Away with the faeries

I was sitting reading a book the other day by Stuart Hardy called ‘Speakin O Dundee’, when I came across a rather far-fetched tale of a young man called Jamie Moir from the Hilltown.  Jamie was found by some local men one morning rather worse for wear on the slopes of the Law – covered in bruises and with his clothes all mangled.  More tellingly, an empty whisky bottle lay near to his splayed out body.  Probably fearing the worst upon finding this body, the men would have been fairly relieved to find Jamie still alive, despite his roughed-up appearance.  As they walked him back home, Jamie began to relay a tale to them that gave him a wee bit of a reputation afterwards, if the tale is anything to go by,

Jamie told them that he had been travelling on foot back home from the Longforgan fair, when, in the distance, he spotted a group of people.  He called them over to chat, but, as they got closer, he could tell that they were not folk whom he knew.  The group of around a dozen were a lot smaller than Jamie, and wore clothing which he found to be old fashioned and strange looking.  By his own admission, Jamie was fairly drunk, having stopped off at an Inn on his way back to partake of a few (too many) refreshments.  He bought a bottle for his journey home – the very bottle which lay empty beside him on the Law.

Despite this, Jamie said that the people he had met had asked him for a drink, which he willingly gave.  They all had a sip, and, before he knew it, he had been lifted from the air and carried away to the Sidlaws, where he spent the rest of the night laughing and drinking liquor with his new companions – the fairies!  How he ended up back on the slopes of the Law, he could not say.  As you could imagine, many folk were more than sceptical, especially considering the evidence and the reliability of the ramblings of a drunk man.

However, others did believe him – those who believed in such legends, or perhaps those who have had their own experiences with the fairy folk. Many explanations have been given for a belief in fairies. Some say that they are like ghosts, spirits of the dead, or were fallen angels, neither bad enough for Hell nor good enough for Heaven.  Some people believe them to be more like the modern adaptations, with pretty wings and magic wands, whilst others think that fairies are just an older version of our alien abduction stories of today.

Could it be that our tales of fairies are no more than interpreted tales about our Pictish ancestors?  A 12th century document tells of the Picts as being no more than ‘pygmies’ in stature, working hard during morning and night, but staying out of the sunlight during the day.  Scottish tribes in our earliest times used to kidnap the healthy children of their foes and replace them with sick children from their own tribe, which is a trick attributed to fairy folk.  Were those who could see the future later labelled as fairies in an attempt to explain away their abilities?

The expression “away with the fairies” is meant to imply that someone is not facing reality or living in a dream world, which could definitely be the case in Jamie’s tale of the unexplained. Whether you believe or not, we, as a race are obsessed with ‘the unknown’ and strive to find an answer for anything.  Nowadays, when we can’t validate something, we dismiss it as myth or fallacy…but that doesn’t mean to say it’s not there.  Perhaps the fairies just don’t want to play with us anymore because we’re all too busy with technology?

Read about Whuppity Stoorie, the dark fairy.

Find out more about fairies.


Stuart McHardy, Speakin O Dundee, Luath Press Ltd, 2010



Few Dundonians are as well remembered for their contributions to battle than Admiral Adam Duncan, yet many of us may not even know who he is, despite there being a statue dedicated to him in the centre of town.  The lands now known to us as Camperdown Park were gifted to him because of his decisive naval victory over a Dutch Navy fleet, whom outnumbered them in battle.  That battle was called the Battle of Camperdown, and was fought on 11th October 1797 in waters just outside Haarlem (unsurprisingly called Camperduin)

The son of Lord Provost Alexander Duncan, Adam Duncan was a well-educated and handsome man who married into good connections. Women were said to follow him everywhere and swoon at just how attractive he was – and tall, at 6’4.  Born in the Seagate in July 1731, his naval experience began at 15.  He became a lieutenant less than 10 years later, and ranked as commander after a further 4 years, by 1759. He continued to climb the ranks, making Admiral and commander-in-chief in the North Sea in 1795.

Despite his stellar career already guaranteeing him a place in the history books, it wasn’t until 2 years after his Admiralty that the Battle of Camperdown was fought.  In addition to the lands at Camperdown, he received a very generous pension as well as Camperdown house, a beautiful building that is still standing within the grounds. 1797 really was Adam Duncan’s year, as he was created Viscount Duncan of Camperdown, Baron Duncan of Lundie and also was the guest of honour at a Thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral.  It was attended by King George III and many lords and noblemen, who were all genuinely grateful and thankful to him for his services to his King and country.

He retired in 1800, aged 68, having been appointed Admiral of the white the previous year (which was the 2nd highest senior ranking in the Navy). Unfortunately, he didn’t get to see too much of his retirement, as ill-health in 1804 saw him rapidly decline, killing him before the year was out.  His eldest son was granted earldom (it’s believed his wife was fairly miffed that he didn’t receive it immediately after the Battle of Camperdown).

There is a marble statue in St Paul’s Cathedral of Admiral Duncan, as well as a bronze statue in the centre of town.  Not bad for a Dundee lad, we’re sure you’ll agree.  Admiral Nelson personally penned a letter to Admiral Duncan’s son Henry (a naval officer by this time) in October 1804, in which he wrote, “There is no man who more sincerely laments the heavy loss you have sustained than myself; but the name of Duncan will never be forgot by Britain, and in particular by its navy, in which service the remembrance of your worthy father will, I am sure, grow up in you. I am sorry not to have a good sloop to give you, but still an opening offers which I think will insure your confirmation as a commander”

To read more on the Battle of Camperdown (which, in case you didn’t read earlier, didn’t happen in Dundee), click here.


Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without itFrances Wright

In her book “Frances Wright and the ‘great experiment’”, Margaret Lane notes that very few people today have heard of Frances (Fanny) Wright, despite being a famously notorious figure on both sides of the Atlantic. Her views during the first half of the 19th century shocked both her peers and, in fact, whole countries! Even today she would not have gone unnoticed in voicing her opinion in her own indomitable style – just like a typical Dundee wifey!  Lane writes ‘If ever she is referred to, it is with the innuendo of an old-fashioned joke…”  So, who was Fanny Wright, and what did she do that was so notorious?

Frances (Fanny) Wright was born in the Nethergate in Dundee on 6 September 1795, in the middle of very Revolutionary times.  Her father, James Wright was a wealthy linen manufacturer and bit of a political radical himself, so it seems the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree!  James believed that taking huge risks paid off (when they worked) and he even found himself under police surveillance because of his antics.  Despite the crackdown on ‘radical ideologies’, James frequently attended secret political meetings of a radical nature. We read that he was almost caught red-handed with radical literature, and had to take a wee boat out into the Tay and dump it all in the river.

Unfortunately, Fanny never really knew her parents, as both James and his wife died within a few months of each other, when Frances was barely two years old.  Orphaned at such a young age, her mother’s sister took her to live in England, where she was taught until she was 16.  By then, she had learned much by way of philosophy and politics, forming some fairly radical opinions of her own.  She returned to Scotland to live with her great-uncle, and it was this time which inspired her to write and study even more.

By the age of 18, she had written her first book, but the sight of so many poor people boarding an emigrant ship in Glasgow which was on its way to America really shook her to the core.  For the first time, she had seen for herself the peasant farmers and their families who had been forced from their lands by the rich and powerful.  She wrote that she swore an oath to herself ‘to wear ever in her heart the cause of the poor and the helpless; and to aid in all she could in redressing the grievous wrongs which seemed to prevail in society’.

If America was such a ‘land of the free’, Fanny wanted to see this for herself, so she made secret plans for herself and her sister Camilla to travel to America by boat.  She was 23 at this point, and required a larger platform from which to preach her ideas – notions and concepts that did not fit in with the America of 1818.  She spent 2 years going around America with her sister, speaking out against organised religion, greed, capitalism and universal education, before briefly returning to Scotland.  From there, she went to France, where she wrote ‘Views of Society and Manners in America (1821).

When her writings were published in America, it cemented her into the history books as an established social reformer – the books were translated into numerous languages and sold around Europe and the Americas.  She went back to America in 1824 with an influential Revolutionary War hero from France, and his travelling party.  This time, she was mixing in much more influential circles, meeting Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who were the 3rd and 4th US presidents! Her political activities still continued, as she focused on rights for women, creating a furor with her ‘outrageous’ views on legal rights for married women and the right for equal education.

Something she detested whilst in America, was slavery – especially in the South.  Nothing filled her with horror quite like what she felt upon seeing the conditions of the slaves she saw in the Mississippi.  She wrote: “The sight of slavery is revolting everywhere.  But to inhale the impure breath of its pestilence in the free winds of America is odious beyond all that imagination can conceive.”

She was the first woman in America to act publicly against slavery, in 1825 she bought a tract of land twenty miles outside one of the Mississippi River trading posts named Memphis and there she established a commune she called Nashoba.  Its purpose was to discover and then to demonstrate how slaves could be responsibly educated and then freed without undue cost to their owners. Fanny had received a healthy inheritance from her parent’s death, a lot of which was used to build Nashoba, but her wealth didn’t stop her from getting stuck in with all the manual labour that needed to be done, such as clearing forestland, building cabins and tending to the surrounding lands.

Dealing with unexpected social and financial issues, as well as the burden of so much physical labour, she became physically weakened and contracted malaria. The illness was so severe that she had to move to Ohio because the heat was making her worse. Frances later went to Europe to improve her health and returned to America in January of 1828. By that time Nashoba was in financial collapse, and Fanny admitted that, despite having a manager to oversee the plantation whilst she was convalescing, there was no way it could be rescued.

Despite Nashoba being dedicated to the abolition of slaves, its ‘radical’ teachings saw it accused of being a love-camp.  Topics such as birth control, abolition of slavery and the death penalty and the trappings of organized religion made her detractors uncomfortable. Nashoba’s manager, James Richardson was openly living with a woman of colour, which, at the time, created a scandal which sent shockwaves from America to Europe!  With rumours that ‘anything goes’ at Fanny’s love camp, it became somewhat of a farce.  Her sister, Camilla, was sick, and, in her absence, had married the only other white man at Nashoba.  Amidst a flurry of criticism, mockery and personal humiliation (not to mention the fact that she had spent most of her wealth on funding this project), she was forced to abandon her plans, and it subsequently collapsed.  In doing so, she paid for the slaves she had emancipated to go back to Haiti.

Her critics called her ‘The Great Red Harlot’, not only because she had red-hair, but she was alleged to have had many illicit romances and dressed ‘inappropriately’ for the time (bodices, pantaloons and an above-the knee dress).  Her failure with Nashoba, as well as the onslaught of continuous persecution for her radical views saw Fanny begin to recede from the constant scrutiny of the public eye.  She married a French physician and had a daughter the following year, but she later divorced her husband.  He gained control of all of her resources, and what followed was a lengthy and protracted divorce, made worse by the restriction of cash from any lectures she spoke at, and any royalties from her writings, which went directly to him instead!

Health problems swiftly began to follow, and she eventually died in December 1852 from complications following a fall on an icy staircase in Ohio.  It’s a little ironic to think that she moved to Ohio from Mississippi because the heat and malaria were killing her, yet it was the ice that ultimately sealed her fate.

Despite everything, Fanny Wright stood up for what she believed in, and campaigned hard for things that were far ahead of her time.  She shouldn’t be seen as any kind of ‘old fashioned joke’ – she was a woman ahead of her time, progressive, modern and radical…and not afraid to stand up for the rights of others less fortunate than herself.  Maybe we should all take a leaf from her book.


