Fort George is an extensive 18th century artillery fortification, built near Ardersier in the aftermath of the 1745-46 Jacobite Rising. Designed by William Skinner and mostly constructed between 1748 and 1769 by William Adam's building practice overseen by John Adam, it was conceived as a single coherent structural complex, comprising both defensive and domestic elements. Unique within Scotland, Fort George is one of the most exceptional and intact examples of an 18th century artillery fortress in the world. It has been in continuous military occupation since the 18th century with minor additions and alterations to service its use by the British Army. It is still in use as an army barracks and also as a visitor attraction.
The largest element of the structure is the main rampart and projecting bastions and demi-bastions, extending approximately 1 kilometre around the interior area of the fort and a minimum of 20 metres in thickness. The structure of the rampart comprises an earthen core with supporting masonry buttressing and faced with dressed red sandstone. On the top of the rampart the inner side has been levelled to form a broad and level platform (terreplein), while the outer side includes earth and stone parapets incorporating gun embrasures, with brick revetments and raised firing steps to their rear. At some of the projecting angles of the five bastions and two demi-bastions are yellow sandstone circular sentry-boxes. Near the top of the rampart's outer face is a cordon, a projecting line of rounded stone, to impede any attempt to scale the walls. Built within parts of the rampart and accessible from the interior of the fort are a number of bomb-proof casemates. The terreplein is connected to the interior of the fort by means of six wide, sloping ramps. The main gate to the fort is on the eastern, landward side, and consists of an arched gateway with projecting keystone and double leaf studded gates. The gate is flanked by projecting yellow sandstone rusticated Roman Doric pilasters and topped by a tympanum depicting the arms of King George II. Two further sally ports exist, one each in the north and south ramparts roughly half way between the eastern and central bastions.
To support the main defensive curtains are a series of additional outworks, constructed using the same materials of red sandstone masonry, brick and earth. Immediately east of the rampart is the principal ditch. At its north and south ends the ditch ends in masonry dams (batardeaux), which are connected to a system of sluices which allow the main ditch to be flooded. On its eastern side the ditch is connected to the ravelin, the largest part of the outworks. The ravelin is a triangular masonry and earth structure, with its own cordoned rampart and ditch, with a parapet, sentry box, firing step, openings for firing through (embrasures) and two sets of stairs leading down into the principal ditch. Within the interior of the ravelin is the former guard house (now used as the ticketing office and shop for visitors) which is built of sandstone with a slate roof, twelve pane timber framed sash and case windows and a chimney at each end of the structure. The ravelin connects to the main gate of the fort via a timber bridge across the principal ditch, with a drawbridge near its eastern end. A second timber bridge connects the ravelin to the southern covered way. The final section of the eastern outwork defences is the covered way, with an associated counterscarp, two assembly points (places of arms), two half-moon shaped outer defences (lunettes), two zig-zag stretches (traverses) and a wide earthwork glacis. Each of the sally ports also has an outwork defence, in the form of a triangular place of arms located just outside of the sally ports themselves.
On the exterior of the fort to the south are three other elements relating to the fort's construction and use. The first is the former harbour, to the south of the south bastion, through which much of the material for the construction of the fort was supplied. The harbour basin is artificial, with roughly U-shaped plan and a pier along its western side, extending into the firth to the south. Adjacent to this is the former piggery, a long single storey sandstone building with slate roof, with the eastern section of the building slightly larger in scale than the rest.
To the southeast of the fort is the sea wall, built to protect the earthwork elements of the defences from damage by the sea.
Within the fort are a range of domestic and ancillary buildings to support its function as a military garrison. These are predominantly arranged in pairs on either side of the main roadway running east-west through the fort.
