We asked Iain Flett, City Archivist at the City Archives based under the Caird Hall, a few things about the city’s dark past because if anyone would know, it would be him! Iain has worked for the archives department for 40 years, joining after local government regionalisation in 1975 when some local authorities were introducing civic archives.

Describe for us a typical day in the life of the archives department.

From 8:15 am onwards the office and stores are opened up and records retrieved for members of the public and for volunteers who are working on projects.

From 8:30 am phone calls start from council and public. Council staff will be enquiring about council title deeds, past minutes, council house sales and non-current legal files. The Public may be booking an appointment to look at a record, asking for information about local industry, housing, or family history, and may be schoolchildren, undergraduates, post graduates, environmental consultants, business people or retired people.

Members of the public and volunteers arrive from 9:30 am. Occasionally small groups from schools or community groups may call in for a project or talk and we book a committee room for that.

The office closes for lunch between 1 and 2 pm and the public leave at 4:30 pm in time for staff to clear up, put away records and set the alarms. Archive staff may give occasional talks in the community during the working day or in the evenings.

What are the oldest records held in the archives?

The grant by King Robert the Bruce of a tollbooth in 1325. The National Archives, Kew, have the Royal copy of a trading grant given to Dundee in 1199, but the original in Dundee was probably destroyed or ransomed during the siege of Dundee Castle in the late 13th century.

What is your favoured story regarding the origins of the naming of Dundee?

From the Gaelic, Dùn Dè. Dùn is definitely hill. Some describe Dè as being “fire” but I prefer another theory which says it comes from ancient Gaelic meaning “of God”.  The Latin motto on the coat of arms “Dei Donum” – Gift of God – a pun on the Latin name ‘Taodunum’ – may be a further pun on a latter Gaelic derivation.

There are many myths and fallacies surrounding the “witch” Grissell Jaffray.  Care to debunk some of them?

Her execution in 1669 comes in the spate of late witch burnings between the restoration of Charles II in 1660 and his death in 1685. Grissell Jaffray was probably an Aberdonian married to James Butchart, a Dundee burgess in 1615 and therefore an influential member of society. James was born in 1594 and therefore would be 73 when his wife was executed. We can assume that she would roughly have been the same age. The Jaffrays were an influential Aberdeen family, with people like Alexander Jaffray who was Provost of Aberdeen in 1651 during the time of the Cromwellian occupation. The execution of Grissell Jaffray may have been politically motivated in the wake of destruction carried out in Dundee by the Cromwellian forces in 1651.

Public executions have been fairly popular in the past – what were the most common methods of execution in Dundee over the passing centuries, and, more importantly, where did it all happen?

Beheading by axe and by hanging. Beheading by axe would be a higher status method of departure while hanging was used for the general criminal classes. Both would take place centrally. Hanging would take place from the window of the Guildhall on the first floor of The “Pillars” Town House built by Adam before the building of the new Gaol at the back of the Dundee Sheriff Court, when a gibbet would be erected as necessary. Witch burnings, with their stench and heat from fierce fires, would take place outside the burgh in the natural amphitheatre of Witches’ Knoll beyond the West Port, still named in Wood’s Plan of 1821.

In your opinion, what was the darkest day in Dundee’s history?

1st September 1651. Governor Lumsden defending the town had been offered quarter (surrender) by the most efficient army in Europe but had inexplicably refused it, possibly because of pressure put on him by the rich merchants who had taken shelter in Dundee. When the Cromwellian troops did storm the barricades they therefore took no quarter and slaughtered up to a fifth of the population and destroyed much of the town’s guild, church and civic records.

If you didn’t already have your “dream job” as City Archivist, what would have been your next choice of “dream job”?

A marine archaeologist in the Mediterranean. I had a Royal Naval childhood in Malta and fell in love with the clear blue seabed.

Why is it still important in “modern times” to keep hold of our city’s history?

George Santayana (1863-1952);  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

If you could re-write just one piece of history, what would you change, and why?

As we know from “Back To The Future”, you can’t change just one piece of history without ultimately changing the whole of history – local always becomes global.

We also asked Iain a bit about what the future held for the city archives. As with most government funded initiatives budget cuts are always a threat, and the conservation of both their paper and digital collection is always going to be difficult in financially tight times. Iain remains positive for the future however, saying the introduction of the Public Records Act 2011 will lead to a higher standard of public record keeping, and the volunteers of the Friends of Dundee City Archives also continue to do an amazing job creating indexes and guides to the records. Iain would like to encourage Dundonians to appreciate the richness of their history – Dundee has always been a community who “punched above their weight” – as well as teachers and schoolchildren, who can use local investigations of history in the Curriculum for Excellence.

The city archive is an amazing resource, one we have frequently used to find records of Dundee’s history, as well as a little bit of family research. We hope if you haven’t already you’ll take a trip to the archives to research your past, or even volunteer with the Friends of Dundee City Archives. Also keep an eye out for their digital content online including the Friends of Dundee City Archives which has a wealth of information from the archive available to read online, and the Flickr account which has attracted 6 million searches since its creation. The future of the City Archives should be a bright one, as long as we all continue to appreciate and support this amazing resource right on our doorstep.


