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

Wednesday 23 October 2019

This is the fourth instalment in a series of five blog posts featuring 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 juxtapositions, click on the illustrations.

The Castle

Our blog this week focuses on yet another emblem of the magnificence and power of St Andrews between the 12th and 16th centuries: its castle. While the cathedral speaks to the town’s former ecclesiastical prominence, the castle bears witness to the temporal power of the bishops and archbishops of St Andrews before the Reformation.

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).

Before 1560, St Andrews was arguably the centre of ecclesiastical authority in Scotland but the power of its bishops was not solely spiritual. Designed as an Episcopal palace, the castle was the locus of their temporal authority. There, the bishops held courts, issued charters, and exercised political and military power.

Here are two photographs showing the castle and its beach ­– Castle Sands – from the east. They were made by Hill & Adamson and Thomas Rodger fifteen years apart.

David O. Hill & Robert Adamson, St Andrews Castle from the Southeast, salted paper print, 1846. ID: ALB-66-14.

Thomas Rodger, St Andrews Castle from the East, albumen print, 1860. ID: ALB-35-5.

The ruins were visibly less well kept in the mid-nineteenth century. A wild vine can be seen progressively engulfing the Fore Tower from one picture to the next. The vine has since been removed from the tower, and a wall was built on the eastern side of the cliff to secure the castle from further erosion. This was apparently a necessary measure. According to James Grierson, a wall of the castle collapsed into the sea in 1801 due to the tide’s constant assaults, and conservation work had to be carried out in 1803. Thomas Rodger’s photograph also shows that excavations were performed in the castle grounds between 1846 and 1860.

The long building visible behind the castle in both photographs held public baths, as an Ordnance Survey map from 1855 attests. It is no longer in existence, and in its place now stands a private residence.

David O. Hill & Robert Adamson, St Andrews Castle from Castle Beach, salted paper print, 1846. ID: ALB-23-6.

The structural changes to the cliff are very apparent in this third comparison, made from a photograph by Hill & Adamson. A stark morning light projects the dark shadow of a massive rock in the middle ground. This masterful composition highlights the monumentality of the Fore Tower in comparison to the three men posing in the bottom left corner. The orientation of the light indicates that the picture was taken in the morning, so I had to create my reproduction accordingly.

Although there may have been an older structure upon the site, the first stone castle was commissioned by Bishop Roger in the early 13th century. Vestiges from that period can be found in the Fore Tower.

The castle was heavily damaged during the Wars of Independence. This encouraged an extensive campaign of reconstruction, led in the 1390s by Bishop Walter Trail. Most of what remains of the castle dates from that period.

As the seat of political power in St Andrews, the castle hosted many prestigious visitors and pilgrims. James I (r. 1406-37) was partly educated there under Bishop Henry Wardlaw’s supervision, James II (r. 1437-60) often visited Bishop James Kennedy, and James III (r. 1460-88) was born in St Andrews Castle in 1445.

David O. Hill & Robert Adamson, St Andrews Castle from the east, salted paper print, 1846. ID: ALB-23-1.

This comparison highlights the inaccuracy of my reconstitution, which was made a bit too early in the morning. I also took the photograph from the street, while Hill & Adamson had access to a first-floor window.

In 1546, the Protestant preacher George Wishart was imprisoned in the castle by Cardinal David Beaton before being burnt at the stake in front of the Fore Tower. Initials inlaid in the road still point to the place of his martyrdom. Two months later, to avenge Wishart’s death, local Protestant lairds entered the castle in disguise, killed the Archbishop, and hung his body out from the tower’s second-floor window. Hill & Adamson might have had this terrible event in mind when they framed this exposure.

The Protestant invaders took control of the castle, and were soon besieged by James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Arran, Governor of Scotland, and regent for Mary Queen of Scots. Hamilton’s army was unable to break the castle’s defences and endeavoured to dig a mine under the Fore Tower. Defenders built a counter-mine to take the attackers by surprise. After eighteen months, a French fleet came to support the attackers. They bombarded the castle and promptly ended the siege.

Dr John Adamson, St Andrews Castle, Main Gateway, salted paper print, 1843. ID: ALB-8-86.

After the Reformation in Scotland in 1560, the castle was used solely as a prison. It changed hands twice in the 17th century and was eventually left to decay, as indicated by the use of masonry from the castle to extend the harbour pier in 1656.

This picture of the southern front of the castle, dated 1843 in the bottom right corner of the print (likely written on the negative in black), is the oldest photograph in our series.

It was taken by Dr John Adamson (1809-1870), who played a crucial role in the early days of photography in St Andrews. Learning William Henry Fox Talbot’s calotype process in the early 1840s, he not only taught his younger brother Robert Adamson (who would partner up with David Octavius Hill in 1843) but also St Andrews’ first professional photographer, Thomas Rodger.

The comparison with the modern view shows that the castle’s moat was entirely filled up in 1843 and that a wall ran from the castle’s gate towards the south. The picturesque vine has since been removed, and the sculpted ornaments above the gate have visibly suffered from weather damage.

Next week, our journey through time and space will take us south, down North Castle Street. We will examine photographs of North Street, of the United College and will end our tour on Market Street.

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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