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Dundee Castle

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Dundee Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Canmore ID 33507

Site Number NO43SW 48

NGR NO 4042 3027

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Dundee, City Of
  • Parish Dundee (Dundee, City Of)
  • Former Region Tayside
  • Former District City Of Dundee
  • Former County Angus

Archaeology Notes

NO43SW 48 4042 3027.

(NO 4042 3027) Dundee Castle (NR) (site of)

OS 25" map, (1959)

The locally accepted site of Dundee Castle, of which no trace remains. The castle, evidently of some strength and importance, is on record from 1290 but after 1314 there is no mention of it - the implication being that it was dismantled about that period.

Name Book 1858; A C Lamb 1895.

Site occupied by modern buildings.

Visited by OS (J L D) 17 April 1958.


Online Gallery (1306 - 1329)

The year 2014 sees the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, in which the army of Robert I of Scotland defeated that of Edward II of England. The battle marked a major turning point in the long, drawn-out struggle of the Wars of Independence.

The Wars have had a lasting influence upon all the nations of the United Kingdom and upon the national story. Each age has seen fit to commemorate the events in its own way: through the perpetuation of the genuine historical associations of buildings and places and also through the endowment of others with improbable or fanciful traditions. Where past generations allowed its historic buildings to decay and disappear, later generations began to value and actively preserve these for their associations. Where an event lacked a tangible reminder, as at Kinghorn where Alexander III was killed in a riding accident, a commemorative monument would be erected to act as a focus. The Wars of Independence predate the fashion for accurate portraiture: the weathered, generic military effigy of Sir James Douglas is one of the few to survive in Scotland. Later centuries saw a need and supplied it by a crowd of images of its historic heroes, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, each depicted according to contemporary taste and imagination. The opening of the new heritage centre at Bannockburn takes this into a new dimension, through the use of three-dimensional, digital technology.

RCAHMS Collections hold many images of these buildings and locations from battlefields, castles and churches, to the many commemorative monuments erected in later years. This gallery highlights a selection of these, including antiquarian sketches, photographic and drawn surveys, and architectural designs.

Publication Account (1988)

Dundee Castle was built on a hill of black dolerite jutting into the Tay. Most physical evidence of the site was blasted away in the early 19th century to make way for Castle Street, but St Paul's Episcopal Church, High Street, still clings to a small portion of this dolerite exposure. Its existence is implied in the early 13th century by the name Castle Wynd but the first documentary evidence of the castle is in 1290 when Brian FitzAlan was made custodian of the castles of Forfar and Dundee.1 Lamb argues that the fortification was extensive, and maintained at least 130 knights and horseman within its walls. This may be supported by the details of provisioning of the castle in various records, but in particular from the English Exchequer Rolls of the reign of Edwards I and II, although all provisions would not necessarily be destined solely for the occupants of the castle, but possibly also for retainers nearby.2 Taken by the English at the beginning of the Wars of Independence, the castle was then successfully seized by Sir Alexander Scrymgeour who was, in reward, made hereditary constable of the castle of Dundee in 1298 by William Wallace.3 It has been claimed that the castle was destroyed on the instruction of Wallace. There is, however, more than adequate documentation to show that it survived into the 14th century, falling into the hands of both the English and the Scots4 but after 1314 all recorded evidence of the castle disappears. Whether it was dismantled by Edward Bruce, brother of the king, or abandoned and destroyed by retreating English under William de Montfichet, is not certain. Robert I's charter to Nicol Scrymgeour in February 1318, continuing him in the office of constable of Dundee, makes no mention of a castle5, nor does the king's charter of 1327 confirming to the burgh all its ancient rights and liberties.

The area remained vacant, and annual rents of the late 15th century would suggest that the land was still unbuilt6. The name survived in Castle Wynd, Castle Mills, Castle Burn, and Castle Hill. The constables continued to hold their barony court on the hill, and it is said that ruins of the fortification were still visible in the 16th century.7 In the 17th century a huge statue of Apollo was built on top of the hill as a landmark for shipping, and even into the late 18th century sasines indicate that the statue stood in a garden surrounded by few houses. They c.1780 view of the harbour by master-painter Methven gives a clear illustration of the site of the castle prior to blasting away for road improvement.8


1. A C Lamb, Dundee - Its Quaint and Historic Buildings (Dundee 1895) (hereafter Lamb, Dundee), 7.

2. Lamb, Dundee, 9.

3. APS, i, 97.

4. DDARC, cc1/2, for example, (an order of Edward II of England to Sheriff of Lincolnshire to provide food and wine for the castle of Dundee, 12 May 1309).

