Jute is a coarse fibre from India used to make products like sacking, burlap, twine, and canvas. In the 1830s, it was discovered that treating jute with whale oil, a by-product of Dundee’s whaling industry, made it suitable for spinning. This led to the growth of a significant jute industry in Dundee, providing jobs for migrants from rural areas. The industry stood out for its high proportion of female workers. In 1901, over 25,000 women were employed in the jute industry, accounting for more than 70% of the workers in Dundee. By 1911, the percentage of women in the industry rose to 75%, and it was unusual for a relatively high number of married women to be employed at that time.
Dundee boasted several large jute works, including the world’s largest jute works called Camperdown Works in Lochee, owned by Cox Brothers. The works, established in 1850, employed thousands of workers and had its own railway branch. Another notable company was J. & A. D. Grimond Ltd, which owned the Bowbridge works. Jute Industries Ltd acquired these firms in 1920. Gilroy Sons & Co Ltd, one of the early jute importers, was also part of Jute Industries. Low & Bonar Ltd, with their Eagle Jute Mills and acquisitions, played a major role in the jute industry as well.
However, the jute industry in Dundee began to decline in 1914 when it became more cost-effective to import finished jute products from India. By 1951, only 18.5% of Dundee’s workforce was employed in the jute industry, and the number of female workers in the industry decreased by 62%. Commercial jute production ceased in the 1970s, and many mills were demolished. Some manufacturers briefly diversified into synthetic fibres and linoleum. The last jute spinners closed in 1999, leaving a rich manufacturing heritage behind.
To commemorate this heritage, an award-winning museum is in the amazing Verdant Works, where visitors can learn, in unparalleled detail, about the city’s jute manufacturing history.
– DD Tours operates walking tours in Dundee city, covering dark local history such as wars, battles, murders, diseases, riots, disasters and executions. Walk with us for an unforgettable storytelling experience.