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WATCH: Memories of 'rose window' Stewart Restaurant in Inverness evoked by talented award-nominated Ross-shire musician


By Hector MacKenzie

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There's a strong Dingwall connection to this iconic building remembered by generations in the Highlands.
There's a strong Dingwall connection to this iconic building remembered by generations in the Highlands.

TREASURED memories of a Highland restaurant beloved of generations have inspired the creation of an award-nominated music and spoken word piece.

Reminiscences of the Stewart Restaurant, which was a prominent feature of the Inverness townscape from the 1930s until its eventual closure in the 1970s, have been captured in the piece by clarsach player Grace Stewart Skinner with a spoken word overlay contributed by her mum, Christina.

Grace is a former pupil of Dingwall Academy who has since graduated with honours in Celtic from Edinburgh University.

While still a Dingwall Academy pupil, she was encouraged in her studies for advanced higher music by well-loved choir director Kirsteen MacLennan, nee Menzies, who recently passed away.

The collaboration is up for an MG Alba Scottish Trad Music Award and the video that accompanies is part of the Spirit of the Highlands project, Spirit 360, which is forming part of the multimillion-pound reinvention of Inverness Castle as a major visitor attraction.

Grace's piece, The Rose Window, focusses on one of the best remembered features of the restaurant which was formerly a Methodist church. It was taken on by Grace’s great-grandfather, the late James Bruce Stewart, opened as a popular restaurant and run as a family business.

Pictured with the Rose Window are, top left, Thomas Prag, Rotarian and top right Colin Munro, President of the Rotary Club of Inverness, front left Alison Milligan ACR, Specialist, Iona Art Glass and front Right Cllr Ian Brown, Leader of Inverness City and Area and co-chair of the Inverness Castle Project Delivery Group. Picture: Ewen Weatherspoon Photography.
Pictured with the Rose Window are, top left, Thomas Prag, Rotarian and top right Colin Munro, President of the Rotary Club of Inverness, front left Alison Milligan ACR, Specialist, Iona Art Glass and front Right Cllr Ian Brown, Leader of Inverness City and Area and co-chair of the Inverness Castle Project Delivery Group. Picture: Ewen Weatherspoon Photography.

The window has been painstakingly restored for use in the the new castle project, ensuring those memories will be shared with successive generations. Costing £1200 at the time, it is recorded in Highland Archive Service records as being "the gift of a friend" and later church records confirm the benefactor as James Keith, a bookseller from Dingwall.

One memory incorporated harks back to the stunning light the premises enjoyed: "I do remember that the morning light came in the rose window and that the whole place was well lit from the side windows, those tables being the most popular," recalls one former patron.

Another recalls of visiting in 1969: "I had never seen so much cutlery in my puff. It was that long ago but it was a colossal feed for a wee boy from Lochaber. I think it was high tea. I had never heard of it. I remember the window vividly.

"The dirty dishes would cascade down to the unfortunate dishwasher; me for one summer."

So what could you get for 65p back in the day?

All the following items – served with chips – featured on an a la carte menu: fried scampi salad and tartar sauce – 65p; grilled pork chops and apple sauce – 65p; mixed grill – 65p; steak and egg – 63p; chicken Maryland – 50p and cold chicken and salad – 50p.

Even so, the piece recalls, the business "dropped immensely" during the long winter months and the restaurant would lose money. It recalls: "The restaurant did have its regulars – people who came for lunch every day. But this was not enough to keep things going. I really don't think the restaurant turned much of a profit any year and that is eventually what caused it to shut."

The only hope was to get a licence so alcohol could be served, recalls Christina in the piece. James Stewart and his sister applied for such a licence "but the council turned it down because the premises had been a church. The fact that it was later giving a bookies' licence amazes me to this day".

Her daughter explains: "This is a spoken word track with my original clàrsach composition. I was commissioned by the Spirit 360 project – the whole premise behind which was to celebrate stories from the Highlands in preparation for the new museum which is currently being built."

She said: "The Stewart Restaurant was in our family for several generations, and I grew up hearing stories about it and the marvellous Rose Window. The testimonies featured in the track were all contributed by people who remember the restaurant in its heyday and I was just honoured to compose music to complement these touching reminiscences.

"As I had never seen the window itself, I looked to the memories we collected for inspiration and hoped to capture a feeling of nostalgia. I considered the era in which the restaurant was best remembered as well as the rhythm of the spoken words when I was composing the piece. This was my first time composing to a spoken word track and I was very keen to respond to the words in my music, echoing the mood of the narrative. I wrote the music while listening to the words and found the whole process a very interesting one."

Vote for Grace – and in a variety of other categories – via this link https://projects.handsupfortrad.scot/scotstradmusicawards/voting/

The voting closes next Sunday (November 19) at midnight.


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