‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Ash Lane (26 January, 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 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)”

‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Lochee (19 January, 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 Bog’ in Lochee 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 Visit to Lochee—“The Bog.”

A friend said to me the other day that I should visit Lochee and see for myself some of the dens and hovels in the Third Ward. He remarked that great improvements had taken place in Lochee during the reign of the present representatives, such as the widening and improvement of Loons Road, but still there were several insanitary localities which ought to be shown up. Accordingly I visited Lochee this week, and on inquiry I found that those I consulted were unanimous in directing me to what is known as “The Bog,” which I was told was one of the worst places in Lochee. A bog has been described as wet ground too soft to bear a man. The Bog, Lochee, scarcely answers that description, but certainly if one were to remain any lengthened period in the wilds of that dirty locality it would not long require to bear him. He would have to be borne hence in a very short time either to the Fever Hospital or the cemetery.

The Lower Bog

is a dirty, dreary, desolate-looking place. The buildings in the neighbourhood are mostly of modern construction, and are a striking contrast to the hovels within the square. On the West side is a row of dens, the cubical contents of which average about 1300 feet. The builder seems to have started by erecting a high dyke right along the Bog; but he had afterwards evidently changed his mind, built a lower dyke at each side of the higher one, roofed in the intervening spaces, put on chimneys, made apertures for doors and windows, and then flattered himself that he had two rows of “dwelling-houses.” Such novelties in architecture have, of course, running through below the floors, carried away the sewage from this and surrounding properties, but later, when the smell arising from other drain struck down some of the people with fever and compelled others to quit the houses, the landlord was considerate enough to lay pipes in the drain, and so restored “sweetness,” and the tenants to the houses.

A Saddening Sight.

Of course the houses in the Lower Bog are inhabited by the poorest of the poor. An interior can best be described by what I saw in one of the houses. The walls, which had been at one time coloured in the old-fashioned style with a wash of yellow ochre, were black with dirt and smoke, and the plaster was fractured in several places. There was absolutely no furniture in the hovel, and two large stones from the nearest dyke or quarry, one at each side of the fireplace, were the only “seats” the poor inmates had. There were holes in the floor, in a corner of which was a heap of matted rags which the inmates—a mother and son, the latter about 19 years of age—told me was the only bed in the house. The lad was suffering from neuralgia, and was out of work; and the mother appeared to be anything but well. There was neither coal nor food in the house, but the Rev. Mr Lennie, who is deservedly esteemed as the friend of the poor in Lochee, ordered coals to be brought into the hovel, and with other assistance a small quantity of groceries were obtained, which I hope relieved the wants of the wretched people for a time.

In front of the houses on the East side of the “dyke” I have mentioned—which, by the way, have no pavement in front of the doors; nothing but hillocks o danders—the quagmire is littered with filth, decaying carcases of vermin, broken dishes, and stones—an unsavoury collection. I did not enter the wretched-locking tenements on the North side of the square, but, rounding the corner, I came upon an open ashpit not more than four yards from the nearest dwellings. This ashpit, which is partially enclosed by a decrepit upright paling, was surrounded with stagnant water, and filled with cindera and excreta. Had it been June instead of January the stench must have been overpowering and enough to spread a pestilence. Yet the children were playing about in the near vicinity of this malodorous heap as happy as crickets. I happened to remark to my companion that it was painful to observe the utter disobedience to the laws of health as was displayed by both landlord and tenant.

“Oh,” remarked a lamplighter, who was close by, “the place would be all right if it were kept clean.”

Kept clean! It would require at least three scavengers in constant attendance to keep the Lower Bog clean, and they would fail at times. Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Lochee (19 January, 1889)”

‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Nethergate (12 January, 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 the Nethergate 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 Dundee Police Commissioners are at last to take action in regard to dirty houses in Dundee. A very strong Committee has been appointed to examine and report upon properties destitute of the requisite sanitary appliances, and which are not properly lighted and ventilated. The Committee have a task before them which will not be easily accomplished. If the remit is carried out properly the Committee’s labours will be as exhaustive and prolonged as those of the Parnell Commission. The more I see of the dens and hovels in Dundee the more I am convinced of the truth of the remark of a medical gentleman to me some weeks ago, “that the only remedy for the existing state of matters in the slums was either condemnation or a wholesale demolition of the old buildings. There is no use pottering with old houses, or indeed with some modern tenements, where it is absolutely impossible to make them habitable from a sanitary point of view.” I doubt if the doctor’s suggestion will be acted upon by the Police Commissioners; but one thing is certain, that, if the public health is to be conserved, we must get the wretched inhabitants of the slums removed to properties where police regulations can not only be laid down but enforced. The Police Commissioners have powers to punish offenders against the laws of health; but those who have to see that the law is obeyed in this respect would require to have a Police Court and a Magistrate all to themselves if every slattern in the slums was to be dealt with for offences under the sanitary clauses of the Police Act. There is no opportunity in many districts for the people keeping the approaches to their homes tidy, and, what is worse, there is no incentive offered them of being cleanly.