Special thanks to Ashley Todd.


Women in History of Scotland –

Frances Wright – Wikipedia

Frances Wright and the ‘Great Experiment’ – Margaret Lane, 1972, Manchester University Press

National Women’s History Museum –

Well, if you’ve read our last post on Castle Horror’s Zombie MAYhem, you’ll know we had an absolute (Tay) whale of a time!  Saturday past was no exception either as we rocked up to Mains Castle for the 2nd instalment of the zombie madness.  The first thing we noticed was the size of the group of volunteers – there were almost 50 men and women of all ages eagerly awaiting their zombie training.

Once the introductions and videos were out of the way for those who didn’t see them at the first induction, things swiftly and expertly progressed into the training, which was exactly what we had come to witness.  Whilst the zombie recruits began their warm-up exercises (it seriously takes a lot out of you to play a zombie), Carroll and I headed down to their hearse for a wee look.  Yes, I said hearse.  If you’ve not seen it going about, where have you been?  Huge black hearse.  Castle Horror logo on the back window.  Skeleton in the passenger seat.  You’ve got to see it to believe it in all it’s gothic, creepy goodness.  It may not be to some people’s tastes, but you’ve got to admit, it is marketing genius!  I for one, was super excited to be getting in it, and wasted no time in crawling into the space in the back reserved for the coffin.

Louise was standing outside with a mixture of horror and amusement on her face as Carroll climbed into the back beside me, hauling the skeleton with her.  If ever there was a time to get photos, this would be it.  Louise quickly grabbed her phone as Carroll and I happily posed in the back, laughing so hard at times our bellies hurt.  Never did I think I would ever be laughing and capering in the back of an old hearse, but there you go!  Whilst we were having a blast outside, the zombies had been through their initial paces, and were ready for group work.  Katrina Sturrock from Facetoface was on hand to provide cosmetic effects to a couple of people, so I was more than happy to volunteer Louise for the job!

Stevie Douglas was the trainer (or Zombie Wrangler) from Scare Scotland, who expertly led the group through their paces.  Whilst fun is most certainly near the top of the agenda, it’s safety which is of paramount importance to everyone holding the event.  Personal safety and the safety of others is spoken about constantly, to ensure that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them and how they should act at all times during the event.  The enthusiasm of the volunteers was almost palpable as they put their all into their performances.  By the end of the session, even I was getting a bit freaked out at how noisy and real this army of undead were becoming. Despite being dressed casually and having on no makeup, they had already upped the scare factor.  I cannot wait to see what they will be like at the dress rehearsal!

After the singular performances, Carroll played the victim for zombie hoard training.  As they dragged her to the ground and relentlessly simulated devouring her, I could see a wee speck of fear crossing her face, and she’s used to this sort of attention! I was just glad it wasn’t me they were mauling.  The ‘officers’ were all geared up and looking pretty hot, playing with their weapons in the corner of the adjoining room as Katrina continued to work her magic on Louise, transforming her into a member of the undead with the help of a lot of latex, make-up and fake blood.  Not to be outdone, Scott showed us some of his latest latex offerings too, on his phone (but we’ll not go into any more detail that that for now!)


By the time Katrina was done with Louise, she looked the best she’s ever looked!  What made it even better was that she was heading over to her Mum’s after we’d been to see the Castle Horror gang, so her Mum got a bit of a surprise when she turned up looking bruised, battered and covered in blood!  There’s always great fun to be had when Dark Dundee get together with Castle Horror, and we always look forward to seeing them.  If you haven’t already got your tickets for Zombie MAYhem, I suggest you buy them now, because they are selling out fast.  We promise you, you won’t want to miss this if you’re a fan of zombies, horror in general and love to get a good scare!

In 1734 a new Town-House was completed on the former site of St Clement’s Church, which we know today as City Square.  The building was a fairly grand structure, as was indicative of its multiple uses, with beautiful arched piazzas which looked out onto what is now Reform Street.  It was locally referred to as ‘the pillars’.  Markets were held under the safety of the piazzas in bad weather, and it was a place of general hustle and bustle.  Atop the already-impressive building sat a spire which housed a bell, used for calling meetings or tolling proclamations.  A fire in 1773 occurred on the roof of the building – the source of which was never determined – and it caused the frames holding the bell to crash into the rooms below it, causing considerable damage.

Shops took up the majority of the ground floor of the building, with the exception of one room for town officers to stay in, if they needed to. On the first floor were the offices of the Dundee Banking Company, who remained in the building for over 50 years, as well as an apothecary which was also said to have been well established and often-visited.  Above all of this, on the second floor sat the Town Council’s Hall, described to be spacious and elegant, and also another hall (not as nice as the Town Council’s Hall) for the use of the Guildry for meetings and also for the Sheriff and Justices of the Peace to hold courts.

In 1788, a gang robbed the Dundee Banking Company by breaking into the Guildry Hall and ripping up the floor, allowing them access to the bank via its roof.  Dropping into the bank from above, the gang made off with their loot in a daring night time robbery.  Six people went to trial over the incident, and, despite only circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a man who was later sent to Botany Bay for forgery and subsequently hanged aboard the ship for trying to start a mutiny, 3 men were sentenced to death for the robbery.  The guilt of those accused was something of a contentious issue at the time, with many people unconvinced.  As robberies go, it was a fairly gutsy move by those involved – even more so because the Town Hall also housed the jail!

