The Doric Columns
The Guestrow ~
The Guestrow was one of the earliest streets in Aberdeen (1439).
Wooden buildings, which were numerous in the preceding century, had now gone out of fashion, though numbers were in existence at a much later date, for it was not till after a great fire which destroyed the West side of the Broadgate in 1741 that the erection of houses having their outside walls of wood was finally prohibited.
The Guestrow running parallel
with the Broadgate is one of Aberdeen's most ancient thoroughfares - it has
shared in the storms and in the glories of the burgh's history since at least
the 15th century. Its short, cobbled, narrow causeway saw many famous
personages traverse it and dwell in its old houses - today little is left, for
by the late 19th century the ancient tenements had become slums to be
condemned to demolition; and forgotten were the medieval mansions of provosts,
bishops, nobles, advocates and generals; vanished were the sloping walled
gardens built over by later accretions which obscured the original good Scots
In Parson Gordon’s map of 1661, there were no houses westwards of the Denburn, nor northwards of the Loch, no Ferryhill or Rosemount, no Union St., King St., Marischal St., George St., Market St. or Bridge St. There was the considerable elevation of St. Katherine’s Hill, so-named after the chapel on its summit dedicated to St. Katherine of Siena. The Chapel was founded in 1242 but was in ruins by 1661. St. Katherine’s Hill sloped down to the Netherkirkgate to the north, Putachieside (Carnegie’s Brae) to the west and to Shiprow to the south and east. St. Katherine’s Hill was obliterated during the construction of Union St. and Market St; the Adelphi Court, built 1810, lies on its former crest. The only remnant of St Katherine’s Chapel is a 15th century red sandstone grave slab set in the north boundary wall behind No. 24 Adelphi. The name lingers on in St. Katherine’s Wynd, (adjacent to former E & M’s), which descended from the Netherkirkgate to Shiprow. The circular route around the former base of St. Katherine’s Hill is still apparent in the curve of Shiprow, the Netherkirkgate and Carnegie’s Brae.
Today all that we see of the
Guestrow is the street itself denuded of its mansions, save the restored
town-house of Provost Sir George Skene, standing somewhat starkly, deserted by
its neighbouring buildings whose foundations lie beneath the surrounding waste
areas and car parks. It is much to be hoped that future developments will not
obscure permanently the line of this ancient Guestrow, for the very name is
embedded in Aberdonian history and the derivation of the name has been the
subject of much interest and even controversy. The name 'Guestrow' is
pronounced 'Gaistra' in the dialect of the Aberdonian and has nothing to do with
guests or guest-houses. Although Parson Gordon in A Description of bothe
Touns of Aberdeene is doubtful whether 'guests' or 'ghosts' led to the name,
By the 16th century, the Guestrow was already somewhat built up — each tenement consisted of a house fronting, and parallel to, the street, through which a pend gave access to an inner court, one side of which was occupied by a building at right angles to the street house. The back of the court might be closed by another house also giving pend access beyond to the 'four-neukit' garden sloping to the west. We know from Parson Gordon (1661) that in his time the houses were of stone and lime, slate-roofed, mostly three or four stories high, some higher. Streets were carefully paved and house frontages were adorned by timber galleries and forestairs. Adjoining most dwellings were gardens and orchards with so many trees that the whole town would seem to be set down in a woodland. Throughout the centuries, the now-demolished houses of the Guestrow were the mansions of famous personages, for, apart from Sir George Skene, the 'Bloody' Duke of Cumberland, and Major James Wolfe (later the victor of Quebec) who had occupied the 'Cumberland' House (Formerly Skene's). View is from Duthie Court.
Several Civic Chiefs resided along this street: Provost Leslie, Provost Jaffray and Provost Bannerman, the Jacobite of 1715. The latter lived in the house known as Shepherd's Court just off Guestrow; earlier occupants were Sheriff-Depute Andrew Thomson and his wife Agnes Divie in 1673, whose initials appear on a plaque over the gateway, originally leading to the court but now re-erected in Union Terrace Gardens. However the gateway itself is at least early seventeenth century, similar in date to the old house, which old photographs show to have been a semi-castellated building consisting of a rectangular block having attached at one corner a strong round conical-roofed tower with entrance door. Sheriff-Depute Thomson's house had possessed the interesting qualities of sturdy Scots domestic architecture at its best. Unfortunately, when the Guestrow slum properties were demolished, few discerning eyes could distinguish good medieval buildings from relatively modern squalor.
Provost Skene's House built from rough granite blocks and dressed freestone, this townhouse dates back to 1545. It had several owners before Sir George Skene in 1669. He was Provost between 1676 and 1685, receiving a Knighthood in 1681. He undertook a major reconstruction of the property, adding turrets and the strange flat roof. The house boasts a ceiling dating from the early 1600's which shows scenes from the Bible, in this case the Crucifixion. Also known as 'Cumberland's House' though the Butcher of Culloden only requisitioned it for a few weeks as he moved north. lts use was subsequently the Victoria Corporation Lodging House until the Model Home was built in East North Street.
