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Gilcomston ~ Gilcumstoun ~  Gilcomstown
Stones of Gilcon

Skene Terrace Corner

Beyond the Woolmanhill stretched the hamlet of Gilcomston, one of the most ancient suburbs of Aberdeen. The very name takes us back to the 12th century, and its mixture of Celtic and Saxon is an indication, at least, of the racial character of the inhabitants of the Aberdeen neighbourhood as the light of history begins to dawn. The controversy that has long existed as to the origin of the name Gilcomston, is amusingly illustrated in a 50 year old "Survey" of the city.  "Going northward (from Schoolhill) through Skene Square you may notice, within a garden on your left, Gilcomston, - the stone from which this suburb has its name. Some will have this 'Gilcom' to have been one thing and some another; the truth is, few or none can tell whether he was 'saint, sage, or savage.' The stone stands about 7 feet above the ground and there is another smaller one at a shorter distance. The appear to have been of Druidical erection."

Two possible standing stones whose site is now built over.  The larger was known as the Gilcon Stone and was said to have given name to the suburb of Gilcomston. It was 8' high and 12' in girth 'with four very unequal sides.'  The other, shown at a distance of 7 or 8m from the 1st was 6' high. The site is on the crest of a fairly steep rise near Gilcompston Steps. Paterson’s Map below shows the two stones standing on a hillock.

Our earliest references to Gilcomston tell merely of agricultural or grazing land, or, among other things, of disputes regarding moss-land in the neighbourhood of boundaries which were always ill-defined. The property passed through many hands in the middle centuries - the town always keeping a tight hold on at least certain portions of it. In the 16th century it was the property of the Gordons of Pitlurg. In 1632, through a charter granted by John, Earl of Mar, the lands of Gilcomston came into the hands of the notable Aberdeen family, Menzies of Pitfodels, and in 1672 the Scottish Parliament granted a ratification in favour of William Menzies of Pitfodels, to the lands and barony of Pitfodels, "As also all and haill the lands of the toun of Gilkhamstoun, with the milne, milne-lands, multurs, and sequills therof, Togidder with all and sundry toftis, croftis, outsettis, pairts, pendicles, and pertinents of the same."  Only a year afterwards Sir Andrew Fletcher uncle and tutor of Menzies of Pitfodels, sold the lands of Gilcomston to the town for 26,500 merks, £1452 4s 5d sterling. As pertaining to one particular branch of the public revenue or another, Gilcomston remained for many years the property of the town.

The commencement of the actual feuing of the lands of Gilcomston dates from that eventful period, 1748, when the Town Council enacted "that proper persons be appointed to put the lands of Gicomstone in several lots as the Council should think proper." Houses very quickly began to spring up, and by the end of the century there was a considerable village where Upper Denburn and Jack's Brae are still, with the outlying hamlet and quarries of Loanhead, near the present site of Loanhead Terrace.

Francis Douglas (1782), called it a "fine village," but those who are familiar with the wretched remains of it will rather agree with Kennedy when he says - "Although the ground on which it (the village of Gilcomston) is built is possessed many local advantages favourable for the situation of the town, having a fine sloping exposure to the south-east, with a small stream of water running through it, yet no plan whatever was adopted, either for laying out regular streets, or for building the houses upon any uniform design. The consequence of neglect in this respect has been buildings, in general are mean, and very irregular. For many years the village of Gilcomston maintained its air of separateness from the rest of the town, and indeed it was only in the last half of the 19th century, when the tract of ground known as the Belleville Nursery began to be cut up and formed into streets, that the suburb became in a real sense a part of the city proper.

A survey of Old & New Aberdeen in 1746 by G & W Paterson with an inset map of Scotland and numerous annotations on the nature of the adjoining land, crops etc.















James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

Gilcomston Steps, at the foot of Skene Square

Part of old Gilcomston, these 18th century labourers' houses were known as "the rotten holes" and were among the very worst slums in the city, even by the standards of the mid 19th century. One end house with an elevated sign was used as a Smithy. All were demolished to make way for the Denburn Valley Railway, c.1866

Rotten Holes were the name of rat holes and this place name also appears on Pattersons Map of 1746.near Silverton Hospital. 

