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Commerce Street

Runs from Justice Street/Park Street/Albion Street down to the Harbour and was the easiest of gradients available for ingress and egress of commercial goods.  This street had been initially called Justice Street (Leading to the justicairy of Heading Hill) then Park Lane and ran from Albion Street (Bool Road) to Waterloo Quay between Castlehill and Heading Hill

Virginia Street. was laid down in the mid-18th century on the reclaimed Shorelands, as were Commerce Street., Sugarhouse Lane, Water Lane, Mearns Street.( formerly Pork Lane), James Street. and the lower end of Marischal Street.  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.

Commerce Street School now business premises showing the former playgrounds front and back where the site was cut in at the base of Heading Hill, the green area was full of trees and bushes in its time.  The school site had been excavated in to the hillside.  The white Gates did not exist when it was a school nor the new developments at the top of Hanover Street which ran behind the school.  Taken from Castle Hill and the allotments there have now been grassed over.

At the top of the street what used to be called Park Lane ware some shops Fruit Shop, Ice Cream Cafe, Paper shop, Pawnshop, Public Toilets, Radio/Electrics Shop where we charged the Accumulator, a Garage with a hydraulic lift and a second hand shop with all sorts on display in the window. then the cast Iron Bridge spanned the street between Heading Hill/Castle Hill and with staircases on both sides to reach Heading Hill or the middle terrace of Castle Hill a short lower terrace was used as allotments on the southeast side fortifications.  It then traversed Castle Terrace by Commerce St Infants School, Hanover Street at a wide and dangerously busy with traffic intersection.

Castlehill Bridge - In early times the hollow between the Castlehill and the Heading Hill was but slight, and no bridge was necessary to connect the 2 hills. By lowering the south end of Park Street/Lane, the depth of the gap between the hills was increased, and in 1839 the lane was widened and improved and a Cast Iron Bridge was built over it connecting the 2 Hills. From the Bridge, stone stairs at both ends lead down to the street below, which is now called Commerce Street but formerly Justice Street. The latter name was historically the more appropriate because the Bridge is probably on or near the spot where the Justiciar of the North of Scotland held his Courts. They were usually held in the open air near a small hill or artificial hillock. A Court was held near the Castle in 1299 (" Book of Bon-accord," p. 375). It is from being near the site where the Justiciar's Courts were held that Justice Street derived its name.   The bridge rests upon four cast-iron ribs, segments of a circle, from which slender bars rise vertically, supporting a horizontal roadway. The ribs rest upon cornices in the stone piers at the ends. On both sides is the following inscription :- JOHN DUFFUS & Co., FOUNDERS, ABERDEEN, 1839. The were shipbuilders and Founders in Fittie.  Alas - Knocket Doon
Commerce Street intersection with Castle Terrace taken from the viewpoint of the Commerce Inn corner where my Ma and Da hid from their lonely bairns amid smoke and booze.  To the left is the steady rise of Castle Terrace below the Castle Rampart before traffic demanded that a Keep Left island was necessary.  Scaffies 'barra' by the Gas lamp below the perimeter fenced rampart even then festooned with self seed Sycamores and ivy overhanging the granite edges.  During the war the lower tier land became allotments for the 'dig for victory' campaign.  A wide dangerous crossing which led to Commerce Street School and Hanover Street, the Harbour and Footdee.  Note the Baker's Loon with the basket on his heid. A lady with a basket of eggs or perhaps a pie and a wee lass below the gas lamp outside what would be the School gate.  Beyond the lamp post on upper Commerce Street appears to be Advertising Hoardings and an approaching Horse and Cart.  Is that Mans dog carrying his messages?  That's not me rinnen Hame to number 32 Castle Terrace.  Quiet times here.

