Wednesday, July 25, 2018

St Paul's Court?

Well, you'd better go and help him then hadn't you!

Yeah, I know, the old ones are the best ones aren't they in a non-Lovecraftian sort of manner.

Well, firstly an apology . . no regular blogging from me . . . but then a word from our sponsors (Mick and Dave)
. . . you know what they say . . .

"Summer's here and the time is right
 . .  for scraping off 130 years of wallpaper"

Oh yes, 8 layers deep and like trying to escape from Alcatraz with a teaspoon.
Anyway . . lack of photography due to much DIY.

Right, so what have we here . . .
Well, it's Dundee, you know, that place in Scotland, sadly the Drugs Death Capital of Scotland and also the Teenage Pregnancy Capital of Scotland too (according to recent depressing stats).
So what else have we got?
Is this really a place that is completely lost?
Well, no, not really, y'see, it's also home to vast amounts of creativity.
Honestly, there's stuff going on everywhere all the time; there's people beavering away at painting and printmaking and sculpting and drawing and writing and dare I say it photographing (really? WHO apart from me and Bruce?); we're big news in game programming; there's music and acting and dancing and graffitying; we've a multi-million pound waterfront development which has transformed a rather down-at-heel traffic ridden area into a super-duper traffic-ridden area.
And that's just scratching the surface - honest.

Oh, and we're also the place where the V&A have decided to construct their new and bold Museum of Scottish Design - and even then the Council have fecked it up by allowing a bog-standard cookie-cutter office block to be built right in front of it - you honestly couldn't make it up . . . .

Anyway, LOOK IT UP - lots about it online and it'll be opening this September.

St Paul's Court Portal

And what has that got to do with photography and St Paul then Sheepy?

Well, therein lies a tale.
Y'see, like a large number of cities throughout the UK, at one time in the not too distant past, Dundee boasted an almost medieval collection of Pends and Wynds and Closes - very akin to how York still is today (thank God for the foresighted purveyors of common sense in the York town fathers).
Dundee could have been it's equal, because it was even more medieval in its street layout. Buildings crowded in on each other, lanes ran around the back of buildings, and through buildings; dead ends came unexpectedly; pends led nowhere or somewhere; closes huddled together against the bitter cold wind that came in off the North Sea every Winter.
It was really something - honestly, you just need to check the old maps, which, with their earliest 'proper' start in the mid-1800's still showed the layout of a city that had grown around a prosperous deep harbour, all walls and gates and a firm link to a distant past.
And then a huge chunk of it was knocked down, which links nicely to me, because I've been doing my own metaphorical knocking down lately in the form of cultural vandalism:

Around 8 layers of perfectly stuck wallpaper.

The gold colour you see actually covers the whole of a chimney breast - I am wondering whether it is some sort of ground to stop soots and tars seeping through the brickwork.

I know it is shocking isn't it - there's worse pictures too.
I can't even begin to describe how hard this has been to do, both physically and emotionally - this stuff has been there for over 130 years. 
But you see the thing is, others before me have gone: 

"Ah yeah, EASY! We'll get this off!" 

And they really have tried, gouging great big craters through the offending layers, but have then discovered it required major efforts to do it, and so have then filled said craters with filler and then papered over the top. 
So not only am I having to remove old wondrously skilled and beautiful Victorian decorating (and priceless wallpapers) but I am also having to remove a large element of BODGE.

Underneath it all however, I have made discoveries - profound and moving; links back to the men of Dundee from the late 1800's. 
What sort of life did they have? . . . well,  judging by the comment below, tough.

Unknown Artist, Dundee, 1883

I'll translate for you:

William H ????, Painter
????????? Brown
2 Paid Off
on December 5th 1883

One wonders, how hard it must have been, heading home to your wife (herself probably working long, long hours in one of the Mills that filled the City) maybe staying in one of the ramshackle tenements in St Paul's Court, or Meat Can Close, or Horse Wynd and saying, "Wife, I've been paid off" 
And Christmas is only 20 days away.
You can hear the measly thin coal crackling in the grate. 
You can hear the weans crying for want o' meat.
Did the men say 'Och damn it!' and head to the pub and spend some of their last pay getting hammered on heavy and whisky?

Who knows. 
When I discovered this, I actually felt myself on the verge of tears. 
It was so Dickensian in a truly awful way.
The realities of Victorian Society really hit home. No welfare state, no safety net. If you've ever been as poor as a Church Mouse, you'll know how horrendous it is.
I guess that's why I felt complete affinity with the two painters.
But aside from that I also discovered this:

Unknown Artist, Dundee, C.1883

And as close as I can get to it, here he is rendered photographically. Well, not literally, this is Major Adolphus Burton of the 5th Dragoon Guards photographed during the Crimean War

Major Adolphus Burton

Obviously our artist wasn't able to fully complete the horse, but all the same, the detail, posture and hat (especially the hat) says to me that our artist had possibly done time in the forces . . maybe during Crimea . . who knows.
It's a great drawing though - the man had a talent that could have been developed had further education for all existed at the time . . . . 

