Bernera Barracks

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Alternative Names Glenelg
Canmore ID 11796
Site Number NG81NW 5
NGR NG 81518 19741
Former Region HIGHLAND
Datum OSGB36 - NGR
NGR Desc Centred on NG 81518 19741

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Bernera Barracks, 1719-23, James Smith and/or his successors Andrew Jelfe and John Lambertus Romer; contractor Sir Patrick Strachan. The last of the four Highland forts built by the government at strategic points across the Highlands. This one, to guard the Skye crossing, languishes at the end of a tree-lined track on the boggy estuary of the Glenmore River. Incorporating stones plundered from the Glenelg brochs, it remains an impressive sight today, even though its two harled blocks - twin-gabled and rising to three and a half storeys each side of a courtyard - are reduced to pierced rubble shells, Bernera incorporates some notable modifications to the standard design: here, as at Fort Augustus ('Kiliwhimen'), the tenement-plan accommodation was doubled by building the five-bay blocks to a double-pile plan, each capable of accommodating two companies (120 men) in 12 almost square fire-lit rooms, each with five double beds.

Built to accommodate regular garrisons patrolling potential nests of insurrection after the Jacobite risings of the early 1700s, Bernera was conceived as more of a deterrent than a major military base. Its parapetted curtain walls, incorporating the outer face of each barrack block in one large rectangular enclosure, had limited defensive features. Provision of towers was limited to just two at opposite corners, these appearing rather domestic in character, as indeed they were in function (bake and brew houses, guardrooms and officers' quarters). Though modest, the degree of architectural refinement was greater here than at the other forts; the archway in the west wall was decorated, and the windows all have keystoned segmental-arches and smooth ashlar dressings. The rugged roofline retains one ovolo moulded skewputt and two coped chimney stacks, but many other freestone dressings have been robbed.

Bernera's role during the '45 was not a vigorous one and its status as a military force in the area became increasingly low key. Indeed, in 1750, (?) Lang wrote that 'the People are Protestants and are much Civiliz'd and Polished by the Barracks of Bernera'. By 1795 the fort had succumbed to dereliction, with only a sargeant or corporal and a few privates billeted in the still habitable officers' quarters. Military occupation continued until 1797, after which the increasingly ruinous structure was utilised by the poor and, later, by victims of the Clearances.

Taken from "Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Mary Miers, 2007. Published by the Rutland Press

Architectural Notes

Bernera, Glenelg, Fort Barrack
Stood in the Parish occupying the North West corner of Inverness-shire, and on the mainland. Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer (edition 1901) describes Glenelg as a coast village and parish at the head of the Sleat Sound, and record that 'the fortified Barrack there was erected in 1722 at Bernera, near Glenelg Village, was commonly occupied by one or two companies of Infantry till 1745, and is now a ruin'.
In the National Library of Scotland is a series of Military Maps and Plans (many are coloured) of the Board of Ordnance, relating to the Works executed in the 18th Century, Reference 'MSS.1645-1652'. Among these, in Volume, or Case, No.1648, are the following drawings relating to Bernera:-
Number Year
Z3/6 1719 'Plan of the Fort Barrack of Bernera in Glen Elg, 1719' with References.
Scale about 350 feet to an Inch.
shewing land to be purchased on the verge of the sea between the Isle of Skye and Glen Elg. This is actually a map of the area and of the adjacent country.

Z 3/6 no date 'A small engraving of Fort Barrack, Bernera'.
This is shewn to a larger scale in the following drawing Z 3/5

Z 3/5 no date 'Fort Barrack, Bernera, in Glen Elg'. Plan, Section and Elevations.
Scale 10 feet to an Inch. There is no date, but there are two copies, one of which, copied by Fras. Gould, bears the later date of 1763.

Z 3/7 no date evidently 'A View of the Situation' with two copies

Z 3/18 no date Small scale Plans, Sections, and Elevations of the four Barracks of Killewhiman, Inversnait, Ruthven of Badenoch, and Bernera, with Explanations. Scale 30 Feet to an Inch. There are copies.
This Drawing is also indexed under all the names mentioned besides Bernera.

Photostat copies in NMRS

Non-Guardianship Sites Plan Collection, DC23083- DC230087.

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Archaeological Notes

NG81NW 5 Centred on NG 81518 19741

(NG 8150 1973) Bernera Barracks (NAT) (In Ruins)
OS 6"map, Inverness-shire, 2nd ed., (1902)

Bernera Barracks were constructed in 1722 (M E M Donaldson 1923) following the Risings of 1715 and 1719 (S Cruden 1960); a classic example of a standard Government type of smaller fort. Part of the material used was taken from a neighbouring broch. (M E M Donaldson 1923)
It was reduced in 1746 by the Jacobite army on its retreat to Scotland. (S Cruden 1960)
M E M Donaldson 1923; S Cruden 1960.

As planned by the Board of Ordnance (plan no Z3/6a) except that the Guard House should be on the NW corner and the beer and bakehouse should be on the SE corner. In ruinous condition.
Visited by OS (R L) 5 October 1966.

Bernera Barracks incorporate some interesting deviations from the design drawings, the most noticeable being the erection of angle towers at opposite corners to where they were intended to be. Neither the land surface nor soil conditions offer reasons for these alterations.
G Stell 1973.

3 May 2007

Project 2007 RCAHMS Aerial Survey

Further details

Books and References

Bernera Barracks ({199-}) Bernera Barracks, Glenelg: a proposal for development, {s.l.}
Held at RCAHMS D.6.23.BER

Close-Brooks, J (1986a) Exploring Scotland's heritage: the Highlands, Exploring Scotland's heritage series Edinburgh
Page(s): 87, No. 36 Held at RCAHMS A.1.4.HER

Close-Brooks, J (1995a) The Highlands, Exploring Scotland's Heritage series, ed. by Anna Ritchie Edinburgh
Page(s): (no. 43), 20, 39, 65, 93, 97-8, 103 Held at RCAHMS A.1.4.HER

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