Dundee Harbour

Dundee Harbour Development and the Unicorn
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Dundee Harbour Development and the Unicorn

Dundee Harbour is located just to the south of the city centre on the north shore of the Firth of Tay. It has developed in close conjunction with the fortunes of the city since Mediaeval times. As trade in flax, jute and whaling grew, particularly during the 19th Century, so this harbour grew in size and importance.

The harbour complex once comprised the Earl Grey Dock, the King William IV Dock, both connected through a tidal harbour, a harbour for the Tay ferry to Newport-on-Tay, the Victoria Dock and Camperdown Dock, together with graving docks and ship-building yards. At its peak, it occupied some 48 hectares (119 acres) and offered 3½ miles (5.6 km) of quayside.

The King William IV Dock and the West Graving Dock were built between 1812 and 1825 by the engineer Thomas Telford (1757 - 1834). The Earl Grey Dock followed in 1834, the work of James Leslie (1801-89). With the construction of Camperdown Dock (1865) and Victoria Dock (1875), land began to be reclaimed from the river and development moved southwards so these new docks could access deeper water.

Dundee was the main Scottish submarine base at the beginning of World War II, with ten boats stationed here. However, the focus soon moved to the Firth of Clyde as the North Sea declined in importance as a theatre of war.

The Robb Caledon ship building yard declined after World War II and closed in the 1980s. The West Graving Dock, King William IV Dock and the Earl Grey Dock were infilled to provide a land-fall for the Tay Road Bridge. In the latter half of the 20th century, use of the other docks declined as vessel sizes increased. The area around Victoria Quay has been re-developed as the City Quay complex and provides a permanent berth for the historic HMS Unicorn. The modern dock has moved eastwards, onto land reclaimed from the river in the late 19th century to make use of deeper water.

Briefly the site of a football stadium, Carolina Port - at the eastern end of the harbour area - was the location of a power station from 1908. The first station was coal fired, with a new oil-fired unit (Carolina Port 'B') built in 1967. The cost of oil ensured a limited life for this station and it finally closed in 1983 and was demolished.

The Custom House, Scotland's second largest, was built in 1842-43 and extended in 1884 to house Dundee Harbour Board. Today, the harbour is operated by the Port of Dundee Ltd., a subsidiary of Forth Ports Ltd.

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