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From the Archives: Drink in the details of the Highlands

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Fro the Archive
Fro the Archive

Prior to 1975 much of the governing of Inverness was the responsibility of the Inverness Burgh Council. The “town” as it then was, contained many pubs, inns and hotels where you could purchase exciseable liquor or, to put it more traditionally, a wee dram. The burgh council records contain the Registers of Licenses from the Licensing Court. This court contained five officials who decided who was to be granted a license to sell alcohol.

The first surviving register runs from 1765 to 1786 and begins on October 25, 1765 by stating: “Lists of persons licenced as victualers and reteallers within the said Burgh or Territory thereof from this date”. In the first instance 42 licenses were granted, premises on streets still there today such as Castle Street, Castle Wynd and Bridge Street are all mentioned as are those that have new names, such as Kirk Street (now Church Street), New Street (now Academy Street) and more obscure ones like Back Vennell.

No street names are given for anywhere across the bridge from the town centre which is just referred to as “Bewest The Water”.

Many of the licenses are granted to individuals who are listed as vintners or vintrixes, who sell liquor from their own houses. Two are named as “Mrs Fraser in her canteen bewest the River Ness” and “John Eales Vintner in the Masonic Lodge”.

The next surviving register begins in 1856 and from then there is a complete surviving run of registers until 1975 when councils were reorganised. The first volume is the only one which gives an abstract of certificates granted, “on 29 April 1856 – Hotels 15, Public Houses 56, Dealers in Groceries 34, In All – 105”. There were six on Petty Street (now known as Eastgate) alone. This shows quite a remarkable increase from almost a century earlier.

Licenses had to be renewed annually and applicants are variously described as innkeepers, hotel keepers, public house keepers, grocers and one as a confectioner. Notably applicant 24 is an Innkeeper on Bridge Street called Helen Gellion, whose family name lives on in the same establishment today. A new application is also made by Andrew Dougall for the Railway Station; this is just under six months since the railway station opened in November 1855.

Understandably one of the columns in the register refers to any previous convictions, however this column only starts listing previous convictions in 1868. In that year and the next such misdemeanours noted include selling spirits on a Sunday, keeping an open house after 11pm and, in the case of a grocer, allowing spirits and other drink to be consumed on the premises. In the first two volumes very few of the premises are referred to by name, the only two being the Star Inn on Grant Street and the Thornbush which was a brewery as well as a public house. They along with The Haugh Brewery, which appears in 1870 as Buchanan and Son Brewers, were the two breweries in Inverness in the late 19th century.

This article only covers the first few volumes of the Registers of Licenses but they already give a great deal of information about the social history of Inverness.

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