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The Green

The early or Dark Ages settlement must have been on the drier land at the east end of the Green, pressing up against the steep slope of St. Katherine’s Hill, looking east­wards to Shiprow and north­wards up Putachieside (now Carnegies Brae) to St. Nicholas Kirk. In such a confined space, any significant growth of population would soon have prompted a shift of activity and settlement to the higher and drier land of the Castlegate and Broadgate.  Even now, the Streets and Wynds around the Green are characterised by very high, narrow buildings, reflecting the tiny medieval plots into which the land was divided. The Castlegate was certainly the main street and market-place by 1290, being referred to, then, as a Forum

Archaeological excavation in the Green revealed a flint working area where people prepared implements for fishing and hunting at least 8000 years ago. From the medieval period archaeological and historical evidence combine to show a picture of progressive urban expansion shaped by religion, trade and Aberdeen’s topography.  The story of the Green goes back to the earliest period of human activity in the north-east of Scotland.

Remains of a Mesolithic flint-knapping area were discovered by archaeologists during excavations in 1976. Tiny blades made from local honey-coloured Buchan flint, along with waste flakes and nodules, on top of the gravel subsoil, demonstrated that a flint craftsman had worked there about 8000 years ago, making tools for fishing and hunting.  Later excavation in the area revealed features and artefacts indicating a later flint industry continuing into the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods.  All these discoveries are very unusual in the context of a highly developed modern City.

Rennie’s Wynd revealed water-laid deposits, suggesting that that area was estuarine in nature during most of the Medieval period . By contrast, on the opposite side of Rennie’s Wynd, at 67-71 Green, excavation work in 1977 uncovered similar water-laid layers, but overlain by Medieval garden soil, suggesting some reclamation by the 13th century. At both 45-49 Green and 67-71 Green, scatters of mesolithic flints were found: in the case of the former site, they represented a flint working area.  This site lies at the southern edge of the area known as the Green, where there is archaeological evidence of human activity as far back as 8,000-10,000 years ago. The Green has been thought by some historians to represent an early nucleus of the Medieval Burgh of Aberdeen, while by the 13th century it supported 2 religious houses or Friaries. The main Carmelite Friary buildings lay just to north of the present site. The southern boundary of their precincts has not been determined, but it is conceivable that the present site was within its boundaries, in ground which may have been tidal and subject to water-logging.  The house of the Trinitarians, not yet traced in any way in the archaeological record, is thought, from documentary and cartographic evidence, to lie to north and east.  In the 19th and earlier 20th century, at least part of the site was occupied by Hadden’s Woollen Manufactory.

Aberdeen’s Historic Green and surroundings are amongst the oldest known parts of the city. The Green is one of 4 administrative medieval quarters recorded by 1399 and an important point of entry to the city. Religious and mercantile activity has underpinned the life and economics of the area over a 750 year period. The Green remains an important architectural and historic area reminding us of Aberdeen’s medieval urban origins through to its nineteenth century expansion.  This illustration shows the extent of St Katherine's Hill now levelled - the foot of which is still defined by the Shiprow the present summit is now the Adelphi. (inset showing the old quarters of Medieval Aberdeen)

When the parish of St Nicholas was instituted in the beginning of the 12th century, Aberdeen had been comprehended within Market Street, St Nicholas Street, Upperkirkgate, Littlejohn Street, West North Street, King Street, and Marischal Street.

The southern boundary had been the Denburn, whose bed is now covered by Trinity Quay and Regent Quay.  A row of houses had extended along the north side of the Green, but the name Putachie, which means fold at a burn, indicates that the Green (on both sides of the Denburn) had been the pasture ground of the citizens' cows and that a fold had been provided for them at the burn side as it ran down Market Street to the Denburn.  Correction Wynd has all but disappeared in this artistic view.

  1. 1.   i   Music School
     k  Correction House
    Wynd or Lane

  2. 4.   l   Correction House

  3. 5.   m Towns Hospital

  4. 6.   Aidies Wynd

  5. ·     o  Bow Bridge

  6. 7.   The Greene or Bow Bridge Street

  7. 8.   The Crofts or Tradesmens Hospital

  8. 9.   The Tarnty Mill

  9. 10. t   Midd mill in the Green

  10. 11. Nether Kirk Gate Porte

  11. 12. The Nether Kirk Gate

  12. 13. 11 Shiprow Porte

1.   12 Saint Katherines Hill

The Green, reproduced from Parson Gordon’s map of 1661.

