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.

Overgate2

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.

As we mentioned in our ‘Black Magic & The Occult’ section, rumours have been rife for decades about witchcraft and black magic rituals being undertaken in various locations around the city such as ruined castles, parklands and gloomy, wooded areas.  If we look at the rumours on a national scale, the stories of witchcraft, devilment and sorcery all seem to blend into one; the only notable exception being the location of the proposed rituals.  Whilst of course, some of these practices are indeed happening up and down the country (sometimes with deadly consequences), the majority of people who class themselves as “witches” are very far removed from what public opinion would have us believe as dark magic-wielding hags who consort with the devil and aid his workings on us mere mortals. The idea of a “black mass” or dark ritual is abhorrent to them, and is not a path on which they walk.  There is no “evil” deity, and there is certainly no worship of it.  The misconception of Satan as someone with who they communicate is founded in complete fallacy, and is reserved for those known as “Satanists”.  Association with the devil is exactly the stigma that witches do not want – it is unwarranted, unfounded, and grossly damaging.  Of course, as with any walk of life, there will be those for whom the lines are blurred, but, for the many who practise witchcraft today, the life of a witch has absolutely nothing to do with malevolent evil or devil worshipping.

This damaged perception over the centuries has claimed countless lives. Those seen as witches were hunted, tortured and murdered on a mass scale during the witch-hunting eras. Here, in our own town, we burned Grissell Jaffray as a witch, and put a burning effigy of Hurkle Jean on a boat out to sea. We have such a fear associated with the word “witch” that we resort to savagery, closed-mindedness and the perpetuating of myth thousands of years old. With this in mind, we set about trying to wade through the good, the bad and the ugly – separating the myth from the reality to see what was really behind the mask of “witchcraft”.  It was one of our toughest challenges yet, and without the help of a pair of witches who were more than happy to help, we would have had a difficult time separating fact from fiction.  Kymmy and Ffyona agreed to answer a few of our questions so that we could show witchcraft in our city in a more positive light, and hopefully dispel one or two myths associated with the words “witch” and “witchcraft”.  If you don’t know these women, you clearly haven’t read my blog post on my time with them.  You should read that now if you haven’t already.

Read my interview with them below – there’s lots of great information and links for anyone who wishes to investigate this a bit more for themselves.  Please also remember to be respectful of everyone’s belief system – the world outside is a lot more diverse than just you and I.

Could you explain what a real Witch is and also what it means to you as an individual?

K – To me a REAL witch is someone who believes firmly in their Craft and has an affinity with it. Personally my Craft is very important to me, as important as going to Church is to a Catholic person. It’s a way of life for me.

F – A real witch to me is someone who lives their beliefs and lives their life in the now. Someone who takes personal responsibility for all their actions in this world.  A person who follows the lunar cycle and the cycle of the seasons and feels the changes as the Wheel turns.

What type of witchcraft do you practise?

K -I practice an eclectic mix of witchcraft, involving Wicca, Druidry, Buddhism and many more. I like to call myself a Patchwork Pagan, whatever works for me, I will go with.

F – I practice in my own way.  I have a fairly eclectic base as my beliefs are Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) combined with the cycle of the seasons here where I live. I also borrow stuff from books to use in ritual, if it works brilliant, if not then I don’t use it again.

How long have you been a witch, and what drew you to it?

K- Like I said at our meeting, I was attracted to The Craft after being involved with the local Spiritualist Church or “Spookies”, I briefly ventured into Christianity but it really wasn’t for me, I’ve always been drawn to the Craft since my early teens.

F – I went looking for something to believe in when I was 14. I was brought up a catholic and it just didn’t work for me.  I found a book on Wicca and the things I read made more sense to me than anything I had heard before. I liked the equality of it all as it wasn’t patriarchal and had a Goddess as a central figure. This made more sense than the women playing almost a supporting role as if it were not for women man wouldn’t even be born.  I started practicing my Craft when I was around 20. I have drifted off my path for short times and always got back on.  I also like the fact that if you asked 10 Witches what they believe you would get 10 different answers and none of them would even think of telling the others they were wrong.

Does it bother you that there are still stigmas attached to the words “Witch” and “Witchcraft”?

K – It does.  Witch can be such a negative word, when really we are quite positive folks. It’s absolutely awful that there is still witch-hunting going on in this day and age.

F – It irritates me slightly that companies like Disney are still portraying witches as the” bad guys” I have no problem with identifying myself as a Witch to my friends and family. I would not put it down on a job application nor would I introduce myself to a new person as one just because there is still a stigma.  In this day where more people are turning to the Nature religions, you would think people would be more accepting but we can hope it will happen in time.

Does Dundee have a particularly high magical population?

K – I believe it does have a fairly large population, although most witches, don’t go around bragging or broadcasting their beliefs, we don’t proselytise either.

