Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape

BALGAY PARKGDL00039

Status: Designated

Documents

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Summary

Date Added
31/03/2007
Supplementary Information Updated
01/02/2019
Local Authority
Dundee
Parish
Dundee
NGR
NO 37660 30724
Coordinates
337660, 730724

An early 19th-century landscape, reformed in the later 19th century as a public park and garden cemetery. Balgay Park dominates Dundee's cityscape, and it is an important park because it retains its original layout comprising not only walks for pedestrians but also rides and drives.

Type of Site

An early 19th-century landscape reformed in the later 19th century as a public park and cemetery.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

An early 19th-century landscape reformed in the later 19th century as a public park and cemetery.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest
Outstanding

The layout, planting and picturesque qualities of Balgay Hill, and William McKelvie's design of the Western Necropolis, give the site outstanding value as a work of art.

Historical

Level of interest
Outstanding

Balgay Park has outstanding historical value as a combined walking and driving park, and because of its complete historical record. The Western Necropolis is an important example in the Scottish garden cemetery movement.

Architectural

Level of interest
Little

The recent dismantling of the pavilion has reduced the architectural interest, although the footbridge over the gorge and the observatory provide a little interest.

Archaeological

Level of interest
High

Human activity has been recorded in the past and given the site's proximity to a major settlement, the likelihood is that interest could be high.

Scenic

Level of interest
Outstanding

Balgay Park has outstanding scenic value because of the views from the park over Dundee and the Firth of Tay, and the views to the park from the city.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest
High

Balgay Park plays an important role as a wildlife corridor and habitat within Dundee City. It is classified as a Category A urban wildlife site and as such has high value in this category.

Location and Setting

Balgay Park and Necropolis are situated in the south-west of Dundee within easy reach of the town centre, and are confined by Balgay Hill which is 141 metres above sea level. Balgay House, now the Royal Victoria Hospital, sits at the bottom of the hill with Victoria Park immediately to the east. Lochee Park hugs the north-eastern corner of the hill and is bounded on the north by Ancrum Road. Balgay Park and Necropolis have panoramic views of the city of Dundee including Dundee Law and the Firth of Tay, and Camperdown Park.

The landscape of Balgay Park and Necropolis has been dictated by the physical parameters imposed by Balgay Hill. However, during the 18th century when the hill was part of the Balgay estate, the landscape was wider and included the level ground around Balgay house which comprised yards, orchards and offices. The land that is now Victoria Park was part of the policy woodland.

Site History

The earliest known surviving plan of Balgay House is one of 1729 by James Abercrombie showing an early 18th-century laird's house approached by a formal avenue on the south axis. A square enclosure with trees planted regularly round the edge is shown directly behind the house. A subsidiary avenue led from the forecourt to a garden, orchard, rickyard and offices on the west. Balgay Hill is shown as a large wood to the north. The hill protected the house from the north and at that time there would have been clear views to the Firth of Tay. A later plan of 1801 by Walter Nicol shows early 19th-century improvements including a curved drive sweeping around the south front of the house. Formal beds are shown in front of the house with a small park to the south and east. Balgay Hill is still shown as a wood. Only Balgay Hill and Victoria Park are extant, the rest is now covered by the developments of the Royal Victoria Hospital.

The New Statistical Account, 1845, records that there are 'subterranean dwellings, or places of retreat, ascribed to the ancient Picts, and though it has never been explored, it is believed to be of great extent'. The Old Statistical Account, 1796, notes that 'besides its beautiful form, it is covered with a thriving plantation of trees.'

According to the Ordnance Gazetteer, 1882-5, the Police Commissioners of the burgh acquired the lands of Balgay in 1871 as a place of public recreation. The Gazetteer notes that the lands comprised 60 acres of ground including part of the hill which had been laid out as a cemetery. The entrance approaches from the north, west and south remain as described. The Ordnance Gazetteer also notes that the park 'enjoys the advantage of having been previously beautifully wooded, commands a gorgeous view over all the lower Tay and the Carse of Gowrie, with their periphery of hills and mountains; is encircled with a drive 8 metres wide and intersected with umbrageous drives and walks, looking like well shaded avenues'.

The Necropolis on the western side of Balgay Hill and Balgay Park on the eastern side are divided by a deep rocky gorge which provides a 'natural division' and a means of access from one side of the hill to the other. The 1st edition OS 1:2500 (25”), 1860, when Balgay Hill was still part of the lands of Balgay House, indicates a quarry near the site of the present gorge and a lane passing close by the quarry.

The 2nd edition OS 1:500 (10' to 1 mile), 1872, shows the gorge but no bridge or bandstand. These were both erected in 1877 and are first shown on the OS 1:2500 (25”), 1902, as is Balgay House, now named 'The Royal Victoria Hospital for Incurables'. The Walter Nicol layout of 1801 has been modified and the formal beds on the south front of the house removed.

