s death in 1761, including McPherson’s House and Gillies’ House. The larger public buildings including an inn, court house and tolbooth had also been completed, but the new town as a whole had not reached any finished form.

The 4th Duke showed less interest in Inveraray, and little progress was made with either the town or the castle, but this changed after his death in 1770 when the 5th Duke appointed Robert Mylne for a number of works, including the revival of the double church (Figure 124), the construction of the Arkland and Relief Land tenements that extended the Main Street southwards, and a screen wall across The Avenue to link the elevations of Front Street (Figure 123).

Figure 124: General view of Inveraray Parish Church © HES

The 1770s saw significant progress in the completion of both the new castle (Figure 125) and the town. The construction of the new tenements allowed for the last residents of the old town to be relocated and for it to be demolished. There are now no visible remains of this earlier settlement. The double church (Figure 124) was finally opened in 1805, providing the separate Gaelic and English speaking congregations with accommodation mirrored in plan with pulpits either side of the central tower, and with pedimented facades facing up and down Main Street. The New Town of Inveraray was effectively completed.

The 19th century brought mixed fortunes for the town. A period of decline in the first decade left visitors describing a town in very poor condition, but an increase in the numbers of visitors saw a push to continue construction. The court house was rebuilt, to designs by James Gillespie on a new site, and completed in 1820. The town was never connected by rail – the Callander and Oban Railway did propose a connection in the 1890s, but this was resisted, and so, unlike many similar towns, Inveraray was not exposed to any large scale late-Victorian and Edwardian redevelopment or expansion.

Figure 125: General view of Inveraray Castle © HES

After World War II, Inveraray was again in a particularly poor condition, and was beyond the ability of the estate to repair. Ian G Lindsay conducted extensive works between 1958 and 1963 across the town, including renovating 64 houses, in a scheme funded by the Scottish Development Department and Historic Buildings Council for Scotland.

Much of the town retains the 18th-century aesthetic as restored by Ian G Lindsay, with white-harl and black-painted margins, and closer inspection reveals a consistency of Lindsay-era details such as treatment of cills and ridgelines. Some later 19th-century buildings such as the sandstone former primary school (1907), adjacent Royal Bank of Scotland (1865), and Inveraray Court House (1816-20) are notable departures from this pattern, as is the Duke’s Tower (1923-32), a Gothic Revival bell tower that provides commanding views over the town, and sits beside All Saints’ Church (1886).

The Avenue was much eroded in the mid-20th Century (Figure 126 and 127) and was converted to provide a large car park, entered through Robert Mylne’s Avenue Screen Wall on Front Street. Subsequent replanting of trees will, in time, re-establish some of the character of this avenue.

(left)Figure 126: RAF oblique aerial view of Newtown Bay, Inveraray 1941 © HES
(right)Figure 127: Oblique aerial view centred on the town of Inveraray 2011 © HES

A major Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme of recent years continues to improve a number of prominent buildings throughout the town, with recent works to the Arkland and Relief Land bulidings on Main Street, and the buildings on Front Street that look northwards over the bay and approach from the A83 and Aray Bridge. However, this is also resulting in the loss of elements of Lindsay’s uniformity (eg replacing the terracotta ridge tiles with zinc ridge). A masterplan has recently been proposed by the estate which, if approved, will set the pattern for the town’s future southwards development, where it will conjoin with Newtown.

Inveraray Bibliography

  • Lindsay, I G and Cosh, M 1973 Inveraray and the Dukes of Argyll
  • Ritchie, J N G and M 1985 Harman Exploring Scotland’s heritage: Argyll and the Western Isles Exploring Scotland’s heritage series, pp61-64
  • Walker, F A 2000 The Buildings of Scotland: Argyll and Bute, pp303-313
  • Scottish Civic Trust and Argyll & Bute Council 2012 Inveraray Conservation Area Character Appraisal Consultation Draft

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