Watch video: Partick’s buried castles reveal more hidden secrets of the past

By Ian Marland at

Archaeologists say they have been astounded by the quality of remains and finds unearthed at a medieval site in the heart of the West End.

The centuries-old footprints of two castles were discovered off Castlebank Street in Partick during Scottish Water’s £250m upgrade of the city’s waste water infrastructure.

In April, experts described the discovery of a 12th or 13th century medieval castle, and a little-known castle built on the same site 400 years later, as the most historically significant in the city for a generation.

Watch: See how archaeologists have unearthed a complex jigsaw of ditches and walls in Partick.

Expectations, however, were low that much substance from Partick Castle and the earlier residence of the Bishops of Glasgow could have been preserved given the centuries of heavy industrial use that had overlaid the site.

But archaeologists say the extent of the remains and the degree to which they have been preserved have taken them by surprise.

Fragments of distinct olive-green ceramic, animal bone and copper alloy have all been found in recent weeks.

And there is hope that much more may be unearthed over the next three weeks as archaeologists dig deeper ahead of construction work beginning on a major outlet pipe for the water project.

Ceramics: The quality of the finds should help accurately date the site.

Beth Spence, project officer with GUARD Archaeology, said her team were excited by what they had found so far and anticipation was high that the best was still to come.

She told Glasgow West End Today: “The scale of the survival here is pretty unprecedented. We didn’t think there would be as much here when we came as there is.

“We weren’t really sure we would find anything at all when we first came to site. But the preservation is quite remarkable really given the level of the industrial disturbance that came later.

“It is certainly more than we expected to find.”

In the 19th and 20th centuries the site was used for an engine works, an industrial laundry, the old Partick Central Railway Station, a metal scrapyard and a foundry.

Unearthed: Project officer Beth Spence says the level of preservation at Partick has been unexpected.

Beth added: “Even in the more recent weeks we didn’t know we were going to find as much stonework surviving here as we have done.

“We’ll be here for another two months or so to clear what’s left. The digging is only part of the process.

“The recording is almost the more essential part. It will be the record of the site once we have removed it.”

Beth’s team have unearthed a series of features, including ditches, a well and several stone walls.

They believe some of these are the remains of the 17th century Partick Castle and a 12th or 13th century castle, used by the bishops of Glasgow, which was built on the same site.

One of the main features excavated in recent weeks is an extensive ditch which is closely associated with a complex jigsaw of emerging stonework.

The hope is that when the ditch is excavated to a lower level the materials found such as coins and metal will help provide a more accurate date for the site.

Remains: An extensive network of walls and ditches has been uncovered at the Castlebank Street site.

“A lot of the stuff dates to the Bishops’ phase, so we’ve had dates of 13th and 14th century material,” said Beth.

“The thicker ceramics may be related to the Tower house; but the thicker the older is the general rule. So these could come from the Bishops’ residence right through to the (later) tower house.

“One of the most substantial features we have got at the moment is the wall that runs through the site here. This, we think, may be part of the earlier phase (of the site).

“It’s possibly structural, or it may be some sort of curtain wall, a boundary or a defensive wall. And then we’ve got later phases of stonework.

“Some may relate to the tower house but we think we may be looking at potentially improvements or alterations in the earlier bishops’ residence.”

The discoveries were made in the Castlebank Street area on the north bank of the River Kelvin, just before it joins the River Clyde, during preparations for a £3m, Scottish Water project to install a new Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO).

Outlet: The site is being excavated to make way for a giant new sewage outlet.

The project is part of the biggest investment in the Greater Glasgow area’s waste water infrastructure in more than a century to improve river water quality and tackle flooding.

Simon Brassey, environmental advisor for Scottish Water, said the quality of the archaeology had taken everyone by surprise.

He said: “We’d identified that there was some archaeology here, but what we have found is that there is a lot more archaeology that has survived industrialisation than we had anticipated.

“It is also exciting that we can see – now that we are going down in the vertical direction – exactly what the walls are and what it actually is there.”

The archaeological discoveries, which were made on ground owned by property company and developer Peel Holdings, need to be removed to enable the new CSO and outfall to be constructed.

Hole: The new Combined Sewage Outlet is part of a massive £250m water infrastructure project across the city.

The discoveries will be recorded, analysed and removed and, like all archaeological finds, will be claimed by the Crown and deposited in keeping with Scottish legal requirements.

It is not yet known if they will go on display or what will be done at the site to mark the significance of what has been discovered.

The site is squeezed between extensive new developments for student accommodation in the city.

Hugh McBrien, manager of the West of Scotland Archaeology Service, said: “We work for the council to identify areas where new development might affect archaeological remains.

“You don’t often find medieval material surviving so well in a site. And in particular in a town or a city, you don’t tend to find it surviving because it tends to be destroyed by later development.

“Here at Partick the industrialisation of the site in the 19th century seems to have built up on the levels of the earlier deposits so that means that the surfaces – the wall, the ditches of the Middle Ages left under the modern material – have in effect been preserved by it.”

GUARD Archaeology says the discoveries fit well with historical references to the original bishops’ residence being erected no earlier than the 12th century and demolished in the 17th century before a new tower house was constructed on the site.

High-rise: The site is squeezed between developments for new student accommodation in Glasgow.

Historical records show that 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.

The castle was abandoned at that time but rebuilt about 50 years later in 1611.

The origins of Partick stretch back into the so-called Dark Ages, but we know that King David I granted parts of the “lands of Perdyc” to Bishop John Archaius, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Glasgow, in 1136.