Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Scotland's Ports - Wishart's Gate

Wishart's Gate, named after the Reformer George Wishart, provided the main entry to Dundee from the east.

Georgewishart Wiki
George Wishart

Scotland's towns were noted as 'all unwalled' with entry to their main streets guarded by 'ports' which were closed at night. It was the duty of those whose houses bordered the outer fringes to keep their precinct walls in good repair to prevent access other than by the ports and to provide security in times of trouble. In case of the latter, subsidiary ports would be 'walled up' until the danger subsided.

Ports presented no serious obstacle to a determined attacking force but were useful for the collection of tolls and the exclusion of vagabonds as well as those infected with the plague.

Wisharts Port
TOP: Wishart's Port circa.1880
BOTTOM: Wishart's Port in 2019

The most famous port in Scotland was the Netherbow in Edinburgh which, uniquely, was a walled town. Here 'civic display' was as important as defence. Attacked by the English in 1544 under Hertford, its iron yett was forced by cannon and the town carried (read more about that attack here ). In 1745 the Jacobites employed a different stratagem. Forces were secreted in the houses outside. They waited until the gate opened to permit the entry of a coach and then rushed in before it could be closed. So quickly and silently was this done that it was not until next morning that the inhabitants observed that there were different guards on the city walls!

Netherbow Port
TOP: Netherbow Port - sculpture honouring James VI and his wife Anne of Denmark
BOTTOM: Netherbow Port - 19th century reconstruction marking site

The West Port in St Andrews was constructed in 1589 to 'conform to the form and fassoun of the Nathir-bow of Edinburgh'. It still stands today, albeit much restored.

West Port Standrews
West Port, St Andrews

The port, however, resembles more that of Linlithgow of 1535 which has similar octagonal towers flanking the entrance with the addition of the chivalric orders of the Garter, the Thistle, the Fleece and St Michael above.

Palace Port Linlithgow
Palace Port, Linlithgow

The West Port of Glasgow also had octagonal towers flanking the gate. In 1745 it was ordered shut against the Jacobite army returning from England only to quickly re-open when they arrived!

Captain John McLean, who was later killed at Culloden, noted in his journal for 25 December 1745:

"We quartered that night in Glasgow and it happened to be my tour to mount guard at the West Port. We rested and then all drew out to the Green and passed muster and the Prince made his public appearance."

The army left on the 3rd of January via the North Port, Prince Charles remarking: "Nowhere have I found so few friends".

As for Wishart's Gate, it acquired the name as the only gate corresponding to a description given by John Knox of the place from which Wishart allegedly preached in 1544. This was destroyed in 1550 when the English were forced out of Dundee by the French, who were later to capitulate at Broughty Castle (read more here). It was again destroyed in 1651 when General Monk stormed and sacked the city.

Recent excavation has proved that the gate is a rebuilding of the 18th and 19th centuries, albeit on the original site. Perhaps, therefore, it should revert to its correct name - The Cow Port - but somehow we cannot see this being received favourably!


Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

Picture of George Wishart, via Wikimedia Commons

Added: 29 Jan 2019 Updated: 16 Oct 2023
Related articles (20)
Our corporate members...

Visit our Skills and Trades Section