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Castle Terrace - and Oor Greenie

This Illustration shows an impression of the Timber Castle on Castle Hill in the 14th Century before Bruce levelled it. The adjacent Heading Hill between which was to run Park Lane formerly Justice Street now Commerce Street.  The Futtie Port is shown on the corner of what was the Castlegate Justice Street is shown top left running towards the Links.  The south facing slopes were laid to gardens and Horticulture with small boats operating on the shorelands that lapped  the Virginia Street area before land was reclaimed by the harbour development and diversions of the Denburn.  Much civil engineering works were employed in the 17th Century to create the Castle Ramparts and the Tiers that formed Cromwell's Bastion harbour defences and created Castle Terrace as the main thoroughfare to Fittie..

Futtie Wynd looped downwards across the lower slope green to the Castle Lane - (Hangmans Brae) - and a reclaimed Virginia Street long before the Virginia Steps were constructed to enable labour to get to the harbour easily.  It was originally the route to the then shorelands.  An area 11.1m long, 1.5m wide and 1.2m deep was excavated. Below the disturbance caused by various services lay a badly disturbed road surface consisting of well worn stones and large beach pebbles, with a few shards of 14th-century pottery. Immediately underlying this road was a much cruder road surface. Research suggests that this was the original Futty Wynd which led from the Castlegate to Futty. Prior to the construction of the terrace roads, the area had been used as a midden. In places 0.73m of midden deposits were revealed, including a shell midden filled with mussel shells, animal bones, a large number of pottery shards and a few oyster shells. The pottery from this horizon ranged in date from the late 13th to mid 14th-century. The area had been quarried for clay before the midden was created

Early Map

Castle Terrace actually ran from the Castlegate down the hill with a rising 0 to 20 ft Castle Terrace rampart on the left and with the 'Greenie' at a lower level below another terrace rampart tapering to a point at the gas lampost on a granite plinth at the top of Hangman's Brae,  The renamed Castle Lane ran from the point of the green diagonally  to foot of the Castle Hill to Virginia Street with the Scaffies Store on the right at the end of the retaining wall to the Greenie. The inhabited right side of the Terrace was a row of Aging Tenements broken only by a magnificent dressed block granite single storey house called The Angle (always seemed a mispelling to me).  This house was completely out of context with the remainder of the street buildings.  Was it the original Hangman's Abode? Angle for Gibbet or corruption of Angel of Death. George Washington Wilson's 'Birds Eye' view of 1850 shows the Castlegate end with the Old Records Building ad Justice Street beyond,  The top of Castle Terrace with the Sick Children's Hospital and the Castle Brae rise to the Barracks - Hospital extensions and Virginia Steps have yet to be built a has the Citadel.  The ground top the bottom right was a steep sloping green.

The Town Hangman was allocated a small, isolated house on what became known as Hangman’s Brae, which descended from the Terrace on the Castle Hill to the present vicinity of Virginia St. and ran from the main accommodation Terrace down to near James St at the base of the flight of Virginia Steps,  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 somewhere else, as and when needed.   In the event, the last public execution in Aberdeen took place in 1857.

Originally the site of a Brewery the empty building shells still existed as storage at the rear between Castle Terrace and Virginia St. The rest of the street was constructed with rough hewn granite blocks and infill all soot blackened rising to tower over Virginia Street and offer magnificent views over the Harbour and Piers to Girdleness Lighthouse in the Bay o' Nigg (Boil an Egg it sounded like to the English) - like an up-ended cigarette in the distance.  From there during humid weather came the Moo of the Torry Coo bellowing a warning to ships in the fog of impending doom on the reefs.  Next door was a long since condemned Butchers Shop with recessed Doorway which was boarded up and remained that way till demolition when a new Harbour access was driven up the Hangman's Brae (Perhaps the local executioner was once a resident ships rigger there as it was less than a mile from the Gallowgate or the Toll Booth).  Beyond the Robertson's chip shop the Terrace C1868 divided into 2 roads with a central triangular island a Keep Left sign stood opposite 'Tammy' Begg's Salvage store entrance - a dark foreboding place with a cantankerous old lady 'weightier' that we annoyed when we could and Tammy himself a man of authority as an ex flyweight boxer of old who also ran a boxing school for youngsters above the Ship Tavern in the Shiprow.  His Bar scales for weighing scrap and rags were such a mystery to operate that he must have robbed many a woollens or metals salvager by deft use of the balances and sliding counterbalances.

