In 1734 a new Town-House was completed on the former site of St Clement’s Church, which we know today as City Square.  The building was a fairly grand structure, as was indicative of its multiple uses, with beautiful arched piazzas which looked out onto what is now Reform Street.  It was locally referred to as ‘the pillars’.  Markets were held under the safety of the piazzas in bad weather, and it was a place of general hustle and bustle.  Atop the already-impressive building sat a spire which housed a bell, used for calling meetings or tolling proclamations.  A fire in 1773 occurred on the roof of the building – the source of which was never determined – and it caused the frames holding the bell to crash into the rooms below it, causing considerable damage.

Shops took up the majority of the ground floor of the building, with the exception of one room for town officers to stay in, if they needed to. On the first floor were the offices of the Dundee Banking Company, who remained in the building for over 50 years, as well as an apothecary which was also said to have been well established and often-visited.  Above all of this, on the second floor sat the Town Council’s Hall, described to be spacious and elegant, and also another hall (not as nice as the Town Council’s Hall) for the use of the Guildry for meetings and also for the Sheriff and Justices of the Peace to hold courts.

In 1788, a gang robbed the Dundee Banking Company by breaking into the Guildry Hall and ripping up the floor, allowing them access to the bank via its roof.  Dropping into the bank from above, the gang made off with their loot in a daring night time robbery.  Six people went to trial over the incident, and, despite only circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a man who was later sent to Botany Bay for forgery and subsequently hanged aboard the ship for trying to start a mutiny, 3 men were sentenced to death for the robbery.  The guilt of those accused was something of a contentious issue at the time, with many people unconvinced.  As robberies go, it was a fairly gutsy move by those involved – even more so because the Town Hall also housed the jail!

The main jail was on the third floor and was divided into 5 spacious rooms 24 foot long, 12 foot wide and 8 foot high. 2 rooms were kept for debtors, who were expected to provide their own bedding, candles and coal, as well as pay fourpence a day for running fees.  The jail was said to be of a very high standard of cleanliness throughout.  The ‘Iron House’, or jailer’s storeroom separated these 2 rooms at the front of the building from the 2 rooms at the back, which were for criminals.  These rooms were strengthened, with the outer walls being fortified with iron netting, double sets of bars on the windows, and the doors braced with iron rods.  Criminals were dealt with differently to those in debt, being allowed only a straw mattress and two rugs to sleep on. Above this part of the jail, in the attic space, a further 6 jail rooms were situated to account for overflow of prisoners, but by the 1800’s, it was used as the women’s prison.  As with the male jails below, these were also kept to a very high standard.

Whilst hangings were uncommon, they still did occur from time to time.  Murder and rape topped the list of offences, with 5 of the 6 recorded hangings listing this as the crime.  The first hanging recorded was for housebreaking and theft, with the perpetrator being hung to make an example of him.  Our list of hangings is here if you want to take a quick look.  During the time of the Town Hall, hangings took place outside one of the east windows of the Guildry Hall, looking onto the High Street. John Watt, David Balfour and Mark Devlin all hung from the east side of the Town Hall.  By the time the new police station was built at Ward Road/Lochee Road, executions were held there.  Arthur Woods, Thomas Leith and William Bury all met their fate at the hangman’s noose, with Bury being the last man hung in Dundee.

Whilst the Town House jail was said to be fairly secure, it had been noted that the attic cells were slightly easier to break out of, hence it was offered up as the female jail.  For anyone needing a bit of a special time-out, there was a frightfully dank and dark space in the basement for them, aptly named the “Thief’s Hole”.  It wasn’t just people who were flung in there – sometimes property was held there…and once, even a tree!

For almost 200 years, the Town House sat in its prominent position before it was torn down to make way for City Square in the 1930’s.  Attempts to save it, and even provide a new location for its re-erection proved to be fruitless, and it became yet another building Dundee lost to time.


‘Dundee Delineated’, Printed by A Colville for self and Alex M Sandeman, 1822, pp 109 – 112

‘Undiscovered Dundee’, B King, Black & White Publishing, 2011, pp 1 – 5

‘Historical description of the town of Dundee’, C Mackie, Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1836 pp 66 – 67

Canmore Town House entry

Image of Town-House flagstone by Jim Glover


The site of the city churches, St Mary’s and The Steeple, which sit surrounded by the Overgate shopping centre, has been the home to a church since the very beginnings of Dundee as a town. When the Earl of Huntingdon landed here in 1190 he founded the ‘kirk in the field’ dedicated to St Mary, after his time in the crusades. More on this exiting backstory later… for now we have been looking at the incidents throughout the history of the Church when it was ravaged by fire which happened several times over the years. It is a testament of the dedication of the town to the Church that it was rebuilt, restored and extended every time.

The first destruction of the church came at the hands of Edward I when Dundee was attacked and the church was torched in 1303 during the Wars of Independence, the Scottish side led by William Wallace. All the town records had been taken there for safety before the invading army arrived, but all were either taken off by Edward’s men or destroyed in the fire.

It took until the early 15th century before work had begun to rebuild the church, but on such a large stone building work was slow. With a bit of new investment the work was completed and a final square tower completed the new building in 1480, which is the only part of the building which still stands today known to us as ‘The Old Steeple’.

This new church had a short life, as in 1547 the English army had captured Dundee and used the church for stables. Whether caused by an accident or on purpose, the church was set on fire and the nave was destroyed along with the transepts. Only the tower and the choir were saved from the raging inferno while the nave remained a charred, roofless wreck until 1789.

