As the Dundee Christmas shopping frenzy begins, local author Jack Searle has dipped into the city’s rich history of commercial activity and written Counter Revolutionaries, the definitive book on the city’s shops.
Covering everything from the little independent outlets to the grand and luxurious department stores of the Victorian age, Jack’s book takes the reader on a journey which starts in the dim past and has yet to reach its end.
“My book is about how Dundee came to be in its prime and how it has changed since that time,” said Jack.
“In 2012, I completed and published the The Big Picture, a history of cinemas in Dundee.
“At the launch of that book, I was rather surprised by the reaction of those in the audience who had actually worked, in one way or another, in cinemas.
“They clearly felt the book was a much needed recognition of a kind of community whose main aim was to make people happy.
“That started me wondering whether there were other groups whose contribution to the life and times of Dundee had not been given proper recognition — shopping immediately came to mind.”
The book discusses such big names as D.M. Brown, Alexander Caird and Draffens, whilst well-established but smaller independent shops such as Cooper & MacKenzie and Braithwaites are also covered.
The book examines the earliest forms of retail but travels on through six chapters to discuss the early modern period, the Georgian and Victorian eras and the early 20th Century.
The second part looks at “Dundee in its prime” and is a detailed examination of the various stores and what was to be found in the streets in Dundee’s retail centre.
“I’m originally from Tottenham in London and in my youth, Tottenham was known in London for two things: Tottenham Hotspur FC and Burgesses department store,” says Jack.
“I cared desperately about the first and little about the second. For my mother, it was entirely the other way about.
“Indeed the fact that during the Second World War Tottenham was bombed very frequently and the sound of air raid warnings was pretty constant did nothing to deter her from taking trips to her beloved department store.
“I always seemed to be accompanying my mother to Burgesses where she clearly knew many of the staff.
“Although I did not then appreciate the fact, that was a time when shopping was both a social and commercial activity — much more so than it is today.
“What epitomises this for me is the photo on the back cover of the book.
“This shows Garnet Wilson closing the G.L. Wilson department store in Dundee for the very last time and is significant in a number of ways.
“Firstly, it marked the end of the last of the large family owned department stores which had been the centre point of shopping in Dundee from the latter part of the 19th Century right through to the 1960s.
“Secondly, it is not some anonymous figure from an estate agent turning the key but the owner of the store.
“Thirdly, it is significant because the owner of the store was born locally and lived locally.
“It is just not possible to envisage such an event taking place in today’s world.
“But there was a time when Dundee was in its prime as a shopping centre and such an event would have not been exceptional.
“My book is about how Dundee came to be in its prime and how it has changed since that time.”
Counter Revolutionaries — which was designed by Craig Muir — will be launched at Waterstones, Dundee, on November 30.