‘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)”

‘Transcripts From Memory: Transcript Second—”The Poopit-Fit”‘ by James Easson (3 March, 1860)

The following is the second of James Easson’s series ‘Transcripts from Memory’, published in the ‘People’s Journal’ in 1860. In Scots the ‘poopit-fit’ literally means the foot of the pulpit, but in this context refers to the whole institution of the Church of Scotland.

Easson—or ‘the people’s poet’ as he was posthumously dubbed by a reader—wrote many short stories, sketches, essays and poems from 1858 until his death in 1865. In many ways Easson was the sort of contributor that the ‘Journal’ was founded for. He was a painter decorator from Dundee who found an audience in the paper and was loved by its readers. He died in the Royal Lunatic Asylum in Dundee after three weeks of paralysis aged just 31, his only living relative being his Grandmother Betty Easson. Readers donated money to pay for his burial and the support of Betty when his death was announced. His stone can still be visited in Dundee’s Eastern Necropolis and the inscription reads; ‘Erected by the Proprietors of “The People’s Journal” in Memory of a Working Man who had Rare Literary Gifts and Whose Writings are his Best Memorial’.  For a full collection of his work and a short biography, see ‘The Life and Works of James Easson; The Dundee People’s Poet’ by Anthony Faulks (Dundee, 2016).

Imagine, reader, that you wander over the wide plains, and through the deep green groves of Canada West; that you feel home-sick and weary, and that roaming there you have chanced to meet with a stranger of European aspect. How high you heart leaps with joy as this thought flashes across your mind—“Perhaps he is a Scotchman, and may have some feelings in common with myself!” Gladly you solute him with words of friendly greeting, and forthwith begin to converse. You go on to speak of many places and about many things, till at length your conversation chances to run upon the church of your fathers. But the stranger turns out to be an Englishman; he knows nothing of the “kirk,” though he recalls with true feeling the memory of the aged curate of his native place, the beautiful prayers of the liturgy; of its old, but to him familiar chaunts, as they used to swell though the ancient chancel, and of the steady, golden voice of the organ. All this is very sweet and very beautiful; but he cannot talk to you of “puir auld Scotland,” of her children, her homes, her pulpits, her ministers, or her “household words.” Again, your yearning heart feels disappointed and charged with chagrin; so, you give vent to a tremulous sigh, and with a faltering “God speed,” you part from you fellow-sojourner, who soon pursues his onward way.

You also wander along till evening approaches, and the fiery Canadian sunset floods all the landscape with burning red—a radiance that causes the lakes to blaze like sheets of bright gold, whilst the woods look black and solemn. Then you see a log-house in the distance, thatched like a Scotch cottar house; a train of blueish reek ascends from it, and latterly your eye can discern a sonsy Scotch gudewife pottering about the door, her broad face florid with the ruddy light. The stalwart gudeman sits at the door-cheek of his log-cabin, and little pawky Johnny, seated on his knee, is pulling away at his father’s beard, or trying vainly to untie his neckerchief. Betimes they notice you; they herald your approach with an earnest welcome, somewhat like this—“Losh, man, but ye are tired-like; ye’ve surely come a far road—sit doon an’ rest ye—sae, sit doon here i’ the arm-chair, an ‘mak’ yersel’ at hame!” When the conversation has advanced so far, the gudewife thinks of supper, and the gudeman suggests the propriety of having a little tea for “a dentis.” It may be that you are no fellow-townsman of your host; but you are a Scotchman, so you speak of the latest news from the old country, and from that you ramble on till you speak to him of the old churches and the old ministers at home. By-and-bye the table is set, the gudewife’s presence graces the homely board, and she also takes up the subject in hand. She laments that they are so far away from Scotland, for she would have “liket the bairns bapteezed at hame,” where she was baptized, and where her “forebears” lived, died, and are buried. Then they talk of the baptisms of their brothers and sisters, and of the beloved pastors who administered the ordnance, and who are also left behind. These and such like memories are all recalled, and recollection lingers in fondest retrospect around them still.

