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Duthie Park

Lady Elizabeth Crombie Duthie,
presented the 42-acre park to the City of Aberdeen in 1880. It was opened by H.R.H. Princess Beatrice on 27th September, 1883. On the north bank of the River Dee.  It was named after and gifted to the City by Miss Elizabeth Crombie Duthie of Ruthrieston in 1881. It has extensive gardens, a rose hill, boating pond, bandstand, and play area as well as Europe's 2nd largest enclosed gardens the David Welch Winter Gardens.

Miss Elizabeth Crombie Duthie (a daughter of the merchant and ship owner Alexander Duthie) had been left substantial sums following the deaths of her uncle, Walter Duthie, a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh, and her brother, Alexander Duthie, a well known Advocate in Aberdeen. She wanted to create a permanent memorial to these two members of the legal profession and the suggestion of a park was accepted in style at a meeting of the Town Council on 5th July 1880 Lady Duthie wanted to create a public park in memory of her uncle Walter and brother Alexander Duthie. She purchased the Estate of Arthurseat by the banks of the River Dee for £30,000. A street called Sycamore Place was demolished to make room for the building and landscaping of the Duthie Park.

Elizabeth's niece, Margaret, married William Allan, and their daughter, also Margaret, married George MacKenzie.  He was a 'haberdasher, linen & wool draper' from 1801 - 1825 and had premises in Union Street - but I would like to try to find the exact location.  Also, their house was listed as 'Ruthrieston Lodge' now in Holburn Street.  In addition, George Mackenzie's grandfather, William, lived in the Guestra' in 'a massive old castellated house with small turrets'.  (1730 ish)

The site of the Duthie Park was originally a marshy piece of land covered in gorse (or whin, hence the nearby Whinhill Road), it was known as Pulmoor, now "Polmuir". In 1850 Arthurseat (the villa on the site) and its surrounding land was intended to be developed as a Royal Garden to view the trains crossing the new viaduct to and from London via Ferryhill. However, in 1880 Lady Elizabeth Duthie of Ruthrieston purchased the site and gifted it to the City of Aberdeen for a public park. It was decided it should be "available for all classes of citizens, that it should have a broad expanse of grassy sward upon which the young might indulge in innocent frolic and play...". The park was designed by William R McKelvie of Dundee, and the first sod, of the 47 acres of land, was cut on the 27th of August 1881, the park being officially opened in 1883.

Opening of Duthie Park 1883

The first turf was cut by the Earl of Aberdeen at a formal ceremony marking the gift of the land on the 21st August, 1881.  The official opening of Duthie Park by Princess Beatrice on 27th September 1883 was declared a public holiday - a programme of events for the day details the precise order in which the a city parade in Union Street was arranged - a very wet and windy day; typical Aberdeen summer.

Temperance Fountain complete with Metal Drinking Mugs suspended by their handles on the syphons  On the day of the opening of the Duthie Park a Temperance Fountain was 1st positioned by the Mound. This temperance fountain was made by Mr James Hunter and was inscribed: In Commemoration of the Advance of Temperance under the auspices of the Aberdeen Temperance Society in the year 1882. "Thou gavest them water for their thirst."  The temperance drinking fountain was included in the original plans for the Duthie Park, its aim being to provide uncontaminated water as an alternative to alcohol.  In the 19th century tea and coffee were still expensive luxuries, and therefore were not attainable by the working classes, beer and spirits, however, were available and affordable. This led to the siting of temperance drinking fountains in public places, such as the Duthie Park, or alternatively near public houses, so as to tempt people away from the evils of drink. They were also usually accompanied by an uplifting verse, such as the one on the Duthie Park fountain.