Carmelite and Trinitarian religious orders established friaries to the south of the Green and near Guild Street by the 13th century, centred on impressive stone built buildings. The strategic position of the Green close to the developing harbour and near one of the town “ports” which controlled trade, ensured that the area continued to be closely associated with trading.

The Bow Brig
For many centuries this bridge, which spanned the Denburn, was the main overland entrance to Aberdeen, and the Green, from the South.  It was here that all Royal and important visitors to Aberdeen were received and offered the ceremonial gifts and cup of Bon Accord. The date for the building of this bridge is uncertain. There is a  reference to a bridge here in 1453, although there had probably been one at this location from a much earlier time.  
Bow Brig, in this sense, means an arched bridge. In 1610 the Burgh Council noted that the existing bridge’s arch was too narrow, so when the Denburn overflowed the narrowness of the bridge caused the surrounding land to be flooded.  So a double-bowed bridge was built.  The double-arched Bow Brig survived until the middle of the 18th century and is shown on Gordon's map.  

Known as the Bow Brig from antiquity, the stone crossing dates rather late in the medieval era, the first being 1556, followed by repairs in 1586 The Denburn, however, continued to overflow,  and latterly this was being aggravated by the 2 bows of the bridge.

Andrew Jamesone, Master Mason and father of one of Scotland’s earliest portrait painters, George Jamesone, was responsible for building the grand two arched bridge in 1609, the very one we see on Parson Gordon’s map above and still in existence in 1661 Jamesone’s bridge was washed away by the Denburn in spate following a major flooding of the surrounding area on 4 October 1746.  There was a public clamour for the Brig to be rebuilt with a larger Single Arch.

The replacement came from one of the earliest mentioned City architects, John Jeans, who designed the new single arch Bow Brig the following year.  The new Brig was begun in 1747. The Bow Brig was finally removed in the 1860s to make way for the Denburn Valley Railway. At that time the arches of the Brig were taken to Union Terrace Gardens, where part of it was incorporated into the arches which support Union Terrace itself.  Jeans’ bridge had fared well, still being erect until the end of the 19th Century.

Corbie Well moved from its original site in Union Terrace Gardens, an older well was replaced in 1898 by an outlet in a plain granite ashlar wall. An inscription - "Renewed 1856" - and until the 1960s the wall supported one of the stone pillar lamp posts from the 1747 Bow Brig surmounted bizarrely by the Weather-vane from the steeple of old St Nicholas Kirk. City Fathers dispersing some old stock to create a mish mash of Architectural statement.

The Green is one of the oldest and most intriguing areas of Aberdeen. The Green has revealed evidence of prehistoric activity, was witness to the tumultuous events of the Reformation in 1560, to child kidnapping in the 18th century, whilst today it retains its own highly distinctive character. In medieval times the Green was 1of the 4 principal quarters of the city  (the others being, the Crookit, the Even and the Fittie quarters, see map). These were the areas into which the city was divided for administrative and defence purposes. In medieval times the Green was very much a craft and trade area in the burgh. Indeed in a tax list of 1509 there were 38 female Brewsters working and selling ale in the Green. The Green was also something of a religious centre for Aberdeen.  The name, the Green, is slightly misleading. It refers both to the principal street in the area and to the area more widely. The area can be defined as that to the south of St Nicholas Church down to the waterfront, bounded on the West by the Bow Brig and on the east by the base of St Catherine’s Hill. The street known as the Green was, in medieval times, known as the Green Gate, or Green Gait. Gate as a street name derives from a Viking or Norse word, Gata and means ‘the way to’. In this sense the  street name actually means the road which led to the green area, which presumably lay outside medieval Aberdeen, on the west of the Bow Brig. Curiously the Green, which was so central a part of medieval Aberdeen, was not within the system of town gates, known as ports. Aberdeen was never a walled city but was defended by a series of gates and ditches. Although the Green lay outside the gates its people were still expected to have arms and be trained to defend the City. It is said, although the evidence is equivocal, that the Army of Edward III  defeated the citizens of Aberdeen in a Battle in the Green in 1336 and then put the City to the torch.

Hadden's Mill on the Green - Spinning, Weaving and Carpet making.  Hadden's had more than 20 stocking machines wrought by 2 steam engines making frocks, mitts and all sorts of hosiery.  The application of machinery to woollens manufacture started in 1790.  Previous to that time the carding and spinning was done by hand.

