Life in the Wellgate
6 Morrisons Court, The Wellgate, Dundee, 1963 to 1966.
Saturday March 30th 1963, my wife Hilda and I, newly-weds, moved into our flat on 6 Morrisons Court, the last street on the west side heading north on the Wellgate. We were on the top floor of a three-story tenement; on the landing we had one neighbour and one shared toilet.
For the previous weeks we had renovated our home, pulling out a huge cast iron coal fireplace, filling in the gaping hole, wallpapering the room, installed a gas fireplace and a gas cooker. The window in the room overlooked Morrisons Court and the window ledge was a favourite hang out for Wellgate pigeons. There was a bunker at the bottom of the window and a small sink with a tap that provided water that was either cold or a few degrees above freezing.
The living room was small, 10 feet by 10 feet. We furnished the room with a carpet, two armchairs a fold down table, a sideboard and a small black and white TV. It was cozy. The bedroom was 8 feet by 12 feet, enough space for a bed, a wardrobe, a dressing table, and later on, a baby cot and pram.
The window in the bedroom overlooked the Wellgate “backies,” When you raised the lower window, attached to the outside wall on the left-hand side was a pulley and rope that stretched to a wooden pole which had numerous pulleys secured to it for other homes. This contraption was for hanging out the washing. The pole however had snapped and fallen over but our rope was still free to move, but on a very steep angle.
Prior to Morrisons Court, Hilda and I had both lived in housing schemes. Hilda, in West Kirkton, and I in Dryburgh. In our new urban setting, we explored the many shops and formed friendly acquaintances with shopkeepers and assistants. Within minutes of our home there was a butcher – who sold the best roast beef, ever. A baker, a fishmonger, a licensed grocer, a barber, a chippie, a department store, and of course a pub. There was a picture house up the steps and across the street on Victoria Road, and another on King Street, and the wonderful Marks and Spencer was a 3-minute trek from Morrisons Court.
The Wellgate was an ancient artery, a much-travelled conduit from the Hilltown to the High Street. And on Saturdays our friends and relations when in town would knock on the door - there was no telephone – and sit down for a cup of tea, a Markie’s biscuit, and a blether. The kettle was constantly filled and the teapot sitting with a welcome fresh brew.
The Wellgate was an urban utopia. In 1966, Hilda, I, and our two-year-old daughter Susan, left Morrisons Court for Canada, we had outgrown our small cozy home.
In the 1970’s we heard from our families in Dundee that the Wellgate was to be razed to make way for a shopping mall. I realize urban renewal is sometimes necessary for the wellbeing of a city. But somehow the destruction of that old venerable thoroughfare felt like a desecration rather than an urban improvement.
Submitted by Robert and Hilda Boag
My grandparents lived in Charles Street off the Wellgate. My father (one of 17 children) was given the name of Stewart. She chose this name from the name of the butcher’s shop. I think it was Stewart Piggot. She thought it was a nice name and I think she had run out of names by this time. My father was born in 1905.
Submitted by Catherine Brooks
THE ALD WELLGATE
When fowk look back,
On ald Dundee toon.
N' a' o' the places,
Wi a' yist tae stroll 'roon'.
The best o' thum a',
Thi place that wis sae veri great.
Wis that street on the brae,
Thi bustlin' Wellgate.
Cross ower the Vicky,
It the bottom o' the Hull.
Yid look doon the street,
'N' feel a wee thrill.
Doon fae the steps,
Wir shops o' iveri kind.
Whar yi kid beh a' the things,
Wut wid cum ti yir mind.
Hunters the drapers,
Nixt tae the NBR fir TVs.
Hendersons fir furniture,
Wi' thir fancy settees.
Then thir wis Youngs fish shop,
'N' Piggots butchers is well.
Wa kin forget Drydens the fruiters,
Wi' its sweet earthy smell.
Martins fir hardware,
Alang fae Cable fir Shoes.
Claude Alexander, John Temple, Caledonian Tailors,
A 'yi hid tae dae wis jist choose.
At the tap o' a stinkin' closie,
Thi Pam Snooker Hall.
Plunkin' in there,
Wi a' hid a ball.
Watts the music shop,
Whar yid find the latest L.P.'s.
Andrew G Kidd the bakers,
Gave wis treats fir oor teas.
Graftons the clothiers,
Or Graftons sportswear.
Nelson the ice creamer,
Fir thi best sliders ani where.
Fir drinkers yi' hid Whytees,
Or the Foresters Arms.
Classic ald boozers,
Wi' ald fashioned charms.
A quarter gill o' whisky,
'N' a pint o' pale ale.
To mak a man happy,
Wie nivir a fail.
I street full o' people,
I street on the go.
Hustle 'n' bustle,
It nivir wis slow.
The dear ald Wellgate,
Wis sum whar eh'll nivir forget.
The sounds, smells 'n' feelings,
Stull stie wae me yet.
