St Andrews Then and Now: A Rephotography Project: Part III

Wednesday 16 October 2019

This is the third instalment in a series of five blog posts featuring close juxtapositions of early photographs of St Andrews selected from the Special Collections Division of the University Library, with the same views today. Published during the 2019 Photography Festival, this project aims to bridge 180 years of photographic history by inscribing these comparisons both within the context of their creation, and within the broader history of St Andrews. To view the interactive juxtapositions, click on the illustrations.

The Pends & the Harbour

This week’s blog post focuses on two different areas of St Andrews: the gothic gateway known as the Pends – which used to be the main gate of the priory – and the harbour, which can be accessed by going through said gateway towards the southeast.

Plan of St Andrews locating the vantage points used to make the photographs featured in this blog post. Original lithographic print published in Charles Roger, History of St. Andrews (Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black, 1849).

The arched gateway known as the Pends was built in the fourteenth century to control access to the Augustinian priory. As the main entrance to the ecclesiastical precinct, it stood as a symbol of both spiritual and temporal authority.

During the Reformation, it became the scene of religious persecution. Walter Milne, a defrocked priest who had embraced Protestant opinions, was burnt at the stake in front of the Pends in 1558. He was the last of four Protestant martyrs executed in St Andrews in the sixteenth century. Only a year later, the local population ransacked all seats of Catholic power in the town and in 1560 the parliament in Edinburgh renounced the authority of the Pope and declared adherence to the Protestant Kirk in Scotland.

Thomas Rodger, The Pends, St Andrews, albumen print, 1855. ID: ALB-55-67.

This photograph, made in 1855 by Thomas Rodger, highlights the changes that have taken place in this corner of St Andrews since the nineteenth century. The archway was cleaned of all plants that grew atop it, and there is now no trace of the shed that adjoined it to the right. To the left of the Pends was a gate that led to Priory House, an opulent building that stood on top of the cathedral’s cloisters. The house was torn down some time between 1959 and 1960.

David O. Hill & Robert Adamson, The Pends with horse and cart, salted paper print, 1846. ID: ALB-23-4.

Traces of groin vaults can be seen on the archway’s walls. These would have supported an upper storey, where a porter probably resided. In this respect, it seems the structure has been well preserved since 1846. The same architectural evidence remains intact apart from a section of the south arch, which was likely damaged by a conservationally-unaware truck in recent years.

As is the case in many of their photographs featured in this series, Hill & Adamson decided to animate the scene with a living presence. In this case, however, both the man posing on the sidewalk and the horses pulling the cart did not keep still enough during the long exposure necessitated by the calotype process, ending up blurred and even headless in the negative.

David O. Hill & Robert Adamson, The Pends with two men, salted paper print, 1846. ID: ALB-66-9.

The posing turned out to be more successful in this picture, for which a man and a boy stood near the entrance of the Pends. In the distance is the gate of Deans Court, which was founded in the twelfth century before being remodelled in the sixteenth, and bought by the University as student accommodation in 1930. A beautifully gnarled tree, whose branches can be seen emerging from the courtyard in my photograph from 2019, has grown in the past 170 years.

Let us now walk away from the Pends towards the harbour, and examine a couple of photographs that were taken on the waterfront.

David O. Hill & Robert Adamson, St Andrews Harbour, salted paper print, 1845. ID: ALB-77-1.

Built at the mouth of the Kinness Burn, the harbour of St Andrews was recorded as a fishing port from the early thirteenth century on. It also had contacts with foreign ports throughout the Middle Ages, although trade was limited by its incapacity to host large ships.

In 1849, only four years after Hill & Adamson made this photograph, Charles Roger noted that eleven ships were connected with the harbour. These supplied local merchants with ‘coal, foreign timber, and other commodities’, and employed forty-four mariners – in addition to a hundred men working on fourteen fishing boats. He added that in 1846, 155 ships had entered the harbour of St Andrews. The number rose to 200 in 1848.

The vessels depicted in this composition were likely fishing boats. By capturing the scene at low tide, Hill & Adamson made sure that they would be perfectly still during the exposure. Apart from these and the towering remains of the cathedral in the background, this photograph documents several other features of Victorian St Andrews. An Ordnance Survey map from 1855 indicates that the high chimney to the right belonged to the town’s gas works, while the house by the right margin of the image hosted a tavern.

Anonymous, Harbour, St Andrews, albumen print, c. 1860. ID: ALB-49-102.

This anonymous photograph, taken around fifteen years later from the East Bents, shows a bit more of the harbour to the south and includes the Mill Port – one of the three original gates of the medieval precinct. According to the Ordnance Survey map from 1855, the long and low building to the right of that gate, which is still in existence today, was a flour mill known as the Shore Mill. The only boat in this composition, considering its size, was probably a trading vessel, again photographed at low tide to make sure it would ‘come out’ properly in the picture.

Next week, we will be looking at photographs of St Andrews Castle, precariously perched on the cliff to the west of the harbour.

Édouard de Saint-Ours
PhD candidate, University of St Andrews,
Université Le Havre-Normandie


I would like to thank Rachel Nordstrom for her continued support and advice throughout this project. My gratitude also goes to Alex Cohen, who generously gave some of his own time to proofread these posts.


Brown, Michael and Katie Stevenson, eds. Medieval St Andrews: Church, Cult, City. Woodridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2017.

Crawford, Robert. The Beginning and the End of the World: St Andrews, Scandal, and the Birth of Photography. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2011.

Grierson, James. Delineations of St Andrews. Edinburgh: Peter Hill; St Andrews: P. Bowler; London: Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe, 1807.

Johnstone, Karen A. ‘Thomas Rodger, 1832-1883: A Biography and Catalogue of Selected Works’. MPhil dissertation, University of St Andrews, 1997.

Lyon, Charles Jobson. The History of St Andrews, Ancient and Modern. Edinburgh: The Edinburgh Printing and Publishing Co.; St Andrews: M. Wilson; Cupar: G. S. Tullis, and Gardiner and Anderson; Kirkcaldy: J. Cumming, and J. Birrell; Dundee: F. Shaw, and J. Chalmers; Perth: J. Dewar; Arbroath: P. Wilson; Montrose: J. and D. Nichol, and Smith and Co.; Aberdeen: Brown and Co.; London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1838.

Morrison-Low, A. D. ‘Dr John Adamson and Thomas Rodger: Amateur and Professional Photography in Nineteenth-Century St Andrews’. In Photography 1900: the Edinburgh Symposium, edited by Julie Lawson, Ray McKenzie and A. D. Morrison-Low, 19-37. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland, 1994.

Morrison-Low, A. D. ‘Brewster, Talbot and the Adamsons: The Arrival of Photography in St Andrews’. History of Photography 25, no. 2 (2001): 130-41.

Ordnance Survey. ‘Fife, Sheet 12’. Six-inch to the mile. Scotland, 1843-1882. Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1855.

Roger, Charles. History of St. Andrews. Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black, 1849.

Stevenson, Sara and A. D. Morrison-Low. Scottish Photography: The First Thirty Years. Edinburgh: NMS Enterprises Limited-Publishing, 2015.

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