The main jail was on the third floor and was divided into 5 spacious rooms 24 foot long, 12 foot wide and 8 foot high. 2 rooms were kept for debtors, who were expected to provide their own bedding, candles and coal, as well as pay fourpence a day for running fees.  The jail was said to be of a very high standard of cleanliness throughout.  The ‘Iron House’, or jailer’s storeroom separated these 2 rooms at the front of the building from the 2 rooms at the back, which were for criminals.  These rooms were strengthened, with the outer walls being fortified with iron netting, double sets of bars on the windows, and the doors braced with iron rods.  Criminals were dealt with differently to those in debt, being allowed only a straw mattress and two rugs to sleep on. Above this part of the jail, in the attic space, a further 6 jail rooms were situated to account for overflow of prisoners, but by the 1800’s, it was used as the women’s prison.  As with the male jails below, these were also kept to a very high standard.

Whilst hangings were uncommon, they still did occur from time to time.  Murder and rape topped the list of offences, with 5 of the 6 recorded hangings listing this as the crime.  The first hanging recorded was for housebreaking and theft, with the perpetrator being hung to make an example of him.  Our list of hangings is here if you want to take a quick look.  During the time of the Town Hall, hangings took place outside one of the east windows of the Guildry Hall, looking onto the High Street. John Watt, David Balfour and Mark Devlin all hung from the east side of the Town Hall.  By the time the new police station was built at Ward Road/Lochee Road, executions were held there.  Arthur Woods, Thomas Leith and William Bury all met their fate at the hangman’s noose, with Bury being the last man hung in Dundee.

Whilst the Town House jail was said to be fairly secure, it had been noted that the attic cells were slightly easier to break out of, hence it was offered up as the female jail.  For anyone needing a bit of a special time-out, there was a frightfully dank and dark space in the basement for them, aptly named the “Thief’s Hole”.  It wasn’t just people who were flung in there – sometimes property was held there…and once, even a tree!

For almost 200 years, the Town House sat in its prominent position before it was torn down to make way for City Square in the 1930’s.  Attempts to save it, and even provide a new location for its re-erection proved to be fruitless, and it became yet another building Dundee lost to time.


‘Dundee Delineated’, Printed by A Colville for self and Alex M Sandeman, 1822, pp 109 – 112

‘Undiscovered Dundee’, B King, Black & White Publishing, 2011, pp 1 – 5

‘Historical description of the town of Dundee’, C Mackie, Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1836 pp 66 – 67

Canmore Town House entry

Image of Town-House flagstone by Jim Glover


If you have read our previous post on the Dundee Health Report of 1896 into zymotic diseases, you’ll already know that disease was prevalent in our city – just like in any other – with all sorts of nasties just waiting to bump you off without so much as a warning.  The Health Report also talks about general mortality and causes of death not covered by the heading of ‘disease’.  It also gives us a lot of good information as regards the overall status of the town, from which we can draw our own conclusions.

Respiratory diseases and complications accounted for 663 of the 3103 deaths in 1896, amounting to just over 20% of the overall death rate for that year.  Bronchitis was the biggest killer, claiming 338 lives.  Inflammation of the airways causes sufferers to have problems with breathing as swelling narrows the air passages.  Excess mucus build-up can also complicate the breathing process, and without treatment, lungs become unable to clear themselves, making them more prone to chronic infection.  Viral bronchitis also carries the risk of fever, which brings its own set of problems.  Death is usually due to the extra pressure put on the heart to produce more oxygen, although it has been noted that severe respiratory problems can result in death.

Pneumonia was the next largest killer of Dundonians, knocking off 285 of us in 1896.  Another respiratory infection, pneumonia is considered more serious than bronchitis (at least, nowadays).  Poor health or advanced age can make pneumonia even more of a killer.  Whereas bronchitis affects the air passages, pneumonia affects the tissue of the lungs themselves.  Symptoms include fever and/or chills, laboured/rapid breathing, pain upon breathing and excessive coughing.  Normally death from pneumonia is because of sepsis, which is the body’s toxic response to infections (sometimes known as blood poisoning).  Even today, early detection of sepsis is vital, as, worldwide, over 30% of people who develop sepsis, die.

Pleurisy took 14 of us that same year, and usually pops up when you’re already being deluged by some kind of other nasty infection, whether they be bacterial, viral, or otherwise (usually infections of the lungs, air passages or ailments such as arthritis).  Poor health and bad lifestyles don’t help the matter much, so if the initial disease didn’t kill you, you could be assured that pleurisy would.  With extreme shortness of breath and intense, stabbing pains when breathing, sufferers have been known to pass out from pain or even run out of breath completely.  Add in our old favourite, fever, rapid weight loss and collapsed lungs, and you’ve got all the classic symptoms of pleurisy.  Thankfully only 14 of our 3103 dead had to suffer that excruciating fate that year.

Laryngitis accounted for 8 lives, with croup claiming 9.  Croup and laryngitis are very similar in that they are inflammations of the larynx and vocal chords.  Whilst not a huge killer, paralysis of the vocal chords can restrict breathing and swallowing, with no indication of when the paralysis occurs.  Diseases marked as ‘other’, but not elaborated on, made up for another 9 deaths.

370 deaths were attributed to ‘phthisis’, which is explained as a ‘chronic wasting away’ or tuberculosis – then known as ‘consumption’.  Another disease commonly associated with the lungs, tuberculosis can actually occur in any organ of the body.  Other names this infection goes by include, ‘the white death’, and ‘the robber of youth’, with sufferers seen to waste away in rapid fashion.  From the lungs, where it causes the usual myriad of health issues such as night sweats, chest pains and rapid weight loss, it then moves throughout the body, wreaking havoc as it goes.  Pustules can form and burst on the skin.  The spine can become infected, causing them to collapse and cause paralysis.  Infection can quickly spread through the kidneys, bowels and bladder.  For men, the prostate can be affected, and in women, ovaries are at severe risk.  Arthritic pains in joints can accompany meningitis, heart failure and eventual wasting away (consumption).  With no real way to treat it at the time, patients were often kept isolated in a hospital or sanatorium.

