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1 Argyle Square, Wick

A Category B Listed Building in Wick, Highland

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Latitude: 58.4374 / 58°26'14"N

Longitude: -3.0869 / 3°5'12"W

OS Eastings: 336640

OS Northings: 950408

OS Grid: ND366504

Mapcode National: GBR L6RF.6NN

Mapcode Global: WH6DN.K685

Plus Code: 9CCRCWP7+W7

Entry Name: 1 Argyle Square, Wick

Listing Name: 1 and 2 Argyle Square

Listing Date: 13 April 1971

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 388742

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB42267

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Wick

County: Highland

Town: Wick

Electoral Ward: Wick and East Caithness

Traditional County: Caithness

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Thomas Telford, circa 1840. Semi-detached pair of 2-storey, 2-bay, symmetrical, rectangular-plan gabled town houses on corner site. Squared and tooled, long coursed Caithness stone slabs. Regular fenestration, irregular to rear.

NO 1: NW (ARGYLE SQUARE) ELEVATION: door to right. NE (GRANT STREET) ELEVATION: plate glass shop front to ground Roof piended to NW, grey slates

N0 2: NW (ARGYLE SQUARE) ELEVATION: door to left, modern gabled dormer to right. Concrete tiles.

INTERIOR: not seen 2001.

Plate glass sash and case windows. Coped gable stacks with string course. Cast-iron rainwater goods.

Statement of Interest

The A-Group for Upper Pulteneytown comprises: 1,2; 4,5,6; 11,12,13,14,15,17,18; 20,22; 30,31,33; 35-41,43,44,45,46,48,49; 51-55,57-59; 62,63 Argyle Square; 65 Argyle Square and 1 Grant Street; Pulteneytown Parish Church, Argyle Square; 1; 4,6; 8,9; 10,11,12,13; 14,15,16,17,18 Breadalbane Crescent; 1,2,3; 5,6; 12,13; 15; 17,18,19; 22,23,24,25; 26,27; 28,29; 31; 32; 37,38; 41; 42; 46; 47; 48,49 Breadalbane Terrace; 3,5; 8,10 Dempster Street; Wick Central Church of Scotland, Dempster Street; 7,9; 11 Malcolm Street; 1,2; 3,4,5,6; 7,8,9,10; 13; 15,16; 17; 18; 20 Sinclair Terrace.

The Group listing is in recognition of the exceptional group value of these buildings as the core of Thomas Telford s 1809 scheme for the new town plan of Pulteneytown for the British Fisheries Society.

Argyle Square lies at the heart of the Pulteneytown New Town and is the main focus of the town as planned and laid out by Thomas Telford. Pulteneytown was a planned village established by the British Fisheries, a semi-charitable joint stock company established on the same basis as tollroad and canal trusts and other industrial settlements such as Easdale Island community founded by the Easdale Slate Company (see separate listing). The Society had established two previous settlements at Ullapool and Tobermory on the West Coast. These were laid out on simple grid plans by land surveyors. As with the majority of the three hundred or so planned villages established in the Highlands between 190 and 1830, regularity, "so that the town should have a handsome appearance", and convenience were the primary objectives. However, the Directors of the Society were also aware of the colonial aspect of their venture. Very much in the Roman colonia tradition of the Annexed Estates Commission settlements at Callander or Kinloch Rannoch, the grid plans of Ullapool and Tobermory were a deliberate imposition of and control on a landscape and people considered wild and unruly. The same ethos used in the planning of the colonial settlements of North America, such as Williamsburg, Virginia. Besides the first Edinburgh New Town, earlier planned villages in Scotland, like Ormiston, East Lothian laid out by John Cockburn, 1738 or Inveraray first laid by the Duke of Argyll to plans by John Adam, 1751 and developed by Robert Mylne from 1774, further reflect that the simple grid was the ubiquitous choice for planners and founders of towns throughout Enlightenment Scotland.

However, in 1790 Sir William Pulteney, MP for Shrewsbury and husband of Lady Bath, was appointed to the board of governors of the Society. One of Pulteney s first acts was to have his protege, a young Thomas Telford, appointed as consultant to the Society. In June 1790 Telford was dispatched to the Highlands to report on the development of the earlier settlements and to consider the best locations for one on the north east coast. Telford duly recommended for a new town and harbour to be built on the southern banks of the River of Wick opposite the ancient Royal Burgh of Wick, the river being the only safe anchorage between the Dornoch Firth and the Pentland Firth. The Society bough 390 acres of land in 1803. This represented a departure from their previous ventures as what they proposed was an actual New Town, i.e. a modern scheme laid out on flat farmland away from the medieval town but still linked to it as at Bath and Edinburgh. The New Town was to be called Pulteneytown and was intended primarily as a residential quarter for professional men such as fishermen, coopers, wrights and their families with no attached land, deliberately excluding the crofting class. Amenities such as shops and a market were already provided by the old town. Also proposed was a development of storehouses and curing houses to process the catch from the fishing fleet, to be individually leased to private companies rather than provided by the Society itself.