"Following the death of Miss Duthie in 1885, the Town Council agreed to erect a monument in her honour. The monument comprises a fluted Corinthian column supporting the Greek goddess of health, Hygeia. Four lions in red granite guard the base of the white granite monument. The contract for this monument had been awarded to Mr Arthur Taylor, monumental sculptor of Jute Street. He engaged a Mr John Cassidy, a sculptor with a studio in Manchester, to prepare the model in 1897. Mr Cassidy, native of County Meath in Ireland, assisted by Mr Schots, a Belgian artist, completed their work in December 1897. "

A Macdonald & Co., circa 1883. Swan Fountain Pink Peterhead granite fountain in circular pool with rolled edge; rusticated circular base rising to polished plinth ornamented with 4 swan spouts; polished basin above, narrow shaft to centre surmounted by small basin with copper spout.

File:Alexander Taylor memorial fountain - geograph.org.uk - 519386.jpgWoodside tram destination the Fountain was moved when they erected a wooden tram shelter at the triangle between Clifton Road and Great Northern Road. The fountain is a memorial to an Alexander Taylor who was a city merchant. It stands outside the Winter Gardens at the Duthie Park.  Erected to the memory of Alexander Taylor, Merchant in Aberdeen by his daughter Jane Forbes Taylor, Morxeu Cults"  Aberdeen Journal, 31st March 1841:  For Sydney, Cape Breton, North America, the fine fast sailing copper fastened brig Inconstant, 280 tons burthen, Alexander Levie, Commander, this fine vessel is in every respect a most eligible conveyance for passengers and will sail about 8 April. For fright or passage apply to Master on board or to Alex Taylor, Virginia St.  Will call at Stornoway if sufficient number of passengers offers.

The Fountain was on a sweeping curve with a number of shops. The Fountain stood in the centre of the road with the junction of Don Street. It went years ago, but a replica now stands in a new housing estate, opposite, as a reminder. There was a crossover point here where trams serving Woodside only, turned back for the town.  Don Street was also a local station served by the 'SuburbanTrains'.

Come-in number 4 - was the megaphoned termination of your permitted period on the paddle boats which were propelled by hand ranked peddles with a common axle.  An anxious replacement crew queuing at the pier demanded frequent turnover.  Built for 2 passengers kids would often take another on board behind the trees from the pond edge out of site of the boathouse.  I was such a stow-away and when told to disembark by Sandy my elder brother after a couple of clockwise circuits, he failed to keep the prow tight to the bank.  Jump! he said - I leapt,  only to slip on the concrete apron and fell back into the water, saturating myself from head to foot to the delight of all onlookers, swans and ducks.  The remedy was suggested to lie flat and dripping fully clothed by the Bandstand and wait for the intermittent sun to evaporate the water and dry me - I could have died of pneumonia for all my Brithers cared - I arrived home soaked and alone for a predictable Bashing from Mither for mismanagement of my scarce clothing. - Ed

The Duthie Park sailing pond was shallow but vast and suitable for model boats built and launched by their owners using long hooked sticks to delight and amaze children into ambitiously building their own from a model kit.  Alas it also grew thick with algae on which the boats would snag inviting a long barefoot wade to recover the vessel from its entanglement.  Later elastic, steam or clockwork driven boats would ply this ocean and suffer the same fate.  Where are the radio controlled vessels of today?  Well probably scared of the same fate or getting their feet wet on a rescue mission.  A shear delight of scale when a sailing yacht would ply the rippling waters heeling over in the wind and sometimes capsizing inducing another paddling rescuer.  Many vessel collisions or rigging snags would excite the owners into fits of temper.

Model Yachts before the age of Radio Controls - simply a long stick and the occasional wade to retrieve a becalmed vessel tangles up in algae.

Sun Dial effectively a pillar with multiple clock faces on it,  Each dial is quite small so they aren’t precision instruments but people didn’t worry overmuch about the exact time of day in 1700. Were they a symbolic representation of ‘Science’ in the garden

The sun dials at Midmar Castle and Duthie Park, Aberdeen, bear a strong resemblance to each other. Both have four concave dials mounted on a pedestal, and surmounted by four others – at Midmar sunk, and at Duthie Park plane dials – on the slope of the pinnacle. There is a ball at the top of each, and at Aberdeen the hours and hour lines are painted on it. On the pedestal of this latter dial there are shields with the initials "C. G.," "G. B.," and date 1707, and also a pestle and mortar. 

