Baxter Park is Dundee’s first ‘People’s Park’, a big back garden for Dundonians since it first opened in 1863. The Park was the idea of linen manufacturer Sir David Baxter, who paid for the land and its design by Sir Joseph Paxton. At its opening, Sir David gifted the Park to the people of Dundee, and it still plays a central role within the community.
The Big Back Garden project explores the Park’s history and hopes that it will inspire you to visit and see it from a fresh perspective.
The Big Back Garden project was born out of a workshop which looked at how we, the University of Dundee Archive Services, along with Morgan Academy, could encourage young people to engage with Baxter Park in new ways. Morgan Academy sits opposite the Park and the University Archive holds collections relating to the Park and its creator, jute baron David Baxter, so it was a natural partnership.
But while we hold useful material, the project needed more, so we asked the Dundee Local History Centre and Dundee City Archive to help. They contributed news reports, photos, postcards and council reports. Combined with our plans and papers produced by Baxter Bros Ltd, as well as the minute books of the Baxter Park Trustees, the project was ready to go.
The Big Back Garden project has three parts to it. The first part looks along the long history of Baxter Park, from its inception in 1861 to its regeneration and re-opening in 2007. Pupils from Morgan Academy’s S3 history classes were introduced to original source material provided by the archives and history centre. Then, divided into small groups, they used copies of the archives and explored a particular point in the Park’s history. Some groups looked at why jute baron Sir David Baxter wanted to provide a ‘People’s Park’ to the town, other groups explored how the Park was developed, while others examined what led to the Park’s reopening.
The pupils weren’t just looking at the Park, but investigating why the Park was needed in industrial Dundee. They examined working, health and housing conditions in the town as well as how the Park was used over the years as a place for healthy recreation. Their research led to the narratives you can listen to on this site.
Recording the pupils’ narratives, creating the QR code plaques and this website is the second part of the project. The plaques are fixed on benches around the Park, where you can use your phone to scan the QR code and listen to one of the pupils’ seven stories. You can also listen to them all on this website, and try out the Park trail.
The third part of the Big Back Garden project is down to you. If you have a similar community project you think should feature on this website, or have an idea for one that you’d like to discuss, please get in touch. We’d like to see the Big Back Garden develop into a resource that everyone can use.
Thanks to our partners and collaborators
The BBG project is supported by the Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund University of Dundee Public Engagement Seed Fund. Grant reference number 204816/Z/16/Z
We would also like to thank:
Ali Napier, School Support Specialist in Creative Technology, and print technician Peter Yearworth, both of DJCAD Makespace for experimenting and producing the QR code plaques you’ll find on the benches around the Park,
Scott Russell, sound engineer, who recorded the pupils,
Euan, Michael and Ellie of MTC Media, who designed the BBG website
Nichola Fraser of Friends of Baxter Park, whose memories of the Park was recorded by pupils as part of their research,
Stuart Fairweather, Dundee City Council Communities Officer, Irene Shearer, Chair of the Friends of Baxter Park and Lynn Cunningham, DYWDA, for their help and support,
Martin Allen, City Archivist for providing archives about the regeneration, and researchers Dr Susan Mains and Christine Kingsley.
We would like to give special thanks to the Scottish Council on Archive’s education officer, Douglas Roberts, whose workshop and ideas inspired the Big Back Garden project. Special thanks also go to Dr Erin Farley of Dundee Local History Centre who provided the project with a lot of material as well as her expertise and Fiona Jamieson, whose ‘Baxter Park, Historic Landscape Analysis, 1998’ was especially useful in helping us shape the project’s direction.
A huge thank you go to Mrs Annabel Quinn, Head of History at Morgan Academy, whose enthusiasm and commitment was an inspiration to her pupils.
And of course, well done and thank you to the pupils in Morgan Academy’s S3 and S2 History classes without whom the Big Back Garden project would not exist: the 66 S3 pupils did the research and gave us their thoughts and words that formed the basis of the narratives, while S2 pupils, Archie, Finlay, Grace, Marcus and Olivia stepped up at very short notice to record the stories, getting the project re-started after the Covid hiatus.