A short history of Dingwall by AA Woodham
The importance of Dingwall from early times is attested by its name which
is derived from the Norse Thingvollr, meaning the field of the council and the court of justice.Situated near the mouth of
the RiverConon and at the head of theCromarty Firth, its appearance from the Firth with high ground to either side is reminiscent
of Norwegian towns at the heads of fiords.
The Norse meeting place is thought to have been in the vicinity of Gallows
Hill. Even earlier, the prehistoric vitrified hill-fort of Knockfarrel some three miles to the west, along with other settlements
on the surrounding higher ground, all testify to the attraction of the location as a centre of population. Dingwall's own
river is the Peffery and its Gaelic name, Inbbir-Pheofharan (Invefearan) simply means the town at the mouth of the Peffery
(cf Inverness). Dingwall was created a Royal Burgh in 1226 under a charter granted by King Alexander ll. James 1V granted
a charter of confirmation in 1497and this was ratified by JamesVI in 1587.
The parish church of Dingwall dedicated
to St Clement is situated to the north of the High Street. An earlier church stood some yards to the north of the present
building, but only the base of its belfry remains. Adjacent to the belfry foundation is St Clement's Aisle, originally a chapel
attached to the earlier building and containing an inscribed stone recording that this St Clement's Chapel was founded by
William Kempin 1510A.D.lt is the oldest surviving stone structure within the town and plans are now in hand to consolidate
and preserve the ruin. Close to the entrance to the churchyard is a Pictish symbol stone of the earliest, incised type, dating
from the 4th-5th Centuries A.D. The present church building dates from 1803 and is unusual in that it faces away from the
town centre and looks towards Tulloch Castle to the north. The Castle was the seat of Davidson of Tulloch who owned three
quarters of the parish and consequently contributed the greater part of the cost of the new church. He had the plans drawn
up and decided that the Church should face his residence.
Between the Church and the High Street is a prominent obelisk.
This is not of great antiquity but replaces Dingwall's 'Leaning Tower' which was erected over the grave of Sir George MacKenzie,
the 1st Earl of Cromartie in 1714. Dingwall's marshy sub-soil caused subsidence and the monument developed a tilt, remaining
thus until its demolition by the Countess of Cromartie in the early years of the 20th century and replacement by the present
On the north side of the Jubilee Park, which was formed to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887,
runs the Dingwall Canal. The River Peffery was diverted from its original more northerly meandering bed into the Canal when
the latter was constructed in 1815-1817 by Thomas Telford. The Canal allowed the passage of sizable ships into the old town
centre where the original terminal basin was located at the eastern end of what is now the Victoria Park. The mud and silt
deposited by the Peffery necessitated continual costly dredging work and this coupled with low summer tides which sometimes
left only 6 feet depth at high water began a decline in the use made of the canal. By 1877 it had fallen into disrepair and
the increased pressure of the railway competition finally sealed its fate.
The original course of the Peffery is preserved in the 'Old River Road'.
The canal is usually referred to thus and remains a prominent landmark
in the town, even if not one of its most attractive features.
The antiquity of Dingwall Castle is not in doubt. In
Mathew Paris' 13th century map of Scotland, Castrum Dinkeual is the only castrum or castle in the country marked as such.
It figured prominently in Scottish history first as the seat of the powerful Earls of Ross, then held for a time by Edward
l of England and during the Jacobite risings of the 18th century the MacKenzies held their councils of war here. It is therefore
a matter of great regret that little trace of the castle now exists, nor indeed do we have any reliable indication of its
appearance before its ruin and subsequent demolition in 1818. The stones of the castle were used by a Dingwall resident, Captain
MacLennan, to construct the present Castle House.
What was probably originally one of the corner towers of the old
castle was transformed into a dove-cot, it is thought by the Bishop of Caithness who was appointed Chamberlain of Ross and
'Custodier of the Royal Castle of Dingville' in 1507. The'doo-cot' survives in a ruinous condition adjacent Castle Street.
On the east side of Castle Street the Printing Works were those of the local paper, the Ross-shire Journal.The building
occupied was that of the old Free Church which had been built after the Disruption in 1843 and disposed of when the congregation
moved to the fine new building at the eastern end of the High Street The Ross-shire Journal continued to be printed in the
old Church building until its recent removal to new premises on the Industrial Estate at the west end of Dingwall on Docharty
Road to the north of the area covered by this sheet. The old building was severely damaged by fire in 1990 and has now been
The concentration of buildings around the High Street in 1906 is very marked and reflects its
importance as the town centre. Dingwall was, and is, a market town serving a wide geographical area and practically every
building of importance waslocated in proximity to the Town House where the Council met, administrative offices and the court
house were located . The present Town House was built in 1730, renovated in 1777 and again in 1923. After the reorganization
of local government in 1975 it was no longer required by the District Council and is now administered as an independent Museum
by the Dingwall Museum Trust. The Militia Barracks and other buildings at the west end of the High Street were demolished
to provide space for a splendid new building to house the Ross & Cromarty District Council. One of the buildings demolished
was that used for many years as a hostel to accommodate school pupils with homes on the west coast and in the Islands. With
the provision of new secondary schools in the west children were no longer required to travel to Dingwall Academy, which had
since 1939 occupied a new site on the higher ground to the north . Since 1945 the old Academy buildings on the east side of
Tulloch Street have been put to a number of uses including housing the Public Library, part of the Community Education department
and St Clement's school for handicapped children.
A new ring road has done much to relieve congestion on the High
Street. There was considerable controversy in the fifties and sixties regarding the line of this new by-pass but
eventually the option of going to the east of the railway line was abandoned in favour of the westerly route and this was
completed in the mid-1960s.The new road joins the southern end of Hill Street and after proceeding west for a few hundred
metres, swings round to the north crossing the High Street just to the east of the Council Offices. It continues to the north
beyond the limit of this sheet, finally swinging east and joining Craig Road. The area between the new road and the south
side of the High Street is now occupied by large car parks. At the present time there is no charge for parking here and this
coupled with the recent pedestrianisation of the High Street from the junction with the ring road in the west to the junction
with Tulloch Street in the east has materially eased the traffic problem in the town.
Dingwall remains an important
railway junction where lines to the west (Kyle of Lochalsh) and to the north (Wick) diverge. However there was and is only
one road to the east of the railway line -Ferry Road- and the Hospital is still functioning, though the important Maternity
unit has now been closed with the opening of the large modern unit at Raigmore in Inverness. The new Health Centre is also
located beside the Hospital on Ferry Road. The old County Buildings are now utilised as the Community Charge Office and the
Sheriff Court, and the Police are now based in a new building at Bridaig to the west of the High Street.
Distillery near the southern extremity of Dingwall is now defunct. Originally situated at Ferintosh in the Black Isle where
the foundations of the old buildings may still be traced, spirits were distilled between 1690 and 1785 and by Government decree
were exempt from duty. No such privilege existed when the operations moved into Dingwall.
Mention must be made of
the impressive tower which now constitutes Dingwall's most prominent landmark. Situated in the cemetery on the Greenhill it
was erected in 1906 to the memory of General Sir Hector Macdonald. Sir Hector was born the son of a local crofterand rose
from the ranks in QueenVictoria's army. He distinguished himself in South Africa and in the Sudan where the victory at Omdurman
is generally attributed to his leadership.
A.A.Woodham ( June 2000)