Neale Elder’s photographs show us life in Dundee, Scotland, in the 1980s. These views are of a changing city – many remain familiar, but some are already ‘Old Dundee’.
“Don’t look here for technical brilliance in photography,” says Neale. “Since the 1970s I have taken photographs simply to record scenes. Occasionally the results are reasonably good; and with the passage of time even the most mundane images can become quite interesting.”
This is the stuff we saw as we went about our day but only a few of us, like Peter Marshall, Tim Brown and Trevor Ermel, recorded in street photography.
West Port, 1981
By the late seventies, the remaining nineteenth-century buildings in the West Port were almost completely derelict. The north side of the street had been cleared in 1968 and demolition of most of what was left seemed likely.
These tenements on the south side had been acquired by Tayside Regional Council, while other properties fell into the hands of Dundee District Council. The two authorities had differing views as to the fate of the buildings: the Region favouring clearance; the District retention and preservation.
In 1981 the two councils entered a partnership with the Scottish Development Agency to deliver an urban renewal scheme known as the Blackness Project. Suddenly the importance of the West Port as a historical gateway to the affected part of town was recognised.
The buildings survived, carefully restored; but not everything turned out as planned. It was originally envisaged that the shop units would form a craftworkers’ village where potters would sit at their wheels, and weavers at their looms, to be gazed upon by passers-by. While things didn’t quite work out like that, we must still be grateful for the survival of the West Port as a recognisable fragment of ‘Old Dundee’.
“I took a summer job with British Rail as a temporary measure after graduating from Aberdeen University in 1986; and I’ve been in railway service ever since.
“I’ve been a supervisor in the operations side of the railway since 1989. I haven’t soared to great heights partly because I have no personal career ambition, but also largely because I often become impatient with the corporate stupidity of a large organisation and often take this out on those above me, which doesn’t endear me to them!
“Immersed in front-line operations, however, I could write a book about the characters I have known and the events I have experienced.”
– Neale Elder
Castle Street is busy with pedestrians in 1981; surprising, given that the Shore Terrace bus stances have been gone for seven years. Colonel Sanders has taken up residence beside two venerable local businesses: Stephen’s the ironmongers (left) and JD Brown’s camera shop (right).
Cowgate and ‘Wishart Arch’, 1981
The Wishart Arch (or, more accurately, the Cowgate Port) was closed to traffic and propped up on its eastern side at the time I took this picture in 1981.
Suggestions of taking down this last part of the old town wall and rebuilding it closer to the city centre, which would have completely destroyed its significance, fortunately came to nothing.
Logie Street, 1982
These buildings were meant to be demolished for a new road, but never were. The scene has changed though. On the left is a vanished part of the Dundee streetscape – a tramway overhead pole.
MV ‘Tay Queen’ at Broughty Ferry, 1982
The pleasure craft Tay Queen, previously Bridlington Queen, was a 1947 rebuild of a wartime motor fishing vessel (MFV). She operated from Broughty Ferry over a few summers in the early eighties. Coral Star (III) took over later in the decade.
There were cruises upriver to the bridges and sometimes Perth, not unlike the trips now provided by the Badger and Marigot (no dolphins back then, though!).
Demolition at the Sinderins, 1982
The buildings at the gushet of Perth Road and Hawkhill were demolished to permit the widening of the latter thoroughfare as part of the ‘University Bypass’. In the best local authority tradition of the time, there followed an unseemly rammy over the proposal to install a work of sculpture called ‘Lady on Horseback’ at the junction; plans later abandoned.
Demolition in Princes Street, 1983
Here are buildings at the corner of Princes Street and Ferguson Street being demolished early in 1983. Tayside Regional Council intended to drive a new road – the ‘north-east arterial route’ through here, but it was never built. The shop is called ‘Second Chance’; doesn’t look as if it’s getting one!
Church Street from Caldrum Street, 1983
This is the Dundee of my early memories: street after street of gaunt, derelict tenements awaiting clearance. By the eighties most had gone and these scenes were rare; then something strange happened. Renovation, by both social housing landlords and private property developers, took over.
