Dundee from the Queen’s Hotel –
The view looking down the Nethergate to the High Street is dominated by
spires and chimneys. We see the tower of St. Enoch’s on the left
(demolished in the 1960’s), the spires of St Pauls and the Town House on
the right, and the chimneys of the jute factories.
This is perhaps the most
altered area of Dundee. It shows the Nethergate before it was widened and
crowded with traffic. The Town House has since been replaced by City
Square, while the Overgate has been radically changed.
(Dundee by Gaslight, by
Nancy Davey. A Dundee Museum and Art Galleries Publication, 1975)
Dundee By Gaslight
These are places I played, strolled in the
"Monkey’s Parade", worked, shopped with my mother at Paddy’s
Market and the barras, looked for boys, waited for buses, got books from
the Library, went to school and museums and concerts and flower shows,
learned to swim, almost joined the WRNS – look it up - saw in the New
Year, ate busters but once and only one whelk at that, looked for Sophie
plying her trade as a Madam, learned about Blind Mattie (whom I always
thought of as one of the still alive "Dundee Worthies") and
Grissel Jaffrey (the last "witch" burned in Dundee, my Granny
said), took the trains and always prayed – even as an adult when I
returned for a six week holidays with three small children in 1974 –
that the Bridge wouldn’t fall down while I was on it, went on Mystery
Tour bus trips, with Alexanders and Watson’s and the Blue Bird buses,
fished with a jam jar and a stick and a net for minnins – look this up,
too – wondered if Magdalene Green wasn’t – that kind of syntax means
I almost truly believed it - named after my Granny’s granny’s mother,
(Magdalene Benvie) swam in the sea and thought that people who tried to
swim the Tay even though covered in grease and oils had something lacking
upstairs, preferred to walk down the Hilltown rather than up, ate fish and
chip suppers out of a newspaper wrapping with a big pickled onion and a
beetroot, went to the pictures and hoped I could sit in the chummy seats
at Greens with my lad – the few I had by the way, fell in love (several
times, but only one time for sure), got proposed to (twice, but only once
by the right person) and grew up in Dundee.
Old pictures of these places of my growing
up are included in those found in Dundee by Gaslight:
The Nethergate. Reform Street, Meadowside,
The Albert Institute, Albert Square, The High School, The Vault, The Old
Custom House, The Greenmarket, Holiday Week at the Greenmarket, Market Day
in the High Street, The Greenmarket Swings, Fishwives in the Greenmarket,
Dock Street, Earl Grey Dock, Marine Parade, Sprat Fishers in the Tay,
Victoria Graving Dock, The Mars Training Ship, South Union Street, The
Cholera Hospital, Fish Street, The West Station, Overgate
looking West, Overgate looking East,
The Hilltown, Bucklemaker’s Wynd, Top
of the Hilltown, The Cowgate, Dudhope
Castle, Barrack Park, Children’s Corner, Magdalene Green, Magdalene
Green, Perth Road, Dundee /Newtyle Station, Ward Road, The Old Tay Railway
Bridge, Broughty Ferry Fisherfolk, Broughty
My memories are not only of Dundee by
gaslight, but 7 Hill Street by gaslight. As best I can gather, when that
great invention of electricity became available our "factor" or
landlord was more than willing to put it in his tenants’ home –
provided they paid for it. Now, this address had been home to my great
great grandmother, my great grandfather, my grandmother, then my mother
and, finally, me – five generations. My granny told me we didn’t have
the money to put in electricity. So we stayed with the gas.
We hand one mantle in the front room where
we literally did our living – eating, cooking, socializing, bathing in
the zinc tub, and my granny in our last years there slept on a sofa bed
every night. We also had an indoor toilet and two bedrooms and a long
lobby that led to one of the bedrooms. Only the front room and the
bedrooms had mantles. There was no lobby light and no toilet light. So we
also used oil lamps and torches, or flashlights. My mother worked at the
Burndept battery factory (later known as Vidor) from about the time I was
twelve or so and we had a never ending supply of torches and batteries for
those and the radio.