The roofless, fire damaged parts of the church were removed and the choir was built upon and then established as the first reformed church in Dundee, and called St Mary’s Kirk. Later in the 16th century the Town rebuilt the south transept which accommodated a second church known as the South Kirk. For a while in the late 16th century the choir area was used as a jail, and part of it was also used as a library.

In 1651, General Monck laid siege to Dundee, but although he set a fire to smoke out General Lumsden from the Steeple Tower, the church mercifully remained unharmed. The chaos surrounding the church during this siege left its mark, with remains uncovered periodically around the site, likely victims of Moncks massacre. On the south wall there is a dent in the base wall which is said to have been caused by a cannon shot fired by Moncks army when they laid siege to the tower.

The north transept was rebuilt and this third church was known as the North or Cross church, with finally a fourth church rebuilt in the nave which was St Clement’s or Steeple Kirk. From 1789 to 1841 the site was the home of four separate churches under one roof, each with their own ministers but sharing one tower and bells.

In early 1841 a fire broke out in the heating system of the East Kirk, again destroying the fine buildings, although this time by accident. The tower survived, along with the nave. The destruction of this fire was immense, with the fine gothic arches and pillars destroyed, the exterior walls shattered by the heat. The Chapter house adjoining the church was also destroyed, along with a library containing over 1800 volumes including ancient works in Greek and Latin, many dating from pre-reformation clergy.

The North or Cross Church moved to another place of worship and the fire-damaged buildings of the East and south Churches were rebuilt and opened again in 1844. Two of the three remaining churches, the Steeple Church and St Paul’s and St David’s (The south church) amalgamated and the premises of the South Church now form a community centre, dedicated to the Dundee-born missionary Mary Slessor. Thankfully the churches have remained fire free for many years now.


If you’ve seen any really old maps of Dundee, you might notice that there’s no mention of the Overgate as we know it, or indeed, the Nethergate.  Known back then as Argyllsgait (Argyllgait) and Flukergait respectively, it wasn’t until the latter part of the 1500’s that the new names came into play, not long after the time period set on our map.  Originally no more than a few wooden houses, Argyllgait slowly grew over the centuries, slowly spreading towards the lower Flukergait and beyond.

Such was the attraction of Argyllgait, that the Mercat Cross was uprooted from its position in the Seagate and moved in the mid 1400’s to a new position where High Street met Argyllgait.  Trade and commerce swiftly followed, making it a hive of activity.  Many rich and wealthy people began moving to Argyllgait, making it a very desirable place to live.  The Seagate ceased to be the main centre of trade whilst still retaining its unique character and vantage point near the river.  The Mercat Cross remained there until the late 1700’s.

The naming of Argyllgait is claimed to be either down to the occupants of the area at that time, who came to stay in Dundee from the Highlands, or from a wealthy family – the Campbell’s of Argyll – who were alleged to have resided in the area.  By the turn of the 16th century, Argyllgait was almost beyond what we can imagine by looking at the area today.  A very good place to live, it boasted not only the majestic City Churches, but an array of well-built, stone houses, in which dwelled the rich and the noble.

However, as its popularity rose, those who sought to steer clear of the ‘common’ folk soon began to move to larger estates on the outskirts of the town.  The houses at Argyllgait had lovely gardens, so it wasn’t like people were living on top of one another at that point, but the allure of the outskirts of town, with even larger expanses of land were too appealing to the rich, and they soon abandoned their homes in the heart of the town.  Losing the nobility didn’t do anything to dent the character of the Overgate, as it soon became known.  In fact, if anything, the heart of the town only beat harder.

As more and more working class people moved into the Overgate, they set up shops, stalls and workshops in the free space around the buildings.  Some even built their own housing on the land, and by the 17th century, the era of Argyllgait was well and truly over; nothing more than a passing memory making way for the ever-expanding Overgate.  Many notable people from Dundee’s history, both famous and infamous have lived in the Overgate, such as Grissell Jaffray, David Balfour, the Duke of Monmouth and Mary Brooksbank, to name but only a few.  It’s also fair safe to assume that, considering its longevity, anyone notable throughout Dundee’s entire history will have stood on these grounds somewhere, from royalty and robbers to warriors and murderers.

When the Earl of Huntingdon landed upon Dundee’s shores following a storm in 1190, he had the Church of St Mary built over a period of many years as thanks for his safe landing. Throughout the ages, endless attacks by English armies forced us to fortify our walls and solidify our defences, to the point where we held the majority of the wealth of the Earls and nobility of Scotland within our confines.  Unfortunately, this ended tragically for us during the siege of 1st September 1651, when Monck’s troops stormed the town after Governor Robert Lumsden repeatedly refused the city’s surrender.

The word “gait” means to walk, or, more specifically, the pattern of movement of the limbs during locomotion.  We learned on Lost Dundee that the word “gate” is derivative from the Norse word ‘gata’ meaning road or street.  As Overgate was the higher of the two thoroughfares running alongside Dundee’s City Churches, thus it was named.  Flukergait, being the lower of the two, was renamed Nethergate.  Our Lady Warkstairs was a timber-fronted building, reported to have been built sometime in the 15th century and connected to the Church of St Mary, perhaps as an almshouse.  It was situated where Primark sits now, looking down Crichton Street. At the time of the building’s construction, however, this street would not have been there.

