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Broadgate, Braidgate
(or Broad Street)

A Tale of the Broadgate
A member of that proverbially loquacious craft, who are particularly hostile to the distinguishing mark of the disciples of Joanna Southcott, which they denounce as a barbarism, was one night "walking with sinuosity?s" (staggeruing) along the Broadgate, with several bottles in his pate, making sundry hair-breadth escapes of a broken nose, ever and anon coining soap-suds, encountering a brush with a Charley, a dry-shave from a quizzical crony, a cut from every strapping wench he chanced to meet, when he was thus accosted by a douce woman of his acquaintance: "Ah! George, George, ye're i' the Braidgate."
Unwilling to be thus bearded, George, with a contemptuous curl of the lip, replied,
"I ken that; but for as braid as it is, I need it a'!"

Image shows the East side of Broadgate looking South with the Water House Pediment and Clock.  The College Gate with Arms above and the pend leading to Long Acre

Broadgate, or Broad Street,
Originally much much wider before the introduction of the Guestrow it was the main street of Aberdeen according to
Parson Gordon?s map of 1661, lying as it did between the main route north, the Gallowgate, and the main (and only) route south via the Shiprow and the Green, Windmill Brae and the Hardgate.

The old town of Aberdeen never had a High Street as such, probably because St. Katherine?s Hill stood in the way of the most obvious route for a High Street, from the ?Mither Kirk? of St. Nicholas to the Castlegate

On 4th August 1741 a major fire on the West side of the Broadgate  which destroyed many houses, the dwellings being at that time chiefly built of wood: and an act of council was soon afterwards passed, enjoining that the outer walls of all houses should be in future built of stone. The future banning of houses being constructed with wooden walls and thatches, therefore all walls were to be built in Stone or Brick with Slate or Tile roofs to prevent a future conflagration which may have resulted from the then practice of constructing chimneys of Lath and Plaster.

East side of Broadgate looking south with the Water-House Pediment and Clock with the old College Gate entrance front left and Byron's House at centre,  buildings on the left hand side which were demolished in 1903 for the extension and frontage of Marischal College.  The west side is dominated by Thomas Gray's 2nd Emporium with Pediment, Dormer Windows and flanking walls

 

 

DAVID MELVILL, whose shop was at "the end of the Broadgate," and who died in 1643, was the first distinctive bookseller in the city, although a "Stationarius" to sell the books required was one of the usual officials at all universities. But our David had a wider public than the students, and must have been an enterprising man, for many of the earliest local publications were printed especially for him, and at his expense. At his death, his spirit and enterprise seems to have ceased for about a 100 years afterwards. The Water House,  was surmounted with a triangular pediment and clock, was erected in 1766 as a reservoir for the town's water supply brought from Gilcomston and Fountainhall.  The City's Fire Engine was housed beneath the reservoir. It was later occuppied by S Byers, Wholesale Fruiterer.  The clock and its bell were transferred to the City Hospital in 1899. Byron lived with his mother in the tall tenement block next to a turreted building.  Huxter Row, Crudens Court, The Long Acre and Ogston's Court all led off the Broadgate.  From a cistern, formed about 1766 at the head of Broadgate, and fed by the Fountainhall and other streams, 187,200 gallons of water were daily obtained: but this supply proving insufficient, the police commissioners resolved in 1830 to supplement it from the Dee.

 

An archway at the left led through to the original buildings of Marischal College and the original Greyfriars Church.

Above the gate was the Coat of Arms of George Keith 5th Earl of Marischal the College founder. This was demolished in 1890 to allow for the extension and frontage of Marischal College, which opened in 1906.

The unsightly College Gate Clothing House was next on the right and adjacent to the Waterhouse which had a fruit shop in the Ground Floor in the former Fire Station.

 

Preview thumbnailPre-demolition view of 12-34 Broad Street, AberdeenBroad Street, Aberdeen, showing the archway leading to Marischal College, c.1889
 

The reigns of Charles II. and James were noted for the cruel persecution of the Presbyterians, and for great distress among the people generally, from which Aberdeen was not exempt. Among the arbitrary acts of the latter, may be noticed his having on several occasions controlled the election of magistrates, which was not restored to its former freedom till 1689. 

