Dundee Old Harbour

Deposits under Dundee's New Leisure Pool

Prior to the construction of the new leisure pool at East Marketgait/East Whale Lane, Dundee City Council comissioned  Alder to undertake trial trenching on the site to ascertain the importance of the archaeological deposits. The development lies on the east side of East Marketgait in an area that has been completely transformed in recent years as a result of the redevelopment of former jute works and other industrial premises and the creation of the new inner city bypass.

The site lies immediately adjacent to the medieval/early post-medieval boundary of the burgh of Dundee at the Seagate Port. Although most of the southern part of the development is on land reclaimed from the River Tay in the 19th century, the northern part is of archaeological significance in that it contains the presumed line of the medieval and post-medieval defences extending southwards from the Wishart Arch or Cowgate Port and the Seagate Port .  Previous archaeological evaluation by the Scottish Urban Archaeological Trust in 1989 at the Wishart Arch had revealed that it stood on the line of a medieval boundary, interpreted as the medieval limit of the burgh. Further evaluation by the Trust in 1993 in the East Port car park on the north side of Seagate had recorded a ditch which was interpreted as part of the medieval defences of the burgh. Documentary sources and old plans suggesed that the development lay across the lines of three former shorelines (16th to late 18th century), the sites of 18th and 19th century warehouses and the site of West Whale Lane (removed or buried in the early 1990s).


The evaluation revealed that deposits on the leisure pool site largely comprised 18th and 19th century made up ground dumped to reclaim land from the sea. Trench 01 also uncovered a cobbled yard surface which was part of a cobbled court named 'Stewart's Court' on the 1st edition OS map (mid 19th century). A square stone with a central slot found set into the cobbles may have been for a post connected to a stall for stabling horses. At the northern end of the site deposits were found to contain sherds of redware and white gritty ware, suggesting that people had been dumping material into the sea here in the Medieval period.  In trenches 02 and 04 were the remains of large warehouse walls belonging to buildings which were demolished in the 1990s.

Dundee Leisure Pool

The cobbled surface of Stewart's Court with a stone containing the slot for a stall post


The excavation focused on an area to the SE of the site where large warehouse walls had been discovered which were thought to run on the same alignment as the former harbour wall. Stripping soon uncovered a large portion of a former warehouse which had been built beside West Whale Lane. The upper floor of the warehouse seems to have been supported on columns (probably cast iron) as a number of stone plinths came to light soon after the excavation was started. One of the interesting features of the warehouse was the depth of the wall foundations which were constructed from very large slabs of whinstone. These were up to 1.8m deep - presumably the depth deemed nessessary for construction on newly reclaimed land.

Dundee Leisure Pool

Excavation of the 19th century warehouse in progress

Deposits under West Whale Lane and the warehouse were essentially 19th century dumps of rubble, animal bone, cobbles and ceramic from the former sugar industry. One deposit had a highly organic component which it is thought derived from degraded wood shavings; presumably this related to a local industry. A thick waterborne sandy deposit restricted to West Whale Lane was revealed above the dumping. This is evidence of a flood event (perhaps caused by a storm) when the sea inundated the lane.

west whale lane

The sandy flood deposit in West Wale Lane

Towards the end of the excavation a sondage was excavated inside the lane on the E side. This revealed a section of drystone wall which corresponded to the known location of the 18th century harbour wall from historic maps. The relamation of land from the sea in the 19th century had led to the wall being partly demolished and built over by the buildings fronting West Whale Lane.

Dundee Harbour

The 18th century harbour wall (lower wall) which was later built over by a 19th century warehouse

North of this harbour wall, 19th century deposits were found to overlay Medieval and Post-Medieval dumping layers of gravel containing pottery.

Watching Brief

During the construction of the new leisure centre, Alder returned to the site to monitor any Medieval Archaeology uncovered when digging of the pools. From this it was possible to get an overview of the location of the shoreline in the Medieval period.

The Watching Brief also led to the recovery of an interesting wooden pile associated with land reclamation at the S side of the site, next to E Dock Street in the mid 19th century.

Dundee Harbour

A 19th century adze-trimmed pile used to stabilize new land created by dumping rubble deposits into the Tay. The pile was roughly 3m long, made from pine and was fitted with a hand-forged iron shoe with spike.