The easternmost pair of buildings, overlooking the parade ground, are the staff block on the north side of the road and the artillery block on the south. They are both two storey sandstone buildings, with a mix of nine and twelve pane timber framed sash and case windows, a number of chimneys with yellow clay pots and grey slate roofs. The central section of each includes a ground-floor covered exterior gallery (loggia) on the east side. The north and south end pavilions of the respective blocks are larger and more elaborate, highlighting their status as the former Governor's House (south) and Deputy Governor's House (north). They both have Roman Doric style covered porches (porticoes) on the east side, and the rear staircases include large Venetian windows. Within the former Governor's House (now the Officers' Mess) and the Deputy Governor's House (now The Highlanders' Museum) several interior features survive, including a number of fireplaces with cast iron grates and a mix of brick, marble and timber surrounds. The most elaborately decorated examples are those in the principal rooms on the first floor, with the ground and second floor examples being plainer in style, although still with decorative elements.
To the west of the staff block and artillery block are the two main barrack blocks, symmetrical and U shaped in plan to form a parade square in the interior. They are three storey sandstone buildings, with pediments bearing the initials 'GR' (for Georgius Rex) and dates of 1757 and 1763 respectively. In each block, the officers' quarters were located at the ends and in the central section, with the remainder of the block forming the quarters of the enlisted men. The officers' quarters comprise five bay sections that are slightly advanced and taller than the rest of the blocks, and use twelve pane timber framed windows; sixteen pane versions are used for the rest of the barracks buildings. Internally, these buildings have been altered on several occasions to improve the barrack accommodation, most recently during a major refurbishment in the 1980s, but some original elements, such as the stone stairwells, are still present.
To the west of the barracks are two former ordnance stores buildings. They are two storey rectangular plan sandstone buildings with walled courtyards attached to the west. The courtyard of the northern example has been adapted with a modern roofing structure to enclose it, although the southern example remains open. They have round porthole style eight pane windows on the ground floor with arched, sixteen pane timber sash and case windows on the first floor.
West of the ordnance stores is the regimental institute, on the north side of the main road through the fort. This is the only new building added to the fort following its original completion, and was added in 1934. The institute now occupies an area that was previously a parade ground, and the ground south of the main road still remains open space. The institute is an 11 bay, 2 storey sandstone building, with slate roofs. It has projecting bays on both sides of its principal (south) elevation, and each of these also has a single projecting ornamented doorway. To the rear are two further longer projections, giving the building a squat H-shaped plan. There are seven chimney stacks with yellow clay pots and the windows are a mix of 8, 12, 16 and 20 pane timber sash and case windows. Although a later addition, the scale of the building is designed to be in keeping with the rest of the fort.
West of the institute is the former provision stores, bakehouse, brewhouse and related accommodation. These facilities were housed in a single two storey red sandstone block, running north to south, with twelve pane timber framed sash and case windows. Unlike the other buildings, this block extends across the main road through the fort, which passes through an arched pend in the centre of the building. Above this pend on the east is a second recessed arch housing a clock. Attached to the west of the building are two small courtyard areas, and the southern half has also a group of single storey outbuildings attached on the west side of its courtyard. Internally, the northern part of the buildings retains a military prison, added in 1842, comprising six arched cells over two floors, with original heavy wooden doors and brick and timber bed bases, along with the metal walkways and stairs connecting the two levels.
The westernmost building in the fort is the chapel. The chapel was the last of the original buildings to be completed, in 1767. The chapel is not depicted on the original plans of the fort, and may have been an addition designed by the architect, Robert Adam rather than Skinner. The chapel is a two storey structure built of red sandstone, with a grey slate roof. On the eastern gable end is a polygonal chancel, while the west has a square tower with crenelated battlements. Rounded stair towers are located midway along both the north and south wall of the chapel. The majority of the windows are a mix of twelve and twenty-four pane timber framed arched windows. The exceptions to this are the three chancel windows, which contain stained glass, and circular eight pane porthole style windows on the upper level of the west tower. Internally, a two-tier arcade runs around the north, west and south sides of the chapel. The lower tier uses Roman Doric columns to support the round headed arcade of the gallery. A three decker pulpit is located beside the chancel arch, and two additional internal stained glass windows are located on either side of the arch.