Some time previous to- this (probably at the time when the disturbed state of the country rendered it unsafe to dwell without the walls) a double row of houses was erected, apparently at first of wood, in the middle of the Broadgate, by which that street was, reduced in breadth from about 35 paces to its present breadth of about 15 or 18 paces, and the west side of it, known by the name of the Guestrow, or as it is called in some old writings, the "vicus lemurum," thus became a separate street.

The old gateway on Broad Street to Marischal College with the coat of arms of George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal above it.  This was demolished in 1890 to allow for the extension and frontage of Marischal College, which opened in 1906.

About the beginning of the 18th century, the magistrates, anxious to deprive marauders of the shelter afforded them by the Forest of the Stocket, gave permission to such of the citizens as chose to take wood from it for that purpose, to add balconies to the front of their houses, projecting eight or ten feet into the street, viz. to the extent occupied by the outer stairs and thus the streets were considerably narrowed, and the town rendered less healthy.  One or two of the houses thus altered still remain, having a wooden front, behind which, at the distance of about 10 feet, is the original stone wall of the house.

(Inset) Foot of Broad Street before the new Town House of 1837 was built, the turreted staircase corner is the the entrance to Huxter Row where the Bon Accord Hotel and the linear Old Lemon Tree Tavern stood near to the Tollgate.  It was a favourite meeting place for Civic Dignitaries and Public Auctions were often held there for sequestered property.  Huxter is a corruption of Huckster which suggests it was also a Market street for jobbing Pedlars with small stalls or carts.


Lord Byron's Residences

The young George Gordon, later Lord Byron, was born in London in 1788 and was named after his maternal grandfather, George Gordon of Gight Castle in Aberdeenshire; the child was brought to Aberdeen in 1790 by his mother, Catherine Gordon, after her worthless husband, ?Mad Jack? Byron, had dissipated her inheritance, resulting in Gight Castle being sold to the nearby Gordon's of Haddo.

Mother and child lived in lodgings at No. 10 Queen St., then moved to No. 64 Broad Street. The tall Tenement building to the right of the Turret House.  Young George attended the Grammar School in Schoolhill until 1798, when he inherited his father?s brother?s title and returned to England, to continue his education at Harrow.  Byron said of the move 'it was a change to move from a shabby Scots flat to a Palace'.

Queen Street opened 1776

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

Cruden's Court, 22 Broad Street
Cruickshank's (Leslie) Court, 91 Broad St
Gordon's Court, 86 Broad Street

Ramage's Court, 83 Broad Street
Redlion Court, 77 Broad Street
Downie's Court, 65 Broad Street
Gordon's Court, Queen Street

Jopp's Court. 40 Broad St & 11 Queen Street
Rettie's Court, 26 Broad Street

Well Court, 14 Broad Street
Long Acre, from 56 Broad Street to North Street
Concert Court
off 10 Broad Street
This commemorates the site of a nearby hall in which the City?s 1st organised Concerts were held. They were organised by Francis Peacock, dancing master, and Andrew Tait, organist of St Paul's Chapel, who had founded the Aberdeen Musical Society in 1748. In 1749, the Society leased a house, the ?New Music Room? in adjacent Huxter Row. The Society came to an end in 1806.

Huxter Row, from Broad Street to 1 Castle Street - Corruption of Huckster a person who trades small items peddled from a stall


Skene's House
Of the reputedly-haunted Guestrow (from Ghaist-Raw), the main remnant is the beautifully-restored 16th century George Skene?s House, long known as Cumberland?s Lodging following its requisition by the infamous Duke of Cumberland on his way to Culloden Moor in 1746. His troops were billeted in what is now Robert Gordon?s College, built 1739 to the design of William Adam, father of the Adam brothers, Robert and James, who are commemorated by the Adelphi Court, the name of which refers to dolphins ? a classical symbol of brotherhood.

Broad Street and Guestrow map showing centre a as Blairton Lane and b as Raggs Lane and the Nether Mill near Flour Mill Brae with Skene's House named as Victoria Lodging House


Blairton Lane
Gaps in the old Boothraw on the West Side were left at Ragg's Lane and Blairton Lane, and the Red Lion Inn Court was a public thoroughfare or pend from the Guestrow to Broad Street long ago.  On the corner at No.
57 Broad Street then was  William Cheyne, Draper.  A Public House waiter looks down the lane at the camera.

