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The Aberdon Loch

There were 2 lochs in the south-east end of the Parish, the one remarkable for the rugged nature of the district around, and the another near Dyce (Bishops Loch) for its having been the scene of the residence of the Bishops of Aberdeen before the Chanonry was erected.

The other Loch was smaller and referred to as Canny Sweet Pots and was considered to be formed by the old river bed of the Don when it once turned south to enter the North Sea below the Broad Hill.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

Aberdon and its Water Supply

Slezer EngravingWhen the Chanonry was filled with manses and enclosed with high walls furnished with ports which could be closed against intrusion the canons were no longer content to drink from the Loch. They made what was called the Channel to bring water from Nether Cottown. Nether Cottown was due South of old Gordon's Mill on the south bank of the Don, between Hayton and the Cathedral. The water was brought along the road on the east side of the Loch, as far as the north side of (Cluynes) Cluny Garden, and there it turned east along a lane between Nos. 7 and 8 Chanonry. Then it flowed along the street to the north end and descended the brae to the haugh beside the Don. It was quite open at first, but the north end seems to have been covered up latterly. This may have taken place when the road was straightened and a small addition was made to the churchyard, which took in the Channel, for in digging graves near the road what appears to have been a covered drain is found.

To give the residents outside the Chanonry the benefit of the good water it was taken in a brick drain to Cluny Port, where a Well was made and a pump was put in, accessible from the outside. Water for the service of the Cathedral was got from St Mary's Well, a small spring in the brae going down from the Chanonry to the haugh beside the Don. The Channel had been made a very long time ago and it was still running in 1689 when the Provost and Magistrates of Old Aberdeen made an Act against washing at the Channel within the Chanonry, or at Powis Bridge, or on the common street, under the pain of four shillings. The Channel is shown on Gordon's map in 1061, and in Taylor's map in 1773. The hills on the north-west of the Chanonry are called the Kettle Hills. Kettle represents the Gaelic word "cuitail," which means cattlefold. Places of this name are numerous in both Scotland and England, and Kettle is an Irish personal name. This is one of many indications that anciently Gaelic was the language spoken by the inhabitants of the British Isles

Women with a big washing on hand went to the Kettle Hills on the North Side of the Loch because he Channel passed them and there they were out of sight when tramping blankets in a tub. For an outside washing it was customary to make a "luncart," which was a circular wall of stones with openings to let in air freely and high enough to hold a great tire. A kettle was hung over the fire from a bar resting on supports at the sides. Sometimes the Iuncart was made by digging into the side of a bank, and then it needed little building up. Very strict commands were given not to pour out dirty water where it could run into the Channel.

The inhabitants of Aberdon were not wholly dependent on the Channel for water. There were several wells inside and outside the Chanonry. Old Aberdeen is on an old sea beach composed of layers of sand resting on a bed of hard glacial clay. Wells are easily dug in the sand, and when they penetrate a few feet into the clay they hold a supply of water. There was a great draw-well in the middle of the bishop's court, lined with dressed sand-stone. There was no granite dressing when it was made, and the sandstone had been used because it was easily dressed. When Cromwell wanted stones to make fortifications on the Castlehill in Aberdeen, men were employed to take out the lining of the Bishop's Well. After some progress had been made, the sides of the Well fell in and buried the men. There was also a draw-well in the Chaplains' court at the east end of the Chanonry. In the wall of the Chanonry on the way to the Bridge of Don there was a draw-well, common to the Chanonry and the town. About 1689 the Town Council had to deal with a dangerous draw-well in John Fraser's Close, which was level with the ground at its mouth, so that in the daytime children had fallen in, and in the night older people. It was ordered that a mantling of timber should be made round it. A stone wall was afterwards built round the mouth of this well, and others were protected in the same way. 

