Our second stop, highly recommended by my old friend, Hazel, was the McManus Museum yesterday. For those thinking about going, entrance is free. This is a great place to take a family, lots of things for children to do and photography is allowed in all of the galleries unless it is a special exhibition. For those who cannot climb stairs, there is a lift and a cafe with a gift shop. The McManus is right in the centre of Dundee. A lovely place to visit with lots of shops about.
The building was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, and it has been the heart of the city’s culture since it opened in 1869. Scott was a leading architect of the Gothic Revival style. He was born in 1811 in Buckinghamshire. At the age of sixteen, in 1827, he moved to London where he trained as an architect under James Edmeston. Scott became enamoured with medieval Gothic and began travelling across Europe to see the buildings firsthand in the 1840s. Gothic Revival as it was in the 19th century drew its inspiration from the architecture of medieval Europe with its pointed arches, trefoils, and naturalistic foliage decoration. Scott was knighted in 1872 for his contributions to British architecture. The following year he became the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Scott dies five years later; he is buried in Westminster Abbey.
The McManus Museum was initially known as the Albert Institute. It was designed by Scott with building commencing in 1865. The structure was finished three years later in 1868. Initially, it had a library on the ground floor and a public hall on the second. Additions were added by David Mackenzie II (1832-1875) in 1872-74, and William Alexander (1841-1904) in 1887.
The first floor has several galleries including Dundee and the World, The Victorian Gallery, The Long Gallery, the 20th century Gallery, a revolving exhibition entitled ‘Here and Now’ and the Creative Learning Centre.
Dundee and the World showcase the international and maritime collections centred on world trade. Dundee was known for its business in jute and its whale hunting. Today along the coast of the North Sea corporations drill for ‘black gold’ or oil. The tour guides tell you that long before people had any need for this oil, they used oil from plants. Around 1700 someone discovered that oil from whales would soften jute and leather, could be burned as a fuel and could be made into soap. The boats carried crews of between 40 and 70 men who chased the whales in the North Sea and harpooned them. They would be tethered to the side of the ship where strips of blubber would be cut off and rendered to extract the oil. That was stored in barrels and sent back to Dundee. It is believed that the very first whaling ship to leave Dundee was in 1753. The early whalers travelled as far as the North Atlantic and the Arctic. Overhunting meant that by the 19th century almost all of the northern whales were dead. But the demand for oil did not stop, and Dundee whalers would travel to the South Atlantic to hunt. In 1872 Dundee was the most crucial whaling centre in Britain with catches of about 200 whales per year. The community prospered. Sails had to be made, ropes were needed, men to load and unload and to work on the ships. In fact, ships had to be made. Whaling stopped in 1912 as the number of whales had significantly declined and made it uneconomical. Whale oil was also being replaced by new oils including paraffin that was extracted from shale.
In its heyday, whale bones were used for lamp oil, cutlery handles, and lubricants while the baleen was used to stiffen corsets, for parasol ribs. The spermaceti from the head of the sperm whale provided the wax used in candles, cosmetics and medicines. The blubber or whale oil was processed for softening the jute in Dundee.
Other traditional Dundee industries included wool. The fibres were sent to the Netherlands to be dyed. Leather processing including processing the hides from Scottish cattle to make belts, shoes, gloves, hats, saddles, and harness. Shipbuilding was, of course, a big industry.
One startling exhibition was of two ‘Branks’. Branks were used from the 1600s onwards. They were also known as ‘Scould’s Bridles’ and were iron contraptions put on the heads of women accused of slander or sweating to prevent them from speaking. They were then led through the town! They were said to have originated in Germany and the Netherlands.
There is a lovely model of the city. Notice the church and all of the cramped quarters. When the jute mills were working you could not see the city from across the Tay, all of the fibres mixing about. And then there was also the pollution from the coal fires.
The children seemed to love the area that might be classified natural history as much as I did. There were hawks, Golden Eagles, rabbits of all sorts.
The Victoria Gallery was staggering. It is precisely what you imagine the annual exhibition at the Royal Academy would look like with pictures stacked one on top of the other. It was a bit overwhelming.
Restaurant recommendation for the day: The Bellrock in Arbroath. The fish (cod and haddock) are fresh every day, and if you think you have had great fish and chips, you need to try this place. It will cost you a tenner (twice as expensive as in Canada but twice as good). And because of the amount you get could be easily shared! On Sunday there is a buffet but the best fish is ordered off the menu.