Last week we completed the Oor Wullie Bucket Trail visiting all 55 of the statues placed throughout Dundee, Broughty Ferry and Carnoustie. In September these will be auctioned with proceeds to Archie Foundation’s Appeal raising funds for a new theatre suite at Tayside Children’s Hospital.
The city of Dundee is undergoing yet another transformation as the V&A Museum of Design takes shape.
Many are concerned that this focus on the Waterfront area is to the detriment of other parts of the city. The innovative Oor Wullie Bucket Trail has in a way helped redress this by taking people to explore areas of Dundee that they might otherwise never visit. In this Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design placing Oor Wullie statues throughout the city has also taken visitors to some of the less well known architectural gems in Dundee.
If you have Dundee ancestors who were employed in the textile industries it is likely that some may have lived in and around the Hilltown. The Street which now runs steeply upwards from the Victoria Road entrance to the Wellgate Shopping Centre originally started at the “Wellgait Port” in Dundee city wall. In 1643 the Hilltown of Dudhope (also known as Rotten Row) was created as a Burgh of Barony by Charles I who granted Crown lands to Sir James Scrymgeour. The merchants and craftsmen who lived and worked in the Hilltown operated outside the jurisdiction of Dundee and as Free-Traders were able to undercut the craftsmen inside the city boundary. The Hiltown is most famous for the bonnetmakers who made hand knitted bonnets but other tradesmen included buckle-makers, tailors and of course spinners and weavers.
Another part of Dundee rich in textile history is Lochee. From a small village of hand loom weavers the population grew rapidly as workers, predominantly Irish, came to Camperdown Works, owned by the Cox brothers and once the world’s largest jute mill. By the mid-nineteenth century the factory housed 820 power-looms, 150 hand-looms and employed over 5,000 employees. By 1855 there were around 14,000 Irish born Dundonians and Lochee was known locally as “Little Tipperary” or the Irish Quarter. This rare film clip from 1912 shows the workers leaving the factory gates and at the top of Lochee High Street. At the peak of the industry in the 1870s over 40,000 people in Dundee were employed in jute and associated industries with women making up an unusually high proportion of employees.
The Stobswell area of Dundee was another part of the city developed to accommodate the influx of jute workers with “The Morgan” a well know landmark. Opened in 1868 as the Morgan Hospital it was funded by a philanthropic legacy from former Dundonian John Morgan. The institution aimed to provide accommodation and education for “sons of tradesmen and persons of the working class whose parents stand in the need of assistance”. The provision of free education led to the closure of the hospital and in 1889 it opened its doors as the fee-paying Morgan Academy.
Another textile baron, Sir David Baxter part of the linen manufacturing company Baxter Brothers was a passionate philanthropist. David and his sisters gifted 38 acres of land to form Baxter Park and Gardens which sit across the road from Morgan Academy.
Little Hands, created from the handprints of children at Tayside Children’s Hospital, sits in front of the Baxter Park Pavilion. It was built around 1860 to house a refreshment room, gardener’s room and ladies’ room. The building now includes a small cafeteria and offers a beautiful setting for functions.
This jute baron’s legacy also links the Dundee of the nineteenth century to one of the city’s current industries – computer games.
Mechanic’s Institute, Dundee
Following David Baxter’s death in 1872 part of his legacy was £20,000 towards the foundation of a mechanics’ institute in Dundee. Dundee Technical Institute opened in October 1888 at Small’s Wynd with the aim of improving the technical and scientific skills of young male mechanics and craftsmen. By 1906 it moved to Bell Street, Dundee and in 1911 opened as the Dundee Technical College & School of Art. In 1994 it became Abertay University the first in the world to offer a “computer games” degree (1997).
The men and women who worked in the factories and mills; at the docks and throughout the city could never have imagined that the hard, grim and often dangerous industries could inspire such beautiful works of art. The Bucket Trail is also a reminder of some of the more positive legacies of the jute industry not least the parks and green spaces throughout Dundee still being enjoyed by residents and visitors in the twenty-first century.
There is a final opportunity to see all the Oor Wullies on the 9th-11th September at Slessor Gardens before they are auctioned off on 13th September at Dundee Rep.
Check out my Pinterest board for more Oor Wullie images
All images are Copyright of Your Scots Past
The Barronie of Hilltown of Dundee by Wm Cumming Skinner M.A. (1927); City of Dundee Official Guides (1980s); www.scan.org.uk; www.dundeecivictrust.co.uk; John Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles; Lochee – As it was and is by Alexander Elliot (1911); www.pglforfarshire.org/1864_Baxter_Park.html