Well it’s been a very stormy start to winter with storms Abigail, Barney, ClodaghDesmond, Eva and Frank hitting our shores, and no doubt more on the way. As much as we all like to have a good moan about the weather, it’s certainly not been the worst Dundee has ever seen! We’ve taken a look at the ten worst storms in Dundee’s history.

Discovery Dundee Lightning
Discovery Dundee Lightning by Foxhound Photography


  1. 4th December 2015 – Storm Desmond

Now this is going to get much easier in the future with the Met Office naming all the storms now, but the most recent storm to batter the city gets our lowest place on the list. Although it’s been a terrible time for much of Scotland, Dundee itself hasn’t been particularly badly hit compared to others. So Storm Desmond gets our 10th worst Dundee storm place.


  1. North Sea flood of 1953

While winds reached up to 126mph and massive waves 5.6m above normal sea level battered the east coast of Scotland in the beginning of 1953, Dundee avoided the worst of the damage. Dundee didn’t entirely escape as damage to buildings and tree’s being pulled up was reported across the city.


  1. 8th December 2011 – Hurricane Bawbag

We could have called this storm by its more official name, the weather front known as Fredhelm, but really the naming of this storm meant we had to include it. Schools closed, the Tay Road Bridge was closed to all traffic, and trains were cancelled between Dundee and Perth, and Aberdeen as the winds reached up to 70mph. So at least we all had a funny name and the video of the trampoline being blown down the street to keep us amused eh!


  1. 17th January 1993

While flooding caused mass devastation over in Perth with people having to be rescued from their homes after the Tay burst its banks twice, Dundee was again luckier. Gale force winds caused around 100 trees to fall in Tayside, and Dundee slaters and roofers were reported to be inundated with calls from householders after these winds died down.


  1. January 1987

Inches-deep snow had workforces in Tayside busy keeping the region moving. However an Evening Telegraph photographer reported nose-to-tail traffic from the dual-carriageway outside Dundee’s Angus Hotel to the Post Office in Monifieth. Schools were closed throughout Tayside, and Forfar and Kirriemuir were named as the places hit hardest by blizzards. Some areas reported up to 40cm of snow during the cold snap.

Dundee Lightning Strike
Dundee Lightning Strike by Foxhound Photography


  1. 17th December 1921 – The highest tides in Dundee

The highest tide recorded since 1883, i.e. since we’ve been taking accurate measurements, was on 17th December 1921. The lashing rain and high winds meant the highest tide recorded was at 10.4 ft. This caused flooding in the harbour area with Greenmarket flooded to a depth of 3 inches, water penetrated sheds at Eastern Wharf and King William Dock damaging jute and cement. Fisher St in Broughty Ferry was also flooded with fishing boats moored to lamp-posts damaged.


  1. 31st January 1983

Pupils were sent home from Tayside schools when this winter storm hit. The gales had caused damage to Whitfield High in Dundee, Menmuir and Glenprosen in Angus, and several schools in Perthshire. Car owners around Whitfield High reported that falling debris from the school had broken their windscreens. Trees toppled onto power cables in the Ashludie area of the city, causing outages. On the Brechin bypass, three lorries were overturned by the high winds.


  1. 28th November 2010 – Thundersnow

Now I have a personal dislike of this storm, which started with our neighbours tree falling onto the road, narrowly missing our car, and a few hours after clearing that by ourselves, and making a treacherous back road journey to Edinburgh Airport, the flight for my fun winter holiday break to Amsterdam was cancelled! This could only be described as the never-ending winter of 2010/11 with parts of Tayside covered in a foot of snow, and it stayed for bloody ages. Temperatures dropped to -17C in some parts! And we were all introduced to the awesome sounding, but not so fun to experience firsthand, thundersnow.


  1. 1600s storms damage the harbour

A storm in 1600 damaged the harbour so severely that an application was made to James VI for assistance and he granted a letter under the Privy Seal to allow a “towst”, or tax, to be imposed over a period of 28 years to pay for the necessary repairs. Another storm in 1658 once again seriously damaged the harbour, which at this time was of sufficient size to hold at least one hundred vessels. The harbour was vitally important to the economy of the city during these times, and damage to the harbour and resulting trade would have been devastating for many in the town.


  1. 28th December 1879 – Tay Rail Disaster

This has to be our number one storm, for the number of lives lost. Not the highest gales or most rain recorded, but the combination of the raging storm and engineering faults caused the Tay Rail Bridge to collapse under the pressure of the oncoming train. Much of the bridge and the entire train was plunged into the freezing dark water, claiming the lives of the 75 people on board.


So that’s our top ten Dundee storms, feel free to comment below if you can recollect any other terrible storms. Wonder when the next one will hit that makes it to our list?

Light_Lightning over the Tay Road bridge by Foxhound Photography

Many of us remember going to see the Tay Whale skeleton on display in the McManus, but do you all know the story behind the incredible chase? It was November 1883 when the 40ft humpback whale first appeared in the Firth of Tay, just off the shore of Dundee. Whaling was big business in Dundee at that time and with it being winter, all the whalers, their ships and equipment were in harbour. Not able to resist such a bounty right on their doorstep, many whalers set out to hunt the beast.

After several failed attempts, on 31st December the whale was finally harpooned in the neck. Two rowing boats joined the steamboat that had harpooned the whale to create more drag and to slow the speed of the whale. Not seeming too bothered by this the whale continued to slowly and calmly swim down the river, dragging the boats closely behind him.

