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Castlehill

Castle Street, and later area known as Castlegate (or the way to the castle), is 1st referred to as a Market Place in 1393, although it had undoubtedly developed that role prior to that date. Two ‘ports’ or gates controlled the entry to the Town and Market place at this location.  Justice Port lay on Justice Street, to north of the area, while Futtie Port lay on Futtie Wynd, which linked Aberdeen southwards with the neighbouring fishing settlement of that name. Aberdeen’s Castle itself is not well documented, but was clearly in existence by 1264, when the Exchequer Rolls give detail of costs for its provisioning and for building, probably in fact repair work. It still stood in July 1308, when Edward II instructed the gathering of resources to assist in the raising of the siege there. There is no known documentary evidence for the Castle later than that date and it was levelled after a successful rout by Robert the Bruce in 1308.

The 1st Castle on this site may have been a timber castle of the Motte and Bailey Norman style. The 1st evidence for a stone castle on this site comes from the mid 13th century when it was repaired by Richard Cementarius (Richard the Mason) in 1264. Richard has been claimed to be the 1st Provost of Aberdeen. At the time the title was Alderman, but it is still not true to say that he was the 1st Alderman: it would seem more correct to say that he was the 1st person whose name has been associated with that position to come down to us. However, that is not true either, in all the contemporary records about him he is simply styled as a Baillie and Burgess.  As no water could be found within the Castlehill other than rainwater it could never resist a seige.

In
1264 there was also a
Chapel in the Castle. Despite the fact that this is the only reference to an individual building in the Castle we can safely assume that there were several other buildings inside its outer walls, such as a great hall, an armoury, kitchens, bedrooms, a dungeon (or prison cell of some variety) and stables. The Castle remained, for the duration of its existence, the property of the Monarch. In this regard we can guess that certain other buildings may have been contained there: these would have included the town's mint (Aberdeen's mint produced coins from around the later 12th century); the Exchequer and possibly some of the higher courts. The Castle would have been held for the king by a Castellan or keeper. 

The majority of what we know about the castle comes from the
Wars of Independence. Throughout this period Aberdeen's Castle was in English hands and was held for Edward I by a succession of English Keepers and Castellans. From June 1291 John de Guildford held Aberdeen's Castle for the English King. Whilst from 14 July to 19th 1296 Edward I stayed in Aberdeen: an anonymous chronicler who accompanied him wrote that in Aberdeen they found `bon chastell et bon ville sur la mer…'   In 1304 John de Strathbogie, 9th earl of Atholl, was the Scottish Castellan of the Castle for Edward, and he made repairs to the Castle. In 1306-7 Gilbert Pecche was Constable of the Castle and under him the garrison stationed in the castle was composed of 3 Knights, 20 Esquires, 12 Balisters and 20 Archers. In 1306 Robert the Bruce began his `rebellion' against Edward's invading army. By 1308, moving southwards from the north, Bruce's troops had arrived at Aberdeen. A siege of the Castle seems to have taken place sometime in early July 1308. Two letters dated 10 July, one from Edward II to William le Betour (Captain of his Navy) and one from Walter Reginald (Bishop Elect of Worcester) make suitable arrangements of men, money and ships to assist in raising the siege of the Castle. 

A later debenture written by
Gilbert Pecche, as a claim for back payment of wages, claims wages for the Garrison at Aberdeen's Castle between 8 July and 16 August. The debenture was written at Berwick on 14 November and it is tempting to assume based on the claim it contains that 16 August was the date that the English Forces were finally forced out of Aberdeen and its Castle.  Prior to 1308 the Castle had been a prominent landmark in Aberdeen and had consequently appeared as a property boundary in a number of documents and sasines. Exactly what happened to the Castle has been the subject of much speculation. It seems fair to say that the Castle was destroyed during the siege: it may have been the case that parts of its walls and foundations survived. Indeed a number of later documents do refer to features such as `Castle Dykes'. 

At any rate the controversy arose because it has been claimed that
Aberdonian Forces themselves overwhelmed the English troops and then levelled their own Castle so that if the English returned again then they would not be able to rule Aberdeen from the Castle. Moreover the story goes that the secret watchword which started off the attack was `Bon Accord': hence it is the town's motto.   It would not be unfair to state that there are a number of problems with this story. Firstly why would it have fallen to the Aberdonians to attack the castle? They were merchants; Bruce's troops were battle hardened. Secondly there is no contemporary evidence to connect the term Bon Accord to the story. The term first appears on a town seal dated 1430 some 122 years later. The story of the taking of the Castle first appears in the 1520's in Hector Boece's book The Lives of the Bishops of Aberdeen but without the use of the term Bon Accord (despite the fact that some historians still claim that Boece first mentioned the use of the term Bon Accord). The version of the story which includes the term does not seem to be any earlier (or later, depending how you view it) than the 17th century. Despite these facts the term Bon Accord remains the town's motto and despite its weak claim to historical veracity it remains an important part of how the Town views and projects its own past.

