Dundee (surveyed in 1857)


Dundee is situated on the northern site of the Firth of Tay in what was Forfarshire at the time of survey, and is now Angus.

The early history of Dundee is obscure but a stronghold on the Dundee Law is traditionally associated with Kenneth MacAlpine in the ninth century, at the time when he was establishing control over the Picts. Certainly, in around 1071, Malcolm III erected a palace in Dundee for his queen, Margaret. The town was made into a royal burgh in the reign of William the Lion (1165-1214). His younger brother, David, Earl of Huntingdon, is said to have founded the original church on the site of the Old Steeple in 1189 on his return from the Crusades. A royal residence remained at Whitehall in the town until the seventeenth century and fragments of it survived in 1857 (Wilson).

The name Dundee is commonly interpreted as 'fort of Daig' derived from the Scottish gaelic word dun meaning a 'fortified place' and Daig, a personal name. This may refer to the stronghold on the Law. Mackay (2000) also suggests alternative derivations such as Scottish Gaelic Dun-dubh meaning 'dark hill' or Dun-De meaning the 'hill of God'.

The population of the burgh was 61,449 in 1851, a steady increase from 60,355 in 1841; in the larger parliamentary burgh it was 78,931 in 1851.

Town Planning

The oldest part of Dundee lay between the Tay and the higher ground, bounded to east and west by the streams called the Wallace Burn and Tod's Burn (sheets liv.5.24-liv.5.25, liv.9.4-liv.9.5). One of the original gates of the walled town, Cowgate Port, still remained at the time of the survey (sheet liv.5.25).

As the town grew it extended both along the shore and up the hills behind the town. One such extension can be seen at Hilltown, an area of small properties on a grid pattern, described by Wilson (1857) as 'the seat of very extensive manufactures, consists generally of ill-built houses, confusedly interspersed with cloth factories'. In stark contrast, the properties along the Perth Road and Hawkhill Road consisted of large houses in their own grounds (sheets liv.9.8, liii12.9-liii.12.10, liii.12.14 –liii.9.6).


In common with many of the more prosperous towns of Scotland in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Dundee followed architectural fashions in its new church and civic buildings. The Town Hall, which had been built in 1734 and restored in 1853-4, was a Neo-Classical building designed by William Adam (1689-1748). The Public Seminaries and the New Customs House, built in 1843, were also classical in their inspiration. A new style, the Neo-Gothic, which reflected medieval structures, was coming into fashion in the middle of the nineteenth century, a good example being the Royal Exchange designed by David Bryce (1803-76), which was being built at the time of the survey.

One of the landmarks of Dundee was the Church of St Mary and the Old Steeple. Nothing remained of the original twelfth century church and after the Reformation the late medieval church had been divided into four separate churches. After a fire in 1843, parts had been rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1844 and 1847.


In the mid-nineteenth century, the industrial core of Dundee was based on the linen and flax industry. This had vastly increased in the period after 1815, when the government offered financial incentives to the linen trade. By 1850 there were 47 spinning mills and eight power-loom factories employing some 11,000 people, as well as 4000 handlooms. Linen goods, especially canvas, were exported to the Mediterranean, Australia, America, and the West Indies, both directly and through the ports of Glasgow, London and Liverpool.

Interestingly, Wilson, writing in 1857, made no reference to the jute industry, although this had begun in the town in the 1830s.

Other industries at this time included cordage, kid glove making, sugar refining, candle making, snuff manufacture, iron foundries and shipbuilding.


Before 1815, the harbour at Dundee had consisted of a simple pier, but there had been massive dock development in the period 1815-30 and further development since including the Earl Grey Dock. At the time of the survey, the docks took up a large area of the shore beside the town (sheets liv.9.5, liv.9.10, liv.10.1). The very good new facilities at the port had dramatically increased trade from Dundee by the mid-nineteenth century.

The ferry to take people across the Tay lay at the west end of the docks and railway stations for both the Perth and the Arbroath lines terminated at the docks.

Religious Life

Dundee was the first town in Scotland to embrace the protestant ideas of the Reformation.

By the mid-nineteenth century, there were five parish churches, four of which had churches in different parts of the very large church of St Mary in the centre of the town. The fifth was set up in 1823 in a building which had been erected in 1800 by the Independents. Within the parish at this time there were also eleven Free churches, six United Presbyterian churches, four Independent churches, four Baptist chapels, a Reformed Presbyterian church, an Original Secession church, a Roman Catholic church and an Episcopalian church, as well as smaller chapels for the Scottish Independents, the Glassites, the Wesleyan Methodists, the Primitive Methodists, the Christian Unionists, and the Mormons. Wilson (1857) remarked that, although this was the situation when he wrote, there had been changes, especially among the smaller congregations even since the 1851 census.


The main school was the Public Seminaries (sheet liv.5.24), which incorporated an English school, a grammar school and an academy in one building erected in the early nineteenth century. There were many other smaller schools of various types.

Culture and Society

There were a number of societies in the town including a horticultural society, a phrenological society, a Highland society, and a philharmonic society.