Yes, and it were strange did any emotion, save that of affection, like the affection of those poor emigrants, attach to that familiar “poopit-fit.” As parents, some think, at its mention, of sinless cherubs—upon whom the dew of morning scarce fell, when Death, like a thief, stole silently in, laid his frozen hand upon the young one’s heart, and carried t away, smiling spitefully at their agony, and his own fell triumph; whilst others of us have there received those names which have since become as pleasant to our friends, as they are familiar to ourselves. Continue reading “‘Transcripts From Memory: Transcript Second—”The Poopit-Fit”‘ by James Easson (3 March, 1860)”

‘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)”

‘A Visit to St Kilda’ by M.B.F. (16 September, 1882)

The following is an account of a visit to St Kilda in 1882. The author (who signs off as M.B.F.) provides some fantastic details of early commercial tourism to the island on the the SS Dunara Castle (spelt Dunarra in the article) which only began making trips in 1875. Of particular note is the descriptions of the make up of the passengers, the itinerary of the voyage and the interactions between the native St Kildans with the tourists.

I joined the Dunarra Castle on Saturday morning, 10th June, at 9 A.M., at Dunvegan Pier. The only other passengers from Dunvegan were Mr M’Kenzie, the factor for St Kilda, accompanied by several tradesmen who were to remain on the island for a time to make some repairs about the cottages, &c., and Miss M’Leod of M’Leod, from Dunvegan Castle, who, on seeing the angry-looking whitecrested rollers careering up Dunvegan Loch—it was very rough—I presume, got frightened at the somewhat ominous aspect of the weather, went ashore with all her luggage just as the steamer was about to start. By the way, there was another important personage who joined the steamer at Dunvegan, namely, Colin Campbell, a well-known and famous Skye piper, and an exceptionally good specimen of a genuine old Highlander, with pretty white locks and flowing beard, neatly rigged out in full Highland garb. His chanter was adorned with gaudy tartan and varied coloured ribbons dancing in the whirling breeze.

Our first place of call was Stein, near the head of Loch Bay, where we cast anchor for full an hour, landing about a dozen passengers, big and little, and a considerable amount of general goods, but chiefly oatmeal and flour. I was surprised to see such a large quantity of meal, probably 8 or 10 tons landed. Our next call was at Uig, by far the prettiest spot I had yet seen in Skye. The little village or hamlet, consisting of two churches, with a neat little manse close to each, and a hotel and large schoolhouse and a peculiar looking building in the form of a round tower, which stands prominently on a raised green knoll, and used by the landlord as an office where he collects his rents, &c., and a few white cottages situated round the one-half of the beautiful circular bay of Uig, with its bold headlands on either side of the entrance. The other side of the bay is thickly studded with crofters’ huts and narrow strips of land sloping up from the beach, looking remarkably well and forward. Our next call was at Scalpay, a small fishing village. We arrived at Tarbert about 7.30, where we remained over Sunday. The village stands at the head of a long narrow pointed creek or bay—East Loch Tarbert. I never saw a village with such utterly bleak and barren surroundings. The mountain sides are almost entirely bare rock.

The berths in the steamer being all occupied by passengers who had come all the way, I went to the Tarbert Hotel, a pretty large house, where I unexpectedly got about the biggest, best furnished, and most comfortable bedroom I ever got in any hotel before. Other two gentlemen, who came on board at Uig, took up their quarters in the hotel. One of them was the Lord Provost of the capital of one of the northern counties, and a remarkably big, braw, jovial, jolly, gentlemanly man. All the rest of the passengers, numbering about fifty or so, remained on board the steamer. Sunday turned out a fine, bright, sunny day. There was only one church—a Free— in the place, the parish kirk being close on twenty miles distant, and a number of the Dunarra passengers went to the Free Church, which was pretty well filled. A considerable number came from Scalpay in boats. In the course of the day several yachts steamed into the loch, including the Marquis of Ailsa’s. The Marquis landed, and took up his abode for the day in the hotel. I believe very few knew who he was. Pretty late in the evening Miss M’Leod of M’Leod and a Miss Ashley arrived in a steam yacht, and came on board the Dunarra shortly before 11 o’clock. A few others joined the steamer just before she sailed. A few minutes after 12 o’clock on Sunday night, everything being in good sailing trim, we left Tarbert, and while steaming along the leeside of Harris the sea was comparatively smooth.