The report goes on to state that 261 people died in 1896 from ‘diseases of the heart’, but does not elaborate.  Considering that many of the above diseases put undue stress on the heart as a matter of course, we must assume that subsequent examinations of otherwise healthy bodies brought medical officials to this conclusion. Further reading shows a list of sudden and accidental deaths, which we will paraphrase here, as it is fairly succinct:

“The sudden and accidental deaths during the year numbered 188, as follows:- Convulsions, 42; Overlaying, 28; Suffocation, 13; Apoplexy, 25; Severe burns, 14; Fracture of Skull, 19; Other Fractures (Accident), 13; Dislocation of Neck, 1; Acute Poisoning by Alcohol, 4; Poisoning by Opium, 2; Drowning, 11; Hanging, 1; Choking, 1; Cut throat, 3; Gunshot Wound of Heart, 1; Gunshot Wound of Abdomen, 1; Syncope, 3; Spasm of Glottis, 2; Angina Pectoris, 1; Sun-stroke, 1; Ulceration of Stomach, 1; Ruptured Blood-vessel (fall), 1 – total, 188.”

A lot of these you will have heard of, but some you may not have.  Overlaying is the accidental death of a child by smothering, usually when a larger person rolls onto them during sleep.  Mechanical asphyxia occurs as the child is unable to breathe due to the force pressed against it.  Whilst overlaying was mainly said to be accidental, any family whom it happened to faced stigma – more so if they already had a large family, as overlaying was also seen as a way of getting rid of extra mouths to feed!

Apoplexy relates to a stroke and the paralysis that so often accompanies it.  Syncope actually means fainting or swooning, so, as a primary cause of death, it’s not particularly descriptive, as it merely indicates that someone ‘dropped down dead’.  It is likely that ‘syncope’ refers to a sudden, unknown death. Spasm of the Glottis can result in immediate death and usually occurred in young children.  The muscles which control the vocal chords contract suddenly, preventing air from entering the lungs.  In severe cases, the muscles do not relax, asphyxiating the sufferer.  It’s not all doom and gloom in the report – some people managed to live a fairly long (albeit hardly wonderful) life:

“Eighty-seven died at ages of 80 and upwards, 32 males and 55 females.  Of these 76 were between 80 and 90, and eleven between 90 and 100 years, three of the latter being females who died at the age of 96.”

It just goes to show you, that, even with all these diseases and afflictions running rife in not-so-olden Dundee, some hardy critters managed to hang on until the bitter end.  Women did better on the life-expectancy scale compared to men in the late 1800’s – something they still continue to do now.  Thankfully, we now have proper sanitation, preventative medicines and vaccines in our country to combat the worst effects of some of the most horrific diseases mankind has ever seen…but it’s not that way for everyone in the world.  It may seem alien to us now, as we’ve moved on more than a century from this, but for other places in the world, it’s still very much a harsh and fatal reality.

Burial Grounds of Dundee in Pictures

Book cover for burial grounds of Dundee in pictures book, by DD Tours. Black and white image of Roodyard cemetery in Dundee

See pictures of the Howff and the ‘new’ Howff in our book – pre order now


‘City of Dundee Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the year ending 31st December 1896.’ (Dundee City Archives) pp 1 – 15.

‘The White Death: A History of Tuberculosis’, T. Dormandy.  Hambledon Press, 1999, pp 34-36, 125-137, 392.

‘The Home Hand-Book of Domestic Hygiene and Rational Medicine, Volume 2’, John Harvey  Kellogg, Pacific Press 1881, Nabu Press, 2010 pp 7-12, 218-220, 425-431.

‘Vaccines’ (Sixth Edition), S. Plotkin, W. Orenstein & P. Offit, Elsevier Health Sciences, 2012, pp 747.


When we took one of our first walking tours, we got chatting with two of the masterminds behind the horrorfest that is Castle Horror – Carrol and Scott.  We eagerly took up their offer to come and see them in action training volunteers up for their latest instalment of zombie madness – their ‘Zombie MAYhem’ event in Dundee. It was a fairly pleasant Sunday afternoon when we turned up to Mains Castle, with the sun shining and a slight breeze ruining the warmth (but at least it wasn’t raining).  With not a clue what to expect, we rocked up for the first round of training; partly excited, and a little apprehensive that we were going to get mauled by a bunch of zombies!

We went inside the castle and up a set of stairs, where we could hear people chatting.  Already there was an air of excitement amongst the people who had gathered beyond the bar area in an original room of the castle.  Exposed stone, wooden beams and ornate mirrors gave the room the perfect vibe to have a zombie training session in.  Dark, flocked curtains held most of the sunlight at bay as a group of about 25 volunteers gathered round the crew responsible for Zombie MAYhem.  Chandeliers shone overhead, but even they could not fully banish the eerie haze of darkness that seemed to fill the room.

You could tell the team had done this before, as the entire thing was efficient, professional and thorough.  All participants were given disclosure and secrecy forms due to the nature of the event and the element of surprise that it is famous for.  Guests were offered bottles of water prior to the start of the training, and we were even given a wee shout out by Carrol, who explained who we were and why we were there during her introduction speeches.  There were plenty of people on the team Carrol needed to introduce, as it takes a LOT of people to get something like this off the ground, so we were really happy that she took the time to thank us for coming and promote us to her volunteers!

As well as Castle Horror themselves, they had Jim (technical), Stuart (entertainment director), Chris and Stevie from Scare Scotland, Dave and Paddy from Viper Strike.  If we’ve missed anyone out, we apologise – Stewart was typing as fast as he could, and Louise just sat enthralled the whole time!  On top of the people we’ve named, there are many more people required to make the event a reality, such as zombie actors, regular actors, scare actors, soldiers, airsofters, as well as a media team to handle engagement.

