That Nice Miss Smith

The whole of Victorian Scotland was spellbound by the High Court trial of the alleged poisoner Madeleine Smith who was accused of murdering her lover Emile L’Angelier in 1857.

The inhabitants of Newport took an extra interest in the newspaper reports as one of the protagonists in the case had been a frequent visitor to the village only a few years previously.

Tay Brae Cottage

Taybrae Cottage, just up the hill from the ferry pier on the site of 16 Boat Brae but now demolished, was a second home for Andrew Smith, an upholsterer in the Nethergate, and his family.

In the 1850s Taybrae Cottage allowed them to escape from the delights that their city home off the Nethergate afforded them. It was here in 1852 that someone who was later to figure in that court case was a repeat visitor.

It wasn’t (as the name might suggest) Madeleine Smith, but the victim – Emile L’Angelier – who came here so often.

Andrew Watson Smith, the eldest son in the upholsterer’s business, was very friendly with Emile who was working in Laird’s nurseryman’s shop in Nethergate, just along from the upholstery business. Andrew was staying in the Newport house at the time and Emile frequently came across to visit him. He often stayed over from Saturday till Monday.

Unfortunately neither Dundee’s nor Newport’s attractions were enough for Emile because in July 1852 he had moved to Glasgow, a move which was to be his last.

Five years later he was dead, Madeleine’s trial ended with a ‘Not Proven’ verdict, and numerous books, articles and films were to follow.

Sources:

  • The original connection was given in That Nice Miss Smith, Nigel Morland, 1988, Souvenir Press Classic Crime Series
  • Trial of Miss Madeline Smith, in the High Court of Justiciary, on the charge of poisoning, June 30-July 9, 1857, published by The Scotsman Office, Edinburgh, 1857. Internet Archive
  • Census Scotland, 1851. Nethergate, Dundee. 282/82/14. ScotlandsPeople
  • Dundee Directory 1853. Internet Archive

East is East, and West is West

and the wrong one I have chose …

[name that tune *]

Certainly in Victorian Newport you may well have chosen the wrong direction – particularly if you were looking for a property in East Newport. Take, for example, Messrs Hutton and Boase (who owned houses within 50 yards of each other in Marytown, albeit 20 years apart).

The legal descriptions of their properties have Tay Street to the north and Union Street to the south, Hutton has Robert Street to the west and Boase has other Marytown properties east and west.

In fact, ALL the Marytown properties refer to Tay Street on the north with Union Street, King Street and Queen Street to the south.

The field behind or above Marytown (Backfield Park – where Woodbine Terrace and Maryfield were built) was referred to as ‘the land south of Marytown’. There are also references to houses and shops on the north side of the High Street.

But look at the map.

Tay Street, Union Street, King Street, Queen Street and the High Street run almost north to south. In other words, Tay Street is WEST of Marytown, and the ‘north’ side of the High Street is actually the west side.

Confused?

Well, the extreme case is given by the plots of land on the corner of Queen Street, James Street and King Street. The field was divided into four plots, described as the NE, SE, SW and NW lots. But on the ground, the NE plot is actually the NW one, the SE is in fact the NE one, the SW one is really the SE one and the NW plot is the SW one. (I wonder if people bought the one they were expecting to buy?)

The reason for all this geographic muddle appears to be – nobody used a compass but assumed that the river was to the north of Newport. Which is true for most of Newport, but not for the part from the foot of the High Street to the foot of James Street – where the coast turns from running west to east, to running south to north, before turning again back to running west to east. As anyone who lives here will tell you, the magnificent sunsets show that these houses look west.

So when you are stuck with directions which don’t appear to be quite right, use the rule ‘if you face the shoreline you are looking north’.

Into the sunset
photo by Alexander Robertson c.1896

Looking north into the sunset.

Sources:
Sasine Abridgements – 1826.03119, 1866.00933 (for Marytown lot 6, Hutton)
Sasine Abridgements – 1826.03335, 1840.04731 (for Marytown lot 7, Boase)
Town Council Minutes 1906-07 – plans for David Young to build shops on north side of the High Street

* Buttons and Bows, 1947, lyrics – Ray Evans, music – Jay Livingston, Academy Award winner for Best Original Song in ‘The Paleface’ starring Bob Hope & Jane Russell.