That was the Year that Was – The Dundee Year Books

Did you ever get an annual at Christmas? Perhaps a Broons one, or maybe Jackie magazine? Or did you get the book of Guinness World Records? Usually they were large glossy books produced once a year with stories, puzzles, facts and other titbits about a chosen subject. Others were a summation of the year that had just been. These are what the Dundee Year Books were, although maybe slightly less glossy.

Back in the 1870s there were two major news houses in Dundee. Charles Alexander & Co (later becoming DC Thomson) published the Courier & Argus, and John Leng & Co put out the Advertiser. As some of you may have worked out, these two later merged to form the Dundee Courier and Advertiser but that is still some time off. In the 1870s they were rivals. For the purposes of our story it is Leng we are interested in. He also published the Evening Telegraph.

As well as publishing the daily Advertiser, Leng also tapped into the annual market. He published his first Year Book in 1879, featuring highlights and facts from the previous year. It gives a summation of the town in 1878: details of trade, in particular the jute from Calcutta; shipping; local events (in date order); and general statistics such a population, rainfall and seal & whale fishing catches.

The book for 1879 is interesting as it contains an article about the fall of the Tay Bridge which took place just weeks earlier. There is also a diagram showing the parts that fell away. These had previously appeared in the Advertiser. As the Year Book grew in size over the years, more articles were reprinted. The first volume is about A6 size and 78 pages long, by 1914 its twice the size and 122 pages long.

Looking at 1895 as an example, the timeline of events is split into the following categories: Political (including the formation of the Women’s Political Association in Dundee in Nov 14th); Municipal and Parochial (including the opening of Dudhope Park on Sept 28th); University College (including the resignation of Principal Peterson on June 13th); Personal (including the publication of “Old Dundee” by A C Lamb); Miscellaneous (including the jubilee of Panmure Golf Club on May 11th); Education; the Liquor Question (including a proposal to close public houses at 10pm); Crimes and Offences (including a daring cattle theft at Barry on May 31st and a wife killed by her husband with a bottle on January 26th); Weather (including over 1000 skaters on the frozen Tay at Perth on February 15th); Shipping Items (including the steamer Paradox stranded on Broughty Ferry beach on January 13th); Factory Operatives (including a strike on refusal of a 10% pay increase for operatives); Annual Meetings; Local Accidents; Lectures; Necrology [Deaths]; Fires; Flower Shows; Bazaars and Holidays.

The yearbook also gives a detailed breakdown of Jute imports for the year. 1,178,998 bales were delivered to Dundee from India by 56 ships. On average it took ships 115 days to make the journey from Calcutta or Chittagong. 103 vessels brought in 30,643 tons of flax, tow, hemp and codilla, mostly from Riga, St Petersburg and other Baltic ports. 36,000 seal hides were brought back from Newfoundland by the Terra Nova, worth about £15,000 (about £1.6 million in todays money).

There is a summary of the agricultural year, including the harsh effects of the snow at the start of the year, and frost at the end. There’s even two whole pages summarizing the year’s weather. Apparently the first week in August was warm and showery and there were a lot of close mists at the end of September. A full article recounts the ‘Arctic Winter of 1894-5’, when they Tay froze at Perth and seals were seen on land at Newport. There are obituaries for John Sharp of Fern Hall, James Henderson of Tayport, Captain James Peters, Dr Spence, William Keiller Bruce, William Geddes, Governor of Dundee Prison, and a few other notable men in Dundee Society. A report on building in the city contains mentions of the Girls Industrial School on Blackness Road, the New Post Office on Meadowside, the Prudential Assurance Building on Albert Square, and the Co-operative Bakery on Clepington Road.

There is an account of the millworkers strike. Two articles, one about Sanitary Work and another on the Slums of Dundee give a grim picture of living conditions in Dundee at the end of the 19th century. There is a 6 and a half page article about the presentation of a portrait of George Armitstead to the Victoria Art Gallery (now the McManus), in which many letters and speeches were quoted verbatim. There are also full articles about the opening of Dudhope Park, the freedom of the city being given to Thomas F Bayard, the opening of the Fine Art Exhibition, Local Taxation, the presentation of prizes on the Mars ship by Sir John Leng.

There are more non-news articles including accounts on the Siege of Dundee from 1651, ‘Curious Industries’ including box-making and gold beating, which took place in he city. There’s a report from a special correspondent in Germany on Factory Life in the country on the continent. Then it finishes of with a raft of statistical information. If you are interested in temperature change, burial numbers, number of electors (male and female – as some women could vote in local elections if they met the criteria), hours of sunshine, gas revenues and arrest figures then the Year Book is the place to go.

The last Year Book appears to have been published in 1915 covering 1914. Its likely that the war put an end to it and that it was never picked up again once peace had resumed. But for the 36 years it was produced the Dundee Year Book is a valuable reference tool for anyone researching life in the late Victorian in the City.

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