Sillerton - The origin of the Sillerton name is not clear, but it is believed that, in Robert Gordon's lifetime, he was known as Gordon of Silverton (siller being Scots for silver), and on Patterson's Map, the Gordon’s school is identified as Silverton Hospital.

Gilcomston Steps, from Spa Street, to Skene Square

The Boxroom - Skene Sq./ Forbes St

The Hardweird,
or (Hard Ward) so named as having been built on the Hardweird Croft, was then the only street in Aberdeen showing the 'forestairs' that were so common in the older streets of the town. The Hardweird ran from Skene Row to Jack's Brae. Skene Row came off Skene Street, opposite Chapel Street. Part of old Gilcumstoun, it resembled a small "ferm toon" standing between the foot of Jack's Brae and Upper Denburn and it consisted of 18th and early 19th century artisan and labourers' housing - a product of the period when Gilcomston had a flourishing weaving industry. Some of the houses were demolished in 1908. One of Aberdeen's worst slums, it was cleared during the early 1930s and the playground of Gilcomston Primary School now occupies part of the site.

It is shown as the Hard Ward in Patersons Map 1746

Short Loanings - a Loaning is a 'country road', it is a long time since this part of the city was in the country. Nearby, Craigie Loanings another road, which uses the same name. Early Houses had forestairs, which were once very much a part of Scottish architecture but are now rarely seen. The 1861 the Census showed that 34% of all Scottish dwellings had only one room and 37% had two rooms. Many would have been of this appearance.

1956 Demolition
Upper Denburn
to the right looking towards the Rosemount Viaduct and Tenements

Previous to 1756 there was one solitary farmhouse.  Houses very quickly began to spring up by the end of the 18th Century, and by then there was a considerable village where Upper Denburn and Jack's Brae are still, with the outlying hamlet and granite quarries of Loanhead, near the present site of Loanhead Terrace.  There was also a well at the head of Jack's Brae, a few feet from the end of Gilcomston Mill.  Jack's Brae took its name from John Jack, farmer at Gilcomston

Dyer's Court, Upper Denburn
Farmers Hall Lane  Gilcomston ran from the Gilcomston Brewery to Rosemount Place

1789 Survey Map - Alexander Milne

Ach - I fine mine skelpin doon Jacks Brae in eh snaw min. Soakin weet n freezin caul wie rosie chiks en gettin a row fae ma fur bein se daft!

The houses on the left were never there when I was a lad. It was just waste ground right down to the bottom from the backies of the houses on Northfield Place. There was a lane at the bottom that ran up the side of Skene Street School to meet Skene Street. At the top was a wee shoppie where we used to go when we had tuppence to get a Vimto drink made from a cordial syrup diluted with water of course and served in a tall clear glass bottle which had to be handed back.  Fars the bairns these days, - no street games like Leave ee ooooh! kick eh cannie! and nae sna ba fights. Very few if any groups of kids go out playing these days, summer or winter. Sad really as half the fun was inventing and innovating fun and games with your pals and exploring your stamping ground of course. I dare say Jacks Brae looks rather different these days. - Doug P










In the 19th century, the Inner Marches between Hardgate and Spital were defined at intervals by wall marks 'CR'. Two survive, one situated at the rear of the foot pavement on the South West side of Jack's Brae about 60 yds South East of Northfield Place; the other is situated at the edge of a grass verge adjacent to the pavement on the South West side of Upper Denburn. Rectangular in section, it measures 0.31m in breadth by 0.15m in thickness and stands to a height of 0.38m. The top of the North East face of the stone is bevelled and bears the incised letters CR, standing for City Royalty.

