Crime and Punishment
The jurisdiction of the Magistrates extends over the
whole of the City and Royalty, and they hold a Bailie Court every
Saturday, for Civil actions to any amount, in which they are assisted by
an Assessor, appointed for that purpose, who is generally an Advocate
of Aberdeen. The Sheriff, however, exercises a concurrent jurisdiction
with the Magistrates, and since the establishment of the Sheriff's
small-debt court, the Civil business of the Bailie court has been very much
diminished. The Police establishment is considered to be fully sufficient for
all purposes connected with its institution, and is under the control of
commissioners elected by the 9 wards, into which the Police district was divided
by the act of 1829.
THE REGALITY OF ABERDON
The Bishops of Aberdon held all their lands around the Cathedral as a Barony of
Regality, which gave them all the power over their lands and their inhabitants
which the Crown itself possessed, with certain reservations. They could put
thieves and others to death; but their power was restricted to those who lived
on the church lands. They, like other barons, delegated their judicial authority
to a Baillie. In 1536 "William Lyoun, bailye to My Lord of Aberdene,
askit lycens at William Holland, balye of this burgh, to hang ane thief
convickit in my Lord's court ; quhilk. The said William grantit, protest
and it suld not hurt the townis privilege in nae sort." (Town Council
Register). Tillydrone was the hanging place in the Regality.
The Burgh Charter of Aberdeen not
being now extant - if ever it was put on a sheep's skin - we cannot tell what
powers of government were committed to the Town Council, but it may be assumed
that they were the same as those in other burgh charters. These usually
enumerate a long string of crimes and offences within the jurisdiction of the
Burgh Magistrates, some of which are never heard of nowadays. Some of the terms,
as sak, sok, thol, them, infang thief, outfang thief, and bludwits, are hardly
intelligible to moderns. This shows that Burghal institutions must be very old,
pointing back to a time when the Sovereign was very willing to give
self-government to communities, to relieve himself or his Justiciar of as much
as possible of his duty, and to allow of swift execution of justice.
Among the punishments which charters give burghs and
barons power to inflict is that of death, which was freely executed for theft.
Two modes are named, drowning and hanging, the former usually adopted for women
and youths, and the latter for men, though they also were sometimes drowned. For
drowning recourse was had to a river at a deep place called the thief's pot.
Sometimes a hole like a grave was dug and filled with water, in which the
criminal was drowned and covered up. Hanging was carried out on a knoll near the
place where the sentence was pronounced, but, after the appointment of Sheriffs,
the sentence could not be carried out without allowing time for an appeal to the
Sheriff of the county. There is mention of a Sheriff in Aberdeen in the reign of
William the Lion (1165-1214), and though the burgh magistrates could have
delivered over to him persons accused of crimes they still continued to execute
the powers entrusted to them by the Crown.
The first place of execution in Aberdeen was the north end of the high ridge of
ground between West North Street and the Gallowgate. It is plainly shown in
Gordon's Map of 1661, titled "Gallowgait or Hill." As the termination of a
name, gate has two meanings. In English towns it usually means an entrance, but
it may be legitimately applied to a street leading to or from a gate. In
Scotland though it may have this meaning it usually means a way or road. The
fore part of the name tells the nature of the way, as in Broadgate, Longate,
Hardgate, or the special purpose which it served, as in Cowgate, and
two names having exactly the same meaning — or the place to which it led, as in
the Aberdeen Nether- and Upper- kirkgates, Castlegate, and Gallowgate. It is
likely that this last name originated long before the town extended quite to the
Gallow Hill, and that it means the road leading to the knoll where the burgh
courts were held in the open air, and where a permanent gallows stood as a
warning to evil doers, or where there was a stone with a hole in it to receive
the lower end of the "gallowstree." The stone on the summit of the hill beside
the battlefield of Bannockburn has a round hole in it, not made for a flagstaff
on the day of battle but as a base for a gallows.
The Gallow Hill is shown as being to the north side
of the line of Spring Garden, with the Gallowgate Port in the south-west corner
of the area. It extended 120 yards in length, as far as to the present point of
the ridge between the Gallowgate and West North Street; but a considerable slice
was cut off this point in forming West North Street. Criminals were
usually allowed to remain hanging on the gallows some time even for common
theft, and for long periods for heinous crimes. This must have been an
offensive, gruesome sight, and when houses had extended northward the gallows
had been shifted to another place, farther from the inhabited part of the town.
