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From the Archives: Hydro power is not just a modern thing

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A photograph of the original Bught Mill. Picture: IMAG Joseph Cook Collection.
A photograph of the original Bught Mill. Picture: IMAG Joseph Cook Collection.

In the 1920s it was proposed to set up a hydro-electricity scheme in Inverness, on the site of the old Bught Mill.

The original mill had been powered by water wheel and steam, and this photograph (right, courtesy of the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery’s Joseph Cook collection) shows the Bught water mill, once located at the far end of the Islands in Inverness. Originally known as the Mill of Kilvean, the old mill was one of several meal mills within the area of Inverness and was first recorded as long ago as 1232.

Before work could begin on a new power station, the Town Council had to acquire the property of the Lands of Bught which had been out of possession of the town for centuries. Successively owned by well-known families including Duncan Forbes of Bught, who was Provost of Inverness in the early 17th century, the land finally passed into the hands of Colonel A R B Warrand of Bught, from whom the Town purchased the estate in 1923.

A photograph of the former Powerhouse.
A photograph of the former Powerhouse.

The town council set up a small 150kW hydro-electricity power station using the widened old mill-lade to supply water power from the River Ness using the flow down Whin Park Lade.

Among the collections at the Highland Archive Centre is a souvenir programme of the official opening of the hydro-electric station at the Bught, formally opened on December 11, 1929 by Sir Murdoch Macdonald, MP for Inverness-shire, whose engineering firm carried out the construction.

From this programme, there is a photograph of the Bught Headrace and Powerhouse. The total cost of the scheme was approximately £15,000 and although the original estimate of output was 450,000 kW per annum, at the time of opening it was anticipated that something like 600,000 kW per annum would be obtained. It was capable of supplying the night demand of the town between midnight and 7am in the winter, and between 6pm and 7.30am during the summer.

Also in the Highland Archive Centre’s collections are items from Sir Murdoch MacDonald & Partners (Inverness) Ltd who carried out the construction of the hydro-electricity station.

This collection includes photographs of a major contract of repair works to the Bught Lade and Weir which was undertaken from 1950 to 1951 (see pictures, left).

Here we have one of a frogman at work on the Weir in September 1951, and another from July 1951 showing workmen erecting shuttering to piers.

Although it was shut down in 1976, the powerhouse building is still in existence today as part of the area known as Whin Island. The site of the hydro-electricity station was where the new Holm Mills Bridge crosses the River Ness today. Of course, hydro-electricity in the immediate area of the River Ness is once again being talked about, following the opening of the Archimedes screw hydro-electric power turbine at the eastern end of the existing Holm Mill Weir on the River Ness approximately 2km to the south-west and upstream of Inverness town centre, which has an anticipated average annual renewable energy output of approximately 600,000 kWh per annum.

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