‘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. Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Quarry Pend (15 December, 1888)”

‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Scouringburn (8 December, 1888)

The following is the first of several articles on the poorest areas of Dundee which were published in ‘The Peoples Journal’ from the end of 1888. The area around Scouringburn 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:

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.

Dr Richardson’s Utopian ideas of what should constitute a perfect city of health are not likely soon to be realised. In an ancient burgh such as Dundee there is always the difficulty of getting rid of the antiquated buildings which are no longer suited for modern occupants, and in many cases a proper oversight is not maintained so as to prevent the erection of new buildings that are quite as insanitary as the older dwellings. Edinburgh and Glasgow have “rookeries” not yet grown black with age, and even Dundee, despite the extensive reconstructing of some parts of it, is not free from the evil influences of speculative buildings of this kind. Considerable powers have been granted to the Police Commissioners by recent legislation to enable them to cope with this difficulty, but there are many methods of evading the law or despising the officers of it. 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.

The locality bounded on the West by Blinshall Street, on the South by Scouringburn, and on the East by Session Street, and extending backwards to within a short distance of Guthrie Street, is one of the foulest and most dilapidated “rookeries” in the city. Blackened with the smoke and dust of scores of years, and worn by the action of the weather, the blocks of buildings facing the streets named have a most forbidding appearance. The square inside, which should have been laid out as bleaching greens, with washing-houses, ashpits, &c., is filled with old buildings two and three storeys in height, which were wont to be occupied by families for the most part, but are now almost empty and partially in ruins. Running up between these buildings are Ramsay’s pend, Millar’s Pend, and Whitton’s Pend, all of which, at the time I visited them, were strewn with refuse and filth.

A Disgraceful State Of Matters.

In the ten inhabited blocks facing the streets the utmost disregard is paid to the laws of health—in fact, the locality may be said to be without any sanitary arrangements whatever. There are 81 one-roomed, and 31 two-roomed houses occupied, while 33 one-roomed and 3 two-roomed houses are unlet. Though there are 303 persons cooped up in these dens, there is neither a W.C. nor an ashpit in the whole square, nor is there a single washing-house; and only in two of the blocks are the whole of the houses provided with water-taps inside. Is it to be wondered at that the pends, passages, and staircases should be filthy, that rank odours should abound even in cold weather, or that disease should seldom be absent from the place.

Ramsay’s Pend is decidedly the worst of the three larger passages leading into this dirty den. Most of the inhabitants of the Westmost tenements enter by it to their wretched homes, and to the taller residenters it must be a difficult matter. The Scouringburn end of the pend, as will be seen from our sketch, is very low. The height from the street level is only 4 feet 9 inches, but as the pend is on an inclined plane, its height inside the square is 7 feet 3 inches. The width of the pend is 7 feet 8 inches. It is superfluous to add that there is an entire absence of cleanliness about the walls and roof of the pend.

On emerging from the pend I found myself in a court hemmed in by buildings more or less decayed and dirt-begrimed. A coal shed, evidently recently erected, was the only building which I could say was in a perfect state of repair. It is on the East side of the court. On the North side is a building, apparently used as a blacksmith’s shop, and further along is the open staircase leading to the houses on the West side of the court. The high buildings facing the Scouringburn form the Southern boundary, and shut out the cheering rays of the sun from the desolate scene which meets the eye of the visitor. It is a saddening sight to look on little children waddling about barefooted and ill-clad on their only playground, which, instead of being covered with grass or laid with gravel, is littered with the refuse of the surrounding dwellings. The only purifying element to be observed is the constant flow of water from a tap in the court. But this, too, is going to waste, as it falls through a grating into the sewer. If it could be turned on to the surface of the court it would not be a loss to the Commissioners or the public generally. Overhead are hung on jib-suspended clothes’ lines the “washings” of the inhabitants, which potently proclaim their poverty, as well as the want proper laundry accommodation. Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Scouringburn (8 December, 1888)”