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Publication Account

Date 1990

Event ID 1018538

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The defensive nature of the bishop's castle further increased the attempts at security in the northern part of the town. The castle was reputedly partially built on the site of an early rath or Norman matte, which might be attributable to David I, but there is no evidence, documentary or archaeological, to confirm this. There is evidence of ditching in this area which might have been associated with an earlier earthwork castle. The bishop's castle was certainly in existence by the 13th century if not earlier.1 It lay to the west of the cathedral and occupied an irregular hexagon about 180 feet wide and 300 feet long. Within this area there was a large tower in the centre which housed a kitchen with vaults, a banqueting hall and various other apartments,2 but although there are extant engravings of the exterior of the castle, there is nothing to show the precise layout of the interior; most authorities accept, however that it was approached on its northern side by a drawbridge. Between 1508 and 1522 the whole complex was surrounded by an ashlar wall of about fifteen to twenty feet high with crenellated and reinforced bastions, and between 1524 and 1547 a gatehouse was added in the south-east corner.3 Attacked in 1516 by the Mures of Caldwell, it was garrisoned against the Earl of Arran by the pro-English Earl of Lennox. During the Reformation crisis and wars it was occupied by French troops and in 1568 besieged by the Earl of Argyll.4 After the Reformation when the castle's stonework was used for other purposes, it was restored by Archbishop Spottiswoode.5 By the 18th century however it had become a wuarry, and in 1789 anything left standing was removed to make way for the Royal Infirmary.6


I. Reg. Episc. Nos 208, 213; and R Renwick, Glasgow

Memorials, 114.

2. Gibb, Glasgow, 20.

3. A Gomme and D Walker, The Architecture of Glasgow

(London, 1968), 17.

4. J Durkan, Glasgow Cathedral (Glasgow, 1986), 3.

5. Ibid, 18.

6. Ibid.

Since the end of the 17th century, the castle had been the property of the crown, with the more secure parts used as a prison (most probably Beaton's Tower at the top of Kirk Street). In the Glasgow Journal published on 26 April 1742, the castle, house and gardens, were offered on a seventy year lease with entitlement for the tenant to take stone from the buildings for the erection of new houses. In 1755 the town magistrates granted permission for the removal of portions of the castle structure to assist the construction of the Saracen Head Inn in Ga77owgate (Roger 1856-57, 323) and in 1778, 'a portion' of the ruins was removed to facilitate the widening of Castle Street (MacGregor 1881, 364). Ten years later in 1788, it was agreed that the Castle was to be the site of the Royal Infirmary. The site was at that time held on lease from the Crown by the Earl of Dundonald, and the property was only released for development upon application to the Treasury and Court of Exchequer. The appropriate permission being granted, the work of clearing the site of the castle began in earnest in 1792 (MacGregor 1881, 374) In spite of this drastic demolition, parts of the Castle survived into the 19th century. The angle tower (C.NS 6011 6558) for example, formerly part of Bishop Cameron's enclosing wall, stood according to Roger (1856-57, 322) until 1853. The remains are described (op. cit.) as those of a circular tower 'with the steps of the sunk portion, ten in number'. In this year also, the 'mound in front of the Infirmary was removed and discoveries made at that time suggest that the Castle was not levelled at the end of the 18th century. Remains of the bastion at the head of Kirk Street C. (NS 6011 6551) are described by Roger (1856-57, 326) as having become so consolidated as to require the process of blasting to effect their removal.

Parts of the castle fabric were identified at various sites in the city through the 19th century. The arms of Bishop Dunbar, for example, removed from the gatehouse c.1760, were according to McGeorge (1888, 10) built into the back tenement at 22 High Street until the 19th clearance of this area. It is now preserved in the Cathedral.

Information from ‘Historic Glasgow: The Archaeological Implications of Development’, (1990).

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