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 Ash Lane on Lochee Road (near the Verdant Works) 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.
Ash Lane is well named. It is essentially the place of ashes, dirt, and rubbish of every description. The houses, too, seem crumbling to decay, and some of the people look as if they would not be long in returning to “dust and ashes.” Ash Lane and Ash Street are partially lined with hovels which would do credit to the mountain sides of Donegal. Indeed the “brogue” is freely spoken by the denizens, and were there a hillside near, instead of the high walls of a mill and the slanting roofs of the houses, one would imagine he was in that wild region. I was told I would see in Ash Lane some of the most primitive houses in Dundee, but I was disappointed. The proprietor of these has evidently been reading the Advertiser, and has judiciously closed them up before opportunity was afforded of describing them. Judging from an outside view, the “houses” internally must have been of novel construction.
The hovels on the West side of the Lane are not far behind those on the East, the only difference being that an attempt has been made by the builder to give them the outward semblance of houses. The buildings have been made into one-roomed houses, and are tenanted by very poor persons who work in the mills. The attic rooms are the worst. These are small, badly lighted, and have no means of ventilation. Where there are children the stench is overpowering. One of the garrets I visited was half the size it should have been, measuring about 9 feet by 15 feet. The slanting roof left very little room for a full-grown person to stand upright; yet in this den a man and his wife and two daughters live. The house, which is kept by the youngest daughter, a girl of twelve, was comparatively clean; but I must explain there was little furniture in the place on which the child could practise cleanliness. A ricketty stair with a worse than ricketty railing led to two similar houses.
I remarked to the proprietrix that the stair seemed dangerous, especially if any of her tenants tried the ascent when under the influence of liquor.
“An’ sorry a bit I wid care,” she replied, “for then they moight [sic] perhaps have in their stomachs what should hev paid me rint.”
Close to the foot of the stair was a most unsavoury ashpit. I said to the proprietrix that it appeared to me a very dirty hole to be so close to the houses.
“A dirty hole, did ye say? Faith and it cost me £7. It is what I call a bonnie, muckle midden if the ‘scaflies’ wid only keep it clean.” Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Ash Lane (26 January, 1889)”