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.

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.


Although piracy has been around almost as long as the act of sailing itself, the ‘Golden Age’ of piracy was between the 15th and 18th centuries. Our tale lands us near the end of this era, with the rise and fall of a man from Dundee called William Kidd. William Kidd was born in January of 1645, as identified by Dr David Robson, who found records of his baptism naming his birthplace as Dundee. It is not known whether or not Kidd and his family remained in Dundee after Kidd’s birth, but if they did, then they would have undoubtedly bore witness to the siege of General Monck in 1651. William would have only been 6 years old at the time the town was laid to waste by English forces.

What is known is that his father, Captain John Kyd, was lost at sea and his family were supported by a local society (perhaps a religious society?) in the years following the disappearance. It should be of no surprise that William found himself following in his father’s footsteps, turning to a life at sea. As an apprentice aboard a pirate’s ship, he quickly found his feet, gaining valuable skills that would serve him well in years to come. Kidd eventually became captain as the result of a mutiny aboard the ship on which he was sailing, which saw him rise to the position over his peers. Under new rule, the ship was renamed Blessed William and became part of a small fleet of ships tasked with defending the British colony of Nevis from French attacks.

Kidd’s new life as a privateer served him very well, and he found himself in a world of influential and very powerful people. By rights, privateers were not pirates. They were given special dispensation by their governments to attack enemy ships, without fear of reprisal. In doing so, the privateers were allowed to keep whatever items, artefacts and jewels they found upon boarding. It was whilst in New York at the age of 46 that he happened to cross paths with a young English woman called Sarah. Although she was only in her early twenties, Sarah had already been widowed twice, and was one of the wealthiest women in New York at the time, mainly due to an inheritance from her dead husband. The fact that they applied for a marriage license merely 2 days after the death of her most recent husband sent the rumour mills into overdrive. With her reputation as somewhat of a black widow, you would have thought Kidd may have thought twice about marrying her, but that wasn’t that case. It wasn’t much of a leap in thinking for people to assume Kidd may have worked with his new bride to kill her husband, but despite this, they still maintained their circle of influence.


A few years after this, in 1695, he was tasked with hunting the seas with the intent of attacking anyone who associated with pirates, as well as any French ships (whom we were at war with at the time). His skills as a privateer were highly thought of, and he had access to financial backers in the form of English aristocracy. His papers, signed by King William III laid out the terms and conditions of his privateering, guaranteeing no legal ramifications (provided he stay within the terms of the King’s wishes). With his finest men prepared, Kidd almost managed to get the ship into open waters until an incident involving a Navy vessel saw many of the men pressganged off the ship and forced into naval service. It seems that Kidd and his men did not show respect to the Navy yacht at Greenwich and instead, slapped their backsides at them when a warning shot was fired over their hull for their disregard of naval custom. In another later altercation, Kidd agreed that some “thirty or so men” would be surrendered to the Navy, but, as soon as he could, he set sail, saving those of his crew who had not been forced off the ship. This act would soon come back to haunt him in ways he could not have imagined.

Undeterred by his unexpected decline in men, Kidd sailed for New York, where he picked up a new crew – a real motley bunch if ever there was one. With his newly-acquired crew of hardened criminals with highly dubious credentials, Kid set sail for South Africa in a French ship he had captured on his travels to New York. Despite his best efforts in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, Kidd failed to find any pirates. Many of his crew died of cholera on a small archipelago off the East coast of Africa. These setbacks are alleged to have angered the crew, who tried to coax Kidd into attacking ships over which he had no Royal protection. Kidd murdered one of his own crew in broad daylight with a metal bucket for daring to suggest they attack a Dutch ship, then calling Kidd out on his cowardice when he refused. Murder of a crewmember was most definitely not permissible under admiralty law, but Kidd seemed to think that his supporters in England would not see him charged for it, under the circumstances. Unfortunately for Kidd, his reputation was already beginning to take a turn for the worse and his crew were beginning to get out of control, irrespective of his best efforts to contain them.

In early 1698, he captured the Armenian ship Quedagh Merchant, laden with fine materials, metals and jewels. Under normal circumstances, the capture of an Armenian ship would have been acceptable, especially as the crew were carrying papers offering them protection under the French Crown. Once Kidd realised that the captain was travelling under English, he tried to convince his crew to return the ship, but they refused to comply, stating that the ship was travelling on French passes and was therefore French. Kidd relented, keeping the vessel. What happened to the crew, we don’t know, but judging by some reports of what happened to the crew of ships Kidd’s men boarded, the outcome was probably fairly grim. Regardless of Kidd’s logic in his handling of the Quedagh Merchant fiasco, news quickly travelled back to England that Kidd had captured and kept the Armenian vessel, and an order was given to pursue and seize the piratical Kidd and his criminal crew.