After passing Broughty Castle, another boat pulled ahead and lodged another harpoon into the animal, and this time the whale was not happy. It made desperate efforts to free itself, lashing furiously with its tail and darting everyway it could as fast as possible. Great crowds gathered to watch the spectacle, around 2,000 watched from along the esplanade and many boats followed the chase in the river. Once darkness set in however, the boats lost sight of the whale and the four ships attached by harpoon line were dragged out to sea.

As it was dark and no other boats could be summoned to help, the hunters now found themselves unable to do anything other than be dragged by the whale, and hope for its injuries to overcome it. All through the night, and into new years day of 1884, the four ships were dragged all the way up the coast to Montrose, back down to the Firth of Forth, and then back up the coast again towards Dundee. The winds were howling and the whale was moving erratically and thrashing, all adding to the strain of the harpoon lines. The hunters tried to fire iron bolts and marlinspikes to accelerate its death, but the strain finally made the harpoon lines give way and the whale broke free and swam out to sea. Large crowds had gathered at the harbour and after finding out the whale had escaped an air of disappointment was felt, by none more so than the hunters who had failed in their chase.

A week later, the whale was found dead and floating out at sea near Stonehaven, still filled with the harpoons, iron bolts and other projectiles of the hunters. It was towed back to land and sold at auction, bought by local entrepreneur John Woods, a worthy also known by the name ‘Greasy Johnny’. He was determined to make a fortune out of the spectacle, which had drawn thousands of spectators in the chase, and in the sensational press that followed. On the first Sunday that it was exhibited 12,000 people paid to see it.

Outbid at the auction of the whale was Professor John Struthers, an anatomist from Aberdeen. Struthers wished to dissect and examine the anatomy of the whale, and after the whale had decomposed to the point where it could no longer be publicly displayed, and make money for Greasy Johnny, Struthers was invited to dissect the remains. Not one to miss an opportunity for a quick buck, Johnny charged a special fee to observe the dissection and even added background music by the 1st Forfarshire Rifle volunteer’s band. Professor Struthers complained that these distractions adversely affected his work, and the state of the by now well-decomposed whale didn’t help matters. His assistants were wading knee deep in the putrid mass of the viscera and muscles that were liquefied and poured out of the incisions.

Professor Struthers seen here in the top hat, standing to the left of the great Tay Whale. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Struthers removed most of the bones except for the skull, and made a very detailed examination, which can be read online for any of you interested in whale anatomy! Greasy Johnny was at the ready again to make his money, and after introducing a wooden backbone, the whale was stuffed and stitched back to its original form. The stuffed whale was then taken on a grand tour, visiting Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London and Manchester before returning to Dundee on 7th August. Professor Struthers completed the removal of the skull and the skeleton was now completely removed and able to be assembled and re-articulated.

While Greasy Johnny no doubt made huge profits from the publics interest in the whale, he did refuse several large offers for the whale skeleton to keep his promise made earlier to gift it to the city of Dundee. It was moved to the Albert Institute, now the McManus, where it has remained a centrepiece and talking point for generations.

The great spectacle of the chase and capture of the whale caught the interest of the whole town but was immortalised in the words of the worlds worst poet, our beloved local bard William Topaz McGonagall, in his poem “The Famous Tay Whale”. While factually accurate, like most of McGonagall’s poems it has been remembered more for the appalling quality of the poetry, rather than the content.

Instead of simply reading the words, the best way to experience this majestic work is in this performance by the Harvard and Princeton glee clubs. The poem has actually inspired several works of art and music based on it, so people are still profiting off the interest in this great beast even today.

Dundee is currently known as a place of scientific research and discovery, but here’s one Dundee scientist you might not have heard of. Dr Patrick Blair was a Scottish surgeon and botanist, he was born in Dundee in 1680 and practised as a doctor here. And, in 1706 he was the first person to dissect and fully describe the anatomy of an elephant.

Just outside Dundee on the road from Broughty Ferry on 26th April 1706, Florentina, a female Indian elephant which was being exhibited around the north of Scotland, fell over and drowned in a ditch. It was going to be expensive and difficult for the keepers to dispose of the dead animal and so handed the corpse over to the Provost. The local Dr Blair jumped at the opportunity to be the first to dissect and describe the large animal, and the provost was quite frankly glad to be rid of the problem of what to do with a dead elephant!

Dr Blair gathered the help of local butchers, and one particular assistant was Gilbert Orum, harassed debtor, under-employed tradesman, neglected husband and harassed father. But he was also a skilled copper engraver, and he both assisted with the messier parts of the dissection and made engravings of the internal organs and skeleton of the elephant.


The locals were determined to take trophies from the elephant or large chunks of meat and an armed guard had to be used to keep the masses away while Dr Blair and his assistants worked on through the night by gaslight. The once majestic beast was measured, dissected and reported on. Blair taking many notes and measurements with Orum making detailed engravings. When they were finished, Blair had the information needed to write an expansive and detailed review of the anatomy of an elephant.

The bones were recovered and the skeleton assembled and mounted as the centre-piece for a new ‘Hall of Rarities’ in Dundee, and the skin was stuffed. Blair was meticulous and wrote up his findings in a paper under the title of Osteographia Elephantina, to the Royal Society of London, published in 1713.