The only place we called at after leaving Tarbert was at Obbe, a small place on the north side of Harris Sound, where a few passengers—natives—left us. Shortly after leaving Obbe and fairly clear of the shelter of the Islands of Harris, the steamer’s course was steered direct for St Kilda, sixty odd miles distant. We immediately encountered a regular hurricane such as I had never witnessed before. The Dunarra, her gallant captain, officers, and crew were put on their mettle. I make no pretensions to be a very good judge of either steam or sailing crafts, but I believe the Dunarra is a first-rate sea boat. Indeed I never saw a steamer behave better in a storm. I daresay she would have pitched and rolled less had she had thirty or forty tons more deadweight in her hold. As a proof so far that it was no ordinary storm, I heard a gentleman—a passenger—state that he had crossed the Atlantic several times, but had never witnessed such a wild sea before. Some of the St Kildans told us that, with the exception of one day early in the spring, there had not been such a stormy day experienced round the island this year. Continue reading “‘A Visit to St Kilda’ by M.B.F. (16 September, 1882)”

‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 8 (2 July, 1881)

The following is the eight and final part of a series of stories about life working in a Jute mill. These sketches give a great insight into the operations of these mills, from the different machinery to the way leisure time was occupied. They also give a sense of how a family unit could be impacted by this new way of life, which was a world away from a quiet little toun in the Howe of Fife.

Chapter VIII

More than Mere Work.

Heretofore I had devoted my chief attention to my own personal improvement both in education and circumstances; now my heart was engrossed in advancing the work, in economising processes, and securing order and efficiency for my employer’s benefit. And as all these severally were in a fair way, I began to bethink me of what I might do for the benefit of the workers. My endeavours in that direction originated thus:—

It chanced that a that a thunderstorm had displaced a few bricks at the top of the chimney-stalk and twisted the lightning rod, and so Steeple Jack had to be engaged. One day he occupied with his kite and cord to secure a connection with the top, afterward he rigged up his pulley and climbing apparatus, and set to work with as much coolness as if he were employed on a parapet wall in a back yard. Those dangling ropes and that swinging seat of his attracted great attention, especially at meal hours, and forthwith we had never so much talk among the loungers at the gate about climbing in all places. One old sailor had yarns about mastheads and yard-arms, and even the lads from the country had feats on cliffs and tree-tops equally wonderful to relate, and for the nonce it looked as if every one was a Steeple Jack. What was the result? Next morning our Dick Daring scrambled up the jagged face of the rock overhanging the pond and secured a huge bunch of yellow broom, which had been glowing in the summer sunshine for a whole week, and reaching the court again in safety was the hero of the hour. Soon his floral spoils were seen in every place—twisted round and tied to a gas pipe in the low mill, it threw a gleam of sunlight in a dark corner; the warping-mill banks wore sprigs on the top; and lo! Taglioni coquettishly adorns her hair with a bright morsel. And thus Dick’s fame was blazoned through the whole work in glowing colour. A reprimand from his foreman went a far way to render him still more heroic in the eyes of the other boys, and thus the Steeple Jack episode awakened interest which lasted several days.

