The History of the Victorian Market

As the Royal Burgh of Inverness grew in size and population, particularly in the 19th century, the Town Council realised the need for a ‘Covered Market’. In Victorian Britain, many towns and cities had market arcades, with small shops and stalls in a long, narrow space, usually covered with iron girders and glass, often enclosing old alleyways.

In mediaeval Inverness there were market days and fairs throughout the year, some of them important social events as well as trading opportunities. In front of the Town House was the Mercat Cross, in an area called The Exchange. An officer in the Royal Engineers, Captain Edmund Burt, was stationed in Inverness in the 1730s and illustrated the Mercat Cross in a book. Burt gives a brief description of how business was conducted:

The New Market May 25, 1870

After discussing the issue of a ‘Covered Market’ at some length in 1869-70, Inverness Town Council decided to go ahead with a new building in a patch of disused land between Union Street and Queensgate.

It opened on 25th May 1870 – so the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Victorian Market was celebrated in 2020.

“…the slight ceremony
was of the most meagre

The opening of the original Victorian Market took place at 12 noon on Wednesday 25th May 1870. It was not an auspicious occasion; the Inverness Advertiser had expected a full turnout of army militia volunteers, a public banquet and full ceremonial arrangements at the very least, especially as it was also the birthday of Queen Victoria, with the town bell ringing for three hours. Instead, the Town Council put on a desultory performance:

“… the slight ceremony, which our local dignitaries seem
to have been almost shamed into, was of the most meagre description. A procession was formed from the Exchange, in
which the Magistrates and Town Council took part, preceded
by the Town Officers with halberds, and the town brass band,
of rather a funeral character; and odd enough, as if some
wicked combination of events had been brought about to carry
the joke to its fullest extent, the procession was met and headed
in Inglis Street by a hearse, which discreetly slackened its pace
and allowed the magnates to pass without interruption. The
markets were declared open by Bailie Simpson, acting chief
magistrate, in the necessary absence of the Provost, after which
the procession was reformed and walked back to the Town Hall.”

This description of events in the pages of the Inverness Advertiser newspaper ends by saying that “the proceedings were neither lively nor interesting.”

For the benefit of the dignitaries a “table was laid in the Town Hall for refreshments.” There was a toast to Her Majesty on the occasion of her birthday; a toast to the success of the markets; a toast was proposed for the health of the Provost, Magistrates and Town Council; to the architect, Mr Laurie; and finally to the health of the contractors, to which a carpenter, Mr Robertson, replied by observing that they would all be very glad to see the Council commencing another job in a very short time! This was greeted by Laughter and Applause, according to the newspaper account.

The contractors adjourned to the Caledonian Hotel, where they drank the health of the Queen and the success of the Markets, in a bumper of champagne. “Several of the Magistrates and Town Councillors, the architect, and a few friends, dined together in the same hotel in the evening.” Perhaps all this jollity made up for the meagreness of the ceremony.

“…with a few hundred
pounds more…the markets
would have been better…”

Amidst all this self-congratulation the only slightly discordant note came when came when Bailie Mackintosh proposed the health of Mr Laurie, the architect:

“…who had designed and carried out the markets in a manner
that reflected great credit upon his. Everything had been done
very well and very speedily. Though money and ground were both
limited, Mr Laurie had given them an excellent market place. (Applause.)
Mr Laurie acknowledged the compliment, observing that nothing
gave him greater pleasure than to find his employers satisfied with his exertions.

With a few hundred pounds more, of course, the markets would have been better,

but they made the most of the means at their disposal.”

The Great Fire 1889 | Sunday 23rd June 1889, 12.20 a.m.

The catastrophic fire which broke out just after midnight on the morning of Sunday 23rd June 1889 was the defining event in the history of the Inverness Victorian Market. The fire destroyed everything in the market and also threatened buildings in Academy Street and Union Street, including the important Music Hall, the scene of many important concerts and public gatherings.

The fire was covered extensively in the local papers, which at the time were the Inverness Courier, Highland News, Scottish Highlander and the Northern Chronicle.

