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

A Tayside Tearoom


The day trippers from Dundee in the 1950s would turn left on leaving the ferry pier and make their way to the Braes. They passed by the Tayside Tearooms and considered whether to pop in for a cuppa or wait until they returned on their way home. After all, they could call in at Café Newport on the High Street or buy ice creams from Tommy Bain with his cart on the Braes.

But a hundred years earlier, those Dundonians who wanted to avoid the crowds on the Braes were encouraged to make their way to the right, up Boat Brae and along the main road towards Woodhaven. A five-minute walk would take them to the ideal spot.

The following advert appeared in the People’s Journal on 15 May 1858, in other local newspapers through the summer, and even in the 1858 Dundee Directory:



Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

It sounds perfect, and no doubt it was. Overlooking the river, in the calm surroundings of West Newport, it offered just the place to spend a relaxing afternoon, with a mouth-watering range of refreshments available.

The proprietor, James Chapman, was a well-known Dundee confectioner who had a business at 121 Murraygate. He had moved into his Newport house a few years earlier and was to stay there for over 60 years. Its location provided the perfect opportunity to expand his business venture by catering for the more discerning Dundee escapee. His home was Yewbank (like all houses on West Road it was named after a plant) but it is now simply 68 West Road.

So where were the ‘Public Gardens and Refreshment Rooms’?

My first thought was that they were in his own garden with teas available in his parlour or a summer house overlooking the river. But the grounds are small, access is only through the house, his wife had a young and expanding family and the house had only 3 rooms at that time.
My second was that one or more nearby gardens on West Road were opened to the public – an early ‘Newport’s Gardens Scheme’. They certainly would be a very attractive and tranquil location, a world away from the grime, smoke and smells of industrial Dundee.

We shall probably never know which it was, but my money is on his own property. Either way, Newport’s summer facilities with houses rented out ‘for the season’ now had an added attraction.

Sources:
Peoples Journal, 15 May 1858, British Newspaper Archive
Obituary, James Chapman, Courier, Dundee 23 Mar 1915 p4
The Post Office Dundee Directory … for 1858-59
1861 Census, Registration District 431, Forgan, Fife, Enumeration District 3, Page 25,26