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Silent Auction for The Old High


The Friends of the Old High was formed by a group of like-minded people to try to buy and preserve the church and its history. However, they need to raise the funds needed in order to do so. They would like to preserve and conserve as much of the building as possible for folk, classical and Gaelic concerts and storytelling, space for local artisan exhibitions, a small sanctuary, a coffee shop and gift shop, and run tours for locals and tourists.  In addition to the Friends of the Old High’s fundraising efforts, Beth chose to support the group’s fundraising efforts by making them the official charity of Fraser’s Ridge Homecoming 2023. This decision was made on the spot when Beth and a group of friends recently visited Scotland and were given a tour by Mhairi Jarvie. It was so moving to actually see and hear about the Old High’s history that Beth was overcome with the desire to help.   The information and photographs below were provided by Mhairi Jarvie, one of the members of The Friends of the Old High.

The Old High

Way back in time, even further back than the Outlander Jacobite times we all know and love, and even further back again, Scotland was a predominantly Pictish nation, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. In Inverness, lived the Pictish King Brude, whose fort ruins can still be seen at the top of Creag Phadraig hill. In the year 565AD, St Columba arrived in Inverness, in an attempt to convert the Picts to Christianity. Now, although his visit was recorded, the method by which he converted them is maybe more myth or legend than fact! It’s said that whilst speaking to King Brude by the River Ness, they both witnessed a sea serpent attacking a fisherman/assistant to St Columba (depending on who’s retelling the story) in a boat. St Columba immediately took action and banished the serpent to Loch Ness. This was enough to convert King Brude and his people to Christianity, and as a thank you, King Brude gifted the area of ground on which they stood, St Michaels Mount, for St Columba to preach on. It’s also the first recording of a sighting of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster!

The first building there would undoubtedly have been constructed with wood, which is why there are no remains today. But over the years, and indeed centuries, this site became a very important part of religious worship in Inverness, and has accommodated a few buildings in that time.

The first documented record of a church being there, was in 1171, when it was recorded by William the Lion, King of Scots from 1165 to 1214. The building still standing today dates from 1769, and was designed by renowned Edinburgh architect, George Fraser (no, not one of “those” Frasers!). In between those 600 years or so, it varied in size and shape somewhat. Below is a copy of a print that I was recently given, believed to be from the 16th century, showing the church reaching right down to Kirk Street (if you know this already, sorry, but “Kirk” being the Scottish word for church). Kirk Street is now called, imaginatively, Church Street, and it’s the oldest street in Inverness, linking the castle to the church. If you’ve visited Inverness, you’ll know that it’s now well back from that street, accessed by stairs.

Origin of print unknown

The lower part of the tower is believed to date from the 14th century, making it the oldest building in Inverness. It’s also the only church steeple in Inverness to have a clock on it, as it could be seen from all over the town at one point. The council still owns the clock, and have the responsibility for the upkeep and repair of it. Sadly though, they’re unable to access it for health and safety reasons. The inside of the tower, long closed off, is crumbling and not safe for anyone to ascend. The Pauper’s Coffin is still housed in there too, a coffin that was used and re-used to help give the penniless a proper burial (they lay in the coffin, but were buried without). 

building - photo by Mhairi jarvie

Prior to the Battle of Culloden, the then town of Inverness was run by Jacobites, and Government troops were held prisoner in the building where Leakey’s Bookshop stands today (although not the actual building – Leakey’s is a much more modern building, dating from 1792!), and also, it’s believed, in the base of the tower. After the battle however, roles were reversed, and it was the Jacobite prisoners that were held in the same places. There are two gravestones within the churchyard, approximately 9 or 10 paces apart, that have become known as “the execution stones”. Prisoners that were fit to stand were taken out, blindfolded, to stand against the tower, and executed there (there are still marks where stray musket balls hit). Prisoners not fit to stand were also blindfolded, and taken to a gravestone with a double dip in it. They were allegedly forced to kneel, hands behind their back and placed in the dips. The Government soldier tasked with the execution, would place his musket in the gravestone 9 or 10 paces away, which had a “V” shaped groove in it, then fire. Again, in the line of fire, stray musket ball marks can be seen in the wall. Injured Government troops, hospitalised in Balnain House directly opposite on the other side of the River Ness, were supposedly encouraged to cheer the executions. 

Double dip grave - photo by Mhairi Jarvie
The Jacobite prisoner’s hands were behind their backs and placed in the dips

Groove grave - photo by Mhairi Jarvie
The musket of the Government soldier was placed in the groove

The church has had a long association with the Highlander Regiments based at nearby Fort George (which houses the Highlanders Museum). By “Highlander”, I mean the Queens Own Highlanders, the Seaforth Highlanders, and the Cameron Highlanders. It held many significant items pertaining to the history of the now amalgamated regiments, including the Martinpuich Cross. This was the centrepiece of the Queens Own Highlanders memorial area, which was created in 2013 to bring together various items relating to the close connection between the regiment and the church. The Battle of Martinpuich took place during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The Celtic Cross was erected at the entrance to Martinpuich village, with the names of the fallen on metal tabs nailed onto it. The cross was returned to Inverness after Armistice. Many important artifacts from within the building have been put into storage meantime, or returned to owners for now.

