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General George Wade

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries there was a deep divide in Scotland between the protestant lowland clans, who supported the ruling House of Hanover, and the mainly catholic highlanders who supported the displaced House of Stuart. While the clans of the lowlands and border regions had settled to a more peaceful lifestyle, the highland clans retained their Gaelic language and culture. This included a fiercely loyalty to their clan chieftains and willingness to take up arms in defence of their territories. Supporters of the Stuart cause were known as “Jacobites” and their frequent raids upon the Crown forces in “defence” of their homeland became known as the Jacobite Rebellion. Although most of these uprisings were put down, it became obvious that the terrain of the highlands gave a distinct advantage to the rebels. Various actions were taken by the British government to suppress the highland culture such as outlawing the wearing of the tartan or playing the bagpipes. They also included the building of garrisoned fortresses from which troops could be sent to trouble spots.

In July 1724, General George Wade was sent by the King to report on the effectiveness of these measures and, where necessary, propose additional or alternative ones. He reported that the highland clans had the capability to muster over 12,000 armed fighting men against the House of Hanover and that steps were required to control the potential situation. He also noted that there was no effective means of communication between the various garrisons. His main recommendation was the building of a network of roads and bridges throughout the highlands to facilitate the rapid deployment of troops into the area and to provide routes for communication.

As a result of this report, Wade was made Commander in Chief, Northern Britain and immediately set about the construction of several hundred miles of roads across the highlands. Such was his public profile that he was even celebrated in a, now seldom heard, verse of the National Anthem:

           Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,
          May by thy mighty aid,
          Victory bring.
          May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush,
          Rebellious Scots to crush,
          God save the King.

The roads that Wade built were all built to a standard pattern; 16 feet (4.9 metres) wide, they were constructed in layers starting with a layer of large stones with successive layers getting smaller until the surface layer was made up from gravel. This provided a stable, long lasting surface. Most of the construction work was done by soldiers working in parties of 100 men. Wade remained in post for 25 years and completed over 300 miles of road and 40 bridges

In 1740, General Wade left the highlands, leaving Major William Caulfield to continue the road building program. In 1742 he was made a Privy Councillor and in 1743 was promoted to Field Marshall with the Anglo-Austrian forces fighting the French in Flanders. He returned to England and became Army Commander-in-Chief in 1744. In 1745, he failed to stop the Jacobite forces marching on London and it was left to the Duke of Cumberland, now in command of the army, to pursue the rebels back to Scotland and their eventual defeat at the Battle of Culloden.

General Wade died in 1748 at the age of 75 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.