His assistant Orum, seeing an opportunity to further capitalise on this sensational story, also published an account of the dissection. In it, far from being inspired by this historic task, Orum is more concerned with keeping clear of his creditors, or if he can’t avoid them, repaying his debts with anything other than what he lacks the most: ready cash. He uses some of the unusual parts from the dissected elephant as a form of currency in his attempts to pay off the butcher, baker, the chandler, and the blacksmith.

Orum also writes about his family life. His wife is sickly and suffers from extreme nervousness, as do all his children. He is relentlessly pursued by a no-longer younger woman, who waits only for his wife’s death to capture the widower for herself. He also needs to be swift to avoid the baker’s wife, a large lady who is keen to convert his debt into certain ‘services’, and he feels obliged to look out for his older brother and his chaotic family of ten.

Orum details some of the less serious aspects of the dissection, including Dr Blair’s cook being outraged by the storage of parts of dead elephant in her kitchen. Dr Blair retorts: “Never mind, Miss Goag! Just think that your splendid kitchen has this evening played a part in the History of Philosophical experiment!”. Miss Gloag expressed her ardent desire that “Philosophical experiment would rot slowly from its ***** upwards, die painfully and be ******* by Satan forever”.


And what became of Dr Blair? While he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1712 and received a lot of fame for his elephant dissection works as well as his great work in botany, it was his political beliefs that landed him in trouble.

At the time of the dissection, the Act of the Union was being born. An anti-unionist, Blair compared his own dissections to those of the Commissioners “cutting and butchering the Body Politick of Scotland. Blair’s family were also Jacobites, so it was no surprise when he joined Lord Nairn’s Battalion as a surgeon during the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion. He was captured and taken to Newgate Prison in London, where he was sentenced to death. Lobbying amongst friends and other influential scientists saw a reprieve come at the final moment, past the midnight of his pre-execution night and he was pardoned.

Returning home things were more difficult for his practice in the time of the Union. He carried on with his scientific studies and practising medicine, moving to London, then Boston in Lancashire, where he died in 1728.

Full pdf of the dissection available here – http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/27/325-336/53.full.pdf+html

In 2011 The Ghost Club performed a paranormal investigation on the RSS Discovery. What did they find? Were the visited by any of the souls who lost their lives on Dundee’s most infamous ship, or even by Captain Scott himself? There have long been stories of hauntings aboard the RSS Discovery, and the Ghost Club’s evening of vigils and investigations was no exception. Read the full report at the link below, or visit their website for more of their haunted location investigations.

RRS Discovery Investigation 13th August, 2011 – PDF

The thirst for zombie-based movies, games, books and tv shows shows no signs of slowing down, and as our genetics technology makes advances year on year many people question whether a zombie apocalypse scenario is likely. Of course no existing virus is able to induce the raising from the dead, people-nibbling behaviour typical of movie zombies. But as more potential causes of zombie-like behaviour emerge including genetic manipulation of viruses or a rogue prion protein (suggested by Scotland’s very own Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies), maybe it will be possible in the future for zombies to move from the movies to our streets.

Whatever the cause if the zombie apocalypse happens, we want to be prepared. There are plenty of websites out there giving advice on how to survive a zombie apocalypse, many of them thriving upon the gore and bloodshed of the genre; what’s the best object to smash a zombie’s skull in? Or elaborate DIY weapons you could make in a pinch, most likely influenced by games such as Dead Rising.

But some people do take this issue very seriously. Our own city council was asked through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Lee McAulay in 2011, what their plans were in case of a zombie invasion. While they stated that the invasion of zombies or vampires was not identified as a threat or hazard present in the Tayside area (phew!), they did say they would consider making arrangements should more evidence suggest a zombie invasion was a threat.

Several councils and governmental organisations including the BBC have been asked through FOIs about their zombie preparedness plans. Some have sent back tongue in cheek responses such as Bristol Council, but most have simply responded with links to their generic emergency plans.

Dundee Council noted in their response that they do have an emergency planning website which has details on how the city would respond to any emergency and how you should prepare. These are useful details for any emergency, but relate to a zombie apocalypse as much as a natural disaster or any other disease outbreak. Regardless of whether you believe a zombie invasion is likely, we suggest being prepared in the following ways to survive any apocalyptic level emergency.

Know where to go

Most theoretical advice says if there are zombies, or any kind of infected people or animals running around outside in the streets, its best to stay at home. Lock your doors and windows, and avoid engaging with any zombies. Ideally your home would have the emergency supplies needed (see below).

If you have to leave your home, get out, stay out and try to stay together. You should have two meeting places planned for your family, one near home and one further away in case you can’t get home. Dundee Council have emergency shelters at points across the city and will have information going out from police, radio and tv stations if an emergency is declared about where to go.

If the city is completely overrun, you may need to leave the city behind completely. Researchers at Cornell University suggest heading for sparsely populated areas, especially the mountains, and stocking up on supplies and waiting out the infection. So perhaps heading into the Angus or Perthshire hills would be a good bet, although they propose the Highlands of Western Scotland to be the ideal place. Dundee Town Centre is likely a place you’ll want to avoid, and other built up areas with lots of blocks of flats are also going to be pretty hairy with so many people in one area.