“…one of the
most disastrous
fires…in Inverness
for a generation…”

Highland News: 29 June 1889
“Early last Sunday morning what has proved to be one of the most disastrous fires that has occurred in Inverness for a generation broke out in the New Market, and spread to buildings in Union Street and Academy Street. Happily, it was unattended by either loss of life or accident. The loss will amount to fully £15,000, but it is largely covered by insurance.”

The fire was first noticed by Andrew Sutherland, who lived on the 3rd storey of 22 Union Street with his mother:

“I was after going to bed when I heard a crackling sound. I at once got up and looked out at the back window, which overlooks the market. I saw fire in one of the shops immediately underneath my window. I dressed hurriedly, and ran to the Police Office and reported the matter, and afterwards hurried back to Union Street. The fire was then in the shops between 22 and 28 Union Street. The brigade was very shortly afterwards on the spot. They found the gate of the entrance from Union Street locked, but they at once forced it open. In a few minutes longer the whole market from end to end was in a blaze.”

This eye-witness account is from Andrew Sutherland’s police statement.
The Inverness Courier has the fullest treatment of the fire – 6 columns taking up almost an entire page of the newspaper, along with a very thoughtful Editorial.

“…like a furnace,
through which the flames rushed
in great sheets,
roaring like a whirlwind…”

The Courier tells us that Andrew Sutherland, who discovered the fire, was “an assistant in the General Post Office.” Its descriptions are extremely graphic:

“The woodwork, dry as tinder, burned with great fury; the flames rose to a great height and the heat was so intense as to melt the lead on the houses thirty feet above the scene of the outbreak. Viewed from Academy Street the Markets at this moment looked like a furnace, through which the flames rushed in great sheets, roaring like a whirlwind.”

“In a short space of time the whole Markets were completely gutted, nothing remaining but the side walls and the ornamental stone frontage, which spans the Academy Street entrance of the building.”

“All the shops which were ranged on either side of the building, and the stalls in the centre, were constructed of wood, and were speedily destroyed. The roof was also of wood and glass, and offered but a feeble resistance to the flames.”

The Courier give us the most detailed account of the various businesses in the market, and occupies a lot of space describing how other buildings in the vicinity were saved, along with their occupants. One of them was Mrs Christie “who has been an invalid, and has not left her bedroom for four years.” She was taken to the Station Hotel, where she remained for a week.

“…there was,
we regret to say,
a good deal of looting…”

It also describes the behaviour of the crowds of onlookers in some detail:

“There was, we regret to say, a good deal of looting, and shopkeepers and others complain bitterly of the petty acts of thieving which were in some cases perpetrated under their eyes.”

“…the continuous roar
of the all-devouring fire…”

The Highland News gives a vivid description of the rapid spread of the fire:

“Ere the Fire Brigade arrived, the middle of the market was in flames, and owing to the whole structure being of wood, they spread with alarming rapidity. Before water could be got to play on the burning mass, it was necessary to break open the gates – the keys not being available. Adding fuel to it was the Market gas supply, which, owing to some negligence, had not been turned off, and which, immediately the pipe melted, blazed forth, and continued to do so for a considerable time – the gas officials having to hunt all over the town for the man in charge of the meter. A few minutes more and the market was in a blaze from end to end, the inflammable character of the goods making the complete destruction of the structure certain. Three-quarters of an hour after the discovery of the outbreak, the scene was strikingly dramatic – the continuous roar of the all-devouring fire, the flames seeking an outlet through the already partially consumed roof and by the passages, and illumining the sky with a glare that was attracting thousands to the spot, the large body of people who had already gathered at the sound of the alarm bell in the Steeple, the alarmed inmates of the adjacent buildings who were rushing hither and thither, some of them in an almost demented condition, the utter powerlessness of man to cope with the Fire Fiend – all went to make up a picture that will not be readily forgotten by those who witnessed it. And, as if to give due dramatic effect, the roof fell in at this moment with a crash, the flames shot upwards, licking in their fiery embrace the shops which still continued to burn, and the brigade continued to waste their efforts on extinguishing what it was impossible to save.”

