‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Quarry Pend (15 December, 1888)

The following is one of several articles on the poorest areas of Dundee which were published in ‘The Peoples Journal’ from the end of 1888. The area around Quarry Pend, Cowgate is the focus of this article.

The purpose of the journalist was to reveal the terrible problems facing those living in the slums (“rookeries”) of Dundee and is spelled out in the introduction to the first article in the series:

It is my purpose to direct attention to both classes of insanitary buildings—the old and the new—and to describe from personal inspection the hovels and “rookeries” of this city. The evil has grown so rampant that the Police Commissioners, on the repeated suggestions of the Medical Officer of Health, have at length begun to move in this matter, and my object is to assist them as far as possible in their investigations. In the course of these inquiries, I shall be able to reveal a side of social life and its environments the existence of which is little suspected by a great many people resident in Dundee.

“Quarry Pend,” said an intelligent police officer in answer to a question of mine, “is not the place it used to be. I remember when it was a rather lively locality. It was for many years the resting-place of thieves, robbers, and shebeeners, and many a time we had to visit the pend in search of those whom we suspected.”

“And was it difficult to lay hold of criminals who sought the shelter of the place?”

“Well, rather, I should say,” he replied. “You see there are three entrances to the place—one through Quarry Entry, another by a close from the Cowgate to the West of the entry, and a third by the staircase leading from King Street.”

“How did you manage to lay hold of those you were after, then?”

“Well, we had just to station men at the various outlets, and go in and search the place. I have seen many attempts on the part of guilty persons to escape, but in almost every case they were safely landed.”

Quarry Pend, as the officer said, is not so bad as it was, but still it is bad enough in all conscience. The entry leading to the pend is within a hundred yards of the East Port, where Wishart at one time preached. Probably the buildings hemming in the square are as old as the martyr; at any rate they are as hoary and antiquated-looking as the masonry of the East Port itself. The houses around the pend have a most tumbledown appearance; but that is not the worst of it. Enterprising capitalists have within the century built in the square a four-storey land of house and building now occupied as a hackle shop. On the East end of the hackle shop is a common privy and ashpit, and that is the sole sanitary convenience for the people in the pend, who number 208 souls.

In the pend there are 31 one-roomed houses, 39 two-roomed houses, and 2 three-roomed houses. Of these the following are without tenants:—Four one-roomed houses, ten two-roomed houses, and one three-roomed house. The land within the square is decidedly the best in the neighbourhood, and it is the only place where the houses are supplied with water inside. The houses on the East side of the entry are miserably bad as regards sanitary conveniences, ventilation, and light. There is also a small building between the land in the court and the staircase leading up to King Street which is a disgrace to any landlord who may claim it. The entrance to the upper story is by a narrow stair covered with filth open upon a couple of the dirtiest and dreariest homes in Dundee.

I visited, and a sketch of which I give, was miserable in the extreme. The only whole article of furniture in the room was a table, on which were several broken dishes. In one corner of the room was the frame of an iron bed. The bottom was gone, and the mattress was lying on the floor. There were no bedclothes, and the mattress was very filthy-looking. On the shelves were a number of earthenware jugs, tin flagons, &c., but these, like the other furnishings of the place, were very dirty.

On entering the miserable abode we found a man sitting at the fireside eating his breakfast. Two small children stood immediately in front of the fireplace, and a girl about thirteen attended on what I afterwards found to be her father and brother and sister.

On measuring the room I found that it contained about 985 cubic feet of space, or about half the quantity required for the number of inmates in the house. Four of the nine panes of glass in the window were gone, and through the openings the raw chill air of the December afternoon came floating in.

“This is rather a miserable abode for you,” I said to the man.

“Oh, no; this is a tidy wee house after the wife’s cleaning,” was the reply.

“And how often does she clean the house?”

“Always at the holidays. Of course she is at work now, and cannot get it done as she would like.”

“Are you out of work just now?”

“I have been a stoker in the Anchor Line for some time; but I got my collar bone broken coming across the Atlantic, and I will be at least nine weeks before I am able to work again. My wife’s earnings are the sole support we will have during that time.”

“How many children have you?”

“We have three.”

“And what rent do you pay for this house?”

“We pay 1s 6d a week. It is not so dear.”

I thought it was very dear at the money. There was absolutely no comfort, and even though the house had been wind and water tight, which it was not, the family pay very sweetly for any little shelter they receive.

 

Fifty Sacks For Sixpence.

The room on the opposite side of the landing was even more forbidding than the one I entered first. There I found a tall Irish woman busily engaged at sack sowing. Except a broken box on which the woman eat while she spied her needle, there was no furniture in the room. The walls and ceiling were as black as the coal in the grate, the window panes never seem to have been cleaned, and the atmosphere of the room was very oppressive.

“What do yez want?” was the snappish inquiry when I entered the hovel.

“I wish merely to see your house.”

“An’ a lot o’ good that will do yez.” It’s a good enough house, isn’t it; or wid ye like to see a piano and a sideboard where there is nothing?”

“You would be the better for a few more articles of furniture, would you not?”

“They might be handy in a time of need. I might be able to raise the wind with them, do you see,” and the woman laughed at what she evidently meant for a joke.

“You are a sack-sewer?”

“Yes; I sow sacks to keep me from eating my fingers.”

“And what do you get for a bundle of them?”

“Just now we get 6d. There are 50 in the bundle.”

“How long are you in sewing 50?”

“I cannot do more than a bundle a day.”

“That is, you make about 3s a week?”

“About that, and half of it has to go for rent.”

 

A Horrible Sight.

After leaving the house I went across the pend to see the houses on the East side. They were all very dingy, dirty, and ill-ventilated. In one of the houses the wall was daubed all over with a dark-looking substance, which I thought in the prevailing gloom was a paper pattern. I went up to examine it, and found long before I had approached the wall that it was something else. The occupier of the house, who was sack-sewer, informed me that she “cudna get lived for bugs when she came to the hoose,” and she “juist killed them on the wa’.” I never saw a more horrible sight. The smell from the decaying bodies was paramount, and counteracted the stuffiness which the jute bags and tarred twine caused in the small room. The occupant told me that her landlord charged her 1s a week for the liberty of staying in such a horrible den.

Quarry Pend is not what it ought to be. There is not a washing-house in the place, and the privy and ashpit are only about four yards distance from the dwellings on the South side of the Square. On every hand there are squalor, filth, misery, and degradation. Men and women adapt themselves to their surroundings, and it is therefore not to be wondered at if from Quarry Pend a large number of criminals are drawn.

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