Cowgate ran from Justice Street to Park lane - (later Commerce Street)

1891 Brewery & dwelling house south side Castle Terrace (no decision) (1891)
Applicant: James Milne & Son
Architect: Mr A. Brown [Architect]
Date of decision: 23 April 1891

The Brewery site was actually at the Virginia Street Level in what we referred to as the Sunks, below the Terrace Dwellings which towered above it.  The Brewery roof was long gone and the recessed gables were roosts for pigeons.  My father bravely walked the length of the side wall to anchor his Radio Aerial which ran from our Dormer Window to the far side gable end to improve his radio reception which was the marvel of the day.  Emulating the aerial of a trawler with insulators and down wire..

Div y' min' on wash-hoose bilers, 
An' mungles sair tae ca'? 
An' squares o' P&J hung wi' string 
On a reed-ochered lavvy wa'?

The entrance to No 32 Castle Terrace was opposite the only other Gas Lamp and up 6 long granite steps next to the wall of Robertson's chipper (a perfect sun trap and view point for the seated kids in the sunshine).  A large ever open door leading into the Ground Floor lobby and then into the back yard through a closed door to a  backyard area (Backie) with tenants 3 coal cellars - lucky for some - 2 communal outside toilets and a Washhouse complete with 2 wooden sinks and huge stone enclosed Copper with a firing recess underneath with which to heat and or boil the water.  A collection of ancient wooden Mangles filled the space - aptly named as one could easily lose a finger to them either in the wooden rollers or indeed the gear wheels which I turned inadequately when I could while my mother fed in the wet clothes - 'skiting buttons' suddenly released would ping round the walls off the garments as they mis-presented themselves to the compressive forces meant to squeeze out the rinsing water.  This was run off into a pail for re-cycling or perhaps rinsing the steps or scrubbing the stairs.  Later innovations were rubber roller wringers which were kinder to the buttons which themselves had begun to be made of rubber for the same reasons.  No less than eight families lived in small bed strewn flats - bedsitters in fact with 'but and ben' rooms.  Everything was always Ben the Hoose never But.  No Internal Toilets - Pails and Po's were overnight constant companions, more so, subject to the season.  The lower levels had running water within their flat - lead pipework but those in the attics had none as water pressure limited the sink to a corner half way down the uppermost flight of stairs.  A black iron sink which was the universal ablution centre in the Summer.  A rota decided your washday and when you could hang the washing 'oot in the Backie' on a network of ropes, pulleys hooks and pegs.  Days were swopped if industrial working patterns or weather prevented its use.  Small basin hand washed clothes would be ingeniously suspended on ropes like a ships bow sprit and a wedged and notched timber brace against the Dormer Windae.  Others where adjacent backs allowed would have looped pulleys that paid out the washing to mercy of the winds between the tenement buildings oe'r the common Backie's or former vehicle Courts.  Street Singers made use of these resonant courts as means of income and would sing romantic ballads to a host of faces and folded arms at windows who would eventually shower them with coppers if they were any good with particular renditions or requests. The street Attic window looked out onto the second tier of Castle Hill and was my view point for VE day Parades - waving my wee union jack on a stick at the passing soldiers who marched down for their main parade at the Castlegate and Union Street to some assembly point at Kings Links where there were many Nissen huts below the Broad Hill for training or billeting facilities.

