CCXLVIII – Dundee Loop

Helpful MammalON THE second day of my April 2024 trip, I did not one but two walks, although one was much shorter than the other. For the first, I arose well before breakfast and went for a wander around Dundee, which I would be leaving later.  Ordinarily, I would roll this into the following walk but I quickly realised that there was enough to be seen to make this its own thing.  And so it was…

Union Street & Nethergate

Dundee Station

I began my stroll around the city from a point outside Dundee railway station, that being where I ended the last one.  This was conveniently situated, being a mere hop, skip and jump from my hotel.

Map showing that my start point was outside Dundee station.
I neither hopped, skipped nor jumped, on account of not having had coffee yet.

From the station, I headed about as directly north as was possible, following Union Street to Nethergate. There, I found shops, none of which were yet open, and Dundee’s main parish church, which wasn’t on fire. For once.

St Mary’s Church

The current St Mary’s Church was mostly built in 1844 and designed, with supreme irony, by a man named William Burn (1789-1870). It is far from the first church to be built on the site, though, as the previous ones kept burning down. 

Admittedly, some of them had English help, such as the first one (1190-1303), which was founded by David, Earl of Huntingdon (1152-1219) – brother to King William the Lion (c. 1142-1219) – in gratitude for his not dying at sea in a storm. It met a fiery end at the hands of Edward I (1239-1307), the Hammer of the Scots.  Its 1480s replacement met a very similar fate, being burnt by the English in 1547 during the ‘Rough Wooing’ by Henry VIII (1491-1547) – an attempt to force a betrothal of his son to Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587). Parts of the church were rebuilt piecemeal thereafter, finishing with the nave in 1789. It then enjoyed just over half a century before burning down totally by accident in 1841.

I said it was ‘mostly’ built in 1844 because parts of its tower survived the last two fires and date back to the 1480s, though it was restored by George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) in 1870. Amongst the damage repaired was a dent said to be caused by cannon fire by the Parliamentarian army of General George Monck (1608-1670), who besieged the tower in 1651 but notably refrained from burning it down. Some people just have no respect for tradition!

St mary's Church, Dundee
Outside, the trees were blossoming, though thankfully not into flames.
March of the Penguins

Marching along a low wall at St Mary’s eastern end were five brazen birds who would be particularly appreciative of the lack of fiery heat, were they not made out of metal. Or maybe especially because they are made out of metal, it is a great conductor, after all.

Created by artist Angela Hunter in 2005, March of the Penguins has become highly popular with the public, who happily dress the penguins up whenever an excuse comes to hand. This would probably not have been the case had she stuck with an early idea to hide them under a bench so that only children could find them. As it is, they even have an (unofficial) Facebook account, although the most recent post was in July 2023.

March of the Penguins
They have no sense of calendrical time, anyway. I mean, it’s was April of the Penguins when I took this photo, but they had no clue about that.

High Street & City Square

City Square

I’m a little ambivalent about penguins. Which is to say that I actually quite like them but a misunderstanding in the 1990s led some of my friends to conclude that they were my favourite thing ever! When every card and present is penguin themed for years, well, the phrase ‘too much of a good thing’ springs readily to mind.  That being so, I hurried onwards, lest I get overexposed…

A brisk stroll eastwards along Nethergate brought me to the High Street and adjoining City Square, which was entirely penguin-free.

Progress map showing that I had reached City Square
It was also distressingly lacking in coffee. There was a coffee shop in the square, but it would be almost another two hours before that opened.
Caird Hall

Something else in the square, to the extent that it absolutely dominated it, was Caird Hall. This magnificently colonnaded structure is a concert venue built in 1923.  It was commissioned by wealthy jute merchant Sir James Caird Bt (1837-1916) and was designed by  James Thomson (1852-1927), who was Dundee’s City Architect and Housing Director at the time and had previously also held the post of City Engineer. Its construction was interrupted by WW1, which meant that Sir James never actually saw what his £100k had paid for.

Building Caird Hall meant sweeping away a teeming warren of tenements and closes known as the Vault, which had previously stood on the site.

Caird Hall and City Square
Move aside slum-dwellers, the well-to-do want to see a concert!

In theory, those cleared from the slums were supposed to move to new housing growing up elsewhere in the city. Construction didn’t necessarily meet demand though, not least because it was at a significantly lower density. No doubt some of those displaced from the tenements must have faced desperate times.

Desperate Dan Statue
Desperate Dan & Minnie the Minx statues.
They may or may not have been quite so desperate as Dan though.

The High Street statue above portrays Desperate Dan, a Wild West character from the children’s comic The Dandy, which was published in Dundee from 1937 to 2012, before limping into 2013 in an online-only form and then expiring. Immensely strong on account of all the ‘cow pies,’ he would eat, he was the stand-out mascot character for the comic but his name always puzzled me when I was a kid. Turns out he was originally envisioned as an outlaw or desperado, but that aspect of his characterisation was dropped long before I was born.

Beside Dan’s heel, the statue shows Desperate Dan’s ‘dawg,’ while behind him and ready to attack him with her catapult, is another character from Dandy publishers DC Thomson (est. 1905), but one who hails from sister comic The Beano, namely Minnie the MinxThe Beano has been published since 1939 and is still going, which seems only right to me – I far preferred it over The Dandy when my age was still in single digits. Created by the legendary comic cartoonist Leo Baxendale (1930-2017) in 1953, the mischievous Minnie was ‘wild as wild can be.’

Baxendale quit DC Thomson in 1962 due to overwork, but Minnie and his other creations – which included the Bash Street Kids, after whom Dundee named an actual Bash Street in 2014 – continued without him. In the 1980s, he battled his former employer over the rights to them, resulting in a substantial out-of-court settlement.

Town House

Continuing along the High Street, something I did not see (along with an open coffee shop) was Dundee’s old Town House, which had replaced an even older tollbooth in 1732 and was designed by William Adam (1689-1748).  The reason I didn’t see this spire-topped centre of civic government is that it was controversially demolished in 1932, as part of the continuing development of the City Square area.

Except, when I say that I didn’t see the Town House, that both is and isn’t true.

Town House facsimile clock
I may have clocked this facsimile, over one the shops.

