Classification and Statistics

Settlement Type: city
Population (2011): 147285    
(2001): 154674
(1991): 158981
(1981): 174346
(Combined with Invergowrie, Kingoodie and Monifieth)
(1971): 182204
(1961): 182978
(1951): 177340
(1901): 159033
(Parliamentary Burgh)
(1891): 153587
(1881): 140054
(1871): 120547
(1861): 90426
(1841): 63732

Tourist Rating: Three Stars
Text of Entry Updated: 23-JAN-2023

Latitude: 56.461°N Longitude: 2.9736°W
National Grid Reference: NO 401 303
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Located on 'one of the finest natural sites of any city in the British Isles', Dundee is situated at the mouth of the Tay estuary where it occupies a south-facing natural harbour sheltered to the landward side by hills. To the west is the Carse of Gowrie and to the north the Sidlaw Hills which separate Dundee from the valley of Strathmore. Dundee is Scotland's sunniest city, with 1458 hours of sunshine annually. The centre of the city is dominated by Dundee Law which rises to a height of 174m (571 feet), and is a conical basalt hill that is the remains of a volcanic plug. During the past century the city has expanded to incorporate surrounding villages.

The town developed around its Mediaeval streets or 'gaits'; namely Cowgate, Marketgait, Murraygate, Nethergate, Seagate, Stannergate and Wellgate. The architect William Burn (1789 - 1870) put forward a plan to improve the city in the 1820s, and the first development in this regard was the building of Reform Street - taking its name from the Reform Act of 1832. The town centre moved away from the river as King William IV and the Earl Grey docks were built in the 19th C. but these were infilled in the early 1960s to provide the northern landing of the Tay Road Bridge. Extensive land reclamation continued to the west at Riverside, providing space for Dundee Airport. Today the Waterfront is being rebuilt to a £1 billion 30-year masterplan which brought the V&A Museum of Design to the city.

The original settlement occupied a natural harbour between St. Nicholas Craig to the west and Castle Rock in the east. In Mediaeval times, Dundee traded wool, sheepskins and cattlehides with continental markets supplying in return quality textiles, metal goods and wine. The town was given the status of a burgh and developed as a 'new town' between 1178 and 1190 by Earl David, son of King William I 'the Lion' (1143 - 1214). It prospered for many years as the third of Scotland's royal burghs after Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The city was destroyed by General Monk in 1651 and later its harbour was devastated by a storm. For nearly a century and a half thereafter the city's fortunes waned.

During the 19th Century Dundee again grew rapidly as a result of the whaling and fishing trade, shipbuilding and textile manufacture, including import of jute from Bengal which was processed in mills employing large numbers of people. Between 1841 and 1881 the city's population rose from 63,700 to 140,000. By the latter half of the 19th Century some of the world's most expensive real-estate was in Dundee, and the city was pouring vast sums of money into the development of the USA, with bankers such as Robert Fleming (1845 - 1933) investing in railways, ranches and the expansion of the country westwards.

The widely-used drug aspirin was developed in Dundee in 1876 by Dr Thomas John MacLagan (1838 - 1903), while the father of modern town planning, Patrick Geddes (1854 - 1932), taught at the University of Dundee between 1888 and 1918. The city was the birthplace of the historian Hector Boece (c.1465-1536), John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee (c.1649-89), Admiral Adam Duncan of Camperdown (1731-1804), mathematician Sir James Ivory (1765 - 1842), artist John Zephaniah Bell (1794 - 1883), Canadian politician William Lyon Mackenzie (1795 - 1861), electrical pioneer James Bowman Lindsay (1799 - 1862), engineer David Kirkaldy (1820-97), doggerel poet William McGonagall (1830 - 1902), missionary Mary Slessor (1848 - 1915), plant collector Augustine Henry (1857 - 1930), pioneer of flight Preston Watson (1880 - 1915), comedian Will Fyffe (1885 - 1947), Jimmy MacDonald (1906-91), who was the voice of Mickey Mouse, philosopher George Elder Davie (1912 - 2007), academic Lord Perry of Walton (1921 - 2003), boxer Dick McTaggart (b.1935), actors Brian Cox (b. 1946) and Ian McDiarmid (b.1947), musician Robbie McIntosh (1950-74), songwriter Michael Marra (b.1952), politician George Galloway (b. 1954), musician Ricky Ross (b.1957), athlete Liz McColgan (b.1964), jockey Peter Niven (b.1964) and Olympic sailor Shirley Robertson (b.1968).

In 1938, a record-breaking flight saw a flying boat leave the Firth of Tay for South Africa. During the Second World War submarines were based here, commemorated by the Dundee International Submarine Memorial.

The city is home to two modern buildings which were the first in the UK to be designed by two notable international architects; Maggie's Centre Dundee was the work of Frank Gehry, while the V&A Dundee is by Kengo Kuma. In 1987, the first McDonald's restaurant in Scotland opened in the city.

