Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

Dundee is unique in that an exact date of the ascension to city status is documented — January 26 1889.

People on Dundee Law look out on a city which was Scotland's first. Image: DC Thomson.
People on Dundee Law look out on a city which was Scotland’s first. Image: DC Thomson.
ueen Victoria signed the charter which led to Dundee officially being declared Scotland’s first city 135 years ago.

Dundee is unique in that an exact date of the ascension to city status is documented — January 26 1889 — making it the earliest official city in the country.

Dundee City Archives records manager and assistant archivist detailed Dundee’s transition from a burgh to becoming Scotland’s first city in an online blog.

Research from local archivists suggests Dundee is Scotland’s first city — “technically”.

The seal for the charter.
The seal for the charter.

Scotland is different from England and Wales in what constitutes a city. Anywhere with a cathedral is classed as one south of the border, but “cities in Scotland never really took off”, according to Ms Aitken.

There were many royal burghs, but no official cities for some time.

The first royal burghs were created in the 12th century by King David, with Berwick and Roxburgh thought to be the earliest examples.

This was then followed by Dunfermline, Edinburgh, Perth, Stirling and Aberdeen.

The charter signed by Queen Victoria confirming Dundee's transition to a city.
The charter signed by Queen Victoria. Image: Supplied.

The exact date of Dundee’s accession to burgh-hood is unknown, but is thought to be between 1181 and 1195.

When other burghs became cities is something of a messy picture.

Edinburgh had a town council, but met in the city chambers, for example.

Going the extra mile

The Queen Victoria charter was formally accepted by Dundee town council on February 4 1889. It is thought the council went the extra mile to have its status enshrined so they could change the Provost into a Lord Provost — and because Dundee had grown significantly in the previous few decades.

It went from a population of 60,553 in 1841 to 158,066 in 1891 — leapfrogging Aberdeen as the third largest burgh in Scotland.

The statue of Queen Victoria in Albert Square in Dundee. Image: PA.

Ms Aitken said: “Dundee wanted to make sure it was taken seriously as a major hub in the UK and the wider British Empire.

“The City Charter did also act as a precursor for the Dundee Corporation Act 1894, which merged the Town Council with various other local authorities such as the Police Commissioners, the Burial Board and the Gas and Water Commissions.”

Aberdeen quickly followed suit, and was confirmed as a city in 1891.

But Ms Aitken’s research suggests that Inverness was rejected city status in 1897 as it may have highlighted that Glasgow and Edinburgh weren’t technically cities themselves yet.

This changed in 1929 when Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow were all made City Counties as part of a local government reorganisation.

Ms Aitken said: “Dundee is the first city to get a charter of this kind.

“A lot of places, such as Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Perth and I think Glasgow, were already calling themselves a city over time and that would stick.

“When they first adopted the name of being a city is unknown.

“Perhaps someone from one of these places can enlighten us?

“But Dundee is the first place to have been granted city status through a charter.”

Celebrating Dundee Day

Among those celebrating “Dundee Day” is Evening Telegraph columnist and city ambassador Andrew Batchelor who is the founder of Dundee Culture.

Andrew will be celebrating Dundee Day today. Image: Paul Reid

“I find the history of Scotland’s city status’ to be an intriguing one,” he said.

“I think it is important to celebrate where you come from and with the city now having its own day to celebrate it’s achievements and impact it has made on the world, I think we should definitely make the occasion more notable.

“The timing is very ideal too as it falls on the day after Burns Night where we celebrate Robert Burns, our national bard who has been a staple for our culture centuries on end.

“Having haggis, neeps, and tatties with shortbread on January 25 and then a peh with Dundee cake the following evening would be so cool.

“It is something that I think would be quite fun.”

We’re sure even The Bard would drink to that.


By Lala