Provided by local architect William Wallace Friskin (1889-1966), the commemorative clock dates from 1932 and previously graced a different, adjacent building until a refurbishment saw it end up in a skip.  It was subsequently rescued, restored and installed in its current position in 2006. It owes its rescue to the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee, which also used to meet in the Town House and were pretty ticked off about its sudden demolition.

Interestingly, according to Historic Environment Scotland, the shops to which the clock is now attached are also more interesting than they seem. Although they have a more modern façade, numbers 70-73 High Street actually date back to 1560!

The Nine Trades

The Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee was a guild body that formed in the 16th century from the separate trades of the Bakers, Cordiners, Glovers, Tailors, Bonnet-makers, Fleshers, Hammermen, Weavers and Dyers. (It may help to know that cordiners or cordwainers  make shoes, fleshers are butchers and hammermen work metal.)

The Nine Trades form part of the Guildry of Dundee, along with the Maltmen Incorporation (i.e. brewers), the Fraternity of Masters & Seamen and the Three United Trades (the building trades of the Masons, Wrights (joiners) and Slaters).  It was founded to do the usual guild things – maintain standards, train apprentices, operate like a shady cartel  etc. – but with trades being generally less guildy in modern times, the body has had to adapt. In its own words:

‘The central focus of the organisation is to responsibly manage its charitable fund to support worthy local causes, educational bursaries and to promote the success and achievements of the City of Dundee.’

From 1776 to 1878, the Nine Trades had a splendid headquarters of its own in the High Street, namely the Trades Hall, with stood at that street’s eastern end. This was built on the site of the old flesh shambles (the butchers’ quarter) and cost them £1,874 to build, which is roughly equivalent to £256k today. The hall was designed by Samuel Bell (1739-1813), who was Dundee’s first Town Architect  (Dundee was not chartered as a city until 1889). Demolished in 1878, nothing remains of the Trades Hall today.

Arms of the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee

The Nine Trades have, as a common coat of arms, the arms of Dundee (a silver urn of lilies on blue) surrounded by a bordure of nine components, each bearing an emblem relevant to one of the trades. These are: 1. A garb or wheatsheaf (Bakers); 2. A cordiner’s knife beneath a ducal coronet (Cordiners); 3. A glove (Glovers); 4. A poleaxe and fleshing knife (Fleshers); 5. A green woolsack (Dyers); 6. A leopard’s face holding a shuttle in its mouth (Weavers); 7. A silver annulet (Bonnet-makers); 8. A metalworker’s hammer beneath a crown (Hammermen); and 9. A white pavilion (Tailors).

Optical Express

With the Trades Hall long gone, what I found at the eastern end of the High Street, standing just behind where the hall once stood, was a splendid building adorned by statues depicting Britannia, Justice and Commerce.  This used to be the Clydesdale Bank and was purpose-built as such in 1876 to a design by architect William Spence (1806-1883) with statuary sculpted by James Charles Young (1839-1923).  Today, the building serves as a branch of high street ophthalmologists Optical Express (est. 1991) which, like both Spence and Young in their day, is based out of Glasgow.

Optical Express's Dundee branch, in the old Clydesdale Bank building. Inset, a carved detail of a blindfolded face.
They should take a really good look at their Dundee premises; its decoration is not exactly on-brand.
St Paul’s Cathedral

Opposite Vision Express, stood St Paul’s Cathedral, the seat of the Anglican Bishop of Brechin. This was altogether smaller and pointier than its City of London namesake, but unlike the latter, did have a statue of a man with a telescope out front, namely Admiral Adam Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan (1731-1804).

St Paul's Cathedral and the statue of Admiral Adam Duncan.
With his telescope, Duncan was reading a sign proclaiming the adjacent Commercial Street to be a pedestrian zone. So, now he knows that if he gets off his pedestal for a walk there, he won’t get run over by the traffic.

Built in 1855 and designed by George Gilbert Scott, the cathedral was built at the insistence of bishop Alexander Forbes (1817-1875). He had moved his episcopal residence from Brechin (hence the name of the diocese) on appointment in 1847, only to find that the Dundee’s miniscule episcopalian congregation met in rooms above a bank, which he considered unfitting. 

Having got it built, he at least had newly-magnificent surroundings in which to fret about his 1857 prosecution in the church courts for heresy – his views on the Eucharist did not quite accord with those of his colleagues and he was censured for erroneous teaching. After his death, he was buried in his church.

Dundee Castle

The cathedral stands on the former site of the short-lived Dundee Castle, which first crops up in records in 1290 and was destroyed in 1313.  In between those two dates it was captured by the English no less than four times – in 1296, 1300, 1303 and 1310 – and at one point besieged by Sir William Wallace (c. 1270-1305) in order to get it back.

The castle’s destruction came at the hands of either Edward Bruce, Earl of Carrick (c.1280-1318) – a younger brother of Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) – who captured it, or its defending constable, Sir William de Montfichet (c. 1280-1366), who may have dismantled it just to deny it to Bruce.  Either way, no trace of it remains today apart from in the name of the adjoining Castle Street (in which Bishop Forbes’s congregation used to meet above a bank).

The arms of Sir WIlliam Wallace, Edward Bruce, Earl of Carrick and Sir William de Montfichet.
The arms of the attackers and defenders of Dundee Castle named above. Both Wallace and Bruce were younger sons who needed to difference their arms. In Wallace’s case this meant extra components in the bordure, while Bruce takes his father’s blue lion crest and makes it a main charge, with a crescent on its chest as a mark of cadency.  Montfichet was a Montfichet of Cargill, a cadet branch of the Montfichets of Stansted, who used red three chevronels on gold. His arms were differenced by tincture, though the colours shown here are by necessity an educated conjecture.
Adam Duncan

Admiral Duncan has no particular connection with the cathedral, predating it by several years, but his statue has to stand somewhere until he chooses to take that stroll along Commercial Street.  Not that the choice of its location is at all random – a Dundee native, he was born in a neighbouring house.

Duncan enjoyed a distinguished career in the Royal Navy that lasted just over half a century, culminating in his 1797 victory over a Dutch fleet off Camperdown (Camperduin) in North Holland, which prevented a planned Franco-Dutch invasion of Ireland. The Netherlands was under French Revolutionary control at the time and they had hoped to provoke an Irish rebellion. To this end, they had pressured Duncan’s defeated counterpart – Admiral Jan Willem de Winter (1761-1812) – to put to sea before his fleet was ready, contributing to what was for them a disastrous result. For Duncan, it was quite the opposite and he got a peerage out of it!  And another famously victorious British admiral, Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), had this to say of his colleague:

‘The name of Duncan will never be forgot by Britain and in particular by its navy.’

