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The Doric Columns

King Street - Built after 1804

Surveyor Charles Abercrombie's proposals for the North entry were substantially modest. The existing road to the Bridge of Don through Old Aberdeen was universally considered to be of very poor quality, though Abercrombie thought that little cutting or banking would be required to guide a level road from the Mealmarket to the Don. As with the future Union Street, Abercrombie's future King Street was also intended to be built around, expanding new and regular streets on a grid around the initial incising lines from the Mercat Cross to the rivers that confined Aberdeen.

The Fish Market was subsequently held on the South side of the Shiprow, and was well arranged and equipped, with a view to prevent the over exposure of any fish for sale in Castle Street; the Meal, Poultry, and Fruit and Vegetable markets were situated on the West side of King Street, and were amply supplied.

In the Fruit Market, great quantities of strawberries and gooseberries, the produce of gardens in the neighbourhood of the town, were offered for sale.  Note the veranda above the corner entrance of the corner shop which would eventually become Birnies.

This early King Street Junction scene of circa 1900 shows a very light Traffic and a few casual street and pavement pedestrians with a Horse Drawn Tram enjoying the central street position.  The Corner Cafe and Restaurant exists even back then.  The roof of that structure has not yet been extended higher as a Hansard Roof with dormer windows to provide Attic Accommodation.  Sun Blinds protect the window displays and the fence around Gordons Statue is just visible.  The new Records Office stands out on the left of Kings Street as does the North church.  Curiously the granite is stained to head height suggesting that water drainage even then was not a priority.  The ubiquitous horse drawn dray is allowed to provide its Clydesdale a drink from the convenient street trough.

The North Church, built in 1829 at a cost of £10,500, is a Grecian edifice, modelled apparently after St Pancras in London, measures 120 by 64 feet, and has an imposing Ionic portico, 32 feet high, and a Circular Tower of 150 feet.- Church completed in 1830 by John Smith in the Neo-Greek style with rectangular giant order, 4-column Ionic Portico and a Square Tower with the round Tower of Winds at the top stage. The bays are set off by pilasters, the segmented windows within being set further back. The exterior is protected against change but internally any resemblance to the original has disappeared although some of Smith's interior (the vestibule and stairs) survives.   Now the Aberdeen Arts Centre and is regarded as the finest work of local Architect John Smith (1781 - 1852). Built 1829-30, the building reflects Smith's great attention to detail. Internally little of Smith's interiors remain following the conversion to the Arts Centre in the 1950s. The centre comprises a 350-seat Theatre and meetings rooms, used for performances, talks, conferences and club meetings, together with display space for both local artists and touring exhibitions.

1789 Survey Map - Alexander Milne

The North Church opposite Calders Sports Shop and on the same side as Queen Street was planned by J. Smith, Esq., is an elegant building, and forms a very conspicuous ornament in King Street.

Shoe Lane off Queen Street was "laid out by the shoemaking craft of the Incorporated Trades". This was a rich and influential craft Guild of Master Shoemakers, one of the "Seven Incorporated Trades", possibly using joint funds as an investment in the form of houses to let. I would be surprised if any member of the Guild ever lived or worked there.

45 Queen Street  Neil & Co. Gramophone Record Shop prior to closure

The Rifle and Artillery Volunteers have drill-halls in Blackfriars and Queen Streets

The listed part of the Boilermakers Club building was designed by John Smith, who was responsible for such gems as the North Church on King Street and the screen of St Nicholas Churchyard along Union Street. It is believed the club was originally used as the Architect’s home and Office.

William Leslie (1802-79) was born at New Deer, and was apprenticed as a stonemason.  His family were Independents, i.e. Congregationalists. He established himself at Park Cottage, Broadford, Aberdeen by at least 1828 when he designed a castellated lodge and gate for Hatton Castle.  As a contractor his first job is said to have been the additions at Craibstone House, presumably those built in 1829, but it is not clear whether he designed them. He certainly built the North Church in Aberdeen to John Smith's designs in 1829-30 and Castle Newe to Simpson's designs in 1831. In 1836 he was appointed agent for the Duke of Sutherland Estates, undertaking Architectural and Civil Engineering work and for whom he began the building of Dunrobin Castle. Joining Alexander MacDonald in 1839, he collaborated with him on the design for the statue of George, 5th Duke of Gordon (1842-8) in partnership as McDonald & Leslie, based in Dornoch. His Sutherland appointment did not exclude contracting for others and in 1840-41 McDonald & Leslie widened the Bridge of Dee to the designs of James Walker of Walker & Burgess, London, using the original facings as far as practicable, a contract which marked the beginning of a shift of his business interests towards Aberdeen.

Left - "Marischal College (previous to Mitchell Tower alteration) from the roof of 75 King Street". A little way up from the corner West North Street.  It is signed "J. Small, 93" (1893).  Right - from North East
Barry Hendry & Cook Engineers were located in West North Street.  Engineering Works, West North Street). Founded c.1790.  A large group of 1- and 2-storey buildings, somewhat altered, mostly rubble-built, including an iron foundry.  It may be their chimney stack in the artwork.