In the interior of the south bastion is the grand magazine. This building was purpose designed as the main storage facility for the fort's powder reserve. Externally, the building is plain, with very few openings other than the small vents. Internally, brick vaults on stone pillars were designed to protect the powder from artillery fire, and an elaborate angled ventilation system with shutters was included to keep the powder dry while in storage. No iron was used in the construction of the magazine to prevent accidental sparks, with the heavy timber floors held in place by wooden dowels, and the doors and shutters were sheathed in copper.
In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: The interior and roof of the Junior Ranks Mess and Kitchen within the rear enclosure of North Stores Block (Building 9).
Fort George was designed and built in a single phase in the mid-18th century, in response to a political situation that ended long before the construction of the fortress was complete (see Historic Interest below). This fortification was built as part of a network of sites connected by new military roads in the Highlands from Fort William and Fort Augustus in the west to the Inverness in the northwest and as far south as Inversnaid.
The construction of Fort George was not the first time that the Government had attempted to control the Highlands through new military infrastructure. Fort William was built in 1690, on the site of an earlier fortification, as a response to the first Jacobite Rising (scheduled monument SM2174). The four barracks at Bernera (scheduled monument SM950), Inversnaid (Listed Building LB4040), Kilwhimen (SM9903) and Ruthven (SM90255) were built following the 1715 Rising. In the 1720s Fort Augustus and the original Fort George in Inverness were also constructed, along with General Wade's military road network to improve access to and around the region by Government forces. However, none of this military infrastructure was able to prevent "The '45", and in the case of the road network it even benefitted the Jacobite's efforts.
Following the final rising, a ruthless campaign of oppression and control was undertaken to pacify the region permanently. A sustained campaign of this nature required a substantial and long-term military presence in the area. Repairs and improvements were made to existing forts and castles such as Fort Augustus (Listed Building LB1861) and Corgarff Castle (scheduled monument SM90080). The key to the new approach was to be Fort George. Initially intended to be located in Inverness, a dispute with the Burgh Council led to a new site being selected, on a spit of land by Ardersier, eleven miles east of Inverness. The new fort was to be capable of housing two battalions of infantry (around 1600 men), along with supporting artillery and staff. This was significantly larger than any other single British garrison of the time, with the closest contemporary being Fort Townshend, Newfoundland, which housed a mere 400 men in comparison and was not completed until 1780.
Detailed records relating to the design and construction of the fortress, including plans, financial accounts and letters, show it was constructed between 1748 and 1769, with only a single building, the regimental institute built in 1934, being added to the complex since the original phase of construction. Plans of the fort drawn in 1749, 1752 and 1763 by Major-General William Skinner, the military engineer in charge of the design, closely reflect Fort George as completed, and as it survives today. The only major addition to the complex was in 1934 and throughout the 20th century various alterations have been made to the building interiors in particular.
Fort George has served as an active military garrison throughout its life, a fact which led to the fort itself being redacted from early Ordnance Survey mapping for security reasons. It has housed or been associated with many different units of the British Army, most prominently as the headquarters of the Seaforth Highlanders from 1881 to 1961 and the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforths & Camerons) from 1961 to 1964. It also housed the Seaforth's predecessor units, the 72nd Highlanders (Duke of Albany's Own) and the 78th (Ross-shire Buffs) from 1778 and 1793 respectively. In more recent years, the fort has been the base for a number of units, and has been the base for the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland since 2007. Parts of the site have also been open as a visitor attraction since 1964, when the Ministry of Defence handed over responsibility for maintaining the fort to the Ministry of Public Building and Works (a predecessor body of Historic Environment Scotland).
Statement of Special Interest
Fort George is a uniquely well-preserved example of an 18th century artillery fortification within Scotland, and it is one of the best examples of the type anywhere in the world. The building demonstrates in detail the principles of bastioned defence used at the time of its construction, and it has served as an active military garrison continuously since the 1750s. As such it is a highly valuable source of information both on military engineering and strategy and on army life and organisation from the 18th century onwards.