Onward to the left was the Commerce Inn, Cigarettes and Provisions Shop, Co-op Grocery and Dairy products, The Co-op Bakery,  the Co-op Butcher's shop  and finally the Co-op Chemist,. On the right was Edith's Veggie Shop, The Fish & Chip Shop, The Virginia Court Close, the Shoe Menders another Butcher Shop (Sawdust on the floor and credit available) and then the Licensed Provisions Shop on the corner of Virginia Street (no Credit but dispensed Clockies of Whuskie) and continued down to the Harbour past the opposite 'corner shop' to Peep Peeps pub and Waterloo Quay.  There were Tenements integrated with the Granary Mill on the left. The Granary was the subjected a major fire circa 1946.  This high density living zone was never short of specialist shops.  This image is taken from the Tenement corner of Virginia Street showing the cul-de-sac in front of the railway where much football was played and sinister old ladies in black shawls sat at doorways and herded infants while casting wicked spells on the unwary.
Hey Eddie - wid ye get me a 'Clockie' o' Whuskie
The wifie Powdrill o'er the landing liked her wee dram to warm her aging innards and the price of a half bottle was beyond her means but not her appetite.  So she would limit herself to a gill measure in an 1/8th of a pint bottle which she would send me on errand for.  This would be carefully decanted from the Full Bottle at hand in the Licensed Provision Merchants into a flat circular gill bottle with a tiny cork rammed into the long small neck then given to under-age me for the agreed amount and instructions to conceal it in my pocket.  This would turn the flat but round clear glass measure into a richly golden object - for all the world like the yer Granda's Gold Watch (a clockie) on his gold fob laden 'Albert' waistcoat chain.  Thus is the the source of really carefully measured derivation of a 'Gold Watch' the drinkers rhyming slang for a Scotch.

Waterloo Station
At the bottom of Commerce street on the left stood Waterloo Station (near where the Crown and Anchor pub is now.) This station was opened by the Great North of Scotland Railway on 1 April 1856 to replace the old station at Kittybrewster and give access to Aberdeen Harbour.  It was built on the old canal basin at Waterloo Quay. It was part of the Great North of Scotland Railway main line to Keith. Complete with Platforms. Waiting Rooms, Telegraph office and Refreshments for users of the Great North of Scotland Railway which explains the large space left clear on this harbour area for Station Traffic.  The only connection between Guild Street and Waterloo was by rails along the quayside, only suitable for goods wagons. Passengers either had to walk or use a horse drawn bus, and connections were not guaranteed. Short lived it seems just some 11 years. It closed to passengers in 1867 once the Joint Station was open, but the track remains in use as a freight sidings for the docks.  It closed to regular passenger traffic on 4 November 1867, becoming a goods station thereafter.  The passenger station buildings were demolished in the 1960s.  The train shed survived at Waterloo Station until the 1960's and the station continued as a goods depot until the 1970's when it was converted for use by British Steel for pipe storage. Today the Waterloo track joins the Aberdeen - Inverness line and is still occasionally used by goods trains.

Ordinance Map Aberdeen 1845-95

Commerce Street at the junction of Hanover Street, and Castle Terrace with St Nicholas Church and the 'Bushies' green - alas the bushes do not survive.

Past the St Nicholas Church was Fish St (Demolished) and the 'Tarry Brig' over the railway leading to Bannerman Street and Cotton Street, also Miller Street, Footdee. (Formerly Summer Street). 

The Commerce Inn Bar (and snug above  The Crows Nest) is white painted here and in the background are the Gas and Chemical Works. The picture is taken from the terrace tier of Castle Hill and the trees lined a lower tier near some allotments. a wide and dangerously busy junction then.


The later dressed granite tenements in lower Commerce Street still survive above what used to be a string of Co-op shops, Provisions and Dairy, Bakers, Butchers, and Chemist.  |The short extension to the old Virginia Street was terminated by the Waterloo Station Railway - this was a haven for street football against the terminating dyke.  Opposite these were old run down tenements with an interior quadrangle for ponies and traps to to be housed and manoeuvred.  This space had been taken over in part by Tammie Begg's store who was the poor mans Cocky Hunter.  In the approaching close or pend there was coal store with and old man re-selling coal by the bucket (A stane o' coal) for those that could not afford it by the 1 CWT sack.  Some 14lbs of coal was about about a firebox full.  These resonating internal squares gave rise to the Backie Singers that would croon popular songs that reverberated around the granite rubble walls - windows would open and families would listen enraptured and throw what pennies they could spare to the singer.  Probably their gas meter money or rebate.  Various trades were at work in ground floor premises such as Cobbler, Butchers, Fish-fryers, Provision Stores, Ice-cream shops, Newsvendors and Sweetie Shops or Cafe's.  Pulley driven high level washing lines would traverse the internal court and wet washing would be paid out and pegged from the upper floor windows to form a complete curtain across the gulf till fully dry and then it would be retrieved in favour of an other urgent wash load, thus improving the acoustics for the all but hidden Backie singers.