On the other side of Primark, which faces towards the corner of Reform Street sat the Duke of Monmouth’s house – a substantial building, constructed around the same time as Our Lady Warkstairs.  This property was famous for a few reasons.  This was the house in which General Monck set up his Headquarters whilst in Dundee during the siege of 1651 which we touched upon earlier.  During this period, the Duke’s daughter was born in the home; Anna, Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth.  It was also used as the Town House for a while, earning it the nickname “The New Tolbooth”.  Its stature, position in the centre, and a handy wee turret made it a very attractive property indeed – and it certainly saw more than its fair share of action.

Whereas nowadays, the Overgate area is fairly open and easy to navigate, it was not always this way.  Streets and pends ran all up and down this area, like a warren of narrow paths, crammed with overpopulated housing.  With the boom of the textile industry in the 19th century, the population of Dundee also grew considerable, with many of them living in and around this area.  So dense was the population, that it was reported there were around 400 people per acre in the Overgate, compared to a city average of 36.  Thorter Row, Tally Street, Barrack Street, Lindsay Street, Tay Street, Long Wynd, Church Lane, Mid Kirk Style are only a few of the myriad pends and streets which formed part of the Overgate’s impressive portfolio, including closes such as St Salvador’s Close, Argyll Close, Mint Close, Methodist Close and the legendary Beefcan Close (not it’s official name).

Whilst this added a whole lot of hustle and bustle to the area, it also meant that they were never short of a drama in the Overgate.  Described as a bit of a circus, the area was literally heaving with people, shops, pubs, flea-markets, entertainers and religious preachers.  Fights would often break out – and not just between the men – and alcohol, gambling and women of ill repute were never far out of reach.  Despite its reputation swiftly gaining notoriety, the Overgate was the only place to go to be guaranteed a good time; so much so that the area has been coined in many a local phrase and song.

With some of what was claimed to be the worst housing in Dundee, the Overgate also had five properties which were used as common sleeping places for the homeless, where (mostly drunk) people slept in hospital-style beds in a dormitory fashion, sleeping on their possessions to avoid robbery.  Outside toilets were used by dozens of people, and conditions were far from sanitary.  Having so many people crammed into such a small space made it very easy for diseases to spread.  In 1832 and in 1849, Cholera struck Dundee.  Cholera is spread mainly by water and food products that have been contaminated with human faeces containing the disease.  In 1845, piped water first became available in Dundee.  Shortly after, the 1848 Public Health Act was the first step in the right direction to improving what was said to be squalid conditions.


In 1910, plans were developed to completely change the way the Overgate looked, in an attempt to reinvigorate it and clean up its image both in terms of image and reputation.  Unfortunately, both World Wars put a halt to regeneration attempts and funding until the 1960’s, when a concrete monolith was erected in place of the dilapidated housing.  It wasn’t the nicest looking thing in the world, but it was beginning to change the way people looked at the Overgate and the surrounding area.  During the demolition, everything was destroyed with exception of St Mary’s Tower and the City Churches.


Despite its best intentions, and boasting a hotel as well as a decent range of shops, the Overgate began to lose favour to the new Wellgate Centre, which was constructed in the late 1970’s.  Fortunes turned for the Overgate as shopkeepers could not afford the rents and moved out, damaging its reputation once again.  As the years progressed, the Overgate became a ghost of its former lively self until the question of redevelopment became a talking point.  By the late 1990’s, work was underway to change the face and the reputation of the Overgate.  A multi-level shopping mall was built, housing many well-known retailers, and brought positive attention (and, more importantly, revenue) back into the area.

Whilst many things have changed over the centuries with regards to what we now know as the Overgate, what has never changed is the resilience of the city – no matter what happens, we always bounce back fighting.  Whilst we don’t profess to know what will happen to the Overgate of the future, we’re pretty certain that she won’t be going anywhere any time soon!  The next time you’re wandering about the Overgate, just have a wee think of all the things that have happened there over the history of the town…and all the dead bodies that lie right under your feet!

Images courtesy of City Archives, Wikimedia and Lost Dundee.

Shrouded in the mystery of time long past, the records sadly destroyed by the final battles it was engaged in. Dundee Castle was a legendary place in ancient Scotland’s history where King’s and Queen’s visited, and many battles were fought.

The ancient settlement of Dundee, which in its earliest days consisted of two main streets, the Seagate and the Cowgate, was dominated by a huge 90ft tall cliff faced hill atop which sat the Castle of Dundee. The castle was simply known as the Castle of Dundee, but the hill upon which it sat was locally called the Black Rock, due to the black colour of the rock. It must have been quite the intimidating sight for intruders to see a black 90ft tall rocky cliff with a castle standing on top.

The memory of the castle lives on in the name Castle Street, which is located on the site of the castle after the last parts of the rocky hill were blasted away with dynamite to make way for the street. Before this there was still a considerable hill of 20 – 40ft at this location. No one can be sure when the castle itself was erected, and sadly no painting or sketches of the castle remain.

The oldest records of Scotland’s history say that Dundee was a place of considerable importance shortly after the spreading of Christianity. Some historians say that the castle of Dundee was a refuge to Carinthius, king of the Picts, after his army had suffered a defeat in Fife, by the legions of Agricola of Rome. They go on to say that under the cover of its impregnable walls, he not only defended himself from the the enemy, but had time also to deliberate with his chiefs after which he entered into a league with Galgacus, king of the Scots. This was to oppose the onslaught of the armies of Rome.