I’m sure that’s true of the navy, but not so much Britain in general. Maybe it was just my own ignorance, but I have to say I’d never heard of him. Of course, I have now, so I guess his statue has properly done its job.

Progress map showing that I had reached St Paul's Cathedral.
He may have had A victory, but Nelson had THE Victory!
The Auld Tram

Moving around to the other side of Optical Express (which was still the High Street as that building sits right in the middle of the street), I found the start of a set of old tramlines running away into Murraygate.  These were rusty and their grooves filled with grit and dirt and had not seen use in a very long time. Looking about, I could see only one tram and that wasn’t going anywhere:

The Auld Tram
Its lost its horse for a start. It was probably scared off by that thing behind it which is actually a dragon!

If the retention of the old tram tracks as a decorative feature in the modern pedestrian paving is a nice touch, using an old tram as a coffee & sandwich bar is a stroke of thematic genius. The only way it could have been better is if it had actually been open and sold me a coffee. Alas, I was still way too early.

The Auld Tram, as it is called, genuinely is an old tram too, not just a hut made to look like one. Specifically, it is an original Dundee & District Tramways (D&DT) horse-drawn tram and wears that company’s 1894 livery of dark green & cream. D&DT operated such trams from 1877 until 1899, when it was bought out by the city to create Dundee Corporation Tramways. This new entity then electrified the system and served the city’s transport needs until closure in 1956.

Dragon Statue

The city centre had various statues dotted about, some with more meaning than others. We’ve already seen Desperate Dan and Adam Duncan, but I also took a closer look at that dragon stalking the Auld Tram.  Its design was conceived by Alistair Smart (1937-1992), a lecturer at the University of Dundee, who won a design competition but then died before he could execute it. At his family’s request, one of his students, Tony Morrow (1954-2021), finessed the design and made it a reality.

The dragon is a reference to a local folk tale about the Nine Maidens of Dundee. These are the daughters of a farmer near Dundee (then a small village), all of whom go to a well to get water but don’t come back. When he goes to investigate, the farmer finds them all dead with dragon sitting on their corpses.  Understandably, he doesn’t feel up to the job of facing it alone, so he runs to Dundee to fetch an angry mob, which is led by a particularly ticked-off blacksmith who had a thing for one of the girls. The smith then beats the dragon to death with a cudgel, like you do. A wooden cudgel, mind, which could have been poor choice of material with which to face off against a dragon.

Statues of a dragon and of Robert Burns.
If there’s one thing we know about fighting dragons, it’s that you can expect Burns.

Albert Square & Panmure Street

Burns Statue

This statue of Scotland’s favourite poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796) was the work of prolific sculptor Sir John Steell (1804-1891), much of whose work is dotted about Edinburgh.  This particular statue was completed in 1880.

Burns did actually visit Dundee, spending two days there in 1787. He characterised it as ‘pleasant.’

Progress map showing that I had reached Albert Square
In order to visit his statue, I had to take that stroll up Commercial Street that Admiral Duncan was just thinking about.
McManus Gallery

That rather splendid and deceptively ecclesiastical-looking building behind Burns’s statue is actually the McManus Gallery. A glory in the Gothic Revival style, it was the third thing so far on this on this walk to be designed by George Gilbert Scott. Opened in 1867 as the Albert Institute with a lecture hall and reading room, it also served a secondary purpose as a memorial to the late Prince Albert (1819-1861). It was, in fact, the largest such memorial outside London. It was expanded in 1889 and contained a museum and art gallery from 1873.

The gallery has had several refurbishments over the years, the latest being a five-year redevelopment from 2005 to 2010 care of Page\Park Architects (est. 1981), but it owes its current name to an earlier one in 1984. It was then renamed after the recently-deceased Maurice McManus (1906-1982)., who had served as the city’s Lord Provost (i.e., mayor) from 1962 to 1967.

McManus Gallery
It might be a second-hand memorial, but Prince Albert’s cast-off is still pretty spectacular.

The gallery has remained the McManus for the succeeding forty years except for one small blip in 2018 when, to celebrate the Beano’s 80th anniversary, it was briefly renamed McMenace in honour of the comic’s most iconic character, Dennis the Menace. This Dennis is not to be mistaken for his purely coincidental American namesake; he’s always been way more entertaining, for a start!

Oor Wullie

I have to say, I was mildly surprised that they’d gone with Desperate Dan as the subject of the DC Thomson High Street statue and not Dennis the Menace, who is arguably far more famous and popular (there’s a reason why The Beano still exists and The Dandy no longer does).  In those terms, I’d probably have sad that Dennis was their most iconic character but actually, in local terms, that might be Oor Wullie.

Oor Wullie (‘Our Willie’) is a character from an eponymous comic strip appearing in The Sunday Post, a newspaper published by DC Thomson since 1914.  This is not a paper that’s familiar to me, on account of my being a southerner, but it has a healthy circulation in Scotland, Northern Ireland and parts of Northern England. Oor Wullie has been a feature of it since 1936, beating the Dandy by one year and the Beano by three.

Oor Wullie does have a statue, sitting almost in the shadow of Robert Burns (he’s just cropped out of the Burns photo above, sitting just beyond the right-hand edge) and more-or-less facing the Courier Building, the Category B listed home of DC Thomson.

Oor Wullie and the Courier Building
Left: Wullie is pointing that peashooter right at Burns’s back! Right: I took this photo of the Courier Building just because I liked how it looked and only realised what it was afterwards.
Courier Building

Opened in 1906, the Courier Building was purpose-built by the architectural partnership Niven & Wigglesworth (1893-1927).  While David Niven (1864-1942) and Herbert Hardy Wigglesworth (1866-1949) were London-based, both of them had grown up in Dundee, so they knew that whatever they designed was going to impact their home city.  What they came up with was a heavily influenced by the architecture of New York. I think they did a good job. The building was extended in 1963 and completely refurbished in 2014.

