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By Alan Craxford and Christopher Morris


The authors were resident in Airlie Hall during their student days at Queen's College Dundee in the 1960s for six (CM) and five (AC) years respectively. This article is a retrospective of their memories.

A little history

The development and expansion of University College, Dundee after its inauguration in 1883 was fitful and quite slow, dependent in large part on non-government grants, bequests and private donations (1). The purchase of two houses which fronted Perth Road (Union Mount and Ellenbank) led to the creation of the college library and the Students Union in 1904. At the turn of the century accommodation for students was sparse and it was the acquisition of No.1. Airlie Place by William Low of Blebo (Rector's Assessor at the Court of St Andrews) that allowed the development of residential places. Airlie House opened as a college building in 1917 and backed onto the Geddes Quadrangle. It ultimately became the official residence of the Principal of Queen's College, Dundee (2). Following that the remaining line of terrace houses was progressively bought up as they became available and were converted into living accommodation. The process continued piecemeal in Airlie Place (with one exception) into the mid 1940s. Further purchases in Airlie Terrace were destined to become student flats. The final property on the west side of Airlie Place was purchased in 1971.

Airlie Place (Dundee side), 2007

Airlie Place today

The Old Students Union, 2007 (Ellenbank)

The Old Union

The old Chalmers Hall building 2007

The closed Chalmers Hall building today

Space for accommodation generally remained at a premium in Dundee because of ever-increasing student numbers despite the gift of West Park House on Perth Road as a men's hostel. West Park Hall for women opened in October 1950. Professor David Rutherford Gow, the first Master of Queen's College, was instrumental in obtaining the Belmont Canvass Works to the west of the campus in the late 1950s which was to become the site of the first purpose built residence, Belmont Hall. Stage I was occupied in 1964. In the city centre, the Royal British Hotel was bought for £40,000 in the same year and was converted into Chalmer's Hall (named after James Chalmers - 1782-1835 - the inventor of the adhesive postage stamp) for women. A new development, Peterson Hall, came on stream just off Greenfield Place (between Perth Road and Roseangle) in 1969. All halls became mixed sex residences by 1974.

Airlie Hall

Airlie Place today

Airlie Place today

Map: Airlie Place about 1960

Dundee map 1960

Airlie Hall was the oldest of the Queen's College student accommodation areas and lay just to the west of the main campus. It occupied the granite buildings of the Victorian terrace which lined both sides of Airlie Place. The city side of the street was completely 'knocked through' as the main Hall and ranged over three floors. As well as the students' rooms on the upper floors, the ground floor comprised the dining room, kitchens and communal areas - common and television rooms. At the top of the street on this side was the Warden's house.The main entrance led into a hallway where the fearsome Mr Anderson, the Janitor, put the post into the pigeon holes. This was also the site of his office from where he dished out any parcels that arrived. They could only be collected at set times and it took some nerve to persuade him to part with them at other times! There were two staircases, one leading up to the residents' rooms, the other to the staff quarters. An anteroom led from the hallway down a short flight of steps into the dining room.

The houses were several stories tall and centrally heated. At that time the only means of fire escape from the upper floors was through the window by means of a sling attached to a rope which had a retarding mechanism on it. The escapee had to put the sling under his arms and leap out of the window, hoping the mechanism worked satisfactorily. Immolation seemed preferable to the hard earth far below. It was rumoured that every now and again an intrepid resident was foolish enough to test the system which was strictly against the rules of course even in the days before Health and Safety Legislation. It seems strange to think that today's undergraduates pay to go bungee jumping!

Airlie Terrace and Green 1965

Airlie Terrace about 1965 (1)

The Perth side of Airlie Place was still made up of individual terrace houses. No 12 however was lived in by Dr Gossip and his family. He was a general practitioner who with his partner, Dr Denman, provided services to the student body from his surgery in the basement. He would neither sell to the University nor allow central heating pipes to run through his house. As a result the only heating on that side of the street was by electric fire and the residents received an allowance from Airlie Hall to keep warm.

Accommodation was in general quite spartan and room sizes were very variable. One author (AC) found himself in a dual occupancy room in house 16. This was on the ground floor, large but sparsely furnished, with a bay window looking out over the street. The other author (CM) spent his first year in a dank basement room over on that side of the street which was half underground. The rebate was never enough and we certainly had to feed more shillings into the meter than we received in the allowance. It also tended to overpower the delicate fuses of the electric circuitry and this led to one enterprising resident (I believe an engineering student) to 'fix' the fuse box with a six inch nail. It was bitterly cold in those houses and in the winter the dressing gown, the overcoat and the red gown were needed on the bed at night. A small but significant event took place during my residence in Airlie Hall, the introduction of soft lavatory paper in place of the previous hard and shiny stuff. For some reason this was not a popular innovation for one of the senior men in my house and he campaigned long andf loud (incidentally in rude German) to have a supply of the hard and shiny available.

Continued in column 2...

Airlie Hall library was in the top of the Tay end of the Perth side and it was quite vertiginous looking out of an open window. There was a further undergraduate's bedroom in the garret above it, reached by a narrow staircase.

