Made in Dundee

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    29 Nov 2018
    Clock 70min      Length2mi
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    Churchill Plaque

    Pay wave

    You should be nearing the junction of four roads. Don't cross over just yet. Look at the building on the corner. On the wall facing the pavement you have just walked along you should see a plaque. This is to Winston Churchill, Dundee's MP for 14 years, until he was defeated by Scrymgeour.

    Churchill made an attempt in 1922 to appeal to those women who had been granted the vote in 1918. One of his election campaign adverts proclaims: 'Women Electors! Churchill Stands for Home and Family.' Something of a deaf note in a city where women were the breadwinners.

    This was not the only reason Churchill lost his seat. While he was MP for Dundee he opposed votes for women, sent in the army against striking Welsh miners and deployed the Black and Tans against Ireland. As well as being a working class city with strong suffragette leanings, Dundee had a large Irish population.

    In a way it is incredible that he was an MP for Dundee for so long.

    Stand with Churchill's plaque at your back and face the crossing.

    Look diagonally to the road on your right. Can you see the big black building just beyond the Royal Bank of Scotland building? It has blue stock market figures on constant rotation. It looks to me almost like someone has picked it up and transported it from London's Canary Wharf. It doesn't quite gel with the rest of Dundee.

    That is the headquarters of the Alliance Trust. It is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index – in laymen's terms that means it is somewhere between 101 and 350 of the largest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. It is an investment company and its origins can be traced back to the days of the jute barons. In the 1870s the manufacturers of Dundee discovered that they had a lot of spare cash lying around. Twenty-eight year old Robert Fleming came forward with a proposition - they should invest it in America. Dundonian money started pouring into the States, funding railroad expansions and Texan cattle ranches. By the 1880s it was estimated that Dundee investments in North America totaled £5m - the equivalent of £200 million today.

    The Alliance Trust is an amalgamation of companies that were formed at the time to invest in America.

    Robert Fleming organised and advised many of the investment trusts and his fortune was made by it - not bad for a boy who had started working as a clerk at Baxters' Mill at 13 years old. He was an acknowledged expert in railroad expansion and was part of the formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, now BP. After 13 years he left Dundee for London and opened the investment bank Robert Fleming & Co. He remembered his home town though and gave £155,000 for workers' housing near Clepington Road. To this day it is known as the Fleming Gardens. However the Fleming name is chiefly immortalized by his grandson, Ian. Ian Fleming went on to write the James Bond books. It is worth wondering whether he would have provided the world with its most famous spy had he not been given the affluent Etonian upbringing that was the product of his grandfather's fortune.

    Keep Churchill's plaque at your back. Cross over the road directly in front of you.