Cultural Studies . History . Scottish History . Scottish Studies

1980-81 Excavations of Cathcart Castle, Glasgow

An extract from Open Access article, Cathcart Castle, Glasgow – Excavations 1980–81, by Brian Kerr et. al. Published in the Scottish Archaeological Joursaj-covernal, Volume 38 Issue supplement, Page 1-100, ISSN 1471-5767 Available Online Oct 2016

‘The castle of Cathcart is now a ruin. From its remains, it seems to have been a very strong building. It stands upon one of the most commanding situations in the country, and has two of its sides completely defended by the Cart, to which there is almost a perpendicular descent of a tremenduous (sic) height. The access to it on the other side, except by a narrow entry, which might have been secured by a ditch and drawbridge, is pretty steep and difficult; so that in times when the art of attack was not so well understood, it might have made a considerable defence. The square tower, of which the original building consisted, appears to have had annexed to it, a more modern house, which is now completely removed. The castle, was within these 50 years inhabited, but was given up by its proprietor to be demolished, upon moving to another dwelling. The materials were sold to a tradesman in Glasgow, who hoped thereby to enrich himself. Having taken off the roof, he was proceeding with the rest of the building, when he found himself obliged to stop by the resistance he met with, from the strength and thickness of the walls. Having been left since that time in a dismantled state, it has scarcely suffered any farther injury from the influence of the weather’ (First Statistical Account of Scotland V, 1791–99, 349 fn).

View of Cathcart Castle tower after collapse, December 1979
Fig 1, View of Cathcart Castle tower after collapse, December 1979, SC 11498978 © Historic Environment Scotland. Licensor canmore.org.uk
The remains of Cathcart Castle had survived nearly another two centuries of exposure to the elements following its partial demolition, but on 9th December 1979 the front or east face collapsed, leaving the rest of the building in a precarious state (Fig 1). The owner of the site, Glasgow District Council, decided that it had to make the building safe. The intention was to remove loose and unstable walling, leaving the rest of the walls standing, but such was the nature of the demolition of August 1980 that little more than 2m of the north, west and half of the south wall was left (Fig 2). The rubble was largely removed from site, and was reportedly dumped as part of the infill of the Queen’s Dock at Finnieston, a site now occupied by the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC). Some rubble was retained within Linn Park for future repair and landscaping work, mainly material that had fallen down the steep southern cliff during collapse and demolition.
Remains of the tower after demolition, looking west
Fig 2, Remains of the tower after demolition, looking west
Following demolition, it was felt that there was an opportunity to investigate the site before landscaping work took place. An excavation team was active in Glasgow in 1980, funded through the Manpower Services Commission’s Youth Opportunities Programme, sponsored by the Glasgow People’s Palace Museum and managed by Strathclyde Regional Council Education Department through its East End Community Service Agency. The team, then working at the Saracen’s Head Inn site in the Gallowgate, was asked by Glasgow Museums to undertake a small research excavation on the site of the castle, and the Museums Service provided funding to cover the costs of travel and other expenses. In November 1980 a small team under the direction of the present writer began work.

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