It is known as the ‘Courier Building’ after DC Thomson’s oldest publication. One so old, in fact, that it predates the incorporation of the company by just over a century.  The Courier newspaper was first established as the Dundee Courier & Argus in 1801 and bought by the Thomson family in 1886, which means they had already owned it for almost two decades when David Couper Thomson (1861-1954) created the company in 1905. The Courier newspaper still exists today.

High School of Dundee

Off to the right of Courier Building and lightly brushing Panmure Street (which curves around the back of the McManus Gallery) was the Doric-columned High School of Dundee.  This was designed by Edinburgh architect George Angus (1792-1845), who tended to heavily favour the Gothic Revival style for churches and Classical for public buildings:

High School of Dundee
See what I mean?

A private co-educational day school, the High School of Dundee was founded as the Grammar School of Dundee by John,  abbot of Lindores Abbey, in 1239.  It occupied various locations over the centuries including (from 1589 to 1789) a site that would later be completely demolished in order to develop City Square.

Its current building was built by public subscription in 1834 to house the Dundee Public Seminaries, by which they meant the Grammar School, the English School (est. 1702) and the Dundee Academy (est. 1785). These continued separately under one roof for a while but eventually merged. In 1859, the unified school received a Royal Charter from Queen Victoria (1819-1901), which also gave the school its current name.

Arms of the High School of Dundee

The High School of Dundee received its coat of arms in 1938. Its four quarters show: 1. A gold celestial crown (i.e. one with stars on its points) upon red; 2. The gold crozier of the Abbot of Lindores surmounted by the silver saltire of St Andrew, all on blue; 3. A silver urn of lilies (the arms of Dundee); and 4. A black Doric portico with four columns upon gold. The latter presumably represents the school building itself, although George Angus’s actual portico possesses six columns (see photo above).

Bell Street & West Marketgait

Abertay University

Since I seemed to be already facing that way, I walked forwards to the High School and then alongside it, following the eastern curve of Euclid Crescent, which led me to Bell Street

As it wasn’t possible to go any further directly north without learning to phase through solid matter (which I thought might take too long to master), I decided instead to turn left. This choice soon led me past a cluster of buildings belonging to Abertay University, some of which had modern, glassy frontages and one of which – the Kydd Building – showed dreary 1970s concrete on its Bell Street face. But, for me, the standout was the Old College Building, which dates to 1911 and very much looks like it:

Old College Building, Abertay University
Abertay is not a ‘red brick university.’  I guess you’d call that ‘beige stone.’

Abertay University is one of two universities in the city, the other being the University of Dundee.  It was founded in 1888 as the Dundee Technical Institute, funded via a bequest from Sir David Baxter Bt (1793-1872), a successful linen manufacturer.  It became Dundee Technical College in 1911, when the Old College Building opened, and then Dundee College of Technology in 1977, Dundee Institute of Technology in 1988 and gained full university status in 1994 as the University of Abertay Dundee.  It sensibly shortened the latter to its current name in 2014.

Arms of abertay University and Sir David Baxter

The university’s arms were granted to Technical College in 1953 and retained through its subsequent incarnations. It is divided per fess (i.e. horizontally) and then the upper half subdivided into thirds, which show: 1. a simplified version of the Baxter arms; 2. three gold chevronels, which are somehow supposed to represent ‘technical work;’ and 3. The arms of Sir William Dalgleish, who was senior trustee of Dundee Technical College when they opened the Old College Building, beginning the current campus. In the lower half are the lilies of Dundee and two books to signify ‘learning.’  Also shown are the arms of Sir David Baxter. The actual Baxter arms included three golden garbs on the chevron, while Sir David differenced them with a bordure as he was a second son.

Dundee Sheriff Court

As I continued eastward along Bell Street, it first became the more directionally-named West Bell Street and then came to an end at a junction with West Marketgait.

Standing next to the junction was another of George Angus’s classical buildings with a Doric-columned portico out front, namely Dundee Sheriff Court. Although designed in 1833, the building was still unbuilt when Angus died, and was eventually completed in 1863 by Dundee’s Town Architect at that time, William Scott (1803-1872). The building was renovated in 1996.

Progress map showing that I had reached Dundee Sheriff Court
The court system experiencing severe delays is apparently not just a new thing.
Police War Memorial

Outside the Sheriff Court stood a memorial cross, unveiled in 1922, which commemorated sixteen members of Dundee City Police who died or went missing in WW1. A further seven names were initially added for WW2, followed by an eighth in 1996. The latter, PC Robert Stirrat, had been killed in 1941 while pulling A German mine out of the River Tay in Broughty Ferry but had been omitted because all the others had died serving with the military, while he died a civilian. This was in hindsight realised to be a preposterous distinction and so his omission was rectified.

Dundee Police War Memorial
Better late than never?

Dundee City Police was founded in 1824 and amalgamated into Tayside Police in 1975, which was itself amalgamated  into Police Scotland in 2013.  This was part of a lengthy process that saw 89 separate Scottish police forces in 1859 rationalised down to 48 by 1949, then eight in 1975 and then finally just the one.

Tay Works

Absolutely dominating the opposite side of West Marketgait from the Sheriff Court was the colossal jute works constructed in 1865 by Gilroy Brothers.  This was a highly successful jute spinning business that directly imported jute from India.

As its name rather gives away, the business was founded by some brothers named Gilroy, namely Robert (1810-1872), George (1815-1892) and Alexander (1818-1879), who established themselves in 1846. George outlived his two brothers and incorporated the company under the revised name of Gilroy & Sons in 1890. This successfully traded for thirty more years before amalgamating with several other jute firms to form Jute Industries Ltd in 1920.

The Gilroy & Sons part went into liquidation in 1933, but Jute Industries still exists as Sidlaw Group, though it has long since moved away from jute textiles. Gilroy’s old Tay Works have been converted into student accommodation, a gym and other uses.

Tay Works
This was one of the longest textile mills in Britain; I could only fit part of it into the photo.
Dudhope Works

Despite its excessive length, Tay Works didn’t quite have the entirety of the west side of West Marketgait to itself, as the very top end of it was occupied by a competitor in the form of the Dudhope Works of William Fergusson & Sons.