Gas mantles were so fragile. My mother
lived in fear of them breaking. They were so hard to find in the shops
because everybody else had electricity. (Many of my friends still had
shared lavatories in their tenements, and I felt that having our own
family toilet in the house was a worthwhile trade off, believe me.) So, I
was never allowed to light the light – even up to the time I was 15 or
so and we were moved to St. Mary’s housing scheme. I remember hunting up
and down the Hilltown for mantles and buying as many as we could afford to
hoard for the next emergency. But back to the lighting restrictions, I did
sneak once and stood on my tip toes, turned on the knob under the crook
necked fixture, heard the hiss of the gas coming on, light the match, and
stretched my hand over the mantle to light it so carefully. Heart pounding
I saw the blue flame before turning down the gas to get the warm yellow
glow – and breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t set the house on
fire before quickly turning the gas off and the light out before my Granny
found out what I’d done! To this day, I’m afraid of fire, and won’t
even light a barbecue grill.
And I have to smile at the craziness of
life – but I was never restricted from lighting the fire in the grate
that warmed our living area. The bedrooms had fireplaces, but were never
used. And to this day I can lay and light and turn on a great winters day
fire – but don’t need to do it too often here in Phoenix, Arizona.
It’s interesting how we bring our
childhood habits and memories with us into adulthood. The hard part is
dumping the bad habits and painful memories and leaving them in "left
luggage" like we used to when we were on day trips and didn’t want
to lug that baggage around with us. (I’m a social worker, by the way,
and I do a lot of my counseling using images – I’ll have to use this
one sometime.) And here I am, 53 years old and based on my life up to when
I was 15 to this day I’ll light a fire, but won’t light a barbecue
grill or a campfire and definitely not one of those camp lanterns with the
wee white lint mantle. I get the kids to do those jobs!
And so we had our life at home with a gas
stove for cooking, a fireplace and a gas lamps for warmth and light, an
old windup gramaphone with breakable 78 records and a battery operated
radio, no TV, for entertainment. We did a lot of talking, a lot of
reading, a lot of radio listening – all of which left plenty of time for
a child’s imagination to sprout and grow in the home of her Granny’s
Robert Louis Stevenson knew the magic found
in the imagination of a child. My mother taught me this poem and told me
it was a favourite of hers when she leaned out of the same bedroom window
I did on Hill Street and watched the world go by and the leerie go up and
down our street to light the evening lamps.
tea is nearly ready
And the sun has left the sky.
It’s time to take the window
To see Leerie going by.
For every night at tea-time,
And before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder
He comes posting up the street.
Now Tom would be a driver
And Maria go to sea
And my Papa’s a banker
And as rich as he can be.
But I, when I am stronger
And can choose what I’m to do
O, Leerie, I’ll go round at night
And light the lamps with you!
For we are very lucky
With a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it
As he lights so many more.
And O! before you hurry by
With ladder and with light
O, leerie, see a little child
And nod to him tonight!
(Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child’s Garden
Just a few weeks ago, on our local Phoenix
PBS TV station, there was a program from BBC on called "The 1900’s
House." Stephanie, my middle daughter, and I watched it every week it
was on. Stephanie watched it because she enjoys the home renovation shows,
such as "This Old House." I watched the program because I wanted
to see how true the it was to my memories of growing up in my own 1900’s
type house. Neither of us was disappointed. And I think when my teenage
daughters and 7 year old grandson watched it with us it gave them a
clearer picture of what my life at 7 Hill Street was like.