Telford s initial plan of 1807 divided the New Town into two distinct zones; one strictly residential on the flat ground above the bank the other strictly industrial on the smaller area of links next to the rive and the proposed site of the new harbour. The planning of the two zones shows Telford deliberately employing two different design aesthetics. The industrial zone, later referred to as Lower Pulteneytown, was laid out on a strict grid pattern of nineteen lots grouped into four rectangular blocks and a half block to fit the site. Each block comprised two lots facing the harbour and four lots facing the rear of those in the parallel block. When Telford went to such lengths to avoid a grid pattern in his previous town plan for the Society, the unexecuted scheme for Lochbay, Skye, it is clear that he here used it deliberately to stress the practical, functional and industrial nature of the streets and buildings in the zone. This was originally enforced by Telford s proposed street names; Salt Row, Cask Row and Herring Row. The residential zone was of a completely different nature. Telford s first scheme was based up Peter Nicholson s plan for Ardrossan, Ayrshire laid out in 1808. However, he came to see the awkwardness in an open crescent facing the cliffs and had by 1810 developed a new scheme. The final executed plan of 1810 was based around the central Argyle Square in the form of a chamfered rectangle. The central area was turfed in the manner of residential squares in London s West End or Edinburgh North New Town such as Drummond Place by Robert Reid and Walter Sibbald, 1802. Though this feature was probably intended as much as a practical drying green as a suburban park and the present trees were planted as late as the 1930s. However, the immediate inspiration for the scheme was Thomas Baldwin s plan for the Bathwick estate owned by Pulteney and where Telford had worked as one of his surveyors. Telford was a great admirer of "Lady Bath s New Town"; a place of leisure very different in design and ethos from the average Highland planned village. Dwelling on the subject in letters in he noted the elements that made a complete and coherent plan as Bath possible. The land should be "the whole the property of one person and there must be "the greatest plenty of beautiful building material at the cheapest rate in the world and a great demand of every species of building". And most of all "a great, bold and enlightened employer capable of comprehending the finest and most extensive schemes". The arrival of Pulteney, patron of Robert Adam and founder of Bathwick, at the British Fisheries and the proposed NE settlement gave Telford the opportunity and conditions to indulge in some town planning inspired by his peers Thomas Baldwin and John Wood, the latter whom Telford considered to be "a man of very superior talents...since his time...none has inherited even a portion of his genius". It is worth noting that the Society had not requested anything more elaborate than a plain grid as before for Pulteneytown and it appears that Telford devised the scheme simply because the opportunity to try his own hand was irresistible.

For Argyle Square Telford took his cue form Sydney Place, 1788-92. As in Sydney Place the square is symmetrically bisected lengthways by a main axis running roughly east west parallel to the bank (Grant St and Dempster St). A second cross axis led up the steps (the Black Stairs) from the industrial zone across the park and out to the south (Upper and Lower Dunbar St). Telford scaled down and simplified Baldwin s plan by omitting the four diagonal cross streets at the canted corners of Sydney Place, thereby educing the number of terraces required form eight to four. Finally two streets, to the north (Breadalbane Terrace and Crescent) and south (Brown Place) of the square, running parallel with the main east-west axis but following the contours of the square to form shallow crescents complete the unity and coherence of the plan. As at the Society s other settlements the streets were named after Directors of the Society. Telford s use of the suburban square reaffirmed the zone s purpose and contrasted neatly with the industrial zone.

For the buildings within the New Town Telford proposed terraces of row housing and continuous facades, This was possible as the towns were the property of one organisation so strict building regulations could be imposed despite the policy of self build by settlers. This had been done to some extent at Ullapool and Tobermory though the aim was to ensure healthy conditions not good design beyond a general neatness. At Pulteneytown Telford achieved a workable synthesis of the continuous facade and houses built by individual settlers. He drew up a simple symmetrical two storey elevation and a suggested ground plan, hoping to achieve "a uniformity of building in point of elevation of the houses and dimensions of the doors and windows". This standard elevation was incorporated into the Society s building regulations regarding materials. The system worked through its simplicity as more or less the same facade is repeated throughout Upper Pulteneytown creating the largely successful effect of a continuous facade. An asymmetrical two bay version was also provided for smaller lots, which in series appeared with the same articulation as the three bay model. A principle reason why Telford proposals for Lochbay never got off the ground is that he specified a hierarchical continuos facade, such as Robert Adam s Charlotte Square, which was unworkable as the building costs for each same sized lot varied wildly due to the prescribed elevation and ornament. Telford himself was disappointed that his designs had not been enforced more rigorously. Controlling the design of the industrial units was easier as store and curing houses were generally built to a fairly standard functional type, as found in the boned warehouses of the Port of Leith or Port Glasgow. As building regulations covered wall and roofing materials and standard dimensions, of 60ft by 22f t by 18ft, a prescribed elevation was never necessary. Lots were sold by auction in 1808 with eleven taken, all twenty were leased by 1817. The resulting solemn blocks of plain high walled buildings laid out in grid form are unquestionably industrial and functional in appearance. Showing a departure from Upper Pulteneytown and Bath towards the architectural trend increasingly popular in Britain post 1800 for relentless repetition and obsessive geometry in large building complexes such as docks, prisons, barracks and asylums which has been described as heroic geometry . Lower Pulteneytown realised in small scale Telford s monumental unrealised plan for a single span bridge, warehouse and embankment complex on the Thames of 1800, pre-empting his schemes for Gloucester Dock, 1826 and St Katherine s Docks, London, 1828 or Jesse Hartley s Albert Docks, Liverpool of 1841-47. Upgraded C(S) to B February 2002.

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