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The Hardgate

For six centuries, the Hardgate formed part of the only direct route into Aberdeen from the South. Visitors, both welcome and unwelcome, had to come over the Brig o’ Dee, up the Hardgate, Past Ferryhill Mill Dam, over the New Bridge at How Burn, down Windmill Brae, across the Denburn and through the Green into the old town.  Originally the only entry to the burgh from the south was by way of this steep decline  at the lower end of which was a ford and this served until a bridge was eventually built over the Denburn. 

This ancient road was called the Hardgate and stretched from the Brig of Dee, which had origins in the 14th century, came below the Justice Mills, named after the Justiciars or travelling senior judges who visited the City to dispense the law directly from the King, past the Crabstane then down by the site of an ancient stone circle, indicated now only by the 'Lang Stane', to the Windmill Brae where a windmill had stood from 1680, and crossed the stone bridge, latterly known as the Bow Brig into Medieval Aberdeen when it was based in the Green.

Captain George Taylors Plan 1773
Paterson's map of Aberdeen, 1746, shows two bridges near the Justice Mills on the Hardgate — one over the Holburn or Ferryhill Burn, called New Bridge, and another a few yards south over the lade going to Ferryhill Mill. The latter dates from 1667 and for a time it also had been called New Bridge. In all there had been three bridges of this name if maps can be trusted. Milne's map, 1789, shows the old Countesswell Road beginning at what is now Holburn Junction and crossing, first, the lade to the Upper Justice Mill and, secondly, the Holburn in Union Glen, farther up the burn than Holburn Street, by a bridge also called New Bridge which, therefore, must have been a later erection than the new bridge on the Hardgate. The upper part of the Countesswell Road is now obliterated, but from Union Glen to Great Western Road it still exists under the name of Cuparstone Row. From this lane westward it coincided with what is now Great Western Road. 

After driving the lower Justice Mill, the water was used to drive the wheel of Ferryhill Mill; but it was withdrawn from Ferryhill Mill on account of the formation of new streets on the east side of the mill

The only entry to the Burgh from the south was by way of the steep decline now called Windmill Brae, at the lower end of which was a ford and this served until a bridge was built over the Denburn"; this ancient road was called The Hardgate and stretched from the Brig of Dee, which had origins in the 14th century, by the Justice Mills, named after the Justiciars or travelling senior judges who visited the city to dispense the law directly from the King, then down by the site of the stone circle, indicated now only by the 'Lang Stane', to Windmill Brae where a windmill stood from 1680, and crossed the stone bridge, latterly known as the Bow Brig into Medieval Aberdeen when it was based in the Green.

Join us on this leisurely walk, looking at some significant sites from history and travel along the 'Old King's Highway' as merchants and other visitors to the city did in the days long before Union Street existed.

The Hardgate, the main road to the south, ended there at the fords of the Dee. There travellers on horseback forded the river and entered on the approach to the Causey of the Cowie Munth. Causey, as already explained, comes from Latin " calciare," to shoe or protect; and Cowie is from a Gaelic word not yet registered in dictionaries, cognate with Latin " collis," a hill. It is very common in names of hills, as in The Coyles of Muick, Colliehill (both parts of which mean the same thing,) and Glaschoil, the green hill. These names are usually taken from a Gaelic word "coille," a wood, but this is a palpable mistake. Munlh - made also Month and Muneh - is from the Gaelic " monadh," a hill or moor, cognate with Latin "mons," a hill or mountain. After crossing the Dee the road kept upwards along the south bank of the river for half a mile, and then it turned south and climbed the Cowie Munth - that is the Grampian Mountains range. In 3 miles it rose 400 feet, and it crossed a large moss from which peats were long brought to Aberdeen in creels on horseback. In winter the moss was often impassable, and in 1378 Robert ll. gave forty shillings per annum from the lands of Findon to make and uphold a causey or hard road across the summit of the hill. By a letter from John Crab, Burgess of Aberdeen, to his son it appears that the King expected that the money would serve this purpose and also help to make a Bridge over the Dee. The appearance of the bed of the river at the Fords indicates that a solid foundation would have been got there for a bridge, though the current is rapid. The money, however, was insufficient for the upkeep of the road, and in 1684? the burgh got permission from the Privy Council to impose a toll to keep the causey in repair, and to build a port across the road to close it against all who had not paid the toll. The Causey Port was on the old road to Stonehaven, farther west than the modern turnpike road. It was 3 miles from the Dee and intercepted travellers from the south before entering on the Causey.