The 1707 facet-head sundial was set up in the courtyard in the middle of the greenhouses and the horizontal dial was 'nearby'

This item is nothing less than a full solar (and possibly lunar - bits are missing) observatory with astonishingly accurate capabilities for measuring and cross-referencing both time and longitude (at our latitude).

Only 1 of the 10 or 11 instruments which make up the artefact is what we would understand as a conventional sundial. The other instruments are something else - instruments which are capable of providing the observer with a completely accurate understanding of the true shape of the earth's orbit and movement through the solar system. This includes the accurate measurements of axial, perihelion and ecliptic precession necessary for establishing corrections to the apparent solar and lunar time; this, in turn, necessary for establishing accurate longitude; that, in turn, necessary for performing and logging accurate astronomical observations.

The original commissioner of the instrument had a rational and sophisticated understanding of our place in the cosmos and was fascinated by the still-ongoing great quest of inquiry into the true nature of the universe. The artefact pre-dates the Duthie Park and Arthurseat House; the lands of Arthurseat having been bought by Miss Duthie  and gifted to the city as the Duthie Park The artefact is incomplete, as the ground on which it stands would form a 'dial' and would be an integral and essential part of the instrument and its function. According to Scotland's Places, the horizontal part of the instrument was 'nearby' as recently as 1978. There is no sign of it today.

Multi-facetted dials tend to be classed as lectern shaped, obelisks (with dials on the upright) or complex polyhedrals but this is just a convenient way of describing appearance rather than flagging any known difference in purpose or significance. There are four examples in the locality of Aberdeen: a lectern dial at Castle Fraser (National Trust for Scotland; the only lectern dial in this part of the country), a polyhedral dial at Pitmedden Gardens (also NTS), a cubical dial at Haddo House (NTS; the top gnomon was badly bent when I photographed it) and the 1707 dial at the Duthie Park (currently in a corner of the English Garden, shielded from the sun for most of the year and about as functional as a garden gnome). Andrew Somerville’s account that is referenced above lists these and some more in the locality including facetted dials at Pittodrie House and Guthrie Castle (now hotels), Kildrummy Gardens (open to the public), Glamis Castle (a bit far but perhaps the best in Scotland; open to the public) and in the private properties of Schivas House near Tarves, Ellon Castle, Midmar Castle, Kinnaird Castle Brechin, Lour House, Balnamoon House and others.

Most sundials include an opaque edge (the gnomon) that casts a straight shadow and the dial is engraved with lines to show where the shadow falls at various hours of the day.  The surface on which the lines are drawn is usually flat but it can be oriented horizontally, vertically or in any direction whatsoever. The skill of the ‘dialler’ is to draw the hour lines correctly for an arbitrary orientation. The skill of the mason, who was probably the same person in the case of multi-facetted dials for they are all stone constructions, is to carve the device accurately. For added complication, and it surely needed a Master Mason to bring this off, the hour lines could be cut into spherical hollows in the stone or even more complicated shapes such as heart-shaped hollows. The simplest gnomon is a triangular piece of metal leaded into the stone but for some hollow shapes and orientations an edge of the stone could act as gnomon. The golden rule of dialling is that the shadow-casting edge must be parallel to the Earth’s axis. This has two implications. First, all the gnomons in a multi-facetted dial must have their shadow-forming edges parallel. Secondly, a sundial has to be specifically made for the latitude of its site. For example, at the latitude of Aberdeen (57°N) the gnomons must make an angle of 57° to the horizontal and be aligned towards the celestial pole (near enough the pole star).

