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Fittie Fowk Fittie Life 18th Century Fittie Houdini in Fittie

Fishtown, Fittye, Futty, Fittie or Footdee

Years ago there was much Ferrying 'to and fro' between Futty, as it was then called in the language that was never spelt or written down consistently, and the South Bank Torry on the opposite side of the River Dee estuary. There was no North Pier in those days, and the point from which it now emanates was a low, wind-swept sand dune, then called the Sandness, and the houses of Futty stood further west by the Waterside, near by where to-day we see St. Clement's Church.  Formerly referred to as Fishtown it could readily be abbreviated in the local dialect to Fittie

On the Sandness, at this time (1513 -1542), a 'D' shaped Fort, called the Blockhouse, was built, which stood there with its round side facing seaward until demolished years ago, its purpose being to protect the harbour from " Pirats and Algarads," as Parson Gordon stated it in 1661. (It was furnished with 10 cannon, 12-pounders, which were removed to the Torry Fort after the erection of the North Pier.)

A plan, drawn by John Home, shows Aberdeen Harbour in 1769.
At this date, the estuary '
Harbour' was shallow, with many Sandbanks or Inches. The Dee estuary entrance was narrow and partly blocked by a large sandbank, - the 'Bar'.  Girdleness Lighthouse was not completed until 1833, so the rocks to the South of the Harbour were also unlit unless by Beacon and were a major hazard to Shipping. This made the port very difficult to access, especially for larger vessels. The plan shows many sail vessels off Aberdeen but this number probably reflects an artistic licence.

Fittie Village in 1769 was a remote hamlet for Fishermen of narrow passages and parallel linear cottages on the bank of the Shorelands then washed by the Dee and the Denburn with exposed Inches between the shallow navigable channels.  To the east and west of the Blockhouse and where Pocra Quay stands now were a series of 7 short jetties projecting at right-angles to the shoreland.  This defined the then busy fishing boat haven or Pock Raw near the Stell Salmon Fishing Reach and the narrow tidal Navigable channel leading past the reclaimed shorelands with built up quays to the Weigh-house or Pack-house and the Trinity Quay.  A drainage ditch had been dug from the Pack-house towards the Pow Creek and Pock Raw. There appeared to be a short Bulwark constructed along where the Lower and Abercrombie Jetty was later built.  The Blockhouse vista stood sentinel over the stone lined sharp interior corner of the Sandness and the Seaward Estuary looking towards the Torry Bulwark which was the then only deep water berth for large vessels.  The similar village of Nether Torry linked by a common interest reflected this arrangement but without projecting jetties West of the Torry Pool and Pier of Torry side of the River.  The Torry Bulwark ran from almost opposite the Blockhouse to where Skate Nose Jetty stands now leaving a small beach between its start and the Pier of Torry for landing the small fishing craft of Nether Torry.

During the digging of a service trench at 3 South Square, Footdee, Aberdeen in the 1980s, 4 black-glazed post-medieval jugs were uncovered.   The 4 large jugs or jars were probably 18th to early 19th century in date and may have been made in Aberdeen either at the substantial quayside Pottery at Pocra Jetty in Footdee or at the Clayhills Pottery. The jugs had been slightly 'squashed' from the round allowing them to be more easily packed in crates or determined as rejects.

The mouth of the Dee was locked for security by a boom, made of chains of iron and masts of ships, stretched across the River Mouth. On the Torry shore, on the Braehead opposite the Blockhouse, there was also a little Watch-tower, with a Bll and a Sentinel, whose duty was to ring the bell on the approach of any ship, while a watch of 4 men was set "at Sanct Fathatk's, (St Fitticks) beyond the water, to have ready fyre and stuff to mak blaise," for a Fire Beacon just beyond the Torry Bulwark and other 4 at the "Cunnynger Hills, for the resisting of our "auld inemeis of Ingland."

It was at Torry, in the very channel of the River, that Men-of-war and great merchant vessels lay in those days, for the shallow Harbour, where stands now our great Docks, was un-navigable for deeper draught craft. Smaller vessels got the length of Futty, but only at high water, and with the help of the inflowing tide could they pass up to Aberdeen City, where they lay high and dry on the ebb.