The Highland News is very critical of the Fire Brigade: “utterly demoralised”, “no one was in charge”, “everyone had a different opinion as to how they were to work”, “the constables who ought to have been regulating the crowd were busily employing themselves as amateur firemen.” Things improved after the Chief Constable of Inverness-shire, Mr Machardy, arrived soon after 1 a.m.

The Highland Railway fire engine arrived – their efforts saved the buildings on the north side of Union Street, though it took twenty minutes before they could connect their equipment to the mains water supply, as the town authorities had recently introduced a new system of hydrants – but failed to notify the railway company! Further equipment and hoses arrived from the Rose Street Foundry and the Northern Infirmary, followed by a detachment of 80 Cameron Highlanders from the Cameron Barracks at Millburn, who arrived with a manual fire engine at 2 a.m. By 2.30 a.m. “all danger of the fire spreading was at an end”, with the auxiliary forces handing over to the Burgh Fire Brigade at 5 a.m.
The Highland News gives detailed accounts of the effects of the fire on different businesses, many suffering catastrophic losses of stock, by fire, water and smoke damage. It also details damage to houses on Union Street:

“Mrs Paterson…was a great sufferer by the disaster, and had only time to escape in her night dress.”

The shop on the right-hand side of the Union Street entrance was Sinnot & Co., drapers, who lost £700 worth of stock. In addition, reported the Highland News, “Mr Sinnot stated that £100 worth of his goods had been stolen when they were removing them during the fire.” Reporting the same losses, the Inverness Courier noted that the recently-opened premises and stock were uninsured – they had got as far as preparing the necessary paperwork but had not yet despatched it.

The Courier is not as critical of the Fire Brigade as the Highland News, but confirms their account in more moderate language, while praising the efforts of the Cameron Highlanders and the ‘railway men’. It says that “the fire was witnessed by several thousand persons, who were attracted to the scene by the ringing of the Town bell.”

The Faithful Dog, June 28 1889

After listing all of the tenants in the Market, the Inverness Courier noted that:

“All the tenants above-mentioned have lost their effects. A few of the tradesmen succeeded in securing their books, but otherwise but little was saved. Messrs A. & D. Macdonald, fleshers, who, with praiseworthy promptitude, opened new premises in Union Street, yesterday morning, lost a valuable and faithful dog. He had been left in charge of the premises, and although an effort was made to get him to leave, he refused to quit, and was consequently burned to death at his post.”

“…the howl of a dog
could be distinctly heard
amid the roar of the flames…”

The Northern Chronicle has a harrowing description of A. & D. Macdonald’s unfortunate dog:

“While the fire was raging in the market, the howl of a dog could be distinctly heard amid the roar of the flames. It turned out to be the property of Messrs A. & D. Macdonald. It appears that it had been part of his duty during the previous eight years to keep watch over his masters’ premises from Saturday till Monday, and it is said he was so sagacious an animal that he knew well when the Saturdays came round, and when closing time was drawing nigh he indicated in a manner which was not to be mistaken that they should not forget to leave him his portion of food and water. On other occasions he would visit the farm, sometimes travelling by the public road, but more frequently by train, and he was never known to mistake the railway station.”

The Scottish Highlander, drawing extensively on Courier reporting, but adding important details, also mentioned the ill-fated dog:

“Messrs A. & D. Macdonald, fleshers, lost a valuable and faithful dog. He had been left in charge of the premises, and although he came out once, he immediately returned and a second effort was made to get him to leave, he refused to quit, and was consequently burned to death.”

The Highland News does not mention this incident at all.
These three short extracts contain everything we know about the market dog, now commemorated in the market with a plaque and resurrected through the miracle of Augmented Reality. He has also appeared in several stories in today’s local newspapers. Understandably we would like to know more, so taking on the role of Ancestor Detectives we have researched the farmer and butcher who owned the dog and are now trying to trace any descendants who may be able to add more details to the story. At the moment we do not know the name of the dog, or his breed, but he was clearly a faithful and intelligent dog, who took his responsibilities seriously.

