Home Up Pre-History The District The Streets The Tenement Family Names North East Art

The Doric Columns

Natural Harbour Craig Maitland Navigation Channel Harbour Development Harbour 1770- Harbour 1797- Telford's Harbour The North Pier Graving Dock Dock Gates Divers o' the Deep The Quays

The Harbour

David Anderson of Finzeauch, commonly known by the appellative of "Davie do a'-thing," was noted for his mechanical genius, and in the year 1618 promoted the improvement of the harbour, by removing a large rock Craig Maitland which lay in the middle of the channel at its entrance.


Entrance to Aberdeen Harbour c.1822 , with Sail boats approaching from right, seen from the Torry bank, with horse-drawn cart and 2 kilted figures on a road in foreground, and others on the Pier above the water with salmon fishing or ferry cobbles; Roundhouse and Fittie buildings on the opposite bank, ships and boats moored in the harbour at Pocra; the Mither Kirk,  Tollbooth and Barracks on Castlehill and Headinhg Hill in the background, and hiher hills in the distance; a pre-industrial scene.

an illustration to Ayton's 'Voyage round Great Britain', vol. VI. 1822



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

Torry Pier, from John Slezer’s view of ‘New Aberdeen from the Torry Blockhouse’, of 1693 The Footdee Blockhouse is evident.

Entrance to Aberdeen Harbour by James Cassie

The eastward extension of the wharf, whereby a fine meadow of ground known as the shorelands was reclaimed, this was carried on slowly (1623-59), and before 1661 a Shipbuilding Dock had been constructed at Footdee: but, all improvements notwithstanding, harbour navigation continued to be difficult and perilous, owing to a bar of sand, above which at low tide there was scarcely 2 feet depth of water.

To remedy this evil, the Magistrates in 1770 procured a plan from Smeaton, in accordance wherewith the new North Pier was built (1775-81) at a cost of £18,000. Curving slightly northwards, it had a length of 1200 feet, a height of from 16 to 30 feet, and a breadth of from 20 to 36 feet at the base, and from 12 to 24 at the top, its dimensions increasing seawards. Later by recommendation of Telford this Pier was extended (1810-16) to a further length of almost 900 feet, at a cost of £66,000: and to protect it, a Southern Breakwater, nearly 800 feet long, was finished in 1815, at a cost of £14,000 more.

The next great undertaking was the construction (1840-48) of the Victoria Dock, 28 acres in extent - 7½ above Regent Bridge, - with 2053 yards of wharfage, and tide-locks 80 feet wide, the depth of water on whose sill is 21 feet at ordinary spring tides. This left about 18 acres of tidal harbour, and so things stood till Dec. 1869, when work commenced on the southward diversion of the Dee from the Craiglug Suspension Bridge seawards. The new channel, curving a little over a mile, and was at its bottom 170 feet wide, was completed at a cost of £51,585 in 1872, the total sum expended on Harbour improvements up to that date since 1810 amounting to £1,509,638.

View of the City from Balnagask above the South Pier or Bulwark of the Dee at the mouth of the River, steam and sail ships passing into port at left, the chimneys of the houses and factories smoking, the barracks at Castlehill in the centre distance; Seaton's North Pier and South Breakwater, the Lower Pocra Jetty with the Roundhouse - after William Henry Bartlett (1809-54), illustration to William Beattie's 'Scotland'. 1838 Etching and engraving of a more Industrialised City and the development of the Harbour..

Other works under the Act of 1868 have been the building of a new South Breakwater of concrete, 1050 feet long and 47 high, at a cost of £76,443 (1870-73): a further extension of the N pier by 500 feet, at a cost of £44,000 (1874-77): and the filling up of the Dee's old bed, on which, in a line with the dock-gates, it is now (1881) proposed to form a Graving-dock, 559 by 74 feet, as also gradually to rearrange the docks at a total cost of £72,000, by building a new end to the Victoria Dock, with bridge and railway across, removing Regent Bridge and approaches, lowering the dock-sill, providing a caisson bridge, etc.

Girdleness Lighthouse, with 2 fixed lights, 115 and 185 feet above mean tide, was built in 1833 to the South of the harbour entrance, which, widened now to 400 yards, leads out of Aberdeen Bay, a safe enough anchorage this with offshore winds, though not with a NE, E, or SE wind. Valued at £13,874 in 1881, the Harbour is managed by 19 commissioners chosen from the town council, and by 12 other elected commissioners. The aggregate tonnage registered as belonging to the port was 310 in 1656, rising to sailing vessels of 92,217, and 53 steamships of 25,965 tons .in 1879,

For a ship to be moored to a Buoy in the Harbour Centre was in Quarantine normally the result of pestilence or contagion on Board.  The temporary Floating Jetties or decks with dingy's 'ashore' are a faded reason now - perhaps for the chance painting of areas of the ships hull at shallow draft after unloading before pontoon docks became available.  Flat bottomed painters 'sculls' with propulsion from an oar at the rear were also used.

