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The Doric Columns

The Castlegate ~ 158ft 7" wide

Mercat Crosses - Flesh 3 and Fish 4 with the Castle Hill in 1661 as recorded by Parson James Gordon's map with numbered locations.

2 is the Flesh Stocks, 3 is the Flesh Merkatt Crosse, 4 is the Fish Merkatt Crosse, 5 is the Futty Porte, 6 is the Earl Marischal's House, 7 is the Laird of Pettfoddels House, 8 is the Site of Rwins of the Templars Tower (Within a Square), 9 is the Rwins of the Old Castell Wall, !0 is the Castell Chapel within a new Sconce.

Judging by the proximity of the Tollbooth the Castlegate area was clearly greatly extended eastwards.  Justice Street, Park Lane were the former names of the Commerce Street later formed between the Castle and Heading Hills.  Gordon places the Knights Templar Ruins nearer to the Model Home in East North Street than is otherwise claimed for Justice Street. (See No.6 top left of Gordons Map above)

Kennedy's " Annals " says that a branch of the Templars was established in Aberdeen and had a Convent and a Church situated at the East end of the Castlegate, in the lane which was formerly called Skipper Scott's Close, and Dr Alexander Walker believed that the Catholic Chapel of Justice Street had been built upon the site of the Templars' Church.  

St Peter´s was the 1st permanent Catholic Church to be erected in Aberdeen after the Reformation. The 3 bay Gothic Church was designed by James Massie and built in 1803.  The present building was erected on the site of the 1774 Church.  In 1860 the Church closed, although No 2 Chapel Court was used as a Boys´ school and the Church was retained as its Chapel.  In 1862, a Colony of Sisters arrived from Hammersmith in 1862 to occupy the Presbytery and the building is indicated on the 1st Edition Map of 1866-8 as a Home for the Aged and Infirm. The church was closed again in 1872 and finally re-opened in 1880.

In the late 15th or early 16th century a Chapel dedicated to St Ninian was placed on Castle Hill, as successor to the Castle Chapel.  In the 16th century the chapel was converted into a lighthouse and in the 17th century used as a place for the ceremonial laying out of the dead.  In the 1650s Castle Hill was fortified by Cromwell’s troops, using some stone quarried from the ruined chancel of St Machar’s Cathedral.  Some of those fortifications are said to be represented by the existing southern boundary wall which overlooks Castle Terrace. The chapel was eventually demolished in 1794 to make way for a Barracks Complex, replaced in the 1960s by the present high-rise housing. The area of the present site is shown to be occupied by a number of buildings on the earliest map of Aberdeen produced by Parson James Gordon of Rothiemay in 1661. Before the construction of the Salvation Army Citadel, the Old Record Office of 1789 stood on the site.

Alexander Milne's Map of 1789 showing the Chapel and Observatory with more familiar topography defining Castle Terrace, Commerce Street, Justice Street and East North Street


Irivine's view of Castle Street - 1812 with the New Inn centre and the Castle Gate Well to the Right seemingly foreshortened in width and with recessed facade.

The Market Cross is in its original position opposite the Tolbooth with its arches bricked up with doorways on each side functioned once as a post office and the Castle Gate Well - with the lead Mannie figure - is in its original position in the foreground where women are collecting water and a gentleman waits for his appointment. The New Inn, built by the Freemasons in 1755, on the east side of the Tolbooth was visited by James Boswell and Dr Johnson in 1773; the Freemasons had their Lodge on the top floor, hence the now adjacent arch leading to Lodge Walk. The New Inn was replaced by the North of Scotland Bank, later the Clydesdale Bank, built in 1839-42 as the corner piece of Castle Street & King Street.  It is now a large impressive interior pub named after its illustrious architect, Archibald Simpson and displays the former wealth of the banks.

About the middle of the 14th century a public clock had been placed in the Tolbooth; but so little progress had the mechanical arts made in Aberdeen, or indeed in Scotland, that in the beginning of the 15th century, when it required repair, it was found necessary to send it to Flanders for that purpose.