From the Northern Chronicle we learn that he had been left in charge of a butcher’s shop in the market for 8 years, from closing time on Saturdays until Monday mornings. He knew when it was a Saturday and he knew when closing time approached, making it clear that his masters should not forget to leave him food and water.

Why did he not escape from the inferno? According to the Scottish Highlander, he did come out once, but immediately returned to his post, so we know that the dog was not chained up in the shop he was guarding. Macdonalds’ butchers shop was close to the Academy Street entrance, so the dog could have escaped. However, it was a scene of noise and confusion, with terrifying fire and debris all around, hundreds of spectators outside, and panic everywhere.

“…he was a Gaelic-speaking dog…”

One possibility is that he was a Gaelic-speaking dog. This is not as strange as it sounds – it is commonplace for Gaelic-speaking farmers to train their sheepdogs with Gaelic commands. By tracing Alexander Macdonald in the Census records, we know that he was a Gaelic speaker, born in Glenmoriston, so perhaps his dog would only have responded to Gaelic commands.

We have to thank the market dog for the key clue in tracing Alexander Macdonald. From the reference in the Northern Chronicle to a railway station near the family farm, that gave us a chance to narrow the search, looking in the records for Alexander Macdonald who lived near Inverness and also near a railway. An Alexander Macdonald in Kirkhill parish seemed a likely possibility, and, sure enough, a “farmer and butcher” of that name lived at Balintore Farm, in Inchmore, near the Bogroy Inn, south of the village of Kirkhill and not far from the former railway halt at Lentran. From that information we have been able to trace his Glenmoriston ancestry and of course his Kirkhill family – he was married with five sons, one of whom has left descendants. His brother and co-owner of the market shop, was Donald Macdonald. Investigations are ongoing!

Extract from 1901 Census

The Courier also mentions that A. & D. Macdonald, fleshers, had, “with praiseworthy promptitude” opened up new premises on Union Street within a day of the fire. This was at 33 Union Street, still in use as retail premises. Although A. & D. Macdonald continued trading in the market after it was rebuilt, they also continued trading on Union Street well into the 1950s.

“…the ludicrous things
that some persons will do
when labouring under excitement…”

We may never know why the faithful dog died at his post, but we do learn from newspaper accounts that there was widespread chaos and panic during the fire. The Northern Chronicle gives an example of the effects of stress in emergency situations:

“To give an idea of the ludicrous things that some persons will do when labouring under excitement, it appears that a messenger who was sent for the railway fire engine thought that the smartest way to accomplish this errand was to rush to the telegraph-office, and ask the operators there to telegraph for it.”

The Aftermath, June 28 1889

The Music Hall on Union Street, one of the town’s most important venues for public meetings and entertainments, escaped destruction but suffered damage, requiring extensive renovation and repair. The Courier has the best description of how this important building was saved.

Initial speculations about the cause of the fire were cautious, though it seemed clear that it was made much worse by the municipal gas supply.

When the crowds began to disperse, the Courier describes how:

“…the spectators went home between four and five o’clock in the fresh lovely summer morning, breathing the dewy atmosphere, scarcely tainted by the smoke of the destructive fire.”

In these days of instant breaking news and the immediacy of social media, it is perhaps surprising to realise that news of the fire did not spread throughout the community until the next day. As the Courier says:

“A great many people in the town were quite unaware of what had happened until they went to church in the forenoon. Then, if they approached near the scene, they saw the hose and the blackened buildings. Some heard nothing of the disaster until reference was made in prayer from the pulpit to a calamity that had befallen the town. Though the numbers present at the fire were large, perhaps it was still more astonishing that so many remained in total ignorance of it until the forenoon was well advanced.”

