The Doric Columns
THE ABERDEENSHIRE CANAL HISTORY
The Route of the Canal
The highest level was at Stoneywood, where is reached 168 feet above low water mark. The principal works constructed upon it were 17 locks, 5 aqueduct bridges, 56 accommodation bridges and 20 culverts. The canal was closed in the passing of the Act in 1854 authorising the Great North of Scotland Railway Company to proceed with their undertaking.
In 1793, the formation of a navigable canal for barges, to connect the Harbour of Aberdeen with the River Don at Inverurie, was projected, and in 1796 an Act of Parliament was obtained, by which the projectors were empowered to raise by the sale of shares £20,000 for this purpose. Of this sum only £17,700 was raised, and it was found necessary to apply for another act, which was obtained in 1801, empowering the proprietors to raise £20,000 additional by the creation of new shares. Only £10,000 of this was obtained, but not long after other £10,000 was raised by! mortgage, and the canal was opened in 1807.
Its length is a little more than 18 miles, its average breadth is about 25 feet at the surface of the water, and the depth is 3 feet 9 inches. It has 17 locks, one of which is 10 feet in height, 15 are 8 feet each, and one is 3 feet. The line chosen for it is not, in the opinion of some, the most advantageous that might have been obtained, as it throws the greater number of the locks to the lower end, within 3 or 4 miles of Aberdeen, in consequence of which the delay and expense of short carriages are rendered considerably greater than they would have been otherwise, and the inducement to the transport, for example, of stones from the large granite quarries in the neighbourhood of the town, is much lessened. Nevertheless, the trade on it has not been inconsiderable, though hitherto not sufficient to pay off the mortgage debt, and therefore, as yet, altogether unproductive to the holders of either the new or the original shares.
The tow path was on the right hand canal bank, when travelling in the direction of Port Elphinstone. On the left were wharves for mooring the boats. It was not until 1834 with the building of a tidal lock that the canal was connected to Aberdeen Harbour. Previously goods from the harbour were transferred by road to the canal. In 1832, the holders of the mortgage, being sensible of the great advantage which would accrue to the trade of the canal from its being connected by a tide-lock with the harbour, agreed to forego their dividends for a time, in order to permit this to be effected, and the tide-lock, whose height is 6 feet, was accordingly executed in 1834, at an expense of about £1500. By this means, the canal barges can be loaded and discharged at the ship's side, and can enter the canal readily at half-tide; by which, the intercourse on it has been greatly facilitated and the trade consequently increased. The dues charged on articles conveyed by the canal are from ½d. to 1½d. per ton per mile, according to the nature of the goods.
The following tables show the quantities of the principal articles transported by the canal for the last seven years:—
The increase in the quantity of grain is to be in part ascribed to the introduction of covered barges, by which the cargo is effectually protected from rain on its passage.
A Fly or Passage Boat was, at an early period, established on the canal, and for some years it was carried on with considerable success; but the establishment of numerous coaches on the adjoining Turnpike Road, presenting the advantage of quicker travelling, though at a higher rate, had the effect of diminishing the profits of the fly-boat very materially. With the view of obtaining a renewal of the encouragement formerly given to it, an iron boat was lately procured, and the rate of going was increased from about 4 to 8/9 miles an hour. The experiment cannot be, by any means, said to have failed, but the effect has not hitherto been so favourable as might have been anticipated.
Canal Barge being pulled along the Aberdeenshire Canal, Aberdeen, 1810 - This drawing shows a barge being pulled by 2 horses with one rider along the Aberdeenshire Canal. The twin spires of St Machar's Cathedral are clear in the background.
This undertaking was projected in 1795 by proprietors and others interested in the Garioch, for the purpose of conveying to Aberdeen Harbour the agricultural produce of the district, timber, slates from the hill of Roudlaud, etc., and carrying back shop goods, coals, and lime. Latterly, also large quantities of bone manure and guano were carried. Passengers were conveyed from Port Elphinstone to the neighbourhood of Kittybrewster, within 2 miles of Aberdeen. An Act of Parliament was obtained in 1796 for carrying out the work and for raising a capital of £20,000 in £50 shares. From various causes the whole amount was not raised, and in 1801 another Act was obtained enabling the company to raise another £20,000. In 1809 a 3rd Act was obtained to raise money for completing the work to the best advantage of the company, and in all the canal cost £44,000. The undertaking involved no engineering difficulty. The Canal was 18 miles long, 17 feet wide, and 3ft deep, though the width was afterwards increased to 23 feet and the depth to nearly 4 feet. There were no tunnels, deep cuttings, or high embankments ; but there were 56 bridges over it and 5 culverts for burns under it, which caused great expense. The most expensive part of the work was the locks for raising barges and boats from the lower end of the Canal at the Harbour of Aberdeen to the level of the Don below Inverurie. Of these there were 17 in number, each 60 feet long, and they had a lift of about 9 feet. The 2 at Stoneywood were each 16 feet deep. The Canal began at the Don just below the bridge near Inverurie, but the working terminus was at Port Elphinstone, a mile from Inverurie. The origin and growth of Port Elphinstone were entirely due to the Canal Here commercial companies had stores within which barges could be taken, and they were expeditiously loaded with grain led down in shutes from lofts above. The Canal kept to the West side of the Don, at a gradually increasing height above the river, because there were few locks till Aberdeen was approached, whereas the river was constantly falling ; but though the distance from the river varied with the contour of the land, the Canal was never far from the river, and it was within a mile of the Don at Woodside. It passed along the west side of Kintore, winding in and out of little valleys to save cuttings and embankments. Its bed may be seen here and there between Kintore and Dyce, because it was too crooked for the railway to follow it closely.
