Friday, 15 March 2013

Was Disaster Built into the First Tay Bridge?

We were delighted to receive a donation from William (Bill) Dow recently. The gift was a volume of Bill's research into the collapse of the Tay Rail Bridge which happened in December 1879 with the loss of over seventy lives. Bill Dow believes that vital information in the form of correspondence was not revealed to the original enquiry and his volume details this.

This is one of several gifts to the archives by Bill Dow who was principle lecturer in physics and head of science at Dundee College of Education, now part of the University. Bill is well known in Dundee for his extensive knowledge of local history as well as his enthusiasm for physics, stemming from his work on radar in the Second World War.

 The University Archives have a number of items relating to the Tay Bridge disaster which can be consulted. For more information contact or visit our website and type Tay Bridge into our online catalogue.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Dewar 2013 Conference

The latest conference organised by the Dewar Centenary Group will take place in April. Pat is involved in the work of this group which examines the enduring relevance of the 1912 Dewar report on medical care in the Highlands and Islands. For more information or to book a place please see

Friday, 8 March 2013

International Women's Day

 As it is International Women's Day we thought this would be a good opportunity to think about some of our records relating to women. Dundee has long had a reputation as 'a women's toun' and, although the extent of women's influence on the city's history is debated among historians, our collections demonstrate that women have played an important part, not least because of their leading role in the jute and flax industry.  Our extensive jute collections include a number of excellent images of female workers from Dundee's mills in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Dundee jute factory
Another area where women have made a huge impact on the life of Dundee is at our own University. University College, Dundee was founded in 1881 with the financial backing of Mary Ann Baxter and her input was far more than purely financial. It was thanks to Miss Baxter that the College adopted a policy of no discrimination between the sexes, allowing female students access to all its courses. This meant the College attracted many bright female students who would go on to make a big impact on the world including the Dundee social reformer Mary Lily Walker and Ruth Wilson (later Young), who would have a successful career in medicine as well as carrying out notable welfare work in India and Ethiopia. Ruth Young's papers are now held by Archive Services. 

Mary Lily Walker
Later the medical school at Dundee would produce Margaret Fairlie, an outstanding doctor and pioneer of the use of radium who also taught at the medical school. In 1940 she became Scotland's first female Professor and remains one of the outstanding figures in the University's history.  When the University became independent in 1967 it broke further new ground as Scotland's first University to have a female Chancellor, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who did much to promote the institution.  Other notable women to have played a part in shaping the University range from Joan Auld, the first University Archivist,  to Elizabeth Macdonald (later Bryson), the first woman to graduate in medicine who wrote a memorable account of life at the medical school around 1900. The University records are full of details of these remarkable women and many others who have played a key part in the University's success.

Several of our other collections contain records of notable women including:

MS 25 Thomas Campbell - Includes copies of the correspondence of the actress Sarah Siddons

MS 103 Kinnear Collection - Includes material relating to the Dundee poet, writer and communist activist Mary Brooksbank

MS 100 Don and Low Collection - Includes items relating to Margaret Thatcher and Jennie Lee

MS 113 Papers regarding Clementina Stirling Graham - Correspondence of the author and friend of Lady Airlie

Margaret Fairlie
MS 220 Records concerning the life and adventures of Mary Eleanor Bowes - The Countess of Strathmore who's scandalous life partly inspired the novel Barry Lyndon by Thackeray

MS 270 Dundee Conservative and Unionist Association Collection - includes material relating to Florence Horsbrugh, a pioneering female MP (and the only woman to have represented Dundee at Westminster)

The Peto Collection - Includes photographs of many famous female figures including authors, politicians, actresses, musicians, sportswomen and ballerinas.

However, these are just the tip of a large iceberg. Throughout our collections can be found the stories of many women whose names are not particularly well known, but who led lives which were still important, including doctors, nurses, political activists, hospital patients, housewives, teachers and servants.  Source lists, covering some of the material we hold relating to women can be found here:

Dr Kenneth Baxter

Friday, 1 March 2013

Archive of the Year award

Congratulations to our oral history tutor Craig Fees and his team at the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre on winning the Your Family History's Archive of the Year Award. The Trust supports therapeutic approaches to the treatment of children and adults who have suffered emotionally and psychologically. We're very pleased that its work and the central role of PETT's archives and oral history projects have been recognised in this way. More information is on the PETT website.

Craig Fees is a tutor on our distance learning module Sound and Vision: Collecting, Preserving and Managing Film, Sound and Oral History and is the archivist and oral history expert at the Trust. The prize was presented to him at Who Do You Think You Are Live by another of our tutors, Dr Nick Barratt, who is the author and tutor of CAIS's House History module. The Centre for Archive and Information Studies (CAIS) had a stall at the WDYTYA Live show; it was lovely to meet up with former and current students and there was a lot of interest in our Family and Local History courses. Pat Whatley spoke at the show on the Scottish Poor Law and Caroline Brown on Scottish asylum records and we are planning a new module on welfare and health to be offered as a single module or part of our Certificate and Masters programme.

The CAIS stall at Who Do You Think You Are Live
For more information on our courses see or contact