F – Dundee is an extremely powerful place. The energy coursing through the land around here is so varied it is amazing. People wise I know a good few Witches/Shaman/Druids/Heathens and others, they know others that I do not. Am sure for every one I do know there are more that I don’t due to the perceived stigma.

What dates are important in your magical calendar?  Why?  How do you celebrate them?

K – I celebrate the Wheel of the Year, which has 8 Sabbats. Previously I stuck to the traditional dates on the calendar, but I now prefer to “FEEL” for the changes in my surroundings that tell me what’s happening, like the smell of spring, the full on pulse of high summer, the melancholy yet abundant autumn, and the nestling down of winter. I do still celebrate the traditional pagan dates of Samhain (31st October), Yule or Winter Solstice (21st December), Imbolc (Feb 1st or 2nd), Ostara or Spring Equinox (on or around March 21st), Beltane (May 1st), Litha or Summer Solstice (21st June), Lughnasadh or Lammas (Aug 1st), Mabon or Autumn Equinox (on or around 21st September), but these celebrations tend to be with likeminded friends or as part of our local moot, I do my own private celebrations. We celebrate the seasons and what’s we see happening around us and give thanks to The Goddess and God for the ever changing Wheel and for the abundance the Earth provides to sustain us all. I also celebrate the cycle of the Moon, I observe each of the phases from New to full and back to Dark again. I find great comfort from the Moon which isn’t surprising as humans are made primarily from water and the moon pulls on the tides, seems only right she should have the same effect on us.

F – The dates that are important in my magical calendar mark the changing of the seasons and the solar festivals of the Equinoxes.  We celebrate them to mark the turning of the Wheel and the changes that happen in nature. I also celebrate the lunar cycle and use this to work spells if I feel that one is required for something or have possibly been asked to perform one for someone.  The celebration itself usually involves some kind of ritual from a really complicated one that takes a lot of planning to one that might just involve sitting under the full moon and soaking up the power.

What is your personal view on death and the afterlife?

K – Hmm I would like to hope I don’t just STOP and that there is an afterlife, I think we become part of all life, that our conscious permeates everything. I also think our “SOUL” has to rest and reflect on the life we have lived and then be reincarnated into another “life” I have stated that I want to be buried in an eco-coffin when I die and that I want no embalming, I want to go back to the Earth as pure as I can be and that a fruit tree be planted on top of me, so that my family and friends can eat the fruit that my body has helped to nourish. None of us truly knows what happens when we die so here’s hoping it’s wonderful.

F – I believe that when you die you essence or soul travels to the Summerlands and there you reflect on your past life and learn any lessons you lived through, see any karmic debt you may have incurred and to whom.  When you have learned all you can from the life you just lived then you are reborn to the next life to continue your travels on the Wheel and continue to learn.

Where could an interested party get involved with the magical community?

K – There are loads of online sites to connect with other magical groups and most big cities have Moots and other Pagan friendly events. It’s really just about asking around and looking out for flyers etc. The Scottish Pagan Federation is a great source of information and help also The Children of Artemis.

F – Well a first point of contact locally would be Dundee Pagan Moot. We have a Facebook page, website and a YouTube channel. We also have a monthly meeting on the last Sunday of every month.  There is also the Scottish Pagan Federation. They too have a facebook page, website and a youtube channel.  In most towns and cities in Scotland there will be some kind of a pagan moot or meeting on a regular basis. There may even be a shop that will advertise things like that. This shop will usually sell things like crystals, statues, candles, incense etc. All are things that can be used magically.

Any dark or creepy stories to tell us?

