Dundee (surveyed in 1870-2)


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 in 1189 on his return from the Crusades. A royal residence remained at Whitehall in the town until the seventeenth century, the last fragments of this building still survived in 1870.

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 had dramatically increased with the industrial growth of the nineteenth century. In 1841, the population of the burgh had been 63,732; thirty years later in 1871 it was 120,547.

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).

As a result of the Improvement Act of 1871, some parts of the older town were to be demolished and streets widened or new streets built. For example, Commercial Street was to be widened and extended, Reform Street and Bank Street were to be built and many tenements demolished. In total, 158 new streets were sanctioned. This work was beginning at the time of the survey.

As the town had grown it had extended both along the shore and up the hills behind the town. One such extension can be seen at Hilltown, an area of small poor properties on a grid pattern. 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 from the middle of the nineteenth century, a good example being the Royal Exchange designed by David Bryce (1803-76), which had been built in 1853-6.

One of the landmarks of Dundee was the Tower of St Mary, also called the Old Steeple. Nothing remained of the original twelfth century church and after the Reformation the late medieval church had been divided into four and later three separate churches. After a fire in 1843, parts had been rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1844 and 1847. The tower itself was restored in 1871-3.


In the mid-nineteenth century, the industrial wealth of Dundee had been based on the linen and flax industry. This had vastly increased in the period after 1815, when the government had offered financial incentives to the linen trade.

In the 1830,s a new fibre, jute, was introduced to Dundee from India. By adapting the machinery used for flax, jute could be manufactured on a commercial scale. The Dundee jute trade was at its peak around the time of the American Civil War of 1861-5. However, in 1855, George Acland took jute spinning machinery from Dundee to Calcutta and, by the 1870s, there was increasing competition in jute manufacture both from India and elsewhere.

Other industries in Dundee at this period included marmalade, leather, boots and shoes, tobacco, 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. Two other wet docks, Camperdown and Victoria, were being built at the time of the survey.

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 time of the survey, there were a number of Church of Scotland churches in the parish, as well as Free churches, United Presbyterian churches, Independent churches, Baptist chapels, a Reformed Presbyterian church, an Original Secession church, a Roman Catholic church and an Episcopalian church, and smaller chapels for a wide range of other religious groups.


The main school was the High School, also called 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

A public library had been opened in Dundee in 1869. There were also a number of societies in the town including a horticultural society, a phrenological society, a Highland society, and a philharmonic society. A naturalist's society had been formed in 1872.