Extract from The Life of a Dundee Draper

Printed by Wm. Kidd 1878

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Mr. J. H. Duffus, Gowrie Place


It may startle some of my readers to be informed that previous to the year 1840 there were no drapers in the Scouringburn, now one of the busiest streets in the town. At present there are more than a dozen drapers, some of whom do a large business. The first draper who commenced business there is a well known citizen, Mr. J. H. Duffus. He commenced business in a shop at the top of Horsewater Wynd, in May of the above year, where he continued for about ten years. Mr. Duffus in his early life learned the trade of a tailor. He served his apprenticeship with Mr. William Blair, whose workshop and residence were near the Scouringburn well. At that time, it was from this well that most of the inhabitants in the Scouringburn were supplied with water. At the period to which I allude, Monikie and Lintrathen supplies were in the womb of futurity, and water was very scarce in Dundee. It was a far-famed well. Among its other excellent properties, it possessed that of softness, and was in great repute among the housewives for its capability of producing an excellent cup of tea. The overflow from this well, made up in a great measure what was called the Scouring Burn, so named, from the circumstance that the women scoured and washed their clothes in the burn.

After finishing his apprenticeship, and working for some time as a journeyman. He went to London to obtain more insight into his calling. Here he succeeded in finding employment with one "Solomon", a Jew, in Charing Cross. This was the summer of 1837, the year of the coronation of her most gracious majesty Queen Victoria. Mr. Duffus was present on this occasion, and he often refers to it as the grandest and most imposing spectacle he ever beheld. The procession of crowned heads, plenipotentiaries, and representatives from all part of the world, to and from Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, made a deep impression on the shrewd imaginative faculties of our friend, whose description of it to me has often been interesting and graphic in the highest degree. It is beyond the limits assigned to me in this sketch to reproduce his account of it, and I cannot farther refer to this important epoch in his career.

Mr. Duffus, I believe, was the first to introduce a practice, which afterwards became general over the town and vicinity, of getting customers, when they had not the full amount for the goods they wanted, to leave a deposit on the goods cut off, the parcel meanwhile lying in the shop until the price was paid by weekly installments. This custom was of reciprocal benefit, for while it accommodated the customers, sales were often effected by it more readily. Mr. Duffus remained in the Scouringburn until his trade increased to that extent he felt warranted in removing to the West Port, the centre of the west end district. In May 1858 he removed to 31, West Port. This shop was previously occupied by My James McArtney, ironmonger. For the period of twelve years Mr. Duffus
continued to conduct a prosperous business here, and during these years, by dint of strict attention to business, he managed to amass, if not what in these days of colossal incomes may be called a fortune, at least a fair competency. He is now retired, owing to failing health, being too sensible a man to shorten his days by undue exertion of his faculties when no necessity for it existed. The result is, instead of dying in harness, he is now hale and healthy, and free from much worry and care. I may mention, for the benefit of such of my readers as it may concern to know, that Mr. Duffus, during the business period of his life, made it a rule never to order goods he was not in immediate want of, and in no larger quantities than he could pay for, so as to take benefit of the full discount. Mr. Duffus has told me that he never accepted a bill in his life, and when in any case a bill was sent to him in the course of business, it was invariably returned with a note asking what extra discount would be allowed for prompt cash. He has often told me that this practice in no small measure tended to augment his yearly income, paying for rent, gas &c., and other incidental expenses connected with the management of a shop. I may mention, Mr. Duffus on retiring purchased a block of buildings known as Gowrie Place, and at present he occupies one of the houses. In this age of intense competition, when the utmost tension of endeavour is made to serve the public, it will appear singular that Mr. Duffus should have been in the habit of shutting up his shop for three weeks or a month after the summer holidays, which were then held in August. He would then depart for the highlands and recuperate his flagging energies by the bracing air of our northern clime. You might find him quietly nestling under the shadow of Ben-y-Vrackan, wandering through the Pass of Killiecrankie, or thinking half sadly, half sweetly on the olden time amid the classic groves of the Birks of Aberfeldy. At other times you would find him at some seaside village, stretched out on the sands, with book in hand, and the sound of the old ocean in his ears, with its strange sad moan suggesting to the human spirit feelings which are inexpressible. It must not be understood by this practice of Mr. Duffus that it was the general thing at the time to shut up shops in this fashion. Mr. Duffus was simply of an independent turn of mind, and was by no means solicitous to conceal this fact from the public. In
case passers by should think that a death or bankruptcy had taken place, a printed bill was stuck on the door and window conveying the following intelligence, "Gone to the country for holidays. Will be open on a certain date." I cannot depart from Mr. Duffus without recording the fact that he was and is an ardent and zealous total abstainer. He has been long a member of the Dundee Temperance Society, and acted for many years on the committee. His shop was well known over the whole town as the place where the pledge could be taken, a book being kept for the enrolling of names. I believe Mr. Duffus in this way did an immense amount of good in the reclamation of drunkards. When they got the pledge-card he never lost an opportunity of tendering such advice as he deemed
necessary, while he was in the habit of informing them that he himself had been a life-long abstainer. Mr. Duffus has been for a number of years a member of the Liff and Benvie Parochial Board, and one of the visitors of the indigent sick society. For thirty years he has been a member of the Scottish Temperance League, Glasgow, and since 1838 a member of the Ward Road Chapel, so well known from its connection with the late Rev. Dr. Russell.

I cannot leave this sketch without according a due need of praise to Mrs. Duffus, who proved such an efficient helpmate to her husband in his business. Mr. Duffus has often told me that it would have been impossible for him to retire from business so soon, but for the valuable aid afforded him by his better half. Before I myself went out of business, I had frequently occasion to observe how important an auxiliary she was in effecting sales, and in my lonely bachelorhood I used to think how fortunate I would have been had I secured such an able assistant. I observe not a few young ladies connected with shops in Dundee at the present time, who, I am certain, would make the future of many a young man contemplating a start in the drapery business, and I would affectionately urge such to take a survey of some of the drapery establishments, where a most suitable selection of blooming maidens can be found.

 

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