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Dundee's jute industry and social change.


A Dundee Jute Mill

Dundee was the natural location to introduce the jute industry to the UK. The city was home to a textile industry that could adapt to jute, and workers could be retrained quickly to process it. Dundee had a thriving whale industry, and the oil was needed to soften jute. The East India Company was looking for new markets for its jute, hoping to replace flax, whose supplies were becoming a problem. Dundee also had a shipbuilding industry, which could ship the raw material into Dundee, and the finished product out.

At its peak in the 1860s and 1870s the jute processing industry in Dundee employed some 50,000 people in over 60 factories located across the city. The industry transformed Dundee into one of the earliest urban industrial areas in Scotland.

Jute was strong, durable, and resilient and was one of the strongest natural fibers known. It was used for packaging materials, burlap (hessian), sacks (all very important in the 19th century for commerce), and later as a backing for linoleum and carpets. It was used on sea-going ships before the invention of steel cables.

The Dundee Jute Industry started to decline from 1914 when the 'Jute Barons' started to invest money in setting up Jute mills in the Indian sub-continent, making the products cheaper by utilizing cheap labour of India. Only one jute spinning mill survived in the city until the end of the 20th century.

The jute industry attracted a large number of immigrants into the city. The most significant influx occurred in the mid-1800s when many Irish workers were driven from Ireland by the potato blight. The city also attracted immigrants from Italy and Poland in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Dundee's Irish population differed from Scoatland's west coast as there was little in the way of sectarianism. One reason for this may have been that there were far fewer immigrants from Ulster settling in Dundee than arrived in Glasgow, therefore reducing the potential for sectarian rivalry. Another reason for Dundee's lack of sectarianism in comparison to other cities that had high levels of Irish immigration is given by Janice Murray in her book 'The Miles to Dundee', who argues that the high proportion of single women that came to work, some 71% of Dundee's Irish-born workforce, were female. This greatly reduced the opportunities for religious tension. It is also thought that Dundee's unique mix of immigants lead to the city’s unique dialect.


  • Verdant Works - a 19th century jute mill in Dundee, winner of European Industrial Museum of the Year 1999. Social History link contains information on the mill working conditions.
  • Wikipedia's page on the jute industry of Dundee and worldwide.
  • Jute Mill poem and social history


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