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 to 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 prostrate 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 breath 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 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.

References:

‘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.

www.humanillnesses.com

http://patient.info/health

http://medhealthwriter.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.sepsis.org/

http://www.healthline.com/

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/

http://www.pleuritis.net/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

A5 template
 Dead Centre Walking Tour – tickets now available 

Disease, death and execution are on the menu in our Dead Centre walking tour – with a side order of Vikings and body-snatching!

This tour starts at the Howff graveyard, and ends at the City Square –  the site of the Town-House, and public hangings and executions.

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!

References:

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

www.healthline.com

www.wikipedia.com

www.nhs.uk

Oxford Vaccine Group www.ovg.ox.ac.uk

www.nrscotland.gov.uk

 

A pandemic outbreak of Asiatic cholera swept over most of the world between 1829 and 1851, reaching from India, across Asia and into Europe.  By 1832, Dundee had been hit – the pandemic itself still in its infancy.  From there the pandemic swept across to the Americas, devastating lives wherever it fell.  In Dundee, large numbers of citizens were rapidly falling ill as the disease took hold.

Cholera caused more deaths, more quickly, than any other epidemic disease in the 19th century.  Classic cholera symptoms include watery diarrhoea, which leads to dehydration and mineral imbalances.  It is spread by contaminated water and food that has been contaminated with human faeces, and humans are the only species of animal susceptible to the disease.  Back in Dundee, with no clean water and no real means of sanitation, the situation worsened as people fell gravely ill and died.  With such a staggering number of cholera deaths, our gravediggers couldn’t work fast enough to dig burial holes as the bodies began to literally pile up!

It became clear very quickly that there was just not enough time in the day (or night) to keep digging individual holes for people, so work got underway to build a trench along the southern wall of the Howff.  This was to be a mass grave for the victims of cholera – people of all sorts, many of them unknown to each other in life, but now destined to lie together in death.  Thankfully, they were still allowed to be buried in coffins, so it wasn’t as though the bodies were just flung in the trench unceremoniously! These coffins were all piled up in rows on top of each other until they came close to the surface, and then the trench was filled in.

It was probably a horrible decision for a family to make – burying your loved one in a mass grave – but with no other options available due to limited land and manpower, it was the only way to deal with such a deluge of bodies.  The only remaining gravestone which indicates the location of the trench, is that of William Forrest Esquire, a Lieutenant Colonel with the Hon EIC Bengal Army, and inspector of their Militaty Stones in London.  Died of Cholera Morbus on 20th July 1832 on the passage from London to Dundee, deeply lamented by his family and friends.

Gravestone of William Forrest Esquire in Dundee Howff graveyard, who died of Cholera in 1832. This gravestone marks the site of a cholera mass grave.
Gravestone of William Forrest Esquire in Dundee Howff graveyard, who died of Cholera in 1832.

When we were in Dundee University Archives recently, we came across a trio of photographs relating to a vault that had been discovered during the excavation work to build Bell Street car park over the site of the Constitution Burial Ground in December 1972.  With it is a memo from the then-Director of Parks to Dr Scott of the University of Dundee, relating specifically to the potential problem of cholera and its continued infectivity.  Whilst there was no further correspondence on the matter in the archives, the memo did go on to say that the vault had been filled with dry sand after the photographs were taken to allow the building work to continue.

The images show three adult sized coffins, all lying side by side, barely a foot apart from each other in an open, dark vaulted space with brick walls on the sides that are visible in the photograph.  They are covered in mould, bits of earth and some debris, and are severely decaying.  The first coffin (in the immediate right of the picture) and the second central coffin both appear to be marginally larger than the third, which is on the left of the overall image.  Between the second and third coffins, there appears to be lying a much smaller coffin.  It looks like this coffin had initially been laid between the two coffins, perhaps on some kind of elevation, but it has since fallen over, losing its lid slightly in the process.  The small coffin, perhaps one eighth the size of the others, sits at a strange angle to the floor, its lid askew (but not enough to reveal its contents).

The first coffin has a series of what appears to be metal riveted edging along the base and on the lid of the coffin – presumably some kind of grave-robbing deterrent, but, due to the decay of the other two coffins, it is hard to tell if they too had some kind of metalwork on them.  The same riveted work can be seen on the small coffin.  Whilst the vault may have been infilled, we know they are still under the car park, biding their time in their dirt and mould-ridden coffins.  Perhaps future building and excavation will uncover them once again, or else we will rebuild over the car park in time, pushing them further into the recesses of forgotten history.