William Fergusson (1786-1865) had been in the weaving business since around 1818, but it was in 1837 that he erected a free-standing chimney and weaving shed, followed by Dudhope Works in 1839. Trading as William Fergusson & Sons from 1846, he was forced to rebuild the works after fire in 1892 but, remarkably, the chimney survives and is now the oldest free-standing chimney in the city, though it now abuts a factory built in 1950.

Dudhope Works with the oldest free-standing chimney in Dundee. Inset, the now-demolished building that stood next to it.
Being the oldest is perhaps not quite such an achievement, when there are now just a few left. But it does mean that it outlasted most of the many dozens of chimneys that followed it. It has also outlasted its beturreted neighbour to the south which was built in 1892 and seems to have survived into at least the early 1970s, before  being demolished to make way for a car park.

William Fergusson & Sons was acquired by a larger competitor, Low & Bonar, in 1912 and incorporated as a subsidiary, which then traded on under its own name until the early 1970s.

Dudhope Park

Park Gate

On the right, in the Dudhope Works photo, you can see the colourful façade of Parker House, built in 2010, and the Dudhope Roundabout in front of it.

I turned left at the roundabout and into Lochee Road, which was also the A923.  This was quite noisy and busy, but I only stayed with it for about 150 m before risking my life to cross it and entering the first gate I came to signed ‘Welcome to Dudhope Park.’  From it, a footpath led me up to an unnamed road within the park.

Originally the grounds of Dudhope Castle, the park was leased by Dundee’s council from Cospatrick Douglas-Home, 11th Earl of Home (1799-1881) in 1854 and then purchased in 1890 from his successor – Charles Douglas-Home, 12th earl (1834–1918) – for the sum of £31,700, about a third of which was raised through public donations.

Progress map showing that I had reached Dudhope Park
Fortunately, my hope for what I would find there turned out not to be dud.
Dudhope Castle
Dudhope Castle
There was this castle for one thing. Although there very nearly wasn’t – Dundee Corporation came dangerously close to demolishing it in 1958! Fortunately, that plan proved wildly unpopular.

The original Dudhope Castle was a tower house built in the late 13th century by the Scrymgeour family, who had been appointed Hereditary Constables of Dundee by Sir William Wallace. This was replaced with a more substantial structure around 1460 and extended again in 1580, creating its current footprint.

The Scrymgeours got to entertain kings at their castle (James V in 1540 and James VI in 1617) and were created Viscounts Dudhope by Charles I and then Earl of Dundee by Charles II. But things fell apart in 1688 when John Scrymgeour, 1st earl, died without issue. Although there was a claimant for inheritance, a distant cousin named John Scrimgeour of Kirkton, the Scrymgeour castle, lands and offices were held to have defaulted back to the Crown and were instead given to Charles Maitland (1620-1691), who would later become 3rd Earl of Lauderdale.

After the Scrymgeours

In 1684, just two years after inheriting his earldom, Maitland was forced to sell the castle on account of financial troubles. The buyer was John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee (1648-1689), an ardent Jacobite who led the 1689 Rising, which gave him variously a hero’s reputation amongst Jacobites, the nickname ‘Bonnie Dundee’ and a violent death via musket ball to the chest. After his demise, the rising failed and his successor forfeited the castle as a traitor. This enabled William II & III to give it to James Douglas, 2nd Marquess of Douglas (1646-1700), whose successors would eventually sell the grounds for use as a park.

In 1795, three years after a failed attempt to convert into a woollen mill, the castle was leased to the Board of Ordnance in 1795 and used as an artillery barracks until 1881. It served as a barracks again during both world wars before finally coming into corporation ownership, at which point the councillors’ collective first thought was ‘great, let’s knock it down.’ I mean, what else is a council to do?

Arms of the SCrymgeours, Maitland, Graham of Claverhouse and the Douglas Marquesses of Douglas.
Here are the arms of four owners of the castle. Douglas’s heirs and successors would later quarter their arms with those of Home (not shown here). Note also Maitland’s unusual lion, which was ‘couped at all joints’ i.e., dismembered.
Time Cannon

Close to the castle and overlooking much of Dundee from its vantage point, I found an early 19th century cannon, harking back to the Dundee Time Cannon.  Much as I would dearly love that to be a terrifying mechanism through which to achieve time travel, the only sense in that would be true is that was an indicator that you were already traversing time at the usual rate.  It was, in fact, a clock of sorts – a gun fired at 1 pm every day, against which other clocks could be calibrated, maritime chronometers in particular (which were vital for calculating longitude).

Cannon in Dudhope Park
It was always bang on time.

The time cannon fired daily from 1873 until 1917, when it was found to be retraumatising shell-shocked soldiers in the nearby Dundee Royal Infirmary. They then fired only on New Year’s Day and Armistice Day to keep alive the tradition until 1936, when complaints from the infirmary’s matron put paid even to that.  Over the course of its six decades of timekeeping, the cannon itself was replaced and upgraded several times but the original had been a captured Russian gun from the Crimean War (1853-56).

Carron 9-Pounder

The gun now in place was put there in 2007 as both a civic decoration and a nod to the prior tradition. It is a 9-pounder Government Pattern cannon manufactured in 1825 by the Carron Company of Falkirk (1759-1982), which owned the largest iron works in Europe at the time. This was right in the middle of the ten-year reign of George IV (1762-1830), as indicated by a ‘GIVR’ Royal cypher on its barrel. 

I was amused to note that it is aimed directly at the West Ward Works, which served as DC Thomson’s printing works from 1959 (when it was built) until 2010. It then hosted the Dundee Design Festival in 2016 but now sits empty, and is currently on sale for around £3 million.

View down the barrel of the cannon, aimed at West Ward Works. Inset, the makers marks and Royal cypher.
That is, DC Thomson want shot of it.
Regents House

From the time cannon, I headed north into Dudhope Park. I had a destination in mind, namely Dundee Law, a hill that overlooks the city, but saw no reason to make a bee-line for it. Instead, I turned right and exited into Infirmary Brae opposite the castle-like splendour of Regents House.

Regents House
It’s not, and has never been, a castle. Or a house, actually. Nor is it Regency period.

A rather fancy block of flats since 2008, Regents House was formerly the main building of the previously-mentioned Dundee Royal Infirmary, which served Dundee as a hospital for 200 years, from 1798 to 1998. This particular building was a later construction, though, having been erected in 1855. It was designed by the London architectural partnership of Coe & Goodwin, one of whom – Henry Edward Coe (1826-1885) – had been a pupil of George Gilbert Scott.