Bleak Exteriors, Dormer Windows in Attics, and Communal Chimney Stacks - The west side of Broad Street in the 1920's.  James Mutch Ltd., Ironmongers at  No.47 continues on from the Old Bank House, Blairton Lane is evident  beyond the College Cafe leads through to the Guestrow. The Gable End house at No 57 with the Alfred Ross shopfront was once the home of James Milne of Blairton.  At this time Alfred Ross, was a Wholesale Brush manufacturer who seemingly took over the premises from Geo Morrison & Co. but formerly William Cheyne. Drapers, No.59 was Alex. Innes & Sons, Undertakers, then the entrance to Thomson Court,  No.63 A. B. Hutchison, Baker.  J & A Massie were Cabinetmakers at No.65 was just beyond the lane.  No.67 Christie Bros., Stationers, Nos.71-73 Robert Cumming, Cabinetmaker, 75 J. & W. Cameron, Ltd., DrapersMassie took over rivals Robert Cummings next door at Nos.67-73.  The splendid building to the extreme right at No.75 was  the Emporium of Henry Gray, Clothiers later to house J & W Cameron, Drapers. No. 85 J. G. Bisset, Bookseller


The Braid Gutter
Where the Gallowgate merges into Broad Street seems the proper place to locate what is termed in the old records of the town the Braid Gutter. This name occurs frequently, because it was a landmark or boundary line on crossing which bearers of burdens from ships discharging cargo at the Quay were entitled to an addition to their hire. In 1490 the Town Council enacted that for carrying a Barrel from the quay at Shore Brae to the Braid Gutter - Pynours and Carters should get 1 penny Scots, and 2 pennies if they carried it beyond the Braid Gutter. Half these suras was allowed for back burdens. In subsequent centuries, however, larger sums, 4d and 6d, were allowed. In 1749 we find mention of "the Gallowgate Gutter or Head of Broad Street," which seems to settle that the Braid Gutter was a broad channel crossing the south end of the Gallowgate to allow the sewage and rain water from the West side of the street to cross it and run down the narrow lane between Littlejohn Street and Marischal College to the pools on the east side of West North Street. The low area there was drained by the Powcreek Burn. In recent excavations on the East side of the Gallowgate it was seen that there had been a deep hollow where it joined on to Broad Street, which had afterwards been filled up to the present level.

Two requisites for the convenience and expansion of the town were a corn mill, and a supply of potable water for the high ground on the line of Broad Street and the Gallowgate, in which direction the town could most conveniently extend. Being a burgh the townsmen could do collectively what they had not been able to do before. From the "Book of St George's-in-the-West " we see that there had been a corn mill at the end of the block of building between the Guestrow and Broad Street, facing Netherkirkgate. A local historian describes in it what was seen in the beginning of last century when two houses on this site were taken down to be rebuilt. They stood back to back, one fronting Broad Street and one the Guestrow, with their ends abutting on the Netherkirkgate. He says workmen came upon what had been a fall about 5 feet high, apparently for driving a mill wheel, in the end of the house in the Guestrow. After serving the Mill the water passed to the house in Broad Street, which it left in the Netherkirkgate some 6 feet from the front, and crossing Broad Street at an angle landed at or near the base of the steeple of the Municipal Buildings. On digging the foundation of the steeple the remains of a Waulkmill were found. Having found a Mill, it is necessary to bring water to it. In the St George's Book we get a hint of a water course leading to the Mill. In 1873 when a house was taken down to be rebuilt at the west end of Red Lion Court, between Broad Street and the Guestrow, " the distinct remains of a burn were observed passing from North to South, and close to the Guestrow. At the Nrth end it was on the surface about 6 feet broad, tapering slightly to the south end. The bed of the burn was fairly semi-circular, and about 3 feet deep." It must be observed that the surface of the ground in which the burn ran was not the same as the present surface of the street, which has been made up, for on rebuilding a house in Broad Street, a little further south, the door of a cow byre was found at 8 feet below the present surface of the ground. There was an old oak cask sunk into the floor with a paved channel leading into its mouth. On the other side of the street stood the 16th Century Greyfriar's Church. When it was taken down it was found that the original floor had been made up several feet to bring it to the level of the surrounding ground.