Be prepared

Just knowing where to go isn’t going to be enough to survive; you’ll also need supplies. Ready Scotland suggest having an emergency kit that includes
• Your household emergency plan which should include emergency contact numbers, insurance details and reference numbers for utility companies, and locations of your pre-planned meeting points
• Any essential medication and details of any prescription medicines
• Toiletries
• An extra set of contact lenses or glasses
• First aid kit
• Battery powered radio, torch and extra batteries (or wind up radio and torch)
• Notebook and pen/pencil
• Mobile phone charger
• Three days supply of bottled water and ready to eat food (that won’t go off)
• A penknife and a whistle
• Anything else that might be important for your family including pet food, baby formula and nappies

Other items might be useful especially if you are forced outdoors and can include emergency shelter such as a tent, sleeping bags, more food, a portable stove, utensils including a can opener, extra warm clothes – really you can go as far out with being prepared as you think you need. You may need to survive longer – if you are more concerned about the collapse of society than the likelihood of zombie outbreaks warrants, then you may want to think about a longer term plan. Plenty of resources and books are available on how to plan for survival in the long term.

The above really is good advice to be prepared for any type of emergency situation, so we do recommend all our readers make a plan and emergency kit. And if you still think the risk of a zombie outbreak in Dundee is unlikely, we’ll just leave you with this story from 2014 in Lanarkshire…

During the 15th century, a family of cannibals are alleged to have lived on the outskirts of Dundee, in a place which came to be known as ‘Fiends Den’; later to be known as ‘Denfiend’ or ‘The Den of Fiends’.  The location of Denfiend is said to be at a dip in the road between Newbigging and Monikie, just by the aptly-named Denfind Farm.  The legend goes that the family would lure in or ambush passers-by before murdering and eating them.  No-one was safe from the voracious appetites of the cannibalistic family of Denfiend, but it is said that they preferred their victims young, as the meat was more succulent and tender.  Initially the family never aroused suspicion, careful who they chose for their next meal so as not to cause any alarm, but, as time went on, their appetite for younger prey proved to be their downfall.  With a lack of travellers to the area, the family looked to their neighbours for their next meal, causing a significant swell in locals being reported as missing.  It did not take long for the family to be held to account for their crimes, and they were all swiftly executed, with the exception of the youngest daughter, who was merely a baby.

She was re-homed with another family, who shielded her from the truth about her family in an attempt to give her a better start at life.  As time went on, however, she began to display “disturbing” behaviour, such as harming other children and animals and licking or sucking the blood from their open wounds.  Despite their best efforts to rehabilitate her, it was decided that she, too, suffered from the same affliction as her family, and it was for the best that she be executed.  Due to her young age, she was not put to death immediately, but instead was allowed to live until her 18th year, at which time, if she had not changed, she would be executed.  Her habits did not abate, and her drive for human flesh and the taste of fresh blood was too powerful for her to control.  The young woman was taken to the Seagate and burned at the stake, in the same fashion as her late family.  Her last words are alledged to have been “why chide me as if I had committed a crime.  Give me credit; if ye had tasted human flesh, you would think it so delicious that ye would never forbear it again.”

With no real facts alluding to the authenticity of the tale, we have to assume it is based purely in legend.  However, it does have very similar borrowings from the tale of Sawney Bean and his family – the alleged 16th century cave-dwelling family of cannibals.  Like the Denfiend legend, Sawney and his clan of almost 50 cannibals, lay undetected by locals for 25 years or so, having made their den in a deep coastal cave.  Upon capture, the men had their genitals cut off before their hands and feet were severed.  The children and female members of the clan were forced to watch the men die before they too were executed by being burned alive.  The stories’ similarities do not end there.  It is said that one of the daughters left the clan of her own volition, settling herself into a normal life not too far away from her cannibalistic familial lair.  She is alleged to have planted a tree, which became known as ‘The Hairy Tree’ and was used as gallows in public hangings.  Ironically, it was this very tree from which she herself was to hang, when the villagers found out she was part of the murderous Bean family.

The story of Denfiend has many similarities to the legend of Sawney Bean; just on a much less grand scale.  Whilst the incidents at Denfiend are alleged to have happened in the 15th century and the Bean killings in the 16th century, it doesn’t stand to fact that the legend of Denfiend did in fact precede the legend told of Sawney Bean.  The way stories are told and passed down through generations, it is possible that someone knocked a century or two off the legend after hearing the story of Sawney Bean and his cannibalistic family.  Either way, neither story has any real basis in fact, and, whilst many still believe that each story may be true in its own right, we are concluding our investigation into both matters as purely legend.

However…as they say, there’s no smoke without fire.  We’ve all heard crazy things on the news and throughout history relating to cannibalism.  Whether they be based in fact or fiction, one thing is very clear – we’ve been engaging in it for millennia. We did a bit of digging into the history of cannibalism (as you do), and found that the human link between Neanderthal man and Homo sapiens as we are today, were cannibals.  The reasons for this appear to come down to a need for nutrition, but, as we evolved, we developed better hunting techniques which allowed us to kill animals for meat instead of using our own species as a food source.


The name “cannibal” is derivative from the Carib tribe, who were encountered by Sir Christopher Columbus when he travelled the Americas in the 1490’s.  The ‘Caribs’ were cannibals for ritualistic reasons, using stone axes and hardwood machetes to execute their sacrifices in a brutally gruesome manner.  Columbus and his men brought with them weapons made of iron, and were regarded by the Caribs as good spirits of the sea.  The name was lost in translation and was referred to as ‘Canibs’, which was further translated over 50 years later to ‘cannibal’ or ‘cannibals’.

