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Cromarty Parish Church, Ross and Cromarty, Highlands: designs for a church and a house for George Ross, unexecuted, 1772-81 (16)

1772-81
George Ross (1708-86) was the son of Andrew Ross of Pitkerrie, Ross-shire. Having trained as a lawyer, Ross began his career as confidential clerk to Duncan Forbes, Lord President of the Court of Sessions, and Ross’s distant maternal relative. Through this position Ross became acquainted with the 3rd Duke of Argyll, who in 1754 secured for him the position of London agent for the Scottish Royal Burghs and the Board of Trustees for manufactures and fisheries. This, coupled with a friendship with Lord Chief Justice William Murray (later Earl of Mansfield), enabled Ross to develop a lucrative career as an army agent during the Seven Years War and the American War of Independence. He was later to serve as MP for Cromarty in 1780-84, and for the Northern Burghs in 1786 until his death that year.

His career as an army agent enabled Ross to buy land in England, Scotland and the West Indies. In 1766 he assisted Patrick Murray, 5th Lord Elibank to purchase the Cromarty estate, which was then passed on to Ross in 1772. Lord Elibank had commissioned Robert Adam to make unexecuted designs for his wife, Maria Margaretta’s funerary monument in 1762-63 (Adam volumes 2/173-173, 18/83, 19/34-35, 21/164 and 54/2/15,) and it is probably through this connection that Ross came to meet Adam. Ross undertook manifold improvements to the Cromarty estate, and in c1772-81 he commissioned Robert Adam to make designs for the local parish church. These designs have previously been attributed to Robert’s brother John, but this is incorrect. Adam’s designs were unexecuted, and instead Ross built a chapel for the local Gaelic speakers in 1783 (to designs by an unknown architect). Most of the Gaelic-speaking congregation had arrived in Cromarty to work in Ross’s local hemp manufactory. This was only the fourth Gaelic Chapel in Scotland, and the congregation was not dissolved until 1918. The chapel is now a ruin.

On acquiring the Cromarty Estate in 1772, Ross had immediately demolished Cromarty Castle, which had been built in the fifteenth century by the Earls of Ross. He built Cromarty House to designs by an unknown architect, which was completed in 1774 and is now a hotel. Adam did make designs for a small house for George Ross, but the scale of these designs is incompatible with that of Cromarty House, and they were presumably not intended as the principal seat of the estate. The proposed location of this small house designed for George Ross is unknown. It is not thought to have been executed.

George Ross died in 1786. His estates were inherited by a nephew as his only son had committed suicide after an argument with his father over the correct way to carve a joint of meat.

Literature:
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 7, 86; D. Alston, Cromarty old parish church: a history of the building, 2001, pp. 1-43; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, p. 66; ‘Ross, George, of Cromarty’, Oxford dictionary of national biography online

Frances Sands, 2015
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