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From the Archives: Flood put Inverness in state of emergency

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The bridge which ultimately replaced the damaged 17th century crossing, but was itself demolished and replaced by the modern crossing in 1961.
The bridge which ultimately replaced the damaged 17th century crossing, but was itself demolished and replaced by the modern crossing in 1961.

ON the morning of January 25, 1849, after heavy rain and a sudden thaw, the inhabitants of Inverness awoke to find that the River Ness had burst its banks, writes the Highland Archive Centre's Jennifer Johnstone.

Large parts of the town were flooded and the Old Stone Bridge, between Bridge Street and Young Street, had been swept away. Built in 1685, by public subscription, this bridge not only linked the two parts of the town but also carried the main road to the north and north west.

With the river level rising fast, the Town Council declared a state of emergency and immediately took steps to ascertain the extent of the damage and make provision for those driven from their homes.

It quickly became apparent that the level of Loch Ness had risen dramatically and the embankment between the river and canal at Dochgarroch had been breached. Mr May, the canal engineer and a team of men were already working to repair the damage and the council requested that regular updates be sent back to Inverness regarding the water level and progress of the repairs.

In the town, barriers were built to protect property in Bridge Street and a close watch kept on the New Wooden Bridge at Grant Street which was also in danger of being swept away (as a precaution this was closed to all but essential traffic).

Flood relief centres were set up at the Poorhouse, Dr Bells Institution and the Northern Meeting Rooms, where broth and bread were provided, money from the Town’s Destitution Fund was used for this purpose.

At 6pm January 27 it was reported that Tanners Lane, Tomnahurich Street, Young Street and King Street were free of water and the following morning Mr May’s dispatch read: “Our operations hitherto have been as successful as could possibly be anticipated and altho I cannot yet pronounce us out of danger I consider the danger greatly diminished.”

However the New Bridge was still giving cause for concern and under the direction of engineer Joseph Mirchell, 30 loads of stone were placed around the wooden piles to prevent them being further undermined.

Finally on January 31, Mr May reported that the situation at Dochgarroch was under control and the emergency was over; Mr Mitchell stated repairs to the New Bridge were already under way with the expectation that it would reopen to carts and carriages the following morning.

The Town Council, while rejoicing that there had been no loss of life as a result of the flooding, estimated the cost of the damage at around £2600. A Bill to enable a replacement bridge was quickly drafted and approved by Parliament allowing the construction of a new Suspension Bridge.

- Due to the Covid-19 outbreak the Highland Archive Centre is closed until further notice.

- Highland Archive Service has launched an online catalogue. It contains nearly 100,000 descriptions of archives and library holdings held in archive centres in Inverness, Portree, Fort William and Wick and will be continually added to. For more, visit www.highlifehighland.com.

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