Towns and Buildings

Castles and Towns

The 16th and 17th centuries had seen considerable violence in Argyll although, paradoxically, major new residences had taken the form not of the old castles of enclosure, nor of battlemented towers such as Aros on Mull or Saddell in Kintyre. Instead, as in Scotland as a whole, they had evolved into more elegant fortified houses as found at Dunderave on Loch Fyne or Barcaldine and Gylen near Oban. The ravaging of Argyll by Sir Alastair MacDonald for his father, "Colkitto", in the 1640s had been brutal, and further "depredations" had been carried out in 1686. The 18th century created greater confidence, symbolised by the building of a new Inveraray Castle from the 1740s as a palace in practice and a castle only in name and in flourish. Later in the century, the gradual rebuilding of Inveraray town as a planned burgh in a West Highland Palladian style, together with the laying out of Campbeltown, provided deliberate introductions which were both urbane and urban to a rural landscape in which thatched cottages, often with turf walls, were the rule. In the late 1780s the British Fisheries Society founded Tobermory on Mull. Into the beginning of the 19th century, the opening of the Crinan Canal was crucial to the development of Ardrishaig and Lochgilphead. Tourism, in the steps of Boswell and Johnson, became a major force, as exemplified by the rapid 19th century development of Oban as the gateway to the isles and the hub of a steamship and later of a railway network.


The Country House


The later 18th, the 19th and the early 20th centuries were the age of the country house in Argyll. Inveraray Castle, by dint of its "gothicky" costume, had all but begun the romantic interest in reviving or playing with historical styles. These were to dominate the 19th and early 20th centuries, and were often built for rich incomers who bought out local families. Torosay, Glengorm, Kilberry and Ardkinglas were built in Scottish Baronial style, Torrisdale, Calgary and Minard were in castellated style, Glenbarr impersonated an abbey-turned-mansion, and Poltalloch - perhaps the most impressive of all, now a ruin - was designed by leading Scottish architect William Burn in English Jacobean style. The general run of 18th century mansions, however pregnant with possibility the vision of Inveraray may have been for the future, had been genteel, Palladian derived structures, refined in proportion and suggestive of order. Examples abound, but those at Barbreck and Strachur can be glimpsed from public roads across their parkland.


Ruined Cottage

The evolution of the country house was certainly eased by cash out of improvement programs which favoured large farms, sheep stock wherever feasible, and efficient practices rather than the traditional system which supported a large peasantry. Such 19th century estate policies, including aesthetic landscape concerns exemplified by Kilmartin Glen, and shooting or deer forest interests, in fact (with modern forestry plantings) dominate the landscape we see today. Although there are few records of brutal clearance, the rural population was certainly reduced. Undoubtedly, the towns of central Scotland and the larger communities of Argyll absorbed some of the diminishing rural populace. Others emigrated. Fishing villages were boosted by landowners who wished to clear their land but retain rents. Assisted by steamboat communications, Campbeltown developed dramatically in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, very largely along Glaswegian lines: tenements, public buildings, hotels and middle class villas all appeared. Its secret lay in links with Glasgow and Ireland, in its rich agricultural hinterland, and in its mining, distilling and fishing industries.

The “Glaswegian Riviera”


Towns on the Clyde Estuary - the "Glaswegian Riviera"! - were less diversified, looking to tourism and commuting (in symbiotic embrace with the smoky muck and brass of Glasgow). Towns such as Dunoon and Rothesay expanded on the heady proceeds of tourism. Rothesay took on a particularly urban feel, supported by suburban communities on either side. A string of smaller, sprawling communities, almost purely composed of middle class villas, sprang up on the Cowal coast from Blairmore to Tighnabruaich, on Bute at Kilchattan Bay and all round the Dunbartonshire peninsula of Rosneath.