Fashion and Filth.

The Nethergate has always been looked upon as the popular promenade of Dundee. It is undoubtedly the busiest thoroughfare in the city for foot passengers, and on Sunday nights the pavements are crowded by large numbers of well dressed, orderly people. It may not be generally known, but nevertheless it is the fact, that only a house breadth separates this popular promenade from a number of very ugly back courts and buildings.

Gellatly’s Close.

Gellatly’s Close is one of the place I refer to. Formerly the entrance was from Nethergate, but that passage has been utilised as an addition to a shop, and the close is now off Tay Street Lane. The houses facing Nethergate and Tay Street Lane. The houses facing Nethergate and Tay Street Lane, and those surrounding the square on the East and North, are very old. The rooms, though small, are for the greater part occupied by respectable tenants, and the very most is made by them in beautifying their humble homes and the approaches thereto. But there are another class o tenants who unfortunately have settled down in the place. These people reuse to co-operate with the neighbours in keeping the stairs and landings clean, and of course the court and the staircases are not so tidy as they might be.

The buildings themselves are the worse for wear. Attempts have evidently been made to patch them up at various times, and perhaps with success, but the effect has not been to improve the outward appearance of the properties. The outside stair leading to the houses on the North side of the court reminds one of a ruined battlemented tower, and the “plats” [a built-out stair] leading to the houses are fenced in with iron, wire, and wooden railings. The staircase leading to the properties in Nethergate and Tay Street Lane has a most tumble-down appearance. The builder of it has evidently been “gathered to his fathers” a long time ago. The steps are not only worn, but when I saw them they were dirty and covered with filth. On the right-hand side there is an opening 2 feet 3 inches in width by 6 feet 2 inches in height. From this a flight of marrow stone steps lead to a narrow doorway, evidently the entrance to a house. I met a gentleman about 5 feet 10 inches in height in the opening. He was in a stooping posture, and the reader will judge of the appearance of the place by the accompanying sketch taken on the spot. Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Nethergate (12 January, 1889)”

‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Tyndal’s Wynd (5 January, 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. Tindal’s Wynd, which is the focus here, was one of the oldest streets in Dundee.

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 first of this 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.

Compared with what I have seen elsewhere in the city during the past six weeks the slums in Tindal’s Wynd and district are decidedly the worst. The district is bounded on the North by the High Street, on the East by Castle Street, on the South by Doig’s Entry, and on the West by Tindal’s Wynd. In the area there are 22 one-roomed houses, 31 two-roomed houses, 7 three-roomed houses, and 1 five-roomed house. Of these 3 one-roomed and 4 two-roomed houses are empty. The tenements are four and five storeys in height, and the inhabitants number over 230. When it is mentioned that there is neither a privy nor ashpit within the boundaries named, that a washing-house was never heard of in the locality, and that in only one tenement has water been introduced, the sanitary condition of the place will be readily conceived.

Tindal’s Wynd, or Skirling’s Wynd as it was called 300 years ago, was at one time a fashionable place. It was there that the town residences of the Wedderburas, the Rollocks, and the Lovells were situated. But what a change has taken place within the three past centuries! The buildings have become dilapidated, and the houses, which have been converted into one, two, and three rooms, are now occupied by the poorest of the poor. Scores of people are huddled together in ill-ventilated, dark, and dirty tenements, and the courts, passages, and staircases are covered with mud and filth, giving to the place a most wretched and forbidding appearance. The tenants seem to have no desire to improve their miserable surroundings, and indeed empty the “ashes of their houses” in the handiest corner. Heaps of this refuse lie exposed till the scavengers come round—which is not always at the appointed time—and the stench arising from the accumulated filth even in cold weather is overpoweringly strong. Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Tyndal’s Wynd (5 January, 1889)”