It’s also been suggested that Donald I, accompanied by his queen and courtiers, visited Dundee about 860 and remained there for a considerable time where they are said to have been baptized into the Christian faith. It is also noted in several sources that King Edgar Atheling died here in 1106 after a reign of 9 years. So Dundee was certainly a town of great importance, and possibly the seat of royalty at a very earlier period.

The Castle was one of the main fortresses of Scotland and played a prominent part in Scotland’s War of Independence. After the death of Alexander III, the country was thrown into chaos. While Edward I plotted to take control of Scotland, after being asked to help decided who the new king should be, the Castle was handed over to Gilbert de Umfraville, Earl of Angus.

Once Edward I began his campaign to take control of Scotland, he decided the main strongholds of the country should be handed over to someone who would hold them on his behalf. Dundee Castle was handed over to Brian, son of Alan, against the Earls wishes. After John Baliol was declared King of Scots, with some interference from Edward I, Brian was ordered to hand the Castle over to him. After Baliol capitulated to Edward’s rule in July of 1292, Dundee Castle was again in the possession of the English, although it had been under their control in all but name.

William Wallace was at this time rising against Edward I, and it was while besieging Dundee to reclaim the town and the and Castle, that Wallace received word of the advance of the English army. He left Alexander Scrymgeour to continue the siege which after a long and bloody battle, was a success. Dundee Castle was now back in control of the Scots.

When Wallace returned to Dundee he named Alexander the “Skirmischur” and appointed him the hereditary Constable of the Castle of Dundee and bestowed him the right to carry the royal standard in war. Unfortunately Alexander Scrymgeour did not hold the castle for long, as although Edward I retreated after his victory at Falkirk he left behind a garrison in Dundee, and wrote to them in 1300, telling the garrisons to “keep themselves by truce as best they can till Pentecost next” (May 1301) when the truce was to end.

Alexander Scrymgeour continued as Constable of Dundee and remained at the Castle even after Edward I’s complete subjugation of Scotland in 1303, but events must have unfolded at the Castle as shortly after this English garrisons were in command and the castle stayed under their control for several years.

After his coronation at Scone on 27th March 1306, Robert the Bruce took to the field against Edward. He was at once joined by Alexander Scrymgeour, and Dundee Castle was back in the hands of the Scots. However soon after Scrymgeour was taken prisoner after being defeated at Methven. Six weeks later, along with other prisoners taken at that battle, he was hanged in Newcastle. After his defeat, Bruce fled to the west and Dundee Castle was in the hands of the English.

The English garrison managed to hold out for another year, after which it was taken back by Bruce in 1313. After this he gave the order to destroy the Castle, to prevent it being used against him. It had changed hands between the Scots and the English eight times in the last 22 years. It was likely seen as much of a curse as a blessing, allowing whoever occupied it to remain in place in the region due to its position above the rock for defence, and right beside the shore for a speedy escape when needed.

After the destruction of all local records the details of such battles and other stories of the Castle have been lost to time, only a few mentions of the Castle in the records of Edwards army remain along with tales and legends, such as that of Carinthius. But as the memory of the castle lives on in the name Castle Street, and a plaque reminds us of its location, we can only imagine how different the city centre would look were the castle still standing today.


At around 174m tall and incorrectly named by many as ‘The Law Hill’, the word ‘Law’ refers to the Anglo-Saxon ‘hlāw’, which means ‘mound’. Actually, it means ‘grave-mound’, so read into that what you will about what lies beneath the surface. Used as a settlement over 3500 years ago, the Law has stood guard over the surrounding land, offering uninterrupted views – a unique vantage point which attracted Picts, Romans and Jacobites, to name but a few, over the millennia. Bronze age graves have been found on its slopes, and evidence of Roman pottery has also been unearthed from the quiet giant. Remnants of an Iron age fort atop the hill still exist, as well as parts of the bastion of a medieval fort.

On 13th April 1689, Viscount Dundee raised the Stuart Royal Standard on the Law, marking the beginning of the first Jacobite Rising. In May of 1925, a memorial was erected atop the Law, this time marking in honour the names of those Dundonians who had fallen in both world wars. The memorial is lit to commemorate the Battle of Loos, United Nations Day, Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.

The Law also played host to a railway line, long since covered up, that ran from Dundee to Newtyle. Whilst it may have been concealed, many people still have memories of sneaking down into the tunnels, and playing in the darkness. More recently, a campaign got underway to generate more awareness of the tunnel and to campaign for it to be reopened and utilised as a public facility. Deirdre Robertson spearheaded the ‘Dundee LAW Tunnel’ Facebook page, which has gained a fairly reputable following and has led to many positive developments, which you can keep up to date with by checking out their social media.

Some great memories offered by our fellow citizens were found when we visited Retro Dundee.

Derek shared: ‘Now this brings back tons o’ memories…getting the bus fae across the road fae the auld folks home at the bottom o’ Douglasfield park…loaded to the hilt wi’ candles in jars, torches, bluebell matches…I remember that we had to climb over a wall fae the road, and there were tennis courts for sure. The entrance to the tunnel was boarded up wi’ a few sheet o’ corregated iron which was no problem for 11 year old fae Balmedie, ha ha. I only remember one painted ghost, at the start (of the tunnel)…the tunnel was straight and had divider walls every 25ft or so…that’s what got you scared stiff – what was on the other side o’ the wall? At the end, it was filled with rocks, bricks, planks o’ wood, etc. 1971, great childhood memories’.