Much excavation had to be made in the inner part of the Upper Harbour alongside the Quay, and in 1832 a large oak tree was found within 150 yards of the Trades Hospital, which was near the bottom of Exchange Street. It was within a few inches of the surface and some people remembered seeing part of a branch of it projecting above the ground in the edge of the Trinity Inche. When taken out it was found to be 20ft 2in. in circumference, and the trunk was 6ft 6in. in length from the root to the 1st branch, which was 23ft 6in. long, and 13ft 10in in circumference. Part of another limb was 6ft 7in. in circumference and 3ft long. The tree was lying horizontally from South-east to North-west. It was not much decayed, and did not seem to have lain very long where it was found. There were many ancient  oak trees in the Forest of Birse, and as that Parish is liable to heavy rains, causing floods in the Feugh when the wind is in the South-east in autumn, the tree may have come from Birse.  A South-east wind would have prevented it from going out to sea and would have blown it into the North-west corner of the Estuary of the Dee. There were ancient oaks in some parts of Aberdeenshire; but the oak rarely produces ripe acorns in the North of Scotland, and most likely they had been grown from acorns imported from England.  The introduction of the oak into Scotland may be ascribed either to Margaret, wife of Malcolm Canmore, an English Lady, or to David I., her youngest son, who had been much in England before he became King. The oak tree was set up near the main Inches (now Commercial Road) at the far end of Regents Road in 1836, where it stood till it was found to be somewhat in the way. It had also suffered badly from a fire in an adjoining Timber Yards and was therefore removed to the Duthie Park.

The Oak seems scarcely to thrive now in this part of the country, although in executing the improvements which have lately been carried on in the Harbour of Aberdeen, the trunks of a good many oaks of large size have been dug up, in such situations as to lead to the conclusion that they had not been brought down by the River, but had grown where they were found. One of these, which, when entire and covered with its bark, must have exceeded 15 feet in circumference, was set upon the Inch or flat ground between the Basin of the Harbour and the bed of the River Dee.

A remarkable Obelisk located in Duthie Park the James McGrigor Monument is 21m (70 feet) in height and built of Peterhead granite. It commemorates Sir James McGrigor (1771 - 1851), a military surgeon who reformed the Army Medical Service and greatly improved sanitary conditions for soldiers. The monument once stood in the centre of Marischal College University of Aberdeen, which McGrigor had attended and also served as Rector. It was moved to its current location in the 1890s when the college was extended.  Situated beside the south pathway near Riverside Drive.  The pink granite obelisk, on a square-plan base and plinth with a recessed granite panel with the inscription to Sir James McGrigor. The Obelisk was built to honour the memory of Sir James, who was Director-General of the Army medical department for 36 years, and Lord Rector of Marischal College.  A memorial to McGrigor was erected in front of Marischal College in 1860. This obelisk was subsequently moved to Duthie Park in Aberdeen in 1906.


Heather Day
'Gala and Heather Day Sunday August 22 1915 was the name given to a pair of events to raise money for the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. A great Gala was held in Duthie Park for which admission cost 6 pence. Attendance was estimated at 25,000 or 26,000, a significant proportion of the City.  At the time it was the largest event that had ever been arranged in the Park.  Individual activities included a musical drill by a team of ladies, displays of physical drill by a squad from the Gordon Highlanders, exhibition dances and a motor cycle gymkhana. In addition, 1,500 people sold sprigs of heather on the streets of Aberdeen raising £474, bringing the total for the day to over £1,000.  Aberdeen is a City keen on sport, in this case Tennis. The park was purchased by the City in 1899 and became a Public Park 2 years later. It has been used as the venue for the Lawn Bowl World Championships.

The Footbridge in Duthie Park was salvaged from the remains of the old Rosemount Footbridge which spanned the Denburn valey before the Rosemount Viaduct was constructed.  Then the crossing over the Railway was via this fine high footway bridge. Granite Stone arches decorated with intricate wrought iron trellis panels carried the walkway over the valley, but not quite over the Denburn, there was another small  chinese style footbridge nearer the new Union Bridge for that purpose. 


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Last modified: 01/09/2013