Not In My Backyard

Establishing the Comerton Home

Soon after Thomas Hodge arrived in Newport in June 18911 as the new pastor of the Congregational Church he determined to wake the people of Newport up to their responsibilities to the disadvantaged members of society. He was a popular, young (well, 31), Welsh, recent graduate of Oxford2 who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He could fill the church with his sermons (although a talk about the Salvation Army’s work in Dundee was rather less well attended).3 By October that year, he had proposed, from the pulpit, a convalescent home in Newport for poor children from Dundee. The home should be run by the people of Newport on a voluntary basis, similar to the facility already in operation for adults [this is a reference to Mrs Berry’s house for invalids at Den Cottages].4 He was sure money and assistance would be forthcoming and pledged £20 himself to the fund.

By December that year, considerable support had been gained. The difficult search for a suitable property had eventually resulted in Woodbine House (now 11-11a King Street) being purchased for £740. It was a commodious building with a large secluded garden. Whoever spoke to the Courier, I suspect it was Hodge himself, considered it ‘in every respect well adapted for the purpose’. The object of the Home would be to provide a change of air and scene free of expense to poor children belonging to Dundee and neighbourhood during the period of their convalescence after illness. It was proposed to admit girls of from 4 to 14 years of age, and boys from 4 to 10 or 12, and to board each of them for a fortnight or a month. The idea was to begin in a small way – maybe 10 or 12 children at a time – so around 300 would enjoy the advantage of a change of air with bright and happy surroundings over a year. A committee was to be set up,  without regard to sect, to administer the scheme. The home itself would be under the charge of a properly qualified matron who would reside in the institution, assisted by voluntary workers. Dr Stewart had volunteered to act as medical officer – every child would be examined before admission to prevent infectious diseases being introduced. The newspaper was sure the scheme would meet with hearty support from the generous citizens of Newport and Dundee.5

Woodbine House
Woodbine House 1893

It turns out that Woodbine House, which had previously been unsuccesfully marketed at a price of £1000, had been bought by a group of several Newport gentlemen for the purposes of setting up a children’s convalescent home – before the public meeting at which the home would be officially set up.6

On 14 January 1892 a public meeting agreed to the proposals and a committee was elected. Expenses were to be defrayed by public subscription and gifts in kind. Estimated costs: £740 for purchase of the house, £250 for alterations and furnishings; with 12 children the running costs would be £200 – £300 per year. A gentleman had offered to pay the rent or equivalent for 5 years and there were many other expressions of support.7

Well, you can lead a horse to water …

There must have been many heated discussions in Newport in early 1892.

By February, the management committee had decided that Woodbine House which had previously been ‘well adapted for the purpose’ was now ‘somewhat unsuitable for such an institution’ – it would ‘need extensive alterations’ and ‘it would be expedient for sanitary reasons to have the Home situated outside the burgh boundaries’. (Bear in mind that Newport had excellent piped water and gas supplies, and mains drainage, whereas a location outside the burgh boundaries would have none of them.) So the committee ultimately agreed to back down on the use of Woodbine House and to have a new building erected, outside the burgh. The location was undecided but an architect would draw up the plans free of charge and St Fort would provide the ground if required.8

So what of Woodbine House? At that same meeting it was decided to transfer the property to Mr D S Smith who had offered to purchase it if the committee had decided on building afresh.

By April, St Fort had arranged for a site for the erection of a new building and plans had been prepared. A delay was required, however, to allow for an application for more funding from the Cobb bequest.9 This delayed the project somewhat. (David Cobb left £60000 for charitable purposes. His trustees were, of course, inundated with requests.) The Evening Telegraph called for action on the home.10

Eventually, progress was made. Having apparently given up waiting for the Cobb Trustees, in January 1893 Comerton House, the property of Mr Arthur Smith, was first leased, then purchased.11

Comerton House
Comerton House 1893

Comerton is described as being very suitable. Miss Stead has been employed as Matron.12, 13 (Comerton, at that time surrounded by open fields but now opposite the entrance to Drumoig,  is not only outside the burgh boundary, it is also outside the parish boundary!)