5. DDARC, cc 1, No. 13.

SRO, GD137/3681.

6. DDARC, cc 1, NO 16.

SRO, GD137/3744.

7. A Maxwell, Dundee (1891), 110.

8. Reproduced in Lamb, Dundee.


It is generally accepted on the basis of surviving documentary evidence that the castle stood between the present Castle Street and Commercial Street at NO 4043 3028.

Strategically, this site once controlled the approach to the town from the river, and most probably provided a focus for the development of the early burgh.

It is certain that the castle was razed in the 14th century. The subsequent history of the site is, however, largely unchronicled. Until the 17th century the castle rose sheer from the shore of the Tay, but in 1643, reclamation of land from the river had begun with the construction of the New Shore (Maxwell, 1884, 473). A late 17th-century engraving (Slezer, 1693) illustrating Dundee from the East, shows the summit of Castle rock, bare of buildings and the sea wall. Later evidence chronicles the post-medieval development of the site for residential and industrial purposes. Throughout the 19th century the site receded inland with progressive reclamation of the river shore.

By the late 18th century, the need to improve the High Street and the expanded harbour, resulted in extensive quarrying of the Castle rock to allow the formation of the present Castle Street (NO 404 302) (Beatts, 1878, 215). The surviving remnant of what the Name Book (OS ONB, 1858, bk 28, 49) recorded from verbal evidence in 1858 as '... a high rock, standing 80 or 90 feet above the general surface of the surrounding plain, with sides perpendicular all round, and having a horizontal area on top sufficient for a large building ...' is now occupied by St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral.

The original extent of the castle cannot be determined. Millar (1923, 138) recorded that it was said 'that this castle took in a large piece of ground and was surrounded by a large ditch with a drawbridge ...'. This would appear to be a reasonable supposition considering the details given in the Exchequer rolls concerning provisions for a large garrison and the figures given in the army lists of the early 14th century. Some questionable structural evidence is available from the eighteenth an 19th centuries. Millar (1923, 145) records the discovery of vaults while foundations of buildings peripheral to the castle rock summit were being laid. It is recorded that masons engaged on this work broke into some of these vaults but immediately back-filled the cavity that had been revealed. It would seem reasonable to speculate that these vaults were associated with the early castle. Kidd (1909, 61) claimed that south of the Murraygate-Seagate junction in the late 18th century, stood the timber-fronted Blue Bell Inn (NO 4041 3031) which incorporated in part, the magazine of the castle. There is now no means of verifying this claim, but it is not impossible that part of the castle structure survived on the flank of the rock. Successive quarrying and rebuilding of the site now leaves virtually no undisturbed ground which might successfully be investigated.

The site today is very much as it was laid out in the early 18th and mid-19th century, with the Episcopal Cathedral of St Paul's occupying the highest point, and the street-fronting properties of Castle Street, Commercial Street and Exchange Street backing onto the church. The majority of these properties are cut into the slope of Castle Street or have cellarage and are potentially lacking in archaeological interest. Buildings have recently been cleared from the rear of 16 Exchange Street (NO 4047 3026) and these appear to have been cut into the Castle rock at the rear (NO 4046 3027), abutting the apse of the Episcopal Cathedral. Consequently the site has no archaeological potential.

A garden area to the rear of 26-28 Castle Street (property dated c.1813) (NO 4044 3026) has apparently remained free of building development through the 18th (Crawford, 1776; Crawford, 1793) and 19th centuries (Wood, 1821; OS, 25", 1862, LIV, 9) and is of potential interest. This site lies at an equivalent height to the cathedral and would provide some information as to the degree of quarrying and survival of deposits.

Information from ‘Historic Dundee: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1988).


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