History of Dundee

History of Dundee

Dundee ( _gd. Dùn Dèagh) is the fourth-largest city in Scotland. Its history begins with the Picts in the Iron Age. During the Medieval Era, it was the site of many battles. Throughout the Industrial Revolution, the local jute industry caused the city to grow rapidly. In this period, Dundee also gained prominence due to its marmalade industry and its journalism, giving Dundee its epithet as the city of "jute, jam and journalism".

Origin and name

Archaeological evidence of burials suggest that the Dundee Law may have been used by human settlers 3500 years ago. During the Iron Age it was the site of a Pictish settlement. Roman pottery has been found on the law, suggesting that the Romans may have used it as a lookout post in the first century.

The Pictish name for the earliest known settlement was Alec-tum, meaning 'a handsome place' [cite book | first=Hector | last=Boece | title=History of the Scottish People | year=1527 ] (this name was still in use, alongside the modern name, as late as 1607). [According to William Camden]
William the Lion granted the town the status of burgh by royal charter in 1191.cite book
last = Bartholomew
first = John
authorlink = John Bartholomew
year = 1887
title = Gazetteer of the British Isles
url = http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/descriptions/entry_page.jsp?text_id=1890680&word=NULL
] His brother, David, 8th Earl of Huntingdon is said to have named the town "Donum Dei" ('God's gift') upon narrowly escaping death during his return from the Crusades. However, this is most likely folk etymology. The name appears to come from the Gaelic "Dùn Dèagh", meaning "Fort of Fire"; "Dun" is a common prefix in Scottish placenames (cf. Dunfermline and Dunkeld).

Medieval defence and destruction

Dundee experienced periods of occupation and destruction in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Following John Balliol's renunciation (1295) of Edward I's claimed authority over Scotland, the English King twice visited Scotland with hostile intent. Edward (the 'Hammer of the Scots') revoked Dundee's royal charter, removing the town's people the right to control local government and the judiciary. He occupied the Castle at Dundee in 1296, but was removed by William Wallace in 1297.

From 1303 to 1312 the city was again occupied. Edward's removal resulted in the complete destruction of the Castle by Robert the Bruce, who had been proclaimed King of Scots at nearby Scone in 1309. In 1327, the Bruce granted the royal burgh a new charter. Later in the 14th century, during the conflict between England and France known as the Hundred Years' War, the French invoked the Auld Alliance, drawing Scotland into the hostilities. Richard II subsequently marched northward and razed Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee.

Dundee became a walled city in 1545 during a period of English hostilities known as the rough wooing (Henry VIII's attempt to extend his Protestant ambitions north by marrying his youngest son Edward, Duke of Cornwall to Mary, Queen of Scots). Only a small section of the city wall — the Wishart Arch — still stands. Mary maintained the alliance with the French, who captured Protestant opponents, including John Knox, at St Andrews Castle, in nearby east Fife, in July 1547. That year, following victory at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, the English occupied Edinburgh and went on to destroy much of Dundee by naval bombardment. The Howff Burial Ground, granted to the people of Dundee in 1546, was a gift from Mary.

Civil Wars

During a period of relative peace between Scotland and England, the status of Dundee as a royal burgh was reconfirmed (in The Great Charter of Charles I, dated 14 September 1641). However, with the outbreak of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in 1644, Dundee began to suffer at the hands of nobles loyal to the King. The Royalist James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose besieged Dundee in April 1645.

On 1 September 1651, during the Third English Civil War), the English Parliamentarians invaded Scotland. General Monck, commander of Cromwell's forces in Scotland, captured Dundee. His troops pillaged the royal burgh, destroying much of it and killing up to 2,000 of the 12,000 inhabitants.

John Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee raised the Stuart standard on Dundee Law in 1689. For this early contribution to the Jacobite uprising, Graham quickly earned the name Bonnie Dundee. [cite web
year = 2006
url = http://www.geo.ed.ac.uk/scotgaz/people/famousfirst70.html
title = Overview of John Graham of Claverhouse
format = HTML
work = Gazetteer for Scotland
publisher = University of Edinburgh
accessdate = July 9
accessyear = 2006

Industrial revolution

After the Union with England ended military hostilities, Dundee was able to redevelop its harbour and established itself as an industrial and trading centre. Dundee's industrial heritage is traditionally summarised as "the three Js": jute, jam and journalism.