Even though word had reached him that he was to be tracked down and brought before the courts to face charges of piracy, Kidd still managed to have a couple of wee adventures before he eventually sneaked back to New York. He managed to have a bit of a showdown with one of his old enemies, which resulted in most of his mutinous crew abandoning him for his rival, and, with a severe lack of crewmen, found himself sailing the Caribbean in another, smaller vessel, the Adventure Prize, before sailing to New York aboard an even smaller sailboat called a sloop. It was whilst on this journey that Kidd famously deposited some of his loot, inspiring generations to come with tales of buried treasure and fictitious pirates of the High Seas. Kidd is the only pirate ever known to have actually buried treasure. Whether every pirate did it or not, we will never know, but Kidd is the only one on record to say he had buried his loot.

Kidd was tricked into meeting an old “friend”, who, unknown to Kidd, had become disillusioned and fearful of their continuing relationship. He was captured and arrested in Boston, where he was taken to the Boston Gaol (Stone Prison) and subjected to extremely harsh conditions. In addition to this, his wife, Sarah, was also arrested and imprisoned in an attempt to get Kidd to confess who his financial backers were amongst the English government. After a year in Boston, he was transferred to England for further questioning. What happened to Sarah at this point, we do not know. Despite their attempts to get Kidd to divulge the names of his elite shadow-partners, he refused to budge, probably believing that his backers would reward his silence with the granting of a pardon. None of the men involved with Kidd said a word in his defence, and Kidd found himself on trial for five counts of piracy and one for the murder of his crew member, William Moore.


He wrote to the King for clemency, realising no-one was coming to help him, but his requests were denied. Those who had initially backed him had now turned against him, ensuring that evidence was lost and monies were not made available to him to continue to pay for good legal support. Kidd’s reputation as a pirate, whether justified or not, had cast him in an unpleasant and untrustworthy light. With the Golden Age of piracy coming to an end, and a crackdown on such activities, Kidd found himself at the end of a very sharp stick. Two of his own crew testified against him in William Moore’s murder trial in exchange for pardons from the King for their participation in any acts of piracy. Documentation that could have proved, or at least cast doubt on the charges set against Kidd were either lost or were simply not produced. Kidd knew his case was failing, and, as he expected, he was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to death. The “lost” documents mysteriously turned up almost 300 years later, which could have helped towards clearing Kidd’s name, with many claiming he should be granted a posthumous exoneration.

Kidd was sentenced to be hung at Execution Dock on 23rd May 1701 – an execution that, in itself, was not without drama. On the first attempt, the rope around Kidd’s neck broke as he hanged, offering him only a moment’s reprieve before he was subjected to the process again. This time, the rope held and Kidd was executed for his “crimes” against the Crown. Not only was his body hung up in a gibbet over the River Thames at Tilbury Point, but it remained there for 3 years, slowly rotting away as a constant reminder to those who would consider piracy or disloyalty to the King. After Kidd’s death, his crew, who had all been charged with piracy, were conveniently pardoned before their executions. Many believed (and still do) that Kidd was made a scapegoat and was set as an example in a time when the Golden Age of piracy was drawing to a close.

Many have searched for Kidd’s lost treasure over the centuries, inspiring tales of secret maps and buried bounties, but it hasn’t been until the last few decades that things really got interesting. In 2000, one of Kidd’s ships, the Adventure Galley was found off the coast of Madagascar. Further searching uncovered at least 13 other pirate ships in the area. In 2007, the Armenian Quedagh Merchant – the ship that literally turned the tides against Kidd, was found in shallow waters off the coast of Antigua. Barry Clifford found a huge 120 pound silver ingot during an excavation expedition of the Adventure Galley in 2015. Barry believes that not only is this part of Kidd’s alleged buried loot, but it is not the only piece of treasure at the site. This is just Barry’s belief, however, as there are a lot of other pirate ships in the watery graveyard with the Adventure Galley, so it could very well have come from one of those ships, too.

Whatever you think of Captain William Kidd, whether you think he is a pirate, or whether you think he was just doing his job as a privateer is entirely up to you. There is a ton of research and a mountain of writings on the subject, for you to read over if you ever feel the need. But there is one thing we can probably all agree on – William Kidd certainly had a pretty wild life for a wee laddie from Dundee!

