Dundee: RRS Discovery and Verdant Works

RRS Discovery

At the end of the 19th century, Dundee was a whaling port with a ship-building industry capable of constructing vessels strong enough to withstand the ice of Arctic whaling grounds. It was therefore the perfect place to build Royal Research Ship Discovery in which the British National Antarctic Expedition set sail in 1901, commanded by Robert Falcon Scott and including in the crew Ernest Shackleton. The expedition spent two years in the Antarctic in arduous conditions, resulting in a wealth of scientific information which is still used by polar researchers today.

In 1986, RRS Discovery returned to Dundee and was refitted as a museum which portrays both Scott’s and subsequent expeditions. I was surprised how much there was to see: I anticipated a quick tour round the ship, but there were also several interesting galleries before we boarded and in the end we spent all morning there. Highly recommended (and great mannequins, Jessica).

After lunch (tasty soup in Discovery’s café) we headed across Dundee for our second museum of the day.

Verdant Works

At one time, Dundee was undoubtedly the jute capital of the world. Around the year 1900, more than 50,000 people (out of a population of 161,000) were employed in over 100 mills. The Verdant Works transports us back to that time.

First we visited the Lodge Keeper before going into the Works Office. Most of the furniture and fittings in the office are original, dating to 1890-1900, so when the Dundee Heritage Trust bought the Works in 1991 it had to do very little to restore it.

The contraption in the last picture above is a copying press. In the days before scanners and copiers – or even carbon paper – an original written with copying ink was placed against a moistened piece of tissue and put into the press. The pressure forced a copy onto the tissue. Let’s be thankful for modern technology! When it works …

The machine hall took you through the process of making jute from fibre to fabric – lots of big green machines.

The biggest machine of all, however, is in the High Mill. The Boulton and Watt steam engine (1801), which we saw demonstrated, is too big to show successfully in one picture, but here are some impressions.

I liked the way the High Mill was decorated with images of its workers over the years, mainly female. Women outnumbered men three to one in the mills, creating the original house-husband and giving Dundee the epithet She Town. This was also addressed in one of the social history galleries upstairs – it really is worth expanding the explanatory panel to have a read. Here’s to over-dressed, loud, bold-eyed girls!

Once again, this was a museum we thoroughly enjoyed and we were the last people to leave – we thought we might have been locked in when we found the main gate closed! Fortunately, there were staff in the café to let us out through the Lodge House. Our short break in Dundee had been wonderful, and we had plans for our journey home the next day. They didn’t quite work out – read on next week …


  1. I work in social media for both of these museums run by the small charity Dundee Heritage Trust. We rely on visitor admissions, shop and cafe sales, weddings and conference events to continue to preserve and present Dundee’s incredible industrial heritage. Thank you so much for your excellent review and kind words about our museums. We really do appreciate the effort you have taken to present this material and are thrilled you had a great day in Dundee – Britain’s coolest little city! Hurry back!


    • Thank you! I’m so glad you found this and enjoyed it. Dundee Heritage Trust is doing a great job. We had two weekend breaks in Dundee in the 18 months or so before the pandemic and loved it. I also had a day trip with friends to explore the women’s history trail, another great initiative.


  2. Anabel, as a teen I was fascinated by stories of Scott’s Antarctic trip, and also by polar expeditions in general, and I read everything I could get my hands on. So I would love to see R.R.S. Discovery!

    Also, how interesting that once women became the primary wage earners outside the home (rather than men), their social rights and privileges changed accordingly. It makes one think twice about Marx’s theories about the means of production as a source of power and influence in society.



  3. I laughed at your comment about great mannequins and then including a photo of John. I assume that’s not what you meant 😆

    I understand the reference to “loud and bold-eyed” relative to women in non-traditional roles, but I’m baffled by the “over-dressed”. What am I missing?


  4. A very interesting two museums you’ve given us in this post. Have you thought of making a collection of your museum pieces. I’m sure there would be a market for it at various tourist offices, so often museums are overlooked in favour of churches, castles and suchlike.


  5. I like the perspectives of the High Mill. Quite unique to see (and photograph) it from so many different angles. And, don’t you love those life-size mannequins and how they dress them and create human features? We saw a WWII exhibition about Gallipoli in New Zealand a few years ago and I still think about the realistic creation of the mannequins there and how important that was to create a good picture of life back then and leave an impression.


  6. Thanks for this lovely museum visit Anabel. My mum’s going to Dundee for a few days soon, and I’ll suggest the Verdant Works museum to her. So many of our female ancestors worked in jute weaving; Mum will love it.


  7. A couple of very interesting museums. I’d certainly like to visit both of them.
    I’ve been to Dundee a couple of times with work, but that was many, many years ago (almost 30!) so the place has definitely changed since then. No fancy museums when I was there.
    The Jute mill looks particularly interesting – similar, but different to the cotton mills we used to have in this part of the world. The steam engine looks brill.
    I know a little about jute from my work perspective. Exposure to the dust can cause respiratory disease including chronic bronchitis and byssinosis (the same lung disease that cotton workers could also develop). It would have been noisy too. So many of those “over-dressed, loud, bold-eyed girls” would go on to develop respiratory disease and become deaf due to their work. Was there any mention of this in the exhibition other than the passing reference on the information panel you photographed?


    • Dundee has changed enormously! There was more about health generally in another section. Just about every historic industry I read about (eg making matches or dyes) has horrible health hazards. I suppose it’s improved somewhat today (though I wouldn’t want to work in, say, a nuclear facility and you probably know of many more mundane examples).

      Liked by 1 person