The Annexation of Tayport, 1919

Certain words are very good at conjuring up certain images in your mind. Whenever I hear the word annexation I am reminded of History lessons at school, in particular learning about the annexation of the Sudetenland. The image of jack-booted soldiers marching into a town springs to mind. Therefore when I came across a file with the above title, I couldn’t help but picture jack-booted Dundonians marching into Tayport. In the end this was a much more benign incident that was ultimately doomed to fail. So what’s the story?

Well it begins on 3rd June 1916. William Maitland Dougall dies. Although he had two surviving children, the decision is made to sell the family estate. Scotscraig pretty much covered the whole parish of Ferry-Port-On-Craig including much of Tayport. There were farms, shootings, forested areas, a golf course, a large mansion house, and not to mention access to the waterfront. The estate was put up for sale and was first advertised in the newspapers in June 1917. The notice appears in the papers up and down the country – this was quite a sizeable purchase. 

20170630 Advert in Scotsman
An advert for the estate in the Scotsman, 30 June 1917 Image © Johnston Press plc, taken from

However the buyer was found much closer to home. A year after it went on sale, the solicitors for the sellers wrote to the Council stating that they were authorised to sell the estate for £52,000 – which could be around £22 million in today’s money. A vote was held at a special meeting of the council, which passed at 21 to 2 – an overwhelming majority. So why did Dundee buy an estate on the other side of the river?

The answer is development. The end of WW1 saw a movement towards councils getting more involved in developing land for business and residential use. Dundee Town Council were already getting ready to start building homes at three locations in the City. But the main aim of developing Tayport and the Scotscraig estate was for heavy industry, particularly more shipbuilding. Dundee was limited to the amount of coastline suitable for this industry and the southern banks of the river provided an ideal opportunity to extend and attract more business to the area. James Thomson, City Engineer, suggested that if the waterfront and area around that railway line were improved, the land could be used for shipbulding as well as repairing ships, engineering, factories, workshops and warehouses. 

The Town Clerk’s File on the Tayport Annexation 1918-19

In December 1918 the Council set up a sub-committee to investigate whether to extend the City boundaries to include Tayport and the Scotscraig estate. On 3rd March 1919, after discussions with Tayport Town Council, it was decided that they did not have the mandate to decide whether Tayport could be absorbed into Dundee. A public meeting was arranged for later in the year to explain and discuss the issue with the residents of Tayport.


scotscraig house
Scotscraig House, one of the first parts of the estate Dundee Corporation sold off.

Over the summer the Town Clerk put together a memorandum which was to be distributed in Tayport. It outlined why Dundee wanted to amalgamate with Tayport and what the perceived benefits for the townspeople. This included freezing rates for Tayport at the lower price than Dundee, gas and electricity would also be supplied to Tayport at the cheaper Dundee rates. There were also the benefits of access to better health care and child welfare, as well as access to charitable funds based in Dundee. The Dundee Corporation also promised that developed land would bring more jobs, and that they would develop more leisure facilities, such as Bowling Greens and Tennis Courts. The amalgamation would also increase the railway facilities. The town would get 3 representatives on the council. 

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style=”text-align: justify;”> The pamphlet was circulated and a meeting held on Wednesday 15th October 1919. It was proposed that a postcard plebiscite take place, although the timeline was too short – only 5 days. The Tayport Council voted and agreed to hold the vote after the next council elections, scheduled for 2 weeks after the meeting. Discussions were then held via the polls and hustings in the Tayport and Dundee elections.

By December 1919 it seems that Dundee had changed its mind and informed Tayport Town Council that the vote would not go ahead. The reasons for this are unclear. There were difficulties with works in Broughy Ferry and the rather high profile tussle with Monifieth over proposed annexation, that perhaps Dundee felt that they already had enough on their plate and didn’t feel they would get the support they needed in Dundee. So Tayport remained independent and Dundee didn’t get across the water. 

A draft copy of a ballot postcard that was never used.

The Scotscraig estate was sold off in parts over the years, starting with the mansion house and a few farms. As the Council was the last owners of the estate as a whole, in the Archives we hold maps, drawings, plans, rental rolls and chartularies of the Scotscraig Estate. 


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