‘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)”