We were promptly handed over to Scott to begin the briefing (who loves a bit of dressing up, and isn’t afraid to tell you), during which a video is played, which he put together himself for the training, and was pretty cool, even if he didn’t think so!  What Scott told us was top secret, so we can’t tell you what he said, or we’d end up in the old graveyard at the back of Mains Castle!  Suffice it to say that it whet our appetite to come back and get a bit more Zombie MAYhem for ourselves.  It’s going to be a real screamfest, we can assure you.

The next zombie academy training is on 7th May 2016, so if you’re up for it, you’re in for a real treat.  We’re going back on 7th May to watch the actors going through their paces, which we are really looking forward to.  Dress rehearsal is on 22nd May, with the event in Dundee going live on Saturday 28th May 2016, .  Get in touch with Castle Horror directly either to be a part of the action, or to buy tickets to what promises to be a true night of horror!

The Rough Wooing was a very tumultuous time in Dundee’s history, during which almost the entire town was destroyed.  In 1543 England was feeling trapped and surrounded by Catholic powers. Scotland was still part of the ‘auld alliance’ with France and Catholicism still reigned here, so the English worried about the potential for invasion from France via Scotland.

The Treaty of Greenwich laid out a plan for peace between England and Scotland, including a marriage between the then infant Mary, Queen of Scots, and Edward, Henry VIII’s son. The Regent Arran, acting on behalf of Mary, initially agreed to the treaty. But after meeting with Cardinal Beaton and upon pressure from Scots who didn’t want the marriage or alliance to go ahead, rejected the treaty and all of its terms. This caused the fury of Henry VIII to be aimed squarely at Scotland. Five days later, war was declared in Edinburgh.

The war began with an attack on Edinburgh on 3 May 1544, led by the Earl of Hertford. Hertford had instructions to burn Edinburgh and issue Henry’s proclamation which laid the blame on Cardinal Beaton’s “sinister enticement” of Regent Arran. Henry’s instructions for the invasion force were to;

“Put all to fire and sword, burn Edinburgh, so razed and defaced when you have sacked and gotten what ye can of it, as there may remain forever a perpetual memory of the vengeance of God lightened upon (them) for their falsehood and disloyalty.”

This was the last big conflict between Scotland and England, and with the two countries at war Dundee suffered greatly. While the name for the conflict might be a little whimsical, there was an awful lot of rough, and not very much wooing going on. The name ‘Rough Wooing’ was first introduced many years later, the war itself was too bloody and savage a for such a name at the time. Historian William Ferguson points out the juxtaposition of the name with the violence of the conflict:

“English policy was simply to pulverise Scotland, to beat her either into acquiescence or out of existence, and Hertford’s campaigns resemble nothing so much as Nazi total warfare, “blitzkrieg”, reign of terror, extermination of all resisters, the encouragement of collaborators, and so on.

There was also a great deal of propaganda during the war, as the idea of an alliance with England had some wavering support – some didn’t like the French interference with Scottish affairs, and others wanted to use the alliance to further reformation of religion towards Protestantism. To this end, George Wishart was sent from England along with a group returning from negotiations, as he had been a preacher in Montrose and was to return and continue spreading the protestant faith.

Just after the war began, in 1544, Dundee was ravaged by plague, and it swept through the town with a fatal severity. So many of the townspeople died that the next year when a call was put out across Scotland to gather an army to defend against Henry VIII’s forces, no one from Dundee was able to join. While Dundee was under the blanket of plague, in its darkest hour, George Wishart preached to the Dundonians afflicted with plague, banished from the town and left to die outside the gates. He was loved by the people, and it is his influence that is said to have caused the change in religion in the city which led to the destruction of the old monasteries of the Friars.

Henry VIII had also asked Hertford to destroy St Andrews, the home of Cardinal Beaton, but the distance proved too far with so many of their resources in the war further south. Henry was too distracted with his troubles with France, so any attacks north of Edinburgh were shelved for now.

After a victory at the Battle of Ancrum Moor, the Scots were included in a treaty which had also brought the end to the Italian War of 1542-6. This brought peace between Scotland and England for 18 months. However, in 1546 Fife Lairds had murdered Cardinal Beaton at St Andrews Castle, and held up at the castle hoping for support from the English Military. After the death of Henry VIII, Hertford, now Protector Somerset wanted to continue the war and it was to be even bloodier than before, still determined to force the marriage between Edward and Mary. He fought and won at the Battle of Pinkie, crushing the Scots, gaining control of the whole of southern Scotland.

It wasn’t until 1547 that the war came to Dundee. The English fleet sailed up the Tay, led by Andrew Dudley. Instead of attacking Broughty Castle with force, they only fired a few parting shots as the castle had already been given up by the traitor Lord Gray. The English then garrisoned the castle, then a place of great strength in a commanding position to defend against invaders.

The Regent Arran and then the Earl of Argyll tried to capture the castle on 22 November 1547 and then in January 1548, without success. But again treason was to be Dundee’s downfall, when Argyll made a truce with the English it gave them the opportunity to reinforce their garrison by sea. He then ‘retired’, having received a bribe of one thousand crowns of money from Lord Gray, given to him by the enemy. This left Dundee in a very vulnerable position.

An account of the invasion of the town is given by a French gentleman who took part in the attack. He says that the English, after being strengthened:

“seized upon a little hill distant from Broughty nine hundred paces, and here they built a very fine fortress, and spared no cost to render it admirable, and to furnish it with men and ammunition of all sorts.” From this position, “they sent betwixt sixteen and seventeen hundred lances, both foot and horse, to Dundee, which they entered without opposition: For although this last is one of the most beautiful, rich, and populous towns in the kingdom, and though ’twere easy to render it impregnable, yet, as the Scots have ever been careless to fortify their country, those in Dundee had no other defence than the walls of their private houses.”