I was not displeased to see the happy aspect thus imparted to the everyday course of the mill life. It reminded me that while the existence of many might consist in no more than steady work and good wages, yet there were susceptibilities to something else, perhaps something better. There were hearts to please and minds to cultivate, there were social and personal interests which, although not brought into public light, were yet largely affected by public circumstances. Was it not possible to do something for them? All those men and women, those boys and girls, could look after their summer entertainment; their trips at the June Holidays and their little fetes on Saturday afternoons gave nobody any trouble; but what of their winter pleasures. Yes, thought I, what of their winter profit, for I had not forgotten how precious the long winter nights used to be to me for both study and pleasure. Continue reading “‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 8 (2 July, 1881)”

‘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)”

‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 7 (25 June, 1881)

The following is the seventh of eight stories about life working in a Jute mill. These sketches give a great insight into the operations of these mills, from the different machinery to the way leisure time was occupied. They also give a sense of how a family unit could be impacted by this new way of life, which was a world away from a quiet little toun in the Howe of Fife.

Chapter VII.

The Overseer.

In every stage of my progress I was brought into contact with ignorance. Not only did I find the ragged, bare-footed urchins who shifted bobbins or ran with carts to be careless about anything beyond their necessary work or their dearly loved fun, but men, even men with families, in may instances I found quite in darkness as to the most ordinary book-learning; men who could not subscribe their own names, and who could hardly make sense of the plainest paragraph of a newspaper when they spelled through it.

Along with this unlettered condition there was generally the unthinking prejudice which leads the workman to imagine himself wronged because the master has plenty of money and he has little or none. This is a great folly under the sun, for while every man is free to make the best opportunities, and would show his wisdom by so doing, yet to some are thus afforded only skill and labour, while to others comes money, and so by labour and capital—the two hands of industry—the right balance is sustained. What would become of our great spinning and weaving establishments, and therefore of our remunerative industries, if the millmaster were only from hand to mouth with his money. A wise workman should see in the wealth of his employer the best guarantee for his own steady employment.

Fortunately for me my success at school had given me a relish for reading, and even an aptitude for study. To those books I could get at home I added others which I could borrow to read, and thus enlarged the extent of my knowledge. When I grew a little older I put myself to a night school to extend my acquaintance with arithmetic, and afterwards added a little algebra and geometry at home. At the mechanic’s bench I began to see a use for drawing, and therefore devoted a good many nights of a whole winter to practising it under a teacher. In all these things I was encouraged by my father, and even stimulated by my brother, who went still greater lengths in learning and practice. There were two manifest advantages from those pursuits of mine—first I was thereby all the better qualified for every stage of my progress, and never lost ground through ignorance or incompetence; and, second, the whole of life was made more pleasant, I being not a mere worker, but one who could think as well. Depend upon it every one who can see beyond the mere mechanical range of his work, and judiciously use such a power, makes a better, because a more intelligent, workman.

It happened on one occasion that I had got a job which required more than ordinary attention, and in my anxiety to comprehend all the relations of the parts I had to fit together I made a long calculation, helping it out with an algebraic equation. The board on which I had worked out my problems lay about the bench for a day or two, and who should lay lands on it but my master, who happened to be looking about the shop. I observed him pick it up and look over it curiously, then walk to the foreman and make some inquiries. By the glances they occasionally gave I knew that they were speaking about me and my figures, but they said nothing. The matter seemed not to be forgotten, however, for I found myself gradually getting into better, or at least more elaborate work, and trusted with the arrangement of machines, sometimes away from the traditional forms in which spinning frames and powerlooms were made. My companions, of course attributed this to being a favourite, and from some of them I got even ill-nature and annoyance in consequence, although others had sense enough to discern that only those were so trusted who were found capable. On more than one occasion I found my counsel sought, and month by month my value rose as a reliable wrokman [sic]. Continue reading “‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 7 (25 June, 1881)”

‘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)”

‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 6 (18 June, 1881)

The following is the sixth of eight stories about life working in a Jute mill. These sketches give a great insight into the operations of these mills, from the different machinery to the way leisure time was occupied. They also give a sense of how a family unit could be impacted by this new way of life, which was a world away from a quiet little toun in the Howe of Fife. This chapter focuses on how the mill workers used their leisure time.

