V&A museum Dundee with the Discovery to the right of the image

On our registers: V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum

We’re not going to lie: we love an interesting conveyancing story… and it seems you do too! Last year we shared the curious conveyancing tale behind the University of Glasgow and the Western Infirmary, which which proved to be very popular.

So in order to celebrate the grand opening of the most significant Scottish cultural property developments in years, we’re doing the same thing – a deep dive into our archives to discover the bedrock of what’s now known as the V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first museum devoted to design.

It all began on the waterfront

Dundee’s waterfront has a long history dating back centuries, but visitors to the V&A may not quite realise how much the area has changed over the years.

Tay Rail Bridge in evening light crosses the River Firth of Tay, textured in black and white tones with dark sky
View of the Tay Rail Bridge in evening light

Thanks to its location on the Firth of Tay leading into the North Sea, Dundee has had an important maritime history. It was second only to Edinburgh in terms of commercial prosperity during the medieval period, and has continued through the heyday of ‘jute, jam and journalism’ to today.

The earliest harbour is thought to have been at the junction of Gellalty Street and Seagate; a quick glance at the map shows just how far this is from the current waterfront, a testament to the scale of change engineered by reclaiming the land.

By the 19th century, the docks as we know them today had been developed, including the Victoria Dock and Camperdown Dock.

The blue dot shows the junction of Gellalty Street and Seagate, as seen on ScotLIS
The blue marker shows the junction of Gellalty Street and Seagate, as seen on our land information service, ScotLIS

But these are not the only docks found in the history of Dundee, and this is where the site of the new V&A enters the story.

Among the data we hold is access to a range of maps covering the history of Scotland. Some of these date back over a hundred years, and a look at these provides a very different view of where you’ll find the V&A today. The map below dates from 1881, and features three other man-made water features – the Earl Grey Dock, the King William IV Dock and a tide harbour – as well as a lighthouse, observatory, public baths and other buildings.

1881 map of Dundee Waterfront

It may be tough to find your bearings without today’s landmark of the Tay Road Bridge, which wasn’t opened until 1966, but the map below shows the same map overlaid with the most up to date one from Ordnance Survey – and the V&A occupies the very same ground where these three important landmarks once were.

1881 Dundee waterfront map overlaid with the most up to date Ordnance Survey map

The coming of the railway

The historic maps don’t just show the decline of the docks in Dundee, but also the rise of the railway. On the 1881 map, the area immediately to the west of where the V&A stands today was mostly open ground, with a small railway system of the Dundee and Perth Railway visible running along the coast.

1881, the rise of the railway in Dundee

Fast forward just 22 years and the difference is remarkable. The open ground is gone, completely filled with rail lines, while the regional line has been joined by the North British Railway. Another addition branching to the south is the Tay Bridge. 1881 was only two years on from the Tay Bridge Disaster, when the original bridge collapsed amid high winds, but by 1887 the new bridge was built and operational.

1887 Dundee Ordnance Survey map showing the new Tay bridge operational

Such a flurry of rail activity is largely at odds the way these areas are used today. Dundee Station remains there, but the number of tracks has reduced considerably, and the surrounding area has been redeveloped. Evidence of this redevelopment can be found on our registers; the two images below show the historic search sheet for the North British Railway Company, and the sasine record for the Greenmarket area shown on ScotLIS, Scotland’s Land Information Service.

The historic search sheet for the North British Railway Company, and the sasine record for the Greenmarket area shown on ScotLIS
The historic search sheet for the North British Railway Company, and the sasine record for the Greenmarket area shown on ScotLIS

The importance of effective land registration

Our blog on the Western Infirmary highlighted the foresight of the University of Glasgow in how they transferred their land for the Infirmary to be built, and the V&A is no different. It might seem surprising to the average person that part of the land that the V&A is built on was acquired by Dundee City Council from the Crown Estate. The explanation is in fact quite simple, but highlights some interesting quirks of Scottish property ownership.

We hold records of thousands upon thousands of property transactions on our registers, and these generally fall on either dry land or tidal coastal areas. But what about sea surrounding us? These areas are property of the Crown, and therefore administered by the Crown Estate Commissioners, but it’s important to remember that our coastline is dynamic, altered by both nature and ourselves. The map below, reproduced courtesy of the Dundee Waterfront, shows how Dundee’s shores have changed considerably over the years.

Graphic showing how Dundee waterfront has changed over time from 1300s to 2017
Graphic showing how Dundee has changed over the centuries, reproduced courtesy of Dundee Waterfront

The westernmost part of the V&A site is built on what used to be Craig Harbour, built in 1821 by Thomas Telford to house the Tay Ferries to Newport. The area within this harbour was tidal, and therefore formed part of the sea. The plan for the development of the V&A called for this harbour to be mostly filled in, the remainder being the home of Dundee’s famous ship, Discovery!

Before it could be turned into dry land it had to be acquired from the Crown Estates.

In leasing the land to Dundee City Council, the Crown included specific provisions to ensure the site provides a long-term benefit for the people and visitors of Dundee. In the agreement, the site is permitted for “no use other than the operation of a museum, with normally free entry to the general public, except for special exhibitions and events”. Thanks to the legal property records held on our registers, visitors to the V&A can rest assured that they can enjoy the treasures found inside the museum without dipping too far into their pockets.

Having the boundaries of the V&A site mapped on Scotland’s land register is another positive, as like all land register titles it provides an accurate, state-backed guarantee of the land’s extent and the owner’s rights. The land register uses Ordnance Survey data to create a map-based record of land ownership in Scotland. This visual representation helps remove the potential ambiguity that can be found in historic, written sasine records. At the same time, the land register is historically linked to the sasine register, meaning that the deeds and burdens found in the latter remain a matter of public record in the former, but much easier to access and search.

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2 thoughts on “On our registers: V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum

  1. The former tidal harbour you refer to sits under the western footprint of the V&A, not the eastermost as you say. Hope you’ve got that right on the Land Register.

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