The buildings in the foreground, in Church Street, survive to this day.
Seagate bus station, Dundee, 1983
Another view of the stances at Seagate bus station, from August 1983. The vehicle on the left must have just arrived as the 101 from Aberdeen – a three and a quarter hour journey!
Victoria Dock, 1983
Framed by the Maxwelltown multis, the oil rig supply vessel Maureen Sea is seen berthed in Victoria Dock when it was still part of the working port.
Ann Street at Powrie Place, 1983
All these buildings on the south side of Ann Street have now gone. The celebrated Windmill Bar is just visible in the distance.
The blue BR sign for Dundee West goods station still stood on South Union Street in 1983; but, although rail freight traffic was still being handled nearby, the station itself had closed.
This had been the Caledonian Railway’s principal goods station in Dundee, larger but very similar in design to its sister in Perth. In the late sixties it became the local depot of the short-lived National Carriers, the road-based division of the National Freight Corporation.
Winter Saturday in the Murraygate, 1984 It’s a typical Saturday, ‘doon the toon’.
Pedestrians versus vehicles in the Cowgate, 1984
For many years Dundee had something of a reputation as ‘a city of jaywalkers’. After the Wellgate Centre opened in 1978 the Cowgate became a key point of conflict between vehicles and pedestrians, until the traffic was eventually removed.
Reform Street, 1983
The Wimpy bar on the left was no fast food outlet, but an old-fashioned sit-in establishment with cutlery and waitress service. All round the walls were garish back-lit images of the various dishes – the Wimpy Brunch, Wimpy Grill and so on – which bore little resemblance to what actually turned up.
High Street (pre-pedestrianisation), 1984
I had kept this negative, but not the print as it’s not a very good picture; but when I later scanned the negative out of curiosity I realised it shows a scene that is now almost as much ‘Old Dundee’ as the Royal Arch, buster stalls and the ‘Fifies’.
Tayside’s Northern Counties bodied Mark III Volvo Ailsa number 55 (OSN855Y), en route from Charleston to Douglas, pauses in Lochee High Street to uplift passengers in April 1984.
Former Dundee Tay Bridge goods shed, 1984
By 1984, the former North British Railway goods station in Dundee had long since ceased to function as such. The building was soon demolished and this is now the site of the realigned Riverside Drive.
Volvo Citybus in Reform Street, Dundee, 1984
With the City Chambers in the background, Tayside Volvo Citybus number 86 (A286TSN) enters Reform Street en route from Ninewells Hospital to Downfield on 30 July 1984.
Winter’s the Printers, 1984
This fine building in Shore Terrace dates from 1828 and has in its time been the Exchange Coffee House, Dundee Music Hall and a Masonic Temple amongst other things; but to my generation and those before it is remembered as the premises of David Winter and Son, printers and stationers.
Hilltown urban landscape, 1984
Three generations of housing – old cottages, tenements and multis – are seen together in this view from the corner of North George Street and Church Street in 1984.
Metro-Cammell Class 101 units at Dundee, 1984
Metro-Cammell DMUs were the mainstay of local rail services radiating from Dundee Tay Bridge for many years. By 1984, however, the branch lines to Tayport and St Andrews had closed and the Fife main line stopping trains had returned to locomotive haulage. This left the Perth-Dundee-Arbroath corridor.
The unit on the right of this view looks as if it is about to form an Arbroath service from Platform 4, while that on the left is waiting on the Down Through line for a later turn of duty.
Blyth Street and Fleuchar Street, 1985
This is a view along the back of Blyth Street towards Fleuchar Street, from City Road. The buildings on the left have now been demolished, but the gaping tenement on the right was restored.
In the top left hand corner is the ‘plattie’ where the late George Duffus performed one of his memorable ‘Dundee Wifie’ routines for his Grampian TV series.
A second volume of photographs Dundee 1985-89 can be seen here.
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