Aberdeen Map 1789

By 1789 Fittie had developed into a more industrial area with some 6 Dockyards and a Ropeworks near St Clements Church a trade which was still active in the 1960's on that site and run by Gourock Rope Works, there was a further Ropery and Sail Works on the Links with a new Harbour Defence Battery site overlooking the Bay.  A Single Stone Pier stood at Pocra and the Ferry route to Nether Torry is shown from what is now Pocra JettySmeaton's initial North Pier and Catch Pier are defined and the Torry Bulwark is referred to as the Pier of Torry and the smaller Torry Pier is further upstream.  The Mickle and Little Cairns are shown on the Point Law Inche as are navigation posts and the Inche dyke by the Inche FishingSummer Road later Miller Road is shown and Garvocks Wynd is named Carmocks Wynd.

The Later Layout of Fittie

The original settlement developed about the Church of St Clements, rebuilt in 1828 by Architect John Smith. It was an area of both Heavy Industry and Fishing. There is now little evidence of the original settlement. Smith laid out the “new town” of Footdee at the extreme East end of the Harbour at Sandness (and before the North Pier existed) as 2 squares. Although Footdee has always been a part of Aberdeen it nevertheless has a distinctly different scale and character, more akin to a small fishing haven.  A quite separate community enclave.

Aberdeen Map - John Smith Survey 1809

Footdee is a particularly interesting example of a planned housing development purpose-built to re-house Aberdeen's local fishing community. Laid out in 1809 by John Smith, then Superintendent of the Town's Public Works. Smith went on to establish himself as one of Aberdeen's key Architects. Occupying an isolated spit of land to the South-east of Aberdeen's City centre, its regimented squares have been described as `a cross between the neo-classical aspirations of Aberdeen and the close-knit fishing communities of the North-east'.  On an 1828 map, the new housing squares were specifically labelled 'Fish Town'. 'Footdee' referred to the larger area from St. Clement's Church to 'Fish Town'. Later, the name 'Footdee' was erroneously used to refer specifically to the housing squares, with 'Fish Town' becoming forgotten.  The 2 squares of 'Fish Town' (known as Footdee), originally contained 28 single-storey thatched houses although this increased when the later Middle Row (circa 1837) and Pilot Square (circa 1855) were added. The entrances on each of the North and South squares were filled in the 1870s by William Smith (son of John and Architect of Balmoral Castle). He also added additional storeys to the East and West sides of South Square creating a tenement feel. This was an attempt to ease crowding resulting from an influx of fishing families from other less prosperous areas and to help try to enforce the `one-house-one-family' rule.

When the original village was built around the open squares, the houses were uniform in width, height and depth with similar doors and windows; the only features which distinguished 1 house from another may have been the colour of the painted door or its individual number, the sheds or wash houses. The St. Clement Free Church School grew up with the village.  The 1st major change to the small-scale intimate character of these single-storey dwelling houses occurred after 1880 when the Town Council sold off their ownership interests - the Council are still Superiors - and this enabled, in some cases, the new owners to increase in height their properties to 2 or 3 storeys or attic Tenements, for example 29 and 30 North Square. Fortunately, 100 years ago building materials being restricted, the new extensions were constructed with granite walls and windows thereby retaining the Architectural character of Fittie.  Recognising the importance of this fishing village  in its contribution to Scotland’s Heritage, in 1965 the Secretary of State included all the buildings in the Squares (except 21 South Square which had been inappropriately altered) and 1-5 New Pier Road in the list of buildings of Architectural or Historic interest.  These buildings are listed category B which means that they are primarily of local interest, being good examples of early 19th century, North East of Scotland fisher’s cottages.


