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The Guestrow ~
Guest Raw or Ghaistra

The Creation of the Guestrow
The Guestrow was one of the earliest streets in Aberdeen (1439).  At the time when the disturbed state of the country rendered it unsafe to dwell without the walls, a double row of houses was erected, apparently at 1st of wood, in the middle of the Broadgate, by which that street was, reduced in breadth from about 35 paces to its present breadth of about 15 or 18 paces, and the west side of it, known by the name of the Guestrow, or as it is called in some old writings, the "vicus lemurum," [Book of Bon Accord, i. p. 117.] thus became a separate street.  About the beginning of the 18th century, the Magistrates, anxious to deprive marauders of the shelter afforded them by the Forest of the Stocket, gave permission to such of the citizens as chose to take wood from it for that purpose, to add balconies to the front of their houses, projecting 8 or 10 feet into the street, viz. to the extent occupied by the outer stairs -and thus the streets were considerably narrowed, and the town rendered less healthy. One or 2 of the houses thus altered still remain, having a wooden front, behind which, at the distance of about 10 feet, is the original stone wall of the house.

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 architecture.
View - from Duthie Court

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.

 

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661


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,

G. M. Fraser in Historical Aberdeen claims its origin from the fact that it overlooked the kirkyard of the Toun Kirk of St Nicholas and was thus associated in the medieval mind with ghosts. Now it is of course impossible to see the burial yard of St Nicholas from the Guestrow today because high buildings intervene. But even in the 15th century it scarcely 'overlooked' the Kirkyard, and between street and the Toun Kirk flowed the Loch or Flourmill Burn and parallel to that along the west side of the Guestrow gardens flowed the lade for the Mid or Flour Mill. However, a charter of 1439 refers to 'Vicus Lemurum' (the street of the spectres) and, while this may be medieval latinisation, it is the only acceptable explanation of this intriguing name, failing a possible derivation from Gaelic, as in other Aberdonian place-names, i.e. Mounthooly (Monadh-tulach): Green (Grianan): Fitty or Footdee (Feithe).


'Butcher' Cumberland

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.

Provost Skenes House - PDF - Guestrow

The Quakers Meeting House was on the West side of the Guestrow. Quakers Court, 53 Guestrow. The present Meeting House is in Crown Street.
Skene's House from the West - Quakers Court


Formerly used as the Victoria Lodging House
Victoria Model Lodging House.   45 Guestrow - Instituted 1840.
The most striking and accessible of the old houses still left, is one up a close in the Guestrow (or Ghost-row).  It is now used as the Victoria Lodging House and is kept in substantially good order and is readily shown to visitors.  It was once the home of well-placed people, and the Duke of Cumberland lodged here when he was in the North in "The Butcher" of Culloden business.  He and his suite had free quarters here, yet on departing, they packed up everything on which they could lay hands in the way of plate, linen and other household-providing.  The owners got no payment or other compensation.

View from Duthie Court


Creation of the Guestrow
At the time when the disturbed state of the country rendered it unsafe to dwell without the walls, a double row of houses was erected, apparently at first of wood, in the middle of the Broadgate, by which that street was, reduced in breadth from about thirty-five paces to its present breadth of about fifteen or eighteen paces, and the west side of it, known by the name of the Guestrow, or as it is called in some old writings, the "vicus lemurum," [Book of Bon Accord, i. p. 117.] thus became a separate street. About the beginning of the 18th century, the magistrates, anxious to deprive marauders of the shelter afforded them by the Forest of the Stocket, gave permission to such of the citizens as chose to take wood from it for that purpose, to add balconies to the front of their houses, projecting 8 or 10 ft into the street, viz. to the extent occupied by the outer stairs—and thus the streets were considerably narrowed, and the town rendered less healthy. One or two of the houses thus altered still remain, having a wooden front, behind which, at the distance of about 10 feet, is the original stone wall of the house.

                                                                  View of Shepherd's Court

Galen's Court, 18 Guestrow, Archway
This commemorates an archway and date stone from a 17th-century house. The archway was erected in 1637 by Andrew Thomson, Advocate and Sheriff-Depute in Aberdeen, as the gateway to his house in Guestrow. His initials and those of his wife, Agnes Divie, are on the panel built into this wall. On demolition of the properties in Guestrow, in 1931, the archway was rebuilt in Union Terrace Gardens, from where it was taken in 1970 and re-erected at Provost Skene's House in Flourmill Lane.
Shepherd Court,  21 Guestrow - home of Provost Bannerman
Webster's Court, 23 Guestrow
Milner's Court,  25 Guestrow, Nr Ragg's Lane
Thornton's Place, 27 Guestrow
Niven's Court,      29 Guestrow

Thornton's Court, 37 Guestrow
Mitchell's Court,  43, Guestrow
Duthie's Court,    45 Guestrow - led to Victoria Lodging House - Skenes House
Quakers Court, 53 Guestrow
Ramsay's Court, 57 Guestrow

 

Some 7 Public Houses were on the Guestrow - Including Red Lion Inn Court

Thornton's Court, 37 Guest Row

Guestrow, off Broad Street  - Demolition 1932
Barnett's Close, (Baronett's) from 44 Guestrow to Flourmill Brae

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 Dispensary, Guestrow
Supported entirely by Voluntary Contributions.  Under the Patronage of the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, and the Members for the City and County of Aberdeen.
Surgeon — Dr. Mackenzie Davidson.
Secretaries and Treasurers — Messrs. Davidson & Garden, Advocates.
Attendance daily at 3pm. Open to all cases without any recommendation.  The attendance was over 1200 yearly.
Aberdeen Dispensary, Lying-in, and Vaccine Institution (1823).
Barnett's Close and 61 Guestrow
For supplying Advice and Medicine to the Sick Poor, and to such as are unfit patients for the Infirmary, at their own houses.
President — The Lord Provost.
Secretaries and Treasurers — Watt & Cumine, Advocates.
Medical Attendants.
Geo. Watt, M.D. George M. Edmond, M.D., CM., James F. Ruxton, M.B., CM., A. T. G. Beveridge, M.B., CM., John Gordon, M.D., CM., R. G M'Kerron, M.A., M.B., CM.


 

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.,
Seems to be the last lease date on Broad Street/Guestrow demolition to expire.  This picture shows the rear of the premise in juxtaposition to that of the College Facade.  What a shame the City fathers did not restore Broad Street to its original width and create a piazza to flatter the College status.  At an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Members of the above-named Company, duly convened and held at 52 Bon-Accord Street, Aberdeen on the 2nd day of December 1969, the following Special Resolution was duly passed "That the Company be wound up voluntarily and that Alexander Wares Nicholson, Chartered Accountant, be and is hereby appointed Liquidator for the purposes of winding up."
F W Nicol, Chairman.
Note. The above notice did not refer to James Mutch Ltd, Wholesale Ironmongers, 105 King Street.

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.


Rotten Row was a small lane adjoining the Guestrow and may have been an entrance to the Netherkirkgate

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
Incantations, seance claik,
Occult charms an Tarot pack.
Fin the meen is peely wally,
Warlock rule ower coven black.

Broonies, kelpies, ghaists an bogles,
Poltergeist frae graveyaird glaur,
Silkies, skeletons an banshees,
Cross the kirkyaird gin ye daur!

Zombie, alien, broomstick rider,
Fearie fleg o tickin clock.
In a roon o wab an spider...
Fit wid happen, should it stop?

Voodoo, cock craa, cat an corbie,
Gar ye grue at Halloween.
Nichtmares come gin ye've bin watchin
Frichtsome films on TV screen!

 

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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Last modified: 01/09/2013