The Courier also noted the prevalence of looting:


In the hustle and excitement of the moment opportunity was taken by the evil-disposed persons present to help themselves freely to the goods which were being rescued from the shops and houses in danger. Beer and whisky from the Royal Hotel were consumed, and not a few left their old hats behind and treated themselves to a new rig-out at Mr Hall’s expense. In some cases a fit was not at once secured, but parties managed to profit by an exchange.”


The Northern Chronical also addressed this subject:


It is said that a great amount of looting was carried on by some persons in the crowd. Any person who felt so disposed had ample opportunities of doing so, as most people appeared intent in watching the progress which the fire was making. It is said that a party carried away the whole side of a bullock, and divided the spoil at the Black Bridge… The bar of the Royal Hotel was visited, and the acquaintance of the hat rack made. All the beer got in one of the lodging houses destroyed was consumed, and it is said that a large share of the stuff thrown from the windows, with the view to its being saved, was taken away by pilferers.”

The Courier returned to this topic in its next issue, on 28th June:

“One of the most discreditable things in connection with the great fire in town is the extensive amount of “petty thieving” which was carried on. Under pretence of affording assistance to the alarmed occupants of the burning premises, a number of mean rascals pilfered everything they could conveniently carry away. Boxes of cigars, jars of liquor, ready-made suits, hats, and legs of mutton were taken quite promiscuously…Roast mutton will be the piece de resistance in certain local quarters for a few days to come.”

“…a great seething furnace,
with a thousand
fiery tongues…”

The Courier also gives space to “Impressions of an Eye-Witness”, who indulges himself with more graphic prose:

“The Market was almost instantly transformed from a dark and dismal-looking glass-roofed court, locked up in itself by ponderous iron gates, into a great seething furnace, with a thousand fiery tongues, whose touch was death and destruction.”

There is a lot more in the same vain. He is more forthcoming in his criticism of the fire-fighters: “Public opinion, which is as a rule pretty correct, is that the Brigade requires new men and new methods.” He also notes widespread looting: “Petty thefts of the most barefaced kind were committed wholesale.”

The Scottish Highlander also covered the fire extensively and was equally outraged by incidences of looting:

“Among the many strange episodes none were more disgraceful than the conduct of some thievish rascals who, in the bustle and excitement of the moment, helped themselves freely to the articles which were being removed from the shops and houses in danger. The bar of the Royal Hotel came in for a full share of patronage, beer, whisky, and expensive wines, being freely consumed.”

“…butcher, baker, grocer
flesher, greengrocer, gamedealer, bookseller, ice-cream manufacturer…”

The Market shops which lost everything were listed in the papers as follows:


  • 1 Alexander Maclennan, butcher
  • 3 Mrs Witherspoon, baker
  • 7 and 9 James Munro, greengrocer
  • 13 and 15 Duncan Macgregor, grocer
  • 17 John Paterson, butcher
  • 19 John Trigg, seedsman
  • 21 and 23 Ewen Macdonald, flesher
  • 25, 27, and 29 Duncan Fraser, grocer
  • 31 and 33 Donald Macdonald, flesher
  • 35 Mrs Hughes, grocer
  • 37 to 47 – Stalls occupied by various dealers


  • 2 A. & D. Macdonald, fleshers
  • Stall, Mrs Junor, fancy goods dealer
  • 14 John Macgillivray, flesher
  • 16 and 18 Urquhart & Co., fleshers
  • 20 W. G. Watson, grocer
  • 22 and 24 David C. Reid, flesher
  • 26 John Noble, grocer
  • 28 Mrs Macleay, fancy goods dealer
  • 30 Alexander Barclay, greengrocer
  • 32 Robert Kelt, gamedealer
  • 34 Neil Macdonald, flesher
  • 36 to 41 Stalls – George Young, bookseller
  • Ann Maclennan, greengrocer
  • Ewen Gillies, greengrocer
  • Mrs Mackintosh, greengrocer
  • Joseph Marello, ice-cream manufacturer

The Union Street premises affected were:

  • 8 George Hallam Hall, tailor and clothier
  • 10 John S. Christie, hotel-keeper, Royal Hotel
  • 12 Macdonald Brothers, fleshers
  • 14 The Singer Manufacturing Company’s Office
  • 16 William Mackintosh, architect
  • Frederick A. Black, solicitor
  • Mrs Macdonald, lodging-house keeper
  • 18 William Ogston, chemist and druggist
  • 20 Mrs Patillo, fish, game and poultry dealer
  • 22 David Munro, collector of poor rates
  • Alexander Macgregor, solicitor
  • Robert Black, C.E., and architect
  • Colin J. Mackintosh, artist
  • Robert Christie, tailor and clothier
  • Mrs Sutherland, ladies’ nurse
  • Mrs F. Henderson, jacket maker
  • Misses Stewart, dressmakers
  • Mrs Paterson, lodging-house keeper
  • Donald Ross, baker
  • Mrs Macdonald
  • 24 Sinnot & Co., drapers
  • Market Entry – Francis Murray & Co., fleshers
  • 26 Thomas Fraser, draper
  • 30 Henry Mitchell, dispensing chemist
  • Music Hall
  • 34 Charles Freeman, fishmonger and game dealer
  • 36 Alexander Cowan, wine and brandy merchant
  • 38 Christie & Son, confectioners

It’s perhaps worth noting that ‘flesher’ is an old-fashioned word for a butcher, used to suggest that they were a traditional butcher, with undertones of quality and customer service.

The Town Council met on 24th June, sympathised with those who had suffered losses, and agreed that there needed to be a lot more discussion about what to do next. As an emergency measure, they agreed that to assist “country women” and that their “butter and eggs should be sold meantime on the Exchange, and the fish in Academy Street.

It did not take long for the Council to decide that the New Market had to be rebuilt, but it took a lot longer than they thought. The Council was able to make an insurance claim for the building – though not for the contents – but it was a complicated and somewhat acrimonious affair, involving months of reports and correspondence, before the situation was resolved and rebuilding could begin. It was resolved to rebuild with an iron framework, rather than using flammable wood for the roof struts. They made the very modern mistake of awarding the contract to the lowest bidder, a Glasgow foundry, rather than to one of the local iron foundries, which led to long delays, especially when everybody was expecting the building to be finished in the spring of 1891. In the end, it reopened in September of that year.

The market reopened, Sep 8, 1891

We started this historical overview of the Victorian Market by noting the ‘meagre’ opening ceremonies which took place in 1870. Perhaps the civic dignitaries in 1891 had also read or remembered those accounts, because when the rebuilt and expanded market was formally opened at noon on Tuesday 8th September 1891 the Town Council made sure that it was the subject of an elaborate ceremonial occasion. The Scottish Highlander sets the scene with a long article

Whats Next, Aug 6 2018

Further research into the history of the Inverness Victorian Market will continue. There are several very promising lines of enquiry to be explored:


Pilot project: creating a database of all stall-holders, based on the annual printed Valuation Rolls, which calculated the rateable value of all properties;

In the first instance, the database will cover the years 1887-1920, but the intention is to extend it as far as records allow;

This work, using records in Highland Archives, will make it possible for today’s Market tenants to find out about the past history of their stalls and shops.


Further research into the very interesting family of Alexander Macdonald, the Market butcher and the owner of the faithful dog who perished in the fire; the family tree for Alexander is largely complete but more remains to be found out about his brother Donald; if you think you may be descended from Alexander Macdonald and his family, please get in touch;

Family history: investigating the descendants of other tenants.


The Cameron Highlanders, the local regiment historically based at the Cameron Barracks, are a thread running through the history of the Victorian Market: they helped with the 1889 fire, their pipe band performed at the opening ceremony in 1891, and their 1893 monument in Station Square guards the Market today.


Much remains to be done in exploring the history of the Market after the rebuilt premises opened in 1891, with additions and alterations, etc;

The changing social history of the Market is another interesting topic, with changes in the kinds of goods sold over the years and in the people who worked there;

Ideas and plans for the future of the Market.

Serendipity: one of the joys of doing local history is turning up unexpected links with completely unexpected people and places.

“Investigations continue…”



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