Given that the future George IV acted as Prince Regent from 1811 until George III’s death in 1820, you can see from the dates that the infirmary as a whole predates the Regency, and this building in particular came long after. Calling it ‘Regents House’ is pure developer marketing nonsense!

Dundee Law

Memorial Beacon

From Regents House, I kept making my way sort of northwards, with half an eye on my map and half an eye on the Law itself, which I could see looming over everything, guiding me like a beacon.

Left: Dundee Law distant. Right: the war memorial beacon atop it.
Sorry, did I say ‘like’ a beacon? I should have said ‘with’ one.

At 174 m, the Law is the highest point in Dundee but making it another 9 m taller is Dundee’s main war memorial, which was unveiled in 1925 and does indeed take beacon form. It’s functional too, and can be lit on days of significant remembrance. It was designed by Thomas Braddock (1887-1976) of Wimbledon, who won a competition judged by Edinburgh architect Sir Robert Lorimer (1864-1929), who was no stranger to war memorials, having devised the naval design erected in Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth.

Progress map showing that I had reached Fingask Street.
I was about halfway up from sea level at this point.
The High Kirk

My northward momentum was temporarily arrested by the east-west alignment of Kinghorne Road.  I paused at the point where I joined this, having just climbed the noticeable incline of Fingask Street, and looked up at an ex-ecclesiastical edifice that had watched me trudge up the hill.  This was – with the emphasis on the past tense – St David’s High Kirk.

Designed by local architect James Ireland (1846-1886), who usually specialised in schools, and erected in 1878, the United Free High Church (as it is originally was) enjoyed a position of splendid and highly-visible isolation high on the slope of the Law, surrounded only by allotments.  While it hasn’t moved, it has since become enveloped by housing but even the arrival of new neighbours couldn’t save it from the challenge of a dwindling congregation.

It became a Church of Scotland kirk in 1929 and was renamed the High Kirk, adding the St David’s dedication in 2003 when it merged with the also much-reduced St David’s North Parish Church.  Even this could not prolong its existence indefinitely, though, and it finally closed as a church in 2021.  A 2023 proposal to turn it into flats was met with official favour (largely on the basis of it being better to keep it for a new purpose than to lose it) but, when I passed it, it showed little sign of that having happened yet.

St David's High Kirk.
Oh, how the city planners’ attitudes have changed since 1958! Mind you, I’m with them on this one. I have absolutely no time at all for religion, but I do find its architecture interesting.
Water Tower

About 100 m east of the High Kirk, I found a junction with Law Road, which seemed a pretty promising street name. This quickly curved west to head back towards the Law, which was just what I wanted, but I spotted a short, squat tower sitting on an overgrown traffic island, overlooking a junction at the bend.  What was it, I wondered?

Water Tower
What a tower!

It was, I later learned, a water tower, though one fashioned to resemble a Scots doocot (i.e., dovecote).  It was designed by local architect David Baxter (1874-1957) – not to be confused with Sir David Baxter the linen merchant – and formed a vital component of a district heating scheme for nearby Stirling Avenue.  District heating is the provision of piped hot water to several buildings from one communal boiler.

The tower was fed from Lawton Reservoir, built in 1874, which can still be found in Byron Street, on the north side of the Law.

Law Tunnel

A stone’s throw from the water tower was a small sign that informed me that several metres beneath me was the Law Tunnel.  This was a single-track railway tunnel built in 1829 for the Dundee & Newtyle Railway. From it, the cable-hauled Law Incline ran down to Dundee Ward Road station, which was close to where the Courier Building is now.

The tunnel and incline were difficult to operate and maintain so, in 1861, the Law Deviation was opened, allowing trains to go round Dundee Law instead of through it.  This met up with the Dundee & Perth Railway’s line into Dundee West station, 100 m north from the current Dundee station. The newly-isolated Ward Road station then closed.

The tunnel was subsequently employed as an engine shed, a mushroom farm and a wartime air-raid shelter, before finally being abandoned and houses built on top. But it is still down there, running under the Law.

Progress map showing that I had reached the Law Road water tower. Also showing the alignments of the D&NR.
Having walked up from sea level, I can confirm that while not that big a deal for a walking mammal, the Law Incline was a bloody stupid alignment on which to run a railway.
Law Summit.

Law Road would have spiralled up to the top of Dundee Law if I’d stuck with it but a footpath offered a more direct, though steeper route.  I soon found myself standing beside the war memorial, enjoying panoramic views in all directions.

Top: Looking southeast to the Tay Road Bridge and Newport-on-Tay.  Bottom: Looking south to the Tay Bridge and Wormit.
Top: Looking southeast to the Tay Road Bridge and Newport-on-Tay.  Bottom: Looking south to the Tay Bridge and Wormit.
Top: Looking southwest to Balgay Hill and up the Firth of Tay.  Bottom: Looking north to the Sidlaw Hills.
Top: Looking southwest to Balgay Hill and up the Firth of Tay.  Bottom: Looking north to the Sidlaw Hills.

Heading Back Down

Many Steps

When I had finally had my fill of taking in the views, which took a while, I decided I wanted to spend less time getting back down from the Law than I had spent going up it. A set of steps leading down from the west side seemed to offer exactly what I wanted and, as a bonus, were heading in roughly the direction I wanted to go.

A combination of steps, footpath and residential road led me down to Lawside Road. This, in turn led to Albany Terrace where another set of steps – Dudhope Gardens Steps, to be precise – led me down to Dudhope Terrace, which ran along the top of Dudhope Park.  I decided not to do that, as I’d only end up going round in circles, but instead went the other way to end up back on Lochee Road. This was still the A923 only now it felt even more so; enough time had gone by for more people to wake up and set out in their cars upon it.

Progress map showing that I had returned to Lochee Road.
What do you mean I have to share the roads with other people? The very idea!
Brook Street

Actually, it’s not so much that I mind sharing in general, it’s sharing with so many at once that I’d rather avoid.  So I did exactly that by taking the first turning that looked useful, which turned out to be Polepark Road. This then led me to Brook Street, where a Co-op was open and ready to sell me pre-breakfast snacks and a cold drink (which I now felt I wanted more than coffee).