Sources FDCA website www.fdca.org.uk

Dundee University Archives

Wikipedia (cholera symptoms)

Mini_Header_DeadCentre
 Dead Centre Walking Tour 

Take the Dead Centre Walking Tour which visits the cholera pit and the rest of the dead under our feet in the city centre. This tour starts at the Howff graveyard, and ends at the City Square.

Find out more and book tickets

If you’ve seen any really old maps of Dundee, you might notice that there’s no mention of the Overgate as we know it, or indeed, the Nethergate.  Known back then as Argyllsgait (Argyllgait) and Flukergait respectively, it wasn’t until the latter part of the 1500’s that the new names came into play, not long after the time period set on our map.  Originally no more than a few wooden houses, Argyllgait slowly grew over the centuries, slowly spreading towards the lower Flukergait and beyond.

Such was the attraction of Argyllgait, that the Mercat Cross was uprooted from its position in the Seagate and moved in the mid 1400’s to a new position where High Street met Argyllgait.  Trade and commerce swiftly followed, making it a hive of activity.  Many rich and wealthy people began moving to Argyllgait, making it a very desirable place to live.  The Seagate ceased to be the main centre of trade whilst still retaining its unique character and vantage point near the river.  The Mercat Cross remained there until the late 1700’s.

The naming of Argyllgait is claimed to be either down to the occupants of the area at that time, who came to stay in Dundee from the Highlands, or from a wealthy family – the Campbell’s of Argyll – who were alleged to have resided in the area.  By the turn of the 16th century, Argyllgait was almost beyond what we can imagine by looking at the area today.  A very good place to live, it boasted not only the majestic City Churches, but an array of well-built, stone houses, in which dwelled the rich and the noble.

However, as its popularity rose, those who sought to steer clear of the ‘common’ folk soon began to move to larger estates on the outskirts of the town.  The houses at Argyllgait had lovely gardens, so it wasn’t like people were living on top of one another at that point, but the allure of the outskirts of town, with even larger expanses of land were too appealing to the rich, and they soon abandoned their homes in the heart of the town.  Losing the nobility didn’t do anything to dent the character of the Overgate, as it soon became known.  In fact, if anything, the heart of the town only beat harder.

As more and more working class people moved into the Overgate, they set up shops, stalls and workshops in the free space around the buildings.  Some even built their own housing on the land, and by the 17th century, the era of Argyllgait was well and truly over; nothing more than a passing memory making way for the ever-expanding Overgate.  Many notable people from Dundee’s history, both famous and infamous have lived in the Overgate, such as Grissell Jaffray, David Balfour, the Duke of Monmouth and Mary Brooksbank, to name but only a few.  It’s also fair safe to assume that, considering its longevity, anyone notable throughout Dundee’s entire history will have stood on these grounds somewhere, from royalty and robbers to warriors and murderers.

When the Earl of Huntingdon landed upon Dundee’s shores following a storm in 1190, he had the Church of St Mary built over a period of many years as thanks for his safe landing. Throughout the ages, endless attacks by English armies forced us to fortify our walls and solidify our defences, to the point where we held the majority of the wealth of the Earls and nobility of Scotland within our confines.  Unfortunately, this ended tragically for us during the siege of 1st September 1651, when Monck’s troops stormed the town after Governor Robert Lumsden repeatedly refused the city’s surrender.

The word “gait” means to walk, or, more specifically, the pattern of movement of the limbs during locomotion.  We learned on Lost Dundee that the word “gate” is derivative from the Norse word ‘gata’ meaning road or street.  As Overgate was the higher of the two thoroughfares running alongside Dundee’s City Churches, thus it was named.  Flukergait, being the lower of the two, was renamed Nethergate.  Our Lady Warkstairs was a timber-fronted building, reported to have been built sometime in the 15th century and connected to the Church of St Mary, perhaps as an almshouse.  It was situated where Primark sits now, looking down Crichton Street. At the time of the building’s construction, however, this street would not have been there.

