‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Lochee (19 January, 1889)

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 Bog’ in Lochee 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.

A Visit to Lochee—“The Bog.”

A friend said to me the other day that I should visit Lochee and see for myself some of the dens and hovels in the Third Ward. He remarked that great improvements had taken place in Lochee during the reign of the present representatives, such as the widening and improvement of Loons Road, but still there were several insanitary localities which ought to be shown up. Accordingly I visited Lochee this week, and on inquiry I found that those I consulted were unanimous in directing me to what is known as “The Bog,” which I was told was one of the worst places in Lochee. A bog has been described as wet ground too soft to bear a man. The Bog, Lochee, scarcely answers that description, but certainly if one were to remain any lengthened period in the wilds of that dirty locality it would not long require to bear him. He would have to be borne hence in a very short time either to the Fever Hospital or the cemetery.

The Lower Bog

is a dirty, dreary, desolate-looking place. The buildings in the neighbourhood are mostly of modern construction, and are a striking contrast to the hovels within the square. On the West side is a row of dens, the cubical contents of which average about 1300 feet. The builder seems to have started by erecting a high dyke right along the Bog; but he had afterwards evidently changed his mind, built a lower dyke at each side of the higher one, roofed in the intervening spaces, put on chimneys, made apertures for doors and windows, and then flattered himself that he had two rows of “dwelling-houses.” Such novelties in architecture have, of course, running through below the floors, carried away the sewage from this and surrounding properties, but later, when the smell arising from other drain struck down some of the people with fever and compelled others to quit the houses, the landlord was considerate enough to lay pipes in the drain, and so restored “sweetness,” and the tenants to the houses.

A Saddening Sight.

Of course the houses in the Lower Bog are inhabited by the poorest of the poor. An interior can best be described by what I saw in one of the houses. The walls, which had been at one time coloured in the old-fashioned style with a wash of yellow ochre, were black with dirt and smoke, and the plaster was fractured in several places. There was absolutely no furniture in the hovel, and two large stones from the nearest dyke or quarry, one at each side of the fireplace, were the only “seats” the poor inmates had. There were holes in the floor, in a corner of which was a heap of matted rags which the inmates—a mother and son, the latter about 19 years of age—told me was the only bed in the house. The lad was suffering from neuralgia, and was out of work; and the mother appeared to be anything but well. There was neither coal nor food in the house, but the Rev. Mr Lennie, who is deservedly esteemed as the friend of the poor in Lochee, ordered coals to be brought into the hovel, and with other assistance a small quantity of groceries were obtained, which I hope relieved the wants of the wretched people for a time.

In front of the houses on the East side of the “dyke” I have mentioned—which, by the way, have no pavement in front of the doors; nothing but hillocks o danders—the quagmire is littered with filth, decaying carcases of vermin, broken dishes, and stones—an unsavoury collection. I did not enter the wretched-locking tenements on the North side of the square, but, rounding the corner, I came upon an open ashpit not more than four yards from the nearest dwellings. This ashpit, which is partially enclosed by a decrepit upright paling, was surrounded with stagnant water, and filled with cindera and excreta. Had it been June instead of January the stench must have been overpowering and enough to spread a pestilence. Yet the children were playing about in the near vicinity of this malodorous heap as happy as crickets. I happened to remark to my companion that it was painful to observe the utter disobedience to the laws of health as was displayed by both landlord and tenant.

“Oh,” remarked a lamplighter, who was close by, “the place would be all right if it were kept clean.”

Kept clean! It would require at least three scavengers in constant attendance to keep the Lower Bog clean, and they would fail at times.

Shut Up Because Of The Stench.

The houses on the West side of the “dyke” I found to be no better than those on the East side. The same squalor, misery, and degradation were observable. In one of the large windows there was only one pane of glass left, the remainder of the space being filled up with a piece of hessian supported by boards. One house at the foot of the row I was told was shut up because under it the sewer entered the common drain, and the stench in the hovel was something fearful even in winter.

“Just About Eighty-Eight Years Of Age.”

It could scarcely be imagined that one could meet an octogenarian in the Bog. I, however, was so privileged. Seeing an old man tottering across the square, I expressed a wish to be introduced to him. My wish was at once gratified, and I afterwards found that he lived in a house by himself at the back of a row of thatched cottages behind Kerr’s Lane. On entering the house I found it to be a local curiosity shop filled with all manner of cooking utensils, scrap iron, rags, and a lot of books and furniture, both the worse of wear. In the “ben house” was a loom, on which the poor old man did a bit of work in making “clootie carpets” occasionally, and taken altogether, though no female hand tidied up the place, the household was a palace compared to what I had just left.

The Upper Bog,

as the name implies, lies on rising ground to the South of the place I have just described. Several rows of hovels, built on the principle of the one in the Lower Bog, run East and West, with about five yards space between each of them. The people are of the lowest type, and the young children are mostly kept by their elders, while the mothers work in the mills. What the fathers do is a mystery. It has been wittily remarked that the Celt at one time wore only a smile. The children I saw had on very little else.

Converted Into A Stable.

The upper row of these shanties has been shut up for human habitation; but the enterprising landlord has let one of the compartments for a stable. I wonder if the Police Commissioners are aware of the fact. As the shed stands more than a foot higher than the tenements on the opposite side, the savouriness of the locality is not by any means increased. Some one has tried to divert the stagnant water from the stable and the houses into a conduit, but has signally failed, and how the malodorons liquid is to be removed I cannot see.

In the whole of the Bog there are only one privy and two ashpits. As for washing-houses I saw none, but perhaps in some obscure corner of the terrible swamp the considerate landlord, who I believe gets on an average 1s 2d a week for the hovels, may have provided a place for the cleansing of the very dirty “linen” of the inhabitants. Truly the Bog is a modern Augean stable. Who is to be the Hercules to clean it out?

I visited several other insanitary districts in Lochee, but none of them in dirtiness approached the Bog. Whorterbank and “Tipperary” need a little attention from the sanitary authorities. There is a very large number of people living in these localities, and additional sanitary conveniences would very much conduce to the healthiness of the districts. One thing that strikes a stranger is, that Lochee is surely outwith the jurisdiction of the Police Commissioners as to flagging and paving, as a great many of the streets and by-lanes are neither causewayed nor paved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s