Verdant Works, Dundee

As regular readers are aware, I am a proud Dundonian and love roaring the gospel about the delights of my native city. Its industrial past has always held a fascination for me as various members of my family including my late, great grandmother, worked in its famous jute mills. Dundee’s Verdant Works is the city’s museum dedicated to first of the 3 J’s (Jute, Jam and Journalism if ye didna’ already ken) and is set, naturally, in a former textile mill near the city centre.

Juteopolis

At the turn of the 19th/20th century, Dundee had more millionaires per head of population than anywhere else in Britain. This was due to the many estates and mansion houses of its jute barons. In sharp contrast to the owners plush lifestyles, the workers themselves lived in unsanitary, slum conditions. At its height, the jute industry employed more than 50,000 (41% of the population) and 130 mills were based in the city. Workers in Dundee mills processed the raw jute sent from India and sent this commodity all over the world. The jute sacks were used to package coffee, cocoa beans, wheat and were even used as wagon covers by settlers to the American Mid-West. Jute was clearly, a key ingredient in the development of the global economy, earning Dundee the title, Juteopolis.

Andy stands in front of the map of Dundee and the world

The approach to the museum along West Henderson’s Wynd takes you through the heartland of the city’s old, industrial buildings. Many of which are now being creatively used as art spaces and businesses. As you turn left into the premises, you arrive into a beautiful courtyard. Stand still a moment, close your eyes and (weather permitting) listen for echoes of the past. The factory horn sounding, the laughter and chatter and workers boots clattering on the cobbled ground. It’s in this courtyard that you can try your hand at the gird and cleek (hoop and stick.) Trust me, those Victorian kids truly had the knack ‘cos it’s gey hard!

Gird and cleek

Be sure to take advantage of the 2 attractions for 1 offer on both the Verdant Works and the RRS Discovery (more on that handsome chap later.) Makes sense to get access to both sites and it’s good value to boot as the ticket is valid for one year from the date of issue. Onwards lavenders … You begin the tour by ‘clocking in’ for your shift before heading on through the clerks’ and managers offices. After this, you head straight on into the story of how jute production came into being in Dundee.

Jute production

There are some beautiful, antique looms to observe …

… and some cheeky, wee articles tae square go!

Square go!!

… not to mention some incredible machinery to behold! This is the steam engine which powered the old mill. It was built in 1801 and look, it still works! It really is quite overwhelming to stand and behold this beautiful feat of Georgian Regency period engineering.

They Fairly Mak Ye Work

After you come out of the High Mill, the next part of the museum takes you through an exhibition about living conditions and the quality of life (or not) that the workers had. Conditions in the old factories are well documented as being hellish and with the constant noise of the machines, many a mill lavvie went deaf. Distressingly, most of these workers were women and children as they cost less to employ. Women outnumbered men three to one in the mills and were usually the main breadwinners of their house. The children were often made to pick cleaning dust from beneath the machines. A job that was very hazardous due to them being so close the tightly packed equipment.

Mill Girls, Verdant Works

There’s a section where the contrast in tenement living and the plush, privileged homes are presented side by side. Poverty and luxury are separated by a window into each others worlds.

Verdant Works

It’s small wonder that sooner or later the workers started to revolt and strike. Union representation became very popular amongst the women and the suffragette movement in the city was very behind the poor workers. Protest rallies organised by the unions and supported by the suffragettes succeeded in halting a 10% pay cut. Dundee was indeed “a hotbed of sedition” as James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose would put it. How proud I am of this fact *raises fist into the air*

Whilst the sheer scale of the building and quality of its relics are deeply impressive, its the friendly, chatty staff who make this place. They appeared to be walking, talking encyclopaedias on Dundee’s past and keen to impart on you brilliant, wee anecdotes about aspects of city life. One of the guides, Lily filled me in on ‘The Monkey Parade‘ which was essentially, the route walked by young people after they had visited The Palais dance hall. The parade itself was a social walking route running from the Overgate to the Wellgate. Its patrons were given the opportunity to stop, have a natter with folk and … flirt!

The entire museum is filled with fun things to explore and there’s also plenty for kids to do as it’s a very interactive and ‘touchy’ experience. We certainly spent no time in running riot about the place!

Verdant Works,

Punch and Judy

Oh, and dinna’ forget to get yersel’ some bra Dundee cake and a cuppa tea in the fantastic cafe afterwards. Here’s our model, Andy with one of the delicious delights on offer.

Dundee cake

The Great Tapestry of Scotland

Fittingly, The Great Tapestry of Scotland is currently on display here too. This is a stunning, 143 metre, embroidered tapestry made by stitchers across the nation. Each group took responsibility for a section of it from the origins of the land, through the Treaty of Union, the Highland Clearances and onwards to the present day. I was fortunate to see this beautiful feat of skill and creativity a while ago in the Scottish Parliament foyer. However, in its present residency in the atmospheric, light surrounds of the High Mill, it looks very much at home. I urge to behold this as both the story of this project and the awe-inspring finished result are just wonderful.

20170902_135212

In my humble opinion, The Verdant Works is not only a terrific way to while away an afternoon, but is possibly one of Scotland’s best museums. What sets it apart from so many others is that what you get here is a truly human experience. The entire place is a fitting tribute to the hard graft of the working class women, children and men of the city’s Victorian era and their agitating for worker’s rights. There’s an atmosphere to the place that is at once haunting, yet speaks of a spirit that is resilient and buoyant. Visit this place and you’ll understand what I mean. Dundee forever!

How to get there

You’ll find it near the centre of town, here.

Verdant Works, Dundee

W Henderson’s Wynd, Dundee DD1 5BT
Phone: 01382 309060

www.verdantworks.com

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