The Aberdeen Journal, March 3, 1892
Improvements at Pocra Pier
 - At a meeting of the Works Committee of Aberdeen Harbour Board held yesterday - Shoremaster Kemp, Convener - a report was submitted by Mr William Smith, Harbour Engineer, referring to damage done at Pocra Pier by the S.S. Guldford. It was stated that the steamer had torn away the clump of 3 piles forming the South-east corner of the jetty, and damaged the planking of the wharf. If the wharf was to be restored to its former dimensions, Mr Smith proposed to drive a clump of sheet piles to form a solid corner as at Provost Matthews' Quay, the cost being put at £70.  He further proposed to extend the Cattle Wharf by 50 feet, as its present length - 151 - was rather short for the large Steamers carrying Canadian cattle. The extension would afford space for landing and driving the cattle over the bridge to the new lairage on the adjoining ground, and would enable the landing of cattle to be carried on from both gangways of a vessel simultaneously. The cost was estimated at £450. It was agreed to carry out the 1st-mentioned improvement only, but, in connection with it, to extend the Cattle Wharf only 10 feet, the total cost being £90.

At the corner of the Beach Esplanade and opposite the Footdee Sawmill is a public toilet.  That was a unisex bog. It had a box with a row of holes for bared bums, flushed by water, like the Grammar School toilets (when I went there in 1947 for a few months.)  Chest high partitions separated each bum hole from the next, measured from where you sat. Hence you could converse while you went thro' your motions, so to speak.  My Granda went in to do his business there in the late 40's. He was a very shy man. Imagine his mortification when a middle aged, rotund woman came in with her messages (shopping), put them down, hoisted up her claes, dropped her spoil sports, and plumped down on the seat in the next stall.  "Aye, aye?" she said turning to him, as he frozen in horror.  "Handy things es eh?" she said, after a series of collossal farts.  My Granda never knew they were unisex Latrine.  We often went for a walk down there to the pier, when you could walk along its entire length, and watch the "bore" wave wash along below into the Harbour, and fowk fishin for shitie sadies (Seths) or Mackerel which fed around the sewer outlets, and admire the waste turds belching out from the Powcreek sewer outlet near Abercrombie's Jetty at the start of the pier. He usually recounted his story when we used the bogs.  Different days. Hard fowk wie nae pretentions - Fraser H

For centuries the Ferry Boat shuttled people between Pocra Quay on the North Shore of the Dee and Torry on its Southern Shore. The ferry was latterly operated by means of a wire hawser strung across the River. The rights to run the ferry were lucrative and the Council regularly sold (or rouped) them to the highest bidder. Dee Ferry Disaster

Timothy Ponts Early Map of Deeside

This particularly informative map shows the lower valley of the River Dee, Scotland's 5th longest River. It extends from a point just west of Kincardine O'Neil to the North Sea at Aberdeen (although Aberdeen itself is not drawn fully on the map). The map extends southward to include the Cowie Water and Carron Water at Stonehaven. To the North the map includes Skene and extends almost as far north west as Alford

Mar's Map of Aberdeen Harbour -
A fine chart showing the entrance to  Aberdeen. Small title cartouche with putti. The dedication to the Magistrates of the City of Aberdeen is displayed within a decorative cartouche with coat of arms and figures Nigg Bay is referred to as Fitticks Bay Windmill Hill, Castle Hill, St Nicholas Church and the Dee Ferry at Craiglug is shown along with the Torry Bulwark. Another short Dyke at the end of the Stell Fishing Inche seems to be an attempt to direct the River channel northwards.

French Invasion Scare - Aberdeen Volunteers 1791-1802
Aberdeen Pikemen. - Formed; composed of Footdee workmen; uniform; 1st officers; commander; additional officers ; at reviews and inspections; attached to artillery; reason; inspection; interesting order; resolved to continue under new regulations; change of name and arms; the last of the pike; Volunteered into local Militia; officers.

Fisheries. - It is probable that there have been fishers settled at the mouth of the Dee, both in Fittie (Footdee) and at Torry, (on the south side) ever since Aberdeen became a town of any noticeable magnitude.

The fishers who now inhabit these villages are, like those along most of the East coast of Scotland, evidently of a race distinct from the other inhabitants, and from their aspect, features, and other circumstances, it seems probable that they have come from the opposite coasts of Denmark and Sweden.

North Square - the other side of the house was a blind wall bulwark to the sea.