Chapter VI.—The Amenities of Mill Life.

It is generally, and perhaps properly, reckoned that the real amenity of work is its justly earned reward. It may be very well to talk of the dignity of labour and the blessing of an active life, but comparatively few working people think about these things at all—reckoning the sole purpose of work to be the acquiring of wages. There can be no question but that real honest work is a blessed thing for man, balancing his nature and soothing his-temper for social or domeitic [sic] life, as well as stimulating his intellectual faculties for study and judgment. Let us, however, look at the more immediate remuneration of labour. These mill and factory workers can earn good wages, and as it is not an uncommon thing for a whole family to be so employed, we have often a plain house with a very large income. Although the father may have no more than 25s a week, yet there may be two daughters earning say 12s a week, a boy with 8s, and a half-timer at 3s, making £3 a week. This is no unusual case. Such a household is actually better off in monetary matters than the family of many a tradesman or shopkeeper, for he cannot always secure so much profit from his business, and rather keeps his grown up children at high-class schools, and sets up a more expensive establishment at home than his working cousin. What with anxieties of business, hiring of servants, and management of appearances, it is not possible for him to have half the pleasure of life nor nearly so generous a table as the millworker. Truly the same keen management and studied economy needed in the showy residence, if applied to our back street house, would soon make the workers rich. But this they do not think of doing. The full hand leads to a loose style of management, and what with squandering on dainties for food, frequent evening entertainments, and expensive dress, the money melts out of their hands only too quickly. Their working-days’ dress may be plain enough, even mean; but see those girls on Sunday, and you will find them eclipsing the families of the jute lord with the style of their outfit. Of course, no one has any business to complain of their use or abuse of what they have honourable earned. But waste is never wise, and may become positively sinful. On the other hand, see how some others mismanage their affairs. Through carelessness at first and indifference after-ward, they are always behind the world. To pay for goods when they get them is reckoned an impossible thing. Their pass-book at the grocer’s has their score only cleared for the past week’s consumpt, and their tally with the clothier or milliner is no more than settled when they need new dresses; and thus they live in perpetual debt, and but at a perpetual disadvantage. Our working people are often sadly short of wisdom in the management of their affairs.

That margin of charity which outlies the range of poor law legislation provides a field in which many a tender mercy is reared for private use and social amelioration. Our mill population are ever ready to exercise these; and there are times in which every barrier of class is broken down and the fire of sympathy takes hold of all. A man with a big family has fallen into bad health, and his wife and children are in danger of starving; a benefit concert is organised, and almost every one appears at it. A great enthusiasm is displayed about it, and frank help is afforded in disposing of tickets, or even in platform service, in order that this venture may prove a success. And mark you, those benefit concerts are generally successful, just as most ventures are successful when the heart of the people is in them; so much as £20 or £25 being sometimes thus repaid. And although the furore of this universal sympathy soon subsides, yet while it rages it has done good service, and we doubt not leaves a good impression on the hearts of the donors as well as the receivers of benefit.

As a rule the factory workers are comparatively sober and steady at work. They must keep by the factory regulations as to hours else they lose their employment, and if they are not steady at work they cannot expect the work to wait steadily for them. The uniform hour of starting in the morning is six o’clock, and to ensure prompt awaking we have our mill bells and steam whistles sounded over all the town by half-past five. In addition to this there is a very liberal use of knocking-up boys who, for a small consideration, will tap at door or window every morning to awaken the workers. Many a man of good estate in Dundee has earned his first pence by “knocking up” in the mornings. About the work every show of inebrity is promptly checked; any person found about the mill unfit for work by reason of liquors is summarily dismissed and his wages forfeited. So what moral suasion fails to do in the inducing of sober habits among our workers local legislation effects by force—the result being a wonderfully well conducted population. The early hours necessitate early bedding at night, and so the streets are comparatively quiet in reasonable hours. Our breaches of the peace and overt criminal acts are about always perpetrated by those who are not working, and therefore free for mischief. Continue reading “‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 6 (18 June, 1881)”

‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Foundry Lane (29 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 Foundry Lane 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.

