‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’; Victoria Road (23 February, 1889)

The following is the last of a series of articles on the poorest areas of Dundee which were published in ‘The Peoples Journal’ from the end of 1888. The area around Victoria 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.

The opening up of Victoria Road, although costly at the time, was one of the best projects which has been carried through under the Dundee Improvement Act. Bucklemaker Wynd may have been a historical locality, but it was anything but salubrious. The Wynd was narrow, and built in on each side with comparatively high tenements, more or less in a tumble-down condition, but now Victoria Road is one of the principal thoroughfares of the town, and the spacious dwelling-houses which line the street on both sides are a credit to the owners. Between Victoria Road and King Street from King’s Road Eastwards to Dens Brae, however, there still remain a number of hovels which ought to be at once levelled with the ground. William Street, off King Street, is the entrance to the hovel I visited last. The street itself is not prepossessing. There are only three signs of civilisation about the place—viz. A certain semi-circular iron erection, a joiner’s sign, and “Bell Street U.P. Church Mission Hall.” A better site for a Mission Hall it would be difficult to find even in the wilds of Central Africa. The buildings are all ancient, but those on the East side are, besides being old, completely done.

“The Beef Can Close”

leads to a brick building which was erected I believe when the jute industry made the first great bound forward. Houses, especially of one room, were very scarce at the time, and the families drafted from the country to find employment in the factories were glad to get a lodging of any description. The first landlord may have been looked upon as a benefactor, but any unbiased person who visits the locality now must be forced to the conclusion that the gentleman or gentlemen who draw the rents for the brick land and the tenements adjoining look only to their own personal advantage. A glance at the above sketch will convince anyone that the “Beef Can Close”—so called I believe because the unfortunate tenants were said to have no cooking utensils or dishes except for empty beef cans, which they put to all manner of uses—is entered with difficulty. There are two short flights of steps at the entrance, and both are very much worn and dirty. The close itself, like the opening into it, is filthy in the extreme. When I saw it it was literally covered with filth, and the whole locality presented a most ruinous and miserable appearance.

The houses are reached by outside stairs of a most primitive description. The steps, railings, and supports are entirely of wood, very much the worse of wear. The flooring of the passages is broken in several places, and the joiner work generally is sadly in need of repair. The passages leading to the houses in the West corner of the building are dark, and one has to grope his way through the prevailing gloom to the wretched homes of the poor people. Opposite the stairs is an upright paling broken in several places, and beyond this is an enclosure known as the “green.” The patch had at one time perhaps, been a place for bleaching clothes, but now instead of grass it is covered with stones and heaps of rubbish which the tenants had at some time or other laid down rather than convey it to the ashpit, which is only a few yards distant from the paling.

Miserable as are the surroundings of the dwellings, I found that on inspection the interiors were even worse. The above sketch will show that the windows are large enough for the admission of light, but beyond this no provision has been made for the comfort of the inmates. Water has not been introduced into any of the houses, and so far as I could see there were no bunkers or sinks. It was pointed out to me that the walls were damp, and that the plaster work was sadly in need of repair. In one house on the Western landing the tenant warned us “to be cautious,” lest our advent into the house “might bring down that bit,” pointing as she spoke to a piece of plaster which seemed to be hanging by a hair. For these miserable rooms I was informed the rents ranged from 1s 6d to 2s 6d per week.

Behind this wretched tenement there is a building used as a stable by a butcher in the locality. It is built of stone, and is far superior as a place of human habitation than the building in front of it.

“The Tarry Twine Close,”

which is to the South of the “Beef Can Close,” and which was at one time a notorious place, leads nowadays to only a few houses, most of those facing William Street having been shut up. A more dreary square I have never seen, and if it were entirely shut up the public would benefit.

With the description of this property my labours come to a close. There are other localities in Dundee which I could say something about, but a description would be a mere repetition. It now rests with the Police Commissioners to act, and I shall be glad to chronicle the improvements which may be effected under their orders.

‘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. Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’; Dudhope Street (9 February, 1889)”

‘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. Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Polepark Road (2 February, 1889)”