On the other side of Primark, which faces towards the corner of Reform Street sat the Duke of Monmouth’s house – a substantial building, constructed around the same time as Our Lady Warkstairs.  This property was famous for a few reasons.  This was the house in which General Monck set up his Headquarters whilst in Dundee during the siege of 1651 which we touched upon earlier.  During this period, the Duke’s daughter was born in the home; Anna, Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth.  It was also used as the Town House for a while, earning it the nickname “The New Tolbooth”.  Its stature, position in the centre, and a handy wee turret made it a very attractive property indeed – and it certainly saw more than its fair share of action.

Whereas nowadays, the Overgate area is fairly open and easy to navigate, it was not always this way.  Streets and pends ran all up and down this area, like a warren of narrow paths, crammed with overpopulated housing.  With the boom of the textile industry in the 19th century, the population of Dundee also grew considerable, with many of them living in and around this area.  So dense was the population, that it was reported there were around 400 people per acre in the Overgate, compared to a city average of 36.  Thorter Row, Tally Street, Barrack Street, Lindsay Street, Tay Street, Long Wynd, Church Lane, Mid Kirk Style are only a few of the myriad pends and streets which formed part of the Overgate’s impressive portfolio, including closes such as St Salvador’s Close, Argyll Close, Mint Close, Methodist Close and the legendary Beefcan Close (not it’s official name).

Whilst this added a whole lot of hustle and bustle to the area, it also meant that they were never short of a drama in the Overgate.  Described as a bit of a circus, the area was literally heaving with people, shops, pubs, flea-markets, entertainers and religious preachers.  Fights would often break out – and not just between the men – and alcohol, gambling and women of ill repute were never far out of reach.  Despite its reputation swiftly gaining notoriety, the Overgate was the only place to go to be guaranteed a good time; so much so that the area has been coined in many a local phrase and song.

With some of what was claimed to be the worst housing in Dundee, the Overgate also had five properties which were used as common sleeping places for the homeless, where (mostly drunk) people slept in hospital-style beds in a dormitory fashion, sleeping on their possessions to avoid robbery.  Outside toilets were used by dozens of people, and conditions were far from sanitary.  Having so many people crammed into such a small space made it very easy for diseases to spread.  In 1832 and in 1849, Cholera struck Dundee.  Cholera is spread mainly by water and food products that have been contaminated with human faeces containing the disease.  In 1845, piped water first became available in Dundee.  Shortly after, the 1848 Public Health Act was the first step in the right direction to improving what was said to be squalid conditions.

 

In 1910, plans were developed to completely change the way the Overgate looked, in an attempt to reinvigorate it and clean up its image both in terms of image and reputation.  Unfortunately, both World Wars put a halt to regeneration attempts and funding until the 1960’s, when a concrete monolith was erected in place of the dilapidated housing.  It wasn’t the nicest looking thing in the world, but it was beginning to change the way people looked at the Overgate and the surrounding area.  During the demolition, everything was destroyed with exception of St Mary’s Tower and the City Churches.

Overgate2

Despite its best intentions, and boasting a hotel as well as a decent range of shops, the Overgate began to lose favour to the new Wellgate Centre, which was constructed in the late 1970’s.  Fortunes turned for the Overgate as shopkeepers could not afford the rents and moved out, damaging its reputation once again.  As the years progressed, the Overgate became a ghost of its former lively self until the question of redevelopment became a talking point.  By the late 1990’s, work was underway to change the face and the reputation of the Overgate.  A multi-level shopping mall was built, housing many well-known retailers, and brought positive attention (and, more importantly, revenue) back into the area.

Whilst many things have changed over the centuries with regards to what we now know as the Overgate, what has never changed is the resilience of the city – no matter what happens, we always bounce back fighting.  Whilst we don’t profess to know what will happen to the Overgate of the future, we’re pretty certain that she won’t be going anywhere any time soon!  The next time you’re wandering about the Overgate, just have a wee think of all the things that have happened there over the history of the town…and all the dead bodies that lie right under your feet!

Images courtesy of City Archives, Wikimedia and Lost Dundee.

