Scheduled Monument

Fort William, fortSM2174

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Secular: fort (non-prehistoric)
Local Authority
NN 10423 74313
210423, 774313


The monument consists of the remains of a later 17th and 18th century artillery fort. The remains consist of sections of the north and west rampart of the fort, with walls up to around 6m high, including a sally port or sea-gate and one demi-bastion. On the landward side of the western walls are the remains of earthen embankments. The fort is located on the shore of Loch Linnhie, on the edge of the modern town of Fort William

Begun in 1690 by General Mackay, the fort made use of the site of a previous earth and timber fortification built by General Monk in 1654 located on a strong defensive site where the River Nevis entered Loch Linnhie. The fort was defended on the landward side by a ditch, glacis and ravelin and on the west side by ramparts faced with stone. The earthen ramparts reinforced the walls against artillery fire and acted as firing platforms for cannon. The walls show evidence of several building phases and episodes of repair. The fort was defended by fifteen 12-pound guns and within its walls contained a complex of buildings including barracks accommodating up to 1000 men. The fort was decommissioned and partly dismantled in 1864. The West Highland Railway Company acquired the site in 1889 and a railway yard was built on the site, removing the interior buildings and the landward defences.

The scheduled area includes the fort walls with their earthern embankments and an area extending 2m beyond in all directions. The scheduled area includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduled area excludes the top 30cm of gravel paths and steps, any signage or interpretation panels and picnic bench and seat settings.

Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics               

Comparing the surviving remains with 18th century plans of Fort William it appears that approximately one quarter of the circuit of the main inner fort walls survive or can be traced today. The plans show a complex circuit of defences within which were a number of buildings which no longer survive. What does survives of the fort includes sections of the northwest and west walls together with internal earthen ramparts. The walls have been the subject of relatively modern repairs and consolidation work but they remain in reasonable condition. They continue to give a sense of the scale and nature of the fort as planned and built. Most of the walls appear to be of 17th and 18th century date although the north wall and sally port may be partly reconstructed utilising original materials and follow the original layout of the fort.

The visible architectural features include a sally port in the north wall, which is a round-arched opening in ashlar masonry with long and short voussoirs. The gun loops flanking the sally port are formed from roughly dressed stones and may be original. Investigation of the fort walls suggests that the masonry is from two clear building phases. The first phase is characterised by masonry made up of river boulders and is probably the work of General Mackay in the late 17th century. The second, probably 18th century work, consists of roughly squared stones laid in courses and with small pinnings. The surviving demi-bastion is a good example of the planning of 17th century artillery fortifications.

There is potential for buried archaeological deposits that could support a better understanding of the fort, its layout and function. Although later 19th century railway developments removed two thirds of the fort, the surviving walls and earth ramparts have the potential for associated buried remains. The survival and potential of such buried remains has been demonstrated at other 17th and 18th century Scottish fortifications such as at Fort Charlotte, Lerwick (Scheduled Monument reference SM90145; Canmore ID 1062) (Pringle et al 2000). Scientific study could provide more information on the chronology of the site, including the development sequence including the possibility of buried remains related to the first Cromwellian fortification. The potential and existing evidence for archaeology related to the phasing and development of the site adds further interest and heightens the importance of Fort William. Buried artefacts and ecofacts may also provide information about the nature and use of this fortification including the daily lives of the soldiers garrisoned at the site.

The survival of contemporary documents related to the construction and layout of the fort greatly aid our understanding of the partial physical remains evident today. Original plans detail the layout of the fort and the walls remaining today can be compared to 18th century plans to understand their position and role within the overall design of the fort. Technical drawings of the fort walls detail the construction methods used and allow us to interpret the remains today such as the possible positions of cannon on the ramparts. The relatively rare survival of such full documentation enhances our ability to understand and appreciate the remains of the fort. 

Contextual Characteristics

Fort William, as an artillery fortification, has a development sequence from the mid-17th century until the mid-19th century. Its origins date form the conclusion of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms with the defeat of Scottish forces at Dunbar in 1650 and Worcester in 1651. After these defeats, Scotland was occupied by an English army headed by General Monck. Major citadels were erected in Ayr, Leith, Perth and Aberdeen, together with a number of smaller forts across Scotland to maintain control of the country. Fort William and Cromwell's Fort in Inverness (scheduled monument SM953; Canmore ID 11392) were both constructed in the 1650s as part of this programme of fortification. Together they controlled each end of the Great Glen and provided a government base in the east and west Highlands, where there was a continued threat from Scottish clans loyal to the Royalist cause. At the restoration of Charles II, the Commonwealth forts in Scotland were abandoned and mostly destroyed.  Only fragments now survive in Inverness (scheduled monument SM953; Canmore ID 13392), Ayr (scheduled monuments SM6276, SM6277 and SM6278; Canmore ID 41776), Leith (listed building LB26902, Canmore ID 51917) and Aberdeen (listed building LB20604; Canmore ID 20072).  Fort William is unusual in that it was refortified in the late 1680s after William IV came to the throne (the fort was named after William). Fort William helped to establish Williamite control in the Highlands after the first Jacobite rising in support of James II led by John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee.