During the 18th and 19th Centuries, flax was imported from the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea for the production of linen. The trade supported 36 spinning mills by 1835, but various conflicts, including the Crimean war put a stop to the trade. At around this time, jute, a common fibre from the Indian sub-continent, was looked at as a possible alternative but was difficult to handle. It was discovered that treatment with whale oil, a byproduct of Dundee's whaling industry, made the spinning of the jute fibre possible, which led to the development of a substantial jute industry in the city. This growth precipitated a large increase in population.

By the end of the 19th century the majority of Dundee's working population were employed in jute manufacture, but the industry began to decline in 1914, when it became cheaper to rely on imports of the finished product from India. (Dundee's 'jute barons' had invested heavily in Indian factories). In 1942, the Ashton Works were requisitioned by the Government and taken over by "Briggs Motor Bodies Ltd" for the production of jerrycans. Ten million were produced by the time of derequisition in 1946. The Cragie works closed for economic reasons at the end of 1954 when a study found that it was not viable to modernised equipment; production was subsequently moved to Ashton works. Commercial jute production in Dundee ceased in the 1970s, particularly after the cessation of jute control on April 30 1969.cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1969
url = http://www.wto.org/gatt_docs/English/SULPDF/90520090.pdf
title = General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade
format = PDF
work = Committee of Trade and Development
publisher =
accessdate = December 12
accessyear = 1969
] Some manufacturers successfully diversified to produce synthetic fibres and linoleum for a short time. The last of the jute spinners closed in 1999. From a peak of over 130 mills, many have since been demolished, although around sixty have been redeveloped for residential or other commercial use. An award-winning museum, based in the old Verdant Works, commemorates the city's manufacturing heritage and operates a small jute-processing facility.


Dundee's association with jam stems from Janet Keiller's 1797 'invention' of marmalade. Mrs. Keiller allegedly devised the recipe in order to make use of a cargo-load of bitter Seville oranges acquired from a Spanish ship by her husband James, in reality her son. This account though is most likely apocryphal, as recipes for marmalade have been found dating back to the 1500s, with the Kiellers likely to have developed their marmalade by modifying an existing recipe using quince. Nevertheless marmalade became a famed Dundee export after Alex Keiller, James' son, industrialised the production process during the 19th century.cite web
url = http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/work/scotland/perth_tayside/article_1.shtml
title = Keiller's: Sticky Success
format = HTML
work = Legacies
publisher = BBC
accessdate = July 9
accessyear = 2006

The Kiellers originally started selling their produce from a small sweet shop in the Seagate area of the city which specialised in selling locally preserved fruit and jams. In 1845, Alex Kieller moved the business from the Seagate and into a new larger premises on Castle Street. Later, he also later bought premises in Guernsey to take advantage of the lack of sugar duties. The Guernsey premises accounted for a third of the firms output but still carried the Dundee logo. The Guernsey plant was closed in 1879 due to lack of profitability and was moved to North Woolwich where it was brought back under the control of the Dundee branch. Though iconic to the city, jam was never a major sector of the city's industry, employing approximately 300 people at its peak compared to the thousands who worked in the Jute industry at the same time. Today traditional marmalade production has become the preserve of larger businesses, but distinctive white jars of Keiller's marmalade can still be bought. For many years, these were made by the Maling pottery of Newcastle upon Tyne.


Journalism in Dundee relates to publisher D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. Founded in 1905 by David Coupar Thomson and which is still owned and run by his descendants. The firm publishes a variety of newspapers, children's comics and magazines, including The Sunday Post, The Courier, Shout and children's publications, The Beano and The Dandy. Journalism is the only "J" that is still present in the city with D.C. Thomson still based in their headquarters on Albert Square. The company remains one the largest of the cities employers after local government and the health service, employing nearly 2000 people. [cite web
url = http://www.travelscotland.co.uk/guide/Dundee_History
title = Dundee History
accessdate = September 7
accessyear = 2006
format = HTML
work = Travel Scotland
publisher = Travel Scotland Holidays
] [cite web
url = http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/scottishhistory/victorian/trails_victorian_dundee.shtml
title = Victorian Dundee - Jute, Jam & Journalism
accessdate = September 7
accessyear = 2006
format = HTML
work = The Victorian Achievement - History Trails
publisher = BBC

Maritime industry

As Dundee is located on a major estuary, it developed a maritime industry both as a whaling port (since 1753) and in shipbuilding. In 1857, the whaling ship "Tay" was the first in the world to be fitted with steam engines.cite web
url = http://www.historyshelf.org/secf/whale/08.php
title = Hunting the Whale - The Whale Ships
accessdate = September 7
accessyear = 2006
year = 2003
format = HTML
work = HistoryShelf.org
publisher = East Lothian Council
] By 1872 Dundee had become the premier whaling port of the British Isles, partly due to the local jute industry's demand for whale oil for use in the processing of its cloth. Over 2,000 ships were built in the city between 1871 and 1881. The last whaling ship to be built at Dundee was the "Terra Nova" in 1884. The whaling industry ended around 1912.