Flibertigibbet - oft associated
by the suspended 'dance' of the victim before death.
THE SECOND GALLOW HILL
The 1st place actually mentioned as the scene of executions was the knoll
which afterwards became the site of the Powder Magazine of the town. About the
middle of last century the Powder Magazine required to be enlarged, which led to
excavations for a foundation. Remains of skeletons were found, and this showed
that criminals had been buried, as was usually said, "at the foot of the gallows
tree." The Powder Magazine was intended to be protected from lightning by a
metal rod projecting above it and terminating in two thick chains extending
under the surface of the ground for some distance in opposite directions. The
gallows knoll was sandy and dry, and after some time it was discovered that some
damage had been done to the building by lightning. As a further protection two
other chains were connected with the conductor. The Magazine was thought to be
too near the town when houses were built beyond the railway, so it was removed.
The site of the Magazine and its predecessor the gallows is now occupied by a
building called The Shelter, at the corner of Trinity Cemetery; but the north
side of the Gallowhill became a sand quarry, and has been taken away. In
excavating the sand near the Shelter the chains were found, and though bits were
removed the ends of some of the chains may still be seen on the west side of the
Shelter. When first found it was supposed that they had been used to attach the
bodies of criminals to the gallows in such a way as to prevent their friends
from removing them, as was sometimes done; but they were too heavy to have been
used for that purpose.
"One of the last persons who suffered here was a
sailor who was hung in chains
in 1752; many years afterwards his wasted skeleton was taken down by some
irreverent shipmates, who placed it by the door of the Methodist Meeting-House
and affixed to it this sorry couplet — T, William Wast, at the point of
damnation, Request the prayers of this congregation." (" Book of Bon-Accord," p.
337.) The last person who suffered on the Gallow Hill was Alexander
Morrison, who was hanged on November 6, 1776. The Gallow Hill road branched off
from the public road to the Brig of Balgownie by Justice Port and the
south end of the road to the Gallows may still be seen turning off to the left
after crossing the railway. It joins on to Urquhart Street, but the north end is
now built over. It was about the line of Urquhart Lane. The Gallows is shown in
Gordon's chart of the City.
James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen
Hangman, hangman, upon your face a smile,
Tell me that I'm free to ride,
Ride for many mile, mile, mile.
Oh yes, you got a fine sister, She warmed my blood from cold,
She warmed my blood to boiling hot to keep you from the Gallows Pole,
Your brother brought me silver, Your sister warmed my soul,
But now I laugh and pull so hard, see you swinging from the Gallows Pole
Swingin' on the gallows pole!
Swingin' Swingin' on the gallows pole!
See-saw marjory daw
See-saw knock at my door
The Thieves' Bridge
For a long period the place where criminals were executed was the Gallow Hill,
which was reached by Justice Street and Park Street. This street was the way to
various enclosed pieces of grazing ground, to which the townsmen sent their cows
in summer. It crossed the Powcreek Burn, in the line of Jasmine Terrace, by a
small bridge which criminals passed over on the way to execution. These being
mostly thieves the bridge was called the Thieves' Brig.
THE MAIDEN - STRANGLING AND BURNING
The old inhabitants of
and its neighbourhood were really as rough as their soil. Judged by their
records, they must have been dreadfully haunted by
down to a comparatively recent period; witch-burning having been common in the
town until the end of the
16th century. We find that, in one year, no fewer than
23 women and one man were burnt; the
Dean of Guild Records
containing the detailed accounts of the "loads of peattis, tar barrellis," and
other combustibles used in burning them.
The Lairds of the Garioch, a district in the immediate neighbourhood,
seem to have been still more terrible than the
being accustomed to enter the place and make an onslaught upon the citizens,
according as local rage and thirst for spoil might incline them. On one of such
occasions, 80 of the inhabitants were killed and wounded.