The Korowai tribe of Papua New Guinea are the last known tribe of cannibals on the planet. There are around 3000 of them. They mostly live in tree houses in their territory, which is so isolated that, until about 40 years ago, they weren’t aware of the existence of any other humans.  The Korowai people are cannibals for superstitious reasons, believing that when someone dies a mysterious death, it is the work of a ‘khakhua’, or a male witch.  As the victim dies, it is usual for them to whisper the name of the ‘khakhua’ to their relatives or loved ones.  Whoever is named, whether it be from their own clan or not, he will be seized and killed, as it is believed his body has been possessed by a witch.  Despite any protestations, those branded a ‘khakhua’ must die and be eaten.  This still happens today.

After this, we’ll be sticking to veggies for the next couple of days, but if you want to know what it tastes like, the resounding response seems to be “pork”.  Think of that the next time you’re tucking into some bacon or a big, fat sausage…

On May 20th 1980, the press made a plea to the ‘underworld’ to help solve the murder of Dr and Mrs Woods.

Reported in the Glasgow Herald, Detective Chief Superintendent James Cameron appealed to thieves and housebreakers in the area as the motive for the murders was thought to be theft. He hoped that local thieves would also abhor the terrible violence of the murders and be willing to give over information that would help them solve the crime.

We now know it was indeed a man, Henry Gallacher, with a history of burglary and theft, but it wasn’t information provided by other local thieves that got him caught, read about his story on the murder pages.(link to murder page)

See the full article below.


As we mentioned in our ‘Black Magic & The Occult’ section, rumours have been rife for decades about witchcraft and black magic rituals being undertaken in various locations around the city such as ruined castles, parklands and gloomy, wooded areas.  If we look at the rumours on a national scale, the stories of witchcraft, devilment and sorcery all seem to blend into one; the only notable exception being the location of the proposed rituals.  Whilst of course, some of these practices are indeed happening up and down the country (sometimes with deadly consequences), the majority of people who class themselves as “witches” are very far removed from what public opinion would have us believe as dark magic-wielding hags who consort with the devil and aid his workings on us mere mortals. The idea of a “black mass” or dark ritual is abhorrent to them, and is not a path on which they walk.  There is no “evil” deity, and there is certainly no worship of it.  The misconception of Satan as someone with who they communicate is founded in complete fallacy, and is reserved for those known as “Satanists”.  Association with the devil is exactly the stigma that witches do not want – it is unwarranted, unfounded, and grossly damaging.  Of course, as with any walk of life, there will be those for whom the lines are blurred, but, for the many who practise witchcraft today, the life of a witch has absolutely nothing to do with malevolent evil or devil worshipping.

This damaged perception over the centuries has claimed countless lives. Those seen as witches were hunted, tortured and murdered on a mass scale during the witch-hunting eras. Here, in our own town, we burned Grissell Jaffray as a witch, and put a burning effigy of Hurkle Jean on a boat out to sea. We have such a fear associated with the word “witch” that we resort to savagery, closed-mindedness and the perpetuating of myth thousands of years old. With this in mind, we set about trying to wade through the good, the bad and the ugly – separating the myth from the reality to see what was really behind the mask of “witchcraft”.  It was one of our toughest challenges yet, and without the help of a pair of witches who were more than happy to help, we would have had a difficult time separating fact from fiction.  Kymmy and Ffyona agreed to answer a few of our questions so that we could show witchcraft in our city in a more positive light, and hopefully dispel one or two myths associated with the words “witch” and “witchcraft”.  If you don’t know these women, you clearly haven’t read my blog post on my time with them.  You should read that now if you haven’t already.

Read my interview with them below – there’s lots of great information and links for anyone who wishes to investigate this a bit more for themselves.  Please also remember to be respectful of everyone’s belief system – the world outside is a lot more diverse than just you and I.

Could you explain what a real Witch is and also what it means to you as an individual?

K – To me a REAL witch is someone who believes firmly in their Craft and has an affinity with it. Personally my Craft is very important to me, as important as going to Church is to a Catholic person. It’s a way of life for me.

F – A real witch to me is someone who lives their beliefs and lives their life in the now. Someone who takes personal responsibility for all their actions in this world.  A person who follows the lunar cycle and the cycle of the seasons and feels the changes as the Wheel turns.

What type of witchcraft do you practise?

K -I practice an eclectic mix of witchcraft, involving Wicca, Druidry, Buddhism and many more. I like to call myself a Patchwork Pagan, whatever works for me, I will go with.

F – I practice in my own way.  I have a fairly eclectic base as my beliefs are Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) combined with the cycle of the seasons here where I live. I also borrow stuff from books to use in ritual, if it works brilliant, if not then I don’t use it again.

How long have you been a witch, and what drew you to it?

K- Like I said at our meeting, I was attracted to The Craft after being involved with the local Spiritualist Church or “Spookies”, I briefly ventured into Christianity but it really wasn’t for me, I’ve always been drawn to the Craft since my early teens.