Airlie Place opened out into a small grassed square which was bounded on three sides by more buildings. The northern end was originally occupied by a large house called Airlie Lodge which was demolished in the 1870s and replaced by tenements and renamed Airlie Terrace. By the 1960s these had been divided up into student flats. It was on this lawn that the annual residents photograph was taken. The gowned ranks were massed on the green and were captured on a panorama shot. This area too proved to be a sun trap on hot summer days. At one point there was a passageway that ran under the terrace which led to the environs of Belmont Hall and onwards to the Hawkhill.

Rear of Airlie Hall
Airlie Hall garden
Geddes Quadrangle

Left: Rear of No.1; Centre: The garden; Right: Geddes Quadrangle

There was a narrow tree lined garden and pathway running along the length of the rear of Airlie Hall. This could be reached through the back door which also led to the Geddes Quadrangle and the rest of the College campus. The houses on the Perth Road side all had small wall-lined and mainly paved rear courtyards gardens - and it was expressly off-limits to overview the garden and occupants of No.12, especially during the summer months.

Living in Hall

Airlie Hall Residents photograph 1966-67

Airlie Hall residents, 1966-67

A local delicacy: Arbroath smokies

A local delicacy

In the mid 1960s, the halls of residence were in the main, single sex institutions. The Hall was under the control of a Warden and his deputies and there was a domestic staff of cooks, serving girls and cleaners who were supervised by a domestic bursar. We remember the Misses Herd, Watt and Ross. Accommodation was provided on the basis of a ten week term and was full board with three meals a day. For this a resident paid £70 a term (from a student grant of £100 - AC). Meals were served at long tables in the downstairs dining room. The evening meal was a more formal affair, with a top table in attendance and prefaced by grace. At certain times and on special occasions, the red undergraduate gown had to be worn. A few menu items still provide some resonance even after all these years including Arbroath smokies (the peculiarly local delicacy of smoked haddock), baked gammon and pineapple and pineapple upside down cake.

There were coin operated washing machines in the basement of the main hall and in one of the outlying houses. There was also an ancient harmonium, which still worked after a fashion, in one of the basement rooms of House 14.

An Airlie Hall resident being prepraed for transportation

Rough justice in Airlie Hall (2)

The Hall also had its own residents heirarchy which seemed to echo that of a public boarding school. There was a residents committee with a secretary and treasurer chaired by the Senior Student (usually a final year). There were rules about entertaining (particularly a female) in your room. Familiar association with the junior members of staff was distinctly taboo. Each floor of the main hall and each house had a senior man in charge who was supposed to maintain discipline. He also distributed the milk supply to the small communal kitchen.

Cold baths were used as general discipline for a variety of infractions on other occasions. Beyond that Shafe (1) also noted the practice of transportation. Under the heading of 'Rough Justice in Hall' he described a method of controlling late night rowdyism which had the "undisguised acquiescence" of the Warden. The victim, usually a bejant, was apprehended at night, blindfolded, driven out into the countryside and abandoned in the foothills of the Sidlaw Hills, to make his own way back to Hall.

Detail from Airlie Hall residents photograph

'Not a Victory'!

We are aware of this action being carried out on a couple of occasions during our stay. One such instance was in response to the sabotage of the annual residents photograph. On the 1966/67 photograph two students on the front row sat making V-signs to the camera. This is clearly visible on the colour proof. The photographers had to laboriously ink out the offending fingers on every copy so the offenders were not popular. One or both of them was taken off in the middle of the night, blindfolded and driven round and round a long enough distance to make them think they had been taken to Coupar Fife whereas they had been taken in the opposite direction to Cupar Angus. They were then deposited half naked by the side of the road and sent off to walk in the wrong direction back to Dundee.

The present day

The Dundee University Students Association building

The DUSA Building (3)

Major redevelopment came hard on the heels of the creation of an independent University of Dundee. In 1969 the Court agreed to the building of a new Students Union (renamed the Dundee University Students Association) which would also accommodate a swimming pool. This meant the demolition of Airlie Terrace and the sacrifice of the green at the top of Airlie Place. Opened in 1970, the construction of glass and brick also accommodates a games hall, pubs, a night club, a campus shop and offices.

There has been feverish building of student accommodation on and around the campus spreading out to the area of the old Hawkhill. The Dundee or eastern side of Airlie Place ceased being used as a hall of residence in 1996. This is the same year that Chalmers Hall was finally vacated although that facility had been closed more than once in the previous decade only to be reopened when there were higher than expected student admission rates. Since then it has been taken over by administration departments, Student Recruitment and Admissions Office and more recently the School of Nursing and Midwifery (3). The west side of Airlie Place continued to be used as self-contained flats, particularly for foreign exchange studnets, until the Spring of 2007. This area too is now scheduled for redevelopment.


1. "University Education in Dundee 1881-1981: A Pictorial History": Compiled by Michael Shafe: University of Dundee (1982)
2. "History of Medicine in Dundee University": John SG Blair: Dundee (2007)
3. Campus Guide: City Campus University of Dundee

Page added: December 7th 2007
Last updated: August 11th 2012

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