They occupy a village consisting of 2 squares of houses, which were erected by the town some years ago, at the South-east extremity of the Parish, and immediately adjacent to the entrance of the Harbour.  Each house consists of a 'but and ben', with occasionally a smaller apartment between. The Magistrates designed to have made the houses of 2-storeys, but the Fishermen refused to live up stairs, and they also refused to have any other than an earthen floor in their houses. In both of these, though there may have been some superstition and a good deal of prejudice, there was also some reason, - for it would have been next to impossible for them to have kept a wooden floor clean, while an earthen one, if not clean, at any rate does not contrast with the dirt so much, and it would have been very inconvenient for them to lug their long lines and their heavy baskets up stairs. On the whole, their houses are, generally speaking, as clean and comfortable as the nature of their occupation would permit.

Whalers of Fittie

Whale-Fishing was 1st introduced into Aberdeen in the year 1753, and the success which attended the early attempts induced others to embark in the same Trade, which, for a time, was very profitable. Accordingly, the number of ships from Aberdeen engaged in whale-fishing gradually increased, till, in 1820, there were 15, which, on an average, had about 50 hands each. The greatest tonnage of oil brought, home by these vessels in 1 season was in 1823, when 14 vessels brought 1841 tons. Of late years, however, from various causes, such as the withdrawing of the Government bounty, the reduction of the duty on foreign seeds from which vegetable oil is made, the diminished demand for oil, in consequence of the introduction of gas as a means of obtaining light, and the want of success in the Fishery, several vessels having repeatedly come home clean, the Trade has been, in a great measure, given up, and there were only 2 vessels still engaged in it from this port. 

The Jawbones contained oil as do all whale bones so they were often taken on board the ship and hung from the rigging.  Holes were drilled in the bone to allow the oil to seep out on the long voyage home. This oil was particularly pure and highly prized.  Back in port, the arc jaw bones were valued as gate-posts, and even used as structural supports for the roofs of sheds. Whaling Captains and the Civic dignitaries also erected them as symbols of the Hunt and Civic pride in the Whaling Industry.

The photograph shows the Footdee Waterside home of Alexander Hall, one of the foremost Aberdeen Shipbuilders of the 19th century.  Footdee was for many years the home of the white fishing community, but the gardens of Waterside contained relics of the whaling industry.  In the early part of the 19th century a flourishing Whale Fishery operated from Aberdeen and whale jaw bones formed in arches, as in the above photograph, were at one time a common sight throughout the City. These arches have now all but disappeared, however, 1 such arch remains in Stewart Park as a reminder of times past. The Park contains whale jaw bones presented to the community in 1903 by the Captain of the Arctic Whaler Benbow

In the 1830s it was noted that kelp gathering for soap production had ceased but that young women still collected (possibly harvested, as a food stuff ) a number of different kinds of kelp, namely dulce (Fucus palmatus), bladderlock (Fucus esculentus), and pepper dulce (Fucus pinnatifdus)








St Clement's Church, AberdeenSt Clement's Church

St Clement's Church, founded about 1498 for Footdee fisher-folk, was repaired in 1631, and since has been twice rebuilt, in 1787 and 1828, on the last occasion 'in the Gothic style, with an elegant belfry, 45 feet high;' an Organ was placed in it in 1874.

There had been, before the Reformation, a Chapel in Fittie, dedicated to St Clement, but this having fallen into decay, there was no Protestant Church erected in its place till 1631, when a contribution was made for the purpose of building one, and a catechist was settled there. The present Church was erected on the site of the old one, but considerably enlarged in size in the year 1828.

John Smith, Architect 1828. Neo-perpendicular, pinned rubble. Rectangular with tower. Refurnished 1874, further alterations by Mathew's & Mackenzie 1885. Wall dated 1650; enlarged 1788 and again 1819.  Inscription on churchyard wall: George Davidson, elder bvrges of ABD; Bigit this dyk on his ovn expenses 1650.

The St Clements Church is a fine building with a tall Clock & Bell Tower with 6 pinnacles and a pinnacle at the top of each corner of the building. Among the most imminent people buried there is David Grant, the Composer of the famous Psalm "Crimond". A plaque at the door entrance gives these details, while near the South entrance there is a large Granite Coffin which is more like a Tomb, to the Duthie Family, Ship merchants and who gave the Duthie Park to Aberdonians to enjoy. Another is of the Hall family, of the famous Hall Russell Shipbuilders.