The Harbour was, for many years, an open basin, with a sand islands in the centre called the Inches, which separated the channel of the River from the Harbour, on the north side of it; and the only building was the Quay-head, which, having become ruinous, was repaired in 1484, and rebuilt in 1527, with stone brought from Dundee. A pier was built in 1607, which, in 1623, was extended from the quay-head towards the fishing village of Futtie, by which means a considerable portion of land was gained from the basin, and which now forms part of the town. In 1755, the Magistrates and Council engaged Mr. John Smeaton, an eminent engineer, to improve the harbour; and in 1770, he proposed a Stone Pier on the North side of the entrance, which, confining the stream of the river within narrow limits, would remove a bank of sand that accumulated there.  In 1773, an Act of Parliament was obtained, and the improvements on Mr. Smeaton's plan were carried into full operation, at a cost of £18,000. This pier was 1200 feet in length, 20 feet broad at the base, 12 on the summit, and 16 feet in height at the western extremity, and gradually increased towards the east where it was 36 feet broad at the base, 24 on the summit, and 30 feet high; it was faced with blocks of granite, many of which weighed more than 3 tons each. The Pier, however, by a deviation from Mr. Smeaton's original plan, being erected too far towards the north, a great swell was occasioned in the harbour at high water, to remedy which, a breakwater was projected from the west end of it, towards the channel of the River, with complete effect. The Harbour was further improved by Mr. Telford, who, in 1810, extended the original pier 900 feet further towards the east, where it terminated in a circular head, 60 feet in diameter, which was destroyed by the sea in the following winter, and rebuilt with a slope towards the sea. A breakwater 800 feet in length was also erected, on the south side, by which the harbour was protected from the south-east storms, and the depth of water increased to 19 feet. Commodious wharfs were formed along the Harbour, on the south-west side of the village of Futtie, and Quays nearly 4000 feet in length have been constructed: the Inches, also, are now connected with the town by a swivel-bridge opposite the end of Marischal Street. In 1843, an Act of Parliament was obtained for converting a large part of the Harbour into a wet dock, and operations for that purpose are in progress. The Custom-house or Weigh-House situated on the Quay, is a neat building purchased by Government, and fitted up for the purpose; the establishment consists of a Collector, Comptroller, Land and Tide surveyors, 4 landwaiters, 28 tide-waiters, 6 boatmen, and other officers.


1833 showing the proposed diversion of the River Dee to create the Albert Basin.

Virginia St. was laid down in the mid-18th century on the reclaimed Shorelands, as were Commerce St., Sugarhouse Lane, Water Lane, Pork Lane (Mearns St.), James St. and the lower end of Marischal St.  Until then, the waters of the Harbour had extended to the foot of the Castlehill at high tide.   The name of Virginia Street. refers to the expanding trade with the Americas, as does that of nearby Sugarhouse Lane for the West Indies.

Looking Across the Dee to the Point Law and Harbour 1880

Now what was the name of the guy who ran the Aberdeen (fish) Box Pool – Joe Little?  Blatant advertising afloat or lying everywhere.

Now as a wee ruffian - when I wanted to ‘gin doon tae’ the Harbour to play with the Clydesdale Horses, Hing on tailboards of Lorries, skid doon slippery jetty’s and wharves, dodge shunting trains and coasting driverless wagons, bounce on sawn timber planks, climb huge waste paper stacks, jump between barrels   and run oe’r the piles of stinking  Argentinian Cattle Hides alive with anthrax on the quaysides, let alone the greasy harbour staircases, Faroese Fishermen and possible perverts - my mither jist said ‘mind fit yer dee’in Eddie’  Now why was she so intent on undermining my personal confidences and fearless belief in my abilities?

Snuffy Ivy was a legendary Aberdeen Prostitutes - Cove Mary, Biscuit Facey, and Cinnamon Hole - the trade is rife even today on the Harbour and approaches. Undoubtedly a fair looker in her day, by the time she became famous in Aberdeen she was 'Weel past her best'. So called because of her sniffing and speech impediment by which her voice was directed through her nasal cavities rather than directly from her mouth - perhaps a cleft palate affliction.  A mannie in the Co-op in Commerce St counted the cost of the dairy products in exactly the same fashion of speech snorting the words - Two 'n two, three 'n three, four 'n four etc in a distorted nasal drawl.

"Knock Knock"
"fath's thare?"
"It's the Police"
"Weel yith'll hae tae waith yer thurn. A'm bithy jist noo"

Oh yer back are ye Eddie – Aye Ma – fits at a’ o’er yer troosers – tak em aff and ill wash em fer the mornin’.

I drew a great comfort in your mother's warnings to you, but of course mothers are like that. My own mother constantly urged me to eat my eggs, eat lots of cheese and drink lots and lots of milk. In my youth I suspected that she wanted me to grow up to become an Arnold Schwarzenneger, but then the dreadful truth dawned on me. Ma obviously had me insured for a lot of money and was actively encouraging me towards a heart attack or stroke. Her master plan to remove me from the annual census fell sadly 'agley', and I am still here. Still here but with the terrible doubt in my mind -"if you can't even trust your own mother, then exactly who can you trust?"  Bankers, Accountants, M.P's of varying colours, and Tony Blair all sprang to mind but were immediately rejected. In the words of the late, great Wee Johnny Lawrie "We are all Doomed, Captain Mainwaring - Doomed". - Don L

Upper Dock as viewed from the Regent two storey goods shed crane, horse drawn cart crossing bridge, north abutment and boat stairs, gate operators bothy, several steam cargo vessels within Upper Dock, Regent Bridge House, buildings of South Market Street, Guild Street and Trinity Quay, signal mast by the bridge, telephone box in the middle of the street opposite the bridge, steel railings, bollards, west most crane on the roof of the Regent Quay 2 storey sheds just visible.

St Clements Bridge - York Place

Aberdeen Harbour Scenes



Labour intensive unloading of Coal in the Upper Dock

Send mail to jazzmaster@jazzeddie.f2s.com with questions or comments about the design of this web site.
Last modified: 01/09/2013