In 1802, the celebration of the anniversary of the King's birthday terminated in a melancholy and fatal manner, in consequence of some of the Officers of the Ross and Cromarty Rangers, at that time quartered in the Barracks, having become intoxicated while drinking the King's health in the Town-house. On their appearing in this inebriated state in the street, they were pelted by some idle boys, on which they immediately ordered out the regiment, and fired on the crowd assembled in the Castle Street, 4 of whom were killed and a good many wounded. It was found necessary, in order to avert further evil, to remove the Regiment from the Town next morning. The Officers and some of the soldiers who were most immediately implicated were apprehended, and soon after ordered to be sent to Edinburgh for trial, but about 2 months after, the Lord Advocate declined to prosecute any of them.

The citizens, much dissatisfied at this, raised a subscription for the purpose of prosecuting them at the instance of those whose relatives had been killed, and 3 Officers and 2 Sergeants were brought to trial, but after a trial of 2 days, 2 of the Officers were found not guilty, and the verdict was not proven as regarded the 2 sergeants; the other Officer did not stand his trial, and was outlawed.

Antiquarian Gleanings

An engraving exists of the Mercat Cross, while in the Castle Street location again bricked up arches with windows, public booth and door at the time when it was in use as a Post Office. Engraving by J. Swan of Glasgow, and based on a drawing by George Smith, architect of Aberdeen is dated 1822 and shows it guarded by soldiers. The Market Cross opened as a Post Office on 10 April 1822 with Alexander Dingwall as Postmaster.

The Book of Bon Accord

Castle Street Mercat and the Mercat Cross (bricked up archways) in its original position opposite the Tolbooth with a large lamp standards to illuminate the late day gloom in both Castle Street and the CastlegateThe New Inn (now replaced by Archibald Simpson's Bank) extends from the Tollbooth and the Old Records Office precedes the CitadelMarischal Street is evident and the Gallows site would have been opposite near the standard lamp for Public Executions.  Much hustle and bustle on and near the Plainstones with the artists viewpoint in front of the Atheneum looking towards the ForumWattie Leith a drummer stands to left and a Highland Soldier to the centre no doubt offering the Kings Shilling in a Recruiting drive.  Interesting piles of goods or rag cloth lie in the dirt.  Castle Hill Barracks not yet built.  Wide steps run up to the Sentry present pediment doorway of the Tollbooth no doubt where proclamations were read.  It appears the archway to Lodge Walk was already there. A man on a Pony appears to be seeking directions from the Rev. Alex Ralcock, Episcopal Minister, John Ewen, a silversmith, printer and Seaton's patron is addressing the ladies, As for John Milne, the hangman he may be in discussion with the Gordon Highlander.

Thomas Menzies of Pitfoddel, one of Aberdeen's wealthiest merchants of the time, moved from his long-standing Town House on Castle Street (which is now the site of the North of Scotland Bank on the right) to a 5-bay 2-storey house on Belmont Street in 1788.