Drinking my drink & eating my snacks, I continued merrily down Brook Street. This was a fairly ordinary street, in which nothing caught my eye.

A sign on the wall saying 'Nothing'
It was written in fairly large letters.
Starlight Showroom

At some point, Brook Street turned into Guthrie Street and started to shift from urban residential to industrial in character. One particular exception was the Starlight Showroom, a theatre venue occupying a former church, which I noticed on account of its rose window. Not that this one was particular rosy in appearance.

Starlight showroom.
By any other name, ’twould smell as sweet.

This building was originally the Morison Evangelical Union Church, a denomination I’d never heard of before. Apparently, Morisonianism was an evangelic movement founded by James Morison (1816–1893), who trained for the ministry with the United Secession Church and then, with wonderful irony, seceded from them in 1843. The history of the Scottish church denominations comprises a staggering number of schisms and mergers. 

This particular congregation began meeting in 1866 and built themselves this church in 1887 at a cost of £1,800 (which would be just shy of £200 k in today’s terms). It was designed by Alexander Johnston (1839-1922) and his articled apprentice, David Baxter (who designed the Law Road water tower).

Electricity Club

It looks like the church closed down circa 1969 and, after appropriate internal reconstruction, reopened as the Dundee Electricity Club in 1972. This was the local staff social club for employees of the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board (1943-1990). They remained on the premises until 1984 and the current occupiers, the Downfield Musical Society (est. 1928), moved in the following year.

University of Dundee

I followed Guthrie Street to its end, passing the West Ward Works in the process and finding then undamaged by cannon-fire.  This brought me out onto the southern end of West Marketgait, where I turned south, past the West Port Roundabout and down South Tay Street. I’d drifted eastwards earlier than planned at this point and strove to remedy that by heading west along Nethergate and Perth Road, which carried me past Dundee’s other university, the eponymous University of Dundee.

The University of Dundee is older than Abertay University by just seven years , but was a university college from the outset, as part of the University of St Andrews (est. 1413). Like Abertay, it started with a hefty donation from the family of Sir David Baxter, specifically his sister Mary Ann Baxter (1801-1884). At her insistence, the college was co-educational. It was initially called University College, but was renamed to Queen’s College in 1954 and became the University of Dundee, independent from St Andrews, in 1967.

Progress map showing that I had reached the University of Dundee
The university owned several buildings along the north side of the western end of Nethergate, but none of them impressed me enough to make me want to take a photo.
Arms of the universities of St Andrews and Dundee .

The University of Dundee’s arms were granted in 1949, when it was still a college of St Andrews and it shows. It is clearly the same underlying design with the charges changed, losing the book of learning, lion of Scotland and the mascles and crescent (which represent patrons of St Andrews) in favour of a coronet, for which I can find no explanation of particular meaning. The underlying blue and white division per saltire alludes to St Andrew.

Dundee West Church

Consulting my map, I concluded that I needed to take the next left down Roseangle if I wanted to get where I was going, which was the Tay Bridge.  Fortunately the turning for Roseangle was pretty easy to spot on account of Dundee West Church sitting right on the corner and, more so even than that corner, that church is really pointy.

Dundee West Church.
I would say it pointed the way, but I wasn’t going straight up.

This tall-spired, gothic church was the work of James Hutton (c.1853-1901) and built in 1884. Its decorative detail was carved by sculptor James Bremner of Broughty Ferry and includes three heads in the window tympanum depicting:

  • Martin Luther (1483-1546), the German priest who sparked the Protestant Reformation
  • John Knox (1514-1572), who championed it in Scotland
  • Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847), the first Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, who led its schism from the established Church of Scotland.

The Esplanade

Riverside Walk

I followed Roseangle down to its end, where it branched off into Riverside Approach.  This short road did as its name advertised, transporting me past Magdalen Green, over the Glasgow-Dundee Line and onto the A85. This I immediately crossed to join the pedestrian promenade, Riverside Walk, which I joined right next to Tay Bridge.

Progress map showing that I had reached Tay Bridge.
Excellent. Job done.
Tay Bridge

The current Tay Bridge (Drochaid-rèile na Tatha) is the second on the site, on account of 1879 Tay Bridge Disaster, which involved the first falling into the Tay and taking a passenger train with it.  This ‘new’ one, which has not done that so far and will hopefully continue not to, was completed in 1887 and designed by William Henry Barlow (1812-1902) for the North British Railway.

Tay Bridge
Based on the fact it’s still standing, it looks like he knew what he was doing.

The actual bridge part of the Tay Bridge is iron and steel and spans the Tay (obviously) with a span of just under two miles. It curves eastwards at its northern end so as to align with the Glasgow-Dundee Line, which its track then runs alongside. Today, it carries the East Coast Main Line.

Train on the Tay Bridge
And that, in turn, carries trains without dropping them.
Tay Bridge Disaster

The Tay Bridge Disaster can be summed up thusly:   Sir Thomas Bouch (1822-1880), hitherto a successful railway engineer, created the first Tay Bridge in 1878 to what would turn out to be a flawed design. Compounding the issue, his construction contractors, Hopkins Gilkes and Company (1843-1880), exercised poor quality control. These factors left the bridge vulnerable to storm damage.

With grim inevitability,  a passenger train was crossing the bridge under stormy conditions in 1879 when the central part of the bridge fell into the Tay, dropping the train and all aboard it into wintry waters. 75 people died.

In addition to the immediate death toll, and the disruption caused by losing the bridge, the disaster put Hopkins Gilkes out of business and saw Bouch –  now a broken man with his reputation in tatters – also die within a year.

Dundee Esplanade Station

When the North British Railway got the bridge built, they used it to run trains into what is now just Dundee station but then was called Dundee Tay Bridge after their exciting new toy. 

When I learnt this, I was extremely puzzled because sitting right on the bridge’s northern abutment is something that very obviously looks like a disused station, both from passing trains or from the Riverside Walk:

Dundee Esplanade station (disused).
It almost has ‘station; written all over it, but they took the signs down, so it doesn’t.

‘Surely,’ I thought to myself, ‘they didn’t call the station a mile away in Dundee ‘Tay Bridge’ and another actually touching the bridge something else?’  But they did.  This one was Dundee Esplanade.