F – I went looking for something to believe in when I was 14. I was brought up a catholic and it just didn’t work for me.  I found a book on Wicca and the things I read made more sense to me than anything I had heard before. I liked the equality of it all as it wasn’t patriarchal and had a Goddess as a central figure. This made more sense than the women playing almost a supporting role as if it were not for women man wouldn’t even be born.  I started practicing my Craft when I was around 20. I have drifted off my path for short times and always got back on.  I also like the fact that if you asked 10 Witches what they believe you would get 10 different answers and none of them would even think of telling the others they were wrong.

Does it bother you that there are still stigmas attached to the words “Witch” and “Witchcraft”?

K – It does.  Witch can be such a negative word, when really we are quite positive folks. It’s absolutely awful that there is still witch-hunting going on in this day and age.

F – It irritates me slightly that companies like Disney are still portraying witches as the” bad guys” I have no problem with identifying myself as a Witch to my friends and family. I would not put it down on a job application nor would I introduce myself to a new person as one just because there is still a stigma.  In this day where more people are turning to the Nature religions, you would think people would be more accepting but we can hope it will happen in time.

Does Dundee have a particularly high magical population?

K – I believe it does have a fairly large population, although most witches, don’t go around bragging or broadcasting their beliefs, we don’t proselytise either.

F – Dundee is an extremely powerful place. The energy coursing through the land around here is so varied it is amazing. People wise I know a good few Witches/Shaman/Druids/Heathens and others, they know others that I do not. Am sure for every one I do know there are more that I don’t due to the perceived stigma.

What dates are important in your magical calendar?  Why?  How do you celebrate them?

K – I celebrate the Wheel of the Year, which has 8 Sabbats. Previously I stuck to the traditional dates on the calendar, but I now prefer to “FEEL” for the changes in my surroundings that tell me what’s happening, like the smell of spring, the full on pulse of high summer, the melancholy yet abundant autumn, and the nestling down of winter. I do still celebrate the traditional pagan dates of Samhain (31st October), Yule or Winter Solstice (21st December), Imbolc (Feb 1st or 2nd), Ostara or Spring Equinox (on or around March 21st), Beltane (May 1st), Litha or Summer Solstice (21st June), Lughnasadh or Lammas (Aug 1st), Mabon or Autumn Equinox (on or around 21st September), but these celebrations tend to be with likeminded friends or as part of our local moot, I do my own private celebrations. We celebrate the seasons and what’s we see happening around us and give thanks to The Goddess and God for the ever changing Wheel and for the abundance the Earth provides to sustain us all. I also celebrate the cycle of the Moon, I observe each of the phases from New to full and back to Dark again. I find great comfort from the Moon which isn’t surprising as humans are made primarily from water and the moon pulls on the tides, seems only right she should have the same effect on us.

F – The dates that are important in my magical calendar mark the changing of the seasons and the solar festivals of the Equinoxes.  We celebrate them to mark the turning of the Wheel and the changes that happen in nature. I also celebrate the lunar cycle and use this to work spells if I feel that one is required for something or have possibly been asked to perform one for someone.  The celebration itself usually involves some kind of ritual from a really complicated one that takes a lot of planning to one that might just involve sitting under the full moon and soaking up the power.

What is your personal view on death and the afterlife?

K – Hmm I would like to hope I don’t just STOP and that there is an afterlife, I think we become part of all life, that our conscious permeates everything. I also think our “SOUL” has to rest and reflect on the life we have lived and then be reincarnated into another “life” I have stated that I want to be buried in an eco-coffin when I die and that I want no embalming, I want to go back to the Earth as pure as I can be and that a fruit tree be planted on top of me, so that my family and friends can eat the fruit that my body has helped to nourish. None of us truly knows what happens when we die so here’s hoping it’s wonderful.

F – I believe that when you die you essence or soul travels to the Summerlands and there you reflect on your past life and learn any lessons you lived through, see any karmic debt you may have incurred and to whom.  When you have learned all you can from the life you just lived then you are reborn to the next life to continue your travels on the Wheel and continue to learn.

Where could an interested party get involved with the magical community?

K – There are loads of online sites to connect with other magical groups and most big cities have Moots and other Pagan friendly events. It’s really just about asking around and looking out for flyers etc. The Scottish Pagan Federation is a great source of information and help also The Children of Artemis.

F – Well a first point of contact locally would be Dundee Pagan Moot. We have a Facebook page, website and a YouTube channel. We also have a monthly meeting on the last Sunday of every month.  There is also the Scottish Pagan Federation. They too have a facebook page, website and a youtube channel.  In most towns and cities in Scotland there will be some kind of a pagan moot or meeting on a regular basis. There may even be a shop that will advertise things like that. This shop will usually sell things like crystals, statues, candles, incense etc. All are things that can be used magically.

Any dark or creepy stories to tell us?