Pitfodel’s Lodging of 1530, the town house of the Menzies family of Pitfodels, a 3-storey turreted building, the 1st private residence in Aberdeen to be built of stone after its predecessor was destroyed by fire in 1529.   Pitfodels Lodging in Castle Street was one of the earliest stone dwelling houses in the Aberdeen of the Middle Ages.  William Jamesone, Master Mason, the grandfather of portrait painter, George Jamesone built a stone townhouse for the Menzie's in 1535 to replace a wooden structure burned down 5 years' previously.  It had a long back garden, like many of its neighbouring houses, stretching down to the Quay.  Later, the Jacobite John Menzie had a back extension added in 1740.  The 'court' which was accessed from the archway or close on Castle Street was called Victoria Court by the 1860s and still exists today.  The Lodging was demolished in 1800 and replaced the following year 1801 by the premises of the Aberdeen Banking Co., from 1849 the (Union) Bank of Scotland.   The power and influence of the Menzie's family had long been in decline by this time, and their old motte-and-bailey Castle at Pitfodels, a stone-built Towerhouse, was in ruins.   The associated earthworks were still to be seen at what became the entrance to the Norwood House Hotel until the 1970s, but not much is left there now.  The Castle occupied a prominent position overlooking the River Dee. The Castle originally belonged to the Murray family, passing in the late 14th century to the Reid family. The motte and bailey Castle has a summit diameter of 9m and originally controlled a nearby ford across the River Dee.  The family had, in fact, moved to Maryculter House in the early 17th century.   In 1805, John Menzies, the last of his line, put the lands of Pitfodels up for sale (and also those of Maryculter, 6 years later) and, in 1806, purchased No. 37 Belmont St. (Lizars); this house had been built in the 1770s and thus pre-dates Belmont St. itself, which was laid down in 1784, well before Union St.   In 1831, John Menzies donated his mansion and lands at Blairs to the Catholic Church for use as a College, and moved to Edinburgh.   He died there without heirs, the last of the Menzies dynasty, in 1843, receiving a spectacular Catholic funeral.   Up to about 1715, the deceased members of the Menzies family were buried in 'Menzies Isle' within St Nicholas Kirk; thereafter in the Kirk-yard, but latterly at the 'Snow Kirk' in Old Aberdeen, just off College Bounds, where the Menzies family grave remains prominent.

Earl Marischal’s Hall, dating from about 1540 and next to Pitfodel’s Lodging on the south (harbour) side of the Castlegate; this was the town house of the Keith's, the Earls Marischal. It had been the Abbot of Deer’s Townhouse, but became the property of the Keiths following the Reformation. It consisted of a group of buildings surrounding a central courtyard with gardens attached.  It is from this house that Mary Queen of Scots is believed to have witnessed the beheading of Sir John Gordon in 1562 following the defeat of the Gordons of Huntly at the Battle of Corrichie. Earl Marischal’s Hall was purchased by the Town Council and demolished in 1767 to allow ‘the opening up of a passage from the Castlegate to the shore (or harbour) and erecting a street there’, being Marischal Street., built 1782. Before then, there had been no direct route from Castle Street to the Quay, and the growth of Trade at the Harbour made a new street absolutely necessary. Marischal Street. was (and is now) a flyover, possibly the 1st such in Europe, vaulting Virginia St. by means of ‘Bannerman’s Bridge’. It was also the 1st street in Aberdeen to be paved with squared granite setts, the 1st street of the ‘new’ Aberdeen, and it is the only complete Georgian Street remaining in Aberdeen today.

 Mercat Cross winter scene looking North

High Level view of the Castlegate pre the Citadel showing the fence encircled Mercat Cross, no doubt to prevent urination and prostitution from using as a haven when the Barracks were occupied by soldiers.  The Old Records Office on the top of a wider Justice Street; once also a Police Station it appears to have 3 colour granite facade with roof level balustrade and portico. Shops and a Public House are adjacent. Taken from a viewpoint above the Tolbooth complete with a distorted flagpole.  The Chimney Stacks are prominent and one is actively belching smoke from the Footdee side of Heading Hill for some forgotten industry.  The tenements to the right cast dark shadows at a near mid-day time and yet the area is sparsely occupied other than by Hackney Carriages.  The links are apparent in the distance; Chimney Stacks and lums abound as do gas street lamps.  Distant roofs of Castle Terrace are evident.  There was a Pawnbrokers Shop in a 2 storey storage warehouse in Albion Street  near where Hanover Street School was built.

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 1st half of the 15th century.  The other 5 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.