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Back before Castle Huntly became a prison, it had a history all of its own – and a couple of its own ghosts, to boot. There are two ghosts alleged to still haunt Castle Huntly; the White Lady and that of a young boy. When researching the ghosts of Castle Huntly, it became apparent that there is some confusion between Castle Huntly and Huntly Castle (which is in Aberdeenshire), and, as such, the ghost stories of which White Lady belonged to which castle seems to get a little skewed.

We’re going to stick with the story of the young woman being a daughter of the Lyon family, the Earls of Kinghorne (which was later changed to Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne). The title Earl of Kinghorne was actually created in 1606 for Patrick Lyon, and when Castle Huntly was acquired by the Earl in 1614, he had the name changed to Castle Lyon. It was not until the castle was sold in 1777 that the name was reverted back to Castle Huntly.

Whether the woman in the story was the first Earl of Kinghorne’s daughter or granddaughter, we do not know, but, from what we have read, it appears as though she may have had an inappropriate relationship with one of the castle’s manservants. It wasn’t all too uncommon for sexual relationships to form between social classes, as privacy was hard to come by, and servants were often put in sexually vulnerable positions by their masters or mistresses, as well as by lodgers, guests and each other. Remember there wasn’t a lot to do back then!

When they were found out, the pair were separated. Whether the manservant was imprisoned, tortured, murdered, or all three, we cannot say for sure, but it’s pretty clear that, in those times, he wasn’t just going to be sent on his way with his wages and his P45 in hand. Whoever he was, he very likely met a grisly end. The nameless Lyon daughter was locked in a chamber on the upper levels of the castle, and it was from the window of this room that she is said to have met her doom. Her body was found, broken and bleeding on the grounds directly under her bedroom window, with nothing that could be done to save her.

To add a twist to an already murky story, whilst some may say that she killed herself as a result of a broken heart or at being imprisoned in her own family home, others have whispered that she may not have taken her own life and may, in fact, have been pushed. There are a lot of facets to this story that don’t quite add up (which we tend to find with a lot of the older ghost stories), hence their origins as legends and not actual fact. What did happen to the manservant? And why can’t we name the Lyon daughter on who the tale is supposedly based? And the big question – did she fall, or was she pushed? We’ll just never know.

Moving away from the mysterious White Lady, the second ghost alleged to haunt Castle Huntly is that of a young boy, named the Paterson Ghost. He is believed to be the descendant of George Paterson – the man who purchased the castle from the Lyons in 1777 for £40,000, and also the man who gave Castle Huntly back its original name. Fast-forward 150 years or so, to when Colonel Adrian Paterson and his family occupied Castle Huntly.

Their only son, Richard, tragically died in a boating accident aboard the river Tay in 1939, and it is his ghost that is said to haunt the castle. He is said to be seen in the same room as the White Lady wearing a double-breasted sailing jacket. Interestingly, no-one seems to know what colour it is, which, given the “sightings”, you would think that someone would be able tell us at least if it was light or dark. Whilst the White Lady is alleged to haunt the grounds of the castle as well as the room, young Richard is said to appear only in the room once occupied by the fated daughter of Lyon.

Grissell Jaffray is famous in Dundee history for the crime of being a witch. She was choked and burned at the stake in a public execution and is the last person to have been burned in Dundee for the crime of witchcraft. Much of the truth is unknown about Grissell Jaffray, with some believing her to be the wife of local man James Butchart, whilst others maintain that she was the spouse of Thomas Buchart or Boutchard.  What is known about Grissell is that she was burned in Dundee’s town centre in 1669 (which just happens to be the year that both Mount Etna and Volcano Etna erupted, killing over 30,000 people – no relevance, we just thought you’d like to know).  Grissell Jaffray was incarcerated in the Tollbooth before being accused of witchcraft and cavorting with the devil himself. Suspiciously, the records pertaining to Grissell’s crimes were destroyed in a fire, so nobody really knows what she stood trial for, or indeed why.

Leading ministers in the Presbytery of Dundee were held responsible for the barbaric murder of Grissell Jaffray, namely, Harry Scrymsour, John Guthrie and William Rait. In times such as those that Grissell lived, it was not uncommon for women to be “outed” as a witch by their peers over petty things such as gossip-mongering, paranoia, blame-shifting and jealousy. For those fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be given a trial, eye witness testimonials played a heavy part in the prosecution. Accused witches stood by as their own townsfolk laid waste to their credibility, desperate to rid their town of anyone they perceived to be dabbling in the black arts. In other witch trials, the accused would be “tried by water”, whereby they were forced under the water in the belief that Satan would not allow his daughter to be harmed, and she would continue to breathe. Naturally, the witches drowned, thus rendering the exercise pointless and needlessly barbaric.


