W. Douglas Simpson

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William Douglas Simpson CBE (2 August 1896 – 9 October 1968) was a Scottish architecture and archaeology academic and writer.

Born in Aberdeen, he was appointed Assistant in History at the University of Aberdeen, before becoming Lecturer in British History. He later held the honorary positions of Rhind Lecturer in Archaeology (1941) and Dalrymple Lecturer in Archaeology (1950) at the University of Glasgow.

Simpson was appointed librarian at Aberdeen University in 1926, a post he held for forty years.

Although not a trained archaeologist, he directed excavations at Kildrummy Castle, Coull Castle, Kindrochit Castle, Doune of Invernochty, Esslemont Castle, Dundarg Castle and Finavon Castle. Although his archaeological findings have been superseded, his detailed studies of buildings and structures remain key documents.

He wrote numerous books and articles based on this and other research, through which he became well known as an authority on the castellated architecture of Scotland and Scandinavia. He held several appointments in relation to this work, including chairman of the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland and membership of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. He was a member of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery Advisory Board and Scottish Records Advisory Council.

W. Douglas Simpson was the author of a wide range of publications on architectural matters, from academic papers to general guides aimed at the tourist. Several of his guidebooks remain in print by Historic Scotland. His lectures and talks were hugely successful and well attended not just by students but a more general audience. He was a Commissioner at the RCAHMS.

He was appointed OBE in 1954 and CBE in 1962. He was appointed Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav. He is buried in Springbank Cemetery, Countesswells Road, Aberdeen; his wife, Ellen Dorothy Simpson (née Mason) who died in 1984, was buried with him in the same grave.

Selected publications[edit]

  • The historical Saint Columba (1927)
  • Castles from the air (1949)
  • Dundarg Castle (1954)
  • Dunstaffnage Castle and the Stone of Destiny (1958)
  • Scottish Castles: An introduction (1959)
  • The ancient stones of Scotland (1965)
  • The Highlands of Scotland (1976)


  • Hall, A.T. A Bibliography of W. Douglas Simpson 1896-1968 in Simpson, W.D. (1991) Dunollie Castle and the Brooch of Lorne. Aberdeen: Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Aberdeen.