Rolland's Lodging
36-38 'Castle Street'. This 16th century twin-gabled building was the town house of the Rolland family of Disblair. It was once the home of Advocate Patrick and Margaret Pirie (heiress to to Stonywood Paper Mills).  It was demolished in 1935 and the headquarters of the Aberdeen Association of Social Services (now Voluntary Service Aberdeen) occupies the site. The un-rendered facade shows Fraser's Tea Shop and a Wholesale and Retail Fruit Merchants with the Aberdeen Loan Company also making its usary presence on the market square.  The rendered facade photo shows McKenzie and Stephen, furniture store in the Left Gable at No.36.  There appears to be a gated Close or Pend between that and the now Central Fruit Store occupying the next Gable on the Right No.38 - later closed and an extension to the furniture shop.  The vacant ground space left after demolition was used for a time by tourist coaches offering Deeside or Mystery Tours into the countryside for those who did not own cars well into the 40's. 
This typical gable end  facing the street in the manner of the Medieval `Burgage'. It was therefore a rare and significant example of the Medieval streetscape. `Burgage' plots incorporated the need to still cultivate land within the town and generally related to the width of the house, with long plots running some distance from the back of the house. The original Backlands plot entrance would have been through the Pend and ran steeply down towards Virginia Street. The Fish Restaurant on the left of No. 36 was a home made Sweetie Shop in the 1940's and the curved window was still a feature of the shop front - 2d of smush please. (broken sweet remnants from display trays).  Ach - Knocket Doon.

The Castlegate before the Citadel was built with the Old Records Office built 1779 which became the Aberdeen General Dispensary on the left and the Mercat Cross and the Duke of Gordon Monument ring fenced to keep the urinating abusers and prostitutes at bay.  Two Fittie Quines with creels selling 'Fish' perhaps Parten Crabs or Boiled Molluscs - Buckies.  The Hackney Carriages serve the public as they in turn are served by the the standing 'cab rank' now visible from street level behind the statue..  The long Exposure has created Ghostly images - we hope.  The principal family seat was Gordon Castle. The Dukedom became extinct in 1836, along with all the titles created in 1684 and 1784.

Nathaniel Parker Willis, the American journalist, has left us with an interesting account of life at Gordon Castle in the twilight years of the 5th Duke's life. He described the "canonically fat porter" at the lodges who admitted him to a "rich private world peopled by ladies cantering side-saddle on palfreys, ladies driving nowhere in particular in phaetons, gentlemen with guns, keepers with hounds and terrier at heel, and everywhere a profusion of fallow deer, hares and pheasants. At the Castle were a dozen lounging and powered menials." Willis continued: "I never realised so forcibly the splendid results of wealth and primogeniture." Just before dinner the Duke called at his room, "an affable white-haired gentleman of noble physiognomy, but singularly cordial address, wearing a broad red ribbon across his breast, and then led him through files of servants to a dining room ablaze with gold plate

Trams and subterranean public toilets arrive and a multi-head water dispensing Fountain with added Stone Trough for the thirsty beasts of burden - Cydesdale Horses

1867 OS Map

Alexander Macdonald's most important achievement was his sculpting of the granite statue of George, 5th Duke of Gordon, Aberdeen, which he carved from a model by the London sculptor Thomas Campbell, in 1842-8. This was erected in the Castlegate and relocated to Golden Square in 1952.  The statue marked the beginning of a new era in the history of sculpture by proving that the lost arts of cutting, sculpting and polishing the hardest granite, as perfected by the Ancient Egyptians, had been re-discovered, and that this renaissance had taken place in MacDonald & Leslie's granite yard in Aberdeen.  Carved from a 20 ton block of white granite quarried at Dancing Cairns, the statue was hailed at the time as 'the 1st granite statue made since the Ptolomies'.

The Mercat Cross, at the upper end of Castle Street, is a Renaissance, open-arched, hexagonal structure of freestone, adorned with medallions of the seven James's. From its centre springs a column with Corinthian capitol, surmounted by a unicorn that bears an escutcheon charged with the Scottish lion, the basement being 21 feet in diameter and 18 high, the column 12½ feet more. The workmanship of John Montgomery, mason of Old Rayne, it first was erected, in 1686, before the Tolbooth, near the site of the Flesh and Fish Crosses, and was transferred to its present position in 1842.-The monument (1836) of George, fifth Duke of Gordon, Scott's ' Cock of the North,' stands 30 yards lower down, and consists of a granite statue and pedestal, the one 11½, the other 10¼ feet high, and the latter was once flanked by two heavy pieces of ordnance (Cannon), taken at Sebastopol in 1855.-


The causey of the Castle Gate has now been repaired (it was so hollow the dubs (mud) and rains stood in pools) some 50 years after the other Streets were causeyed.

