Why is Dundee Famous?
Claire-Marie Watson
Winner of Scotland's Biggest Book Prize

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Why is Dundee famous?

The phrase "Jute ,Jam and Journalism" is often quoted, but Dundee is famous for much more. 

It was probably first chartered over eight hundred years ago, making it one of Scotland's most ancient burghs.  As Dundee's merchants traded extensively in northern Europe and the Baltic countries, so its scholars followed in their footsteps and were among the first to bring back the ideas of Martin Luther and John Calvin, earning Dundee the epithet "the second Geneva." 

Whaling, and the specialised shipbuilding techniques associated with it, were vital industries for centuries and at one time, Dundee's whaling fleet was among the largest and most technologically advanced in the country.  

This led Captain Scott and his Antarctic exploration team to commission the RRS Discovery from the Dundee Shipbuilders Company.  Their historic expedition set off from the city, before a huge and cheering crowd, in March of 1901.  Nine years later, the Terra Nova, also built in Dundee, carried the Captain and his famous team on their final, tragic voyage.

Dundee wove flax long before its mills began to process jute but it was in the nineteenth century that the city became jute capital of the world and earned the name "Juteopolis". Dundee cloth covered American settlers' wagons, tented soldiers in the Crimean and American Civil Wars and sheltered the men and animals who built the great Western railroads.  Her mills and factories could barely keep up with demand for sailcloth and sacking, tarpaulins and tent fabric, horse blankets and nosebags. War and enterprise were grist to Dundee's mills.

Jam and Journalism pre-date the arrival of jute in Dundee.  In 1797 James Keillor established his jam and marmalade factory.  His products became internationally known, not just for their quality but also for the distinctive stoneware jars in which they were sold. 

In 1801 the Dundee Advertiser was launched, followed by the Dundee Courier.  Sir John Leng, owner of the former, was reputed to be the first to illustrate a newspaper.  He developed a considerable publishing empire which later attracted William Thomson, a shipping magnate, who bought the Dundee Courier in 1886. His sons founded the hugely-successful D. C. Thomson, who still publish not only The Courier, but also many of Britain's best-loved weekly magazines and comics. 

But Dundee was printing more than just news.  James Chalmers, born in 1782, owned a small print shop in the town and is credited with the invention of the postage stamp. Valentines, card manufacturers, were able to boast of colour postcard sales numbering millions to the US alone in the first decade of the twentieth century. 

Today Dundee is famous internationally for its bio-chemical industries, computer software companies and, of course, the ground-breaking medical research undertaken at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School. Over 20,000 students study at its two universities and its theatre and concert hall regularly stage outstanding music and drama. 

Dundee sits at the mouth of the River Tay, surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in Scotland. Golfers worldwide discover the city as they fly into the local airport before making the short journey to play the Old Course at St. Andrews or the notoriously challenging links at Carnoustie. 

It is within easy reach of Aberdeen, centre of the Scottish oil industry, Edinburgh, home of the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival and Glasgow, with its treasure trove of art, culture and history. 

In recent years Dundee has become known as "City of Discovery". A third and fitting epithet for a vibrant and attractive city.


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