Here’s a thumbnail – the BBC put out a
call all over Britain for a family willing to give up 3 months of their
lives to live as a 1900’s family in a house especially de-renovated back
to the 1900’s for that purpose. The family, all members, would be
expected to live as a middle class (which we certainly weren’t up at
Hill Street) London family (close enough for Government work, I suppose)
at the turn of the century. The wife would be expected to be at home doing
the housework (that I expected to be a bundle of laughs), the husband
would be allowed to go to work in the day (while the wife worked) and the
children would be allowed to go to school in the day (while the mother
worked). This concept got to be more and more amusing for me, because I
couldn’t imagine a modern family of any first world country being able
to "do without modern conveniences" as my mother and Granny used
to say – and they meant simple things that I now take for granted like
electric light, electric appliances, and cars.
The program showed some of the applicants
video auditioning and giving their reasons for wanting to be the 1900’s
family. My answer would have been, "So my children can learn really
deeply what growing up at the top of the Hill was like for me in the
middle of the 1900’s – and I’m sure not much changed since my Granny
was a lassie in the same house." Stephanice, the girls, and Nathan
flat out said they wouldn’t even consider auditioning for such a
Finally a British Marine Warrant Office,
his wife who’s a school librarian, and their late teen daughter, early
teen twin daughters, and their 8’ish son were selected. Oh, they were so
full of high hopes and wonder as they entered this lovely 1900 home, with
its gas lights, coal stove, fireplace that also heated the household
water, outside toilet (but with chamber pots in the bedrooms – check out
the joke I’ve inserted in this section!), antimacassars on the sofas in
the parlour, etc., became theirs. They also thought it fun, to begin with,
to wear the 1900 clothing – complete with stays, button collars, lisle
stockings, liberty bodices for the girls (and I remember wearing mine in
the winter time), button boots – that was their wardrobe. And as I
watched the first of the four episodes, I could only imagine how knackered
the mother would be by the end of the three months, how much complaining
the kids would do (playing parlour games, charades, and arranging lead
soldiers would only be amusing for so long, I thought), and how only the
Dad might miss life as a 1900’s head of the gas lit household when they
returned to the beginning of the 21st Century..
And, yes indeed, many of my memories were
documented in vivid video – beating the rugs with a wooden paddle,
boiling the clothes in the wash house, ironing with a flat iron, fighting
the fire to light so you could have hot water (we had a gas stove –
which these folks didn’t; they had a running hot water bath tub, while
we only had the zinc tub we filled with kettles of hot water), dusting and
sweeping every day to keep down the "stoor", and many more. I
think my family got tired of my derisive comments of "What are they
complaining about?" (and believe me by Episode 2 they had started!)
"I remember my Granny, my mother and me doing these jobs every day I
lived in Hill Street." (The girls did ask me if this was the Scottish
equivelant of the American parental retort of "When I was your age I
walked to school five miles in the snow every day, uphill both
But, the biggest thrill I got out of this
program was watching this modern family so very carefully light their gas
mantles and not (a) set the house on fire or (b), far more importantly,
break their hard to find gas mantle.
Those scenes reminded me of an article I
saved from an old "Telly" (Evening Telegraph) written by W. G.
Miller, of Dundee, titled Calamity When the Gas Went Out.
CALAMITY WHEN THE GAS WENT
In 1905 I was taken by my parents to the
Gaiety Theatre, in Victoria Road, Dundee. (Charlotte’s Comments – I
think this eventually became The Vic cinema where my mother had a
nighttime job as an usherette when I was a teenager. My Mum loved going to
the pictures – but I wonder how much she enjoyed them after seeing the
same ones night after night. You have to understand how important
usherettes were in the pictures – here in America you wouldn’t think
of going to the pictures after the film began and staying around for the
second showing, and either leaving the picture at the point you came in
– didn’t bother us that we saw the middle or the end sometimes before
the beginning – or staying to see the whole picture again if it was a
good one. Besides that, pictures were always "double feature" so
people stayed in their seats anyhow. But, back to the point of this
particular memory ramble, the usherettes were important because with their
torches – flashlights – they helped you find an available seat in the
dark. And as well as doing that, when it was the break between the
pictures, they’d strap on these big trays to sell of ice cream and
sweeties and drinks – usually Walls ice cream and Kiora – don’t know
if I’m spelling it right – drinks. I remember the name of the drinks
because the ad had this wee girl with a classical name holding the
cardboard container drink in her hand and some adult voice calling to her,
"Don’t forget the Kiora, Aurora! But, back to W. G. Miller of
Better known in later years as the Vic,
(see, I was right!) – (and now you know I don’t always re-read
articles before I re-type them!) – the Gaiety at that time was poorly
lit by gas jets of the fishtail type.
