To the best of my knowledge, Inveraray has never been the site of any particular event, but it’s still interesting as a Georgian planned town, laid out at one time and in one style. Its story is very much the same as that of Scone – the town was originally on the ground between Inveraray Castle and the shore, but after the castle was rebuilt in the 1740s the Dukes of Argyll no longer wanted other people on their doorstep, moving the town half a mile along the bay in the 1770s.
Southey on his tour of Scotland with Telford in 1819 was obviously struck by the town, say that it exceeded anything he had seen in Britain – he generally liked things to be neat and well arranged!
His description of the main street sounds a bit more like damning with faint praise, however, although he presumably didn’t mean it that way.
The main street, terminated by a Kirk, reminded me of those little German towns, which in like manner have been created by small Potentates, in the plenitude of their power.
The church still stands in the middle of the road, acting as a kind of roundabout – it was built between 1795 and 1802 by Robert Mylne, and was originally double, containing separate churches for English and Gaelic speaking congregations in the same building, although the Gaelic church is now used as a hall. The English entrance looks north and has a clock, and the Gaelic entrance looks south and has a bell.
The bulk of the building seems to have been done in the mid 1770s, and the George Hotel in the main street claims to have been established in 1776. The name also stresses that this is the heart of Campbell country – other parts of the highlands might not have been so ready to commemorate a Hanoverian king.
Beyond and behind the main street the houses are mainly laid out in blocks, still painted white – Factory Land, Relief Land, Fisher Row, Cross Houses – some tenements, and some more like cottages.
Front street, at a right angle to the main street and facing the castle, is possibly the most impressive part, and one of the earliest, dating back to the 1750s. The central building here is the original townhouse – courtroom and council chamber, prison, and grammar school – which replaced the tolbooth in the original village.
Arches not only link the townhouse to the inn, covering the entrance to the Avenue which runs parallel to the main street, but also link the inn to the old smithy on its far side, giving the Oban road which runs between them an odd look of a private drive. It’s still a local landmark – you don’t tell someone to go to Inveraray and take the Oban turning, you tell them to go to Inveraray and through the arch.
The main historic attraction, however, is the replacement courthouse and jail, built in 1820, which stands halfway up the main street facing the church. The prison closed in 1889 and the court in the 1950s, and the building now holds a recreation of a trial and the cells, and information about some of the more exciting happenings there.
Although the main building proclaims itself to be Inveraray Jail, it’s really the court building – the original county jail of Argyll was a much smaller building in the yard behind, although a second building was added later.