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Man who helped save rose window delighted it’s being given new life 40 years on at Inverness Castle

Jim Smith saved the famous rose window in the 1980s. Photo by Sandy McCook
Jim Smith saved the famous rose window in the 1980s. Photo by Sandy McCook

For Invernessians of a certain vintage the famous rose window was an iconic part of the city landscape that became a hidden treasure.

The window was a prominent feature of a long-gone church building in the centre of the Highland capital.

Having remained unseen for nearly 40 of its 155 years, the former landmark is getting a new lease of life in the redeveloped Inverness Castle.

Its pending renaissance is particularly poignant for Jim Smith almost four decades after he saved the much-loved artefact.

Window dates from 1867

The rose window was originally created for the Methodist Church in Inverness built in 1867.

The cost, £1,200, is recorded in Highland Archive Service records as being “the gift of a friend”, later identified as Dingwall bookseller James Keith.

It remained a popular spectacle until the 1980s when work started on the development of the Eastgate Centre.

The historic rose window was a prominent landmark in Inverness

At the time Jim was a principal planner with the former Highland Regional Council and working on preparations for the shopping mall.

A new road had to be built through the city centre, and allow the pedestrianisation of Inglis Street.

But it meant the demolition of a building where the church one stood.

Jim, 73, recalled: “Something had to go. It was decided that the old chapel building could be sacrificed as it was in a poor state of repair.

“But there was a recognition that the rose window on the gable end of the building was of sufficient architectural merit to be worth saving.

Remained out of sight for decades

“I was given the task of finding a specialist contractor to demolish the old chapel but save the window.”

He remembers watching a large crate being built around the window, holding it together so it could be craned out and salvaged.

It was then cleaned, repaired and put in storage in a council depot awaiting a suitable new home.

However, despite hopes the window would feature in the new shopping mall, and later other city developments, it remained out of sight for decades.

“I suppose the rose window was quietly forgotten about”, said Jim, who later became director of planning for Dumfries and Galloway Council and retired in 2002.

The redevelopment of the castle has revealed a new entrance

Now living in Clephanton, near Cawdor, he recently toured the castle which is being transformed into a major tourist attraction.

He learned the rose window will be seen by thousands of visitors each year when it will be installed in a prime site in the castle.

“My continuing interest in the development of the city led me to book a tour of the castle recently.

“It was then that I learned that some bright spark had come up with the idea of re-using the rose window in the castle redevelopment.

“What a great idea. Another 40 years or so, but well worth waiting for.”

Rose window to be part of revamped castle

The castle Spirit of the Highlands project, run by High Life Highland, is supported by £15 million Scottish Government and £3 million UK Government investment.

It is part of the Inverness and Highland City Region deal, backed by up to £315 million from the UK and Scottish governments, the council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and University of the Highlands and Islands.

Last month, the Press and Journal was given a tour of the building’s stripped back state as it awaits redevelopment.

The rose window will feature in the former sheriff clerks’ offices, with spectacular views onto the River Ness.

The feature staircase in the castle which will become a major tourist attraction

Fiona Hampton, director of the Inverness Castle – Spirit of the Highlands project, said: “The rose window will be a fantastic feature in the transformed Inverness Castle.

“We are delighted to have been able to include it in the new visitor attraction design.

“Saved from the old Methodist Church on Inglis Street, the window will make for a stunning effect when installed.

“At over 100 years old, the window will be given a new life at Inverness Castle and we can’t wait to welcome visitors to the attraction to see it.”

Plans bearing fruit

It will be the fulfilment of another project in which Jim was involved in the 80s.

During his time at Highland Council, he also prepared the first Local Plan for the city.

It included developing the blueprint for the Southern Distributor Road and the Ness crossing south of Inverness.

He was delighted to see the road and bridge completed recently.

“Many town and city planners, like the great landscape architects of the past, don’t live long enough to see their plans bear the fullest fruit.

“I am more than delighted to see the fruits of my labours taking shape.”

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