K – Gods where do I begin? Well, when I was wee, my Granny was a great teller of creepy stories (bless her) and one night we were sitting in front of her coal fire and she told us about the night my Dad was out drinking down the Perth Road with a bunch of friends, he was totally bladdered and decided to walk home through Balgay, en route to Dryburgh where my Gran lived, this was before I was born apparently. On walking through Balgay, he became aware of a strange footstep behind him, kind of a “THUMP” “SCRAPE” kind of noise, he looked around but no one was there, this continued all the way through the park and he was getting a bit worried by this time. He began to pick up his pace as best he could in his inebriated state but still the strange footsteps continued, all the way through Lochee and right up to my Granny’s front door when they disappeared suddenly. He got in and told my Gran what had happened and she told him that would have been your Dad making sure you got home ok as he had been carrying a flick knife in his pocket. My Grandad had passed years before, had a limp and scraped his boot when he walked apparently.  I was well creeped out.  Another Balgay story; I was about 3 years old and my Mum had taken me and my wee brother who was in a pram at the time for a walk up Lochee Park and into Balgay, I was holding mums hand as you do and she was pushing the pram with the other. She let go my hand to see to my wee brother and right about where the Jewish graveyard is I turned round to see a wee tiny man dressed on green clothes, he was beckoning me to come over to him, I stood staring at him and tugged on mums coat unable to speak, she was too busy with my brother to see what was going on he kept on beckoning and smiling at me. I began walking towards him and suddenly mum noticed me wandering off and shouted on me, he disappeared instantly and I told her about him, she says I imagined it, but to this day I KNOW I saw him. One more…We used to stay in Lochee High Street when we were really wee and we had an outside lavvy at the time, mum had safety pinned my wee brother and I to the couch so she could go to the loo (yes they actually did that) so we were babbling away to each other on the couch I reckon I was about 5 and my brother about 4 at the time, when from the room to our right a strange figure walked past us. It was human in form but completely see though. I could see the outline of the body kind of like the “Ready Brek” man used to look, but there was a lot of lights right up the centre of the body, it walked right past us into the next room. We told mum when she came up the stairs and she said we were being daftys, my Dad believed us though but never said what he thought it was, to this day my brother and I will swear we saw this and that to us it was totally real.  I also saw my Dead uncle a week after he died, again I must’ve been about 5. I came out of our closey on to the High Street in Lochee and he was standing there it a black suit, white shirt with a red carnation in his pocket, he smiled at me and kept walking. I ran upstairs to tell mum I had just saw Uncle Jim and that he might be on the way to the pub, she sat me down and told me that he had died the previous week and that I couldn’t have seen him. I told her what he was wearing and only when I was older did she tell me that those were the clothes he was buried in. Creepy eh?

F – Not really. I have had a few encounters with the Spirits of Place (Genus Locii) and a couple of encounters with spirits in old places but not anything that creeped me out.

Our first video explores the story of Grissell Jaffray, famous in Dundee’s history for being the last witch to be burned in public in 1669. In this video we explore the story told of Grissell, as few of the facts remain, and how witchcraft was feared and those accused were tortured in this dark time of Scottish history.

Grissell Jaffray is undoubtedly the most famous witch of Dundee, having been the last witch to be executed in Dundee, but Dundee’s superstitious side was still alive and well in the 19th century, when Janet Kindy, or ‘Hurkle Jean’, was believed to be responsible for a number of afflictions that allegedly beset the town. Sickness in cattle and children was attributed to the evil presence of Hurkle Jean. Sadly for Janet, her deformed appearance only served as more fuel to the fire for the townsfolk, and thus, another legend was born. Belief in Hurkle Jean’s demonic abilities was so ardent, that, by the time it had reached its peak, effigies were being burned and exorcisms performed!

 

Thankfully with the repeal of the witchcraft acts in 1735, Janet was protected from persecution by law; but this didn’t prevent her neighbours from demonising her all the same, as a letter from one of her close neighbours “M.G.”, submitted to the Edinburgh Magazine in 1818 tells us:

“Mr Editor,

Dundee, as you know, was the last place in Scotland where the public execution of a witch took place; and the witch burnt there was neither so old, so ugly, nor so poor, as these unfortunate persons usually are. That Grizzel Jamfre [sic] was not poor, however, was probably the cause of her death; for the lawyers who could prove the crime of witchcraft against any person, were rewarded by great part, if not the whole, of what the convict died possessed of, – no small temptation to use diligence. But though the modern capital of Angus is thus distinguished in the annals of demonology, I did not expect to find the belief in witchcraft so general among the lower classes, as you will perceive it is from the following account, the heroine of which is my very near neighbour.

Janet Kindy, otherwise Hurkle Jean, is poor, old, and deformed; her evil eye is so dreaded in this neighbourhood that the sickness of children and cattle is often attributed to it, and if she happen to cross a fisherman’s path as he goes to his boat, the fishing is invariably spoiled for that day. I verily believe that nothing but the feat of the law prevents the tragedy of the witches of Pittenweem from being acted over again, so convinced are her neighbours of her supernatural powers, and so inveterate is their hatred against her. Six years ago, a boat having been for some months unfortunate in fishing, a council of war was held among the elder fishers, and it was agreed that the boat should be exorcised, and that Janet was the spirit which tormented it. Accordingly, the ceremony of exorcism was performed as follows. In each boat there is a cavity called the tap-hole; on this occasion the hollow was filled with a particular kind of water, furnished by the mistress of the boat, a straw effigy of poor Jane was placed over it, and had they dared to touch her life, Janet herself would have been there. The boat was then rowed out to sea before sunrise, and, to use the technical expression, the figure was burnt between the sun and the sky, i.e. after daylight appeared, but before the sun rose above the horizon, while the master called aloud ‘Avoid ye Satan!’. The boat was then brought home, and since that time has been fortunate as any belonging to the village.

M.G. goes on to describe an account of another witch who transformed into a hare, and a necromancer from Forfar called William Grey…but those are stories for another day.

(Letter taken from – https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=QF0AAAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s)