‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’; Dudhope Street (9 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 Dudhope Street 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.

There is a belt or zone of old Dundee lying between Constitution Road on the West and Dens Road in the East, in which there still remains standing some of the worst dens and hovels in the city. The houses are congested, factories and workshops have been erected far too close to the dwellings, and the sanitary accommodation is quite inadequate. Of course where work is to be found the people naturally look out for houses conveniently situated, and tenements are occupied which, if placed in remote localities, would not have an occupant.

Irvine Square.

There are many objectionable localities in the zone I have spoken of, but this week I mean to confine my attention to the district bounded by Bell Street and Baltic Street on the South, Ireland’s Lane and Paradise Lane on the West, Dudhope Street on the North, and Wellgate on the East. Irvine Square is a most unsavoury spot, especially towards Bell Street, where, in one corner a public convenience has been placed. The houses entered from Bell Street are in good order, but those on the East of the Square have only to be seen to convince one that the sooner the space is cleared the better it will be for the general health of the town. On the West there is a large factory. About the middle of the Square, on the East side.

Soapwork Lane

breaks off. The houses up to the boundary of the buildings erected on the improvement sites present a very ruinous appearance, and it is only after one has burrowed into a dark close about 5 feet 6 inches in height that he finds out that human beings still occupy part of the ruin. At the end of the close referred to there starts a series of wooden traps leading to the hovels above. After starting the ascent a subdued light becomes visible descending from a skylight through an iron grating in the landing on the second flat. This glimmer, of course, only serves to make darkness visible, and does not prevent one from falling over children on the stairs. The houses are mostly of one room, and have only a single qualification to recommend them as human habitations—there is more light than is usually found in dwellings of the class. The walls are all broken and black with dirt, and the ceilings show some signs of decay—they bulge ominously, and look as if they would be the better of “tapping” in several places. One cleanly old woman, who occupies a dark “but” and a “lighter” but poorly-furnished “ben,” informed me that she “juist washed down the wa’s because the factor would dae naething in the way o’ mendin’.” She lifted several folds of linoleum near the fender and showed me that there was no hearth-stone. “You should feel the cauld wind that comes out there,” pointing to the hearth, “and yet the factor has promised for years to put in a stone.” I learned that this woman pays 2s a week for this hovel. If she had fairplay I feel confident that her house would do no discredit to a much more pretentious property than the one she now occupies. The reason she stops in the midst of squalor and dirt is that her husband, an elderly man, is employed in the neighbourhood. The other houses on the stair are all dirty, and are inhabited by poor people. Here is a view of one of them.

A Sack-Sewer at Work.

In one of the others I could see that the owner, though unable or unwilling to keep his wife and family in a better place, could afford to have his dog. Probably the “nets” hanging about the place and the dog had some connection. In another house—the dirtiest I have ever been in except in Tindal’s Wynd—I found there was sickness. I think no wonder; the smell that filled the miserable place would have chocked a skunk. On each side of

The Lane Leading to Dudhope Street

the properties are in a fair state of repair. These are built in terraces, and with improved sanitary arrangements could be inhabited for years to come. The setting up of a mechanic’s workshop or kindred establishment, with its puffing engine and volume of spent steam, does not, however, improve the locality.

Dudhope Lane.

Dudhope Lane was once the most notorious locality for shebeening in Dundee. It’s sanitary condition was also a scandal. In both respects the place has been improved. Illicit traffic in drink is not now known to be carried on, and the refuse of the houses is at present temporarily consigned to closed-in ashpits. Whether this last-mentioned improvement could not have been more effectively carried out, and the ashpits placed further away from the houses, is questionable. Surely the site of the shed in the square would have been a better place for them. But, as will be seen from the accompanying sketch, these unsavoury receptacles are only in one case six inches from the building on the West, and the breadth of the stair from that on the North. In summer I am told the stench from these two places is quite over-powering. The surrounding houses are rather low in the roof, but otherwise habitable enough. The inhabitants are for the most part miserably poor, and dirty in the extreme. The passages are strewn with filth, rags, and straw, and littered with mud to a considerable depth. When the Police Commissioners recommence to improve the city there is a rare chance for them to widen Dudhope Street, and when that is carried out the den I have described will be swept away. No one would regret the clearance.

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