From Rotten Row
City ’s road names have intriguing connections
FROM streets named after Beano characters, to one with a connection to William Wallace and another named after a type of fish, the city has its quirky thoroughfares.
The intriguing history behind some of Dundee’s most memorable street names has been documented by historians across the city, including Dundee Civic Trust and Leisure and Culture Dundee.
Here, the Tele takes a look at the back story of some of the names which stand out most.
The basic street pattern from medieval times in the centre of the city remains the same. The town plan was described by the Rev Robert Edward in 1678 as: “Divided into four principal streets, representing a human body, stretched on its back with its arms towards the west and its legs towards the east.”
Seagate was the first area of settlement in Dundee, dating to around the 11th Century, and is one of the city’s oldest surviving streets. It was the market centre until the town gradually developed westwards.
The old shore of the Tay once ran parallel alongside the east end of the Seagate.
However, the name Seagate was a curious choice, given the street led to and from the River Tay – not the sea.
The Murraygate, which runs parallel to the Seagate, is another of the city’s oldest streets. The name is thought to be derived from ‘Moray Gait’ after Randolph, Earl of Moray, a companion-at-arms of William Wallace and Sir Robert the Bruce. Though pedestrianised long ago, sections of the former tramway tracks have been left as a memorial of the vintage transport.
In medieval times, Dundee had a town herdsman who would drive cattle along the Cowgate to the Town’s Meadows. Part of Cowgate is also referred to as Wishart’s Arch with the probably erroneous tale that Protestant reformer George Wishart preached from the structure to people with the plague, who had to stay outside the town walls.
Hilltown folk could be forgiven for having no desire to revert to the street’s previous name, Rotten Row, which was actually outside the border of 17th Century Dundee.
The area was a barony – a small subdivision similar to a county – in its own right. The main road from Dundee to Forfar ran through the area.
There are a few places named Rotten Row in the UK and it is thought the name may derive from the Saxon word ‘rot’ meaning ‘pleasant and cheerful’, rather than the derogatory connotations it throws up today.
Having been renamed the Barony of Hilltown after extending further north up the hill, the area was purchased from one of Dundee’s Lairds in 1697 and became part of the city.
In the 1870s, the district of Maxwelltown was acquired by the town from the estate of the family of Maxwell of Tealing. When the plan was prepared setting out the new streets, Maxwell arranged that these should be named after members of