When Bishop Elphinstone died he left a new constitution for the University which he had founded in 1497, but it had not been confirmed before his death. It is detailed at great length in the Records of the University, " Fasti Aberdonenses," and it provides an aqueduct four feet wide from the Loch to the University. The aqueduct must have followed the courses of the Loch Burn and the Powis Burn, on the left side. The University had also a well of its own, still in existence though not in use, on the south side of the buildings. The supply of water from the Channel gradually became insufficient for the growing wants of the place, and many houses were far from the Channel. The Channel was liable to get out of order, and its water was at too low a level to reach the whole town, and therefore it was resolved to bring in a new supply in pipes from a higher level. Springs west of the Loch were collected. in a cistern, from which the water was conducted by pipes across the bed of the Loch and along Cluny Wynd to a reservoir in the Townhouse. From this the water was distributed to stone cistern wells in the streets, some of whicli still stand, though now dry.

The making of the Railway abolished the Aberdeenshire Canal and this had an injurious effect upon the springs on the lower side of it. The Canal had been made under an Act of Parliament which was not repealed in the Railway Act and the Railway Company, being responsible for injury done by abolishing the Canal, agreed to make up the deficiency of water. This was done by pumping water from a Well dug at the south end of Kittybrewster Station to a reservoir near the Boat-House Brae, from which it flowed by gravitation to a cistern beside the railway, farther north. From the cistern it ran to the reservoir in Old Aberdeen. The new supply proved insufficient for the wants of the town, and the Town Council, thinking a bigger supply could be got at a lower level, accepted a sum of money from the Railway Company instead of the water. Water was pumped day and night by a steam engine, first from one Well at the bottom of the Boat-House Brae and when it failed from another in the Mortar Hole, made deeper. It, too, began to diminish. The water had been coming from the bed of the old Loch and after a long time it seemed to be becoming exhausted ; but had the pump been placed in the middle of the Loch the supply might have stood out. In making a sewer from the end of Cluny Wynd to the Kettle Hills a great inrush of water put a stop to the construction of the sewer in the ordinary way. Pumping was carried on incessantly for three months but with no effect on the quantity of water encountered and it had to be kept out of the sewer by compressed air. The failure of the supply from the Mortar Hole led to the incorporation of Aberdon with Aberden and the introduction of water at a high pressure from the Dee at Cairnton in 1891.

Aberdeen: topographical, antiquarian, and historical papers on the City of Aberdeen - John Milne 1911

With the Reformation of 1560 change came. The Cathedral lost its status as cathedral. Its treasures were taken and its land sold. Once immediately before and during the reformation and then later when the conflict with Charles I escalated, recovered its Cathedral status.  This also sheds some light on the question why St Machar’s is referred to as Cathedral. While it is a part of the Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian church, which has neither bishops nor cathedrals, St Machar's is a cathedral only by name: The Cathedral Church of St Machar. This seemingly trivial distinction is nevertheless a reminder of serious conflicts which more than once in the in the middle of the 17th century led to civil wars that engulfed Scotland, England and Ireland.  General Monck led Cromwell's troops into Aberdeen in 1654. Looking for material for his fort he removed the stones from the empty and destroyed Bishop's Palace to the east and from the disused and probably never finished Choir. It is not clear if this led to a weakening of the base of the central tower. A storm in 1688 caused its fall into the transepts and crossing, and damaged the nave as well.


St Machar - Virtual Tour

This historic street
derives its name from the fact that it was once home to the canons (clergy) of St Machar’s Cathedral. The college of canons was incorporated as early as 1240 although canons may have lived here for longer than that. Their manses were named for various areas in the diocese of Aberdeen which provided the stipend, or payment, for the canons: hence one named after Old Rayne and one after Clatt. Following the Reformation, most of these manses were demolished.  However, some of the large plots of land upon which they sat have remained largely intact to this day. In the 17th century the Marquis of Huntly acquired Belhelvie and Daviot manses and enclosed their lands to create one large garden. Today the site accommodates Chanonry Lodge, home to the University of Aberdeen’s PrincipalNo.20 Chanonry incorporates elements older than the use itself. It sits on the site of what was the Chaplain’s Court. Built in the 16th century, this provided lodging and schooling space for around 20 of the Chaplains of St Machar’s Cathedral. The current 18th-century building incorporates elements of the old Court: part of an archway and a coat of arms of Bishop Dunbar are still painted to this day.