In December 1883, a whale was caught in the Tay and was later publicly dissected by Professor John Struthers of the University of Aberdeen. The incident was popular with the public and extra rail journeys were organised to assist those from surrounding areas who wished to see the whale. The creature became known as the Tay Whale, and the event was also celebrated in a poem by William McGonagall.

The Dundee Perth and London Shipping Company (DPLC) ran steamships down the Tay from Perth and on to Hull and London. The firm still exists, but is now a travel agency. However, shipbuilding shrank with the closure of the five berths at the former Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in 1981, and came to an end altogether in 1987 when the Kestrel Marine yard was closed with the loss of 750 jobs.

"RRS Discovery", the ship taken to the Antarctic by Robert Falcon Scott and the last wooden three-masted ship to be built in the British Isles, was built in Dundee in 1901. [cite book
last = Huntford
first = Roland
authorlink = Roland Huntford
title = Shackleton
url = http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/068911429X/026-7897539-9243617?v=glance&n=266239&v=glance
format = Hardback
year = 1986
month = January
publisher = Atheneum
language = English
id = ISBN 0-689-11429-X
] It returned to Dundee in April 1986 and is moored next to a purpose-built visitors' centre. The oldest wooden British warship still afloat, the "HMS Unicorn", is also moored nearby although it was not built in Dundee. Dundee was also the home port of the Antarctic Dundee whaling expedition of 1892 which discovered Dundee Island, named after the expedition's home port.


A coastal city with a major maritime industry, Dundee has several wharfs. The most prominent wharfs are King George V, Caledon West, Princess Alexandra, Eastern and Caledon East. Victoria docklands was built in the 19th century to serve the loading of major imports of jute. Activity ceased in the 1960s and the wharf was out of service for forty years. It has since been redeveloped into a shopping wharf known as "City Quay". The Quay has a 500 yard Millennium Bridge spanning its eastern quay which swings round to allow ships in. Camperdown docklands as of 2006 is also being redeveloped in a manner similar to Canary Wharf in London and is scheduled for completion in 2008. The last wharf to be built in Dundee was at Stannergate for the shipbuilders Kestrel Marine. It was formally opened by Charles, Prince of Wales on July 17 1979 and named after him.cite news
year = 1979
title = Prince Charles opens new wharf
publisher = Dundee Courier and Advertiser
date = 18 July 1979

The Tay Bridge Disaster

.In 1879 a railway bridge over the Tay was opened, connecting the rail network at Dundee to Fife and Edinburgh. Its completion was commemorated in verse by William McGonagall. Less than a year after its construction, the bridge collapsed under the weight of a full train of passengers during a fierce storm. [cite news
title=Appalling Catastrophe, Fall of the Tay Bridge
publisher=The Scotsman
date= 29 December 1879
] McGonagall's "The Tay Bridge Disaster" recounts the tragedy. In 1887 the bridge was replaced with what was at that time the longest railway bridge in Europe, at just over 2 miles long (Europe's longest bridge today is the Oresund Bridge).A pair of leather gloves and a bible were found after the accident.