In fairness, though, that’s not quite as mad as its sounds as Dundee Esplanade station didn’t yet exist when they named Dundee Tay Bridge. The latter opened with the first, doomed, Tay Bridge in 1878 and Esplanade opened in 1889, by which time it would have confused people to swap the names about.  It remained in service until 1939, when it closed for WW2 and never reopened.  Today, it serves as a maintenance shed for the bridge.

Firth of Tay

I paused for a moment by the north end of Tay Bridge and regarded the views up and down the Firth of Tay:

Top: The view upstream. Bottom: Downstream towards the Tay Road Bridge.
Top: The view upstream. Bottom: Downstream towards the Tay Road Bridge. The light-coloured stripe in the centre of the esplanade is part of a hideous crime against language poem by William McGonagall.
The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay

William McGonagall (1825-1902) was Scotland’s worst poet and quite possibly the worst poet ever to torture the English language.  He was impressed by the first Tay Bridge and sought to celebrate and commemorate it.  And I guess he succeeded in a sense as his poetry is certainly memorable, but not in a good way. Not that that stopped Dundee City Council from embedding an excerpt in the esplanade.

McGonagall Walk
Actually, this is a good place for it after all; grinding it under your heel is an appropriate response.

But surely it can’t be so bad as all that? Well, it didn’t begin too badly:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
With your numerous arches and pillars in so grand array,
And your central girders, which seem to the eye
To be almost towering to the sky.

But this bit certainly aged like milk:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
I hope that God will protect all passengers
By night and by day,
And that no accident will befall them while crossing
The Bridge of the Silvery Tay,
For that would be most awful to be seen
Nearby Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

After the disaster did befall 75 passengers, McGonagall wrote a second poem inaccurately recounting its details, because there was no disaster so bad that he couldn’t make the suffering worse:

Beautiful railway bridge of the silv'ry Tay
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last sabbath day of 1879
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

And so on.  When they then built the second bridge he perpetrated a third ‘poem,’ but I think I’ve aided and abetted his wordcrimes enough just by quoting the above.

Brick Viaduct

While the actual ‘bridge’ part of the Tay Bridge is slightly less than two miles, its full length is usually given as 2¾ miles. The missing distance is the brick-arched viaduct that conveys trains from the bridge’s northern end towards Dundee station (roughly a mile away).  Whether that should really count or not, I leave you to decide.

Brick viaduct between Tay Bridge and Dundee station, with Dundee West Church's spire in the background.
This is Tay Bridge’s analogue to platform shoes. Note Dundee West Church in the background, pointing out the deception.
Tay Road Bridge

Crushing the dreadful verse of William McGonagall beneath my feet, I set off eastwards along the esplanade. As I went, my pace quickened, for I knew that breakfast and that elusive coffee soon awaited me.

In the meantime, I found myself drawing ever closer to Tay Road Bridge (opened in 1966), which I would be crossing after breaking my fast, as the start of my day’s second walk.

Tay Road Bridge
This one escaped McGonagall’s attentions by being built after he was dead.
Alexandra Fountain

As I drew near to the end of my walk, I approached Discovery Point, where RRS Discovery now resides,  and thus what was once Craig Pier, from which the ferry to Newport used to depart before Tay Road Bridge was built.  Close to this stood the Alexandra Fountain.

Alexandra Fountain
If it doesn’t fountain coffee, I don’t care. Besides, I see Dundee West Church lurking in the back there, no doubt waiting just to spike your drink.

Donated by William Longair (1843-1933), who served as Dundee’s Lord Provost between 1905 and that year, the fountain was designed by City Architect James Thomson (1852-1927) and commemorates a visit by Queen Alexandra (1844-1925), the consort of Edward VII (1841-1910).

The fountain was sited where it is because Alexandra boarded the royal yacht at Craig Pier, to set off on a trip to her native Denmark.  When erected in 1908, the fountain stood at the end of an avenue of trees that ran along the esplanade and faced the Tay Ferries building on the pier (on which site the Discovery Point museum building now stands).

Maia & Mercury Memorial

Next to the fountain, on the parapet of the esplanade itself, was a bronze plaque that appeared to show two planes who loved each other very much, caught in the act of mating.  While I was prepared to accept that I had things all wrong and that planes reproduce in this manner (in which case, I can only assume, trains must be their larval form), a closer look at the plaque revealed that this was not the case.

The 1997 plaque – by Tony Morrow & Susie Paterson – actually commemorated the longest voyage ever by a seaplane. This flight was made in 1938 by Donald Bennett (1910-1986) but wasn’t the record he was actually going for. A pilot for Imperial Airways, he was actually trying out a revolutionary idea for long-distance flying – an attempt to fly non-stop to South Africa by using one plane (the floatplane Mercury) piggy-backed on a larger one (the flying boat Maia). Had it succeeded, it would have cut airmail times and put Imperial head and shoulders over all competition (at least until said competition copied their idea).

Maia and Mercury
Shouldn’t you two get a hangar or something? Won’t someone think of the trains?
Photo sourced from Newport History Group (cc-by-nc-nd/4.0), who got it from May Paul.

The plan was for the two planes, both built by Short Brothers, would take off in piggy back formation and the larger plane would carry the smaller up to 11,000 ft (3,353 m) before releasing it to continue its journey alone.  On the day, the separation occurred over Angus just fine but Mercury ran into bad weather and ran out of fuel 350 miles short of Cape Town (its planned destination), touching down at the mouth of the Orange River.  At 6,045 miles completed, this broke all records for seaplane flight but not the non-stop endurance record they were going for.

The aircraft piggy-backing idea was dropped for the time being, though it would later be used in the US for launching experimental aircraft to be tested such as the Bell X1 rocket plane and space shuttle.

Dundee Station (again)

I concluded my walk where I had started it, outside Dundee Station (formerly known as Dundee Tay Bridge). It had been a pleasant little circuit of the centre of Dundee and had helped work up a greater than normal appetite for breakfast, in search of which I now went.

I would want to be suitably fuelled and rested before I began my next walk, which would take me to St Andrews

Map showing that I had reached my destination, which was Dundee station.
Yep, I really do need that coffee now!

Hasteful MammalThis time: 5½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 4,452 miles

Map showing the whole route (included just for consistency).

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