Foundry Lane has long been known as a notorious locality, and out of it a large number of our jail birds have come. The Seagate at its Eastern extremity divides itself into two narrow thoroughfares—the Northern being the Blackscroft and the Southern Foundry Lane. Betwixt these two streets, especially towards Peep o’ Day Lane, some of the most wretched dwellings in Dundee are to be found. The entrance to Foundry Lane is about 18 feet in width, but between 60 or 70 yards Eastward it narrows till the roadway, including the selvage of pavement, is only 10 feet wide. At this point the Southern line for a considerable distance is an irregular wall, formerly the elevation of dwelling-houses, the openings of which have been filled with brick so as to form a continuous wall—the Northern boundary of Messrs Gourlay Brothers’ foundry. After passing the foundry the Lane opens out into a decent thoroughfare, with width sufficient for two carriages to pass. The buildings on either side are rather irregular but seem to be fairly habitable, many of the houses being occupied by railway employees and labourers at the Harbour. It is not till one ransacks the closes leading from the Lane that the absolute insanitary condition of the locality becomes apparent.

The “Lower Craft.” as the name implies, is below Blackscroft. It is an irregular range of hovels about equi-distant from and running parallel with the buildings facing Blackscroft and Foundry Lane, and extending from Rattray’s Close on the West to Blackscroft School on the Fast. The “Lower Craft” is indicated by the figures in our sketch. Some of the houses are thatched which of itself suggests their ancient origins; others are more or less covered with slates, grey and blue. The whole are dirty, ill-kept, and unwholesome dwellings and the surroundings are in keeping. The landlords and factors—reputable citizens, I understand—seem to have only one object in view—viz., to get as much revenue out of the property as possible, caring neither for the health nor the comfort of the tenants. No one who has visited the place could but say that the tenants might make the place more clean and sweet, but it is evident that the people have made up their minds that it is useless on their part to try and improve a ruin.

A Late Breakfast.

Entering by Ramsay’s close and turning round the corner of a rather respectable-looking brick tenement I came upon the buildings which I wish to describe. A stone staircase in a very dilapidated condition led to the houses on the first flat. The steps of the stair were very much worn, and the railing seems to require very little force to send it to the area below. The landing, which at one time appears to have been a solid piece of pavement, was in fragments, and these were clamped together by pieces of iron. On entering the building I found that a passage led to two miserable houses, one on each side of the doorway. Turning to the left, I entered with some difficulty a most miserable abode. To all appearance the house consisted of one room, in which were two beds, one of them in a recess, with very little else that could be called furniture. Close to the fireplace sat a meagrely clad woman, who, as she stated, was taking her breakfast, the meal consisting of a jug of tea, a plateful of butcher’s parings, and a slice of bread. Beside her was a bright-eyed little girl, who with her fingers was assisting herself to some of the beef. Three cats were scampering about the floor, and one of them, evidently wishing to participate in the savoury meal, jumped on the back of its mistress and sat there. The room was exceedingly dirty, and the beds were destitute of mattresses and curtains. Th flooring gave way to an alarming extent, and each step I took I fancied I was to go through the boards. A beam which ran along the centre of the roof seemed to sustain a great weight from above, as it was bent in the centre, measuring from the lower point to the floor 5 feet 9 inches. Close to the fireplace was a door, which the woman stated was the entrance to the “coal cellar.” There certainly were coals in the place, but it also seems a temporary receptacle for the refuse of the household, and when the door was opened an overpowering stench issued into the living room of the family. For the privilege of staying in such a bunk I learned that the family had to pay 1s 10d a week. The house at the opposite end of the lobby was of the same description, but not nearly so dirty. Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Foundry Lane (29 December, 1888)”