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Appeal launched to save 'desperately fragile' Fairburn Tower


Building conservation charity the Landmark Trust has launched an £800,000 fundraising appeal to save one of Scotland’s finest but desperately fragile tower houses. Fairburn Tower, near Inverness, is a rare and precious survival, built in 1545 for Murdo Mackenzie, Gentleman of the Bedchamber to King James V, the father of Mary Queen of Scots.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) considers Fairburn Tower to be a significant at-risk tower house and has accepted a grant application of up to £455,000 to support Landmark’s restoration project. It is listed Category A, putting it within the top 7% of all listed buildings in Scotland, and is on HES’s Castle Conservation Register (which highlights ruined castles and tower houses that could be successfully restored and reused).

The Tower’s rich story brings to life the tense loyalties of the Jacobite risings and its architecture expresses the Scottish Renaissance (which can also be seen at Stirling Castle). Set in dramatic landscape near Muir of Ord outside Inverness, its unusual height, the completeness of the walls, and evidence of its original form, are all exceptional. Today the tower’s condition is perilous, likely to crumble altogether if Landmark can’t raise enough funds.

The Landmark Trust is a charity that rescues historic buildings at risk, restores them and lets them out for self-catering holidays. The income from its 199 buildings secures the long-term survival of cultural heritage. Fairburn Tower would become the charity’s 20th Scottish building, others being the unmistakeable Pineapple at Dunmore, dramatic Rosslyn Castle, and six properties along Saddell Bay in Kintyre.

Dr Anna Keay, the charity’s director, said: “The cherished property, gift of the Stuart kings of Scotland, and Mackenzie’s noble tower now stands in desperate need. It has survived for over four hundred years, but if we don’t intervene it may simply fall, and this precious fragment of Scotland’s history will be lost. Most tower houses were modernised in the Georgian or Victorian periods, but Fairburn Tower’s unaltered form gives us a glimpse deep into Scotland’s past.”

History of Fairburn Tower

The mid-16th century saw the flowering of the Scottish Renaissance under the Stuarts. James V married two French princesses, Madeleine de Valois and Mary of Guise. Under their influence, and as we see at Stirling Castle, the Renaissance came to the Scottish Highlands. It was James who in 1542 granted land to Murdo Mackenzie to build the tower.

Later the Mackenzies backed James Stuart, the Old Pretender, during the Jacobite rebellion in 1715. After the defeat, the clan faced disgrace and the estate was confiscated by the Crown. It was later restored but Laird Alexander Mackenzie declined to fight for King George during the Jacobite uprising of 1745, saying he ‘was not brought up to be a soldier’. By now the estate was in decline, and eventually left deserted, falling into ruin.

Fast forward a few centuries this once majestic tower is now perilous, with dramatic crack running down one side and it is now cordoned off to keep passers-by safe from falling stones. Today the Landmark Trust launches an appeal to halt the building’s decline and secure its future: a donation of £25 will buy a handmade diamond glazed window pane, £50 reinstates a dressed stone in one of the distinctive crow-stepped gables, £160 will stitch and repair a one metre crack in the masonry and £250 will repair a stone window lintel.

Restoration plans

Landmark intend to restore the tower to its appearance when still a fortified dwelling and to bring it into use as a Landmark for four people. The project will be a catalyst for craft skills to be honed and practised by apprentices, working with the Edinburgh-based architects Simpson and Brown.

Landmark Trust website.

(images copyright The Landmark Trust)

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