It is thought the Castle and fortifications were burned down by King Robert The Bruce in June 1308, during the Wars of Scottish Independence immediately following the Harrying of Buchan Bruce and his men laid siege to the Castle before massacring the English Garrison to prevent its use by Edward ll English troops. It is said the Scots showed no mercy "slew every man who fell into their hands.  Edward I., indeed had already set the example of executing his prisoners, and it was not to be expected that the other side would fail to follow the same course" On 10 July 1308, English ships left Hartlepool to help the English Garrison. However by August 1308, Gilbert Pecche and the last troops had all been forced out of the city. Following the destruction of Aberdeen Castle, Bruce marched his men to capture the Castle of Forfar.  Legend tells that the City's motto, Bon Accord came from the password used to initiate Bruce's final push and destruction of the Castle.

Patersons Map of 1746


Castle Hill Barracks

A Castle stood here from the 1100's.The barracks were erected in 1794 and used by the Gordon Highlanders until 1935. After many years of neglect they were demolished in 1965 to provide space for a pair of tower blocks.

The Infantry Barracks, on the crest of the Castle Hill, stands on the site of a Castle erected as early as 1150.  The Barracks as built from 1764 and completed in 1796 at a cost of £16,000, formed a plain winged oblong of 3-storeys, but were greatly enlarged by the block added (1880-81) at a further cost of £11,000, with a frontage to Justice Street of 138½ feet.-The King Street Militia Barracks were erected in 1863 at a cost of £10,000 in the old Scottish Castellated style: the Rifle and the Artillery Volunteers had drill-halls in Blackfriars and Queen Streets.

The Barracks replaced the Chapel of St. Ninian and an Observatory erected in 1781. The foundation stone was laid on 24th June 1794 by the Marquis of Huntly and it was completed early in 1796, with accommodation for 600 men. The picture is interesting, as it shows the line of Hangman's Brae, which descended from the south west corner of the Hill to Castle Lane and into Virginia Street. It was partly absorbed into the construction of Castle Terrace in 1864.

The Barracks, which stood on the Castle Hill, was erected in 1796, and is capable of accommodating 600 men. The situation is airy and healthy, and the design of the building considered good for the times,  It became notoriously a bad slum in the late 1940's and 50's such is the durability of Granite over 200 years.

Early Map

This Litho dated 1850 indicates the south facing upper level Barracks and upper tier road some 4 Metres below it, showing a natural slope down to Park Lane on the right which was between Castle  Hill and Heading Hill.  Since then a  2nd nether tier was added with a granite rampart defining the roads and the houses swept away.  The corner building of the Barracks would have been where the 1781 Observatory was. This lower tier perhaps instigated and infilled by Cromwell's Forces who made major improvements by way of Artillery positions on the upper tier to protect the Harbour on this natural Fortification was used as allotments during the 1939/45 War. Park Lane became Commerce Street due to harbour traffic and the link to North Street.  This area retained its spacious junctions and was a less steep route to the Harbour and Footdee with the link road to become Castle Terrace.  Some artistic License here as it looks into the Barrack Quadrangle and shows Tenements on the left which would have bordered on Virginia Street and or James Street if the perspective was correct.  They show outside stairs which was the norm for access to upper floors and a lighting Bracket that is nigh impossible to reach. The real topography of the land is much steeper and this may be better illustrated by the Castle Terrace and Commerce Street Junction which is shown below.  The slope is sectioned off into vegetable plots with drying greens behind the houses, one of which has a substantial framework or Whalebones represented.  A easterly path appears run up to the lower tier and the ocean abounds with ships.  Some trees are established on the western slope. a hint of further houses on the shorelands on the south side of what was to become Virginia Street are at the right edge of the picture.  Heading Hill is not vsible.