Maps of the Great Glen, running from Fort William to Inverness, often depict three 'Forts' along its length. At the northeast end, the present Fort George (Scheduled Monument SM6692; Canmore ID 14317) replaced the earlier, largely demolished Cromwellian fort and the old castle which was reoccupied in the 1680s at Inverness. At the heart of the Great Glen was Fort Augustus (Canmore ID 104357), the remains of which were incorporated into the later abbey. Finally, at the southwest, Fort William was positioned to defend the south west end of the glen. This series of fortifications represent the efforts at policing the Highlands, as well as a reaction to the threat of the Jacobite cause from the late-17th to mid-18th centuries. Fort Augustus, initially the barracks of Kiliwhimen (scheduled monument SM9903), was constructed in 1718 and replaced in 1729-42. The final government fortification established in the Highlands was Fort George from 1748 onwards. Fort William is the only fort in the Highlands to have been garrisoned from the mid-17th century into the 19th century, with a 30 year gap from 1660 to 1690.

Fort William was garrisoned until 1864, marking over 200 years of military use, with only a short period of abandonment between 1660 and 1690. The fort was then purchased by a local landlord and the barracks converted to flatted dwellings and the defensive ditches turned to allotments and gardens. In 1889, the West Highland Railway purchased the site and levelled much of the fort using the land for locomotive sheds and ancillary uses. The fort has played a vital role in the history of the town of Fort William, which grew up in this location because of the fort, and which was to take its name from it. The relationship between the town and the fort and its landscape context has changed significantly from the later 19th century to the present day. However, aspects of these relationships still remain such as its lochside location and its relationship with the Craigs burial ground which was established as the fort's cemetery (listed building LB31782). The cemetery lies around 400m to the southeast and contains the reconstructed gateway of the fort, which was erected there in 1896, and gives some sense of the fort's architecture.

Associative Characteristics

The fort at Fort William played a key role in the English Commonwealth's occupation of Scotland in the 1650s and then in the War of the British Succession from the late 1680s to 1746 which featured successive Jacobite risings. It is also linked to several important historical figures.

Two key figures related to the fort are Generals Monck and Mackay. General Monck was the commander of the English Commonwealth army in Scotland, who began the construction of the first fort in the 1650s as part of the military occupation of Scotland. General Mackay was William IV's commander in Scotland commanding the government forces at Killiecrankie.  Despite the major defeat for Mackay's forces at Killiecrankie, he is regarded as a key figure in bringing the highlands of Scotland under government control during the 1680 and 90s. He oversaw the redevelopment and construction of the fort at Fort William around 1690, probably establishing the layout to be followed by later developments.

Fort William was also the site of the last major military siege to take place in Britain. Towards the end of the Jacobite rising of 1745, the Jacobite army had successfully taken Fort Augustus and made their way to Fort William. The siege began on 20 March 1746 and lasted for two weeks. The Jacobites' attempt to take the last stronghold of the Hanoverian government in the Great Glen failed and historical accounts indicate that their cannon fire had little impact on the well planned and constructed defences. By the 3rd April, Prince Charles Edward Stewart ordered his men to abandon the siege and to gather in Inverness. Within a fortnight, the Battle of Culloden took place marking the military defeat of the Jacobite cause.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance as the remains of a well-preserved artillery fortification dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Although only a portion of the fort survives, it remains one of the best preserved purpose built 17th century artillery forts in Scotland. Study of its fabric and below-ground archaeological remains has the potential to contribute to our understanding of military organisation and army life during the 17th to 19th centuries and attempts by governments to control key routes and communities in Highland Scotland. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the military and political history of Scotland from the English Commonwealth's occupation through to the Jacobite conflicts of the 18th century.



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 23715 (accessed on 18/10/2018).

Highland Council HER reference number MHG 4196 (accessed on 18/10/2018).

National Library of Scotland digital versions of original plans and drawings of Fort William, reference numbers 00002713, 00002715, 00002727 and 00002733 (accessed on 18/10/2018)

Blundell, O. (1921). 'Kilcumein and Fort Augustus', Transcriptions of Inverness Science Society Field Club, vol. 8, 1912-18.

Cruden, S. (1960). The Scottish Castle. Edinburgh.

Farrell, S. (2002). 'Fort William Fort, Highland (Kilmallie parish), watching brief', Discovery Excavation Scotland, vol. 3. Wiltshire.

MacGregor, E. (1954). The story of the fort of Fort William. Inverness.

Miers, M. (2008). The Western Seaboard: an illustrated architectural guide. Edinburgh.

Pollard, T. (2007). 'Fort William and Inverlochy Project, Highland (Kilmallie parish), geophysical survey and trial trench evaluation', Discovery Excavation Scotland, vol. 8. Wiltshire.Pringle D, Ewart G & Ruckley N (2000) '… an old pentagonal fort built of stone': Excavation of the battery wall at Fort Charlotte, Lerwick, Shetland, Post-Medieval Archaeology, 34:1, 105-143

Salmond, J B. (1938). Wade in Scotland, new and enlarged. Edinburgh.

Tait, AA (1958-2018). Architectural History. V.1 to v.58. London. Page(s): Vol 8, Fig 1.

Wallace, T. (1911). 'Military roads and fortifications in the Highlands, with bridges and milestones', Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, vol. 45.

HER/SMR Reference

  • MHG4196

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Fort William, view of north wall including sally port and north west walls, looking south, on a slightly cloudy day.
Forth William, view of west wall and demi bastion, looking north, on a partly sunny day.

Printed: 26/05/2024 23:21