Another short entry written in scribble when I was away north, with some addition from today.
Tonight (13th May) I’m sitting in the Royal Arch in Brook Street, after a good meal of roast lamb and mint gravy. Very tasty, and giving me some meat for the week (or indeed month). There are pictures on the walls, of Broughty, looking towards the lifeboat-house, and of the old Overgait in Dundee. I wonder if the staff know that the proprietor in the 1970s used to run the New Imperial Hotel in Tally Street, part of the Overgait before its demolition?
The Overgait picture nearest me shows a mixture of 19th (or some possibly 18th) century and late mediaeval houses, which is what the old Overgait was like in my early memories. There was an attempt in the 19th century to demolish the rebuilt part – the Imperial Hotel being one of the results. The Auld Steeple is shown behind the houses. There’s another picture, on the far wall from me, foregrounding Monk’s lodging with the Nethergait on its left, Overgait on its right. I am still, today, staggered by the wanton destruction in the name of modernist progress, that has prevented Dundee doing what has emerged elsewhere, the loving reconstruction of some of these buildings. Well, there remains the Gardyne’s Land complex (see http://www.dundee.ac.uk/planning/events/gardynes.htm), in what was Marketgait and is now the High Street, and the Sea Captain’s house, both interesting examples of what was part of Dundee. But this fascinating mix of styles and histories that was the Overgait is long gone.
In fairness to the powers that were back in the 1950s and 60s, the closes were much in need of something to enable a changed standard of living. Let’s not be too romantic over the wee hooses and the shops shown in old images with proprietors standing outside, the sense of community (and as I recall the best fish-and-chip shop in Dundee). Did such community exist? – well, in part. I think that some of the inhabitants were decanted into new modernist multi-stories, most in turn now demolished, with youtube videos of the recent demolitions occasioning commented cries from today’s people talking about the sense of community in at least some of these. So, Dundee is a city of communities lost and again now lost – outdated housing, crowded over the centuries, with outside facilities and no apparent ways to update, giving way to another type of poor housing lasting for a shorter time, but both with their remembrances. At least the new flats and new council estate houses had indoor loos.
The Overgait and Tally Street were replaced by a shopping centre. Well, it didn’t last long. Initially many shops stood empty for lack of takers, and now it is – thankfully, says everyone I’ve talked to – in turn demolished and replaced by another centre. The initial demolition was captured in photographs, one of which is at http://www.dundee.ac.uk/armms/exhibition/ursf030-009-005-035.htm, which shows the Imperial Hotel in the background; that was soon to go, too.
But however much the mass or mess of closes off the Overgait might be insanitary, insalubrious, the broad sweep taken was challenged at the time – and is recalled with great regret now. If this was happening today, think what might be done, as what might be preserved or conserved, not only as a remembrance of what has been, but as something for today’s people who were born near there or whose families lived there to remember. A scrap of connection to pasts.
Certainly Monk’s lodging, but also at least some of these closes, cheek by jowl with the newer buildings: as may have happened, just maybe, for that tinier scrap which is Gardyne’s Land.