Scotland

What is Beneath the Duck Pond? Traces of the Battle of Langside, Glasgow By M J Steel

Queen’s Park, lying in the South Side of Glasgow was the third public park to open in the city and is considered one of the best examples of a Victorian Park in Scotland. It opened in 1862. The plan was to originally call it South Side Park. However, as 1862 was the 25thanniversary of Queen Victoria being on the throne, it’s thought the park was named in her honour. But others believe it was named for Mary, Queen of Scots, who is strongly associated with the site because of a major battle fought there on May 13th 1568.
This was a very important battle in Scottish history, as it shaped things to come. A few days before the battle, Mary, Queen of Scots had just escaped from her imprisonment at Loch Leven, and had been heading with her army towards a fortress in Dumbarton, fifteen miles away from Glasgow. Her half brother, James Stewart, the Earl of Moray got wind of Mary’s plans and was determined to stop her. Moray was then Regent of Scotland, taking the Scottish throne after Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son James, who was a baby at the time (James later became James VII of Scotland and James I of England, uniting the Scottish and English Crowns on the death of Elizabeth I). The Regent Moray wanted to stop Mary because if she made it to Dumbarton, there was a strong chance of her retaking the Scottish throne and chasing Moray out of the country. Moray didn’t worry about the loss of men in battle, as there were many he could draw from. This wasn’t the case for Mary, who had a small army, which couldn’t be replaced – the loss of a few men could seriously damage her cause.
As well as this, Mary wanted to avoid a skirmish because Moray was a great tactician when it came to battle and he had the best soldier in Scotland on his side, Kirkcaldy of the Grange. Moray gathered troops in Glasgow Green and lay in wait for his sister’s forces to pass over the river Clyde at Dalmarnock Ford. Mary managed to avoid them by diverting through Rutherglen, but her forces were caught up by Moray’s at the small village of Langside, then 2 miles outside Glasgow, on the south banks of the Clyde. Battle was inevitable.  Mary herself watched the battle from Cathcart Castle. The Earl of Argyll led her main body of troops. Her forces numbered 6,000. They were at a slight disadvantage. They had taken the ground at Clincart Hill, but Moray’s army had taken higher ground on the West. The Regent himself led his main army. Another hill stood between the two sides, which both aimed to take.
On meeting, both armies fired canons at one another for half an hour, with little effect. The battle began when the Earl of Argyll advanced first, aiming to take the higher ground occupied by the Regent’s troops using hand-to-hand combat. Fighting lasted for less than an hour, and the outcome could have gone either way until Moray’s main army were reinforced by the arrival of 200 Highlanders. They overcame Mary’s forces, which went into retreat. Mary lost 300 men and with another several hundred taken prisoner. In general, this is quite a small loss, but the prisoners included most of her best officers.  Moray’s forces suffered little loss.
On seeing the tide of the battle turn against her, Mary and her party immediately headed south. She hoped to escape Scotland, either overseas to France or England. She chose England. Queen Elizabeth I of England had made overtures of friendship to Mary. Although she knew these weren’t exactly sincere, they reassured Mary somewhat. Mary was a dangerous figure in England. She had already made a claim upon the English throne and was regarded as the true monarch by some of England’s catholic population. Elizabeth feared losing the Crown because of this. That aside, Mary had sent a letter to Elizabeth’s chief warden requesting permission to enter England. But she didn’t wait for a reply and arrived in England by boat on May 16, three days after the Battle of Langside. Mary and her party were housed at Carlisle Castle, assured of protection until Elizabeth decided what to do with her. It wasn’t a good outcome for Mary. She was imprisoned by Elizabeth for eighteen and a half years at various castles, until she was beheaded on February 8 1587 after being found guilty of plotting to kill Elizabeth I. Since then, Mary’s ghost seems to have kept busy reportedly haunted several locations up and down Britain.
As for the site of the Battle of Langside, it developed its own legends. A huge monument was erected on the main site of the battle. It is said that above this every year on the anniversary of the battle, it can be seen being re-enacted by a ghostly army in the sky. A few locals have apparently witnessed it. In 1993, one Glasgow girl, Judith Bowers, a tour guide and saviour of the Glasgow Britannia Panopticon theatre, decided on May 13 after a night out to see if she could see the re-enactment. She and a few of her friends, all a little worse for wear, headed towards the monument. At around midnight, they watched a strange mist rise up from the duck pond and could see ghostly soldiers within it battle one another for around 20 minutes. Years later, Judith thought that she was influenced by excitement and had seen what she wanted to see in the mist. At the same time, she maintained that the mist did behave unusually, moving as if trying to avoid hitting something…
Strange ghostly soldiers have been reported around the battleground for years. In the 1830s, before Queen’s Park was laid out, the area was marshland. It was in 1830 or 1831 that the wife of the Camphill Lodge keeper reported seeing the spirits of those killed in the battle rise from the marshes and march, some of them missing the odd head and limb. She went to her local minister, who exorcised the area to prevent the ghosts rising again. However, it doesn’t seem to have worked, as there is a local legend about ghost troops looming ethereally from the park’s duck pond.
Stories of ghostly troops marching about Queen’s Park and its surroundings come from the legend of the De’ils Kirkyard, an area where those killed in the battle were buried and whose spirits are not at rest. Catholic troops amongst the dead were denied burial at nearby Cathcart cemetery, so instead were buried a mass grave on unconsecrated ground. There are a few places given as the location, including under the park duck pond and Dead Man’s Lea in the local bowling club. Geoff Holder in The Guide To Mysterious Glasgow doesn’t seem too convinced by the legend as only the ghost stories support it. But who knows? If dead men were to talk…
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