Rather than change this practice, the belief was that those who were not witches and died by this method would be welcomed in heaven. Artifacts such as herbs and decorated bowls would be used as evidence in convicting women of witchcraft. Some women stood accused based on the fact that they had an unusual mole or skin tag, which was referred to as a witch’s teat. The accused were stripped naked and their bodies thoroughly searched for these “devil’s marks” (moles). The saying “as cold as a witch’s teat” comes from the fact that, during their trial, when the mole or skin tag was pierced, if it did not bleed or if no pain was expressed by the defendant, she was deemed a witch.

There is no record of what happened to Grissell during her time in the Tollbooth, or of the events leading up to her incarceration, but one theory seems to suggest that her death was no more than a “religious assassination” in a time of great religious unrest.
Unlike their English counterparts, witches tried in Scotland were routinely tortured for their confessions, so it is highly likely that Grissell was tortured in an attempt to evoke her admission of guilt.

The Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 made the practice of witchcraft and the consorting with witches, punishable as a capital offence. By the middle of the 17th century, amidst religious and political tensions, the Act was amended to include the words “devils and familiar spirits” – the sentence being death. By this definition, anyone deemed to be a witch was seen to be cavorting with the devil himself, acting as a human vessel from which to perform his nefarious deeds. Watch our Grissell Jaffray info video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuZFb2SbGns




The Howff is an iconic landmark in Dundee’s city centre, a calm oasis and a peaceful resting spot to sit in the shade of the well kept trees and shrubs. But as well as housing the graves and crypts of Dundee’s great and the good, the land itself also has a dark history.  The land on which the Howff lies was once part of the sprawling Greyfriars Monastery which was laid to ruin during the invasion of Scotland in 1547 when the town of Dundee was stormed by the English under the rule of Henry VIII. During the subsequent Scottish Reformation, the monastery remained in ruins, confiscated by the Crown along with other religious buildings. In 1564 Mary, Queen of Scots granted the land to Dundee for use as a burial ground. At this time, Dundee’s existing graveyards were overcrowded and unsanitary, so Mary, Queen of Scots on the 15th April 1567 granted a charter to the town for the use of the grounds of the Greyfriars monastery, as their new burial ground.  This ground became known as the Howff – ‘howff’ meaning meeting place as it was used for meetings by the Dundee Incorporated Trades.

On many of the gravestones you can still see the engravings of symbols and icons related to the trade of the deceased. The graves and tombs of the Howff and those that lay within tell tales of the dark history of Dundee, such as the tomb of Alexander Duncan of Lundie. He was the Provost from 1681 to 1685 and in 1689, in the absence of the current provost, took command when Claverhouse attacked Dundee. He was also the great-grandfather of Admiral Viscount Duncan, who defeated the Dutch in the famous battle of Camperdown in 1797. It is well-documented that the families of many who died could not afford tombstones, so the dead were laid in unmarked graves, leaving the land as a grassy expanse, which not only made for a great meeting place, but also allowed people to air out laundry and graze their animals.

One of the residents of the Howff, Dr David Kinloch, was arrested by the Spanish Inquisition in Spain while travelling Europe. Luckily he cured the inquisitor general of an ailment and was rewarded with freedom, and returned to Dundee. Other well-known folk buried here include James Chalmers, best remembered as the inventor of the adhesive postage stamp, and James Keiller’s mother (James Keiller was the founder of James Keiller and Sons, and his family are credited as the inventors of marmalade). Several other well known Dundee families have their ancestors buried here including Lyells, Forresters, Muirs and Guthries.

Due to overcrowding, a “new” Howff was built a short walk away from the original site, but was subsequently built over and replaced by Bell Street car park and Abertay library. At the back of the library, it is possible to see a few of the headstones incorporated into the wall. It’s definitely worth thinking about the next time you park your car there or visit the library!