In Pitcairn's Records of Criminals Trials in the reigns of
Mary and James VI.
there is frequent mention of other modes of capital punishment — beheading with
the machine called the Maiden, and strangling at a stake followed by
the body. The Maiden is first mentioned in Edinburgh records in 1566. It
probably came into use in Aberdeen soon after. In Edinburgh it stood at the
Cross; in Aberdeen it had stood on the Heiding Hill east of the Castle Hill, its
name meaning beheading. It was not in use at the execution of Sir John Gordon in
1642, who was cruelly mangled by an unskilful executioner, probably using a
sword. A common sentence found in Pitcairn is : — " To be wirriet at the stake
and brunt to asses." This was the doom on the hangman of Edinburgh for
majeste " to James VI. He was selling the effects of some person at the
and hung the King's portrait on a nail driven into the Maiden, for which he
suffered death. This mode of execution was carried out by tying the criminal to
a post fixed in the ground and strangling him with a rope twisted round his neck
and the post, behind his back. Then fuel was placed round the stake, and the
body and was all burned to ashes. Witchcraft and heinous crimes against decency
were punished in Aberdeen in this way at the back of the Castlehill, in the
hollow between it and the Heiding Hill.
was garrotted and burnt at
on the 16th January
1590. Agnes Sampson was not the only person accused and executed for
was accused of being one of the thirteen members of
the coven of Aberdeen Witches.
Her crime was supposedly using magic to murder Andrew Webster and
causing illness to Alexander Thomson. She was also accused of taking body parts
from a corpse for her own purposes.
Isobel Cockie, Margaret Ogg and Helen
Rogie were also amongst the condemned. King James I created even more hysteria
by publishing a book call "Daemonoloogie".
At least twenty-three women and
one man were condemned and executed for witchcraft during this era. It was a
gruesome era with many innocent people being tortured and executed in the name
of the King and the Church.
Another place of execution was the Castlegate. " The precise spot," says " The
Book of Bon-Accord," " where the gallows was planted is now (1839) marked by a
millstone inserted in the causeway, opposite to King Street. Delinquents were
here put to death in the following manner : — For a long period there existed in
the burgh a fraternity of watermen, or individuals who drew butts of water
through the streets on sledges ; and it was the duty of the youngest member of
this society to convey the criminal to the gallows. The rope being adjusted the
carriage was driven off, and the victim was left suspended by the neck, with his
feet within a yard of the ground. ' You couldna','
said a venerable
octogenarian, in describing the scene, ' get a richt sicht o' him unless you was
close in by.' " In the excavation for the lavatory in Castle Street the place
where the pole had been was found in the north-west corner. The waterman's part
had afterwards to be taken by the hangman himself. In a description of a street
fight in the town it is said that the hangman kept a cart, which was taken
possession of by one of the contending parties. In Dickie's " Botanist's Guide,"
The Hangman's Brae is named as a habitat for mignonette. Its older name was
Futtie Wynd, which issued from the south-east corner of Castle Street, and,
crossing the site of the Sick Children's Hospital, ended at the head of James
Street and the middle of Virginia Street.
About 1790 the Gallows was removed to the door of the Tollbooth, where the
notorious Malcolm Gillespie, Exciseman at Skene, was hanged in 1827 for forgery.
Very little sympathy was felt for him, though the sentence would now be
considered severe for the offence. It was generally believed that he delighted
in provoking sanguinary encounters with "the up-throw lads" on their way from
Highland Glens to Aberdeen with home-made whisky. The last execution in Aberdeen
was conducted on a platform gained from one of the windows of the first floor of
the Town-house in 1857.
In Aberdeen the sentence of death by drowning was carried out in the harbour in
a deep pool opposite the Shore Brae, known as The Pottie. Between the years
and 1587 six criminals suffered death at this place; of whom two were men
convicted of murder, and four were women guilty of child murder. The term given
in old times to the legal execution of a capital sentence in any mode was Justification.
In 1766 a woman was found guilty of killing her infant twins at their birth. She
would have been hanged but her petition to be banished to "The Plantations" in
Virginia was granted and her life was spared. In the same year a man convicted
of stealing a horse was twice whipped through the town — probably at the ports —
and committed to prison to be sent to The Plantations for life.