From the left the Co-op Grocery & Dairy Products one side for sugar, jams, tinned food etc and the other for Eggs, Sliced meats, Cheeses, Milk etc, the Tenement Door to the flats above, The Co-op Bakery for Cakes, Bread, Rowies, Biscuits and Buns , the Co-op Chemist for NHS prescriptions, Syrup of Figs, Castor Oil, Calamine Lotion, and Kaolin Poultice Tins  Another tenement door and finally the Co-op Butcher's shop providing Pottit Heid, weird looking Tripe, Sausages and various cheap cuts of meat.  All the daily needs for the occupants of a high density living area of the new and old tenement slums lining both sides of Commerce Street, Virginia Street and James Street.  As for the staff - hey - lets get we'r Photae took.

The Tenements and shops in the old But and Ben slum side of Commerce Street were all swept away leaving a car park desert where 100s of families were formerly housed, played, did their washing, went to work or school and shopped at the Co-op and other Stores.  Although Medieval in original appearance and basic amenities it provided cheap privately rented accommodation for the poorer families. Only the attic window panoramic views remain with the Fittie Church, Balnagask and Girdleness in distance.  Gone are the familiar Tammy Begg's stores, Fish and Chip Shops, Provisions stores the Closes and Backies of the 19th Century Tenements

Trade and Industry was largely confined to the settlement around the Dee. The Harbour was entered past the old fishing village of Footdee and into the Victoria Dock and the Upper Dock, which had been built from c1810.  Ships from the town not only traded along the coast, but also sailed regularly to Northern Europe, the United States and Canada. Many of the imports were of raw materials needed for local industries, such as china clay, raw cotton, flax, esparto grass, hides, wool and coal. The exports included the finished woollen, linen and cotton, as well as fish, particularly salmon from the Rivers Dee and Don.  From the mid-18th Century whaling was also an important industry and Whaling Ships from Aberdeen sailed to Greenland.  

The textile industries were a major employer at this period. Wilson (1857) noted that the Linen and Flax industry employed some 8,000 people, the Woollen Industry some 2-2,500 and the Cotton Industry around 2,000 workers. Banner Mill in Cotton Street was regarded as one of the best Cotton Mills in the country at the time. There were major Shipbuilding Yards near the docks at York Street and many related industries such as rope makers and iron works.  Other industries in the town included clay tobacco pipe manufacture, comb making, soap making and several Breweries and Distilleries.


Peep Peep's Bar  McEwan's IPA

Rose's Court, 18, Commerce Street

Edith's - Veggie Shop
Mither would send me doon tae get 2d of carrot, neep and leck (Leek) which would with some Ham Bones begged from from the Butcher would yield a nourishing soup with added pulses - Barley, peas, etc.  a Scotch Broth if there ever was one that you stand a spoon up in.  Edith advised me that there would be no more tuppenny deals and such would now be thruppence! - I dutifully reported the inflationary rise to which my mother replied - 'well we'll see aboot at'.  She then played off each of my brothers and me in turn with spaced out trips for the same errand at the same price - Edith combated Ma's wiles by offering the limpest of the said component representations for vegetables till my mother finally gave in to relieve our personal embarrassment and rigid leeks and carrots became again fashionable which cut crisply at the increased rate.

Tammy Begg's - Metal, Rag and Bone Salvage Store.
Tammy was a wee thin man in bonnet (nae Tartan Tammie for him) and collarless stud-hole shirt who ran a general salvage store in Castle Terrace after being a local Flyweight Boxer of some note.  A neighbour from the far end of Castle Terrace asked me to take a cast iron wood burner down to Tammy's on the encouragement that I could keep the entire proceeds of the sale.  With my wee inadequate 5 year old emaciated frame I dragged it foot by foot noisily the 'hale length' of the Terrace and doon the more yielding slope to Tammy's door and then doon the wooden sloping entrance, to his scales - fair pechet and into the depth of his dark foreboding shop.  Tammy welcomed me with the shout 'fit ye draggin in here laddie' and I said 'I have some scrap iron fer ye'  Tammy produced a magnet - and much admired by me he demonstrated how it stuck to the iron like magic - 'at's nae the richt iron loon - at's cast iron and nae worth nethin - tak at awa'....  dumbfounded, puffing and red faced with the prospect of a full return trip I said 'am nae able mr Begg - puff - am fair paichet' and Tammy said 'well ye better leave here then' and thus secured the said cast iron wood burner without parting without so much as a penny of my much needed, hard earned and sorely mourned wages.  It was then I developed my suspicions regarding the fairness or honesty of Business and Commerce that has remained with me to this day.  Thieving, swickin' bastards that they still are!

