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Aberden Loch Marischal College

Ancient Aberdeen

The city proper stands on four eminences-Castle Hill (80 feet), School Hill (65), Woolman Hill (58), and Port Hill (100), and the highest points within the parliamentary burgh are Cairncry (446 feet), Woodhill (340), and Stocket Hill (320).

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

The first written notice of Aberden is in the Book of the Church of Scone. In the foundation charter of the Abbey of Scone (1113 or 1114) five towns, Edinburgh, Stirling, Perth, Inverkeithing and Aberdeen are mentioned! The Book of Deer contains a charter granted by David I. in 1150 to the monks of the Abbey of Deer, exempting them from exactions which, in a court held at Aberden, they had sworn they were not liable for. The charter was granted at Aberden. Though the name is spelled Aberdeen in the charter it represents Aberden, for in Latin oe and e are often interchanged, as in foetus and fetus, and when an English name with ee has to be turned into Latin form ee is made oe, as in " Phoca Groenlandica," the Greenland seal

Vikings or baymen from the fiords on the south-west of Norway attacked and plundered a place called Apardion, in 1153, in the reign of David's grandson and successor Malcolm IV. The similarity of the names has led the local historians to identify Apardion with Aberden. The next mention of Aberden is in a charter of William the Lion (1165-1214) (Anderson's Charters, I.) where also the name of the town is made Aberdeen. In this charter William confirmed to the burgesses of Aberden the same rights and privileges in buying and selling as their ancestors, who were also burgesses, had enjoyed under David I, his grandfather; and the same rights were confirmed - not given for the first time - to other burgesses in Elgin and on the north of the Mounth or Grampian range. In Anderson's Charters, II. Aberden is, erroneously, Aberdon, but after this the normal form of the name is used regularly. This charter gave the Burgesses leave to carry their goods for sale all over the country, a very high and unusual privilege, given in return for good service rendered to the Sovereign.

There is much more in these three charters than readily meets the eye, and it cannot be discovered without reference to the feudal system of land holding in Scotland.  This system is first seen in operation in the reign of Alexander I (1107-1124) in the erection of parishes and burghs and in the creation of earls; but David I (1124- 1153) did most to introduce it. By it all the land belonged to the Sovereign on behalf of the nation. He parcelled it out amongst vassals, who let it to husbandmen to cultivate. The vassals paid only a nominal rent ; but they were bound to go out with all the men on their lands fit to bear arms, when the Sovereign required their services either in the national defence or to put down rebellion.  The vassals were completely in the King's power, because every king at the accession received his kingdom unembarrassed by any objectionable obligations entered into by his predecessors. This led to granting new charters at the beginning of every reign, confirming previous charters. The King could require his vassals to build castles on their lands for the national defence, and he did not allow castles to be built without his leave.  He granted or withheld permission to hold markets on estates and in burghs; he required his vassals to provide ale-houses for the accommodation of travellers, and he prescribed to towns whether they should have ale-houses or not and how many. He could order the vassals to provide mills for grinding the husbandmen's corn, and they were obliged to take their corn to their proprietors' mills. In religious matters the Sovereign could order his vassals to provide Churches for their husbandmen and pay Tithes of the produce of their lands and rivers and even of the adjacent sea. The early Kings divided the country into Dioceses, over which were set Bishops to superintend Churches already erected, and to assign parishes to them with definite bounds and rights and duties, and to promote the erection of more churches and parishes. Burghs were regarded as vassals. Aberden was a Burgh in Alexander's time, if not before, and must therefore have been under feudal law and customs for some time before William's accession. There must have been a Castle or place of defence in Aberden, the work of the Burghers' own hands, from the date of the erection of the Burgh though it is not mentioned before 1264. The Burgesses must have gone out with King William in 1197 or in 1211 to quell an insurrection in Caithness, and it had probably been for good service then that he granted them exemption from tolls on their own goods carried through the country for sale.

The district east of the Denburn, the Loch, and the Spital Burn had been erected into the parish of St Nicholas with a Church and Churchyard, outside the town on the west side. As Aberden was a sea-port the Church had been dedicated to St Nicholas, the Patron of Sailors.  The 1st expansions of the Burgh had been up the Shiprow and along the north side of the Green. Progress in the former direction had been arrested by growing distance from water, and the chief increase of the town had been in the Green. This area, however, seems to have been too viable for pasture to be wholly given over for sites of houses, and at 1st probably the Green had only one row of houses, along the road from the Bow Brig to the bottom of Carnegie's Brae. The rest of the Green seems from the Chartulary of St Nicholas to have been divided into crofts. It is certain from the courses of burns in the Green that the triangular block at the east end shown in Gordon's map was not built upon for long after the erection of the burgh. It must be remembered that the Green anciently covered the site of Union Street and the south end of the churchyard. There are indications of this in the walls in Back Wynd and Correction Wynd. These were roads to the church. The Green was sometimes called the Denburn, and the level ground west of the burn was sometimes called the Green and sometimes the Denburn. The Mid Mill, which was about the site of the Commercial Bank, was sometimes said to be in the Green, sometimes in the Denburn. St Mary's Well, which was near the bottom of Affleck Street, is on 1 occasion said to be in the Green. In the Chartulary of St Nicholas (II. 38), we read of the Stokrud in the Denburn. This was a wooden cross, probably with a figure of Christ in his passion upon it, where people said prayers. It may have been near the Bow Bridge over the Denburn, convenient for travellers leaving and entering the town. When the Bridge of Dee was built, 1527, a chapel was erected near it for the use of pious travellers.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

