Lost medieval castle found on industrial Glasgow site is "most significant archaeological discovery in a generation"

By Ben Miller | 22 March 2016

A lost medieval castle has been found beneath a site heavily used during the Industrial Revolution and beyond

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© GUARD Archaeology
Archaeologists say the re-emergence of a 12th century fortified stone castle in Glasgow, built after the area was given to Glasgow Cathedral by King David and thought to have been lost beneath centuries of industrial work, is the most significant find of a generation in the city.

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© GUARD Archaeology
Ditches, a well, stone walls, pottery and bones are the first buried proof of a royal estate in Partick which is strongly documented by historical evidence. But archaeologists say the “very slim chance” of finding the remains gave them little cause to suspect the ruins would be struck at a site on the north bank of the River Kelvin, where an engine works, an industrial laundry, the old Partick Central Railway Station, a metal scrapyard and a foundry variously occupied the land during the 19th and 20th centuries.

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© GUARD Archaeology
Nearby Govan, on the opposite south of the Clyde, was a medieval ecclesiastical centre and a seat of the Bishop of Glasgow, although evaluations and testing by archaeologists had found no related objects. A spot of slightly higher ground in the west of the site became the focus of attention for Beth Spence, of GUARD Archaeology, and her team, dating its finds to periods between the 12th and 17th centuries.

© From A MacGeorge's Old Glasgow: the place and the people; from the Roman occupation to the 18th century (1880)
“This fits well with the historical references to the original Bishop’s residence being erected no earlier than the 12th century and demolished in the early 17th century prior to a new tower house being constructed on the site,” says Spence.

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© SNS Photography
“The archaeology we are encountering is probably the remains of both of these residences. What we will need to do once we have completed our excavation is disentangle the remains of the later tower house from the earlier castle.”

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© SNS Photography
Partick Castle was built near the confluence of the rivers Clyde and Kelvin as a retreat for the hierarchy of the Diocese of Glasgow, which was established in 1115 and occupied the castle until the Reformation in the 1560s.

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© SNS Photography
Building papers show that George Hutcheson built a tower house over an existing structure in 1611. The later development became known locally as the ‘Bishop’s Palace’, standing on the west bank of the River Kelvin, near the position of the railway bridge, until it was removed in around 1837.

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© SNS Photography
“No-one knew anything about the 12th century castle in Partick,” admits Hugh McBrien, of West of Scotland Archaeology Service.

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© SNS Photography
“There was documentary evidence that the bishops of Glasgow spent time in Partick and there have been historical references to ‘charters signed at Partick’, but that’s all. It has been known that there was a tower house or castle in the 17th century but all we had were antiquarian drawings and documents that refer to Partick Castle.

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© SNS Photography
“So we expected there was archaeology in this area, because of historical records, but this discovery is the first hard, tangible evidence that both castles existed. This is the most significant archaeological discovery in Glasgow in a generation.”

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© SNS Photography
King David I granted parts of the “lands of Perdyc” to Bishop John Archaius, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Glasgow, in 1136.

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© SNS Photography
“These findings are of national significance and provide a rare glimpse into the medieval beginnings of Partick and Glasgow,” says Warren Bailie, the Project Manager.

A photo of a group of archaeologists standing at an industrial site at Partick in Glasgow
© SNS Photography
“The survival of these medieval remains is especially remarkable given that the site, not unlike many industrial river banks across Britain, has witnessed such large-scale destructive development over the centuries.”

A full report is expected to be published on the finds. The work is being carried out as part of a £250 million upgrade of the city’s waste water infrastructure.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three places to find Scotland's archaeology in

Auchindrain Museum, Argyll
Auchindrain was the last inhabited Highland farming township, a place where people lived and worked from the medieval period up until the 1960s. The buildings which make up the museum's Nationally Recognised Collection are preserved in an authentic condition and furnished with everyday objects.

Colzium Museum, North Lanarkshire
The museum comprises a single room on the second floor of the house, converted out of the former chapel. Displays relate to the heritage of the surrounding area and include objects from the nearby castles of Colzium and Kilsyth as well as photographs and artefacts from the domestic and industrial settings of the locality.

Drumlanrig's Tower, Hawick
Drumlanrig's Tower was originally a 16th century stone L-plan tower house, founded by the Douglas family. Now a large comfortable town house, the floors in the wing match those in the main block and both are reached via a corridor from the spiral stair.
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