John Duffus & Co., Manufacturers of steam engines, chain cables, anchors, locks, hinges; millwrights, machinists, and shipbuilders,  their Works entrance was off St. Clement Street to the left of the Graveyard.  There was a large Iron Works behind the St Clements Church bordering the Links and Garvocks Wynd.  The nigh square site housed a Crane, Pattern Shop, Boiler Shop, Chain Shop, Turning Shop, Fitting Shop and Store.  Satanic Fires adjacent to Saintly desires.  Duffus also had a ropeworks on the Links adjacent

An interesting association between Aberdeen and song, concerns the beautiful ballad, "The Boatie rows," attributed to an Aberdeen Jeweller, one John Ewen.  For half a century his claim to the authorship was undisputed.  Then a Glasgow writer asserted that the song had been known for a 100 years before Ewen's time (he lived in the latest years of the 18th century and beyond).  It was said to have been called "The Fisher's rant of Fittie" - Footdee being Aberdeen's "fisher's town," and to have been merely "abridged' by Ewen.  But no proof of these assertions seems to be offered.  Nor has any other copy of any older version been found.  It seems, however, quite possible that John Ewen may have taken some coarse, local rhyme, and lifted its subject to a higher level.  It is hard to imagine that the name "Fisher's Rant" could ever have been given to verses so full of the simple dignity of humble life as these.

When Sawnie, Jock, and Janetie,
     Are up and gotten lear,
 They'll help to gar the boatie row
     An' lighten a' our care.
 The boatie rows, the boatie rows,
     The boatie rows fu' weel:
 And lightsome be her heart that bears
     The murlain and the creel!

"An' when wi' age we are worn down,
     And hirpling round the door,
 They'll row to keep us hale and warm
     As we did them before.
 Then weel may the boatie row,
     That wins the bairns' bread:
 And happy be the lot of a'
     That wish the boat to speed.

Hirplin - crippling

Aerial pictures of Footdee in 1938

John Ewen (1741–1821), is credited with the authorship of the well-known Scotch song, ‘0 Weel May the Boatie Row'.  Ewen was born in Montrose in 1741 of poor parents, and received only a very slender education. Having saved a few pounds he went in 1762 to Aberdeen, where he opened a small hardware shop.  This appears to have prospered, but the chief rise in his fortunes was owing to his marriage in 1766 to Janet Middleton, 1 of 2 daughters of a yarn and stocking maker in Aberdeen.  Through her, who died shortly after giving birth to a daughter, he became possessed of 1 half of his father-in-law's property.  Ewen died on 21 Oct 1821, leaving, after the payment of various sums to the public charities of Aberdeen, about £14,000 to found a hospital in Montrose, similar to Gordons Hospital, for the maintenance and education of boys.  The Will was challenged by the daughter's relations, and after conflicting decisions in the Scots Court of Session was appealed to the House of Lords, who, on 17 November 1830, set aside the Settlement on the ground that the Deed was void in consequence of its want of precision as to the sum to be accumulated by the Trustees before building and as to the number of boys to be educated on the Foundation. ‘O weel may the boatie row’ was published anonymously in Johnson's ‘Scots Musical Museum.’ It is thus characterised by Robert Burns: ‘It is a charming display of womanly affection mingling with the concerns and occupations of life. It is nearly equal to “There's nae luck aboot the hoose.”

Fittie Rangers Football Club House with the fishing net repair enclosure behind well fenced off from the public.  Beyond the outer metal fence was a rocky outcrop with barb Wire defence stanchions anchored to the rock - this was a route to the North pier and a source of limpets and Buckies.  The fishermen would stretch out their nets like washing on long poles to repair working damage with a bobbin of Yarn and weave in and out to magically repair any rends with their deft skills.  Alas all such skills have now died out.


St Clements Aluminium Cantilever Harbour Road Bridge was short lived.

Loons Line Fishing off the old wooden Jetty at Pocra for Saithes and Sole

Old Roundhouse and Custom House

The 1st locomotive for the Aberdeen Railway was built in Simpson & Co's York Place Iron Works in 1847, shortly before its closure in 1849. 

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Last modified: 01/09/2013