‘Recollections of a Dundee East-Ender. “’Tis Fifty Years Since.”’ by McR. (26 June, 1880)

This article appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ in June 1880. The title parodies Sir Walter Scott as the author looks back fifty years and observes the huge changes that had taken place in the East End in that time. This map from 1832 gives an insight into how little the city had expanded east on the Forfar and Arbroath Roads. Compare to 1882.

“After this Baxter Brothers came to build their first spinning mill, which stood with its end to the “Plantin’.” After that they built their second mill, and so demolished the west side of the “Plantin’.” After this they took up the whole of the east side of the “Plantin’.” Subsequently they swallowed up Carmichael’s Mill and the whole of the den, trees, and all up to Victoria Road and Bridge, and I think beyond it, all of which space is now occupied by their works, which may be splendid enough in their own matter-of-fact way but there was poetry n the den.”

Aye, it is at least three and fifty years now since Macgregor sang on the stage of the Dundee Theatre Royal “Great are the changes in Bonnie Dundee.” It was a song which was then “just out,” of the words of which I only remember the o’erturn. It spoke of the enterprise of the Dundonians in some such way as this—

“Building quays and piers and walls with mercantile ardour,

They’ve made the river narrower by their new harbour.”

And in lamenting the building of some wall or other along the Perth Road, the object of which would appear to have been the protection of pedestrians from the stormy winds, forgetting that by the same means they were shutting out their view of the grand river and its “Christian side,” the piece came to some such conclusion as this—

“But blow me, I’d rather be blowed than blinded,

Sing hey, sing ho, you all must agree

That great are the changes in Bonnie Dundee.”

The song was sung to a tune to which I have heard the song “Kate Dalrymple” sung. I have also heard the song about a Lowland lass and a Hieland laddie sung to the same tune by a gentleman who has since built that ducal castle that overlooks Broughty Ferry and the Firth of Tay. He and I were then “boys together,” although we were not intimate acquaintances, for he and his brothers R. and A. were then at Mr Gilbert’s school and I at Mr Macintosh’s. Besides, he was a “hiller” and I was a “noo rodder,” for the “New Roads,” or “noo rods,” was the name by which what are now called King Street and Princes Street were then known. But there was not a single house then in what is now called Princes Street from Sandy Gordon’s thatched cot at the foot of the Strait Brae till you came to the old gushet public-house of one story called “Athole Brose,” from these words being painted on the stones forming the arch of the door-top, and which house divided the Forfar from the Arbroath Road. Sandy Gordon’s house was, as I have said, a thatched cot that formed the east foot of the Strait Brae, and a coal yard formed the west foot. But thereby the Brae had a short leg and a long. For Sandy’s house projected into what now forms the beginning, or west end, of Princes Street, so that the back, instead of the front, of Sandy’s house formed the line of street. Sandy was a veritable publican, for although he may not have been “licensed to retail spirits, porter, and ale,” and I am not so sure as to be able to say he was not, yet he sat at the receipt of custom on a buffet stool in front of his house from morning to night, especially on Tuesdays and Fridays. For the Magistrates then, not having yet been put up to the principles of free trade, made the country people pay for leave to sell their butter and eggs to the people in the town; and Sandy was the farmer, on that road, of these customs, I think, till they came to be abolished. Perhaps it was so much exposure to the weather that gave the colour to Sandy’s face, which was a deep mixture of red and blue, with little or no white to relive it. Sandy wore a clean white apron, though over a figure decidedly emborpoint, so that, if not so in every sense of the word, he would have made a goo specimen of the ideal Boniface. Continue reading “‘Recollections of a Dundee East-Ender. “’Tis Fifty Years Since.”’ by McR. (26 June, 1880)”