The Stream had served the double purpose of driving the Mill and giving the people water. This had been followed by extending the Town upwards, and in process of time Broad Street and the Gallowgate had been lined on both sides with low houses, walls of clay or wood and roofs of thatch, having their gables to the street and lanes in front for letting in cows and sheep and horses with backloads of corn and peats.  When the Town became more crowded and space was more valuable the houses were made higher and roofed with tiles, with byres and stables below and the dwellings above, as is seen in rural Switzerland still. The dwellings were reached by a wooden stair ending in a gallery in front of the house leading to the door. The space below the gallery and the forestair, as it was called, was a convenient receptacle for the midden of dung from the byre and stable or for a swine's cruive.

At 1st the water had run along in an open channel near the West side of the original Broad Street, as it did along in the Chanonry of Aberdon, and as it does to this day in towns in other countries, especially where there is an abundant supply from snow-clad mountains. In process of time traders from distant places were allowed to erect lockfast wooden booths on the east margin of the water channel to serve as shops in the fair time. These got the name of The Boothraw, which is mentioned in the Chartulary of St Nicholas about 1430. To give the residents on the east side of Broad Street access to the water, gaps in the Boothraw were left at Ragg's Lane and Blairton Lane, and the Red Lion Inn Court was a public thoroughfare long ago.


From a cistern Water House, formed about 1766 at the north side head of Broad Street, and fed by the Fountainhall cistern and other streams, 187,200 gallons of water were daily obtained: but this supply proving insufficient, the police commissioners resolved in 1830 to supplement it from the Dee.

The demand for water still increasing with the increase of the population, it was resolved, in 1766, to bring an additional supply from the "Gilcomston Spring," and to erect a reservoir in Broad Street for the water brought from Fountainhall, which reservoir still remains. The execution of the work was committed to Mr. Selbie, plumber, from Edinburgh. Now, this project appears to have been the source of much curious contention. The building of the reservoir was being proceeded with when a droll difficulty was started by certain dwellers in the Broadgate and Gallowgate, to whom a supply of mere water appears to have been a secondary object. They addressed to the Town-Council an earnest memorial, setting forth that the said reservoir "would shut up the dial-plate on the College Kirk from public view." True, there was the College clock; but this time-measurer they charged with such "insufficiency," that its vagaries " led the neighbourhood into sundry errors and mistakes." It would seem that these worthy citizens were conscious that it required a steady clock, indeed, to keep them to time; for they candidly confessed that "an exact clock would tend much to promote regularity and good order in their quarter, an event very desirable" They prayed, therefore, that a new clock and dial-plate might be placed in front of the triangular Pediment of the Water House Reservoir. Moved by this frank representation, and duly perpending the grave necessity of providing the means of enabling the fallible, but ingenuous petitioners to keep good hours, the Council resolved to put up the desiderated clock, "in a handsome and genteel manner." This looks like a considerate wish on the part of the authorities to correct the irregularities of their petitioners with as little offence as might be to their feelings. Up, then, went the clock!  But, alas! for the unfortunate memorialists! In the course of 2 years, "regularity and good order" in their quarter were still found to be as "desirable an event" as ever. A dial-plate, indeed, had been administered in their case; but it was far too obstinate to yield to anything short of the exhibition of a bell, too! The merely "silent monitor" without, seems to have been as "insufficient" as that within them. What availed it to admonish them of the value of time through one sense only the sense of sight bootless o' nights, and, at any time, so liable to tantalising fits of duplexity! No, their sense of hearing must also be appealed to. They required something striking to make a due impression.