These fishtails were enclosed in small,
wire baskets over the exit doors and the attendants turned the lights low
when the performance started.
The popular song at that time was "I
Wouldn’t Leave My Little Wooden Hut For You," and this was sung by
an elderly lady who seemed to be sporting a promising moustache.
But then I realized this effect was created
because the footlights were so poor that they cast strange shadows over
the performers’ faces.
In those days, the incandescent mantle had
not yet reached Dundee and poor lighting was accented as part of our way
Many of the older houses were still lit by
candles and oil lamps, but in the modern tenements extending gas brackets
were fitted over the high mantelpieces in each room.
The penny-in-the-slot was the most popular
gas meter and it was usually sited in the room press, not easily
accessible in the dark. (Oh, just have to interrupt here – when I paid
my most recent electric bill I said to my fifteen year old daughter,
Adriana, "Well there’s another shilling or so in the meter to keep
the lights on for a wee while." She had no idea what I was talking
about, and when I told her we were "toffs" because we paid our
gas monthly and didn’t have to worry about keeping coins handy like many
of my friends’ parents’ did to keep their electricity on she was quite
amazed and said it might not be a bad idea to "pay as you go." I
asked her if she’d like me to do something like that with the phone –
to which she is very securely and frequently connected – and put in a
pay phone booth in the living room for her use, she didn’t think that
was such a good idea!)
The way through the room was like an
obstacle course with beds and furniture.
Often, too, pennies were hard to come by.
Picture, then, this scene in a typical
Dundee tenement home.
On a dark night, the family are in the
kitchen – father in his hard, wooden, fireside chair with the evening
paper and mother busy at the sink.
Wee Jeanie is sitting on a stool near the
kitchen dresser struggling with her homework or knitting and Willie dourly
cleaning the shoes with blacking. (This came in cakes and had to be
Suddenly, the light goes out and mother
cries, "There’s the gas awa’ an’ Eh dinna he’e a penny. Poke
up the fire, Boab, an’ let’s see whut wir daeing."
"Jeanie, pet, there’s a bit can’le
in the left hand drahr o’ the dresser. Whaur’s the matches? D’yi ha’e
a penny, Boab?"
The matches are found and the candle lit to
reveal Boab, pipe in mouth, grumbling through his moustache. Fingers
groping in his waistcoat pockets he produces two half-pennies and hands
"Jeanie," says mother, "here’s
twa hupnies. Ask Jean Meengis if she has a penny. Furr the gas."
"Eh got ane f’ae’r yesterday, Ma,
an’ she wis grousin’ aboot some fowk aye wantin’ sumthin’."
"Niver mind hurr, then. Gae doon an’
ask auld Kirsty Whuttet. She’ll gi’e yi ane. Awa’ yi go now, ma wee
lamb. An’ hurry!"
Presently, Jeanie comes back with the
penny, feeling her cautious way through the room. The penny is heard
dropping into the meter ( me again - hence the phrase, ‘The Penny Drapp’t’
when some people finally catch on to a joke!) – but before the gas can
be re-lit there is a crash and a cry of despair.
"Guid heavens! She’s knocked over
Auntie Phemie’s vahz aff the wee table."
With tear-stained face, Jeanie appears in
"Eh couldn’ help it, Ma. Eh didn’
"Dinna greet, hen. Eh ken fine yi
didna mean it. Here, dicht yer face. Eh’ll sune clear it up."
