‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Polepark Road (2 February, 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 area around Polepark Road 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 Modern Den.

Not quite twenty years ago I used to play cricket in a field at Polepark. It was then one of the few open spaces in Dundee, and though not a public resort the young lads in the neighbourhood enjoyed themselves on it much as they pleased at certain periods of the year. The locality is now, however, completely changed in aspect. Two large ranges of dwelling-houses cover the park. Of some of these dwelling-houses there is nothing to complain. The original owners did their duty so far as providing the necessary sanitary accommodation, washing-houses, &c., for their tenants. Others, however, failed, and completely spoiled at least one of the squares by their

Anxiety to Make Money.

I refer particularly to that square bounded by Polepark Road, Pole Street, Lawrence Street, and truncated triangle, is to be seen one of the modern “dens” of Dundee. The atmosphere which permeated the place twenty years ago has been replaced by one no longer bracing, but quite otherwise. On part of the space which should have been devoted for washing-houses and blaching-green [sic—bleaching?] for tenants in the adjoining houses there has been erected a land consisting of two storeys and attics. This property does not come within 30 yards or so of the lands facing Polepark Road, but it is only 20 feet 5 inches distant from the buildings facing Lawrence Street, and between it and washing-houses attached to the property in Pole Street there is not much more than the breadth of the staircase leading to the upper flats of the built-in property. The houses are of two rooms, and they have been fairly well finished. Several of them are rather dirty-looking from the exterior, but otherwise they seem good houses had they been set down in an open thoroughfare. There is a sad want of sanitary accommodation for the built-in tenement and the same proprietors’ building facing Lawrence Street, which include 18 one-roomed, 22 two-roomed, and 1 three-roomed houses. A few weeks ago there were living in these dwellings 147 persons, yet there is only one privy and ashpit for their use, and perhaps as the result of the building of the property at the back there has not been a single washing-house provided for the convenience of the tenants. It is scarcely to be expected that the housewives could be clean and tidy who live in houses evidently well constructed, but with no outdoor, conveniences worthy the name. The building, which may have been a gain to the original proprietor, is a decided public loss.

Who is Blameworthy.

The Police Commissioners who were in office in 1870 are undoubtedly to blame for the building of the tenement I speak of. Armed with powers almost equal to those of the latest Police Bill, the Works Committee passed the plans of the building and allowed the proprietor to partially fill up if space which should have been kept free and open. It is easily understood why we should have dens and hovels in the centre of Dundee, but why we should go on perpetuating the nuisance is quite incomprehensible to most people outside the secrets of the Police Commission.

Cherryfield Lane

Is rather a misleading name. One is as likely to see cherry trees there as he is to see berry bushes in the Great Sahara. The buildings on the East side of the Lane are in fearfully congested state. The above is a sketch of a dirty enclosure between two tenements. It had at one time been the only means of access to houses on the ground flats of the properties. But these have now all been closed, I suppose, because there was nothing but smells about. There is certainly no chance of light penetrating any of the dwellings, and a current of fresh air can never get near them. About the middle of the passage the width is seven feet between the walls, but it gradually tapers, till at the extreme end it is only 3 feet 3 inches wide.

The entrance from Cherryfield Lane to this foul and pestilential den is not very prepossessing in appearance, as will be seen from the above sketch. At the extreme end is a dark and dismal dungeon, in which a family of three children and their parents choose to live. At mid-day, with a clear sky and bright sunshine, one san scarcely see the inmates of the house, but in my case I did not long persevere, as the atmosphere of the place almost sickened me. I learned that the mother of the family was working in the mill, that the father was nurse and cook, and that a larger house was to be got so soon as “times mended awee.” The adjoining room, the man told me, had been taken from him by the landlord, as he could not pay up arrears of rent. The appearance of the door corroborated the statement—the handle was gone.

It is hardly to be believed, but still it is a fact, that n the centre of this wilderness a modern tenement of four storeys has been erected, and the rooms seem to be fully occupied. Perhaps the tenants have ascended to higher quarters to escape the pestiferous odours which float around the uninhabited hovels below.

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