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…

The Howff is an iconic landmark in Dundee’s city centre, a calm oasis and a peaceful resting spot to sit in the shade of the well kept trees and shrubs. But as well as housing the graves and crypts of Dundee’s great and the good, the land itself also has a dark history.  The land on which the Howff lies was once part of the sprawling Greyfriars Monastery which was laid to ruin during the invasion of Scotland in 1547 when the town of Dundee was stormed by the English under the rule of Henry VIII. During the subsequent Scottish Reformation, the monastery remained in ruins, confiscated by the Crown along with other religious buildings. In 1564 Mary, Queen of Scots granted the land to Dundee for use as a burial ground. At this time, Dundee’s existing graveyards were overcrowded and unsanitary, so Mary, Queen of Scots on the 15th April 1567 granted a charter to the town for the use of the grounds of the Greyfriars monastery, as their new burial ground.  This ground became known as the Howff – ‘howff’ meaning meeting place as it was used for meetings by the Dundee Incorporated Trades.

On many of the gravestones you can still see the engravings of symbols and icons related to the trade of the deceased. The graves and tombs of the Howff and those that lay within tell tales of the dark history of Dundee, such as the tomb of Alexander Duncan of Lundie. He was the Provost from 1681 to 1685 and in 1689, in the absence of the current provost, took command when Claverhouse attacked Dundee. He was also the great-grandfather of Admiral Viscount Duncan, who defeated the Dutch in the famous battle of Camperdown in 1797. It is well-documented that the families of many who died could not afford tombstones, so the dead were laid in unmarked graves, leaving the land as a grassy expanse, which not only made for a great meeting place, but also allowed people to air out laundry and graze their animals.

One of the residents of the Howff, Dr David Kinloch, was arrested by the Spanish Inquisition in Spain while travelling Europe. Luckily he cured the inquisitor general of an ailment and was rewarded with freedom, and returned to Dundee. Other well-known folk buried here include James Chalmers, best remembered as the inventor of the adhesive postage stamp, and James Keiller’s mother (James Keiller was the founder of James Keiller and Sons, and his family are credited as the inventors of marmalade). Several other well known Dundee families have their ancestors buried here including Lyells, Forresters, Muirs and Guthries.

Due to overcrowding, a “new” Howff was built a short walk away from the original site, but was subsequently built over and replaced by Bell Street car park and Abertay library. At the back of the library, it is possible to see a few of the headstones incorporated into the wall. It’s definitely worth thinking about the next time you park your car there or visit the library!

The records of some 80,000 burials at the Howff over 300 years show there were also many infants laid to rest at the Howff. Many of them died from diseases practically unknown today with many of the records showing ‘teething’ as the cause of death. Babies often died during teething periods due to fever, or increased rates of infection while teething due to the practice of cutting the gums open to allow teeth to grow through. Many of the deaths were also caused by diseases such as whooping cough, small pox or measles which are now prevented by vaccines. Water in the head was often recorded as cause of infant death, which is an abnormal build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities of the brain.

Reading the lists, generously provided online by Friends of Dundee City Archives at www.fdca.org.uk makes for very grim reading but in our opinion, is really worth a visit for a really in-depth insight into not only the volume of people buried there, but the variety of ways in which the deceased met their demise.

Several causes of death highlight the tragedies that struck some families. Several entries tell of very young children dying because of their clothes catching fire, which would have been a more common accident in the 18th and 19th century due to the use of fires and candles in a time before electricity. One 27 month old infant was killed by a cart passing over them. These tragic accidents must have devastated families who had likely already lost family or friends to the many diseases that plagued our town in those times, such as the sad tale of William Crookshanks, buried in 1835 at age 3 after falling into a well and drowning or the poor, unnamed son of Thomas Davidson Henderson, who perished after only half a day.

We will leave you on a slightly less morbid note, as there are some buried in the Howff who reached a ripe old age for the times in which they lived. Isabella Abbot was buried in 1850 having died of old age at 93, her last address being listed as Lochee. John Adam, a weaver originally from Kirriemuir also died of old age at the grand age of 90. Even with people dying of consumption, scarlet fever, cholera and dropsy, some hardy critters managed to escape the line of fire and were able to live out long lives, albeit in harsh times.

Disease and plagues have rocked world history, causing untold damage and claiming countless lives. Although still prevalent in the world today, modern advances in medicine and detection have made life a lot easier for those living today. However, before the intervention of current medicinal practices, disease and plagues wiped out populations, mutated and disfigured victims and spread epidemically. Efforts to quell the outbreaks included confined seclusion, laws passed on harbouring travellers or vagrants, and even those uninfected fleeing the area in panic! Unfortunately, it was usually only the wealthy who could afford to flee, leaving behind the poor to remain with the infected victims.