The New Inn, built by the Freemasons in 1755, visited by James Boswell and Dr Johnson in 1773; the Freemasons had their Lodge on the top floor, hence the adjacent archway to Lodge Walk.   The New Inn was replaced by the North of Scotland Bank, later the Clydesdale Bank, built in 1839-42 as the corner-piece of Castle St./King St., now a pub named after its illustrious architect, Archibald Simpson




On left hand side were various shops, rented accommodation and another pub - coffee roasting smells from the coffee bean shop.  They would roast your favourite bean mixes to order from large glass jars.  Ice cream bars selling 'knickerbocker glories'  for 1s-3d and the once J E Esslemont Store later invaded by a stampeded steer as Glass and China shop at the corner of King street destined to become Birnie's

The Transport hub - The Castlegate common denominator for several routes.  The Mercat Cross was ring fenced in those days with a balustrade of spikes to prevent abuse or lewd use of its capacious cover and recesses.  Needless to say the public needed their conveniences still and this was placed underground beneath the planter with male and female toilet segregation and glorious Shanks stalls in green coloured marble.  Above these were what appeared to be fish tank Cisterns siphoning away all day to intrigue the young minds as to how they worked so tirelessly filling and emptying without supervision.

Bremner's Court
Also known as Bremner’s Court, and formerly known as Birnie’s Close. Andrew Birnie owned adjacent land in 1786 and Alexander Brebner of Learney, Lord Provost of Aberdeen (1805-1811) bought land nearby in 1804.


Fittie Wynd:
This plaque commemorates both the head of the wynd leading to Fittie and the site of the Fittie Port, which marked the boundary of the Royal Burgh in medieval times. The port, or gate, was locked by Burgh officials in times of peril and threat. The port was demolished in the late 18th century.  The wynd led steeply down from the Port to Virginia Street then back up Hangmans Brae towards Castle Terrace / Heading Hill.

The Castlegate

The Castlegate of 1940's that I new well but the Mercat Cross was eventually fenced in for fear of copulating couples and urinators.  The tramlines snake about at this convenient terminus with the overhead powerlines supported on Stanchions or adjacent buildings.  The Subterranean public Toilets below the planted garden with Gents on the left and ladies on the Right of the garden were like underground palaces with Green Marble and Glass Cisterns filling and flushing to astound a wee loon.  The Transport control kiosk and information centre here we both the Old and New trams and Buses making their presence felt.  Justice Street wynds to the left and the Citadel stands dominant where cars are few and shadows are long.   The market had been displaced to wasteland between Justice Street and East North Street with an entrance resulting from perhaps bombed premises on the left.  Vietch Moirs Fruit Store was on the right below the Citadel for maturing imported Green Bananas.  A lone Scaffies Barra indicates an earlier mode of goods transport with the scaffie leaning on his brush.  The viewpoint is from the heights of the Atheneaum.  My how the city fathers like to continually toy with this area.
Prior titles for north side of Castlegate. Vendors are True Blue Friendly society of Gardeners, 1740 - 1801.

Prior titles for north side of Castlegate. Vendor is James Selbie, surgeon, 1760 - 1801. Brickbuilt house, formerly cowbyre, on east side of fleshmarket.

Muckle Friday Fair
Fridays was Farmers day in Aberdeen and this was a long tradition starting with the Green then to the Castlegate and later to the Cattle Mart at Kittybrewster.  The farmers would dress in their Sunday best and attend Cattle Auctions and hire labour as well as seein' the sichts o' Aiberdeen and the insides of a few hostelries as the vied with their fellow Agriculturists from near and far.  Spot the Gordon Highlander in the melee overlooked by George Gordon's toga draped Statue and the Tram Wire Stanchions.










