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.

References:

‘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

 

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.

wallace-plaque