Art & DesignCity Guides

The Fall & Rise of Dundee: From Jute, Jam & Journalism to UNESCO City of Design

By March 8, 2018 No Comments

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Dundee—a Scottish city once famous for ‘jute, jam and journalism’—is using the power of design to reinvent itself in the post-industrial age.

Dundee is the UK’s only ‘City of Design‘ as appointed by the United Nations – and one of only 12 worldwide. The new V&A Museum Of Design promises an international centre for design in Scotland and the first UK design museum outside London. And the Dundee Design Festival, now in its third year, attracts a global audience of visitors, exhibitors and collaborators.

The origins of the 3 J’s

Jam, Journalism & Jute

It’s a far cry from the ‘three Js’ on which the city was built. In the 19th century Dundee’s jute production earned it the nickname ‘Juteopolis’ as the population quadrupled to support an industry that employed 50,000 at its peak. Dundee’s Janet Keillor takes the credit for inventing marmalade, and Keillor’s factory is famous the world over for its jams and marmalades. The third J – journalism – is down to DC Thomson, publishers of The Dandy comic, The People’s Friend, a weekly magazine established in Dundee in 1905, and The Beano, Britain’s oldest children’s comic, established in 1938.

Jute production declined in the 1920s due to competition from India, and neither marmalade nor magazines do the booming trade they once did. Manufacturing is just not driving growth anymore.

Redesigning an industrial city

So how does a city built on industry thrive in a post-industrial world? Anne Power, Author of Phoenix Cities: The Fall and Rise of Great Industrial Cities, credits “innovative enterprises, new-style city leadership, special neighbourhood programmes, and skills development” – all things playing a key part in the regeneration of Dundee.

Graffiti statue created by visitors to Dundee Design Festival

One building perfectly exemplifies the city’s approach of using creativity to drive economic growth: West Ward Works. Dundee’s first fireproof mill from 1806, the space was bought by DC Thomson in the 1950s and turned into the printing press for The Beano, printing more than five million books a year.

West Ward Works

After the works closed in 2010, the building lay empty until the first Dundee Design Festival in May 2016. The success of the festival, which saw the building converted into three galleries, a cinema, a café and a 400-seat auditorium, demonstrated its value and lead to an £18 million redevelopment, turning it into the UK’s largest cultural hub.

This approach is working right across Dundee. The new Victoria & Albert Museum, opening on 15 September 2018, is part of a £1 billion restoration of Dundee’s waterfront. Throughout May, the third annual Dundee Design Festival will draw visitors from all over the world, demonstrating the value of more unused spaces. And Dundee Contemporary Arts, which houses two contemporary art galleries, a two-screen cinema, a print studio, a visual research centre and a café bar, showcases local talent year-round.

Feast your eyes on more design

Maggies Penguin parade

While you’re in Dundee, here are a few things not to miss:

  • Get involved in the Dundee Design Festival (01– 31 May 2018), marking the Year of Young People with works designed by school children in response to objects sent to them by fellow UNESCO design cities.
  • Discover the city through Maggie’s Penguin Parade (29 June – 23 September 2018). The giant penguin sculptures installed all over the city are the work of 80 artists, including landscape architect and Maggie’s co-founder Charles Jencks.
  • Cross the bridge to the Tatha Gallery in Newport-on-Tay for the best views of the V&A, fine art exhibitions and Masterchef Young Professional Jamie Scott’s award-winning Newport restaurant and bar.
  • Explore Dundee’s hidden back streets on the first Saturday of every month with a guided tour of the Open/Close Street Art Trail – forgotten doorways given new life by local street artists.
  • And finally, grab a drink at Gallery 48, a contemporary art gallery, tapas restaurant and gin bar stocking locally produced gin including Dundee’s Verdant Spirits – winner of 2017 Best Gin.


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