The Second Pandemic of the Plague culminated in the highest level of deaths worldwide from the 14th century to the 19th century – approximately 25% of the world’s population perished at the hands of the killer disease. In the UK, the first cases were noted in England but quickly spread throughout the country. Scotland called it “the foul death of England” and believed it to be God’s wrath upon them. With up to a third of the English population dead or dying, Scotland made a daring move to attack whilst defences were at an unprecedented low in the 13th century. Upon defeat, the remaining Scotsmen swiftly fled home with a few unwanted visitors in tow. The disease went on to decimate the Scots population at the end of the 1340’s. Known as Bubonic Plague, the Great Plague and, simply, the Plague, this infection initially caused lumps or tumours in the groin, neck or armpits of various ranging sizes. Symptoms progressed, with lumps spreading, becoming larger and displaying livid and/or black spotting (hence the over-arching name “Black Death”). Within days of infections, sufferers would run high fevers, vomiting and passing blood, before finally dying an agonising death. The infected usually died within 2 to 7 days of initial infection, causing huge problems for towns and cities with no available space to dispose of the infected corpses. Bubonic plague is a disease that is carried by fleas living on rodents, such as rats. As sailors moved from port to port, taking many uninvited rodent guests with them, the risk of disease increased. Unwittingly, these rats would then leave the ship at various ports around the world, infecting other rodents by passing on disease-ridden fleas.

In 1585, plague appeared in Edinburgh, apparently brought there by a woman who had been visiting Perth. As it spread, special orders were quickly issued for the sanitisation of Edinburgh, including the removal of the coining-house to Dundee. Soon after this, the plague hit Dundee. Victims of the plague in Dundee were buried in the Roodyards burial ground in, often covered in lime salt to try and keep the disease from escaping the bodies. In times such as these, hygiene was not thought of in the way it is today. Everything was dirty, from the people, to their houses and the streets beyond. Sanitisation was not something of a priority, which did not help in curbing disease as it swept through the country. Royal orders on the matter included ceasing trading with any affected towns, cities or villages, very tight quarantine controls at ports, animals removed from the public area altogether, limitations on public houses and also a ban on gatherings of people. Any house known to have infected living in it or having died in it were prohibited from having furniture removed, for fear of spreading the disease further, and shops were restricted in the type of products they could sell. “Unwholesome” meats and perishables were banned from sale, which caused problems for those who were so poor they relied on these cheap (and often stale) food products to feed themselves and their families.

If that wasn’t bad enough, worse still was pneumonic plague, spread by the initial bubonic infection which attacked the lungs and was spread to other people through coughing and sneezing. Coughing, fever, headache, chest pain and blood in the mucus or saliva were the main symptoms of pneumonic plague. Septicaemic plague occurred when the bacteria entered the blood. In these cases, there was little hope of survival. Treatments and prevention at the time did not help. Sometimes, patients were bled with leeches. People thought impure air caused the disease and could be cleansed by smoke and heat. Children were encouraged to smoke to ward off bad air. Sniffing a sponge soaked in vinegar was also an option.

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As we mentioned before, cleanliness was not a high priority and sanitation improvements were not implemented until the mid-1800’s. As with any densely populated city or town, Dundee was a dirty, smelly and overcrowded place to live. Diseases such as cholera were rife due to the high volume of animal and human excrement, rubbish and discarded animal carcasses. Outdoor toilets were shared by dozens, if not hundreds of people who were crammed into tenement blocks, and conditions were far from sanitary. Drinking water and bathing water were contaminated with faeces and crawling with bacteria, but, with no other means of obtaining water, many were forced to drink and bathe from infected pools. . It was not a common practice to boil water in the 19th century, nor was bathing popular. Dirty water and unclean bodies were major factors in the spread of diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Milk and other dairy products were a common breeding ground for scarlet fever and diphtheria. Dairies and shopkeepers diluted milk with (infected) water to yield greater profits. Beer was even adulterated with narcotic substances such as strychnine to counter the effect of over dilution with water of the original.