Public transport


The first municipal public transport in Dundee was operated by "Dundee & District Tramways Co Ltd". From 1877, these were generally horse-drawn, but by June 1885 steam cars with green and white livery were introduced. Unusually, the tram lines were publicly built and owned, although initially leased by police commissionaires to private companies.cite book
last=Whitley, Swinfen & Smith
title=Life & Times of Dundee
publisher=John Donald Publishers limited
id=ISBN 0-85976-388-9
year = 1993
] All routes came under direct municipal control in 1893, which allowed the city to adopt overhead electric lines to power the trams. Between 1899 and 1902 the tramways were fully electrified. The first electric tram in Dundee started on July 12 1900. The route ran from High Street to Ninewells in the West "via" Nethergate and Perth Road with a later route running to Dryburgh in the North. The peak of the tram network was in 1932, when 79 lines operated in the city. By 1951, many of the trams had not been updated. At least a third of the stock was over 50 years old. A study lead by the Belfast transport consultant, Colonel R McCreary showed that the cost of trams compared with bus service was 26.700 and 21.204 pence per mile, respectively. He advocated abandoning the tramway system in 1952. In October 1956, the last trams were quietly taken out of service.cite web
year = 2006
url = http://www.dundeecity.gov.uk/timetram/main.htm
title =Time Tram Dundee
format = SWF
publisher =Dundee City Council
accessdate = 17 August
accessyear = 2006
] On the evening of October 20, 1956 the last tram (#25) went to Maryfield Depot. Over 5,000 people witnessed the tram leaving the depot at 12:31 am to go to the Lochee depot. All remaining cars were reduced to scrap by burning.


The first trolleybuses in Scotland were introduced along Clepington Road in Dundee during 1912-1914.cite book
last=British Association for the Advancement of Science
title= Dundee 1912: handbook and guide to Dundee and district
id=OCLC 61633938
year = 1912
] However, motor buses were gradually introduced from 1921 to supplement the tram system, and double-decker buses appeared ten years later. Electric-powered operated by "Dundee Corporation Electricity Works" were still used in parts of the city until 1961. In 1975, Dundee Corporation Transport became part of the new Tayside Regional Council. Tayside adopted a new dark blue, white and light blue livery for its buses, replacing the former dark green. The Volvo Ailsa double deck bus became standard in the Tasyide fleet during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1986, following bus deregulation, Tayside Buses was formed as a separate company. It was later privatised and bought out by the National Express Group and now trades as National Express Dundee.

Dundee (and the surrounding countryside) was also served by buses of Walter Alexander (part of the state-owned Scottish Transport Group), which was rebranded as Northern Scottish in the early 1960s. In the 1980s the Tayside operation of Northern Scottish became a separate company, Strathtay Scottish. The company was privatised in the late 1980s.


Dundee formerly had commuter train services linking Dundee (Tay Bridge) station with Wormit and Newport-on-Tay. These ceased following the opening of the Tay Road Bridge. Other commuter train services to Invergowrie, Balmossie, Broughty Ferry and Monifieth have been substantially reduced since the 1980s. Dundee East and Dundee West stations both closed in the 1960s, with all traffic being diverted to Tay Bridge station (now simply known as Dundee station).

Tay Ferry

A passenger and vehicle ferry service across the River Tay operated from Craigie Pier, Dundee, to Newport-on-Tay. The service was withdrawn in August 1966, being replaced by the newly-opened Tay Road Bridge.

Coat of arms

The city’s coat of arms is a pot of 3 silver lilies on a blue shield supported by two green dragons. Above the shield is a single lily and above that a scroll with the motto ‘Dei Donum’ – gift of God.

The symbolism and the motto relate to a 12th century legend that David, 8th Earl of Huntingdon, when returning from the crusades a storm arose and the ship was in danger. David prayed to the Virgin Mary and his prayers were answered when the harbour at Dundee came into view. The ship landed safely and he is said to have dubbed the town "Donum Dei" upon narrowly escaping death. However, this is probably folk etymology, as the name would appear to come from the Gaelic "Dun Dèagh" meaning "Fort on the Tay" ("Dun" is a common prefix in Scottish placenames, cf Dunfermline and Dunkeld). The blue colour of the shield is said to represent the cloak of the Virgin Mary while the silver (white) lilies are also closely associated with her. There is an early carving in the city’s Old Steeple, showing a similar coat of arms with Mary, protecting her child with a shield from dragons. Following an Act of Parliament passed in 1672, Dundee’s ‘new’ coat of arms was matriculated in the office of the Lord Lyon King of Arms on 30 July 1673. However by this time Scotland had become a Presbyterian nation, and any such idolatry of the Virgin Mary would have been frowned upon, leading to the more subtle symbolism that appears today. There are different theories as to why Dragons came to be used as supporters. One is that on the earlier arms they represent the violent sea that the Virgin Mary protected David from. Another is that they relate to the local legend of the Strathmartine Dragon.

Over the years small changes crept in until in 1932 the City Council decided to ask the Lord Lyon King of Arms about the correct form. Amongst other differences he pointed out that the dragons on the coat of arms were actually wyverns. (Although closely related wyverns have only two legs while dragons have four.) The coat of arms above the Eastern Cemetery gateway shows wyverns instead of dragons and three lilies above the shield instead of one. It was decided to go back to the original form with dragon supporters and one lily and to add a second motto ‘Prudentia et Candore’ – Wisdom and Truth.

