Arguably the “J” with the bloodiest history, Dundee’s Juteopolis powered full steam ahead as the age of mass-manufacturing took off. In a town abundant with all the items required to not only process jute but refine it and manufacture it for a global market, factories shot up all over Dundee and many existing linen factories altered their production to take advantage of the burgeoning opportunities.
During the 1830’s, newly designed mechanical power-looms were introduced to the industry to improve productivity and meet the ever-growing demand for the material, which was used widely around the world in a variety of applications from sacking and tenting to rope and sail making. These machines were designed for operational utility, not personal safety, resulting in many lives lost…as well as thousands of limbs, appendages and goodness knows what else.
Despite this, the industry boomed and the drastic increase in imports and exports meant that the harbours of Dundee required to be redesigned and extended to allow for the docking of more ships. This led to docks such as the Earl Grey Docks, Camperdown and Victoria Docks being added to our already-existing King William IV dock, forming a neat, westward line from what is now known as Slessor Gardens.
The design and utility of jute made it a much sought after and cheaper alternative to linen and flax, especially in times of war. During the American Civil War (1861 – 1865), Dundee’s greedy jute barons provided much-needed supplies of burlap sacking and wagon covers to both sides of the conflict, capitalising once again at the cost of people’s lives.
Today’s jute production no longer has a dependency on war, and whilst it is still used for these purposes, it has made its impact on the fashion industry as well as the eco-conscious among us, who prefer using sustainable materials in our everyday lives. From sunhats and shoes, to shopping bags and carpet-backing (one of its original uses), jute has reinvented itself from an industrial material to a household name.