18 September 1919 Building Warrant: alterations at 3 Castle Terrace
Applicant: Directors of Aberdeen Maternity Hospital
John Rust, Architect
Date of approval: 18 September

3 Castle Terrace stood behind gates at the highest point of the Terrace where the Futty Port would have been  and was still a Maternity Unit albeit then only perhaps Administration of the Midwives between my observations 1941-52.  It was adjacent to 'Cocky' Hunters Emporium and Depository and it had a small quadrangle for the odd car and was haven for off street football till you were encouraged to leave.

6-8 Maternity Hospital - (some contradiction or renumbering)

10-12 Sick Children's Hospital  - 1877 Aberdeen Hospital for Sick Children opens in Castle Terrace

19 December 1938 alterations to premises in Castle Terrace
Applicant: Alexander Hunter, dealer (Cocky Hunter)
Architect: Watt & Stewart, architects
Date of approval: 19 December

Another Tenement adjacent to 'Cockies' which was former outpatients section converted for housing.  I received my first snotty kiss from Alice Hunter behind the entrance door and at her invitation..  Wide and capacious but the steep Virginia Steps ran form the top of the Terrace down to James Street past the then neglected Gordons Barracks Church whose grounds were accessible via a scalable pointed wall and would provide a secret playground.  The building close to Virginia Street thought to be a disused church running parallel with Virginia Steps was well secured and awaiting the adoption by the Swedish Sailors as a place of worship.  No evidence of any graveyard although there was access to the Greenie half way down by the gas lamp and also from the foot of the stairway which may suggest the Curly Cail garden plots may once have been the Futtie Wynd before succumbing to local needs for growing plots and eventually housing 3 air raid shelters that survived the war for some 5 years before they themselves were removed as stinking eyesores and casual toilets. The upper terrace ran wild with bushes on the upper slopes but as it flattened out and curved round Commerce Street these gave way to cultivated allotments with sheds and piles of soot used to darken and condition the soil after being 'weathered'.  These were accessed from the Cast Iron bridge across Commerce Street which had steps on each side.  Thick Ivy festooned the upper rampart edges and was alive with sparrows.  As the street was with Pigeons - na na - thae be cushie doos.

1884 Building Warrant: alterations on Gordon's Chapel, Castle Terrace
Drawing: of the fever ward and the connecting passage, Sick Children's Hospital
Applicant: Directors of Sick Children's Hospital
Architect: Matthews and Mackenzie
Date of decision: 2 October

Gordon's Chapel may have been the Barracks Church and what was to become the Swedish Sailors Church which is pictured above and may have been annexed as a 'fever' ward.  That Scarlet Fever - of which my neighbour Peter Ross (then 7yrs) was a victim but survived due to a community vigil while he screamed in agony and the use of a new Antibiotic - Penicillin.  Scarlet Fever is a disease caused by exytoxin released by Sterptococcus pyogenes. Once a major cause of death, it is now effectively treated with antibiotics.  The term scarlatina may be used interchangeably with scarlet fever, though it is commonly used to indicate the less acute form of Scarlet Fever that is often seen since the beginning of the 20th century

The description of Castle Terrace running to Fish Street is interesting as it was largely traversed by Commerce Street the suggested stair to 'Cow Gate' from Hangman's Brae (Castle Lane) is news to me but that was a 100 years before and could have been in the top Castlegate end of the triangular Greenie.  The slopes were indeed south facing and certainly grew lots of grass in my time and the soil was easily excavated as we dug many a trench.  On the other side of Commerce Street which was wide and dangerous crossing because of the Hanover Street junction and led to St Nicholas Church opposite which was another tenement and adjacent Commercial Bar - later the Crows NestFish Street was alive and well - placed in front of the noisy marshalling yards and the adjacent Tarry Brig.  There was an old Police Box before the St Nicholas Church which has a state of the art door operated emergency Telephone no doubt deemed necessary by the wide street crossing difficulties in heavy commercial traffic - one old lady came to grief 'jinking' a motor cycle alas without success in my childhood years.