The importance of Dundee as a centre of textile manufacture (initially flax but later jute) was based on mills which moved from the Dichty Burn, to the north, into the city itself, making use of the power of the Scouring Burn in the west of the city and the Dens Burn to the east. At the height of the industry, in the late 19th C., Dundee boasted around 60 jute mills, employing more than 50,000 men, women and children, with the most notable owners being Baxter Brothers, Cairds and Cox Brothers. Several of the grand mill buildings remain, now converted to other uses. The jute industry also stimulated carpet-making and a former jute processor, Low & Bonar, still make polypropylene yarn for carpets at Caldrum Works.

Dundee was also noted for its jam, or more specifically marmalade, produced from the late 18th C. by the Keiller family, and its journalism dominated in the 20th C. by D.C. Thomson and Company publishers of, amongst others, the Courier and Advertiser, Sunday Post, People's Friend, Scots Magazine, together with the Beano and Dandy children's comics. The Courier was founded in 1801 and maintained the Victorian practice of having advertising rather than headlines on its front page until 1992. Today, D.C. Thomson is one of the largest employers in Dundee and the only major magazine and newspaper house in Scotland to be controlled by Scots in Scotland. The famous marmalade was first made in Dundee in 1797 and is said to have come about when the cargo of a Spanish ship was bought by a local grocer and his enterprising wife, Janet Keiller, discovered a use for the overly-bitter Seville oranges. No longer made in the city, Dundee Marmalade is now produced by Mackays of Arbroath. Dundee Cake is a traditional fruit cake decorated with almonds which was also first made by Keiller but is now produced by other bakers in the city and beyond, despite the suggestion that it be given Protected Geographical Indicator status in 2015.

The city has had a harbour since Mediaeval times, but this grew through trade with the Baltic and London during the 18th C. and the importance of the whaling industry in the 19th C. Shipbuilding ended in Dundee when Robb Caledon closed in 1981. Other former industries include the making of clothing, tyres and whisky.

Today, Dundee's port and industrial estate facilities are important to the North Sea offshore oil industry and the city is served by a small airport situated to the west of the city centre. Chief amongst the city's industries are printing, publishing, engineering, food processing, biotechnology, electronics and digital entertainment software. The American NCR Company opened a plant in the city in 1945 to make cash registers and adding machines. By the 1960s the company had six factories in the city employing 6000 people, but within ten years that had shrunk to 1000, with a focus on computers and automated teller machines (ATMs). For a time Dundee made 70% of Europe's ATMs. NCR still employs around 500 people. Another American company, watch-manufacturer Timex set up in Dundee in 1947 and by the 1970s employed 5000 people. The plant diversified making cameras for Polaroid, the hugely popular ZX81 and Spectrum home computers for Sir Clive Sinclair and components for computer-manufacturer IBM but the factory closed in 1993 following a bitter industrial dispute. However, Dundee's position in the computer industry had been established and the focus moved from hardware to software. DMA Designs that created the computer games Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto was based in the city from its foundation in 1988 until 1999 and the city's reputation in games design continues with the likes of 4J Studios, which contributed to the development of Minecraft. Biomedical scientists in the city have been responsible for several drugs used to treat cancer, together with medical technologies and devices. Agricultural biotechnology is represented by the James Hutton Institute in Invergowrie.

References and Further Reading
Anon (1878) The Municipal History of the Royal Burgh of Dundee. Improved Edition. Winter, Duncan & Co., Dundee
Anon (1959) The History of Dundee. Scottish Advertisers Ltd., Dundee
Eunson, Eric and Bill Early (2002) Old Dundee. Stenlake Publishing Ltd., Catrine, Ayrshire
Gifford, John (2012) The Buildings of Scotland: Dundee and Angus. Yale University Press, New Haven and London
Kay, Billy (ed.) (1995) The Dundee Book: An Anthology of Living in the City. Mainstream, Edinburgh
King, Brian (2011) Undiscovered Dundee. Black & White Publishing, Edinburgh
Lythe, S.G.E. (1938) The origin and development of Dundee: a study in historical geography. Scottish Geographical Magazine Vol. 54, pp. 344-57
McKean, Charles and David Walker (1984) Dundee: An Illustrated Introduction. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and the Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh
McKean, Charles, Bob Harris and Christopher A. Whatley (2009) Dundee: Renaissance to Enlightenment. Dundee University Press
McKean, Charles, Patricia Whatley and Kenneth Baxter (2013) Lost Dundee: Dundee's Lost Architectural Heritage. Birlinn Ltd., Edinburgh
RCAHMS (1992) Dundee on Record - Images of the Past. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and Her Majesty's Stationery Office, Edinburgh
Tomlinson, J. (2011) Jute No More: Transforming Dundee. Dundee University Press
Watson, Norman (2006) Dundee: A Short History. Black and White Publishing Ltd., Edinburgh

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