Fat Boab (seriously, we didn’t make that up) says that he ‘did have a few trips inside the tunnel; ghosts painted on the walls, bats over your head – a proper fleggy night oot, luved it. Then doon ti “aipil alley” for some “plundereeze”, tar and broken gless on tap o’ the waz never stopped wi tho; wha needed an X-box???

Many people have fond memories of the Law, whether it be time spent with family, a place for personal reflection, exercise or solace or in the quest for the perfect photograph, but the Law is not without its darker side. Terrible and brutal assaults have been carried out in the shadows of its base, from physical attacks to cold, calculated murder. Men and woman have fallen foul to the evil that can lurk in the most unexpected of places – a reputation that surrounds the Law even to this day. Whilst it wouldn’t be fair to say the Law is a dangerous place (it’s no dangerous than any other wooded, dark place, we imagine), it’s fair to say it’s seen its fair share of murder, drama and mystery.

With that said and done, and looking into the future of the Law, there’s probably only one thing we can say for sure – it’ll be around a lot longer than any of us, silently watching as Dundee progresses into each new century with its typical gusto. If the Law could speak, we wonder, what would it tell us?

Do you have any stories of the Law you’d like to share with us? Comment below, or get in touch – we’d love to hear from you or anyone you know who can share memories with us.


Whilst not actually in Dundee, per se, we couldn’t let a wee treasure like Glamis Castle fly under the radar. Steeped in centuries of dark, blood-soaked history and with more legends attached to it than almost any other castle in Scotland, Glamis Castle was too hard to resist. The Castle was presented to Sir John Lyon as a gift by King Robert II in 1372 and remains in the family to this day. The Queen Mother, mistakenly believed to have been born at Glamis, in fact, gave birth to Princess Margaret there in 1930 and also tended to wounded soldiers at Glamis during WW1 when it became a convalescence home.

Glamis is the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth and is referred to by name, and it is widely believed that Duncan was murdered here by Macbeth (although, for each proponent of the tale, there is a counter-argument). In the armoury of the Castle, the sword and the shirt of mail worn by Macbeth are still displayed.

Bonnie Dundee was a great friend of the 3rd Earl of Kinghorne and a hero to the Jacobites. His leather ‘bullet-proof’ jacket (allegedly enhanced by the devil himself during dark magic rituals undertaken in Claypotts Castle) and boots are also on display at Glamis.

Lady Janet Douglas, the Lady of Glamis, was accused by King James V (Mary Queen of Scots father) of witchcraft, poisoning her husband and plotting to poison the king. King James hated the Douglas family because his stepfather, Archibald Douglas (who happened to be Janet’s brother) had imprisoned James when he was a young child. This hatred failed to abate over the years, and, seeking vengeance for the past, Janet was burned at the stake on 17th July 1537 at Edinburgh Castle as her son, John, was made to watch. Interestingly, no harm was inflicted on the boy, who was incarcerated until he came of age, and then had his title and estates restored. Some forty years after the death of his mother, John was murdered in an unplanned skirmish with his mortal hereditary enemies, the Lindsays.

The legend of the “Monster of Glamis” is believed to have been inspired by the infamous “Room of Skulls” – a room where the Ogilvie family sought shelter from the Lindsays and were walled up and left to die of starvation.

Many of the Stuart monarchs believed they had special healing powers, and it was in the chapel at Glamis that King James VIII (The Old Pretender) touched people for the ‘king’s evil’ or scrofula – a skin disease associated with tuberculosis which afflicts sufferers with lymph node swelling in the neck. The practice began with King Edward the Confessor in England around 1003, and continued throughout the middle ages.

These are just some of the many fascinating facets to the history of Glamis Castle, and you can find out more by visiting their website. However, don’t rush away just yet…if you want to know some more about the legends and ghosts of the castle, head over to our Local Legends section.

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We are all familiar with the iconic RRS Discovery, currently berthed as the crown jewel of Dundee’s waterfront. If you don’t know the history of this ship, you can find out all you need to know about its history and its impact on Antarctic whaling here – but for now, let’s concentrate on what we’re good at – ramping up the darkness…

It was a dream of Sir Clements Markham to have a British National Antarctica Expedition, a dream that began to be realised when construction on the HMS Discovery began on 16th March 1900 by Dundee Ship Builders Company; but not everyone thought Markham was the perfect gentleman. An educated man with a wealth of naval experience, Markham took a real shine to Robert Falcon Scott, who many firmly believed was his protégé. Ernest Shackleton, however, wasn’t always so fortunate, as we’ll find out a wee bit later.

Forty-nine experienced seamen began their journey in 1901, picked by Scott himself– a real mix of characters – which proved to be a source of deep regret for the Captain. Arguments and fist fights were not uncommon among the rowdy males, enhanced by the cramped and bitter living conditions aboard the ship and further exacerbated by being trapped in Antarctic ice for 2 years before they were blasted free! Sadly, not all of these men would return home, the most tragic case being the death of a young seaman, Charles Bonner, who fell from the main mast on the ship’s departure from Lyttelton (New Zealand). Reports show he fell head first onto the iron deckhouse, smashing his skull upon impact. The area where he fell is also a source of alleged paranormal activity.