March Lane, a narrow lane in the Rosemount area of Aberdeen had a number of small houses with pantiled roofs. The rather rundown nature of the lane hid the fact that it stood on the boundary of the City of Aberdeen.  At the end of the lane there was a dressed granite stone with the letters CR incised on it. These stood for City Royalty and up to the 19th century, the Town Councillors would inspect these Boundaries or Marches to check that such landmarks had not been removed. A series of such stones marked what was known as the Inner Marches and another series with the letters ABD marked the Outer Marches which bounded the Freedom Lands, including the lands granted to the City by Robert the Bruce in 1319

A Tannery and Dye Works were close to the Denburn for a supply of water, some ‘Handloom’ factories, the Rosemount Works and Winery, and the Gilcomston Brewery

The Gilcomston Dam, west of the new Grammar School now filled up. The Denburn's course now ends in a sewer in Forest Road. Though now quite lost to sight its course is shown on Taylor's Map, 1773. Gilcomston Dam was not formed till the town bought the lands of Gilcomston in 1580, but it was at this dam that the supply of water for the town and the Upper and Nether Mills was taken off from the Denburn.

The formation of the Dam at Gilcomston may be assigned to the time of the erection of the mill at Baker Street, because the town had a dam of its own called the Loch. The Lower Mill of Gilcomston was on the south side of Baker Street, and in connection with it there was afterwards erected Gilcomston Brewery, for which the mill ground the malt used in brewing. The mill wheel served also to pump from a deep well the water required for the brewery and a distillery attached to it. This had a prejudicial effect on the Well of Gilcomston, a strong spring on the North side of Baker Street, which had been pressed into the service of the town. It sent water only to the Well of Spa and a watering trough at the end of the Infirmary.

1868 - Rubislaw, Lower Stocket and Westburn Survey

Leadside Road - Leadside was laid out on part of the Gilcomston property. The name refers to the lade or stream which ran from Gilcomston Dam to the Gilcomston Mills at the top of Jack's Brae. It was drained and filled about 1907. This is one of the oldest granite-built streets.

It has been already mentioned that at a time anterior to 1398, when the Burgh Records begin, the Denburn was diverted at Whitehall Place to drive the Upper Mill in St Nicholas Street, and to water the town. The Town Council had bought from the proprietor of the land of Gilcomston the right to use the water, but had not stipulated that they were to have sole use of it : there was therefore, nothing to prevent him from erecting a mill on his own land and taking the use of the water as it went past. This was done in 1513, greatly to the annoyance of the Town Council. The new Gilcomston Mill interfered with the town's monopoly of making into meal all the corn grown within the Royalty and also on freedom lands which the Burgh had retained in its own possession. But all that the magistrates could do was to threaten to exact lines and double multure dues from the burghers' crofts and from town's lands within the freedom. The tenants of lands, over which the Burgh had no control, were to be come at by being interdicted from getting any of the city refuse for their land if they ground their corn at the new Mill of Gilcomston. The grievance was removed in 1679, when the Town Council purchased the lands of Gilcomston with the mill. Probably it had thereafter been abandoned for a while, as we hear no more of a Mill at Gilcomston for a long time.

1789 Survey Map - Alexander Milne

Gilcomston Parish Church The church is located at the north end of Summer Street at its junction with Skene Terrace and was built in 1771 as a Chapel of Ease within the parish of Old Machar. It was connected to the city of Aberdeen by the steep, crooked Mutton Brae at the west end of the Schoolhill below the site that would later house Triple Kirks.  In the Denburn area there was a number of workers, especially weavers, who had become established in this district by the mid-18th century. In Jack's Brae, Leadside and Loanhead there were also other small settlements that increased the number of people living in the area. The Church was built in the Denburn area to accommodate this growing population which at the time was too far away from the parish church of Old Machar.


Summer Street and Gilcomston Kirk with a demolished corner house leaving the fireplaces yawning at adjacent wall decoration. a fire in every room even for the attic flat and some residual storage space.

French Invasion Scare - Aberdeen Volunteers 1791-1802
Gilcomston Pikemen. - The reason for name; pike exercises; formation of Gilcomston Pikemen; officers; commander; first inspection; Government plan; agreed to continue services; pikes abandoned for muskets; name changed; presentation to Commander agreed to transfer to local militia; officers at end.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013