Never Judge a Building by its Frontage

Some colleagues recently asked us to look out the original drawings for 31-33 Castle Street, part of the Caird Hall complex. We carried out a search of the building control records but couldn’t find anything! This was a bit puzzling. Drawings for any building put up after the Improvement Act of 1871 were submitted to the Council for approval. From the outside the building certainly looks modern and is described as being an early 20th century building. This would make sense as the Caird Hall was opened in 1923. So it should be in the records.

As it turned out looks can be deceiving!

As the Council owns the property, we decided to search for the title deeds held in the Archives. From there the mystery began to unravel. Surprisingly the first deed in the bundle dated from 28th of November 1797. It described “several lots of ground on the west side of Castle Street belonging to the Town of Dundee” that were for sale by public auction. So the building did not exist at this time. Plots 5 and 6 attracted no bids but following the end of the auction James Stewart did make an offer to buy the plots.

33 Castle Street - 1799 Title Deed 001
The first page of the 1799 deed – the first record we hold relating to the building.

As this offer was made after the auction the Town Treasurer, Thomas Webster, had to obtain a new mandate to legally sell the ground. On the 3rd of February 1798, Webster was empowered by a new “Act of Council” to sell the two plots of land to James Stewart for the sum of £275 per plot (that’s around £26,000 today). On the 7th of January 1799, the sale went through and the two plots of ground officially became the property of James Stewart.

The “first flatt above the shops” was sold on 21st of February 1801 so this means that 31–33 Castle Street must have been built on plot 5 sometime around 1799/1800.

33 Castle Street - 1915 003
Building the Caird Hall, 1915 31-33 Castle street can be seen on the right with the exposed bricks and fireplaces.

Dundee Town Council took ownership of 31-33 Castle Street in 1914 as part of the Central Improvement Scheme. Buildings acquired at this time were earmarked for demolition to make way for the Caird Hall, however photographs show that 31-33 Castle Street was not demolished. The building was in fact annexed and included in the design and construction of the Caird Hall complex and given a fresh, modern appearance.

The mystery was solved. Rather than being an early 20th century building as was first thought, 31–33 Castle Street was in fact much older than anyone realised. The building dates from the reign of George III, some 70 odd years before our official building records began. No wonder we couldn’t find anything!

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