The Green was well supplied with water, having the Denburn on the south and the west. The injunctions against watering horses above the bridge show that the burn was used for domestic purposes. At the east end of the Green there was a strong spring of water at the bottom of Carnegie's Brae. This spring was afterwards built over, and was in the basement of the house in Union Street formerly the head office of the Town and County Bank. When advertised for sale before the introduction of water from the Dee the existence of this spring in the house was mentioned as adding to its value. The spring seems to have run down the west side of the street going down to the Shiprow, which from this small stream was called Putachieside. This street is still in existence though but few people know of it. The upper part of Market Street is supported by a long arch spanning Putachieside. Putachie means a place where there was a cattlefold at a burn and from it we may infer that the Green, on both sides of the Denburn, was in very early times a grazing ground  for the cows of the Burghers. Two orders of Friars had Monasteries in the Green, the Trinitarians and the Carmelites. The Trinitarians or Red Friars had their yard in the angle between Market Street and Guild Street, and the ground of the Carmelites or White Friars was in the south-west angle of the Green, having the Denburn on the west and south. Long before the time of King Alexander a main north and south road had crossed the Don by Ford and Ferry near the place where the Bridge of Balgownie was afterwards built. Going to Aberden it had passed through Aberdon, over the Spital Hill, and along the line of the Gallowgate and Broad Street (which was part of the Gallowgate), and down the slope of the Shiprow. Leaving the town it had crossed the Green and the Denburn, and mounting the Windmill Brae had followed the Hardgate to the Fords of Dee at Pitmuckston.



When Aberden was made a Burgh 1 of the privileges conferred upon the Burgesses was the right of holding a free anse or market, when and where they pleased ; and from a charter of Alexander III. we see that a Market might have lasted 2 weeks. This shows that a Market-place was essential for the Burgh, and so also had been Wooden Booths that could be locked up when the Market was not going on. These in old Edinburgh were called Lucken Booths. They were common in the towns of the Continent where great Fairs were held, and they served as shops and residences for stranger merchants.  The most suitable site for the Market seems to have been the west side of that part of the Gallowgate between the Upperkirkgate and Union Street (Braidgate), and if this was the site the space allotted for it would have been the area between the West side of the modern Broad Street and the west side of Guestrow, though at the institution of the Market the Town might not have extended so far as the upper end of Broad Street.

Aberdeen was all an assemblage of narrow, ill built, badly arranged thoroughfares, without any good openings into the country. It probably began with a few rude huts, near the spot where Trinity Church now stands: it next seems to have occupied the neighbourhood of the Castle and the Green, and gradually extended in the direction of Shiprow, Exchequer Row (Check Raw), and the Southside of the Castlegate. But in 1336 it was almost totally destroyed by an English Army under Edward III.: and it then rose from its ruins, like a phoenix from the flames, and spread over the eminences of Castle Hill, Port Hill, St Catherine's Hill, and Woolman Hill. Then it was that the City took the name of New Aberdeen, as it is still sometimes called: but it took it, not in contradistinction to the Kirk Town of Old Machar, now called Old Aberdeen, but to its own Old Town destroyed by the English. Yet even the new town, with the exception of its public buildings, was rude, irregularly arranged, and unsubstantial.  Stone houses, so late as 1545, were possessed exclusively by grandees such as the Earl Marischal and even down to 1741 wooden houses formed the West side of Broadgate. A large ferny marsh, the Loch, occupied, till the latter part of last Century, much of the site to the West of Gallowgate, and the very best streets, till then, were narrow, uneven, and paved with cobble. stones: the parts most favourable to drainage and ventilation were crowded with buildings, and abominably filthy: and the thoroughfares leading to the Dee and to the North, were steep, rough, narrow, and malodorous.

Milnes Map 1789

The Freedom Lands are enclosed within a boundary measuring approximately 26 miles (42 km) in length, defined by 67 seven markers known as March Stones, which can still be seen today around the city. These March Stones start with one labelled Alpha - lying to the south of Aberdeen Railway Station - and end with Omega (at the mouth of the Don). The lands include much of the Aberdeen Waterfront and New Aberdeen and extend west to the present-day Council Area border beyond Kingswells. In the north, the boundary reaches the River Don for a short section north of Woodside and runs west to Bucksburn and then turns southwest between Brimmond Hill and Elrick Hill. In the south the boundary proceeds west from the mouth of the Dee, passing to the north of Mannofield, Cults and Beildside.

A Freedom Lands march stone is distinguished from the other sort by bearing the letters ‘ABD’ and a number between 1 and 62, or the symbols for Alpha and Omega, and in certain cases the letters CR, for City Royalty. Aberdeen’s Freedom Lands’ march stones are composed of 2 separate sets: the inner and the outer. The inner march stones mark the boundary of a series of crofts and croft lands that ringed the Medieval Royal Burgh of Aberdeen. On these lands much of the City’s corn, bere (or barley) and wheat was grown. These lands have probably pertained to the Royal Burgh since its inception.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013