The Discovery has had its fair share of ghost stories, including sounds and mystery noises coming from the bedroom of Ernest Shackleton, who was named as third officer aboard the ship during the time of Captain Scott’s expedition, and who went on to lead 3 British expeditions to the Antarctic. He was sent home early on health grounds after a Polar trek went horrifically wrong, killing all 22 sled dogs and afflicted Scott, Shackleton and scientist Edward Wilson with a variety of potentially deadly ailments such as snow blindness, scurvy and frostbite.

On the return journey, Shackleton had by his own admission “broken down” and could no longer carry out his share of the work…He would later deny Scott’s claim in The Voyage of the Discovery, that he had been carried on the sledge…However, he was in a seriously weakened condition; Wilson’s diary entry for 14 January reads: “Shackleton has been anything but up to the mark, and today he is decidedly worse, very short winded and coughing constantly, with more serious symptoms that need not be detailed here but which are of no small consequence one hundred and sixty miles from the ship”. On 4 February 1903, the party finally reached the ship. After a medical examination (which proved inconclusive), Scott decided to send Shackleton home on the relief ship Morning, which had arrived in McMurdo Sound in January 1903. Scott wrote: “He ought not to risk further hardship in his present state of health.” There is conjecture that Scott’s motives for removing him was resentment of Shackleton’s popularity, and that ill-health was used as an excuse to get rid of him. Years after the deaths of Scott, Wilson and Shackleton, Albert Armitage, the expedition’s second-in-command, claimed that there had been a falling-out on the southern journey, and that Scott had told the ship’s doctor that “if he does not go back sick he will go back in disgrace”.” (

Having initially agreed to Shackleton’s proposal for leadership of a Polar exploration, Clements Markham changed his mind and began to denounce Shackleton’s credentials, going so far as to cross out credible or favourable entries towards Shackleton in his own notes. Markham’s sudden dismissiveness towards Shackleton is seen by many as a show of resentment, as Markham wished polar glory to be attributed to his protégé, Scott.

Maybe this is the reason people keep hearing noises such as snoring and knocking coming from Shackelton’s room aboard the RRS Discovery to this day – poor Shackleton is still annoyed with Markham after all this time! Whilst people in the past have claimed that Shackleton died aboard the Discover, this is untrue, but does lend itself to the theory that Shackleton’s ghost is responsible for the potential hauntings.

In a bizarre twist of fate for Markham, whilst reading in bed by candlelight, his bed caught fire, and he barely survived, only to die the following day from his injuries on 30th January 1916.

RRS Discovery did a lot more than just sail to the Antarctic a couple of times, enjoying life as a working munitions ship during WWI as well as a training vessel for both the Royal Navy & the Seal Scouts (Boy Scouts Association), before finally returning home to Dundee for good in April of 1986. Whilst the Antarctic missions may be the most prominent things in folks mind when attributing ghostly phenomena to the RRS Discovery, it’s worth remembering that she saw a lot more action, and undoubtedly more horrors than we give her credit for.

Why not find out for yourself and take a trip to visit her? Alternatively, you can take a wee virtual tour here Who knows what you might uncover?

In the mid-19th Century, help and support for the poor people of Scotland was, by today’s standards, pretty horrendous. The people demanded a change in the current law (the Poor Law of Scotland), and it was amended in August 1845 in an attempt to abolish the suffering caused by such a lack of care.  Prior to the Poor Law being passed, responsibility for the “poor people” fell upon the Kirk Sessions of over 8000 parishes around Scotland; but to be eligible for their help, you had to meet very specific criteria.

In order to seek help you would have had to be penniless and/or disabled – if you were seen to be able bodied in any way, you would have been classed as a wanderer and sent on your way with a warning not to return. Individuals seeking help would have had to be residents of the Parish by birth or marriage.  As a result, groups of poor, unemployed craftsmen and labourers wandered up and down the country, seeking and demanding relief, begging where they could, and intimidating locals for money. Many resorted to crime to fulfil their day to day needs, as there were no other options available to them.

It became increasingly obvious that the current system for poor relief was just not enough and, under the amended Poor Law Act, each parish in Scotland was bound by law to establish a “Parochial Board”. The purpose of the Board was to provide “generous, adequate and regular relief” to the poor, whilst still excluding able-bodied unemployed.

On 4 November 1852 the Parochial Board of Dundee adopted a resolution that a Poor House be provided for the Parish. A “Special Committee” was appointed to determine the costs of the construction of the building, however, at the completion of construction, the committee, now with many “sub-committees”, had swelled significantly.

The Dundee Committee consulted with the adjoining parishes of Monifieth, Barry, Benvie and Liff with a proposal to combine all their resources in the construction and use of the building. The Parishes, surprisingly, declined Dundee’s offer, with some of the belief that we were ill-equipped to care for our poor.  Despite this, the Parochial Board pushed forward with their plans, and instructed the Committee to find suitable land to purchase for the Poor House.

Dundee Eastern Poorhouse

In December 1852, talks got underway between the Committee of the Parochial Board and the representatives for the Craigie Estates which were, at the time, owned by the Guthrie family – one of whom was a Governor of the Bank of England.  It was agreed that a fee of £12 per acre would be payable over six-monthly intervals in return for five acres of good land near Stobswell, on the West side of Mains Loan, just South of Clepington Road.

This offer was readily accepted by the Parochial Board in March of 1853 and, in July of the same year, in response to calls for tender, five architects submitted their ideas for construction of the Poorhouse and the real work had begun.  After much deliberation, the successful applicant was Mr William Moffat of Edinburgh who said the building he constructed would house: “800 paupers, 100 sick and 100 lunatics”.