A little below Kintore
on the west side of the
railway may be seen a red- tiled house, with a pavilion roof, one of the few
belonging to the canal still to be seen. At Greenbank, near Stoneywood, there
were 2 locks. North of Bankfoot the canal was between the turnpike and the
railway. It crossed the Bucksburn by an aqueduct a little to the west of the
Railway. At Haudagain there was another lock. This comical name is a good
example of the change a Gaelic name may undergo in passing into English. The
original form had been "Achadh a' Gabhainn," meaning a place where there was a
fold. There are other names in Aberdeenshire with the same meaning and nearer
the original form. From Haudagain, for some distance onward, the Canal kept
close to the line of the turnpike road. A hundred years ago what is now the town
of Woodside had hardly begun its existence. There was a solitary place called
Woodside, west of Deer Road and near the riverside. East of Deer Road and near
the river there was another solitary place called Printfield; and east of
Street there was a 3rd place called Upper Cotton. It had nothing to do with
cotton or its manufacture, for it was a corruption of a Gaelic word " cuitan "
meaning small fold. In the course of 50 years there had sprung up along Great
Northern Road 3 villages:- Woodside, west of Deer Road, also called
Street; Printfield, east of Deer Road, also called Hadden Street; and
east of Don Street, also called Wellington Street. These 3 streets are now
collectively called Great Northern Road, and the 3 separate places now
collectively bear the name of Woodside. At Barron Street the Canal was near the
road ; at Hadden Street it was at the north end of the gardens, and its track
was unoccupied with buildings for a considerable time, though it is not so now;
at Wellington Street and on to Kittybrewster the Canal kept quite close to the
road. At Fullerton Road, often called the Brae Road, there was the
still standing, but originally it had a red-tiled pavilion roof. Passengers were
not carried further than this house, which is 2 miles from the Harbour, as may
be seen by a milestone bearing the figure 2 at the edge of Great Northern Road.
It had been allowed to remain when the other Canal milestones were removed,
because it had been supposed to be a road mile-stone. As the Canal charges were
by the mile it was necessary to show distances along the whole line of the
canal. No 1 milestone was above Mounthooly Bridge. No 8 is shown on the 6-inch
Ordnance Survey Map, east of the Railway. At the Boat-House there were usually
numerous on-lookers, and amongst them often one or more of Aberdeen's
Dickensian "Odd-fellows," whose likenesses may be seen near the entrance to the
Department of the Public Library, willing to play the fiddle, sing, or dance for
coppers from the passengers.
The sight of women doing their washing often gave rise to ribald gatherings of lecherous men as a Spectator Sport. Tucking their skirts in their bloomers and dancing on the sheets before Brassieres could contain their figures must have been quite an attraction.
Journal" takes notice of cases of green-stripping, or theft of clothes left by
washers to bleach on the greens near the canal. This was attributed to drunken
"limmers," who spent their last penny on drink at night, and rising next day with
an unquenchable thirst were impelled, "improba fauce," to go out prowling for
something to steal and pawn, and as the greens were outside the town they were
visited. To protect the bleaching clothes girls were sometimes left in charge,
but if the watcher were too small the thieves had little scruple in stripping
her too. At the beginning of last century water was scarce in Aberdeen, and
great annual family blanket washings were often carried out at the canal side.
On such occasions it was customary for two young women to tramp the blankets in
a large tub. They stood side to side facing different ways, and having kilted
their petticoats they joined hands behind their backs and went round and round
in the tub. This was done in most cases away from roads, and the women were not
molested; but some women washing on the canal bank where it was crossed by
Street were for a time annoyed by lads who sat on the parapet of the bridge,
with their feet dangling above the water, and chatted and laughed at the
washers. One day while this was going on at the dinner hour, a young man -
admirer and probably at the instigation of the girls - came along and shoved the middle-most
off the parapet into the water and ran off. The others hurried down to get their
companion out, and meanwhile the girls' friend got safely away.
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