Aberdeen Amateur Boxing Club – which had been started by former flyweight pugilist Tommy Begg in 1920, the very year the Scottish Amateur Boxing Association was formed.  At the time, club founder Tommy Begg was the kingpin in amateur boxing in the north during the Benny Lynch era.  The club’s Shiprow Tavern premises were well known in the City and in Amateur Boxing circles throughout the country.  The club moved to premises at Forbes Street in 1962. But things changed in 1972 when Tommy Begg went in to hospital for what was an exploratory operation and died on the operating table. The premises were claimed by his family.  Mr Begg was an excellent teacher of boxing skills

The Commerce Inn the Public House by Castle Terrace East - come aerse in! - or ony wye ye like!  My mithers refuge where she hide from her continually demanding bairns and enjoy her Mackeson's Milk Stout - Is my ma in 'ere min, - och all hae a look - nah laddie she nae here - mmm says me - ah kent full richt she wis.

Busy traffic scene at the junction of Waterloo Quay, Regent Quay and Commerce Street, horse drawn carts, one hauling cargo in sacks, steam lorry of William Wisely and Sons, Aberdeen, flatbed lorries, lanterns stacked at quayside, gangways for livestock, hand operated davit crane on wheels, barrels and pallets in foreground, street gas lamps, buildings of Regent Quay including the National Hotel Bar, Robert Duthie & Sons Wholesale Merchants building, the shop called 'The New Method', the Aberdeen Newcastle & Hull Steam Co Ltd building at the corner of Regent Quay and Commerce Street, cobbled quay-deck, in the background the Town House clock. Photographer's location: Eaves height at the west end of the Waterloo Quay West single storey goods shed. Direction of photograph: Northwest.  The old Sugar processing House stands tall at the end of Sugar 'Hoose' Lane

Fish Lane was opposite the Heading Hill a steep lane that ran down to Albion Street passing a close leading to Hanover Lane and beyond to the Canal or Railway Bridge back then.  A low Close or Pend led of to a cul-de-sac community of Tenements on the right  Hanover Lane which also led into Albion Street and a good place to play away from traffic.  It appears there was a John Robertson & Sons, Cooperage at No.67 in 1937.   The buildings were cleared as slums and eventually made way for the Boulevard improvements. 
The Tenements which were built in rough cut rubble granite and mortar.  Some had external stairways.  This row of barrels are far from new and may have been returned for repair by Brewers.  Yon bairns look healthy enough but Scarlet Fever, Diptheria, Rickets and TB were rife among ill-fed infants. 
Mine yer wee fingers loon!  
Ye'll chap em aff!

Poorer area Tenants eaked out their meagre existence by pawning anything of value that came to hand such as best suits, Family Heirlooms, Watches etc, in order to meet the rent or replace wages squandered on drink by a depressed father with hungry or sickly children.  If the wages were intercepted the following friday such pledges were redeemed at a premium to the money lent against it.  Pay day loans are nothing new, The silent sign of the 3 Brass Balls was ever prominent in these zones.

Aberdeen Pawn Brokers (3 Brass Balls)
Aberdeen Loan Co
., 95 Loch Street, John Street.
Joseph Campbell,  128 Loch St. and 39 Spring Garden
City of Aberdeen Loan Office, 18 and 19 Drum's Lane
George McPherson, 16 Hutcheon Street
New Loan Co., 23 Broad street, 6 Guestrow, and 3-5 Seamount Place
North of Scotland Equitable Loan Co., 4 Flourmill Brae
Northern Loan Company, Ltd.-, 32 Broad street, 10 Queen Street, and 100 and 102 Commerce Street.

Sale Shop corner of John Street and Loch Street, where we have always on hand a large assortment

All conveniently situated on sites near the great unwashed and financially embarrassed communities.

Shunting Engine with the rear of Tenements and Commerce Street School in the Background

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Last modified: 01/09/2013