Statement of Special Interest
The smithy, sawpit and workshop on the side of the Caledonian Canal at Neptune's Staircase at Banavie is an important and relatively externally unaltered group of industrial buildings associated with the original construction and subsequent repair of the Caledonian canal. The former smithy and sawpit feature on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map and are likely to date from the construction of the canal. The workshop appears on the 2nd Edition Map of 1899 and is likely to have been built to provide more workshop space when the locks needed repairing. All were originally built to store materials, provide stabling for horses and enable wood to be cut for the construction of the exceptional series of locks called Neptune's staircase. The former smithy probably also functioned as stables. All the buildings are externally little altered and the unbroken roofline and lack of any additions or extensions is rare in buildings of this date.
The buildings are situated immediately on the canal side next to the series of locks and across from the listed Lock Keeper's Cottage. This proximity to the canal and other associated buildings emphasises the relationship between the group and the canal and although there has been some new build to the rear of the canal, this context is still clearly defined.
Internally, most have an open single space and bare walls which is typical of the original industrial nature of the buildings.
The whole of the Caledonian Canal is a Scheduled Monument which identifies it as being of national importance to Scotland. For this section of the Caledonian Canal see Scheduled Monument No 3530.
The iconic Neptune's Staircase at Banavie is the longest staircase lock in Britain, and consists of 8 locks and 9 lock gates. A staircase is defined as two or more, adjacent locks and where the upper gates of one lock serve as the lower gates of the next. Boats entering the staircase are therefore committed to passing through all the locks in one go before other canal users can use them. It was nicknamed Neptune's Staircase by those who constructed it. It originally had 36 capstans which would be rotated in a strict order to allow the water in or out of the locks. Each capstan had 20 rotations and it would take half a day for a boat to climb or descend the staircase and consequently boats may have to wait for up to day to use the staircase. Many lock keepers were needed to operate this staircase smoothly, swiftly and safely. During the 20th century the staircase was mechanised, cutting down the time and effort in operating the locks.
A number of single storey workshops, stables and stores were built along the canal at various points to house materials and provide stabling for horses during the construction of the canal. These were situated not only at locks, but also at other strategic points where significant construction was taking place, including basins. A number of these buildings survive and their continued existence helps to better understand the construction process of the canal. As simple, single storey rubble buildings, they also add significantly to the character of the Caledonian Canal.
The Caledonian Canal is one of five canals surviving in Scotland but is unique among them as being the only one entirely funded by public money. The canal was part of a wider infrastructure initiative across the Highlands to facilitate trade and the growth of industry and, most importantly for the Government, to tackle the emigration problem resulting from the Highland Clearances, by providing much-needed employment. The experienced engineer Thomas Telford submitted a report in 1802 to Government commissioners which detailed the route and size of the canal. The canal connects Inverness in the north to Corpach, near Fort William in the west, by linking four lochs: Loch Dochfur, Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy. The total length of the canal is 60 miles, but only 22 miles are man-made.
Built to take sea-going ships, including the 32-gun and 44-gun frigates of the Royal Navy, the Caledonian Canal was designed on a much larger scale than other canals in Britain and the locks were the largest ever constructed at that time. This combined with the remoteness of the location and the variable ground conditions, make it a great feat of engineering and construction.
Telford was appointed principal engineer to the commission with William Jessop as consulting engineer. Although work began in 1804 rising costs and the scale of the project resulted in slow progress and the first complete journey was made on 23-24 October 1822. Whilst the Canal was constructed for commercial use it was never a commercial success. Since its opening it was beset by problems and had to be closed for repairs and improvements in the 1840s. However the canal became popular with passenger steamers with tourism increasing following a visit by Queen Victoria on 16 September 1873.
Previously listed as 'Caledonian Canal Banavie, Neptune's Staircase, Former Smithy and Former Stables'.
The category changed from C to B and statutory address and listed building record updated as part of the Scottish Canals estate review, (2013-14).