The Evolution Of Dundee

Dundee : Jute, Jam and Journalism

Dundee is the fourth-largest city in Scotland and the 39th most populous settlement in the United Kingdom. It lies within the eastern central Lowlands on the north bank of the Firth of Tay, which feeds into the North Sea. The name “Dundee” is made up of two parts, both from the common Gaelic: dun, meaning fort and dèe, meaning ‘fire’.

The source of Dundee’s success and growth as a seaport town came as a result of William the Lion’s charter, granting the earldom of Dundee to his younger brother, David. The situation of the town and its promotion by Earl David as a trading centre, lead to a period of prosperity and growth.

John_Balliol The earldom was passed down to David’s descendants amongst whom was John Balliol, the town becoming a Royal Burgh on the coronation of John as king in 1292. But he proved so unpopular, even amongst his own lairds and following an abortive attempt to renew ‘the Auld Alliance’, that Edward I deposed him in 1296.

The town and its castle were occupied by English forces for several years during the First War of Independence and recaptured by Robert the Bruce in the spring of 1312. The town developed into a burgh in Medieval times. The original Burghal charters were lost during the occupation and subsequently renewed by the Bruce in 1327.

The burgh suffered considerably during the War of the Rough Wooing of 1543 to 1550, and was occupied by the English forces of Andrew Dudley from 1547. In 1548, unable to defend the town against an advancing Scottish force, Dudley ordered that the town be burnt to the ground.

In 1645, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, Dundee was again besieged, this time by the Royalist Marquess of Montrose. The town was finally destroyed by Parliamentarian forces, led by George Monck in 1651.

The town played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Jacobite cause when John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee raised the Stuart standard on the Dundee Law in 1689.

The economy of medieval Dundee centred on the export of raw wool, with the production of finished textiles being a reaction to recession in the 15th century. The introduction of two government acts in the mid eighteenth century had a profound effect on Dundee’s industrial success. The textile industry was revolutionised by the introduction of large four-storey mills, stimulated in part by the 1742 Bounty Act which provided a government-funded subsidy on Osnaburg linen produced for export. Expansion of the whaling industry was triggered by the 1750 Bounty Act to increase Britain’s maritime and naval skill base.

Dundee, and Scotland more generally, saw rapid population increase at end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, with the city’s population increasing from 12,400 in 1751 to 30,500 in 1821.

The phasing out of the linen export bounty between 1825 and 1832 stimulated demand for cheaper textiles, particularly for the production of cheaper, tough fabrics. The discovery that the dry fibres of jute could be lubricated to with whale oil (of which Dundee had a surfeit, following the opening of its gasworks) to allow it to be processed in mechanised mills resulted the Dundee mills rapidly converting from linen to jute, which sold at a quarter of the price of flax. Interruption of Prussian flax imports during the Crimean War and of cotton during the American Civil War resulted in a period of inflated prosperity for Dundee and the Jute industry dominated Dundee throughout the latter half of the 19th century.

Unprecedented immigration, notably of Irish workers, lead to accelerated urban expansion, and at the height of the industry’s success, Dundee supported 62 jute mills, employing some 50,000 workers.

The rise of the textiles industries brought with it an expansion of supporting industries, notably of the whaling, maritime and shipbuilding industries, and extensive development of the waterfront area started in 1815 to cope with increased demand on port capacity.

At its height, 200 ships per year were built in there, including Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic research vessel, the RRS Discovery. A significant whaling industry was also based in Dundee, largely existing to supply the jute mills with whale oil. Whaling ceased in 1912 and shipbuilding ceased in 1981.

While the city’s economy was dominated by the Jute industry, it also became known for smaller industries. Most notable among these were James Keiller and sons, established in 1795, which pioneered commercial marmalade production, and the publishing firm DC Thomson & Co, which was founded in the city in 1905 and remains the largest employer after the health and leisure industries.

Dundee is said to be have been built on the ‘three Js’: Jute, Jam and Journalism.

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3 Responses to The Evolution Of Dundee

  1. Bill Dryden says:

    I thought Edward 1 of England was known as “longshanks” rather than King John Balliol, who was stripped of his Kingship by Edward and thus became known as Toom Tabard.

  2. Bill Dryden says:

    Also, King John Balliol refused to join Edward of England in an invasion of France, that is why the English king invaded Scotland and started by slaughtering the population of Berwick. Scotland was an independent Nation and Edward had no authority in Scotland.

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