Largely designed and built in a single phase between 1747 and 1769, it was the largest construction project ever undertaken in the Scottish Highlands until the construction of the Caledonian Canal. The fort is a visible reminder of two important parts of Scottish history and culture, the Jacobite Risings and their destructive and painful aftermath, and the later prominent status of British military service within Scotland. The overall design of the fort was undertaken by the leading military engineer within Scotland at the time, and the contribution of the Adam family of architects to the design and construction further adds to its outstanding architectural interest.
In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: The interior and roof of the Junior Ranks Mess and Kitchen within the rear enclosure of North Stores Block (Building 9).
The design of Fort George follows principles of military engineering that developed over the preceding centuries. The changing nature of warfare in the late medieval and early modern periods had led to significant changes in the design of fortifications. The basic defensive principles upon which Fort George is based are first observed in the trace italienne systems of the 16th century, reaching their peak with the work of the French military engineer Maréchal Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban and his Dutch counterpart Baron Menno von Coehoorn in the late 17th century.
Bastioned defensive works were aimed at simultaneously providing defenders protection against artillery bombardment while providing clear lines of sight and fields of fire for them to engage the enemy. Each element of the defensive system was designed to function in conjunction with other parts to form a coherent whole. For example, the angles of the bastions gave strong cover to the defenders while simultaneously denying it to an attacker, allowing enfilading fire against attackers on any part of the circuit. The deep main ditch allowed the rampart to be simultaneously tall from the base of the ditch, as an obstacle to scaling, while appearing low and squat to any attempted artillery fire from further out. The earthwork glacis shielded the east rampart from incoming artillery fire by deflecting it away from the face of the rampart and absorbing the impact of that artillery fire.
The design of the fort was undertaken by Major-General William Skinner. He had worked on a variety of military engineering projects in Britain and Europe, and was appointed chief engineer of North Britain in 1747. Construction of the fort was contracted to the family business of William Adam, who had been appointed principal mason to the Board of Ordnance in Scotland in 1730. William Adam died in 1748, before the construction of Fort George was underway, and his firm and the work at Fort George was then taken on by his sons, John, Robert and James Adam.
Major-General William Skinner was both the designer and first governor of Fort George. Born in 1700 in the West Indies, he was the nephew of Captain Talbot Edwards, the chief engineer of Barbados and the Leeward Islands, and later the second engineer of Great Britain. Upon Captain Edwards death in 1720, Skinner acquired his extensive collection of maps and plans. These were likely highly valuable in Skinner's own career as a military engineer, which had begun in May 1719 with him receiving a warrant as practitioner engineer, initially working at the Ordnance Office in the Tower of London. Over his career he worked on various military sites around Britain and Europe, until he was appointed chief engineer of North Britain in 1747. He was assigned to travel to Scotland and oversee military works in the country in the aftermath of the battle of Culloden, of which Fort George was the most significant and substantial element. Upon the fort's completion in 1769, Skinner was appointed governor, by which time he had also been promoted to colonel and appointed Chief Engineer of Great Britain.
Skinner's defensive design for Fort George clearly follows what would have been considered 'best practice' in military engineering at the time, and it retains every major element of its defensive system. The design, with the strongest and deepest defences to the east, was in keeping with the strategic aim of the fortress, which required the ability to sustain itself against a siege by a land-based force of infantry and heavy artillery with minimal naval support.
The substantial domestic facilities of the fort were primarily functional in their purpose. In spite of the very functional overall nature of the fort's design, the forts defences and buildings do exhibit outstanding 18th century architectural ornamentation in the neo-classical style and, although not confirmed was likely designed by William Adams's leading architectural and building practice. Such ornamentation is found on the more important buildings such as the chapel and the houses of the Governor and Deputy Governor, but also on more ordinary buildings, such as the clock-tower incorporated into the provisions block, the sentry-boxes and the design of the officer's quarters of the barrack blocks, which is advanced and slightly higher than the quarters for the enlisted men to signify the officers' seniority. It is possible that the Adams either designed or advised on some of these details, but the only example which can be confirmed as such is the chimneypiece of the great dining room in the Governor's House, which was designed by the Adam brothers at Skinner's request.
