The story of Newport-on-Tay is almost entirely the story of Dundee, for without the presence of Scotland's fourth city on the far bank of the Tay, there's no particular reason for anything to have developed where Newport now stands.
By the 1700s there was a regular ferry making the crossing of the Tay from Dundee to Woodhaven, roughly where today's Newport-on-Tay and neighbouring Wormit meet, though ferries had plied these waters since the 1100s. The arrangement was further formalised with the building in 1715 of a new pier and inn where Newport stands today. The work was funded by the Guilds of Dundee and they called the resulting settlement "New Dundee". The name didn't stick.
Over the following years Newport-on-Tay, though still very small, became a northern focus for the developing pattern of roads across Fife. In 1823 Thomas Telford built a steamboat pier here and Newport-on-Tay suddenly became the place to live for the wealthy jute barons and other industrialists wanting to escape the pollution they were creating in Dundee. Newport-on-Tay developed a pattern of grand Victorian villas on the hillside overlooking Dundee which remains very characteristic of it today.
The coming of the Tay Rail Bridge in 1878 (and its replacement in 1887) confirmed Newport-on-Tay as a highly desirable suburb of Dundee and the style of the shops and public buildings such as the old ferry terminus reflect the grandeur of the times.
The Tay Road Bridge, which opened in 1966, had contradictory effects on Newport-on-Tay. On the one hand it put the village within a few minutes drive of the centre of Dundee, ensuring its popularity as a commuter base continued to grow. On the other it brought the immediate end of the ferry service across the Tay, and a gradual decline in the commercial fortunes of businesses in the village as they found themselves in direct competition with Dundee's supermarkets and other services.
The overall effect is slightly odd. The residential areas of the village are if anything even more prosperous than in their Victorian heyday. But the grandeur of the shops and riverside areas now has a slightly faded feel to it. And the really beautiful buildings associated with the ferry service now stand deserted, while the pier itself has found a use servicing and selling boats.
It's almost as if Newport-on-Tay has turned its back on its riverside areas. Or, given that most of the villas are built on the hillside rising away from the river, it's perhaps more accurate to suggest that the village's sights are so set on Dundee and the far bank of the Tay that its gaze seldom drifts down to take in its own shore of the river.
On the bright side, however, the current situation is obviously unsustainable and sooner or later the advantages of properly regenerating the riverside area of Newport-on-Tay must become commercially irresistible.
And while pondering the sad state of the ferry terminus keep a lookout for the remarkable mile-marker embedded in a wall nearby: see photo, left. This was cast by the Alexander Russell Kirkcaldy Foundry in 1824 and was one of a series placed along the length of the "Great Fife Road".
This road linked Pettycur, the terminus for ferries from Edinburgh with Newport-on-Tay, the terminus for ferries to Dundee. New Inn and Cupar, both shown on the sign, were the two staging posts on the road. In those days you knew you'd arrived when the distance to your destination read zero!
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