Broughty Castle

Fortress Guarding the Tay

Broughty Castle has defended the entrance of the Tay for over 500 years, has been involved with Russia once, France twice, and two monarchs who lost their heads (Mary Queen of Scots and King Charles I). It was mirrored across the Tay by a Z-plan castle at Tayport which would have looked like Claypotts Castle. You can see this castle, clearly marked as ‘Claypots’, on the Slezer map below. Can you see any other areas of Dundee which are still called by the same names today? There are at least six of them, albeit with slightly variant spellings.



After Andrew Wood of Largo defeated three heavily armed English ships off the mouth of the River Tay in 1490, King James IV was prompted to order the construction of the present castle. As a young castle it was occupied by the English in 1547 during the “Rough Wooing” when Protector Somerset, who governed England for the 9-year old Edward VI after his father Henry VIII died, tried to persuade the Scots to promise to marry the 4-year old Queen Mary to young Edward. Mary would instead be whisked off to France. However, the owner of the Castle, Lord Gray, preferred that Mary should be married to an Englishman and not a Frenchman and so simply invited the English forces in. It did not go well. Although initially welcomed by Dundonians, the relationship soured and Admiral Sir Andrew Dudley and his men caused havoc. They damaged Lindores Abbey and Balmerino Abbey in Fife and the English Royal Navy bombarded Dundee itself, destroying the nave of the mediaeval St Mary’s Church. The Old Steeple would be left standing on its own until the Steeple Church was built to fill the gap in 1789.



The young Queen Mary’s mother, Mary of Guise, a French noblewoman, ruled Scotland as Regent and with help from French troops drove the English forces out of the castle in 1550. That period of friendly French occupation gave us words we still hear today – Provost comes from Prévôt, baillie from bailli, marshal from maréchal, advocate from avocat, regent from régente, cundy from conduit and sasine from sasine. Forty years later the first Scottish map maker, Rev Timothy Pont, would make a small sketch of Broughty, which he called Brugh-Tay. Sixty years later the castle was sacked during the English invasion of 1651, when Oliver Cromwell’s General Monck attacked the castle. The Scots were supporting the exiled King Charles II after being upset that the Cromwell had executed their King Charles I.



After a brief bombardment (which we can still see in the cannonball hole in the wall) its defenders ‘quitted and fled away’, leaving the castle, guns and provisions in Monck’s hands.  It was a wise move.  The Governor of Dundee, Robert Lumsden, unfortunately was not so realistic. He refused quarter (the offer of an honourable surrender) from General Monck and so he and hundreds of Dundonians were put to death by the finest professional army in Europe.



The artist Slezer sketched Dundee forty years later and we can see Broughty Castle in the distance, by then  a shore base for the Broughty Ferry Fishery which incorporated two of the round towers and a vaulted “fish house” for preparing cured salmon.

The castle then slid into a period of decay and by the 1830s it was a roofless shell.

In 1846 the castle was bought by the Edinburgh and Northern Railway Company in order to build an adjacent harbour for their proposed railway ferry from Tayport. Before the doomed first Tay Rail Bridge was built there would be futuristic RORO (roll on roll off) ferries like the ones from Granton to Burntisland. 

However, the site had strategic importance and it was purchased by the Government in 1855 to supposedly protect the Firth of Tay from the Russian warships of Tsar Nicholas I during the Crimean War, nearly 2000 miles away in the Black Sea. The Crimean War (remembered for feisty nurse Florence Nightingale and the suicidal cavalry charge of The Light Brigade), in which the French Emperor Napoleon III was our ally, ended the next year without any building work on the castle being carried out by the Government. The site still stood derelict for another five years until the next invasion scare in 1860, when it was decided to reconstruct the castle as a coastal battery against any invasion by the French fleet of the very same Emperor Napoleon III mentioned above.



Twenty-five years after the building of this fort, it was decided to make provision for laying a minefield in the Tay against any other foreign naval vessels who might wish to invade. An addition was made to the north-east of the fort to accommodate the Tay Division Submarine Miners RE (Volunteers) raised on 17th March 1888. That same year Captain J G Grant scathingly described the Broughty Castle “improvements” as a waste of public money: ‘badly built, badly designed, and utterly useless for the purpose for which it was constructed . . . A fort such as this could never defend our river, for its total demolition would only afford an enemy an hour’s pleasant and agreeable recreation, unharassed by any thoughts of possible danger to themselves.’


This brought about a number of compromise alterations, and more would be made during both World Wars, with the final alteration in World War II when a defence post was built at the top of the tower house in 1942 and this machine gun embrasure was probably added. Broughty Castle was opened as a branch of Dundee museum in 1969 and it now houses fascinating displays on the life and times of Broughty Ferry, its people, the environment and the wildlife that live close by.


Feature photo – Pete Mungall, Taymara

Claypotts Castle – Wikipedia

Naval battle (yellow carvel) – Wikipedia

Timothy Pont map –

Artillery damage – Iain Flett

Watercolour of shore and castle – by kind permission of Ian and Sue Jarvis

Floating railway – Wikimedia

Machine gun embrasure – Iain Flett

Broughty Castle