The 1872 O.S. 10' to 1 mile gives an indication of the formality of the site and shows urns placed on plinths around the lower carriage drive and around the bandstand and drinking fountain in the central area. The urns did not extend into the Necropolis side of the hill, although the carriage drive clearly joined the western and eastern areas as it does today. William McKelvie, employed as a civil engineer by Dundee Council, laid out the western necropolis, having laid out Dundee's eastern necropolis, and taken charge of the city's cemeteries, after the Burial Grounds (Scotland) Act of 1855 gave local authorities powers of regulation.

The Dundee Yearbook for 1892 records:

'In 1870 Balgay Hill was acquired and a portion of it laid out as a cemetery. McKelvie's idea was to preserve all the old trees on the ground, so as to maintain the original beauty of the hill. During his reign, about 65 acres of burial ground – 40 at Eastern and 25 at Balgay – has been laid out, classified and sold, the income being about £55 000. Owing to the careful management of McKelvie, the whole debt of the Dundee Cemeteries is paid in full with interest, and the cemeteries will henceforth become a source of revenue foe the city.'

Inspired by the Parisian garden cemetery layout of Pere La Chaise, the layout of the Necropolis appears to have been simplified over the years, particularly on the northern side. It has also been extended into what was parkland to the west of The Royal Victoria Hospital (formerly Balgay House).

Lochee Park to the north east of Balgay Hill was presented to the City of Dundee in 1890 by Messrs Cox Brothers, and was intended solely as a recreation ground.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Balgay Park Pavilion, recently dismantled, was built in 1877 of brick with a decorative open cast-iron front. The front elevation had 12 slim cast-iron columns with ornate spandrels and central timber bellcote with swept roof and lead finial. The Council has plans for its reinstatement. Balgay Park Bridge, dated 1877 has a 25-metre span with two segmental arched ribs with latticed cast-iron struts. The walking surface is now pre-cast concrete but was probably originally wood. The interlaced railings are of cast-iron with central cast-iron inscription plaques. A partly original wire trellis screen links wrought-iron uprights decorated with beaten metal flowers. Lochee Park Lodge is a two-storey asymmetrical gothic lodge with gate piers at the north entrance to Lochee Park. The East Lodge on Balgay Road and the North Lodge at the Glamis Road entrance were stylistically similar but have been demolished. The Mills Observatory, built in 1935, is mainly two storeys with a central dome and lower single-storey wings. It is built of rock-faced masonry.

William McKelvie was responsible for the layout of the cemetery, which is inspired by Pere La Chaise' garden cemetery in Paris. The views outwards are spectacular. The planting in this area mainly consists of evergreen trees and shrubs which provide a contrast to the park on the east. There are some mature Scots pine.

Drives & Approaches

There are three approaches to Balgay Park and Necropolis. The south drive leads off Balgay Road and runs as a straight tarmac drive along the north edge of Victoria Park, leading to the central area containing the gorge and site of the pavilion. Halfway along this stretch a carriageway leads up the hill. The north entrance, just off Ancrum Road is marked by a formal avenue and is axially aligned with the central gorge. The entrance from the west off Glamis Road leads into the Necropolis.

A carriage drive connects all the park levels. It was and still is possible to reach the higher levels by car. There are three linked circular drives along the top of the hill. It was possible to drive to the summit of the easterly part where there was a turning area for carriages. This is no longer extant. The OS 1:2500 (25"), 1922, shows a shelter in the central area. The top of the westerly circle was only opened up with the building of the Mills Observatory in 1935. The 2nd edition OS 1:500 (10' to 1 mile), 1872, shows the path layout very much as it is today although without additions such as the steps on the steeper parts, which appear on the OS 1:2500 (25"), 1902, with further additions by 1937. A footpath runs around the perimeter of the park.

The main drives leading to the high points are now surfaced with tarmac, although this probably was not the original surface. Subsidiary paths wind around the hillside. These are mostly trodden earth, although some of the original surface of large irregular gravel shows through. Stone steps were built in some of the steeper areas, some of which survive today but are gradually being replaced by tree trunk steps.

The rides and drives were obviously planted quite formally, as the presence of cherry laurel, Portuguese laurel and yew suggests.

Paths & Walks

Some evidence of formal planting also survives on the footpaths. On the north side of the hill below the observatory the footpaths are planted with Irish yew and the path bordered with a low iron rail.

Woodland

There is a canopy of mature woodland on Balgay Hill of beech, oak, and Scots pine. From the 19th century onwards more exotic species such as conifers and holly were introduced.

References

Bibliography

Maps, Plans and Archives

1st edition OS 1:2500 (25”), 1860

2nd edition OS 1:500 (10' to 1 mile), 1872

2nd edition OS 1:2500 (25”), 1902

Plan of lands at Balgay, Surveyor James Abercrombie, 1759, Scottish Record Office, RHP 3272

Plan for Improvement of Balgay, Seat of D Anderson, by Walter Nicol, 1801, Scottish Record Office, RHP 3271

Sources

Printed Sources

Groome, F – Ordnance Gazetteer, 1882-5

Historic Scotland – Listed Buildings Survey

The Old Statistical Account, 1796

The New Statistical Account, 1845

McKean, C, and Walker, D – Dundee, An Illustrated Introduction, Royal Institute of Architects in Scotland, 1984

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Printed: 24/07/2021 15:25