The Adam family are one of Scotland's foremost architectural dynasties, however, at Fort George their official involvement was as a construction company. Despite this, there are multiple architectural features within Fort George that suggest they also had some hand in design work alongside William Skinner. The contract to build Fort George was initially secured by William Adam in 1747, by which time Adam was well known as Scotland's foremost architect, having undertaken a vast portfolio of high profile work in the 1720s and 1730s, particularly the design and construction of country houses for the Scottish aristocracy. His building contractor's business had grown alongside his architectural work, and he was appointed principal mason to the Board of Ordnance in Scotland in 1730. This led to the contract to build Fort George, alongside works to other fortifications in the aftermath of "The '45", including at Edinburgh Castle (scheduled monument SM90130), Stirling Castle (scheduled monument SM90291), Fort Augustus (listed building LB1861), Fort William (scheduled monument SM2174), Blackness Castle (scheduled monument SM90036) and Dumbarton Castle (scheduled monument SM90107).
William Adam died in 1748, before building work had begun at Fort George. His eldest son John inherited the Adam business, also taking his younger brothers Robert and James into partnership. All three men would be notable in their own right in the fields of architecture and construction and all three were initially involved in the work at Fort George. In 1754 Robert left to pursue his own architectural career, later establishing a renowned architectural practice in London with his brother James in 1758, R & J Adam, who are recognised as Scotland's and Britain's most famous 18th century architects and as the leading exponents of the neo-classical revival in architecture and design which is popularly referred to as the 'Adam Style'. This left John with their father's business, and he continued with the project at Fort George until its completion in 1769.
The interiors of many of the fort buildings have been affected by substantial alterations during its use as an active military base for around two hundred and fifty years. However, there are a number of surviving earlier interior areas and features within the fort. These include the interiors of the chapel and the grand magazine, the Victorian prison added to the provision block, the stone stairwells of the main barrack blocks and a number of fireplaces and other details in the officer's mess and the regimental museum.
The plan form of the fort is a crucial element of Fort George's design, with the different individual elements of the defences combining to form an almost unaltered example of a bastioned defensive system. The layout of the buildings within the fort is also significant, with the symmetrical design on either side of a single main road through the complex providing both the necessary functional spaces for a military garrison, such as parade grounds.
The minimal alterations made to the overall complex since its original design and construction give Fort George an exceptional level of authenticity, and it ranks as one of the finest surviving examples of an 18th century artillery fortification not only in Scotland but internationally.
Fort George occupies a small promontory, Ardersier Point, in the Moray Firth, around 2.5km northwest of the village of Ardersier, and the exposed location gives the fort a sense of remoteness and isolation. Despite its low profile, its scale makes the fort visible from much of the surrounding area, and from the ramparts of the fort there are long views in all directions, including westwards towards Inverness and the Great Glen, north to the Black Isle and south towards the Croy Ridge and the hills beyond.
The location of the fort was selected for strategic reasons. The Moray Firth at this point narrows to just over 1km between Ardersier Point and Chanonry Point on the shore of the Black Isle opposite. This narrow channel allowed the fort to exert control over both control the shipping channel in and out of Inverness further west on the firth, and major land routes like the Great Glen to the west, the coastal route towards Elgin and Aberdeen and the main route southwards towards Perth. The coastal location also allowed the fort itself to be resupplied by sea in the event of access by land being restricted. The value of strategic control over a transportation route is reflected in the positions of other fortifications within the network, such as Fort William at the opposite end of the Great Glen. The narrow nature of the headland also restricted the tactical possibilities for any terrestrial force attacking Fort George, seen as the most likely threat, forcing them to approach the fort from the east, and this is reflected in the defences being deepest and strongest on this side of the fort.