The Hardgate, the main road to the south, ended at the Fords of the Dee.

Hardgate Well - set in the Strawberry Bank Boundary Wall -there is also a hint of this well in the top 1887 Picture

Strawberry Bank Gardens 1942

The action was fought along the line of the Hardgate, the main road from the South West into Aberdeen. It was fought across mainly arable fields, partly in oats, where the road crossed the How (Hol)Burn and climbed Clay Hill towards the Crabstane. However Mareen suggest the slopes to the east of the burn may have been partly gardens even in 1644. On the sloping ground there were several buildings with walled yards which were held as strong points by the government pikemen.  Unfortunately Gordon’s map of 1661 shows very little detail of the area concerned, other than a prospect from the Crabstane towards the town, which shows a very open landscape

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

Alex Webster or Max Webster & Co Brewery - Hardgate - Cooperstoun

Distillery Fire
There have been several distilleries in Aberdeen including the North of Scotland Distillery that was destroyed by fire in 1904. Over 88,000 gallons of whisky, valued at one shilling and six pence per gallon, was lost and total damage was estimated at £108,000. The distillery in the Hardgate belonged to Daluaine-Talisker Distilleries Ltd. and burned for over 12 hours. It is believed that a workman accidentally started the fire whilst trying to repair a barrel. Soon a blazing stream of spirit poured from the bonded warehouse down to the Ferry Hill Burn and the City sewage system. The scene was described as a perfect inferno with the spirituous flames almost free of smoke, belching forth with ever increasing fury. Leaping from the ground 'as from a huge Christmas pudding ... the flames swirled and twisted with lightning like rapidity into the most extraordinary forms imaginable'.

The historical interest of this site lies principally in the location of the Hardgate Well. Fenton Wyness (City by the Grey North Sea, 1965, p.179) gives a vivid account of wounded and dying combatants from the Battle of Justice Mills in 1644 being carried to that spot and claims that the well that day ‘ran reid’ with blood. However, the source for those details is untraceable. John Spalding makes no connection between the Well and the Battle (Memorialls of the Trubles in Scotland and in England AD1624-AD1625 Vol II, edited by John Stuart, Aberdeen 1850) while Parson Gordon, who lived through the period, drew the earliest map of Aberdeen and wrote an accompanying description, mentions the Battle, but not the well. The Well seems first to appear on a map at the stage of the first edition Ordnance Survey in 1867. The superstructure of the well was refurbished in 1970, when a plaque was also fitted to it referring to its supposed part in the battle. It is likely that the plaque draws its information solely from Fenton Wyness. Moreover, the Well  does not feature in any other works which deal with historic wells in Aberdeen.  For example, Milne’s 1911 book  Aberdeen does deal, very carefully, with the evidence for other historic wells in Aberdeen. The exclusion of this well may be significant. Although it cannot be ruled out merely an omission it remains fair to suggest that this Well was not of any significant historical importance.

Ironmongers and Bell Hangers - that dee 'athin including Gas Mantles - display windows would provide hours of rapture for wee loons.

Dyers Hall Lane, Hardgate, 18th century cottages Aberdeen, c.1920
This row of cottages was situated near the Hardgate at Willowbank Road just south of Union Street and probably dated prior to 1789. The name derives from the days when the old Dyers' Association met there. The houses were roofed with red pantiles which were replaced with asbestos when the roofs began to leak. They had outside stairs to the upper floors and water taps outside the door. The Town Council felt that it would be too costly to preserve the cottages for their historic interest, although they were among the few remaining examples of 18th century houses in the city. They were demolished in 1956 to make way for extensions to the Station Garage.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013