Interconnected Histories

Clachworks has spent the past year negotiating with Scottish Canals about leasing one of their buildings on the Caledonian Canal and we’re so excited to share the details with you in the coming weeks, as soon as the final legals are in place. I can’t share too much more at this stage, but what I can tell you is this.

The building was one of the first workshops built to construct the Caledonian Canal, back in 1822. It’s a piece of architectural beauty that celebrates the industrial heritage of Inverness which is so often taken for granted. What would Inverness be like today if it weren’t for the Caledonian Canal? Or its historical shipyards?

Part of the reason for constructing the Caledonian Canal was as a job creation scheme after the mass social upheaval and devastation of the Jacobite Rebellion and Highland Clearances. Our current economic climate reflects similar challenges for people across the Highlands and Islands today, albeit in dramatically different circumstances. Clachworks hopes to play a small role in addressing the region’s challenges today.

But being based on the Caledonian Canal is also important to Clachworks as the canal has always acted as a key link between the local and the global, with its initial intention to create a safe passage for British Naval ships during the Napoleonic Wars. But this wasn’t just a matter of high politics. The pioneering research of David Alston has uncovered the depth and breadth of Highland involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, something which touched upon the lives of many in the Highland region.

For example, David Alston has come across an advert from 1825 in Inverness seeking carpenters for apprenticeships in the slave plantations of Demerara, suggesting that workshops such as the one we plan to be in did have global significance. You can find out more about David’s brilliant research in his new publication Slaves and Highlanders.

The UHI historian David Worthington has also shown in this article how the Inverness Harbour acted as a significant trading port for the Dutch Empire, further facilitating their own ‘enterprise’ in the Caribbean.

Clachworks hopes to provide a space for reflection on the interwoven histories and legacies that tie the Highlands to the rest of the world. And by restoring a heritage building to its former use as a workshop, Clachworks also seeks to honour the legacy of the trade and tradespeople that made this part of the Highlands flourish.

By Lauren Pyott