Cholera is a bacterial infection caused by drinking water contaminated with the bacteria, or by the consumption of food that has been in contact with the tainted water. Sickness and diarrhoea were the main contributing factors to death from cholera, as, more often than not, sanitary rehydration and salt replacement were not options. As the victim’s blood pressure plummeted, they would succumb to shock and died thereafter. A significant number of graves in the Howff house victims of the cholera epidemic. Thankfully, due to significant improvements in sanitation and proper water hygiene, cholera has been eradicated in most of the world. The rapid growth in Scotland’s urban population in the 19th century brought with it unprecedented social problems, of which ill-health was one. However, although ill-health was recognised as a major social problem, our knowledge of death rates and the causes of death in the first half of the 19th century is patchy. It was not until 1855 that the civil registration of births and deaths was introduced. Even after this date many deaths went uncertified, or the causes were wrongly entered on the death certificate. Still-born babies went unregistered and had no burial ceremony. In places with few doctors the cause of death was badly recorded. The diseases causing the most deaths were cholera, tuberculosis, typhus, whooping cough, measles and smallpox.

With more than two million people killed by tuberculosis (TB) every year, and perhaps a third of the world’s population infected, the World Health Organisation has declared the epidemic of the disease a global emergency. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection of the lungs and sometimes other parts of the body, and is spread by droplets in the coughs or sneezes of a person with the disease. Tuberculosis was known as ‘consumption’ in the 19th century and was a major cause of death in Scotland at that time. The disease is still common where there is overcrowding, malnourishment and poor health care. It was during the 19th century that tuberculosis was dubbed “The White Plague”. It was seen as a ‘romantic disease’. Suffering from tuberculosis was thought to bestow upon the sufferer heightened sensitivity. The slow progress of the disease allowed for a “good death” as sufferers could arrange their affairs. The disease began to represent spiritual purity and temporal wealth, leading many young, upper-class women to purposefully pale their skin to achieve the consumptive appearance. British poet Lord Byron wrote, “I should like to die from consumption,” helping to popularize the disease as the disease of artists.

The Antonine Plague, also known as the Plague of Galen, was probably smallpox or measles. The disease killed as many as one-third of the population in some areas, and decimated the Roman army. Measles is an endemic disease, meaning it has been continually present in a community, and many people develop resistance. In populations not exposed to measles, exposure to the new disease can be devastating. In roughly the last 150 years, measles has been estimated to have killed about 200 million people worldwide. Measles also claimed a lot of young lives, the evidence of which is still present within the Howff. The graves of many mark the final resting place of children who succumbed to the infant-killing disease. In addition to children with an unfavourable nutritional status, young children living in large families are also much more prone to being infected with measles than are children living in families with one or two siblings. Nowadays, when the total population of most western European countries is rapidly shrinking due to the limitation of family size, and at a time when most European and European-American parents have their children immunized against all common infectious diseases, measles has become rare in the West. Thankfully, when measles do make an appearance in our lives, it’s usually no more than a minor setback, quickly and easily eradicated. As with everything, there are always exceptions to the rule, and still, to this day, many people in underdeveloped countries die from this disease.

 

The history of smallpox holds a unique place in medicine. One of the deadliest diseases known to humans, it is also the only disease to have been eradicated by vaccination. Symptoms of a typical smallpox infection began with a fever and lethargy about two weeks after exposure to the Variola Major virus. Headache, sore throat, and vomiting were common as well. In a few days, a raised rash appeared on the face and body, and sores formed inside the mouth, throat, and nose. Fluid-filled pustules would develop and expand, in some cases joining together and covering large areas of skin. In about the third week of illness, scabs formed and separated from the skin. About 30% of cases ended in death, typically in the second week of infection. Most survivors had some degree of permanent scarring, which could be extensive. Other deformities could result, such as loss of lip, nose, and ear tissue. Blindness could occur as a result of corneal scarring. Survivors of smallpox outbreaks were protected from subsequent infection by a process called variolation. This involved inhalation of the dried crusts from smallpox lesions or inoculation of the pus from a lesion into a scratch on the skin. These were potentially hazardous procedures, yet deemed acceptable at the time as smallpox caused such severe mortality and morbidity. The practise was introduced by Edward Jenner in 1798 upon noting that a person who had previously caught cowpox did not later catch smallpox. Vaccination still occurs today, where necessary, but is not used en-masse due to it’s known adverse effects and the risk of death.