So, "on a petition from a great number of the inhabitants, a striking part and a bell," were ordered to be added to the Clock on the Water House Reservoir. This seems to have had the desired effect To this wise provision may we, doubtless, ascribe the "regularity and good order " which have ever since characterised the worthy "nichtbours" in this quarter! Of elder denizens of the gossipdom, old Time has spared a remnant to enjoy well-earned ease, and a crack about days of yore, amid the tasteful amenities of suburban retirement.  We may remark, by the way, that the College folks seem never to have complained of the "insufficiency" of their clock; their habitual discipline probably making amends for the free and easy system pursued by their horologer. Among other objectors to the Reservoir a staid old lady complained that it "obstructed her lights" but whether of her domicile or understanding appeareth not ; while a certain merchant took out an "interdict" against the unhappy building reasons not stated. Nevertheless the Reservoir was completed, and did its duty; when, in the course of some 20 years, "the letting out of its water" again symbolised "the beginning of strife." In 1791, 80 citizens memorialised the Town-Council, to the effect that the water of the reservoir was "strongly impregnated with tar, in consequence of the improper mode of repairing the seams and rents in its bottom, by which great disgust was occasioned, and pernicious consequences might arise, both to the health of the citizens, and the public cisterns and pipes"  Here was a monstre grievance, and most disinterestedly was it urged. Not for themselves alone were the memorialists concerned, their sympathies embraced the "cisterns and pipes." 

Could either, albeit of mould so leaden, be expected passively to act as the harbourers, or guides of
tar water, without "great disgust!" The overseer of the reservoir was denounced as a poisoner; placards were posted on the building itself, bearing "Tar water sold here!" No faith had the citizens in the doctrines of good Bishop Berkeley, who was at the trouble to write a treatise to prove that tar water was as sovereign a panacea as Parr's Life Pills are now attested to be. An explanation was demanded of the overseer. That he was sorely puzzled appears from the fact that he gave in a "long answer" When the cistern was nearly empty not a rent appeared, but when it was full there was a "continual dropping." Despairing of finding out the mystery, he did tar the bottom of the cistern. The worthy man ultimately discovered that it was the weight of the water, when the cistern was full, that set the rent a-gaping, which of course closed when the utensil was nearly empty! The cistern was at length repaired without tar, and the citizens, cisterns, and pipes were satisfied!  So much for Old Wells, and for some of the old frets of our forefathers. What was once cause of irritation to them, is now a source of amusement to us. We, too, shall have our turn. Our ancestors, mayhap, will be avenged of our pleasantry at their expense in the jokes cracked by a future generation on the squabbles of our own day.


Ragg's Lane, from 36 Broad street to 26 Guestrow
The Russell Head (Gargoyle) - This can be seen attached to the South-east corner of Provost Skene?s House George Russell (1810-1899) carved this 'stone' effigy of himself. Russell owned a building at 35 Ragg?s Lane (Broad St to the Guestrow), in which he ran a bakery. The Town Council closed the bakery as it was near a sewer. Believing his neighbour had complained to the council, Russell carved this effigy of the offender and fixed it to his premises so that Stephen, his neighbour, would always see the gargoyle pulling a face. The Russell Head was fixed on the corner of Provost Skene?s House sometime after the demolition of Ragg?s Lane in 1959. Others claim Russell was an Ironmonger so is this reddish effigy an Iron casting from a wooden mould?

 

The Creation of the Guestrow
At the time when the disturbed state of the country rendered it unsafe to dwell without the walls, a double row of houses was erected, apparently
at first of wood, in the middle of the Broadgate, by which that street was, reduced in breadth from about 35 paces to its present breadth of about 15 or 18 paces, and the west side of it, known by the name of the Guestrow, or as it is called in some old writings, the "vicus lemurum," [Book of Bon Accord, i. p. 117.] thus became a separate street. About the beginning of the 18th century, the magistrates, anxious to deprive marauders of the shelter afforded them by the Forest of the Stocket, gave permission to such of the citizens as chose to take wood from it for that purpose, to add balconies to the front of their houses, projecting 8 or 10 feet into the street, viz. to the extent occupied by the outer stairs -and thus the streets were considerably narrowed, and the town rendered less healthy. One or 2 of the houses thus altered still remain, having a wooden front, behind which, at the distance of about 10 feet, is the original stone wall of the house.

Wooden buildings, which were numerous in the preceding century, had now gone out of fashion, though numbers were in existence at a much later date, for it was not till after a great fire which destroyed the west side of the Broadgate in 1741 that the erection of houses having their outside walls of wood was finally prohibited.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013