Comerton Opening

The home opened at Comerton on 12 Jun 1893.14 

Rev. Hodge continued as president of the management committee until 1900 when he left his Congregational charge in Newport and moved to Leicester. By then, 1220 children had passed through the home’s doors, the building had been extended and a good water supply had been added.15 (well, well!)

The Comerton Home went on very successfully for many years. The original management committee eventually offered the premises for sale in 1956.16

The Constitution of the Management Committee is here and there is an article about the home on the Children’s Homes website.


    1. Dundee Courier, 27 Jun 1891, p5 (all newspapers available at British Newspaper Archive)
    2. Oxford Men 1880-1892, Joseph Foster, 1893 (at the Internet Archive)
    3. Dundee Evening Telegraph, 24 Aug 1891, p3 and 15 Oct 1891, p3
    4. Dundee Courier, 19 Oct 1891, p3
    5. Dundee Courier,25 December 1891, p4
    6. Dundee Courier,13 Jan 1892, p3, plus sketch
    7. Dundee Advertiser, 15 Jan 1892, p7
    8. Dundee Evening Telegraph, 17 Feb 1892, p3
    9. Dundee Courier, 22 Apr 1892, p3
    10. Dundee Evening Telegraph, 8 Oct 1892, p3
    11. Fifeshire Journal, 19 Jan 1893, p6
    12. Dundee Advertiser, 28 Jan 1893, p3
    13. Dundee Courier, 13 May 1893, p6, plus sketch
    14. Dundee Courier, 12 & 13 Jun 1893
    15. Dundee Evening Telegraph, 28 Mar 1900, p5
    16. Dundee Courier, 31 Dec 1955, p1

Mr Rendel’s Floating Bridge

The previous post mentioned the floating bridge or chain ferry which was included in some railway plans as a means of crossing the river. But it wasn’t primarily a railway crossing – it was intended to replace or augment the existing steam ferry boats.1

Floating Bridge

To operate the ferry, chains would be laid across the river bed from Fife to Dundee. The steam ferry boat would use its engines to wind itself along the chains rather than drive a paddle wheel. The chains would need a counterbalance at each end. The boat would be able to load and unload via its ramps which only needed a flat landing place rather than an expensive pier. The power required by the boat was calculated to be one tenth of that used to power its paddle wheels.

The idea of a floating bridge on the Tay was first put forward as early as March 1834.2 James Meadows Rendel, who had successfully installed such a ‘bridge’ at Saltash, proposed to install and operate one here. The proposal was received coolly in Dundee, but the Ferry Trustees were soon to be overtaken by the march of progress.

Over the next few years several influences came together: competing railway companies were considering how to cross the Tay; the ferry operation was increasingly busy but was hampered by the sandbank in the middle of the river; the Harbour Trust (at that time a different organisation from the Ferry Trustees) were looking for extra low-water facilities; and the Ferry Trustees’ debts were not being repaid.

Above all, it was the finances of the Ferry Trustees that were to force the issue. Set up in 1819 to improve the ferry, the Trust had built piers, provided new boats and created a fairly efficient system. Their present annual income from tolls was £4900 with running costs of £3470. Unfortunately, the improvements had come at a cost: they were £46000 in debt. Of this, £22850 was public money, £8828 was owed to the Dundee Banking Co, £1791 to Mr Stewart of St Fort, and £500 to the former innkeeper and tacksmen at Woodhaven, one now deceased, as compensation for their loss of business when the ferry moved to Newport. All amounts are ‘plus interest’ or ‘plus a considerable arrear of interest’.3 There was comment at the time that the public were not aware of the amount of debt, since only income and expenditure accounts were publicly presented.4

The Exchequer Loan Commissioners (or the Public Works Loan Commissioners – the public source of funding) were obviously so concerned that they had unilaterally taken control of the ferry and intended to operate it or take such actions as would see a return of their investment.

They moved quickly and asked for a report – from James Rendel.