Whooping Cough was (and still is) known as “The Kink” in Scotland.  Known medically as ‘pertussis’, it is a bacterial illness caused by the Bordetella Pertussis. It can be a severe illness resulting in prolonged coughing spells that can last for many weeks but rarely causes death. It can affect anyone, but is most dangerous in children under the age of 12 months because they are not able to cough away the phlegm that threatens to choke them.  Such extreme coughing spells can make it difficult for a person to eat, drink, and breathe – people may lose weight and become dehydrated. In infants, it can cause pneumonia and in rare and severe cases, lead to brain damage, seizures and mental retardation.  From the 17th century and up to the early 19th century, pertussis was considered a killer disease, especially within infancy.  A physician was often helpless and ignorant in dealing with children because, unlike adults, they could not contribute to his diagnosis by articulate complaints.”    Before the Bordetella Pertussis vaccine became available, the illness was a leading cause of death in infants, and nearly all children developed whooping cough. The vaccine itself cannot solely be credited with the decline in pertussis deaths, however, as this was also when public sanitation systems were implemented, clean drinking water became available, better distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables and also the focus on personal hygiene was stressed.  During the 1970’s, amid claims that the vaccine was not safe, there was a decline in the number of people willing to have their children immunised.  As a result, this led to two further epidemics. Each epidemic affected an estimated 400,000 children. Immunisation rates then went up again and most children are now immunised. Whooping cough is now uncommon in UK children but remains a major cause of illness in children in countries with poor rates of immunisation.

Typhus is a series of acute infectious diseases that appear with a sudden onset of headache, chills, fever, and general pains, proceed on the third to fifth day with a rash and toxemia (toxic substances in the blood), and terminate after two to three weeks. Typhus (actually not one illness but a group of closely related diseases) is caused by different species of rickettsia bacteria that are transmitted to humans by lice, fleas, mites, or ticks. The insects are carried person to person or are brought to people by rodents, cattle, and other animals. The most important form of typhus has been epidemic typhus (borne by lice).   The lice will initially feed on an infected human, drinking in the infectious blood before jumping to another host body.  The disease is transmitted to an uninfected human who scratches the louse bite (which itches) and inadvertently rubs infected faeces into the wound left by the blood-sucking joyrider.  Rats carry the disease, and the disease is also found in the faeces of cats, skunks and raccoons.  Whilst prompt antibiotic treatment will cure nearly all patients, left untreated, the mortality rate is as high as 60%.  Effective use of pesticides and the destruction or de-sanitisation of clothing and personal items such as bedding and towels is essential.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a highly contagious viral infection that can lead to paralysis, breathing problems, or even death.  The virus usually enters the environment in the faeces of someone who is infected. In areas with poor sanitation, the virus easily spreads through the faecal-oral route, via contaminated water or food. In addition, direct contact with a person infected with the virus can cause polio.   Polio, in its most debilitating forms, displays symptoms such as paralysis and death. However, most people with polio don’t actually display any symptoms or become noticeably sick. When symptoms do appear, there are differences depending on the type of polio.  Non-paralytic polio leads to flu-like symptoms that last for a few days or weeks, such as fever, sore throat, headache, vomiting, fatigue, back and neck pain, arm and leg stiffness, muscle tenderness, muscle spasms, and meningitis.  Paralytic polio will often begin with symptoms similar to non-paralytic polio, but will progress to more serious symptoms such as a loss of muscle reflexes, severe muscle pain and spasms, and loose or floppy limbs that is often worse on one side of the body.  “Poliomyelitis struck Dundee in 1947 with 43 cases and 4 deaths – this outbreak received considerable press coverage, although curiously less notice was taken of an outbreak of infantile gastroenteritis which killed 42 of 160 babies admitted to hospital. Polio struck again in 1950 with 157 cases and 9 deaths. Salk’s vaccine appeared in 1955, although an early faulty batch which caused 260 cases of polio and 10 deaths led to a degree of public apprehension as can be seen from newspaper reports of the time.  A further outbreak of polio occurred in Dundee in 1962, mainly in the Fintry area, with 40 cases and one death. However, a mass vaccination campaign in the city with 118,000 doses of the new Sabin oral vaccine brought the outbreak to an abrupt end.” (www.dundee.ac.uk).

Do you have any stories, diaries or images relating to this topic, or any other on this page that is specific to Dundee?  Get in touch with us – we’d love to feature them!