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McManus 168 project reveals Dundee’s ‘Golden decade’

McManus 168 project reveals Dundee’s ‘Golden decade’

The McManus 168 project, which has been collecting information on the original subscribers to The Albert Institute, now known as The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum has been sharing its findings on contributers to the Gothic Revival building and uncovered information on a ‘golden decade’ for Dundee in the 1860s.

The project was part of celebrations to mark the  150th anniversary of the museum being established in 1867 and funded by Heritage Lottery.  Working with two of Scotland’s most prominent historians Professors Jim Tomlinson and Chris Whatley, the project team comprised a number of specialists and archivists alongside those with no previous experience but plenty of enthusiasm.

Full information on 232 subscribers of the 261 original subscribers has been collected for the archive, and is being entered on to a permanent, freely accessible web archive including references to the source material. The project attracted a diverse group of more than 100 volunteers, in terms of age, gender, socio-economic background, historical knowledge and IT skills.

Chris Whatley, Professor of Scottish History at University of Dundee said

“The campaign for the Albert Institute reveals so much about Dundee during what was a golden decade. The 1860s represented the heyday of the town’s jute industry. With the boom in textiles and Dundee now the world centre of jute production – ‘Juteopolis’, civic pride blossomed. This manifested as a vast programme of civic improvement, which laid the foundations of modern Dundee. The decade of the 1860s was as transformational as what’s happening now at the waterfront and, arguably, had a greater impact on the town’s inhabitants. In effect, the Albert Institute was Victorian Dundee’s V & A – designed by a world-ranking architect and, like its modern counterpart impressed those who saw it for the first time.

“Despite its immense importance, the decade has been little studied. Who were the people who were behind Dundee’s transformation? Unlike the V & A, the Albert Institute was funded by private individuals, not the state and its several agencies. With the resource created by the 168 project team – that is hitherto hidden details about the subscribers to the Albert Institute – we now have a much better idea. Now anyone interested can find out who they were, what they did for a living, where they lived and what motivated them to contribute to the refashioning of Dundee at a time when the city was desperately in need of reform.” 

“Hopefully it will inspire further research into this truly formative period in Dundee’s history. We know a great deal about the downsides of Juteopolis – the social suffering as the jute trade struggled in the face of international competition.”

“Too little though is known about the individual men and women who dedicated time, effort – and their money – to turning Dundee into one of Scotland’s great cities. The 168 project team researchers have opened the door and shown what’s possible. It is for others now to follow.”

Billy Gartley, Head of Cultural Services at Leisure & Culture Dundee said

“This project has provided a fantastic link with the past. More than 100 people have given up their time to research the original subscribers of the building. These volunteers have shown the type of enthusiasm and civic pride that allowed the Albert Institute  to flourish  more than 150 years ago. We would like to thank every one of them for adding to the story of The McManus and our fantastic legacy as the People’s Museum.”

Everyone interested in viewing the archive can visit mcmanus168.org.uk. For more information and to join McManus 168 please contact 01382 307200 (McManus Reception) or email info@mcmanus168.org.uk