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FORT GEORGE

Fort George is one of the most outstanding artillery fortifications in Europe. Its existence demonstrates the determination of the House of Hanover to bring the Highlands of Scotland firmly under its rule of law. Though the construction of a massive, impregnable army base in the Jacobite heartland the regime sought to prevent any possibility of a further uprising on the scale of the '45.

Between 1748 and 1769 more than a thousand men were employed on one of the biggest construction projects ever witnessed in the highlands. The original intention of government designer William Skinner (1700-1780) was to use the site of the old Cromwellian fort at Inverness. However, objections from the Burgh Council of Inverness, relating to the loss of harbour dues which would have resulted from this plan, forced a re-think. In 1747 an alternative - and in every sense a more suitable - site was identified at Ardersier on a barren promontory which jutted out into the Moray Firth. The lie of the land allowed for a concentration of defences on the landward side whilst sea defences could be arranged around an encircling rampart. Although overlooked by hills less than 2 km to the east, that range was too far for contemporary artillery.

Work began on the Fort in 1748. The building contract was given to the architect William Adam, father of John, Robert and James. John was responsible for most of the work following the death of his father shortly after the contract had been awarded. Owing to a lack of masons and other skilled tradesmen in the local area, labourers were recruited in the Lowlands and shipped north, where they worked alongside government troops. Suitable building materials were more readily available, the red sandstone being shipped across the Firth from a quarry on the north side of Munlochy Bay. A pier was constructed to the south of the Fort to land these and the workforce.

By the time the Fort was completed in 1769 the Jacobite threat had disappeared and the Fort's original main armament of over 75 heavy guns of various sizes were never fired in anger. . Nevertheless Fort George was to remain an active army base.

During the French invasion scare of the late 1850's and early 1860's, a powerful coastal defence battery was built on the seaward facing ramparts, thereby reversing the landward defences of the original design. However these emplacements in turn became obsolete with the evolution of high power rifled ordnance and ironclad warships during the following decade.

Until the mid 19th century Fort George was employed as a base for the many Highland regiments raised by the British Army amongst its former enemies for service in European conflicts and throughout the expanding Empire. The reorganisation of the British Army in 1881 called for the establishment of regimental depots based within recruitment territory. Forth George became the regimental home of the Seaforth Highlanders. Some 80 years later the Seaforths were amalgamated with the Cameron Highlanders to form the Queen's Own Highlanders with the Fort becoming the new regiment's depot for a further three years. Following a major refurbishment of the accommodation by the Ministry of Defence during the 1980s Fort George's future as a military base now seems assured.

 






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