Many a souvenir from Forfar or Arbroath was
swept from the mantle and into the fireplace from a groping hand searching
Before the mantle appeared we were little
better off for light in the winter months than our Pictish predecessors.
The streets of Dundee and other towns were
badly lit, particularly the back streets and lanes.
Curiously, the folks who remember those
dark nights in Dundee will tell you quite seriously that streets were
that wee joke –it’s so old it has hair on it, and all my children have
learned it somewhere in their childhood –
What’s the difference between a rich
Scotsman, a poor Scotsman and a dead Scotsman?
Well, a rich Scotsman has a canopy over his
A poor Scotsman has a can o’ pee under his bed.
And a dead Scotsman canna pee at a’!
When Queen Victoria and Prince
Albert visited Dundee in 1844 (my Granny talked about this event as though
she was there, but she wasn’t born until 1892 – so her Granny must
have told her vivid stories, too. My Granny also told me about Winston
Churchill running for MP for Dundee after the First War - I have no idea
why he chose Dundee – I’ll have to look it up somewhere on the
Internet, I think – and that he gave a speech under the Arch and got
chased away through the Arch by the good citizens of the day) a ceremonial
wooden arch was erected for them to walk through after landing. This was
later replaced by the stone arch in the photograph.
The Masonic Temple on the left
is now Winter’s Publishing House, while the King William IV Dock, in the
background, has beenf illed in, and become part of the approaches to the
Tay Road Bridge.
For many years two guns,
captured from the Russians during the Crimean War, stood in front of the
The Mars Training Ship
Built in 1848, this 80 gun
warship was later fitted with engines and converted into a screw frigate
with 60 guns. Due to her bad steering qualities she was used as a store
ship during the Crimean War.
Old and dismantled, the
Admiralty gave her, as a training ship, to be used on the Tay. On board,
400 boys who had either been taken from bad homes, or had been in trouble
themselves, were educated and trained, some as bandsmen for the navy or
In the late 1920’s the ship
was towed to the Firth of Forth and broken up.
(Whenever my Granny read or
heard about bad boys behavior, or vandalism, or anything like that her
solution was always "Gi’e them the tawse" or "They should
send them to the Mars. It’s a gey shame it’s no’ aye there!")
Some More of Nancy Davey’s Photos from "Dundee by Gaslight"
Standing in front of the Old
Town House (present day City Square), the photographer looked up Reform
Street and captured the bustling scene. The building on the left is now
Boots Chemist Shop, at the entrance to the new Overgate. (A note from
Charlotte, I have many memories of going into Boots for toiletries and
hair things. They had a small library on the second floor(just about where
the two windows on the end of the white bulding are) for "toffs"
who could afford to pay to borrow the books to read. I used to go up there
just to look at the books and sneak a wee read while my mother shopped
downstairs. H. Samuel’s is across the street on the other corner.
"Under Samuel’s Clock" was a favourite meeting place for lads
and lasses – and it’s where John bought my engagement ring and our
wedding rings for about $25 in 1965. He never asked me what I wanted, we
never even discussed what I liked, but this wonderful man chose the style
I had always wanted – three small diamonds on a straight line
indicating, to me, eternity in the symbolism of the trinity. Old
Presbyterian habits die hard, don’t they?)
The early motor car indicates
that the photograph was taken after 1899. In the previous year, Mr Tom
Shaw bought one of the first tricycles fitted with an engine, and in 1899
he acquired his first motor car, a two seater Mors, which he drove from
London to Dundee in eight days.
The West Station
On Saturday 1 May 1963 at
8.00pm, the last train left the West Station, bound for Glasgow. Fourteen
months later in 1964 the building was demolished in the development of
access roads to the Tay Road Bridge.
The West Station or Caledonian
Station replaced a smaller building in 1899. The handsome new structure
was sited directly behind the previous station. Unfortunately all that
remains today is the single storey building on the left of the photograph.