Anciently imprisonment was far less in use as a punishment than it is now. For
political offences men were sometimes kept in close confinement. Edward I. of
England ordered the Countess of Buchan to be kept in a part of a room enclosed
by bars and rails and hence called a cage, and the sentence on the young Earl of
Mar that he was to be imprisoned, but not secured with a chain on account of his
youth, shows that grown men were so treated; but very often political offenders
were ordered to "ward" themselves in Edinburgh or in a Castle, and were " kept
within bounds " under surveillance, but not much restricted in their personal
liberty. Rutherford, minister of Anworth, was sentenced in 1639 to reside in
Aberdeen during the King's pleasure. The lord of a barony required to have in
his Castle or Mansion a place — usually in the lowest part, and hence called "the pit" — where an accused person could be kept a few days till he was tried.
After trial he was set free or executed in a few days.
The punishment called the Cock or Cuckstool
(Cook Stoole) had been early in use in Aberdeen,
for the place where it had formerly stood is mentioned in 1320. It was in the
south-west of Castle Street. The instrument consisted of a long beam with a slit
in the middle by which it could be turned round in any direction and moved up
and down as in the child's play called "Coup the Ladle." The beam was placed on
a pin in the top of a post near a pool or the edge of a river. A small chair
with arms was fixed to one end, and the convict was tied securely into the
chair. The man in charge held a rope attached to the other end and let the chair
and the occupant plump into the water, and then he pulled down his end and
raised the other. Sometimes several dips were administered before the vengeance
of the law was satisfied. There is a sketch of the instrument in the first
edition of "Chambers's Encyclopaedia." Scolding women, brewsters of bad ale,
and profane swearers were dipped at the Cuckstool. Cuck in names is a corruption
of the Gaelic word " cnoc," a hill. This indicates that the middle of the beam
had rested on a hillock. There was in old times an instrument at James Street
for loading and unloading ships with heavy goods. It could be swung round and
loads could be lifted or let down as was required. This was called the Cran, and
in the century 1600-1700 "ducking at the cran" was prescribed for the immoral
females of the town.
A more gruesome odour assailed the nostrils of citizens. This was the smell of
roasting flesh as the Town Council joined with zeal in the fantastic
witch hunt of
1596-97. From the earliest days of the Burgh, Aldermen and Baillies were
responsible for law enforcement, though serious crimes might be remitted to a
visiting Justiciary. Punishments were severe, and the corpse of some thief or
assassin almost invariably occupied the gallows. Witches were ‘wirriet at the
stake and brunt to asses,’ while minor crimes were punishable by ducking on the
Cuckstool or an hour or two in the
jougs (witches collar) - or branks (iron bridle), the latter
specially reserved for nagging wives and gossips. In the 16th century Aberdeen
also acquired its own version of the
‘Maiden’, a sinister beheading machine first used in Edinburgh in
A punishment said to have had a deterrent effect upon ladies with loose,
ill-hung tongues was standing an hour or two in the branks or jougs, an iron
collar which encircled the neck at the end of a short chain attached to a post
at the Cross. In 1588 two persons, after being bound at the Cross
were burnt on the cheeks with a hot iron and banished for ever from the Burgh.
ancient court held at Aberdeen 3 men found guilty of riotously taking
meal out of a ship at Banff in 1766 were sentenced to be whipped through the
town of Aberdeen by the hangman. Soldiers attended to see the sentence carried
out, but their friends attacked the military with stones and clubs and rescued
the prisoners. Scourging at the Mercat Cross was sometimes ordained for delinquents.
The instrument of correction is not mentioned; but the Town Records of Edinburgh
show payments for "tows and besoms" for scourging, and the same articles were
probably in use in Aberdeen. The besom had been the bundle of birch twigs so
familiar to youngsters of both sexes and of all ranks in England. A few years
ago, and most likely at the present day, in any English town "Mater-familias "
could buy for a penny a nice little specimen of the birch for nursery use. It
was shown in " Notes and Queries " that within the reign of Queen Victoria the
birch was in use in ladies' boarding schools in England and in the public
the Police in the early 40's - These coinless emergency telephone
devices were placed at strategic junctions and connected directly with Lodge
Walk Police Station. The light on top would flash if the Station needed to
contact a Policemen urgently on the beat, Later developed into a Doctor
Who feature as a Police Box.
Slacks for women were evolved a result of
the freedoms they enjoyed from the disciplines of skirts when they wore
'overalls' during the war as replacement workers for the absent fighting men.
In those days they buttoned or zipped at the back giving a very defined line to
This picture is probably near the Auld
Brig o' Dee terminus.