Midwinter Magdalen

Midwinter Magdalen

This wintery view of Magdalen Green with the Tay Rail Bridge in the background was likely taken early in the morning as it is unusual to see the green so quiet despite the weather. However, the sledge marks in the foreground hint at the fun to be had at the park even on the coldest of days.

Magdalen Green at the west end of the City is usually a hive of activity. Dundee’s oldest park, it has been a place to gather and socialize for over 400 years. The large open space with wonderful views is used regularly by families, students who live locally with the University campus nearby and by those out for a stroll with their dogs.  The park plays host to events all year round including the long running and very popular WestFest,in the summer which attracts thousands of revellers to Magdalen Green to enjoy live music, fresh food, carnival rides and much more.

The park retains its appeal in the winter months too. Locals do not need to go far to enjoy sledging and even skiing with the gentle slopes of the park perfect for some family fun time. Midwinter need not be so bleak after all.

This image was taken by Professor R. P. Cook who lived near the park. A biochemist at the University of Dundee, he became an international authority on cholesterol. Professor Cook's work ultimately paved the way for Dundee to become a major centre for life sciences teaching and research.

Ref: UR-SF 34/24/15/4a

Winter Weather

Wintery weather

Does the thought of shopping in the snow chill you to the bone? The snow covered paths have not deterred these shoppers and passers-by. This wintery image of the Nethergate in Dundee was taken c1975.  It is from a series of black & white photographs taken by the University of Dundee Press Office in the 1970s and 1980s.

The image of thick snow in the heart of the city seems to be less familiar these days, with the exception of 2010! However, this view of the Nethergate some forty years ago at first appears very similar to what currently stands. On closer inspection the public telephone boxes are gone and while the shops next to the Playhouse remain, most of the retailers have changed. The Angus Hotel, as seen on the right in this photograph, no longer stands as it was demolished to make way for the new Overgate development. The demolition of the old Overgate and construction of the new covered shopping precinct was the biggest change in the city centre built environment in recent history prior to the waterfront development.

With Christmas just around the corner shoppers may yet have to don a pair of wellies and crunch up the snowy pathways of the Nethergate in pursuit of the perfect gift.

Ref: RU 4721/27/16

Joseph Johnston Lee was a journalist, poet and artist, best known for his war poetry. 

Page from Ballads of Battle

Born in Dundee in 1876, Joseph Lee left school at 14 and spent several years travelling across Europe to the Black Sea and the Crimea, as well as to Canada, making a number of sketches during his voyages. He worked and attended art classes in London, returning to Dundee where he produced, edited, and wrote for several local periodicals including The City Echo and The Piper O' Dundee.  In 1909 he became a member of staff at the firm of John Leng & Co. and was soon regularly contributing poetry to their People's Journal, a publication which he eventually edited.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 Lee joined the 4th Battalion of the Black Watch, one of the ‘Fighter Writers’ – journalists of Dundee who would supply the reports, stories, and in Lee’s case, poems and sketches, that filled Dundee’s papers for the next few years.  Lee fought in many of the key battles of the war including Neuve Chapelle, Loos and the Somme and expressed his experiences in the trenches through sketches and poetry.

Two books of Lee’s war poems and sketches, Ballads of Battle and Work-a-Day Warriors were published while he was at the Front, receiving wide and critical acclaim. His direct language and simple artworks spoke directly to readers not just in Britain, but also in the U.S.A.

In 1917 Lee became a second lieutenant in the 10th Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, but later that year he was captured near Cambrai and spent the rest of the war as a P.O.W. After the war Lee resumed his career as a journalist, working in London, but in retirement returned to Dundee where he died in 1949.


Ref: KLoc 828.994.191.l478 p41


All the leaves are brown...

Fall of the Leaf

This beautifully descriptive poem forms part of a commonplace book which also contains newscuttings, ink and watercolour sketches, pages of signatures, letters and poetry.  The book is small, roughly 4  x 6 inches, but packed full of interesting features. With no two pages the same, it is exciting for a reader as turning each page brings with it new delight.

The book is part of a large box of items that came to the University Archives recently relating to the Lee and Scrymgeour families. The think the book belonged to Nora Scrymgeour but she did not compose the poem nor write it in the book. The initials M.B.D belong to the person who has beautifully written around the pressed leaves. Judging from the writing the composer of the poem is Tifrida Wolfe. There is no date on the page but the other entries span 1924-1934 so it is highly likely this poem was added to the book during this same period.

It is quite typical to have to do some detective work when processing new accessions. With this specific collection, however, we have been provided with some contextual information which is very useful and a deeper delve through all the pages of the commonplace book may reveal who M.B.D and Tifrida is although in some cases it may never become clear who people are or how they relate to each other.

Ref no: Acc 2017/902

The Time Is Now

Dundee waterfront development


This photograph is from a series that charts the changing waterfront from January 2012 right up to the present day. Shot in July 2015 from the University Tower by a member of the archives team, this image shows the site cleared of the previous structures; Tayside House, the Hilton Hotel and the Olympia Leisure Centre now gone. The demolition of these buildings made way for the build of Kengo Kuma’s iconic design for the V & A Museum’s first flagship building outside of London and the creation of work and recreational spaces at the waterfront.

With the opening of the Museum on the 15th September 2018, it is incredible to see how much has changed in just three years. The series of images taken every few weeks provides a snapshot into the development of the build, charting its rise from the Tay to sit alongside the Discovery. Now dominating the waterfront site, the excitement surrounding the opening of the Museum is palpable in the City and beyond, drawing interest from those keen to see both the building and the collections it will house.

The waterfront regeneration will continue following the opening of the Museum with office space still under construction and other aspects of the development plan still to come to fruition. As such, the series of photographs will be added to with the aim of recording the changing face of the City’s waterfront during this ongoing period of redevelopment.

The Archive has photographs and records across a range of collections which demonstrate how the city has changed over the decades.


Ref no: Tayside House & Waterfront DSC 7209

Summer Sailing

 Sailing boat, Swannie Ponds, c1960

This delightful image of a little boy watching the sailing boats at the Swannie Ponds, Dundee, on a sunny day was taken almost sixty years ago. Despite the passage of time, this photograph could have been taken yesterday.

Very little has changed at Stobmuir Ponds. Affectionately known as the Swannie Ponds due to the resident swans, the area has been a focal point for recreation for generations of Dundonians. A little oasis next to arterial roads in and out of the city, the top pond has a central island which is home to swans, ducks and herons. Popular in the summer months for boating, it also attracts ice skaters in the winter.

These sailing boats are on the bottom pond, home to the oldest model boat club in Scotland and one of the oldest in the UK. Established in 1885, Dundee Model Boat Club continues to thrive with members meeting twice a week to sail their boats. Passers-by, young and old, can enjoy watching the boats on the pond and can take along their own boats to sail and race when the pond is not in use.

Long summer evenings are perfect for some free, outdoor fun at the Swannie Ponds. The park includes a play area for young children and a beautiful rose garden to admire. This photograph by Alex Coupar is a reminder that sometimes the most pleasure comes from the simplest of things.

Now to create a flotilla of paper boats for some family fun………

Ref: MS 258 Alex Coupar collection

Skirling and a' Whirling

The Grampian Club members celebrating with pipes and dancing

This fantastic photograph shows members of The Grampian Club celebrating the occasion of club member Bob Leitch having bagged his final munro, Geal Charn. The photograph, taken on 6th August 1977, includes Andrew Leitch playing the bagpipes, Christine Leitch, Jack Tibbs and Jean Green.

The Club was formed in 1927. The first meet of 12 members was held in Glen Clova. The club has continued to thrive over the last nine decades and now boasts over 200 members who enjoy a range of outdoor activities including walking, climbing, mountaineering and skiing. As well as outdoor pursuits, other activities include regular indoor meetings to host lectures & slide shows and the publication of The Grampian Club Bulletin.

Over the years, various members of the Club have used their expertise to assist the Tayside Mountain Rescue and other local and national organisations.

The Archive holds The Grampian Club collection which includes administrative records, hut records, maps and photographs.

Ref no: MS 138/18/1/5/1

Creative Design: the old inspiring the new

Creative Design: the old inspiring the new

This wonderful object was designed and created for Chaos and Order, a collaborative project between Archive Services and Level 3 Illustration students at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design which ran in 2017.  Each student was assigned an archive box, the contents of which would inspire a creative response.

The box which led to the design of this object contained a notebook belonging to John Grant who worked in the spinning department of Angus Jute Works in West Bengal. It describes the work of the spinning department and details the spindles and some of the machinery on the factory floor.  The student used this information to re-create upright wooden spindles with etched details on discs of acrylic visualised from the written descriptions in the notebook.

The archive box also contained Colloquial Hindustani for Jute Mills & Workshops written and published by Mohiuddin Ahmad in Calcutta, 1947. Excerpts from this phrasebook have been printed and wound around the spindles, creating a connection between the jute industry and the change in lifestyle and language that impacted on jute workers who left Dundee to work in the mills in Calcutta.

Interestingly, both Grant’s notebook and the Hindustani phrasebook were originally handed in to a charity in Fife, who subsequently deposited the items with Archive Services to form part of the extensive textile collections held at the University. The items add a great deal to understanding the work and wider societal changes for those who chose to relocate to India in the 1940s.  

Chaos and Order culminated in an exhibition which showcased the new works of art alongside some of the archive collections which inspired them. We are delighted that Claire, the student who produced this object, has kindly donated her art work to the archive collections. It can be viewed in the searchroom as can the items that inspired her design.

April image: Wool samples, Spring 1938

'V' Samples of wool fabric produced by Wilson Bros (Alva) Ltd, Spring 1938

These samples of wool were produced by Wilson Bros (Alva) Ltd for the Spring season. They're a timely reminder that Scottish springs can be more like winter than summer.

Originally, the Wilson family were soap, candle and wax manufacturers in Glasgow. Two of the brothers, William Primrose and James Wilson decided to turn their attention instead to textile manufacture, choosing to set up their looms in the Hillfoots, Clackmannanshire. It was an area that, because of its ideal topography, contained many spinning and weaving mills.  William already had experience in textiles; under the partnership of Wilson and Anderson, he had manufactured shawls in the Boll Mill in Clackmannanshire from 1866 until 1872. 
Wilson Bros (initially W & J Wilson) was founded in Alva in 1874 at Dalmore works.  Instead of producing shawls, the company manufactured tweeds for men's wear.  Wilsons also took a leading part in founding the trade of ladies tailor-made clothing and specialised in Ladies' Woollen Novelty fabrics. By the 1900s, Wilson Bros were also manufacturing rugs in mohair and wool and Wil-Bro-Cel blankets.  In 1907 they took over the patterns and yarns of Bannockburn Tweeds. Wilson Bros became a limited company in 1930, and in 1955 its assets were transferred to Wilson Bros (Alva) Ltd.
Dalmore, the original mill, was added to in 1888 and partly rebuilt in 1895 after a hurricane had blown over the main building.  There were further additions in 1912 and 1916, and a partial rebuilding after fire destroyed almost ninety percent of the factory in 1941.  Extensions were also added in 1950 and 1955. But a venture with a Glasgow based scarf making firm resulted in the loss of Dalmore Works in 1964. Wilsons had to manufacture out of various rented mills; a huge financial drain. 
In 1967 Wilson Bros (Alva) Ltd stopped trading when they were taken over by Pringles of Inverness.
The Archive holds the company's miscellaneous partnership, company, property and insurance records, minutes of director meetings and shareholding records. The collection also includes various financial records, orders, stock and pattern books as well as photographs.
Ref: MS 82WB

March image: Spring has sprung

David Small & Sons catalogue, 1910

As the snow melts away the first buds of spring are starting to appear, welcoming in the new season. This colourful and cheerful image is the front cover of a catalogue listing bulbs and seeds for sale at Small’s of Brechin in 1910.

David Small & Sons of Brechin was established in 1896 when David bought an existing seedsman business from James Young at 20 Swan Street, Brechin. The seedsman aspect was a constant in the business, as they further expanded into nurserymen and floristry. Continuing success led to a second shop opening at 147 High Street, Montrose. David Small & Sons thrived until the son of the founder retired in 1976.

The collection consists of colourful advertising catalogues and price lists some of which contain horticultural advice on how to best prepare the ground before plantation of seeds, how to cultivate a crop and even uses for the vegetables grown.  There are also photographs of the premises and the horses and carts used to transport the sacks of seeds. Documents relating to financial side of the business include cash books, day books and the valuation of stock when Small took over from Young.

The advice, tips and colourful illustrations will inspire the green fingered and the novice gardener alike.

Ref: MS 41/4/5 (11)

February image: Polynesian portrait

Portrait of two Polynesian women

These two women have no names and we don’t know when their photograph was taken, or exactly where. But it doesn’t really matter as their serenity and dignity shines down through the years.

The photograph is in an album featuring 19th century Polynesian scenes and people which forms part of the Alexander Thoms collection. As well as knowing nothing about the women, we know very little about Thoms.

Alexander was a member of the Thoms of Clepington family and as a young man went to Bengal, India, where he remained engaged in estate and plantation business for about thirty years. In 1884 he returned to Scotland, living in St Andrews until his death in 1925 aged 89 years.

The collection also contains another photograph album featuring pictures of geological formations and bird colonies, nests and eggs from the Hebrides and Shetland. Thoms was an amateur mineralogist, and he presented a valuable collection of stones and minerals to University College, Dundee.

Thoms’s Polynesian album was possibly a souvenir of a trip from Bengal to the Islands. It contains photographs of ancient and modern buildings, of scenery and people and of them all, these two women were likely to have been remembered by Thoms.


Ref: MS 180

Images from the collections featuring WW1 material