Hadden’s Woollen Manufactory - The buildings of this factory can be seen on the 1867 and 1901 Ordnance Survey maps and had been demolished by the time the 1925 OS map was drawn.  Alexander Hadden & Sons opened in the late 18th century and by the 19th century employed between 300 and 400 people manufacturing hosiery. They were also large spinners of woollen and worsted yarns. According to Kennedy (Annals of Aberdeen, 1818) the Green factory was opened around the end of the 18th century and was run by ‘2 powerful steam engines. They manufacture coarse stockings, mitts, frocks, cloths, and various other articles in the woollen branch, to a very considerable extent, both for home consumption and for the foreign market’.  Aberdeen Architects Walker and Duncan, the result of the merger of 2 rural firms specialising in Agricultural business, added floors and designed alterations to the now Rennie’s Wynd premises in 1891  Hadden’s closed in the late 19th century, around the same time as the Bannermill.

The Mill dated from the 1750s and for the next 200 years it was an integral part of the life of the Green. Initially the concern was owned by Messrs Hadden & Farquhar, later Hadden & Sons.  The Mill specialised in spinning and weaving and by the late 19th century was one of the biggest carpet manufacturers in Britain. As well as being Business Magnates, the Hadden family were very prominent in local Politics.   The sons of the family went on to dominate local politics, filling the office of Lord Provost of Aberdeen 4 times in the 19th century. 

The sketch illustration  looking towards the 6 storey factory from a vantage point on Windmill Brae west of the Bow Bridge with matching Lamp posts over the Denburn which can be seen in the middle ground with its 2 opposing but perhaps more accurately recorded lamp standards.  There appears to be a bell tower to summon the workers and a Mill chimney stack.  The loft area is well lit from many skylights.  This was built on the site of what was once known as the Carmelite Friars’ Kiln

The distant Green showing Hadden's Mill. Note the presence of the Scaffie as street cleaner and a Woman selling Vegetables from a wooden stillage to a wee loon and another throwing out water   The distant spire may be the Tolbooth.

The Green is thought to be the oldest part of Aberdeen, perhaps properly ‘Greengate’, meaning the road to the bleaching-greens the banks of the Denburn; Aberdeen itself was perhaps originally ‘Aber–den’, given that seagoing vessels could come up the Denburn as far as Patagonian Court. (Patagonian Court runs through to the Denburn valley from Belmont Street and this may explain its bizarre name.

King William The Lion (1165–1214) was said to have had a Palace on the Green, which he later presented to the Trinity Friars, hence the Trinity Monastery and Chapel, and now, presumably, the Trinity Centre. There was a Carmelite Monastery on the south side of the Green, hence Carmelite St. and Lane.  Recent archaeological research suggests that the west end of the Green, close to the confluence of the Denburn and the River Dee, must have been marshy and waterlogged.  It belonged to Alexander II and used as lodgings by King Robert the Bruce after his Coronation in 1306, both were frequent visitors to the city,  Excavations in the past have unearthed many Roman artefacts.  When it comes to the City archives, the earliest Charter to be found was granted by King William the Lion about 1179 (A document granting the townspeople certain rights) , and from its wording we can assume that Aberdeen was already a Royal Burgh and a trading community of some importance.  King William seems to have paid many visits to Aberdeen and as a mark of favour he allowed the establishment of a Mint within the Burgh in Exchequer Row.

The Trinity Monastery and all its belongings were bought by Dr William Guild, one of the town's ministers, and presented by him in 1633 to the Incorporated Trades. When the Church of St Nicholas became ruinous and was deserted by its congregation they were accommodated in Trinity Church till the West Church was built. It continued, however, to be used as a church, and having itself become ruinous it was taken down in 1794 and rebuilt. In 1606 the Town Council granted a shipbuilder permission to build a ship in Trinity Churchyard, then lying unenclosed. It had been a very convenient spot for getting the ship into the water after she was built. In making excavations in 1906 for the foundation of a house at the corner of Market Street a coffin was met with in one place and some of the timbers of a ship in another. The Trinity Convent is commemorated by the name Trinity Quay, which once extended up Guild Street as far as the convent ground had gone.

It is easy to forget that a full half-mile of Union Street, from the Adelphi to Diamond Street, is an artificial creation



The Green, Aedies Brae and Putachieside 1789

1789 Survey Map - Alexander Milne

A market for the sale of linen is held in the Green on the last Wednesday of April, and a wool market is held there in the last week of June, and the first two weeks of July, on Thursday and Friday.
The timber-market, for the sale of tubs and other wooden articles, is held in the
Castle Street on the last Wednesday in August.
The feeing-market for the hiring of farm-servants is held in the vicinity of the meal-market at Aberdeen, on the second Friday of May and November.

