Discovering the lost medieval castle of Partick

Recent archaeological fieldwork in Glasgow by GUARD Archaeology, working on behalf of Scottish Water, has revealed the medieval remains of Partick Castle.

Prior to the work commencing, GUARD Archaeologists little suspected they might encounter such significant archaeological remains. Although historical evidence strongly suggests there was a royal estate at Partick when nearby Govan on the opposite south of the Clyde was a medieval ecclesiastical centre, and which later became a seat of the Bishop of Glasgow, previous evaluations and testing by other archaeological companies had drawn a blank.

These apparently showed that the overall site had been heavily disturbed by industrial works during the nineteenth century. Therefore the assumption was that there was only a very slim chance of any remains of the medieval castle of Partick surviving here. However, it was not known whether one area of slightly higher ground in the west of the site was a result of underlying archaeological remains or whether it was artificially raised during the clearing of later industrial buildings; this spot became the focus of our attention.

Excavation of Partick Castle walls and ditch © GUARD Archaeology Ltd
Excavation of Partick Castle walls and ditch © GUARD Archaeology Ltd

During a watching brief within this part of the development area, GUARD Archaeologists discovered a series of archaeological features including ditches, a well and several stone walls. Further excavation has recovered significant amounts of pottery, as well as metalwork, leather, glass and animal bones, that suggests a date range of twelfth/thirteenth century to the seventeenth century.

View of Partick Castle from the east side of the Kelvin, from A MacGeorge's Old Glasgow: the place and the people; from the Roman occupation to the eighteenth century 1880, 121
View of Partick Castle from the east side of the Kelvin, from A MacGeorge’s Old Glasgow: the place and the people; from the Roman occupation to the eighteenth century 1880, 121

‘This fits well with the historical references to the original Bishop’s residence being erected no earlier than the twelfth century and demolished in the early seventeenth century prior to a new tower house being constructed on the site,’ said GUARD Archaeologist Beth Spence, who is leading the excavation. ‘So the archaeology we are encountering is probably the remains of both of these residences and 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.’

‘These findings are of national significance and provide a rare glimpse into the medieval beginnings of Partick and Glasgow,’ added GUARD Project Manager, Warren Bailie. ‘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.

However, this recent wave of development, part of Scottish Water’s programme of work to upgrade Glasgow’s waste water infrastructure, has seen Scottish Water work closely with GUARD Archaeology and West of Scotland Archaeology Service to ensure that this important site is afforded the ethical approach it deserves.’


Any areas where these significant medieval remains cannot be preserved in situ will be fully excavated and any subsequent research and specialist analyses on the assemblages will be published in due course.

The lands of Partick were given to Glasgow Cathedral in 1136 by King David. It was believed to have subsequently become the country seat of the Bishops of Glasgow, with a fortified stone structure of some kind likely erected on the site; building documents relating to the construction by George Hutcheson of a tower house in 1611 specify the demolition of a pre-existing structure. Conversely this later tower house became known locally as the ‘Bishop’s Palace’.

The ruin of this seventeenth century building stood on the west bank of the River Kelvin, near the position of the railway bridge until it was removed around 1837. The site was subsequently used as industrial ground.

GUARD Archaeology Limited

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Markus Milligan
Markus Milligan
Markus Milligan - Markus is a journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,000 articles across several online publications. Markus is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW).



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