So in September 1842 Mr Rendel again proposed his floating bridge.5 This time he had some powerful backing. He didn’t foresee any problems with the tides or the amount of traffic. However, because of the sandbank in the middle of the river, the existing terminal at Newport pier would not be usable. Instead it was proposed to move the terminal to Craighead (where now the road bridge makes its Fife landfall). The Dundee terminal would be at the Beacon Rock (the southernmost of the 2 rocks off Dundee docks just east of the road bridge) and this would need to be connected to the main harbour. The Princess Royal (existing ferry boat) would only need 1 of her engines to operate the winding gear. Running costs would be £1700 with 2 crossings per hour. There would be no need to increase charges, the number of crossings could be increased, and the debt could be repaid.

Dundee Bailie Adam Symon (who incidentally had lived at Broadhaugh) championed Rendel’s cause but many of the Ferry Trustees, in particular Mr Berry, were strongly opposed to the idea.6

When the plans for Parlaiment were made, the Dundee terminal had changed to be at Craig Pier.7 The Fife terminal remained at Craighead – it gave a shorter crossing, avoided the sandbanks and was ideally placed for a railway terminal.

The Parliamentary bill was rapidly passed.8 The Ferry Trustees’ protestations came to nothing. The Act was overwhelmingly about finance – making sure that the debt would be repaid. The floating bridge seemed certain to go ahead and the operation was given 5 years to be up and running.9

The railway companies were initially overjoyed10 with the idea (although they continually referred to Beacon Rock as being the Dundee terminus). As time passed, they became lukewarm.

But …

This floating bridge came to nothing. The Dundee Banking Company bought the outstanding Tay Ferries loan from the Public Works Loan Commissioners11 thereby taking out their interest and drive in the project. The Bank then sold the debt to the Scottish Central Railway Company, whose plans for a railway failed to materialise. Instead the Edinburgh & Northern Railway (who had tried to buy out the Public Works Loan Commissioners but were thwarted by the Bank), out of what appears to be a fit of pique, built their harbour at Tayport and operated their own floating bridges, designed by Thomas Bouch, from there to Broughty Ferry. And very successful they were too.


This plan12 , which goes from what is now the Tay Road Bridge landfall on the right to almost the foot of James Street on the left, shows the intended landing area at Craighead. The 2 blocks in the centre are Craighead Cottage and a small cottage to the east of it; the 2 blocks towards the left are Kempstane (now the site of 81 Tay Street). The landing place is now the site of the nursing home and Taygrove – 111, 113, 115 Tay Street.


And what of James Rendel? He had worked on the Tay before – surveying the new landing piers for the Tay Ferry as an assistant to Thomas Telford.13 His floating bridges were used at Dartmouth, Saltash, Torpoint, Southampton & Portsmouth. But he was better remembered as a dock engineer (Birkenhead & Grimsby) than for his ferries. He died in London in 1856.14


  1. Fifeshire Journal, 3 Nov 1842, p1 (all newspapers available at British Newspaper Archive)
  2. Caledonian Mercury, 17 Mar 1834, p3
  3. Fife Herald, 1 Sep 1842, p4; and Tay Crossings Act, 1843, 6 & 7 Vic. c. lxxxiv
  4. Fife Herald, 5 May 1842, p1
  5. Fife Herald, 1 Sep 1842, p4
  6. Fife Herald, 6 Apr 1843, p3; Fifeshire Journal, 6 Apr 1843, p2; Fife Herald, 18 May 1843, p5
  7. Plan and sections of proposed floating bridge across River Tay from Craighead to Craig Harbour, Dundee at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP34329.
  8. Fifeshire Journal, 3 Aug 1843, p2
  9. Tay Crossings Act, 1843, 6 & 7 Vic. c. lxxxiv
  10. Fife Herald, 23 Sep 1843, p3
  11. Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 16 Sep 1845, p2
  12. Drawing of ferry boat, and plan of Craighead, from Plan and sections of proposed floating bridge across River Tay from Craighead to Craig Harbour, Dundee at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP34329.
  13. Rendel’s Floating Bridges, Alan Kittridge, 2008. Useful for background, but the section on the Tay has errors (the ferry was approved by Parliament, it just was never built).
  14. Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History,; and Rendel’s Floating Bridges, Alan Kittridge, 2008.