Although an army was raised at Edinburgh to march north to surprise the English and take back the town, news of this reached the English, who then abandoned all of the fortifications they were building in the town, and during eight days looted all the could from the town and its houses, set the town on fire, and then retreated to Broughty Castle. When the Scots army got to Dundee they found nobody around, just a few peasants left to try and put out the fires, the town razed to the ground.

Dundee lay in ruin for a long time after the rough wooing, the destruction left behind decimated the whole area – St Mary’s Church, the tolbooth, steeple, alms house and many other common places were completely ruined, along with the history of the town in its most ancient texts and records, which burned along with the tolbooth. Because the English could aid Broughty Castle by sea, they managed to hold possession of the castle for another 2 years. Finally, in February 1550 a fleet of French and Scots ships and armies managed to siege and retake the Castle.

During this time, the young Mary was taken to safety and betrothed to the Dauphin in France in August 1548. This made it clear, even to the English, that any marriage between Mary and Edward was not going to happen. Internal strife in England caused the Downfall of Somerset, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. His successor, Warwick, was more concerned with his own position than continuing the war with Scotland. The Treat of Norham in 1551 formally ended the war, and the English Military withdrew from Scotland. After the war ended many Scots were accused of assurance or collaboration as a crime; 192 citizens of Dundee were acquitted in 1553 and the whole town of Dumfries received a pardon.

But, for a time at least, there was peace. Dundee did eventually rebuild and up until the mid 17th century was one of the most prosperous burghs of Scotland, second only to Edinburgh. They had certainly learned their lesson about defending the town, and a wall surrounding the town was complete by 1592. While this made the job of invaders more difficult, it was certainly not the last time war would reign down on Dundee’s streets.


The History of Old Dundee, Maxwell – p 26-27

Rough Wooing: James V Trilogy 3, Tranter


Wikipedia page on Rough Wooing

In March of 1897, the Public Health Department, which at that time was situated in West Bell Street, issued the ‘Vital Statistics’ report for Dundee for the previous year to the town Council’s sanitary committee.  In 1896, the population was estimated at 161,620 (in 2014, the estimate was 141,870), with the number of registered deaths noted as 3103 (in 2014, the number of deaths in the city was 1604).  The report refers to the number of deaths from ‘Zymotic’ diseases, which is the 19th century medical terminology for acute infectious and contagious diseases.

Diseases are mainly spread by infected water droplets and air transfer such as coughing and sneezing, blood and faeces, as well as via contact with infected skin, clothing or objects.  Nothing was particularly clean, which made almost everything a perfect breeding ground for a multitude of bacterial nasties.  Children were particularly vulnerable to disease, with 151 of the reported 3103 deaths being of children under the age of 5.  This made up around 5% of the overall deaths in Dundee in that year.

We have listed them according to their death rate, from highest to lowest.

Whooping Cough – 60

The report mentions the prevalence of Whooping Cough at the start of 1896, and also goes on to state that the record is most likely inaccurate due to the fact that, at the time, Whooping Cough was not an infectious disease that had to be notified to authorities.  Because of this, many cases of infection and subsequent death simply would not have been registered.  As the name suggests, Whooping Cough is associated with a persistent cough and a very distinct sound. It is a highly contagious disease, which claimed 61,000 lives worldwide in 2013.  Symptoms begin much like those of a cold, but gradually becomes worse as you struggle for breath.  In small children, breathing can stop altogether for periods of time, resulting in death.  Even now, an estimated 16 million people around the world are diagnosed with Whooping Cough every year. In 1896, 25 children under the age of 1 year died from Whooping Cough, with a further 33 deaths attributed to children between 2 and 5 years old.  Only 2 deaths were not in this age range from a total of 60.  37 of those deaths happened in the first two months of the New Year.

Measles – 41

The second-highest cause of deaths in the infectious diseases category was due to measles.  It is reported that from May to July of 1896, there was an epidemic (albeit mild) of measles in the East of the city.  Of the 655 cases of measles reported during that year, the epidemic counted for 438 of them.  Considering that only 41 deaths were registered due to measles, we could assume that the medical professionals had this well under control.  However, the report did say that it was a ‘mild’ epidemic, so perhaps, on this occasion, we just got lucky.  Measles is an airborne disease and can bring a variety of major health complications such as blindness, inflammation of the brain and, in severe cases, death.  It’s not the ‘spotty’ disease we seem to know it as, but is in fact a highly effective killer with children as its main target.  Currently, around 85% of children globally are immunised.  Unlike many other diseases, you can only catch measles once.  In the report, all deaths in Dundee in 1896 were of children under the age of 5.

Typhoid Fever – 23

Typhoid Fever (Typhoid) also increased that year by around 24 cases, with the autumn season playing a key part in the spread of the disease.  A scandal over contaminated milk that had been supplied (unknowingly, we assume) by a local farm, directly causing 3 deaths was also noted, but, in spite of, and despite this, the death rate was fairly low overall.  Typhoid means “resembling Typhus”, and the symptoms are pretty dire, including (but not limited to, or exclusive) intestinal haemorrhaging, respiratory disease, delirium and inflammation of the heart.

Diarrhoea – 23

Diarrhoea was the 4th biggest recorded killer in Dundee in 1896, and was added to the report due to the ‘action of micro-organisms’.  As strange as it may sound, death from diarrhoea was actually a thing.  Acute diarrhoea leads to dehydration and a loss of valuable minerals, ultimately resulting in malnutrition.  Death is usually due to dehydration, which is a symptom of diarrhoea.  With lack of sanitation, nutrition or clean water, sufferers were likely to be in extreme discomfort in their final days.  The report goes on to state that, of the 23 reported deaths, 14 of them happened during the autumn months.  Bizarrely, there seems to be no correlation between this event and the scandal of the milk farm incident which happened at the same time. The increase in deaths was put down to seasonal changes with no mention of the possibility that the infected milk could have also caused some of these deaths. 17 of the 23 recorded deaths were of children, 14 of which were under the age of one.