This Georgian building was designed by George Jaffray in 1788. At first it incorporated a Grammar School, an English School and a hall for the use of different societies and the Incorporated Trades of Old Aberdeen.  It was in part funded by the Masons, who until recently retained the use of the attic to themselves. This replaced an earlier Townhouse completed in 1703 at a cost of £712/3/6. In turn that replaced an earlier complex of buildings dating to the later 1660s. Previously the council and trades had met in the School House. The panel above the door comes from another building, possibly an earlier version of the townhouse: it incorporates Old Aberdeen’s arms under the burgh’s motto ‘By harmony small things increase’. Behind the large timber doors was kept the handcart used for picking up drunks from the streets and transporting them back to the cells to sleep it off. You can see a vent at the side of the building, which was a source of light and air into the two police cells at the rear. The coat of arms on the east side of the building are those of the Kings of Scotland with an imperial crown and are of unknown origin and date. The image of the building is used as the logo of The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland. The Townhouse has recently undergone restoration work, carried out by the University of Aberdeen, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Aberdeen City Council. Today it is the visitor gateway to the University and its campus.

Mitchell Hospital
Built in 1801,the founder and endower was David Mitchell LLD of Halloway Downe in the county of Essex, England. It was used for lodging, clothing, and maintaining five widows and five unmarried daughters of the Burgesses of Old Aberdeen.  The south west wing of the building was a later addition and in 1924 the building was converted into individual cottages.

We may assume that in the selection of a site for the Cathedral of the diocese of Aberdon a permanent supply of potable water had not been left out of account. The site of the church is 50 feet above the sea and nearly as much above the Don. Proximity to the river, therefore, had not been considered in the matter of drink, though it must have been thought of as a source of food in a Catholic religious establishment.  The nearest supply of water was the Loch, and the cradle of Aberdon had been planted near it. A very high antiquity is claimed for the first church at Aberdon, many believing that a church had been built there by one of Columba's followers. There is a legend accounting for the selection of the site of the Cathedral, but it is not worth repeating. All that can be learned concerning St Machar has been gathered up and related in " Scottish Notes and Queries " by Dr Gammack, and "The Diocesan Saints of Scotland " by the Rev George Cormack ; but it does not carry conviction that the Cathedral of Aberdeen was dedicated to St Machar. The Gaelic word " machair " means a haugh, and the proximity of the Cathedral to a large, fertile haugh on the south side of the Don had probably given rise to the legend of St Machar. The 1t place of worship at Aberdon might have been on the haugh below the Cathedral. There is not before 1170 any writing that can be relied upon in which St Machar is mentioned in connection with Aberdon, or any evidence that there was a church where the Cathedral is before the time of David I; yet proximity to the Loch affords a strong presumption that there had been a settlement there soon after Columba's time.

From Shetland in the north of Scotland to Wigton in the south many shallow lakes like the Loch of Aberdon are found to have remains of crannogs, which had been made in them for the safety of valuables in case of sudden attacks from plunderers. The mixture of bronze and iron implements and vessels found in the crannogs indicates that they belong to the latter half of the 1st millenium of the Christian era.

Bishop's Loch

Bishop's Loch lies to the north of Aberdeen, just within the City boundary. A Charter from the 12th century refers to the lands of Goul or Goval, where the Bishop of Aberdeen had his Palace or Residence on an island in Loch Goul, now called Bishop's Loch, where at 1 time the site was visible. The approach to the Palace was by a drawbridge. At this time, the Bishops were engaged in developing the Chanonry in Old Aberdeen. Over time, the lands outside the Chanonry were sold off. It then showed a much larger expanse of water than now exists. The water level has been lowered and certain areas are silted up and there is lush growth of various wetland plants. Nearby, there is new housing and a sand gravel quarry. Many discussions took place about the possible creation of a nature reserve to encompass this loch and two other nearby lochs - Lochs Corby and Lily - and they were listed as Sites of Special Scientific Interest in October 1983.

There was certainly a crannog in Loch Goule on the north side of the Don, and Oreni says that Sir Alexander Gordon of Cluny, Provost of Old Aberdeen in I600, who lived near by, had a summer-house in the middle of the Loch and a pleasure boat upon it. This affords a presumption that there had been a crannog there before, or at least it proves that the loch was suitable for one. Like the round towers of Mousa, Brechin, and Abernethy crannogs in Scotland were not capable of sustaining long-continued resistance ; but they were useful for storing valuables such as the sacred silver vessels and emblems belonging to a church. The Loch belonged to the Chapter of the Cathedral and was sometimes called the Bishop's Loch, and sometimes the Dean's Loch because he looked after the property of the Cathedral. He was sometimes called the Bishop's Eye.

After the Reformation the Loch and the ground around it fell to the Crown. In 1601 it was given by James VI. to Thomas Gairden of Blairton. The inhabitants of Old Aberdeen wished to buy the Loch, and several proposals with this object in view were made; but terms could not be agreed upon by the parties concerned till 1655, when it became the property of the Town Council. In 1662 it was let on lease for 19 years to James Gordon of Seaton, who drained it by deepening the eye at Boat-House Brae Road. It grew good crops, and at the end of the lease the Town Council let it annually by public roup. It soon ceased to have any appearance of having been once covered with water. The water of a small stream passes through the bed of the Loch, in an open ditch. If the eye were closed it would again become a lake ; and this may be done for an ornament when Aberdeen extends in this direction, as it is not adapted for being covered with buildings.

In Spalding's Memorialls of the Trubles of Aberdeen in the Covenanting times, there is an interesting notice of the Lochs of Aberdon and Aberden. He was a superstitious creature, who saw - after the event - that the coming troubles had been clearly foretold by portents. He says, under date 1641: -  It is heir to be nottit that no mawis (gulls) was sene within the lochis of New or Auld Abirdein since the beginning of their trubles and coming of soldiours to Abirdein who befoir flokkit and clekkit (bred) in sogryte aboundaiis that it was plesour to behold them fleing aboue our heuhs, yea and some maid use of thair eggis and burdis.

The Loch of Aberdon had been protected while it belonged to the Bishop, both to prevent wanton cruelty to the Black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus) which "clekkit" in it, and also to secure an annual harvest of young birds for food. All over Britain these birds were esteemed as food when young, being reared on food collected from the land. A gull pond was considered a valuable appendage to an Estate. Just when the young birds were beginning to fly a string of men entered the water and drove all the young birds slowly before them. As they reached the side they were caught and killed as quietly as possible so as not to alarm the old birds, which were allowed to breed a 2nd time without molestation to keep up the number of birds. The young birds were plucked and salted for future use. The black-headed gulls were looked upon as domestic fowl, and were often spoken of as hens. In winter they are numerous about Aberdeen Harbour, but in March they depart for inland breeding places. Many 1000s frequent a Mill-dam near Kintore, where they breed unmolested. By Spalding's time both Lochs had begun to dry up. Their beds being coveted for growing grass they had been partly drained by deepening their outlets. This and the harrying of their nests and the slaughter of their young had more to do with their deserting the Lochs than the troubles about to fall upon the anti-Covenanters of the two towns called Aberdeen.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

1789 Survey Map - Alexander Milne

The Old Brewery is a late 18th or early 19th century building, whose name indicates either that it once served as the Burgh Brewery, or that it is built on its site. The Old Town's original alehouse was established in 1504.

The Old Brewery has been designated a Site of Historical Interest, which means that no external modifications can be made to it.

Powis Gates

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Last modified: 01/09/2013