Staircase at the end of the Tarry Brig at the end of Castle Terrace which led down to a row of tenements in Bannermill Street.  This was an isolated lower level street that overlooked the GNR marshalling yards between it and Fish Street. We watched the trains through the railings Billy Milne and Bobby Mann lived there.  Their backies ended on Cotton Street wall.  The advertising was typical of the day and all gable ends were employed in this manner to decorate or enhance the slums.  Booze Fags and Chocolate - Lead on MacDuff.

These tenements were probably built for Mill Workers at the Banner Mill Cotton Works at the end of Constitution Street - hence Cotton Street






The new carriageway that demolished the Swedish Church, Greenie, Hangman's Brae with the Scaffies Depot and the housing of the past families of Castle Terrace - it's a awa Min - ach - knocket doon!
The hanging ivy was oft set on fire by smokers and led to attendance by the Fire Brigade complete with leaky hoses which were much fun for street bairns to stamp on and stop the flow of water from the street hydrants.  Before the ubiquitous motor car the street was a virtual playground for chalked hopscotch 'Beddies' and a source of Tarballs (Ex Tarmacadam) to throw at your enemies.  Butter is a good solvent for removing tar from the fingers.

The Granite Block Ramparts to the terraces went up 3 levels at the Commerce Street side a formidable imposing hill for a Cromwellian Fortification and later Military Barracks.  The Barracks Mess was still used for School Dinners in the 1940's but the Barracks accommodation was inhabited by homeless families or gypsy's and were approached from Castle Hill Brae right of the Citadel; also from the rear from the middle of Justice Street.  A tortuous route from the Hanover Street School in Albion Street, up Justice Street to a gap in the high east wall that then led up steps and through the dark green lobbies of the Barracks offering many scenes of degradation, making my own Spartan conditions look like comparative luxury.  The Council installed children's slide shute, roundabout and swings on leading edge of the Barrack Square looking towards the Harbour. One could imagine catapulting over the fence down into the lower road.

1881 Building Warrant: shop in passage at South-west side of Castle Terrace
Applicant: James Chivas
W. and J. Smith
Date of decision: 28 July 1881 (approved)
Drawing: 22 July

The only Shop in Castle Terrace was an old condemned Butcher Shop which was used for Storage of potatoes - perhaps for Edith's Green Grocers in Commerce Street or Robertson's Chip Shop in the Terrace.  It was fully boarded up and no Passage was present.  The recess or the 'Butchers Doorie' was a useful shelter and umbrella in the rain.  There was no passage or pend in the 1940's.

Nigh forgotten and now perhaps ghostly Family Names of the Castle Terracer's
Ina and Josie Harper, The Herberts, Audrey Ian and Brian, Ian 'Fishy' Fraser, John Johnstone, Billy Merson, Sandy Robertson, Annie, big Peter, Alan and Peter Ross, Clara Powdrill, Alfie Pearson, Bell & Jake, Bill and Charlie Leiper, Wullie & Jean Thom and son Hughie, Alistair Duncan, The Dalgarno's, the Wifie & Mannie Connan, the Fettes's Alma and Norma and of course the wild Fowler's - Alex, Frances and children, Jack, Sandy and Eddie.  .

Aberdeen Streets 1837

Virginia St. was laid down in the mid-18th century on the reclaimed Shorelands, as were Commerce St., Sugarhouse Lane, Water Lane, Mearns St.( formerly a narrow Pork Lane), James St. and the lower end of Marischal St.  Until then, the waters of the harbour had extended to the foot of the Castlehill at high tide.   The name of Virginia Street, refers to the expanding trade with the Americas, as does that of nearby Sugarhouse Lane.

Old Castle Terrace Area 1866

Shows Justice Port, Futtie Port and Castle Brae (old Futtie Wynd) and Castle Lane - better known locally as Hangman's Brae
Castle Street, from Union Street to Justice Street, Castle Brae, Castle Terrace
Castlehill (Terrace above the lower Rampart), from Castle Brae to Park Lane (Upper Section of Commerce Street)
Cowgate, or Coo's Gate from Justice Street to Park Lane (Wales Street became an Abattoir area).
Castle Lane, from Castle Terrace west to Virginia Street

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Last modified: 01/09/2013