James Thomson’s Improvement Plan of 1918

This month volunteer and current chair of the Friends of Dundee City Archives, Linda Nicoll, shares her favourite document.

My favourite document held at Dundee City Archives is James Thomson’s improvement plan for the city of Dundee which he presented to the Council in 1918. Thomson was the City Architect and Engineer. His plan was accompanied by a map.

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The front cover of James Thomson’s ambitious plans

In this document, Thomson encouraged the Council to look ahead to the next fifty years. He believed that by raising the standard of housing, there would be an improvement in health. He wanted to eliminate the slum area and relieve congestion in the city. He was passionate about open spaces and wanted to create more.

His vision for an outer ring road, the Kingsway, was met with scepticism by some who thought that there would not be enough traffic to warrant it. He also envisaged a road bridge to connect the north and south shores of the Tay. In his plans, the road bridge ran alongside the rail bridge. He envisaged the esplanade being extended westward to Invergowrie, and eastward to Broughty Ferry. He believed that the docks should be filled in to provide some sort of civic centre and a central railway station. He foresaw the extension of railways and the need to provide railway sidings into industrial units. He also recommended the appropriation of sites suitable for landing grounds in anticipation of the introduction of aerial transport.

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The plan setting out the Kingsway and Tay Road Bridge in 1918.

It is my favourite document because James Thomson was a visionary – a man ahead of his time. His vision for Dundee was far-reaching, but, over the passage of time, most of these ideas have become realities. Forty-eight years after his improvement planwas submitted the Tay Road Bridge was opened, Dundee has its own airport and the Kingsway has no shortage of traffic! The Waterfront now provides a civic area and there is one, central railway station. The only thing he did not envisage was that there would be a road named after him at the waterfront called “Thomson Avenue”.

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