Image below taken from Castle Terrace/Commerce Street (formerly Park Lane and prior Justice Street) showing the old Barracks and the lower Bastion or rampart.  The new and lower long building was the mess and was in use for the  Meals Service for the surrounding Schools during the 1940/50's.  In old Scots, ‘gate’ or ‘gait’ meant road. Thus the Castlegate, once known as the Market Gate, was the road to the Castle, perched on the Castle Hill. The Castle dated from about 1150. It is mentioned as being repaired in 1264 by Richard the Mason, the Burgh’s first Provost, amongst others. It surrendered to the English, under King Edward I, in 1296. But, in 1308, Robert the Bruce with the support of the citizens of Aberdeen finally ousted the English garrison. He razed the Castle to the ground to prevent its re-fortification by the enemy, and the Castle Hill itself was reduced in height. A chapel to St. Ninian was built there in the 14th century.

The old church structure
formed a
Lighthouse to guide ships into Port.

Castle Hill Observatory
This wide cobbled area was amended with a triangular traffic island added at the end of Castle Terrace

The Ports or Gates
The Upper and Netherkirkgate were the roads ‘above’ and ‘below’ the Mither Kirk of St. Nicholas. The narrow street to the west of the Kirk nowadays known as Back Wynd used to be called Westerkirkgate.  The Upperkirkgate Port was the last of the six medieval town gateways to be demolished, sometime after 1794. It stood near the foot of the Upperkirkgate, just beyond No. 42, the gable-ended 17th century house which is still to be seen there now.  The original six ports – solid walls pierced by gateways – had become an obstruction to the flow of traffic, having been in existence from the first half of the15th century.  The other five ports were the Netherkirkgate Port, controlling movement around the north side of St. Katherine’s Hill; the Shiprow or Trinity Port, (hence Trinity House and Quay) checking entry from the south side of St. Katherine’s Hill and the harbour; the Justice or Thieves’ Port to the north-east of the Castlegate, demolished 1787; the Futty Port on Futty Wynd, to the south-east of the Castlegate, and the Gallowgate Port on Port Hill, controlling movement from Old Aberdeen and the North

1440 First written mention of the Justice Port or 'Thieves' Gate' where the dismembered limbs of felons were placed as a warning to others

Much later, the Castle Hill was re-fortified by Cromwell’s army, under General Monck, during their occupation of the town in the 1650s; they used stone purloined from the buttresses of St. Machar’s Cathedral and from the Bishop’s Palace in Old Aberdeen; this activity resulted in the collapse of the Cathedral’s central tower and spire in the gales of 1688. A military barracks was built within these Cromwellian fortifications.  In 1794 and was there­after occupied by the Gordon Highlanders. A Military Hospital was built on the adjacent Heading Hill in 1799; a cast-iron bridge, perhaps like the present pedestrian bridge, linked the Barracks to the Hospital. Some time before World War Two, the old barracks were turned into tenement housing and degenerated into slums. They were demolished in 1965 and replaced by the present twin blocks of flats. Part of the old surrounding wall of the Hanoverian barracks is still to be seen on the south-east side of the Castle Hill, just up from Castle Terrace.  A Short row of houses ran from the pedestrian Bridge in the top of the hill above Commerce Street Infants School and emerged at the crest of the Hanover Street near Hanover Lane.

Castle Hill and (Be)Heading Hill were places of judgement and execution, as during the witch-burning frenzy of 1590–7. The name ‘Heading Hill’ appears on old maps, but seems to have fallen into disuse. Open-air courts were held in the hollow between the two hills, now occupied by Commerce St. then Park Lane, whilst executions and witch-burnings took place on the ‘Heidin’ Hill’. The other main place of execution was in front of the Toll booth, latterly facing down Marischal St. Although the Tolbooth – known satirically as ‘The Mids o’ Mar’, meaning the heart of the province of Mar – was the town Prison, it had only limited capacity, and it cost too much to keep convicts in prison for long. Convicted criminals were mostly executed. The aristocracy were beheaded, by sword or, later, by Aberdeen’s own patent guillotine, the Maiden, last used in 1615; the blade is on display in Provost Skene’s House in the Guestrow  (A corruption of Ghaist or Ghost Row). Common criminals were hanged. The Town Hangman was allocated a small, isolated house on what became known as Hangman’s Brae, which descended from Castle Terrace to the present vicinity of Virginia Sreet. near the base of the flight of steps up to the top of the terrace brae to be seen there now. The office of Public Executioner was abolished in 1833 when the Council decided that it would be cheaper to hire such a person from some where else, as and when needed. In the event, the last public execution in Aberdeen took place in 1857.  Such an isolated house could have been The Angle - since demolished which stood at the top of Hangman's Brae.  The Executioner or Hangman could have been a rope maker or rigger and 'The Angle' a corruption of Angel (of Death) or an angular Gibbet). The only isolated structure on the Brae was the Scaffies Depot an equipment store and or Stabling structure for hand and horse drawn dustcarts of the district.  There was also a Well in Hanover Street called Angel's Well

Scaffies Hoose in Hangman's Brae, could be climbed by children from the sloping Green at the rear and had a corrugated iron roof concealed by a parapet where we could hide and do mischief and annoy the Scaffie's when they were in residence, brewing up, tooling up or resting.