The coat of arms was slightly modified in 1975 when the City of Dundee District Council was created under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. A coronet, with thistle heads, was incorporated; this emblem being common to the coats of arms of all Scottish district councils. A further modification took place in 1996, when the District Council was replaced by the current Dundee City Council; the design of the coronet was revised to the present format.

Important Dundonians

Winston Churchill

Between 1908 and 1922, one of the city's MP was Winston Churchill, at that time a member of the (Coalition) Liberal Party. He had won the seat at a by-election on May 8 1908 and was initially popular, especially as he was the President of the Board of Trade and, later, senior Cabinet minister. However, his frequent absence from Dundee on cabinet business, combined with the local bitterness and disillusionment that was caused by the Great War and the ensuing unemployment, strained this relationship. In the build up to the 1922 general election, even the local newspapers contained vitriolic rhetoric with regards to his political status in the city. At a one meeting he was only able to speak for 40 minutes when he was barracked by a section of the audience. [cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1922
url = http://www.nls.uk/digitallibrary/churchill/6.8.html
title = Churchill Howled Down
format = HTML
work = Churchill the Evidence
publisher =
accessdate = November 14
accessyear = 1922
] Prevented from campaigning in the final days of his reelection campaign by appendicitis, his wife Clementine was even spat on for wearing pearls. [cite web
last = McGrath
first = Francesca
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Political inheritance
work = What's Happening In The Scottish Parliament
publisher = Scottish Parliament
date = 8 September 2006
url = http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/history/whisp/whisp-00/wh37-02.htm
format = HTML
doi =
accessdate = March 3
accessyear = 2007
] Churchill was ousted by the Scottish Prohibitionist Edwin Scrymgeour - Scrymgeour's sixth election attempt - and indeed came only fourth in the poll. Churchill would later write that he left Dundee "short of an appendix, seat and party". [cite web
last = Hall
first = Douglas J
authorlink =
coauthors =
year =
url = http://www.winstonchurchill.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=710
title = All the Elections Churchill Ever Contested
format = HTML
work = Churchill and...Politics
publisher = The Churchill Centre
accessdate = July 9
accessyear = 2006
] In 1943 he was offered Freedom of the City — by 16 votes to 15 — but refused to accept. On being asked by the Council to expand on his reasons, he simply wrote: "I have nothing to add to the reply which has already been sent". [cite web
last = Churchill
first = Wiston
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1943
url = http://www.nls.uk/digitallibrary/churchill/6.9.html
title = Look Back in Anger
format = HTML
work = Churchill the Evidence
publisher =
accessdate = October 27
accessyear = 1943

Notable Dundonians

*Hector Boece - Scottish philosopher
*James Key Caird - Jute baron and philanthropist
*Brian Cox - Actor
*William Alexander Craigie – philologist and lexicographer
*Thomas Dick - Scottish writer
*James Alfred Ewing - physicist and engineer
*Margaret Fairlie - gynaecologist; Scotland's first female Professor
*Thomas James Henderson - astronomer
*Florence Horsbrugh - Britain's first female Conservative M.P.
*James Ivory - mathematician
*David Stewart Littlejohn - solicitor
*Robert Stirling Newall - engineer and astronomer
*Edwin Scrymgeour - Britain's first (and only) Prohibitionist M.P.
*Bob Stewart - Comintern agent
*Eddie Thomson - Dundee United Chairman
*Alexander Wilkie - Scotland's first Labour M.P.
*Gordon Wilson - former leader of the Scottish National Party and M.P. for Dundee East 1974-1987
*Fanny Wright - leading US feminist


*James Bowman Lindsay demonstrated his invention of a prototype electric light bulb at a public meeting in 1835.
*The adhesive postage stamp was invented in Dundee by James Chalmers. His tombstone in the city's Howff burial ground reads: "Originator of the adhesive postage stamp which saved the Uniform Penny Post scheme of 1840 from collapse rendering it an unqualified success and which has since been adopted throughout the postal systems of the world."William Topaz McGonagal:- He is comically renowned as one of the worst poets in the English language.



*cite book | title= A history of Dundee | publisher=David Winter & Son | author=W J Smith | id=OCLC 62092907 | year = 1973

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