Success at home and further afield
At the centre of this panel is the magnificent Royal Arch, a monument built close to the port of Dundee to celebrate a visit by Queen Victoria in 1844. While the arch was there, it represented Dundee’s wealth, its success in the jute and linen industries, and its influence on the rest of the world.
1. The Royal Arch
Erected to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Dundee in 1844 – the city’s first Royal visit since the 17th century – this triumphal arch stood tall until 1964, when the land was reclaimed to build the Tay Road Bridge. A competition decided upon its designer, and the winner was John Thomas Rochead, an architect from Glasgow who also designed the Wallace Monument in Stirling. The resulting arch – some 80 feet across – used to stand over the access onto the pier, between Earl Grey Dock and King William IV Dock. The recent discovery of some original slabs from the Royal Arch, during work on the Waterfront development, could lead to future restoration work. The arch between V&A Dundee’s two conjoined buildings can be interpreted as a nod to the Royal Arch – particularly as it maintains the connection with Victoria and Albert.
2. Royal Exchange
Designed by David Bryce in 1854-55 as a place for the city’s increasingly wealthy textile merchants to meet and do business, the Royal Exchange on Panmure Street was built on marshland just north of the original city walls. It was modelled in the style of Flemish cloth halls and should have been crowned with an impressive steeple, but the waterlogged ground meant the foundations kept slipping. Today, the building carries a Category ‘A’ listing.
3. Linen trade
Dundee’s linen industry preceded jute. Flax was imported from Russia and the Baltic states, then Dundee’s linen mills turned the fibres into a rough cloth. This was exported to make sails for ships, wagon-covers and clothing for enslaved people.
Switching from linen to jute turned out to be a profitable decision by Dundee’s wealthy mill-owners. The burgeoning jute industry stimulated shipbuilding when jute barons like William Cox began to build their own ships from around 1874. It also benefited the whaling trade which had previously begun to decline when gas lighting reduced the need for whale oil. Expansion of these industries attracted workers to Dundee and, by 1901, the city’s population had quadrupled. Although jute production fell from the early 1900s, the jute industry remained Dundee’s biggest employer until the early 1950s.
5. Millionaires’ Row
At the height of the jute trade, the ‘jute barons’ and mill-owners were extremely wealthy. Many used their wealth to build large mansions in nearby Broughty Ferry – conveniently close to the mills, but far enough to escape the noise and squalor of the city itself. In 1861, the UK census recorded 33 millionaires living in one square mile of Dundee (the West Ferry district) – a greater concentration than anywhere else in the British Empire.
6. Robert Stirling Newall
Born in Dundee, Robert Stirling Newall (1812-1889) was an engineer who patented a design for wire ropes and, later, transformed undersea telegraph cables – including those laid under the Atlantic Ocean. Robert went on to become a noted amateur astronomer, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1864 and of the Royal Society in 1875.
7. Robert Fleming
Robert Fleming (1845-1933) was born and brought up in Dundee. After being introduced to the stock market by textile merchant Edward Baxter, Robert established the First Scottish American Trust in February 1873 and became an accomplished investment manager. In 1890, he headed to London and founded his own successful merchant bank. His grandson, Ian Fleming, created the character of ‘James Bond’.