Battle of Culloden: A New Campaign

Culloden, Jacobite, Highlanders, Scotland, Battle, Battlefield, Development

If you read my blog and Facebook page, you’ll be aware of the ongoing plight of the Stonehenge road tunnel. Archeologists have discovered that the site encompasses a much larger area than the Neolithic monument alone and yet a tunnel, intended to alleviate traffic, has been planned nearby which could destroy vital archeology and affect the famous solstice sightline. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only historical site at risk from development. As the modern world develops, places of historic or cultural importance are being put at risk to fit our growing population.  While decisions are made about a Neolithic site in the south of England, the Highlands of Scotland have their own troubles.  Culloden Battlefield, the site of the last pitched battle on British soil, has become the scene of bitter protests over the building of 16 new homes.

bonnie prince charlie, jacobites, culloden, scotland, highlands,
Bonnie Prince Charlie

The Battle

In 1745, the Jacobite army, mostly made up of Scottish Highlanders, met the Duke of Cumberland’s troops on a remote field in the Highlands of Scotland. Several months earlier, Charles Edward Stuart, better known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, had landed in Scotland with the intention of taking back the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart.  James and Charles, the son and grandson of the deposed King James II, and had been denied any rights to the throne due their family’s Catholic beliefs.  Bonnie Prince Charlie, along with many Catholic supporters, wanted to set this right.

Within a few weeks of landing in Scotland, Bonnie Prince Charlie had amassed an army and began marching towards London.  They got as far as Derby, around 130 miles from their destination, when the army was stopped due to a lack of support and increasingly closed off routes. The Jacobite army chose to turn around and head back to Scotland with British troops following behind. On April 16th 1746, the two armies met on Drumossie Moor near the village of Culloden and five miles East of Inverness. The brutal fighting was over within an hour and 1,250 Jacobites lost their lives, compared to only 52 of Cumberland’s men.

Leanach, culloden, jacobite, battlefield
Leanach Cottage, Culloden Moor

Cumberland ordered that no quarter be given to the Jacobite rebels and his men set about killing any survivors.  A natural spring near the battlefield proved to be the death of many wounded as a sentry was placed here to kill any Jacobite who made their way to quench their thirst.  The dead, by this time numbering nearly 3,000, were buried in mass graves, more or less according to their clan regiment. Over the next several weeks, escaped survivors were hunted down and killed.  The lucky ones found themselves transported to the British colonies in North America and the Caribbean.

The loss of such a decisive battle would lead to the destruction of the Highland way of life. Within a year, traditional Highland clothes were banned outside of British military service, the Highlanders were disarmed of pistols, broadswords, dirks and ‘other warlike weapons’.  The clan chieftains were stripped of their power and the clan system dismantled.

Well of the Dead, Culloden, Jacobites, Scotland, Battlefield
Well of the Dead, Culloden Battlefield


In 2011 a developer submitted plans to build 16 houses at Viewhill Farm sitting just 400 meters (1/4 of a mile) from Culloden Battlefield.  Originally the Highland Council rejected the plans but the developer appealed and in 2014 they were given permission to build. Despite the win, the houses were never built.  In 2017, Kirkwood Homes acquired the site and submitted revised plans to build the 16 homes at Viewhill Farm.

Locals and historians alike were quick to lodge their protests against the development.  As soon as word got out of the 2014 plans, an action group was formed. They set up their own website and Facebook page, enlisted help from the media, passed around petitions and staged several demonstrations.  When the 2017 plans were submitted, they once again jumped into action.

Their complaints included:

  • The homes are large-scale luxury houses, completely out of place in the setting.
  • The new houses will clearly be seen from the official battlefield site which, until now, has been surrounded by unimpeded views of the Scottish landscape, enhancing the overall atmosphere.
  • Kirkwood Homes have named their new development Cairnfields, in direct reference to the Cairn monument that sits on the battlefield as a memorial to the dead.  This is seen as both insensitive and “mocking Scotland and her History”.
  • The area on which the houses will be built saw heavy action towards the end of the battle.
  • Historic Scotland, who consulted the Highland Council on the original proposal, relied on incorrect information about the battle’s geography. This misinformation was reused for the current development plans.
  • Concerns are that digging up the land to build these houses will disturb the archaeology and encroach on the war graves located here. (Seriously, who wants to live in a house built over a battlefield and war grave?  That’s just bad juju!)
  • This site and any disruption is a matter of national and international concern.
Memorial Cairne, culloden, jacobites, battlefield
Memorial Cairn, Battle of Culloden

Due to its remote location, Culloden is one of only a handful of battlefields almost completely intact.  90% of the site has been untouched and looks the same as it would have done over 270 years ago.

Historians and locals believe that approving this development will set a bad precedent for further encroachment onto the site.  Indeed, there has already been a new proposal for a holiday park with 14 lodges, a 100 seat restaurant and leisure facilities to be built northwest of the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre.  This plan looks less likely to go ahead but the builder is quietly optimistic.

The Highland Council has already met to vote on this issue.  In March of this year they voted on the proposal with the outcome being 5-3 in favour of the development.  However,  in a particularly farcical chapter in this story, confusion over whether the vote was about allowing the development to go ahead or sending the builders away with instructions for a more sympathetic redesign had two council members claiming they’d voted in favour of the wrong thing. This confusion has resulted in the application and any building work being suspended and a new vote put to a second committee in May.

Until a final decision is made, lovers of Scottish history the world over will have to wait to see whether this historic site will be preserved or, like so many other sites of historic value, become a forgotten sideline in our modern lives.


Follow these links for comprehensive information about the Jacobite Uprising:

More information about the campaign to stop the Cairnfields development: