For other uses see Dundee (disambiguation)
Dundee's location in Scotland
Dundee's location in Scotland

Dundee (Dn Dagh in Gaelic) is Scotland's fourth largest city, population 154,674 (2001), situated on the North bank of the Firth of Tay. The city is built on the basalt plug of an extinct volcano (174 m (571 feet)), now called Dundee Law. During the Iron Age it was the site of a Pictish settlement. In his History of the Scottish People (1527), Hector Boece suggests that the Pictish name was Alec-tum, meaning 'a handsome place'. (This name was still in use, alongside the modern name, as late as 1607, according to William Camden.)

Traditionally, Dundee lay within the county of Angus (historically named Forfarshire). From 1975, the city was the administrative centre of Tayside Region (and was itself administered as one of the districts of that region). Since the abolition of two-tier local government in Scotland in 1996, the City of Dundee (incorporating the town of Broughty Ferry) has been a self-contained Unitary Authority. This makes it Scotland's smallest local government subdivision.

The city, which celebrated its 800th anniversary in 1991, is known as the 'City of Discovery'.

On 5 March 2004, Dundee was granted Fairtrade City status.



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High Street

William the Lion granted the town the status of burgh by royal charter in 1191. His brother, David, 8th Earl of Huntingdon is said to have named the town Donum Dei ('God's gift') upon narrowly escaping death during his return from the Crusades. A more convincing etymology for the modern name is present in the Gaelic name for the city, Dung Deagh ('dung hill').

Defence & Destruction

Dundee suffered periods of occupation and destruction in the late 13th and early 14th Centuries. Following John Balliol's renunciation (1295) of Edward I's authority over Scotland, the English King twice visited Scotland with hostile intent. Edward (the 'Hammer of the Scots') removed Dundee's royal charter — denying the town's people the right to control local government and the judiciary. He occupied the Castle at Dundee in 1296, but was successfully removed by William Wallace in 1297. From 1303 to 1312 the city was occupied again. This time, Edward's removal resulted in the complete destruction of the Castle by Robert the Bruce (who had been proclaimed King of Scots at nearby Scone in 1309). In 1327, the Bruce granted the town a new charter. Later in the 14th Century, during the Hundred Years War, the French invoked the Auld Alliance. Richard II marched North and reduced Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee to ashes.

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Dundee over the Tay Bridge

Dundee became a walled city in 1545 during a period of English hostilities known as the 'rough wooing' (Henry VIII's violent attempt to extend his Protestant ambitions North by marrying his youngest son Edward, Duke of Cornwall to Mary, Queen of Scots). Mary maintained an alliance with the French, who successfully captured Protestant rebels (including John Knox) at St Andrews Castle, near Dundee, in July 1547. That year, however, buoyed by victory at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, the English occupied Edinburgh and went on to destroy much of Dundee by naval bombardment. The Howff Burial Ground, granted to the people of Dundee in 1546, is the city's lasting gift from Mary.

During a period of relative peace between Scotland and England, the status of Dundee as a Royal Burgh was once more confirmed in The Great Charter of Charles I, dated 14 September 1641. Ironically, however, with the outbreak of the Scottish Civil War in 1644, Dundee continued to suffer at the hands of nobles loyal to the English monarch — the Royalist James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose besieged the town in April 1645. Nor were Dundee's misfortune's over when the hostilities between Scottish Royalists and Covenanters were brought to an end. On 1 September 1651 during the English Parliamentarian invasion of Scotland of the Third English Civil War, General Monck (commander of Cromwell's forces in Scotland) captured Dundee. His troops pillaged the town, destroying much of it and killing up to 2,000 of the 12,000 inhabitants.

John Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee raised the Stuart standard on Dundee Law in 1689. For this significant early contribution to the Jacobite uprising, Graham quickly earned the name Bonnie Dundee.

  • One small section of the city wall — the Wishart Arch — still stands as a reminder of Dundee's turbulent history.


After Union with England ended military hostilities, Dundee was able to redevelop its harbour and establish itself, as an industrial and trading centre. The industrial history of Dundee is traditionally summarised in the expression "the three Js".

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Cox's Stack -
A last reminder of the jute industry


During the 18th and 19th Centuries, flax was imported for the production of linen. Dundee supported 36 spinning mills by 1835, paving the way for a flourishing industry in the production of jute, a common fiber. This growth precipitated a large increase in population.

By the end of the 19th Century the majority of Dundee's working population were occupied in jute manufacture, but the industry began to decline in 1914, when it became cheaper to rely on imports from India. (Ironically, Dundee's 'jute barons' had invested heavily in Indian factories). Commercial jute production in Dundee came to an end in the 1960s. Some manufacturers successfully diversified to produce synthetic fibres and linoleum for a short time. Many mills were destroyed, but others have been redeveloped for residential use. An award-winning museum, based in the old Verdant Works, commemorates the city's manufacturing heritage and operates a small jute-processing facility.


The second "J" should really be an "M": Dundee's link with jam stems from Janet Keiller's 1797 'invention' of marmalade. Mrs. Keiller is said to have devised the recipe in order to make use of a cargo-load of bitter Seville oranges acquired from a Spanish ship by her 'husband', James. This account is a fiction, but nevertheless marmalade became a famed Dundee export after James Keiller (in reality Janet's son) industrialised the production process during the 19th Century. Traditional marmalade production has fallen victim to corporate takeovers, but distinctive white jars of Keiller's marmalade can still be bought.


Journalism is the only "J" which continues to thrive in Dundee — the publisher DC Thomson & Co. celebrates its centenary in 2005. The firm publishes a wide spectrum of newspapers, children's comics and magazines, including The Sunday Post, The Courier and children's favourites, The Beano and The Dandy.

Maritime Heritage

As a whaling port, Dundee developed a prosperous maritime industry. In 1857 the whaling ship Tay was fitted with steam engines. By 1872 Dundee had become the premier whaling port of the British Isles. Over 2,000 ships were built in the city between 1871 and 1881. The last whaling ship to be built at Dundee was the Terra Nova, in 1884. Shipbuilding came to a halt altogether in 1961. The Dundee Perth & London Shipping Company (DPLC) ran steamships down the Tay from Perth and on to Hull and London. The firm still exists, but is essentially now a travel agency. RRS Discovery, the ship taken to the Antarctic by Robert Falcon Scott, was built in Dundee in 1901. It returned to its birthplace in the 1980s and is moored next to a purpose-built visitors' centre. An older ship, HMS Unicorn, is moored in the docks. It was not actually built at Dundee, but as the oldest wooden British warship still afloat it is a prestigious addition to a city with a rich maritime heritage.

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The Tay Bridge & Fife
from the summit of Dundee Law

The Tay Bridge Disaster

In 1879 a railway bridge over the Tay was opened. Its completion was commemorated in 'verse' by William McGonagall. Less than a year after its construction, however, the bridge collapsed under the weight of a train full of passengers. McGonagall's classic The Tay Bridge Disaster vividly recounts the tragedy. The bridge was replaced in 1887. Unfortunately McGonagall wrote another poem about the new one.

Winston Churchill

Between 1908 and 1922, the city's MP was none other than Winston Churchill, at that time a member of the Liberal Party. Churchill's conspicuous noble background and his frequent absence from Dundee on cabinet business alienated him from his constituents. The last years of his tenure in Dundee were marked by vitriol from local newspapers. Prevented from campaigning in the 1922 general election by appendicitis, his wife Clementine spoke for him instead, but was spat on for wearing pearls. Churchill was ousted by Labour candidate E.D. Morel and the Labour Prohibitionist Edwin Scrymgeour. Churchill left Dundee — "short of an appendix, seat and party" — never to return. In 1943 he was offered Freedom of the City but refused to accept.

Modern Dundee


Dundee has never regained its status as a major manufacturing centre. In the 1960s and 70s the arrival in the city of three major companies — Michelin, NCR (the NCR plant being nicknamed "The Cash" among Dundonians), and Timex — went some way to alleviating unemployment. Timex closed their Dundee plant in early 90s, reflecting the industrial mood of the time. The development of a number of 'enterprise zones' and 'technology parks', and in particular the arrival of a number of call centres led to a period of economic optimism. At present, however, the employment picture is not good (outwith the specialised fields of medicine, science and technology). The city has in fact experienced a drop in population in recent years.


In 1967, the modern University of Dundee was independently established, following 70 years as a college of the University of Saint Andrews. It is currently at the forefront of biomedical research and oncology, and incorporates the Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art and Design. The University's Rector is television presenter Lorraine Kelly.

The University of Abertay Dundee is a 'new university'. It was created in 1994, under government legislation granting the title 'University' to Dundee Institute of Technology (which was itself founded in 1888 and gained independent degree-giving authority in the 1970s). Today, the University of Abertay is a world leader in computer games technology and design and is also home to the Dundee Business School.

Dundee has a student population of approximately 34,000.

Immigration & Multiculturalism

Dundee's most significant influx occurred in the mid-1800s: Irish workers, driven from their native country by potato blight made no small contribution to the city's industrial success. The city also attracted immigrants from Italy and Poland in the 19th and 20th Centuries. However, Dundee did not experience post-war immigration on the same scale as some other cities. Its status as a declining industrial centre meant that it was not a major destination for the waves of immigrants who were to have such an important impact on the colour and culture of the British Isles in the 1950s and 60s. Nevertheless, the city does now have a sizable ethnic minority population. (Incidentally, Dundee continues to attract a particularly large number of Irish students; the reasons for this are unclear.)

There are two cathedrals in the city — St. Paul's (Scottish Episcopal) and St. Andrew's (Roman Catholic). The City Churches — home to three separate congregations — is the most prominent Church of Scotland building in Dundee. Robert Murray M'Cheyne was the minister of St Peter's there from 1838 to his death in 1843. During his ministry, there was something of a religious revival in Dundee.

A Jewish community has existed in the city for more than a century. The present synagogue was built in the 1970s. Muslims are served by a large, brand new mosque (opened in 2000). Dundee is also home to a school for Muslim girls — one of only two such schools in Scotland. The city also has a Hindu temple and Sikh gurdwara.

Theatre & The Arts

Dundee is home to Scotland's only full-time repertory ensemble, established in the 1930s. Hollywood actor Brian Cox, a native of the city, is its most famous alumnus. The Rep Theatre, built in 1982, is also the base for Scottish Dance Theatre. Dundee's principal concert auditorium, the Caird Hall (named for its benefactor, the jute baron James Caird), regularly plays host to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. A number of smaller venues also host local and international musicians during Dundee's annual Jazz, Guitar and Blues Festivals. Dundee Contemporary Arts — hub of the city's cultural quarter — was opened in 1999.


Dundee has two professional football teams (Dundee F.C. and Dundee United F.C.). Their stadia (Dens Park and Tannadice Park) are closer together than any other pair in Britain, making them a frequent subject of football trivia quizzes.

Pop Music

Dundee has a true claim to pop fame, having produced one of the defining soul-funk bands of the 1970s — the Average White Band. 1980s pop outfits The Associates and Danny Wilson were also Dundonian. Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue trained at Dundee College of Education and taught briefly at a high school in the city. Current pop festival-headliners and Mercury Music Prize nominees Snow Patrol are Irish but have been adopted by the city because they were formed at the University of Dundee. The Dundee band Spare Snare were recently voted one of the fifty best Scottish bands of all time in a recent poll for The List magazine.


Dundee maintains cultural, economic and educational ties with six twin cities:

City of Discovery

Electric Street-Lighting

Dundee was the first city in the world to have electric street lights, employing bulbs designed by James Bowman Lindsay.

The Postage Stamp

James Chalmers is recognised as having invented the modern postage stamp in Dundee. His tombstone, in the Howff burial ground, reads: "Originator of the adhesive postage stamp which saved the penny postage scheme of 1840 from collapse rendering it an unquallified (sic) success and which has since been adopted throughout the postal systems of the world."


A series of innovations by NCR (including the development of magnetic-strip readers for cash registers) culminated in the production of the first ATM, or 'hole in the wall' cash machine, at its Dundee plant in the late 1960s.


The first Sinclair home computers were produced at the Timex factory in Dundee in the early 1980s. The computer games firm Rockstar North — developer of the extraordinarily successful Lemmings and the Grand Theft Auto series — was founded in Dundee as DMA Design. For a small city thousands of miles from Silicon Valley, Dundee's impact on the computing industry has been extraordinary.


High School of Dundee

The High School of Dundee is one of Scotland's leading independent schools, and the only private school in Dundee. It has its origins in the Grammar School founded by the Abbot and Monks of Lindores after they were granted a charter by Gilbert, Bishop of Brechin, in the early 1220s to "plant schools wherever they please in the burgh": their rights were confirmed by a Bull conferred upon them by Pope Gregory IX on 14 February 1239. It is from this Bull that the School's motto "Prestante Domino", translated as "Under the Leadership of God", is taken.

Early scholars included William Wallace, Scottish patriot, and Guardian of Scotland during the Wars of Independence, Hector Boece, historian and first Principal of the University of Aberdeen, and James, John and Robert Wedderburn, authors of The Gude and Godlie Ballatis, one of the most important literary works of the Scots Reformation. The School itself was the earliest Reformed school in Scotland, having adopted the new religion in 1554.

The School has continued its fine traditions of education and service to this day.


  • Smith, W.J. ed. (1980): A History of Dundee [Dundee, David Winter & Son]

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