Burial Grounds of Dundee in Pictures

Book cover for burial grounds of Dundee in pictures book, by DD Tours. Black and white image of Roodyard cemetery in Dundee

See pictures of the Howff and the ‘new’ Howff in our book – pre order now

The records of some 80,000 burials at the Howff over 300 years show there were also many infants laid to rest at the Howff. Many of them died from diseases practically unknown today with many of the records showing ‘teething’ as the cause of death. Babies often died during teething periods due to fever, or increased rates of infection while teething due to the practice of cutting the gums open to allow teeth to grow through. Many of the deaths were also caused by diseases such as whooping cough, small pox or measles which are now prevented by vaccines. Water in the head was often recorded as cause of infant death, which is an abnormal build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities of the brain.

Reading the lists, generously provided online by Friends of Dundee City Archives at www.fdca.org.uk makes for very grim reading but in our opinion, is really worth a visit for a really in-depth insight into not only the volume of people buried there, but the variety of ways in which the deceased met their demise.

Several causes of death highlight the tragedies that struck some families. Several entries tell of very young children dying because of their clothes catching fire, which would have been a more common accident in the 18th and 19th century due to the use of fires and candles in a time before electricity. One 27 month old infant was killed by a cart passing over them. These tragic accidents must have devastated families who had likely already lost family or friends to the many diseases that plagued our town in those times, such as the sad tale of William Crookshanks, buried in 1835 at age 3 after falling into a well and drowning or the poor, unnamed son of Thomas Davidson Henderson, who perished after only half a day.

We will leave you on a slightly less morbid note, as there are some buried in the Howff who reached a ripe old age for the times in which they lived. Isabella Abbot was buried in 1850 having died of old age at 93, her last address being listed as Lochee. John Adam, a weaver originally from Kirriemuir also died of old age at the grand age of 90. Even with people dying of consumption, scarlet fever, cholera and dropsy, some hardy critters managed to escape the line of fire and were able to live out long lives, albeit in harsh times.

On 1st of September 1651, the storming of Dundee and the siege of General Monck began. General George Monck, Commander-in-chief to Oliver Cromwell, stormed the town of Dundee and captured its townsfolk. A bloody battle and siege ensued, provoked by Cromwell’s outrage at the Royalist stance of it’s people. Dundee was completely walled-in at that time – viewed by many as one of the safest towns in the country – and was a rich, thriving community. Dundee was home to the largest gold depository in Scotland and the majority of the wealth of many viscounts and earls lay nestled within its confines. A previous warning from General Monck to the people of Dundee for their surrender was met with refusal, and he was greatly angered by this.

Legend says children from Dundee knew a secret way in and out of the town and had revealed to Moncks’ troops that the Dundee garrison had a habit of being drunk by lunchtime, so Monck attacked sometime in the morning of 1st September. A different theory offers that it may not have been a local child who helped Monck, but, in fact a short, child-like man employed by the bloodthirsty General to infiltrate the games of the town’s children in an attempt to glean vital information without arousing suspicion. Upon forcing entry, Monck promised his troops 24 hours free licence to loot and pillage the besieged town. Monck quickly lost control of his troops, and, as a result, the killing and looting went on for 3 days or more.

The town’s defenders were rounded up and massacred without mercy. The town was pillaged, set on fire, women raped and men, women and children put to the sword in a killing frenzy. The Governor of Dundee, Robert Lumsden was executed, beheaded and then had his head placed on a spike, which was then displayed from the parapets of the Steeple.
The streets literally ran with blood for 3 days, and it was said that it took the sight of a dead woman with a baby still feeding at her breast to move Monck to pity and call off his men. The troops pillaged everything of value they could find, and a fleet of 60 ships, many commandeered from the harbours of Dundee was needed to take the vast amounts of treasure back to England. A collection of over 200,000 gold coins, estimated to be worth up to £12 billion is suspected to have been on board, but the full value of the treasure pillaged from Dundee is not known.

When the fleet sailed from Dundee, stories say that a freak storm rose up to swallow all 60 ships to the bottom of the Tay estuary. Other stories refer to a fire on one of the ships, which quickly got out of control and spread to the rest of the fleet, causing the ships to sink. Whatever tragedy befell the vessels, one thing remained clear – the treasure had been lost. Despite many subsequent search efforts, the ships have never been recovered, and the wrecks of the 60-strong fleet laden with treasure remain lost to the sea, eager to be found and returned to land.

Some say the once wealthy and prosperous town never fully recovered. The English Army occupied Dundee for 9 years after the siege, and we still walk today over the bodies of those fallen in this bloodiest of Dundee battles, buried in mass graves underneath the streets of our city centre.