The Castlegate had a pretty rough image, given its proximity to the Harbour and the Military Barracks of 1794 on Castle Hill and the associated problems of drunkenness and prostitution. The Salvation Army Citadel was built in the Castlegate in 1893-6 specifically in order to address these problems. The Barracks latterly became a form of slum housing, were demolished in the mid-1960s and replaced by the present Tower Blocks of Council flats, Virginia Court and Marischal Court, which overshadow and dominate the eastern aspect of the Castlegate thus cruelly dwarfing the Citadel. Contemporary photographs reveal the 18th-century Barracks as a handsome and impressive collection of typically Georgian buildings, which could surely have been converted into something more concomitant than the present Castle Hill tower blocks.


CASTLEHILL, CROMWELL'S BASTION

St Ninian's Chapel was 'enclosed with a sconce built with lyme and stone to a great height by the Englishes'. It was slighted by command of George (Moncke), Duke of Albemarle at the end of 1659, and the garrison removed. The South East bastion of this fortification still survives. The remains of the Cromwellian Citadel of 1651-2 comprise a low pentagonal bastion (subsequently raised) and two adjoining stretches of wall of pinned boulder rubble.

Fort, Cromwellian; Boundary Stones.  The Cromwellian fort at Aberdeen was built in the 1650s on the Castlehill, a bluff overlooking the harbour at the North East End of what is now Union Street / Castle Street. All that is visible of the fort today is a 4-facetted bastion at the South East corner, with short stretches of the adjoining walls. The battered walls are constructed of random rubble, with roughly dressed granite quoins at the angles of the bastion. Measuring up to 4M in height, the walls are also backed by a grass-grown embankment that supports a concrete pavement. Set into the walls at irregular intervals and at varying heights are 5 Boundary Stones. The stones are numbered from 5 to 9 and bear the incised initials WD (War Department) accompanied by an upward-pointing broad arrow, but the character of each is slightly different.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

This bastion is probably a feature of the original Fort, although a plan of 'The New Town of Aberdeen' by Gordon of Rothiemay dated 1661, shows the roughly square fort with a wedge-shaped demi-bastion projecting from each corner. In 1659 the Fort at had been 'slighted' on the orders of George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, and the English garrison was removed. It is not known to what extent the defences were demolished by this slighting, but a later plan of Aberdeen by Alexander Milne, dated 1789, shows that only the SE corner remained by the late 18th century.

This map again reproduces the wedge-shaped plan of the demi-bastion shown on Gordon of Rothiemay's map. Apart from St Ninian's Chapel (subsequently demolished), the interior of the fort at this time was empty, although an Observatory had been built on the top of the South East bastion, and the North West corner appears to have been partly built upon.  In the late 18th century the site of the derelict Fort was acquired by the Government as the location for a new Infantry Barracks, and on the 24th June 1794, the Duke of Gordon laid the foundation stone.

The barracks, which was designed to accommodate a garrison of 600 men in response to the perceived threat from France, was completed in 1796  A street-plan of Union Street and its vicinity, drawn by Thomas Fletcher in 1807 (Aberdeen Art Gallery), shows the position of the barracks, and the SE bastion had clearly been incorporated into the new structure. Fletcher's depiction obscures the shape of the SE bastion, but the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey 50-inch map (Aberdeenshire, 1871, sheet lxxv.11.14) shows it in more detail and confirms the present shape. Further, it shows that the Bastion was surmounted by the Barrack's Magazine. This detail confirms that the Bastion is probably an original feature of the Cromwellian fort, for the only reason to have rebuilt it in 1794-6 would have been as a gun platform.

The English troops remained in the town for many years, building a barrack for themselves on the Castle Hill, where the ancient records speak of a "Castle" in the time of Alexander III.  It is said that to further this work the Cromwellians did not scruple to take hewn stones from the wreckage lying about the despoiled cathedral in Old Aberdeen.  But they can not be much blamed for this, since many of the neighbouring proprietors had openly set them the bad example.

The Barracks stand near the site of the ancient chapel of St. Ninian, on the Castlehill, which, together with all the ground within the ramparts of the castle, was given to government for that purpose, by the magistrates and council of the city. They were erected in 1794, at an expense of nearly £18,000, and form a handsome range of buildings, containing, exclusively of the officers' apartments, accommodation for 600 men, with guard-room, chapel, infirmary, and other requisites, and an ample ground for parade The infantry barracks remained in use as the depot of the Gordon Highlanders until 1935, and it was demolished in 1965 to make way for a block of flats.

1802 Castlegate Riot – the Gordons Regiment stationed at the Castlegate Barracks come into conflict with locals and 4 people were killed. Need for established police force more evident than ever


George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle

Monck fought at Cromwell's side in Scotland at the Battle of Dunbar, a resounding victory.  Made commander-in-chief in Scotland by Cromwell, Monck completed the subjugation of the country.  In February 1652 Monck left Scotland to recover his broken health at Bath, and in November of the same year he became a general at sea. Next year he returned to Scotland, methodically beating down a Royalist insurrection in the Highlands. At Cromwell's request, Monck remained in Scotland as Governor.  In 1654, the timely discovery of a plot fomented by Robert Overton, his second in command, gave Monck an excuse for purging his army of all dissident religious elements, then called "enthusiasts", deemed "dangerous" to the Cromwell regime.  In 1655 Monck received a letter from Charles II, a copy of which he at once sent to the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who is said to have written to him in 1657: "There be [those] that tell me that there is a certain cunning fellow in Scotland called George Monck, who is said to lye in wait there to introduce Charles Stuart; I pray you, use your diligence to apprehend him, and send him up to me."

If the Duke of Albemarle's character is estimated from a view of his talents and courage as a commander, either of land or sea forces, he must rank very high in the scale of merit; but if we consider his worth as a statesman or as a private individual, he sinks decidedly to mediocrity. He was at first attached to the Royalist Cause; then he united with Cromwell whilst in the ascendant ; and, finally, when the popular feeling again vacillated to the Stuarts, he was judiciously active in securing the Restoration. It is possible that throughout he was a royalist - in that case he was base and perjured, for he took The Covenant; but the most probable conclusion to be drawn from the facts of his life is, that he was willing to be any thing by profession that would best serve his interests. If the characters of him, given by his friends, as well as by his enemies, be compared, they amount to this outline, that he was courageous, cunning, and selfish. He died in 1670.

Anne, his wife, had been his mistress.  Aubery says, that when Monk was confined in the Tower, his sempstress, Nan Clarges, a blacksmith's daughter, was kind to him in a double capacity. It must be remembered that he was then in want, and that he was indebted to her for substance. She became pregnant by him, though it is certain that he could not be fascinated either by her beauty or cleanliness. She never could lose the manners of her early life; but when of the highest dignity in the peerage gave way to the most violent bursts of rage, and when under their influence poured forth a most eloquent torrent of curse-sprinkled abuse. Her husband was unquestionably afraid of her; she was always a Royalist, and as he had a high opinion of her mental qualifications, she probably influenced him considerably in the course he adopted. If this is doubtful, it is not at all so that she aided with the utmost care and natural rapacity in obtaining all the rewards she could for his services.


The Castlehill Observatory

In 1780-81 Mathematical Professor Patrick Copland of the Marishal College raised a subscription of almost £400 to construct and furnish with the most up-to-date equipment, the 1st publicly funded Astronomical Observatory in Scotland. It was erected on the south-east corner of the Castlehill.  It housed a fine collection of instruments and accurate time pieces. It consisted of 3 rooms - 2 rooms 12 ft in diameter, with opening conical roofs, with the seaward roof rotating and the westward with fixed apertures for observations.  The instruments were removed in 1794 as a result of fortification of the Barracks under French Invasion threat and the transitional risk of theft of the valuable instruments it was removed to Marischal College. It stood until 1796 when under pressure from the Council to re-fortify the hill,

The Gordon Highlanders were, for nearly 200 years, North-East Scotland’s own regiment. Kilts require regular care and maintenance, particularly if they are in daily use. A foot-operated treadle sewing machine is being operated by one of the tailors in the right of the picture. Castlehill Barracks were in occupation from the 1790s until 1935, when new premises were built at the Bridge of Don. The Barracks themselves were demolished in 1965.

The Army Barracks were essentially lining 3 sides of the a large square and this photo may be at the rear  adjoining justice street

 


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Last modified: 01/09/2013