Even up to about 1850 the Guestrow was a 'respectable' neighbourhood - in 1807 for instance, the celebrated Duchess of Gordon was present at an elegant ball at Major-General Macdonald's residence; the Society of Friends had a meeting-house in the street; the Episcopalians a small chapel, and the Aberdeen Savings Bank their office from 1838 till 1858. At No.15 Guestrow was born Archibald Simpson, now famed as Architect of Aberdeen's finest granite buildings, while the only other house now remaining in the street, other than Skene's House, belonged in the late 18th century to the family of Black of Cloghill.
This building, often referred to as the 'Dispensary', has little architectural merit, being much altered and added to during its more recent conversion into offices. However, it retains its walled and tree-lined garden, grass-planted nowadays, but offering visual proof of the fact that the enclosed gardens contributed much to the Guestrow being a desirable residential neighbourhood, as it undoubtedly was until a century ago.
The Quakers Meeting House
was on the West side of the Guestrow. Quakers Court,
53 Guestrow. The present Meeting House is
in Crown Street.
Formerly used as the Victoria Lodging House
View from Duthie Court
Galen's Court, 18 Guestrow,
Some 7 Public Houses were on the Guestrow - Including Red Lion Inn Court
Guestrow, off Broad Street - Demolition
Aberdeen Dispensary, Lying-in, and Vaccine Institution (1823 61 Guestrow
For supplying Advice and Medicine to the sick poor, and to such as are unfit patients for the Infirmary, or at their own houses. Supported by voluntary contributions the General Dispensary, Vaccine and Lying-in Institution gave free medical advice and treatment to all that required it, as well as for patients at home who were too ill to attend. The Dispensary was founded in 1781 and was independent by 1786. In 1790 the Dispensary split into 3 separate institutions but these combined, in 1823, to form the Aberdeen General Dispensary, Vaccine and Lying-in Institution. In 1870 the Dispensary bought 2 houses in the Guestrow, - one to serve as a maternity or lying-in unit, although qualified midwives were not appointed to serve until 1892. The Lying-In Institution moved to Barnett's Close in 1893 where there was a 'Dispensary Vaccine & lying-in institutions; for those patients whose houses were too wretched for them to receive proper care and attention". In 1900 the Bank of Scotland Offices in Castle Street were bought and converted into the Maternity Hospital. The National Health Service made it redundant in 1948.
The once fashionable area of the Guestrow in the centre of Aberdeen.
The word "Guestrow' may derive from 'Ghaist Raw' because of the street's proximity to St Nicholas Churchyard where 'ghaists', ie ghosts might be thought to roam. The tiled roofs and outside stairs were typical of these early houses.
The Guestrow area was part of a slum clearance initiative by the Town Council in the late 1920's and 30's when most of the buildings there were demolished.
J Mutch (Ironmongers) Ltd.,
1935 - Contrast between the gleaming and dreaming spires of the Marischal College in the background with the dilapidated housing of Broad Street West side, the Guestrow, Barnetts Close, Flourmill Brae and St Nicholas Street. This near medieval corner of the city was ready for demolition and exploitation. Skene's House is almost lost to the right of this image.
Marischal College dated c.1906.
The view overlooks the Guestrow area which would become part of a slum clearance scheme in the 1930's although Provost Skene's House would survive. The sparkling Kemnay granite of the newly completed frontage to the College stands out clearly.
At the right are the tower of the North Church and the spire of the new Greyfriar's Church.
Aberdeen Savings Bank was founded in 1815 and had conducted its business in these small offices on the Guestrow until 1858, when the Bank was relocated to Exchange Street.
Ghaists an Bogles
Voodoo, cock craa, cat an corbie,
Collies Court, Shiprow and Shepherd's Court in the Guestrow as captured by the forgotten Artist William Bisset Wylie resident of 121 Blenhiem Place, Fountain Hall, Aberdeen, and published as etchings in 1923 these 90 year old images were a matching pair discovered in a Charity Shop in Arbroath by Jackie H and yet there is no public record of who this accomplished Artist was. If anyone can shed light on his work we would be pleased to hear from them. Yet another captivating view of 18th century buildings. They are certainly a captivating matched pair and the compatible vertical format indicates the Artist was a skilled observer of these rubble built vistas leading from the Tenement Backlands to the Pends and Closie's of Ancient Aberdeen.
Would that our City Fathers had commissioned such fine records of our Ancient City features and before the demolishing of their glorious untrammelled development without planning requirements of the sort that could lead to one of the City's most valuable and salient Architectural features being removed from its unique 500 year old location simply for a poor substitution of a Marks and Sparks extension.
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