The Ports or Gates The Upper and Netherkirkgate were the roads ‘above’ and ‘below’ the Mither Kirk of St. Nicholas. The narrow street to the west of the Kirk nowadays known as Back Wynd used to be called Westerkirkgate.  The Upperkirkgate Port was the last of the six medieval town gateways to be demolished, sometime after 1794. It stood near the foot of the Upperkirkgate, just beyond No. 42, the gable-ended 17th century house which is still to be seen there now.  The original 6 ports – solid walls pierced by gateways – had become an obstruction to the flow of traffic, having been in existence from the first half of the15th century.  The other 5 ports were the Netherkirkgate Port, controlling movement around the north side of St. Katherine’s Hill; the Shiprow or Trinity Port, (hence Trinity House and Quay) checking entry from the south side of St. Katherine’s Hill and the harbour; the Justice or Thieves’ Port to the north-east of the Castlegate, demolished 1787; the Futty Port on Futty Wynd, to the south-east of the Castlegate, and the Gallowgate Port on Port Hill, controlling movement from Old Aberdeen and the north. 

In the early days of the Burgh the Chief Magistrate was known as the Alderman, the term ‘Prepositi' being applied to the Burgh Baillies. About 1460 however, Latin documents refer to Chief Magistrate as ‘Prepositus' and the term ‘Provost' came into use shortly after. The ‘Provosts' Board' at the Town House shows the name of every Provost or Alderman from Richard Cementarius of 1272 to the current Lord Provost.

One of the Provost's duties was to lead the citizens into battle, and this had sad consequences in 1411 when a Citizen Army, led by Provost Davidson, joined the Lairds of the Garioch at Harlaw to repulse a Highland army under Donald, Lord of the Isles. The slaughter was great and many prominent people fell including Aberdeen 's Provost. His body was borne sadly home and buried within the Church of St Nicholas . The Battle of Harlaw in 1411 was one of the bloodiest battles ever to take place in Scotland .

History of the Green

Ædie's House in the foreground

John Buchan, Baker Shop, Aedies House, The Green. This building, also known as Aedie's Lodging, was reputed to be near to or the building in which children who had been kidnapped for the slave trade in America were held in the 18th century. The most famous of these was Peter Williamson. On the left is the stairway leading to Union Street.

74 - 76 The Green, Andrew Ædie's Lodging - where the original Back Wynd entered the Green before the construction of the raised Union St, it was known as Aedie's Brae.  David Ædie, 2nd son, inherited property in the Green, Aberdeen town centre, built a house there in 1633,   The picture from the 19th Century shows remarkable preservation and indicates the earlier wide steps up towards Back Wynd and a substantial bolster on the corner of the house.  David Ædie's father was George Ædie, an Aberdeen merchant trading in Danzig, Poland, and was the master to whom Sir George Skene [Provost Skene] was apprenticed. - Alas a' Knocket Doon!.

The date of construction of this splendid townhouse is unknown. However, it probably dates from the late 16th or very early 17th century and is said to be the work of Master Mason Andrew Jamieson, who was also responsible for what is now known as Provost Ross’s House, part of Aberdeen Maritime Museum, in Shiprow. The Ædies were prominent merchants and active in local affairs, in a variety of ways. David and his brother George were, for example, both Bailies of Aberdeen. One carved stone in a dormer window of the house bore the initials AE and CG standing for Andrew Ædie and Christian Guthrie his wife. Andrew was a Maltman who died in 1604.  The old angles staircase to Union Street is illustrated.

In the later 17th century George Ædie owned the house, having inherited it from his brother David who was killed at the Battle of Justice Mills on 13 September 1644. George married Mary Jamesone on 28 October 1677. Mary was daughter of George Jamesone, the Scottish portrait painter, and granddaughter of the Master Mason Andrew Jamesone. Mary Jamesone’s name is associated with 4 embroidered hangings which currently hang at the west end of the West Kirk of St Nicholas, showing scenes from both the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. These hangings may well have been part of the internal decoration scheme after Mary married George (her 2nd marriage). It has been suggested that George Ædie sold them to the town council in the late 1680s for £400 Scots, after Mary’s death.

Ever changing Back Wynd Steps introduced after the raising of Union Street here a simple 3 flight stairway at right-angles and with a stone Balustrade.  The Advocates Hall is visible in the gap at the North side of Union street Here Ædies House has gone from the corner but the old cobbled yard remains.

