Dundee’s past brought to life in new book

A local historian has revised his authoritative account telling the story of Dundee as the city moves into a promising new era.

Dr Norman Watson’s “Dundee: A Short History” takes a vast quantity of facts, figures and information and packs them into a digestible 200 page read.

Starting from before the city was founded, it rushes headlong through centuries of poverty and prosperity, up to the golden years of jute, jam and journalism and beyond.

The Perth-born historian and journalist, who has also written a tourist guide about the city, “Dundee: A Comprehensive Guide for Locals and Visitors”, said he was inspired by the city’s changing landscape.

The new book takes in centuries of the city’s past.

He added: “Due to the knockout success of the first edition, which topped sales at both Borders and Waterstones, Black and White Publishing was keen to publish a second edition and asked me to revise it. I have updated the original text with the changing landscape of Dundee’s built environment and the stunning improvements at the Waterfront — anchored by the V&A — which are transforming the city.”

Describing it as a “pleasure and an honour” to chart the city’s history, Dr Watson said the account explored several aspects of the city’s varied history.

The book touches on everything from early settlements by the Tay — long before Dundee was established — its incorporation and growth as a harbour hub of traders, through to the city’s war history, shipbuilding legacy and darker corners of its story such as the Tay Bridge disaster.

Dr Norman Watson and the cover of his book.

Dr Watson said: “My historical journey took me from Dundee’s Dark Ages to the 21st Century knights of Ninewells in their citadel of science.

“It took me from the women who hijacked the Reformation to their sisters in the suffragettes who terrorised Winston Churchill, and from Cromwell’s siege soldiers, with palms on their lips and swords in their hands, to Neddy Scrymgeour’s Vote as you Pray march on Parliament.

“Much of Dundee’s story had been dismissed in a meagre quota of words, or simply retold in cut-and-paste copying of Victorian studies, so it was a thrill for me to describe both its turbulent past and its recent achievements.”

Compiling the city’s stories was no mean feat, assembled across three decades of tireless work.

Two children playing outside in the mud beside in Findale Street, 1963.

Dr Watson was able to scour numerous archives of local records to build a compact but comprehensive account of how the city got to where it is now, including DC Thomson’s own collections and those of Dundee City Council.

He added: “Dundee: A Short History is the culmination of more than 30 years writing about a city that is cherished by Dundonians the world over.

“No one researching Dundee’s extraordinary story at any level needs to go further than the brilliant local studies library at the Wellgate, the fabulous City Archives, the impressive and growing Dundee University collections and, of course, the indispensable DC Thomson newspapers now available on the British Newspaper Archive.”

The latest additions to the book reflect on Dundee’s metamorphosis as a post-industrial city, shaking off the doom and gloom long associated with it in the past and looking to an exciting future.

Looking along the Murraygate showing decorations for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, 1953.

Dr Watson said he hoped the book would be enjoyed by both locals and those further afield – adding that, in his view, the future of the city was looking bright.

He added: “I always hoped the book would provide as much a what-to-see guide as it does a readable history of a city passing through a period of exciting development and change. I hope it is enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. I see Dundee becoming one of Europe’s great small cities.

“Fasten your seatbelts, here we come!”