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Loch of Aberden and its Feeders

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661
The Loch to the then North of Aberdeen was fed by burns flowing in from the north and west and was the Burgh’s main source of fresh water; it also supplied three of the Burgh’s many mills, such as the Upper Mill at Flourmill Brae.   Evidently more water was being abstracted from the Loch than drained into it, because Parson Gordon depicts it as ‘the Marsh formerly known as the Loch’.   By 1800, the Loch had shrunk to about the area now covered by Loch Street, and by 1838 it had disappeared completely.   The area now known as the Lochlands became George Street, Charlotte Street, St. Andrew Street, and John Street.

At a time antecedent to the commencement of the extant records of Aberden there was within the area of modern Aberdeen, but outside the ancient city, a huge sheet of water called the Loch, covering an area of more than a hundred acres. The north end extended along Fraser Road to Millbank Lane and thence to the lowest parts of Holland Street, where its chief feeder, the Westburn, entered; but the main portion of the Loch was south of Hutcheon Street. It was bounded by the high ground at Kingsland Place, Maberly Street, Spring Garden, Loch Street, Crooked Lane, St Andrew Street, Blackfriars Street, the Railway and the high ground east of Ann Street. The outlet was at Gilcomston Steps. It was a shallow basin excavated by a glacier from Westburn valley, augmented by a smaller from Berryden, and it had been deepest where it was narrowest, at the north end. In making a sewer in Hutcheon Street peat-moss containing stems of hazel was found near the gate of Broadford Works, showing that it had been deep there.

Before we hear of the Loch its two feeders the Westburn  and the Spital Burn had been cut off to supply the town with water and to drive a mill at the south end of the Guestrow ; and, as there were no springs of water in its bed, it had to depend on the rainfall for its existence. Under these circumstances it must have varied much in size according to the season of the year, being large in winter and confined to deep pools in summer. We first hear of the Loch from Spalding, who wrote an account of the troubles of Aberdon and Aberden - or, as he calls them, both Aberdeins - in the Covenanting times in the reign of Charles I. These troubles, he says, might have been foreseen by the inhabitants if they had not been blind to the augury of the sea maws or black-headed gulls, which had begun to forsake their usual breeding haunts in the Lochs of Aberdon and Aberden.

The latter was evidently drying up, and its bed was becoming clothed with grass. Soon after Spalding's lament for the gulls, the town's records say:— "The magistrates, considering the prejudice done to the grass of the loch by the dailie resorting of the geiss belonging to sindrie of the inhabitants, ordained the belman to be presentlie sent throw the town charging all the inhabitants to remove their geiss out of the said Loch."

In Gordon's map, 1661, we see the Loch greatly reduced in size. It does not now go so far north as Maberly Street, and it' is called a Marisch. The cause is seen in a ditch going round it on the north preventing water from entering, and another deeper ditch on the south draining the Loch. Taylor's map, 1773, shows the bed of the Loch as dry ground called the Lochlands, drained by a ditch from Innes Street to the outlet at Spa Street, with a branch from Gordon's Hospital going north to the main ditch. The name Loch had been already, in 1661, transferred to a Mill Dam extending along the side of the east arm of Loch Street. The whole north end of the Lochlands extending on both sides of George Street is marked Spring Gardens, so that before 1773 leeks and cabbages were grown where once there had been the great Loch, "gray with geese and white with goos," (Gulls).   A glance into the backyards of the houses on the area of the Loch shows that the streets have been made up several feet, and these sunk places enable us to trace the outline of the Loch when at its full extent, though that had been 600 or 700 years ago.  Excavations for connecting houses with sewers in the streets show that there is in the bed of the Loch a great depth of rather fine glacial clay of a greenish yellow colour, almost destitute of stones.

WESTBURN (Gilcomston Burn)
This burn, sometimes called Gilcomston Burn, rises at Mastrick and flows east across the road to Cairncry Quarries. It passes Castleton and runs along the north side of Westburn Road. It is gradually being covered up, but it still runs open through Westburn Park. Then it disappears, running below ground across Cornhill Road and through the Lunatic Asylum grounds. Long ago it drove a small bark mill on the south side of the burn and on the west side of Berryden Road. Near it, according to Keith's "View of the Diocese," there was, two hundred years ago, a cairn marking the grave of Baillie Cattanach who was killed in a quarrel with William Leith of Barns, Premnay, in 1351. In Skene's " Succinct Survey of Aberdeen," 1685, Leith is said to have been Provost of Aberdeen, and on "Lawrence," 1 of 2 bells presented by him to the church of Saint Nicholas, he was styled "Praepositus," that is Provost. The bell which he presented cracked, and the inscription was put on when it was re-cast. It was smashed to fragments by a fall when the East Church was burned in 1874. The Burn crosses Berryden Road at a place indicated by an iron plate in the road. Then it goes under the Northern Co-operative Company's Bakery, and under the railway a little south of the subway, but tint it does some good in cooling condensing ponds at the Co-operative Bakery and the Berryden Weaving Works. There was at one time a dam in Berryden, with a Mill, and this gave rise to the name Millbank. The burn next crosses Holland Street, and the end of Millbank Lane, keeping well up; but originally it turned south and entered the Loch at its north-west corner in Holland Street. Six or seven hundred years ago, it had been diverted to the east to join the Spital Burn on the west of George Street, and, united with it, crossed Hutcheon Street.  Then it skirted the east side of the Loch, and at Maberly Street turned east, to supply water to the Gallowgate and Broad Street. For a time it was employed to feed a pond at Broadford Works for condensing steam, but having become polluted with sewage it was given up, and water from the Denburn took its place. At present it crosses Maberly Street diagonally, and it may be seen through chinks in the pavement near the end of Charlotte Street. It then turns west, behind a carpenter's shop, and flows south in a track along which there was once an avenue bordered with trees.

Near the end of John Street, where the outlet of the Loch formerly was, the burn passes under the railway and enters on Gilcomsron Steps at a passage between two houses, No.s 17 and 18. The burn still passes this way near a lamp in the middle of the road and runs along the west side of Spa Street, under the pavement now  but till the middle of the18th century it was open, and the doors of the Houses had bridges before them. At that time the Well of Spa was at the south end of Spa Street, in a low-lying place at the end of the house called Spa Bar, and the burn flowed between this house and the Well. Crossing the Upper Denburn it enters the Denburn above the Collie Bridge, which took its name from the occupant of a spirit shop (Andrew Collie?) at the end of the bridge, where burghers who had taken a stroll into the country refreshed themselves before entering the town. The boundary between Old Machar and St Nicholas follows the channel of this burn from the Denburn upward to the place where it joined the Spital Burn, thence it followed the now extinct Spital Burn to Jute Street.

Spital is a name derived from a Hospital for infirm priests, founded before 1200 by Bishop Matthew. It was dedicated to St Peter, and it stood in what is now St Peter's Cemetery on the east side of the street called Spital; but the burn was at the base of Spital hill on the west side. Froghall is an old name coming from the Gaelic word " frog," a hole full of water; and there must have been one on its course anciently about Jute Street.  In Foveran there is a place called Frogmore from a big pool near it. The Spital Burn formed the west boundary of a small Parish called St Peter's or the Spital, suppressed at the Reformation. From Jute Street downwards to the Denburn it had been part of the boundary between the parishes of Old Machar and St Nicholas ; but it has now vanished entirely out of sight. It rose out of the ground at the embankment in Sunnyside Road, which now covers its well-spring. Formerly, it passed under the Aberdeenshire Canal, the bed of which the railway now occupies; but originally it crossed the line of the Canal and entered on Causewayend at the boundary of the Royalty, at the end of a house on which the word Causewayend is painted. This is at the lowest part of the street, where there was anciently a ford across the burn. Causewayend means the end of the made road which began at the Gallowgate and extended to the city boundary. Beyond this the road had long been left in its natural state. A causeyed road might be paved or shod with stones laid close and level by hand, or with small field stones and gravel laid down promiscuously. Both ways were practised by the Romans in this country, as is seen in their roads along the Roman Wall. There is a Causewayend on the north side of the Don ; and "causeway," both in it and in the Aberdeen street, and also " calsay " in the name Calsayseat and " causey " in Causey of the Cowie Mounth mean a shoeing of small stones laid down at random and covered with sand or gravel. Only the middle part of such roads was shod; there were at the sides broad bare strips called the ridges. "Causey" comes from Latin "calciare," to shoe, through French "chausser," having the same meaning. The burn crossed Causewayend and formed the boundary between the feus in Charles Street and Hutcheon Street, and it crossed George Street at No 466, where there is a low place in the street, now much made up. Here then used to be a Petty Customs Box where a tax was paid on provisions entering the town. West of George Street it received the Westburn and turned south. It crossed Hutcheon Street at the west side of the Meat Market, entering the Loch at its north-east corner.

The premises of William McKinnon & Co, Ironfounders and Engineers in Spring Garden, at its junction with Loch Street. The company was founded by William McKinnon in 1798, when they did work for local factories. In the 1860s, they became involved in the production of equipment for coffee, cocoa, rice and sugar plantations. By the 1890s, they employed 170 men, making steam engines, boilers, sugar machinery, as well as machines for polishing granite. Eventually, 90% of their manufacturing was exported; they had agencies in 60 countries worldwide and they produced catalogues in English, French and Spanish. During World War 2, production switched to munitions work, producing shells, mortars and parts for Hercules Aero Engines. They appear to have ceased trading around 1992-93.

Old St. Paul's Chapel, Loch Street/Gallowgate - Archibald Jaffray, of Kingswells, produced a design for the first Episcopal Chapel on this site in 1720. In 1865, it was superseded by this building, which faced onto Loch Street but with entrances from the old site in Gallowgate. Old St. Paul's had a long and distinguished history, numbering among its worshippers a young Lord Byron. St. Paul's closed down as a place of worship in 1966.

The Loch Street Post Office, adjacent to the Swan Bar,  had been opened in 1939 was closed on 13th April 1987, the staff being redeployed to other branches.

No's 18-20 and 22-28 Loch Street, Clydesdale, electrical goods, Target Discount and Bruce Millers had all closed in preparation for demolition for the Bon Accord Centre. Charles Bruce Miller first opened his music shop in 1900, and he was succeeded by his sons and grandsons as the company prospered. They moved from 51 George Street to these purpose designed premises in Loch Street in May 1977 where they had 4 floors catering for the growing trade in TV's, music centres as well as musical instruments. In 1983, they moved to a new location at the west end of Union Street, so that by the time this image was taken in 1987, the shop had been bricked up and was covered in advertising posters.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013