Anyway, I felt (and feel) bad about my cultural vandalism, but then I do know remorse.

Sadly though, in this City, there's been little shown over the decades - oh yes, never ones to do things by halves, the powers that were (and be) at the Council decided that in the name of modernity, everything that smacked of olden times should be razed.
Goodbye Wellgate.
Goodbye Overgate.
Goodbye Hawkhill.
Goodbye vast areas of Industrial Heritage.
Goodbye walls and wynds and pends and mills.
Goodbye countless chimneys and tenements and hovels and lanes.
 . . and hello new build.
Mind you to be fair to current Council planners, the City has a history of it going right back to pre-Victorian 'improvements' like opening up North/South streets through an East/West layout that had grown parallel to the river . . . 
The thing was though, some of the old stuff clung on like shit on a stick, ah East Whale Lane and West Whale Lane - and many more beautiful names that shone a light on heritage. New road needed for larger amounts of traffic? No problem . . goodbye West Whale Lane . . . East still survives though.

Tay Rope Works for instance  - it has been empty for at least 15 years, but in its environs ropes were made for the countless ships constructed in the once busy docks of Dundee . . ships like Captain Scott's proud ship (click this link >>) RSS Discovery, Dundee's cultural figurehead. The Rope Works, if refurbished with some money and vision and love, would be a fantastic tie-in with the Ship and (click this link >>) The Verdant Works
So what is happening to this lynch-pin between Cultural and Industrial Heritage and Tourism? Yep, getting demolished to fucking make fucking way, for more fucking flats.
Yes, people have to live somewhere, but buildings with a rich history like this are such easy pickings . . when all it takes is thought and vision.

You get my drift - there's danger in modernity.
Too much is easily dismissed as old and in the way and not worth saving.

They're also  currently thinking about unleashing a shit-storm on the delightfully named Mary Ann Lane next to Dundee bus station. OK, there's nothing there save a few lockups and industrial things, but . . who was Mary Ann?
She'll be gone soon, and all because the expected thousands of visitors that come to see the new V&A will not be allowed to see how Dundee has been for decades - run down, with heart and needing a lot of TLC.
The cities fathers seem embarrassed by it.
"It" being the once proud cultural and industrial heritage of the City.

And that's where today's blog comes in.
As you get off a bus at the Seagate Bus Station and have maybe decided to take a wander up to the city centre along the Seagate, a visitor to Dundee will be struck by what a total complete and utter mess the Seagate is.
Traffic, neglected buildings, eateries, pubs, pawnbrokers, empty shops, pedestrians and junkies.
It is, believe it or not really something.
The street's claims to fame are lovely (!) -  being one of the most polluted streets in Scotland (can you imagine typhus replacing Carbon Monoxide . . . hello olden times!) as well as being the birthplace of the poet Robert Browning's mother . . .
My father-in-law often sings
"I was born in the Seagate . . . "
because he was . . .
It could be so much more - there's a couple of really beautiful buildings, the best of which used to house the old Seagate Gallery, but now houses Arkive on its ground floor and another bunch of completely neglected floors above.
It needs sorted before large chunks of it start falling on cash-wielding visitors . . 
Hello . . can anyone hear me?
But it gets worse.
To one side of Arkive is a pend, which goes right through the building and into a Close at the back . . as far as I can tell, this is St Paul's Court, but it is hard to tell - modern OS gives me nothing, so a search of the old 1871 OS sort of reveals it, but the layout has changed a fair bit. What gave it away for me though is that it is the next pend along from Horse Wynd (which you can't see on this cropped map, but you can explore on this link HERE)

Dundee Seagate, circa 1871
Interesting to see that the metho-ads are shitting on people's graves.

The pend though has another, far more ghastly name to me:

Shitters' Court

It is often surprising coming across human excrement. it's generally a lot larger than you expect, especially when uncoiled onto cobbles, but in St Paul's Court you'll find plenty . . .  and not only that, probably a lot less than a quarter of a mile from the new V&A.

Welcome to Dundee!

Y'see the close is a dumping ground (quite literally) of methodone addicts.
And why not?
Methodone causes unexpected evacuations amongst other things and when you gotta go, you gotta go. You're banned from the bogs of all the pubs in the area, you're going to shite yersel'  . . up a close and on with the show.
Don't forget to dump yer soiled pants there too.
Oh yes, photographing in St Paul's Court is a delicate art of balancing oneself and one's tripod . . and also getting the Detox out on the rubber feet of the tripod and soles of your shoes when you get home.
That's why I was pleased with the above and the below.

Do Not Feed

At one end of the Court, is a large collection of buildings containing what appears to be loading areas for some of the businesses on the Seagate and the Murraygate, but access is denied by the security portal we can see above . . . and who can blame them for putting it there.
It does look rather grim though don't you think - however, despite all the ghastliness, I rather like what has been captured!