Submitted by William Tracy
Memories of wool and a wedding
I came to Dundee to stay with my Grandparents when I was fourteen, but had been a lot of times between Aberdeen and Dundee so I knew Dundee well. There was an Ironmongers’ shop on the corner just beside the steps, lots of things hung outside, watering cans, tin baths, brushes, etc - it was a popular shop.
Butcher shop - I think the name was Piggots, door was always open, and i could see a large butchers block with meat on it. Someone told me it was horse meat, I never liked passing that shop after that!
A few years on, I am married, now in 1959 in St Andrews Church. There was a gate that led from the church to the Wellgate, the guests walked to the reception which was in the Masonic Hall, 13 Meadow Street. Bride and Groom got a taxi!!! We could have walked, but that day there was a horrendous storm, very heavy rain, parts of Dundee were flooded. I think the gate might still be there in the church grounds.
Hunters was a big shop that sold everything. Clothes, furniture, china and knitting wool.
I went there for wool to knit a jacket. At that time I could not afford to buy all the wool at the same time, so some was put aside and collected as needed. It was always the same lady who served me, and we became good friends as we both lived in Douglas and Angus and our children played together. We were friends until her and her husband died.
Submitted by Trudy Whyte
The Wellgate atmosphere
I loved the little Wellgate shops. The street itself was fun to go down all those steps from the clock and possibly having been into McGills on each corner. I used to shop with my Dad while my 2 sisters and brother attended highland dancing classes run by Esther Clark inSt John’s church hall in Albert Street.
I can’t remember what we actually bought. My friend’s father was manager of Jackson’s the Tailor at the corner of the Murraygate as we came out of the Wellgate.
It really was a necessary walkway to reach Woolworths and M&S and the shops in Peter Street such as the pet shop – where we always stopped to look at the tortoises, fish in the tanks, rabbits and guinea pigs. And the Co-op was such a large important shop. Going up the Wellgate was important for reaching the sarsparilla shop at the foot of the Hilltown or the woman selling whelks from her pram at the foot of the Hilltown.
You really had to go up the Wellgate to reach the shop and Post Office which sold saving stamps for your summer holidays at Butlins camp in Ayr.
When I was at secondary school, a young Maths teacher told me that she’d lived in a flat in Wellgate while she was a student. The flat was above a little hat shop. One Christmas, the students went away to their parents’ homes and hadn’t shut a tap off properly so their flat leaked water down through the ceiling onto all the expensive hats!
A friend said “The Wellgate – I remember it well.” I asked her what she remembered. The Steps, lots of little shops. A tearoom with a big globe in the window at the bottom left hand side. So it’s the atmosphere and the actual street. We were just children and are 70 now.
Submitted by Ann Penhale
There was so much character
People lived there and created an atmosphere. There was three butchers’ shops and a café, a Milleners’ hats and a baby linen shop. A 8 tonne Hill & Steele Santy Clause at Christmas, Largs the music shop and Boots the Chemist and a clothes shop at the Wellgate Steps. A crowd of men stood at the railings, one of them was my Great Uncle Jock. He had one leg and had a wee dog called Peggy. There was so much character and it rubbed off on the people.
I would love to see a model of Auld Dundee in the Wellgait. Just think we could walk up the Wellgait and the Overgait again, etc. The Kings Picture House & Theatre and the Continental Ballroom with a mixture of Scots Dancing the Rough Stuff and Quick Steps, Sambas, etc. That would bring back plenty life in that area.
Submitted by Florence
I worked in Claude Alexander, gents tailors, at the foot of the Wellgate for about six months in 1964 and remembered how busy it always was. On Saturdays there used to be an elderly lady who sold bags of Whelks from the top of the Wellgate steps. The workers from the docks would always congregate on Fridays at the bottom corner of the Wellgate and Cowgate. Most Dundonians would start their shopping there by getting off the bus in Victoria Road.
Submitted by James Isard
Dryden’s flower shop and Scott’s Bar
I worked at Drydens flower shop the top of the steps. l was the Interfloral van driver, l also remember my first pint in Scott’s bar, it was 11p a pint of heavy but if you wanted a pint of Lager it was a shilling. Great days.
As a schoolboy, I had a Saturday job as a salesman working in the Caledonian Tailors clothes shop which was situated halfway up the Wellgate on the righthand side. I worked there at the end of the sixties 68-69. It was a very busy shop which was helped by being one of the first shops to accept Provident Cheques as payment. This was a way for working class families to access credit across a number of retailers so you didn't have to sign up for credit to one particular shop such as McGill's and Alex Smiths; both well known and popular city shops frequented by working class families.
I remember I was paid £1.25p for my days work plus commission of one halfpenny for each pounds worth of goods I sold. Although under age I used to go across to the Forrester Arms in my 1hour lunch break for a pie and a pint. I remember the pies were always burning hot and it took ages to get through it.
Also at the bottom of the Wellgate on the same sime there was that Panmure snooker hall situated through the pendie and up the top of the stairs It was a small snooker hall famous for its roaring fire that kept the place like toast all day long. As a youngster I used to frequent the Palm as it was nicknamed as well as the Imperial snooker hall which was above Samuels at the bottom of Reform Street accessed by the Arctic Bar pend.
