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A Brief History of Verdant Works

Set at the heart of one of Dundee’s oldest industrial areas, our award-winning Verdant Works museum is truly a step back in time; housed in a beautiful A-listed jute mill sympathetically brought back to life by Dundee Heritage Trust. Where better to learn the story of Dundee’s jute trade; its global connections; its pioneering figures; and the lives of the people who worked through the city’s Juteopolis era.

Opening in 1996 following five years of renovation by the Trust, Verdant Works has delighted visitors from near and far, young and old for decades, allowing them to walk through the mill’s offices, its machine hall – whilst seeing and hearing the looms, drawing and roving machines – and to marvel at the grandeur of our High Mill. In this blog, we’ll explore the fascinating history of our Verdant Works building and its people alongside looking to its future as a green museum for the 21st century.

Industrial History

Given its name for the abundance of greenery and nature that surrounded the mill, Verdant Works began to take shape in 1833, when the High Mill area was built for David Lindsay; a merchant and flaxspinner. By 1863, additional buildings such as warehouses, batching areas and offices were constructed and, Verdant Works looked almost as it does today.

Records from 1864 tell us that within the site of Verdant Works, there were three steam engines driven by the Scouring Burn, running 70 power looms and 2,800 spindles.

Verdant Works letterhead illustration

Working conditions in mills across Scotland were unimaginable in this day and age. Long hours amongst dangerous machines with little to no health and safety precautions were endured by thousands of people, working for minimum wage and living in poverty and battling ‘mill fever’, which often lead to respiratory diseases like bronchitis.

Women outnumbered men three to one in the mills, earning our city of Discovery the nickname of ‘she town’.

Group of women workers, ca. 1900 (DUNIH 2014.8)

Despite becoming one of the industrial powerhouses of Dundee’s Juteopolis days – in which an estimated 50,000 families in the city relied on jute production for their livelihoods – Verdant Works ceased production and later fell off the register of mills in Dundee in 1889.

20th Century

During the 1900s, under ownership of Alexander Thomson & Sons, Verdant Works was used as a site for recycling jute waste built up as a result of the city’s thriving factories; to cure rabbit skins; and to deal in scrap metal.

Letter sent to A. Thomson & Sons in 1973 regarding scrap metal (DUNIH 2016.14)


Following its formation in 1985 with the objective of preserving and portraying Dundee’s rich heritage in ways that educate, inspire and enlighten current and future generations, Dundee Heritage Trust purchased (the then derelict) Verdant Works in 1991 and began a sympathetic refurbishment of this courtyard type mill, continually guided by the use of appropriate historic materials and methods where possible.

In 1996, Verdant Works was officially opened to the public as Scotland’s jute museum, forming a large part of Dundee Heritage Trust’s two Recognised Collections of National Significance and delighting visitors of all ages, whilst crucially highlighting the highs and lows of Dundee’s industrial past; sharing its story to new generations of learners and visitors every day.

A space used to showcase machinery; the Boulton and Watt steam engine; to host events and weddings; and for inspiring future generations, our High Mill was opened to the public in 2015 following restoration.

High Mill

Looking to the future

Alongside its purpose as a museum and galleries, Verdant Works provides a backdrop for learning, community events, friendships, partnerships, artists and the bringing together of people from all over the world.

As we look to the future of our beloved Verdant Works, a new industrial revolution is afoot. Green technology is changing the way we live and work, and has the potential to make life better and fairer for everyone. But how can we harness it? And how can we make sure no-one gets left behind?

Our machines all run on electricity today – meaning we don’t have to burn coal to demonstrate to our learners and visitors how these magnificent machines worked in the past.

But because so much of our building is old, we are still powered in many places by gas; a fossil fuel which, when burned, releases carbon dioxide and other harmful gases into the atmosphere.

By replacing the gas heating in our Machine Hall with a low-carbon electric solution, our new heating project aims to save nearly a tonne of greenhouse gases every year – the same as 11 flights from Edinburgh to Stornoway! – and will help us keep this space warm for learners and visitors as they get to know the story of the mill from industrial powerhouse to a green museum for the  21st century from our enthusiastic volunteers and award-winning education tours and workshops.

And, by installing the same system in our beautiful but sadly underused High Mill, we will open up entirely new opportunities for green community activities, exhibitions, and events involving the whole community.

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