K – Gods where do I begin? Well, when I was wee, my Granny was a great teller of creepy stories (bless her) and one night we were sitting in front of her coal fire and she told us about the night my Dad was out drinking down the Perth Road with a bunch of friends, he was totally bladdered and decided to walk home through Balgay, en route to Dryburgh where my Gran lived, this was before I was born apparently. On walking through Balgay, he became aware of a strange footstep behind him, kind of a “THUMP” “SCRAPE” kind of noise, he looked around but no one was there, this continued all the way through the park and he was getting a bit worried by this time. He began to pick up his pace as best he could in his inebriated state but still the strange footsteps continued, all the way through Lochee and right up to my Granny’s front door when they disappeared suddenly. He got in and told my Gran what had happened and she told him that would have been your Dad making sure you got home ok as he had been carrying a flick knife in his pocket. My Grandad had passed years before, had a limp and scraped his boot when he walked apparently.  I was well creeped out.  Another Balgay story; I was about 3 years old and my Mum had taken me and my wee brother who was in a pram at the time for a walk up Lochee Park and into Balgay, I was holding mums hand as you do and she was pushing the pram with the other. She let go my hand to see to my wee brother and right about where the Jewish graveyard is I turned round to see a wee tiny man dressed on green clothes, he was beckoning me to come over to him, I stood staring at him and tugged on mums coat unable to speak, she was too busy with my brother to see what was going on he kept on beckoning and smiling at me. I began walking towards him and suddenly mum noticed me wandering off and shouted on me, he disappeared instantly and I told her about him, she says I imagined it, but to this day I KNOW I saw him. One more…We used to stay in Lochee High Street when we were really wee and we had an outside lavvy at the time, mum had safety pinned my wee brother and I to the couch so she could go to the loo (yes they actually did that) so we were babbling away to each other on the couch I reckon I was about 5 and my brother about 4 at the time, when from the room to our right a strange figure walked past us. It was human in form but completely see though. I could see the outline of the body kind of like the “Ready Brek” man used to look, but there was a lot of lights right up the centre of the body, it walked right past us into the next room. We told mum when she came up the stairs and she said we were being daftys, my Dad believed us though but never said what he thought it was, to this day my brother and I will swear we saw this and that to us it was totally real.  I also saw my Dead uncle a week after he died, again I must’ve been about 5. I came out of our closey on to the High Street in Lochee and he was standing there it a black suit, white shirt with a red carnation in his pocket, he smiled at me and kept walking. I ran upstairs to tell mum I had just saw Uncle Jim and that he might be on the way to the pub, she sat me down and told me that he had died the previous week and that I couldn’t have seen him. I told her what he was wearing and only when I was older did she tell me that those were the clothes he was buried in. Creepy eh?

F – Not really. I have had a few encounters with the Spirits of Place (Genus Locii) and a couple of encounters with spirits in old places but not anything that creeped me out.

Our appetite for all things licentious has not been quenched over the millennia.  From the necessity of reproduction, we have evolved our sexuality and desires to include just about every facet of life on earth.  Branched away from a purely biological need to reproduce, we constantly, as a species seek new and exciting ways to sate our appetites both in and out of the bedroom.  From designer drinks and drugs to lifelike sex toys and virtual reality porn, it’s safe to say the world has gone desire-crazy with no signs of slowing down! So, with that in mind, let’s talk just a wee bit about sex in our city, and what you’ve all been up to.

“I generally avoid temptation, unless I can’t resist it” – Mae West

“Sex appeal is fifty percent what you’ve got and fifty percent what people think you’ve got” – Sophia Loren

So, you lot, the fair folk o’ Dundee, what did you have to say for yourselves?  Katy Gordon went on a mission in early 2014 in her job as a reporter for The Evening Telegraph, and she found out a few of your dirty little secrets…  For starters, almost 50% of you who were polled said you lost your virginity when you were either 16 or 17.  Yeah, right.  We’ve lived here all our days – we know the score!  Nearly a third of you had been with 2 to 5 sexual partners in your life (yeah, we nearly choked too), but a few of you confessed to having more than 20 partners, so it kind of evened the score a bit.  Just a bit, mind.

Well over half of you said you were happy with your sex life, with popular outdoor places to have sex including the beach, under the Tay Road Bridge, Broughty Castle, and even upstairs on a bus!  [see the full article here:  http://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/news/local/dundee-s-naughtiest-secrets-revealed-1.172695]  Whilst a shameful quarter of pollers admitted to cheating on a partner at some point, nearly half of this group admitted to doing it more than once!  Dirty dogs; you should hang your heads in shame.

Speaking of dirty dogs, dogging has really taken off and become a “thing”.  Once reserved for only the most extreme voyeurs and exhibitionists, it has become more mainstream, with sites completely dedicated to the subject.  First brought to public attention at-large by the BBC in 2003, the dogging craze began to take off.  If you don’t know what dogging is, it’s the name given to the act of having sex in a public place whilst others watch you.  Usually, it’s done in car parks or secluded country parkland where there is generally less chance of being caught (as it is illegal to have sex in public, just in case you didn’t know).

All you literally have to do is utilise a search engine, and you are instantly connected to a world of voyeurism and public sex in our very own city.  It was not difficult to find, and we didn’t stay on the websites long (ahem), but they give very clear details on areas in and around the city where this kind of practise takes place.  We’re of the mind that it’s not a 24/7 operation, so you’d probably need to be “in the know” for any of the specifics, but, judging from the comments and interactions on these sites, it’s a pretty active community in more ways than one!  So, as you can see, for the most part, we’re all still “at it”.  All over our city, folk are doing it.  Probably right now.  What a thought, eh..?

On the plus side, Dundee, who consistently dominated the European league table for teenage pregnancies, has managed to shake off the title, with a 58% drop in teen pregnancies over the last decade.  Well done, Dundee, it’s been a long time in the coming (pardon the pun).  Not only that, but Dundee isn’t even the highest in Scotland any more, let alone Europe!  That calls for a celebration…but please, keep your clothes on!