Submitted by Jim Milne.
After the war I worked in Dryden's the fruit shop at the top of the Wellgate steps and when sugar melons started to come back in I managed to get one and took it home. We all had a bit but my father had two or three slices - I could see the juice running down his mouth and he said 'my, lassie this is braw!' Next day he was in agony - six years of inferior food meant that the melon was too rich for him.
Submitted by Nancy (as part of the Bygone Dundee project)
Someone mentioned the butcher shop selling horseflesh at the bottom of the Wellgate. I worked there as a laddie after school and on Saturdays, earning £1 a week. And yes, we sold only horsemeat. If I remember correctly beef was rationed at the time (1950) and the queues outside the shop were quite long on most days. We used to get a big parcel of meat home with us on a Saturday night, steaks, joints, sausages etc.
The first time I took some home we all felt a bit guilty eating a poor wee horse, but I remembered something the boss said "These horse were bred for the purpose. Never had a shoe on their hooves" and an empty belly was easily persuaded.
With regard to beef being rationed, much of my work entailed taking parcels of horsemeat to various butcher shops round the city. "If anybody says anything tell them a man gave you a tanner to take it in!" I never gave it a thought and it was only in later years that I realise the butchers were selling it as beef!
Submitted by Ian Christie (as part of the Bygone Dundee project)
The Wellgate Shops
“You could buy anything there...”
I remember as a child going to the Wellgate on Saturdays with my mum. There were lots and lots of shops. Later as a teenager with my pals then on to Woolworths and walking round all the other great shops. I remember once I was a wee bit older going into the shop at the bottom and buying myself a "fur Coat" I think the shop was called Swears and Wells but it was a very long time ago and I could be wrong. I felt very glamorous wearing my coat (no animal rights then) there was even a shop that sold horsemeat and there was always a queue (my Mum never went in there thank goodness).
When I married my husband and I went into Hendersons Furniture shop and bought our new furniture for our new home - everything on the never never !! Just opposite Hendersons there was an amazing ironmonger shop that sold everything from the kitchen sink to the smallest nail - wonderland for any DIY handyman (or woman). Further down the Wellgate there was an Aladdin's cave of a shop - Smith and Horner. You could buy anything there. These shops were always busy, more than you can say about todays impersonal shopping malls which are all the same and all sell the same thing. Bring back the individual shops and maybe the high street will be buzzing again.
Submitted by Sheila Horne
Watts’ Record Booths
Remember standing in the record booths of Watts music shop listening to the latest records in the charts. When you try before you buy. Also getting Bert Weedon’s autograph, a popular guitarist of the time made an appearance there.
Submitted by Ally Penman
My wife and I (both in our 80’s and ex-Dundonians) have been interested in reading about the project on the Wellgate prior to the 'new' centre, but many of the shop names do not come to mind. We remember Martin’s ironmongery' at the top on the bend - not mentioned. I remember that they ran a bus outing annually to Rothesay for staff and friends to one of which I and my parents were invited on one occasion. That was probably held on a Wednesday to minimise shop closure to the half day. We also recall McGill's but it may have just been far enough round the bend to be on Victoria Road.
Submitted by Wilson Ferguson
I am writing on behalf of my Dad, Ian Wilson. I found out about your project and thought I'd ask him if there was anything he remembered about the old Wellgate - sadly there wasn't much. But he told me that John Martin had an ironmongery shop there. He also had a shop in Broughty Ferry. My Dad was part of the GL Wilson family and buyer for hardware in GL Wilsons shop (drapery/department store, The Corner, Murraygate/Commercial St). On behalf on GLs, he bought hardware items from John Martin to sell in the store.
Submitted by Diane Anderson
“I loved the Wellgate when I was young...”
I loved the Wellgate when I was young. I remember the Butchers as it sold horse meat. My gran got it for my granddad, there was always a queue. When I got married we got a TV at Watts on hire. There was a modern men’s shop opened in 1960-61. My husband got a suit there, it was like what the Beatles wore, it was navy silky look material with red lining, what a toff!
Coming down on the left side there was a furniture shop, I think it was SCWS? There was Watts electical (TVs and Radios). I remember a ladies’ hat shop and a dress shop at the bottom on the corner. On the right side there was Martin’s ironmongers on the corner, 3 or 4 windows. There was a wall paper shop further down, there was a butcher, 2 or 3 big windows, I can’t remember the name but it sold horse meat, there was a café I think was Wilson’s and at the bottom was a 50/- tailors.
Submitted by Mrs Martha Lawson
Submit Your Photographs, Memories, Stories, Documents, Videos & Recordings
- You can submit digital items via our Wellgate Project Submission Form
- In Person
- You can submit physical items such as photos and documents by dropping them off at the Main Reception, Central Library, The Wellgate, Dundee DD1 1DB.
- You’ll be provided with a receipt for any physical materials you submit, and all items will be returned to you once they ’ve been documented.
- You can also submit memories and stories by completing a Wellgate Project Memory Record. You can pick these up and hand them in at the reception desk of any Dundee public library.