There's joy aa roon the banks o Don
And up the glens o Dee,
Oor sax months wages nearly won,
So the plooman they'll win free.
The mairket morn is here again,
As weel as mony mair,
So we'll diddle awa wi the mornin train,
Tae muckle Friday fair.

Gin ten o'clock the Castlegate,
It's in an unco steer,
And ilkae meenit as we wait,
Mair billies do appear.
Doon Union Street and roon the Queen,
Big croods assemble there,
For hunders come tae Aiberdeen,
And muckle Friday fair.

The fairmers staun ootside the croods,
Wi topcoats ower their airms,
Tae pick and chise amon the loons,
Tae suit their different fairms.
Some o them are in their prime,
But some are auld and sair,
But Deil-the-mony them nivver miss,
A muckle Friday fair.

But noo the maisters and their men,
They're aa the gither
The sower socht, the yarls taen,
In mony's a peer loon fixed.
Some tae bile wi stirks and stotts,
And some tae ca a pair,
And some were getting nineteen knots,
At muckle Friday fair.

Lang syne, some twenty years or mair,
By aa the glens aroon,
Nae wife nor lassie thocht tae miss,
Her mairket day in toon.
But noo sic things are oot o date,
The world's altered sair,
And no man body you'll hardly see,
At muckle Friday fair.

The maids we met on Union Street,
Were clad in bricht array,
Like butterflies in sunshine's heat,
Upon a summer's day.
Wi poodered face and gaudy dress,
But yet they can't compare,
Wi the rosie-cheekit country lass,
At muckle Friday fair.

The toon may boast, as weel she may,
For picters, music-halls,
Her palaces o grandeur great,
Her paths and courtly walls.
But gie tae me the countryside,
It's blue skies and caller air,
Nae langer than a day we'll bide,
At muckle Friday fair.

Here's health tae aa you country lads,
And dry wi aye your sark,
And if yer maisters use ye weel,
I'm sure ye'll dae yer work.
And may yer hert be licht and free,
Fae ony worldly care,
And I hope ye'll get a decent fee,
At muckle Friday fair.

Now pedestrianised and simulating its original usage as the 'Market Gate'

Proclamation Day c.1900 - street lined by Gordon Highlanders as the public throng to listen and watch the Civic Dignitaries from pavements and windows.  A VIP enclosure is draped at the periphery, and temporary street barriers are erected while policemen direct the selected few to privileged places. A cold damp day for an outing such as this with lingering snow on the 5th Duke's Statue.

Proclamation at the market cross was at one time held to be an essential element in the promulgation of a new law. Indeed, we find the Scots Parliament in 1581 solemnly discussing the question of how far the public were bound to observe Acts of Parliament unless they had been proclaimed at the market crosses of the chief Burghs throughout the country. And in order to remove all doubt, an Act was passed that in future all statutes should be proclaimed at the Cross of Edinburgh only, which publication was held to be 'als valiabill and sufficient' as if the publication had been made at the Market crosses of all the shires within the realm.

Notwithstanding this Act of 1581, practically all national proclamations continued to be made at the market cross of Aberdeen and in the other larger towns as well. One of the most singular was made only 2 years afterwards, 1583, when the national authorities were taking alarm at the use being made of the new printing press for the issue of anonymous political squibs in the form of ballads and other publications. Proclamation was made of an Act of the Privy Council that 'Na prenter sail presume or tak upoun hand to prent any buikis, ballettis, sangis, rymes, or tragedeis, ather in Latine or Inglis tounge, unto the tyme the same be sene, vewit, and examinat be wise and discreit personis depute thairto.'

One of the earliest Proclamations of which there is a record in Aberdeen has some resemblance to the Act anent undesirable aliens of a few years ago. It was in 1348, and embodied an Act of Parliament then passed prohibiting Flemings mariners excepted from resorting to Scotch towns for business purposes and so depriving Scotch merchants of legitimate trade in Flanders. The original proclamation is one of numerous ancient documents still preserved in the Charter Room of the Aberdeen Town House, with its seal in white wax still entire.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013