As I have gone on using the Hasselblad SWC/M I have come to a conclusion - it really is an ideal lens for subjects from around 3 feet to 12 feet - it somehow really excels, putting everything firmly in its place and rooting your subject matter right into the scene.
The lack of distortion is the greatest thing in the world on close-focus subjects.
As I have stated before I would love to take it into a derelict building and see what can be done . . . but sadly, they're all going at a rapid rate, fire-raising and councillers . . .  etc etc.
We even had a listed building "accidentally" razed to the ground in Dundee recently - just incredible.

Anyway, that's my rant over.
This is what?, late July 2018, the V&A opens in 2 months.
Never in a million years is this stuff going to get sorted short of being bulldozed . . but you don't want to do that, otherwise they'll be shitting in the streets.
Mind you, if you market it properly, maybe people will think it is some sort of installation . . . .

As an ammendum to this, I was sitting in my car in Gellatly Street the other day, mid-day actually, and this wee shakey jake came along - you know when you are learning to drive and you kangaroo hop the car because of your ineptitude with the gears? Well, this bloke was like a mild form of that. He had a rucksack, vanished into St Paul's Court, was in there for about 8 minutes, and came out adjusting his belt and jittered off to some unknown destination.
Fortunately it is a long hot summer .  . the flies and heat will see to that in no time.

Don't let me put you off visiting - the V&A is a beautiful and visionary building (and hopefully institution . . oh boy would I love to get the SWC/M inside on a lovely misty early Summer's morn . . .) 

Culture can't be bulldozed into place though, it takes time and subtlety, hard work and love.
Above all else love.

RIP the two Dundee painters from the 1880's - I hope life was easy on them.


  1. Picture 2. A wonderful collection of historic wallpapers. It's a pity they can't be preserved.
    Meanwhile, I'm glad that you and Victor are getting along so well.

  2. We are and yes, I am sad I couldn't evenly remotely preserve them - the layer of 1940's lining paper had bonded to everything - the other thing I will say about the ancient papers is they are incredibly thin and yet tenacious - it really was like chipping your way out of prison with a toothpick!

  3. Last year I visited a building in deepest Dorset which hadn't changed hands for many generations and had been sold at auction.
    Originally a farm workers cottage and over the years more buildings were built alongside which looked out of place. Inside everything was original but the new owners were keen to modernize and create a holiday home. Destroying the very soul of what they had bought. Like you they had many layers of wallpaper which they had peeled off in places to expose plus layers of various floor coverings. There were copies of newspapers and comics found under these and I read an article on the health of Winston Churchill in the early 60s. Several copies of The Beano too. No attempt was being made to preserve any of this just chuck it in a skip.

    These should have been preserved perhaps by handing to the museum in Dorchester but no chuck them away.

    They were not even going to live in the cottage but use it for holiday lets, surely a collection of artifacts would have enhanced the experience of staying there?

    History, who needs it?

  4. Hi Derek and thanks for commenting. You know I wish to goodness I could have preserved the papers, but if you can imagine something like brittle lino mixed with concrete, it was a./ almost impossible and b./ would have taken a crack team of people from the British Museum! Allied to this, there were large areas where others had attempted it, and given up, so I had craters of gouge in the old papers filled with something like old polyfilla and then lining-papered over the top. The old papers were quite fusty in places too, so despite my thoughts that I should have preserved them, in practical terms it was utterly impossible - I've already spent every weekend since May on this and I have only got to the stage of sanding the woodwork - that too was badly done in places and I've encountered lumps of stuff that have turned out to be Victorian staples, covered in 3 layers of oil and 2 layers of modern paint. The ground the Victorians used on this woodwork, is like a cross between very fine sand mixed with binder and lead oxide - its intention was to smooth out the grain of the wood so everything was completely flat - add 130 years of wear to that, and it had to be scraped back to the wood. It comes off in hard clouds of powder (when it isn't laughing at carbide scraper baldes).
    The original woodwork was painted black, lead paint, so no burning off, just hard scraping - the hardest job I have ever done in my life and I've done some horrible physical jobs, but this took the biscuit!

    On the positive note, this house is actually mentioned in RHCAMS for original anaglypta (faux marble work) and a Minton fireplace (amongst other things) and thankfully it survived the 1950's 'nail hardboard over doors' thing, with someone keeping all the mouldings and then fixing them back on to the doors again when the fad had passed (though the doors still have the nailholes from the hardboard).
    As well as the pics in the article and writings by various workers we've also got a few signatures here and there.
    Oh and finally, I've found newspaper stuffed into filler advertising the cinema release of It's A Wonderful Life, and yesterday a cone shaped thing filling a hole in the wall, like a corn, with filler on the top and an article about Mr Heath underneath.
    History I agree, we need to keep it .. some of it ';0)

  5. It sounds as if you persist, you'll come across a Neolithic human sacrifice curled up in some forgotten nook.

  6. Well . . not yet, but have found (in our old house) a lovely Victorian, pressed metal button.


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