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Highland legacy of Maitlands of Tain is brought to book in labour of love that sheds fresh light on fascinating subject


By Hector MacKenzie

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A Highland Legacy
A Highland Legacy

THE enduring impact of a Ross-shire family on the wider Highlands comes under the spotlight in a fascinating new book which will benefit a local heritage group.

Hamish Mackenzie’s A Highland Legacy – the Maitlands of Tain, their Work and their World, looks at the impact of the family whose buildings can be seen across the region.

All proceeds of the first print run, being sold now at Tain & District Museum, will be given to the heritage group, which Mr Mackenzie acknowledges for its “considerable help”.

Andrew Maitland, two sons and a grandson, architects based in Tain, made significant contributions across the region – including farm buildings, churches, shooting lodges, hotels, courthouses, town halls, commercial buildings, villas and whisky distilleries, including Glenmorangie.

Braemore House, built for Sir John Fowler but now demolished. Picture: Am Baile
Braemore House, built for Sir John Fowler but now demolished. Picture: Am Baile

Tain itself, he said, “became a place of rare charm and beauty”.

The increasing wealth of the middle classes, the civic pride of the period, the coming of the railways and of tourists, the fragmentation of the Presbyterian churches and the growth of the whisky industry, all led to demands for new or improved buildings.

Andrew Maitland in his 60s. Picture: Tain & District Museum
Andrew Maitland in his 60s. Picture: Tain & District Museum

Mr Mackenzie has scoured archive material from many sources to pull together the work, with the cover being an image from 1850 of Tain Court House. His detailed research reveals Andrew Maitland as the key architect – confirmed by a discovery revealed in the book.

The book brings to life a fascinating variety of characters against a backdrop of social, religious, political and technological change.

Loch Maree Hotel, where Queen Victoria stayed from the Gairloch Museum collection
Loch Maree Hotel, where Queen Victoria stayed from the Gairloch Museum collection

Stories behind buildings across the Highlands, from Portmahomack in the east to Gairloch in the west feature. Those in Tain include the Sheriff Court, the Royal Hotel, the Parish Church, and what are now the Morangie House and Mansfield Castle hotels, the former Clydesdale Bank, the old post office, the Library and Knockbreck School.

Mr Mackenzie said: "I am donating the first print run and all future royalties from other sales to the Tain & District Museum from which I have received considerable help. Hopefully this will help to mitigate some of the loss of revenue suffered as a result of the Covid epidemic."

An early image of the Royal Hotel, Tain. Picture: Tain & District Museum
An early image of the Royal Hotel, Tain. Picture: Tain & District Museum

He said: "My interest is not just in the Maitlands and their buildings but also in the people who commissioned them and the reasons why they did so. This has meant delving into the history of the area. Historians have, however, tended to concentrate more on the Clearances and the Crofters’ War than on the increasing wealth of the urban and rural middle classes, the civic pride of the period, the coming of the railways and of tourists, the fragmentation of the Presbyterian churches, or the growth of the whisky industry - all of which led to demands for new or improved buildings.

Hamish Mackenzie: Labout of love.
Hamish Mackenzie: Labout of love.

"Hence I have had to research the history of the area almost from scratch, particularly using council, church and other records and newspaper archives. I have relied heavily on the Ross-shire Journal, which was then able to employ reporters on a scale that the present management must envy. Its columns thus contain a wealth of very detailed information on people and events of the period.

"Some people may be surprised to see on the front cover an image from 1850 of the then new Tain Court House, as this is nowadays invariably ascribed in architectural guides and official listings to Thomas Brown, the architect to the Prisons Board of Scotland. Andrew Maitland is nowadays only given credit for an addition in 1872.

"I have found that council minutes and newspapers of the period show that Brown’s plans were rejected and that Andrew Maitland was the architect. I have also discovered, and show in the book, what I believe to be the original Maitland plans - hidden in plain sight in the Highland Archive Centre."

A Highland Legacy – The Maitlands of Tain, their Work and their World is out now.


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