Cross - photo by Mhairi Jarvie
The Martinpuich Cross

Over the years it has been the site of Celtic, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and Presbyterian worship, and was a Church of Scotland church until they sadly put it up for sale in 2022. As in other areas of Scotland, congregation numbers are falling away, and as this church was amalgamated with St Stephen’s church in another part of Inverness, one had to go. The church held its last service in March 2022, and was deconsecrated. It can no longer be referred to as a church, but rather a “former church building”. From a financial perspective, it made sense for them to sell this one off – St Stephen’s is more modern, it has easier access and parking, etc. But from cultural, historical and religious perspectives, selling this building is a huge mistake. It’s up for sale for £150,000, which, in today’s market, is not a lot of money. However, any potential buyer will be hugely restricted in what they can do due to the highest category of listing, inside and out, including the beautiful Willis organ. This is where we, Friends of The Old High, come in!

Tray - photo by Mhairi Jarvie
Communion/collection tray dated 1737

If walls could talk…this building would have a tale for every century, for sure! A few years ago now, a group of likeminded people formed Friends of The Old High Church. It was made up of some of the congregation members, and some people who were just passionate about the building and its history, and all were volunteers. They’d show visitors around the building in exchange for a wee (voluntary) donation and were usually open Monday to Friday for various hours. When the building went up for sale, the role of the group changed somewhat, and they looked for more committee members – so I became one! The Church of Scotland were/are fully aware of the historical, cultural and religious significance of the building and are fully aware of our group (which has also had to drop the word “church” from its name). We set up a Crowdfunding page, and set about putting plans together from the various ideas committee members had. 

Organ - photo by Mhairi Jarvie
The Willis organ, pulpit and choir stalls

The Friends of the Old High’s vision for the building is to preserve and conserve as much of the building as is feasible, whilst providing a useable space for the people of Inverness and our visitors, and give it the future it deserves to have. Our plans include having small, intimate concerts, for folk, classical, Gaelic concerts and storytelling; having exhibition space for the many talented local artisans here; meeting spaces for local groups and societies; a small area as a safe space, sanctuary; a small coffee shop and gift shop, hopefully in the base of the old tower; running tours for locals and tourists. I’ve shown a lot of you around the cemetery here, and spoken about the building, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the mini tours and seen my passion for the place. There is so much more I could say, but I have to leave some of its stories and artifacts a mystery so you can discover them for yourself when you visit!

If any of you have ancestors from Inverness, you can guarantee they’ll have been aware of this church, even been in it. I can’t emphasise enough what an important building it is to our wee city, and it’s just vital that we save it. 

Thanks to Beth Pittman for inviting me to write this, and for choosing us as the charity for this years Homecoming event. Thanks to all of you for also taking the cause to your hearts, and thanks for reading.

by Mhairi Jarvie

ITEM 1 ~ Laura rispoli original painting of the old high

This original watercolor painting by Laura Rispoli is absolutely gorgeous.  From the sky to the cross, clock, stones, arched doorway and gravestones, the details are finely displayed and life-like.  The painting is encased in a golden frame made of sturdy wood and hand-signed by the artist herself.

** Measures 15″ x 18″ with frame **

item 2 ~ Laura rispoli original painting of Jamie & Claire

This original watercolor painting by Laura Rispoli is Outlander inspired.  Jamie and Claire are embracing, surrounded by the battle being fought, with images of William on one side and Ian on the other.  In addition to being hand-signed by the artist, this painting will be autographed by Charles Vandervaart, the actor who portrays William Ransom.  Should you win this lovely painting, you may want to eventually gain the signature of the other actors depicted as well!  The intricately detailed wooden frame was imported from Italy and pairs perfectly with the scene as it unfolds.

** Measures 19″ x 23″ with frame **


Both of these beautifully detailed Jamie and Claire Dolls were made by Tonner Doll Company.  Robert Tonner’s Claire and Jamie dolls are intricately detailed and very much resemble the actors who portray them both.  Claire is simply stunning in her red dress!  The ensemble includes earrings, shoes and stand.  Each doll is secured in its original box and have had the lids opened for the purposes of photography only. 

** Measures 17″ tall **

Both of these beautifully detailed Jamie and Claire Dolls were made by Tonner Doll Company.  Robert Tonner’s Claire and Jamie dolls are intricately detailed and very much resemble the actors who portray them both.  Just look at those baby blues!  Jamie’s ensemble is intricately detailed and includes boots and a stand.  Each doll is secured in its original box and have had the lids opened for the purposes of photography only. 

** Measures 17″ tall **



** Bidders must be at least 18 years old to enter. Proceeds will be donated to Friends of the Old High, Inverness, Scotland. **