The story of Jute manufacture, and the growth of the industry in Dundee in particular, is a complex one. A series of circumstances was to come together to establish an industry which, at it's peak, employed some 50,000 people and provided much of the material required for a range of products that were exported worldwide. At the turn of the 19th century this area made strong durable products, predominantly from Flax. Although Jute had originally been imported by the East India Company in the late 18th Century it had proven very difficult to process, as a result of its brittle nature. It remained out of favour until the 1820s when Flax supplies became unreliable due to problems in and around the Baltic ports.
It was the Dundonians who were to eventually provide the breakthrough to successful Jute processing by soaking the raw material in oil and water for several days, making the fibres far more pliable and easier to spin. Dundee was now extremely well placed to take advantage of this new opportunity, having a large skilled workforce who were more than capable of adapting Flax methods to the production of Jute. The town had an ample supply of water, a large whaling fleet that could supply all the oil required, and plenty of skilled shipwrights available in the port who would, in time, be able to build the vessels required to export the finished product to wherever it was sought.
Construction of the Verdant Mill commenced in 1833 on behalf of Mr D Lindsay, being continually extended over the next 30 years until the site looked very similar to how it looks today. In 1850 the Verdant Jute Works were purchased by Mr J Ewan and, with ongoing investment into new technology, the mill had three steam engines by 1864 capable of driving 70 power-looms and 2800 spindles.
Towards the end of the 19th century Jute production in Dundee went into a decline as the town started to become a victim of its own success. At the height of production many skilled Dundonians emigrated to India to help construct and operate new Jute mills, the main incentive being a much higher standard of living than they could expect back home. This, combined with cheap local labour and locally grown raw material, soon had Calcutta surpassing Dundee as the major producer.
In 1889 the mill no longer appeared in the Dundee directory, so it is assumed that textile production had ceased and the buildings were either empty or put to other uses. However, four years later the mill reappears, having been purchased by Alexander Thompson and Sons. Their portfolio was a little more diverse than previous owners, ranging from the recycling of Jute waste products to dealing in scrap metals. The company retained the mill until as recently as the 1960s, at which time it was sold off and utilised by various smaller concerns. This remained the case until the Dundee Heritage Trust acquired the Verdant Jute Works in 1991.
This site represents a rare survivor of the courtyard type mill and has thankfully remained little altered throughout its working life, thus retaining many of its original features. A huge restoration project was undertaken and, after five years, the first phase was opened to the public by the Right Honourable Lord Younger of Prestwick on 16th September 1996. The second phase took a further year and was opened by the Prime Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh on the 16th September 1997.
Today the site is a living museum recording the history of not only the Jute industry, but of Dundee itself, and the townsfolk who made it possible. Verdant Jute Works, combined with a visit to the RRS Discovery, really does make for a fascinating and educational day out.