An album of photographs labelled ‘Dundee Old and New’ is a great favourite with visitors browsing the vast store of documents held in the University of Dundee Archives.
Originally produced as a photographic record of Victorian-era development in the city, the album contains over 50 images taken between 1873 and 1880, providing people today a vital glimpse of Dundee’s long-lost buildings.
The album is part of the collection of Peter Carmichael, then senior partner of Baxter Brothers textile business who took a keen interest in Dundee’s progress.
The 19th century saw an explosion in the population of Dundee as people flocked to the area for work. While good for Dundee’s economy, this also brought about serious problems.
By the 1860s many of Dundee’s older buildings were widely seen as rundown, unhealthy and unsafe. Equally, the many narrow streets and lanes in the town centre were difficult to police and impeded traffic.
There was also a perception among civic leaders that Dundee was looking old-fashioned at a time when other emerging industrial cityscapes were erecting modern buildings.
In 1871 an improvement act was passed by Parliament, paving the way for Dundee’s Police Commissioners, who were in charge of works in the burgh, to oversee significant changes over the next decade.
A key issue was to improve and widen Dundee’s roads, particularly in the crowded centre. The High Street was a particular bottleneck, as were its main entrances, Overgate, Nethergate, Seagate and Murraygate.
This problem was compounded by two large public buildings, the Trades Hall and Union Hall, at opposite ends of the High Street. These striking late-18th century buildings were the work of Samuel Bell, one of Dundee’s finest architects.
However both were somewhat underused and showing signs of decay. Dundee Old and New shows the Union Hall, which had originally been an Episcopalian Chapel, looking slightly neglected and covered in posters.
This meant that there was quite strong support for their removal.
Also vanishing at this time was Union Hall’s neighbour, the 16th century building known as Our Lady Warkstairs.
Despite its antiquity, its removal, like that of many other old buildings destroyed at this time, was seen as necessary for the modernisation of the city. The album also reveals how the narrow ends of streets like Murraygate and Nethergate were widened and given new buildings at this time.
New and improved roads were also built. These included the extension of Commercial Street from the Seagate to reach up to its current terminus at Albert Square and the creation of Victoria Road in place of Bucklemaker Wynd.
The album provides a fascinating glimpse into Dundee at a time of great change and, along with other records held in the archives, offers insight into some of Dundee’s many lost architectural gems.