Diphtheria – 21

An antitoxin treatment for Diphtheria was hailed as the reason for the low number of infections registered, with 92, but as we can see, there were 21 deaths still recorded, taking the mortality rate of the disease to over 20%. A vaccine was not introduced for this moisture-borne killer until 1942, and, until then, Diphtheria claimed an annual death-rate average of around 4000 people in the UK.  Even today, with full medical treatment, there is still a 5 – 10% risk of death.  Symptoms include fever, sore throat, increased heart rate and nausea, but the real kicker is in the powerful toxin produced by the Diphtheria bacteria.  The toxin attacks and destroys the cells in all of the airways, and, as they die, they form a membrane which can attach to the throat and cause death by choking.  If the infection reaches the heart, it will cause heart failure and death (if the choking hadn’t already got you by then).  In 1896, 19 of the 21 recorded deaths were of children aged 5 and under. As you can probably tell, the report makes for pretty grim reading.

Scarlet Fever – 19

In December of 1896, there were 73 cases of Scarlet Fever reported – the highest month of the year.  For the year in total, the number was 422.  Despite there only being 304 cases being reported the previous year, the low death rate showed that it was not a major killer, and indicated that the strain may have been milder that year.  Again, a high proportion of deaths were of children under the age of 5, with 13 of the 19 reported fatalities being within this age range. Scarlet Fever is a ‘flesh-eating’ infection, and amongst the most dreaded of all ailments, capable of wiping out an entire family of children in a matter of days.  Symptoms included the obvious red rash and bright red tongue, but also included paranoia, hallucinations, pneumonia and meningitis.  Imagining an adult going through something like this is harrowing enough, but to think of those young children suffering in such a horrendous way is something altogether more distressing.

Typhus Fever – 2

The 2 deaths attributed to Typhus Fever were in Hilltown and Lochee, in March and May respectively.  In the first case, the patient had been ill for a week before seeking medical help.  Unfortunately, they died on what was believed to be their 12th day after contracting the disease.  Typhus is transferred to humans via animal parasites such as ticks, lice and fleas.  Flu-like symptoms are followed by a rapidly-spreading rash, which can then lead to light sensitivity, an altered mental state, and in some cases, coma.  Untreated, the skin can become blistered and gangrenous, causing necrosis and a build-up of lethal toxins in the bloodstream. Definitely not a nice way to go!

In more recent times, statistics show that, between the years 2012 and 2014, there were 38 deaths recorded in Dundee City involving children under the age of 14, with a city-wide death-rate of 4842. In adults, most of the causes of death have remained the same, with cancer topping the list, followed by circulatory disease, respiratory diseases, digestive diseases, external causes and ‘other’.  Maybe we haven’t learned as much about healthier living as we thought we had!


‘City of Dundee Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the year ending 31st December 1896.’ (Dundee City Archives)

Oxford Vaccine Group


There’s a fairly curious tale concerning a certain metal plaque erected on a wall in Victoria Road in Broughty Ferry; a tale filled with sadness which alludes to the altering of the course of history itself.  How could such a wee place like Broughty Ferry lay claim to a tale of such magnitude, we hear you say?

Plaque of the mystery of Princess Charlotte's visit in Broughty Ferry
Plaque of the mystery of Princess Charlotte’s visit in Broughty Ferry

Let’s go back to 1816, when Princess Charlotte, daughter of the soon-to-be King George IV, became married to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (later King of the Belgians).  News of a pregnancy soon followed – an heir to the throne – but it was quickly cut short when Princess Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn male and tragically died the following day in November 1817, aged just 21.  This dark sequence of events has been written in the history books as occurring at Claremont House in England, but here’s where the twist comes in…

Local Dundee legend has it that Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold were not at Claremont, as the story suggests, but were, in fact returning from a trip to Leopold’s homeland of Belgium when a mighty storm took hold of their ship.  With their lives in perceived mortal danger, and with Princess Charlotte heavily pregnant, they sought refuge in the Tay in the hope of waiting out the terrible weather, and ended up in Broughty Ferry.

Unfortunately, the situation had proven too stressful for Charlotte and she began to go into labour.  Getting her onto land would have proved difficult at best, but it is alleged they alighted at West Broughty Ferry and managed to secure lodgings at a nearby cottage where Charlotte gave birth and subsequently died. If Charlotte and Leopold’s child had survived, Queen Victoria would never have risen to the throne, and history as we now know it would be completely different.

So, could there be any truth to the story?  There was certainly a headstone in memory to her, of which the current metal plaque bears reference, which surely must mean something?  The inscription bears reference to her being 22 years of age, but, upon looking at her dates of birth and death, she was actually 21 when she died.  She was only a few months away from her 22nd birthday, but is this just a simple error, or signs of prefabrication?  If we look at where Belgium is on the map, it’s hard to imagine why their ship would have been so far up the North Sea to have reached Broughty Ferry if their intention was to return to England from Belgium – even if there was a freak storm.

Whilst a few of the facts don’t quite add up, it’s a mystery that some historians have spent a lot of time researching and looking into, and, quite frankly, we think the tale adds a certain richness to our local history, regardless of whether any of it is based in fact or not.  The next time you’re in Broughty Ferry, have a look at the plaque for yourself and let us know whether you think Princess Charlotte really did give birth to a would-be king in a wee cottage near the shore.  We’d like to think that she did, but we’ve got to admit, even we’re a bit sceptical about this one.


FDCA website: