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9 Jun 2022

‘Inverness Stinks’ – new exhibition at Abertarff House

A room in an old house with a flagstone floor and exposed timber beams in the ceiling has an exhibition on display. The exhibition is shown on various panels mounted on wooden easels around the edge of the room.
The Inverness Stinks exhibition in Abertarff House
The Highland capital is renowned for its clean air and the sparkling waters of the River Ness running through its centre – but it was not always this way ...

Inverness in the 19th century was an altogether smellier place, lacking basic public hygiene infrastructure such as drains, sewerage and clean running water.

A fascinating new exhibition is being staged at Abertarff House this summer, called Inverness Stinks. It reveals the story of the city’s historical sanitation measures through the words of the people who lived and worked there. It also documents the unsanitary conditions of the main streets, the alleys and the river, as well as in public buildings and people’s homes.

‘Cases exist where the pig, the horse, and cow, all live under the same roof with their owners, and the manure allowed to accumulate there also,’ observed Charles Anderson in a Sanitary Report on the Town of Inverness in 1841.

Not surprisingly, these appalling conditions had a dire effect on human health. In 1832, Inverness was struck by a deadly outbreak of cholera, a disease that is largely spread through contaminated water. It killed 175 people.

The exhibition records how the people of Inverness lobbied the authorities for improved sanitation. In 1857 residents raised a petition for a ‘public privy’, complaining that ‘Inverness is the worst provided Town of its population in Scotland with public necessaries’.

Even the town’s hospital was criticised for polluting the River Ness. Joseph Robertson, writing in the Inverness Courier on 22 March 1866, said: ‘I should like to propose that the Infirmary be prevented from polluting the river with the filth which passes through its sewers. If the institution is intended for the preservation of public health, it should not be allowed daily to pour forth matter which is fitted to foster disease among the inhabitants of the town.’

Inverness Stinks runs from June–October 2022 at Abertarff House in Church Street, Inverness.

There are also many other exciting events and guided walks and talks taking place throughout the season. See Abertarff House’s Events page to find out more.

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