James Littlejohn & Sons Tea Dealers, 39 The Green - c.1885


The Back Wynd Stairs are so named because, before the making of Union Street, the Back Wynd came right down from Schoolhill to The Green. The stairway described above was re-designed in the 1930s to accommodate Boots the Chemist building.  In the gap in the buildings was Aedies Brae or Back Wynd replaced by a new flight of stairs leading up to Union Street. The outline of Aedies House appears on the gable end.

Drunks in need of further excitement would slide down these reconstructed steep stairs sitting on plastic Bread Trays used as improvised sledges and literally fly during their descent from the top as they hit the intermediate half landings and 'shot over' between the 'flights' of stairs.  They would then hurtle across the street cassies to an abrupt halt on the the other side of the Green regardless of any approaching traffic.  Ancient Facades abound.

The formidable 50ft incline and supreme challenge for the Bread Tray Surfers who would be fully airborne after hitting the 2 landings - such is the courage of drunks looking for 'wee thrull.'

These stairs are now the haunt of the beggars and homeless generated by the post Thatcherite eras.  The side entrance to Boots the chemist was on the 1st landing down to the left.  The only shop in Aberdeen that had an moving escalator in the early 1950's.  The heights of these building placed the Green in permanent shadow.







Once Union Street. and Holburn Street were laid down, the Green, Hardgate etc. ceased to be the main or only route to and from the South, and the Green went into a decline. It is easy to forget that a full half-mile of Union Street., from the Adelphi to Diamond St., is an artificial creation – a kind of flyover – superimposed on a series of arches vaulting the streets and wynds of the old toun, and at a height of between 20-50 ft. above the natural ground level, which slopes from St. Nicholas Kirkyard down to the Green and the Harbour, as did many of the old streets such as Putachieside and the Shiprow. Thus Correction Wynd and Carnegie’s Brae run under Union Street; other old streets like St. Katherine’s Wynd or Back Wynd were truncated by it, or, as at the Castlegate end, like Narrow Wynd and Rotten Row, were obliterated altogether.

The ubiquitous Water Hydrants (Wallies) had a lions head spout on the front and a central top drinking fountain from which the loon is slakin' his thirst.  A round fluted cast iron obelisk of a substantial strength.  Round gripper handle each side which operated a cam to release the water flow up or down.  Quarter turn forwards to wash your wellies or fill a bucket from the lions mouth spout.  Quarter turn backwards for upward flow to provide the drinking fountain cascade on the self draining dome on the top,  The water drained back into the perforated head and normally a gutter brander was in front for drainage.  Delightfully functional and sorely missed but may survive in Elgin.  Safety in numbers with loons then  and necessary camaraderie in their mischievous ventures roon the arches of the Green and open Harbour.

The Green - House and snuff mill, late wauk mill, formerly property of Osnaburgh Co. 1736 - 1801
Prior titles for Green near Putachieside. Vendor is John Jameson, merchant,
1736 - 1801. House and snuff mill, late wauk mill, formerly property of
Osnaburgh Co. 1736 - 1801

The Osnabruck area was well known for its linen production. The sought-after "Legge" seal showing the City's emblem, a wheel, became an internationally accepted mark of outstanding quality of the Osnabruck Linen. Plagiarism of the stamp occurred many times. In 1618 traders of Hamburg falsified the seal and until the 18th Century a Scottish clothmaker's town called itself "Osnaburg", named after the linen that was produced there. The robust linen of Osnabruck was mentioned in Scottish weavers songs and even in one of the novels of Isabell Allende, slaves in the New World wore the "Osnaburgh linen", so that the towns of Osnabruck and Osnaburgh became famous worldwide.

The Puffing Briggie - replaced the old right of way over the Denburn formerly afforded by the old Bow Brigs.
This image is remarkable controlled by the photographer to capture this view of the steps that led up to this high sided wooden bridge despite an eager Market crowd.  It maintained its old 'sair trachle' Merchant and Travellers link to the Windmill Brae and the Hardgate then onward to the Old Brig o' Dee.  Then gas lit and steel framed it allowed the long access over the Main and Suburban Railway lines and was a joy for kids who would be smothered in soot and steam exhausted from the many Steam Engines toiling or Braking their way up and down the Denburn Gradient.  You could feel and smell them but sadly one couldn't see them due to the high sided timber walkway.  The Bridge Street Viaduct stands in the distance before Bath Street and the now Royal Hotel.  This was close to the back of the Old Trinity Hall.

Fishwife sells her wares - Kerbside Kippers.

Clothes and Carrots

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Last modified: 01/09/2013