(Our holidays during the
Dundee Holiday Fortnight consisted of a week’s worth of "Runabout
Tickets". These allowed as much train travel as you wanted anywhere
within in a certain zone of Scotland. I remember many, many, years of
Holiday Weeks getting up early in the morning, helping my Granny pack
sandwiches, and catching the bus down to the West Station to take a
"Puffing Billy" or steam train to places like Glasgow,
Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Balquidder, Pitlochry, Crieff, Perth, Callendar,
Stirling and many others for a day away. I learned so much about my
country that way. Later, when the cleaner diesel trains came on line, it
didn’t seem so much fun. There was no corridor to run up and down,
pretending I was looking for the toilet, or dining car to walk through and
imagine we could afford tea there in response to the porter’s calls of
"Tea is being served in the Dining Car," or the chance to smell
the smoke blown in from the window held open by the heavy leather strap
(which some of my friends’ Dad’s had in their houses as
"belts" to bring about good behavior in their children), or to
enjoy the sound or sight of the station master waving his red flag,
blowing his whistle, and crying out "Booaarrrd!" But, diesel or
steam, as the train went through the Scottish towns, there was always
someone to wave to and have wave back as we made that brief holiday
contact. And, to evoke those memories of happy childhood days, I will
still wave to a passenger train on the rare occasion I see one in America.
The Old Tay Railway Bridge
This photograph was taken from
the south, shortly after the fatal collapse of the central spans of the
railway bridge. The scene looks calm after the stormy night of 28 December
1879, when the high winds broke up the bridge, crashing the train, crew,
and passengers into the river. No-one survived the tragedy although the
engine was salvaged and used again.. People later referred to it as the
"Diver." Today we can still see the piers of the old bridge
alongside the new bridge, which was built in 1887.
(The stories I learned about
that night were so vivid, that even looking at this pictures makes me hold
my breath in reaction to the horror of that night. Whenever I had a choice
of how we would go over to Fife, I was always happier to go around by
Perth or over on the "Fifie," the passenger and car Ferry –
not to be confused with the beach Ferry at Broughty – that crossed the
This play area adjoined
Dudhope Castle and provided a variety of activities for children.
In 1889 the Earl of Home, the
owner, wished to demolish the castle, and feu the ground. He was prevented
from doing so by a joint effort of the Town Council and private
individuals, who were successful in acquiring the castle and grounds for
(I remember playing on merry
go rounds seen here in the foreground and on the bars in the back left –
I wonder if they were the same ones, after all things last in Scotland. We
also had summer recreation programs in that play area. I remember one year
they erected a stage and had talent contents that I participated in by
recitations from elocution lesions. If memory serves me right, I think
that’s the DRI, Dundee Royal Infirmary, in the background.)
For centuries it was the home
of the Constables of Dundee, who held their office from the King. The
office of Constable was held by members of four different families, the
Scrymgeours, Maitlands, Grahams and Douglases, and it was finally
abolished in 1748.
In 1792 the building was
sub-let to a woolen company which went bankrupt, and the government,
anxious to station troops in Dundee, leased the castle in the following
year. Used as an army barracks, until 1880, as a museum after 1900,
Dudhope was occupied by officers of the 4th Battalion, the
Black watch during the first World War.
At one time, a gun was fired
each day at 1.00 p.m..
The Overgate Looking East
The only building which is
recognizable today is the Old Steeple. This view was taken from the west
end of the Overgate looking east. The area has undergone great change, and
it now takes the road along by the Angus Hotel. The street is bustling
with people, most of them poorly dressed. In the foreground we see a group
of urchins, possibly selling newspapers. Several of them are barefooted.
(This photograph reminds me of
the many times I walked on this street leading up to where the Barras, or
barrow boys, were selling everything from pots and pans to toys and
clothing off of barrows or truck beds. Even in my day, the Overgate was a
poor part of Dundee, but it was the best place to find a great dressed
herring on Hogmanay!)
the Hilltown Family