Many have tried to find the loot, but all have failed. Perhaps the strong currents have washed the wrecked ships and treasure with it further away, perhaps the quick moving sands on the sea bed have already buried the treasure far below the surface. Whatever the fate of the fleet who ransacked Dundee, their actions left our city ravaged; forever changed by the deeds of Monck and his terrible army.

The following is a short extract from a diary of proceedings we found at www.generalmonck.com, which gives a small insight into what happened during what could be Dundee’s bloodiest and darkest days:

Sept. 1. About 4 o’clock in the morning our great guns began to play before Dundee round about the line. The enemy for two or three hours answered us gun for gun, besides small shot from their works, til such time as large breaches were made in two of their most considerable forts… Mr. Hane the engineer played the mortar piece…

Three hundred horse and dragoons, being eleven of [each?] troop, were appointed to fall on with the foot with sword and pistol. Our men were drawn forth in ambuscades by daybreak to fall upon when breaches were made, and with them 200 seamen who had their posts assigned, and 400 horse appointed to second them mounted…

Capt. Hart led on the forlorn of Lt. General Monck’s regiment on the west side, Major Robinson the horse, and Col. Ashfield’s regiment went on the east side. Capt. Ely led on the Pioneers [engineer troops] who made way for the horse [through the breaches], and the Lt. General went in person. Our word was “God with us,” and the sign a white cloth or shirt hanging out behind.

About 11 o’clock the signal was given, and breaches being made into the enemy’s forts on the east and west sides of the town, our men entered, and after about half an hour of hot dispute, diverse of the enemy retreated to the church and steeple, and amongst the rest the Governor, who was killed with between four and five hundred soldiers and townsmen…

There was killed of ours Capt. Hart and about 20 soldiers, and as many wounded.

When our men got to the marketplace they gave quarter, and took about 500 prisoners, and amongst the rest Col. Coningham, Governor of Sterling, who was in the town with many of his soldiers which marched thence [after their surrender August 14].

The soldiers had the plunder of the town for all that day and night, and had very large prize, many inhabitants of Edinburgh and other places having sent their ware and gear thither.

There were about 60 [or 190] sail of ships in the harbor of 10, 6, and 4 guns, which were all prize; about 40 pieces of ordnance, many arms and store of ammunition…

By the best testimony we could get, the townspeople were most obstinate against a rendition on terms, being confident of their own works and strength, having formerly beat out Montrose, but they have now most suffered for it, and paid dearly for their contempt.

Sept. 2. Proclamation was made by the Lt. General that the soldiers should forbear further plundering or rifling of the houses in Dundee, and order given to the inhabitants to bury the dead.

The following text is the Act of Parliament for additional voluntary contributions to help with rebuilding the town from the aftermath:

Act of parliament, in favour of the Burgh of Dundee, for a voluntary contribution, in respect of the loss incurred at the Storming of the Town and destruction of the Walls, dated 23rd December, 1669
At Edinburgh the twentie-third day of December, one thousand six hundreth threescore nyne years: The King’s Majestie and Estates of Parliament takeing to their consideration the loyaltie, affection, and fidelitie of the Burgh of Dundie to His Majestie’s service, and that in September 1651 the samen was stormed and taken violently by the Usurpers, and their town plundered, with the loss of many lyves; and the great loss latelie sustained by the said Burgh & inhabitants thereof through the breaches made upon their Walls from their hospitall to the seagateport, and upon the harbour & bulwark to the utter demolishing thereof and loss of several of their ships, goods, and vessels, occassioned by the great storm and tempest of wether in the month of October lastly past, so that besides their losses sustained by them in their private fortunes, one hundreth thousand pund Scots will not repair their publick losses, Whereby the said Burgh and Inhabitants thairof are rendered unable to repair the said harbour without some supplie be granted to them for that effect. Therefore his King’s Majestie, with advice and consent of his Estates of Parliament, doe seriously Recommend the condition of the said burgh of Dundie to the archbishops, Bishops, and Ministers of the gospel, and all incorporations within the kingdome, for a free and voluntary contribution, to be gathered for the help and supplie of the said Burgh towards the reparation of their harbours and bulwark; And Recommends to them to order and direct the fittest and best way of contributing thairof, and that the samen may be delivered to any person who shall be entrusted by the Provost, Baillies, and Councill of the said burgh of Dundie having their Commission to receive the said contribution. – Extracted furth of the Records of Parliament by me, Sir Archibald Primrose of Thestor, Knight & Barronet, Clerk of his Majestie’s Councill Registers and Rolls.
A. Primrose, Clk. Reg