Dundee waterfront: Then and now

With a £1bn redevelopment of the waterfront already well underway, the northern bank of the River Tay is entering a brighter phase of its story so far.

Dundee harbour in the 17th century. Photo: Dundee Waterfront

Dundee’s stature as one of Britain’s foremost trading centres was well-served by the city’s port facilities during the Industrial Revolution. But even before the 1800s, the waterfront experienced development amid the bustle of international ships laden with textiles, food and provisions.

In 1191, Dundee was chartered by King David I and began the process of developing from a settlement into a town. Throughout Medieval times, Dundee was consistently in the top three of the most commercially-successful areas in Scotland, with Edinburgh just taking first place as Scotland’s business hub.

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By the time of the 16th century, Dundee’s harbour was well-established in the area around the current-day High Street and Whitehall Crescent.

The harbour’s prime location on the Tay was favourable for ships travelling to and from Northern European ports and this, coupled with Dundee’s fast-growing expertise in jute production, led to rapid expansion within the city by the 1840s.

A period of harbour development followed, which saw the city pushed further away from the docks. Engineer Thomas Telford was drafted in to build the King William IV dock, along with the Earl Grey, Camperdown and Victoria Docks.

There followed a period of intense use of the docks, but as haulage became increasingly the work of the train instead of the boat, the multiple new berths on the Tay gradually became more and more sparse. By the turn of the 20th century, most of Dundee’s freight was transported via train.

The biggest change to the waterfront was completed in 1966, when the Tay Road Bridge was completed and unveiled as a replacement to the ageing “Fifie” ferry service. This meant that the King William and Earl Grey docks were completely infilled to allow the landing of the northern end of the bridge, with Dundee’s waterfront inhabited by only a handful of buildings such as the Olympia Leisure Centre.

The waterfront pictured in 1998. Photo: Dundee Waterfront

As the 1990s turned into the 2000s, the Waterfront Masterplan began to take shape. Since 2006, the railway tunnel has been strengthened, the Tay Road Bridge ramps have been realigned and the 19th-century Telford Beacon has been re-sited and preserved.

In addition, the new Olympia Leisure centre has been completed and high-profile projects such as the new railway station and the V&A Museum of Design have begun construction.

It is hoped that by the time the waterfront project is completed in 2018, the 240 hectares of the waterfront project will be occupied by a variety of public spaces, local and international businesses and vital transportation links.

Dundee Central Waterfront in April 2015. Photo: Dundee Waterfront
Development as of April 2014. Photo: Dundee Waterfront
The harbour and waterfront have developed substantially through the ages. Photo: Dundee Waterfront