There have been some changes to both the immediate surroundings and the wider area since the fort was built. These include the growth of the nearby villages of Ardersier and Rosemarkie and the creation of Dalcross airfield, now Inverness Airport, during the Second World War. Despite this, the overall setting has not significantly changed since the 1700s and retains the same sense of remoteness and isolation the fort would have originally had.
Age and rarity
Fort George is a unique example of 18th century military engineering in Scotland, and is one of the finest surviving examples of its type in the world. Largely designed and built in a single phase between 1747 and 1769, it was the largest construction project ever undertaken in the Scottish Highlands until the construction of the Caledonian Canal the following century. It has survived in an almost unaltered form since its construction was completed, with every major element of its original design still extant and understandable, and no more complete example of an 18th century fortification can be found anywhere in the British Isles. It could accommodate a far higher number of personnel than any other permanent British Army base at the time, and which would only be replicated within Scotland by the creation of the regimental depot system under the Cardwell Reforms in the 1870s.
Fort George is the largest of a network of major fortifications connected by military roads built or rebuilt within Scotland in response to the threat of further Jacobite Risings after the 1745 Rising. Fort George is substantially larger in scale and survives more completely than any of the other purpose built or adapted fortifications built within Scotland in an attempt to counter Jacobite activity, including the barracks at Ruthven (scheduled monument SM90255), Bernera (scheduled monument SM950), Inversnaid (listed building LB4040) and Kilwhimen (scheduled monument SM9903), Fort William (scheduled monument SM2174) and Fort Augustus (listed building LB1861). It is also substantially larger than contemporary examples of British military fortifications found elsewhere in the world. It was the last of the post-1745 Rising facilities to be completed, by which time Jacobitism was no longer a threat, and so Fort George was never tested.
Social historical interest
Social historical interest is the way a building contributes to our understanding of how people lived in the past, and how our social and economic history is shown in a building and/or in its setting.
Fort George has a significant connection to the transformation of the culture and history of the Scottish Highlands in the latter half of the 18th century following the period of the Jacobite Risings. The Jacobite Risings intermittently spanned a period of fifty seven years from 1689 to 1746. The Jacobite cause aimed to restore the Stuart dynasty to the throne, following the ousting of James VII in 1688. The final rising, under Charles Edward Stuart in 1745-46, ultimately ended in defeat for the Jacobites at the battle of Culloden. In the aftermath, a Government campaign of reprisal and oppression was undertaken within the Scottish Highlands, aimed at destroying the clan system which had provided so much of the Jacobite support over the years.
Fort George itself holds a dual relationship with this aspect of Scotland's history. Initially built and functioning as a place to control the Highlands, its role transitioned into one of recruitment and training as the Highland regiments grew in importance within the British Army in the decades following the fort's completion. As a result, the fort is both a symbol of the end of one Highland way of life, and a place of nostalgia and celebration for another. These associations reflect wider political and social divisions within Scotland, both in the past and the present.
The building also demonstrates in detail the principles of bastioned defence used at the time of its construction, and it has served as an active military garrison continuously since the 1750s. As such it is a highly valuable source of information both on military engineering and strategy and on army life and organisation from the 18th century onwards.
Association with people or events of national importance
Fort George has a close historical association with both people and events of national importance. The fortification was built in response to the final Jacobite Rising of 1745-46, and it is fundamentally connected to and reflective of this period of Scottish history. The Jacobite risings intermittently spanned more than half a century between 1689 and 1746. Their motivation was the return of the exiled Stuart monarchs to the throne, James VII and II having been deposed in 1688 and replaced by William III and II and Mary II. The last of the risings commenced in 1745 when Charles Edward Stuart arrived in Scotland from France in July, raising his standard at Glenfinnan on 19 August (known as the "The '45"). His aim was to put his father, known by his supporters as King James VIII and III, on the throne in the place of the Hanoverian George II. Following the catastrophic defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in April 1746, the Hanoverian Government embarked upon a campaign of oppression and control in the Highlands to attempt to suppress the clan system that had sustained the Jacobite cause, including through the construction of Fort George.
Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2019. Previously listed as 'FORT GEORGE'.