After many revisions between September 1853 and January 1855, during which time these plans were dissected, criticised, reviewed, argued and revised at great length, finally, on 10 January 1855, they were approved, and local tradesmen were invited to bid for work. It was June of 1855 that work eventually commenced on the building, and a loan for £10,000 (around £750,000 by today’s standards) was acquired from the National Bank of Scotland. An advance of £3,000 was made with the remainder to be paid in February 1856. The advance was drained by December 1855 because the contractors were so far ahead with their work, such was the pace of their task.

On 26 August 1856 a Mr & Mrs Gunn accepted the positions of Governor and Matron of the Poorhouse. Mr Gunn’s salary was £79 per year, his wife’s £25 per year plus “the usual rations of the house”. Mr & Mrs Gunn accepted the first inmate on 19 November 1856 and on 25 November 1856, reporters from the Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser visited the Poorhouse and published the following comments:

“The Poorhouse is situated in an open and healthy part of the town at the back of Stobswell Feus. It is 210 feet long and 55 feet in width and is three storeys high. Airing yards are used to separate male and female inmates. Two acres of ground is available for inmates to supply vegetables for the Poorhouse. Various alterations are still in the making. When all arrangements have been completed the Poorhouse will be well suited for the purposes for which it was intended”.

During their time as Governor and Matron of the Dundee East Poorhouse, Mr & Mrs Gunn received 15,382 admissions between 19 November 1856 and 14 May 1878.  The first birth in the Poorhouse was recorded on 7 July 1857. The eldest person registered was given as 99 years old, admitted on 10 May 1857, but the record for the most admissions for any person went to a troubled and beleaguered soul who was admitted 43 times over a period of nearly as decade.

After the National Health Service came onto place, the Poorhouse was renamed and became “The Rowans” which, in June 1977, eventually became “surplus to requirements” of the Social Work Department, nearly 121 years after its opening. In November 1981 the grounds were transferred to the Education Department and eventually became a sports complex in September 1983.

Liff and Benvie Poorhouse

This establishment eventually became known as “The Western Poorhouse” and was set up in 1864 on the basis that it could accommodate 200 paupers on a site known to modern day people of Dundee as Logie Secondary School (the school opened on Blackness Road in August 1929). The completion of the building and a subsequent formal opening took place on Tuesday 5th April 1864 at a cost of £7,000, which, by today’s monetary standards of inflation, is somewhere in the region of £620,000, so, as you could imagine, it was a big deal.

The cost of the upkeep of a pauper in the Poorhouse was 7 shillings a week and it cost eight shillings for each lunatic, as they required much more diligent attention and care. This money came from Poor Law Assessment Rates, collected from owners, tenants and occupiers of property in the area. The design of the Poorhouse was such that the men’s apartments were situated to the West end of the building and the women’s to the East. At the extreme end of each section, residencies were reserved for male and female lunatics respectively.

By the end of the 19th Century it was mostly elderly, frail or insane individuals who were sent to the Western Poorhouse, whilst those who were young and fit were sheltered in Eastern.  At the end of 1914, the last of the paupers who lived in the Western Poorhouse were transferred to the Eastern Poorhouse so that the buildings of Liff & Benvie could be readied for military occupation during World War 1 (1914 – 1918).

What was it like in a Poorhouse?

Meals in the Poorhouses were very unsatisfactory to say the least, but still offered the poor something warm in their bellies during their stay.  The book “The Life & Times of Logie School” gives us an insight into the mundane, but lifesaving meals provided to the residents of the Poorhouses.

  • Monday – Broth, Beef and Bread
  • Tuesday – Pease Soup, Dumpling and Beef
  • Wednesday – Broth, Beef and Bread
  • Thursday – Irish Stew
  • Friday – Rice and New Milk, with Bread
  • Saturday – Broth, Beef and Potatoes
  • Sunday – Fresh Fish, Pease Soup and Bread

It was no easy feat to be accepted into the Poorhouse, as we found out at  Firstly, you had to go looking for relief – it did not come to you.  Your journey started at your Parish, and, if accepted, you would then continue on to what was known as the “probationers’ stage”.  This still did not guarantee you a permanent place of residence, as, once you were on the probation ward, you were stripped, washed and then sent to bed to await medical assessment.  Only if you passed the assessment were you allowed into the ward proper – otherwise you were sent to work in the Poorhouse or, as was mostly the case, sent away altogether.

For those seeking refuge in the Poorhouse through means of working, life was akin to prison.  As a way of “paying back” for the privilege of being housed by the Poorhouse whilst not meeting the criteria for admittance, those who chose to work endured 8 hours a day of labour – stonebreaking for the “worst inmates” and sack sewing for the others.  The idea behind these punitive tasks was to discourage people from seeking refuge in the Poorhouse whilst able to find work outside of its confines – and, for the most part, it worked like a charm.

Friends of Dundee City Archives also posted an extract on their site from the “Dundee Year Book 1886 – 1890, which describes with perfect clarity, the usual sight at the entrance to the Poorhouse”…mothers, with children in their arms, and little dirty boys and girls hanging to their skirts; young men and women, pinched with hunger and weary worn by tramping about; and elderly persons of both sexes, hardly able to creep along the streets. All of them appear to have been beaten in the struggle for existence.” [p.124].”

This vivid description was applied to not only those seeking refuge, but also those wishing to visit some inside.  Life was grim both inside and outside of the Poorhouse for many people, and was not solely restricted to Dundee.  With an institution of this size, cleanliness was next to Godliness.  Nobody passed through without a decent hosing down, regardless of age, sex or ability.   It’s not hard to imagine how dirty some of the people who turned up at the Poorhouse gates must have been, so it is of no surprise really that people were stripped and scrubbed – despite their protestations and terror!

One of the more memorable, and well-known of the poorhouse residents was Margaret Gow (or Mags, as she was more commonly known).  Having been arrested for drunkenness and assault over 250 times in her lifetime, Mags was a feisty, fiery Dundonian woman with a right hook as quick as her tongue.  Frequently in and out of the poorhouse as well as prison, when she worked, Mags scraped a living as a fish “cadger” – selling fish on the streets, usually by shouting her lungs off to anyone who would listen – and probably always ready to give someone a hard clout!

Find out more for yourself at

Claypotts Castle is a late medieval castle in the West Ferry area of Dundee, Scotland. It is one of the best-preserved examples of a 16th-century ‘Z-plan’ tower house in Scotland. The castle is now maintained as an Ancient Monument by Historic Scotland and is open to the public for only a few days a year. Originally built by John Strachan, work commenced sometime in 1569 and was eventually completed in 1588, nearly 20 years later. The land the castle was built on was owned by Lindores Abbey in Fife, and was rented to the Strachans for a cost of £11 16s 8d and twelve cockerels. Yes, that’s right – twelve cockerels!

The spirit of a ‘white lady’ has been seen on numerous occasions at the castle. She has been mainly seen at one of the upper windows and witnesses have also said that, at times, she seems to be waving. She is largely believed to be that of Marion Ogilvie. In the 16th century Marion Ogilvie was the mistress of Cardinal Beaton – who was murdered in St. Andrews on 29th May, 1546. However, it’s unclear why the ‘white lady’ ghost is said to be that of Marion as Claypotts didn’t exist until much later in that century. It’s possible that another lady by the name of ‘Marion’ haunts the castle, and it may be that she is connected to another ghost that haunts the area – John Graham of Claverhouse. In 1601 Claypotts Castle was bought by the Grahams and later owned by John Graham of Claverhouse, more famous for the moniker ‘Bonnie Dundee’ or ‘Bloody Clavers’.

The castle was the focus of rumours about diabolic rituals and demonic orgies lead by John Graham. He had apparently made a pact with the devil during these satanic rituals, bestowing upon him the gift of invulnerability. Bloody Clavers was killed at the battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 and his spirit is also said to return to the castle on 29th May – the same date Cardinal Beaton was murdered in 1546. Tales tell of demonic screaming, “hell-fire”, lascivious orgies and the sounds of the horses of Hell stomping over the land.  Red, glowing eyes, cackling laughter and the devil himself have also all been reported…but never validated.  Ever. So widely believed were the rumours of devil worship that it was recorded that he had died by a either silver bullet or the silver button on his jacket as a bullet hit him, as he could not be felled by lead whilst under the protection of the devil himself.


Completed around 1495, Broughty Castle had been earlier fortified in 1454 when George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus received permission to build on the site. His son Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Angus was coerced into ceding the castle to the crown. The main tower house forming the centre of the castle with four floors was built by Andrew, 2nd Lord Gray who was granted the castle in 1490. Broughty Castle has been party to a little excitement over the years; more notably the “Nine Year War” or “Rough Wooing”, classed by many as the first ‘modern’ battle on the British Isles. The battle was a monumental defeat for Scotland, and the date of 10th September 1547 was known as “Black Saturday”. Soon after taking possession, the English garrison further fortified Broughty Castle from intrusion by building a ditch across the landward side of the castle’s promontory. Edward Clinton began the re-fortification, with the advice of an Italian engineer, Master John Rossetti, and left 100 men guarded by three ships. The garrison was first led by Sir Andrew Dudley. The Constable of Dundee, John Scrimgeour, the Baillies and the Council signed the agreement, although under duress.

The Earl of Argyll tried to capture the castle on 22 November 1547 and again in January 1548 with 150 men lead by the soldier Duncan Dundas, without success. Thomas Wyndham brought two more ships in December 1547 and burnt Balmerino Abbey on Christmas Day in an outrage. On Christmas Day 1549, Mary of Guise held a warfare meeting at Stirling Castle with her guests, and they agreed that more French guns could be brought to besiege Broughty. Twelve English ships arrived to support the defenders and it was 12 February 1550 before the French and Scots managed to recapture Broughty. Mary of Guise watched the successful assault on Wednesday 6 February 1550 from a vantage point across the Tay.

Broughty Castle was attacked again in 1651 by General Monck during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, at the same time as the people of Dundee were slaughtered by his garrison. Needless to say, the defending Royalists hastily fled the scene, knowing full well the extent of Moncks’ brutality. The castle was under the ownership of the Gray family when it was sold in 1666, and over time began to show advanced signs of disrepair. In 1846 the castle was bought by the Edinburgh and Northern Railway Company in order to build an adjacent harbour for their railway ferry.

In 1855 the castle was acquired by the War Office with the intention of using it to defend the harbour from the Russians. In 1860 renewed fears of a French invasion led the War Office to rebuild and fortify the site. The castle remained in military use until 1932, and again between 1939 and 1949. The last defence-related alteration was made in the Second World War when a defence post was built within the top of the main tower, and in 1969, operated by Dundee City Council, the castle opened it’s doors to the public as a museum.