John MacDonald Henderson, jr (d.1924), was the son of John MacDonald Henderson, founder of the Aberdeen engineering firm now known as John M. Henderson & Co. Ltd., Kings Works, 207 King Street, Aberdeen. John M. Henderson, senior, was the nephew of John Henderson, Lithographer and Engraver. 

According to a note J. Alan MacDonald Henderson's father's Great Aunt Ellen Campbell-Brown lived at Quarry Lodge in Aberdeenshire and was married to Professor James Campbell-Brown, DSC, LLD, at one time Professor of Chemistry at the University of Liverpool. His mother, Margaret Sinclair Taggart, was the eldest daughter of Sir James Taggart, Granite Merchant, Great Western Road, Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Lord Lieutenant and Admiral of the North Sea during and after the 1st World War.

King Street end of Aberdeen. That whole part of the city was indeed the original heart of it.  Yes it was the East End and working class and less in our young days but it was the hub of life for  a majority of Aberdeen folk and most if indeed not all of industry was located there originally, principally because of the Harbour no doubt. Engineering shops on King Street and Spring Garden come to mind for a start and I am sure that lots more can be added to them for this area.

The Junction of King Street and the Castlegate with 'Birnies Corner Cafe' post the Glass and China Shop.  Directly opposite was a pet food store with magnificent aromas of dog biscuits - Spratts - and edible we found after we filched them - to the left just beyond the Bank which is now converted to a grandiose interior Archibald Simpson pub. Much interlacing of tram rails here for a conductor to shift points with a lever.  Just beyond the church on the left was West North Street and Calders Corner Shop Entrance is opposite that. Nigh opposite the Don bound tram and the tram stop in King Street was the Post Office.  Just into West North St was the 'Hairy Bar' an affection name for something more aptly named the Aberdeen Arms but now well forgotten.  Jaywalking is an an economy of effort for distance in Aberdeen.  The open Attic Window towers above the adjacent Bank offering the finest of views over the harbour.  This roof was extended upwards to provide this lofty attic accommodation.

Interestingly enough Ed's comment re Birnie's stirred my mind a little. My Grandfather Cosmo arrived as an economic migrant in Glasgow in 1874 at the tender age of 12 no less!  He entered the country under the 'Padrone' system of migration where a previous migrant who had established himself in this country returned to his homeland and offered to take the children of relatives or friends back to his adopted country for a new life. The young person had to agree to live and work with this person for a period of 3 years, being fed clothed and housed and I suppose paid a paltry sum by the padrone.  My Grandfather does not show on census records until the late 1800's but he appears to have left the padrone and worked on in Glasgow where he met my Grandmother Anastasia Scaglione, herself an economic migrant from Italy. They married on 9th Oct 1888 in St Andrews Cathedral Glasgow and moved to Aberdeen where he set up his first shop at 22 East North Street. They also lived on the first floor above the shop where they raised all but one of their 14 children. About the turn of the century he moved shop to 232 King Street which is across the road from where J W Henderson's Engineering shop would have been. He moved again around 1910 to 11 Urquhart Road which was at that time the main tram route to the Beach area and he operated there until his untimely death in 1928. He also used to operate an ice cream barrow around the area on various days and I know that my father used to work some of his rounds from time to time. Strangely enough I recall the 'mannie Hay' in the Plan Room at Hall Russell's telling me that when he was a kid he knew an ice cream 'mannie' who pushed a barrow in Fittie that had the same name as me but swore blind that his name was John! At this time  I was not aware that my Grandad had operated a barrow in Fittie and said that John would not have been the true name of an Italian. But the 'mannie Hay' being the 'mannie Hay' insisted that he was right and that John was indeed the name. Of course passage of time taught me that the common parlance in Aberdeen for a foreigner with an unusual or difficult to pronounce given name would be dubbed 'Johnnie' as in 'Ingin Johnnie' It was later confirmed to me by my brother Cosimo, a City Architect at the time, that one of his colleagues who was raised in Fittie confirmed that it was indeed my Grandad who pushed the 'barra in Fittie'  I doubt however he was much of a business man as this person went on to relate that in that era the working class were indeed very poor people and had little money to spare if any and as a consequence as kids they would approach my Grandad and ask if he would give them an ice cream, for say a penny, when it actually cost tuppence. He would put away the cone from his hand and drop a couple of scoops of ice cream on a wee piece of greaseproof paper instead of disappointing them. There is a lot more to relate such as  the aerial bomb which hit my Grandmothers house at 28 Urquhart Road on July 12th 1940 which probably hastened her death in Dec that year, but that is for another time.

The Cafe at the corner of King Street and Castlegate was indeed owned by one Joe Birnie, son of Italian immigrants and good friend of my father who helped Joe in the shop on Saturday Nights. Birnie was not as you may suspect his given name but an adopted name. It was this same good friend that advised my father, when bent on renting the shop on Kirk Brae Cults to set up an Ice Cream Parlour, not to do so as it would never work out. I often wonder why. That shop turns out to be the grocery shop operated originally by Sandy Murray's father and now his brother George as it is the only shoppie on Kirk brae. I at a much later date of course dated Joe Birnie's daughter Monica, a product of the Convent School at Queens Cross and a very nice lass at that. We went out together for a wee while until we realised that it was just another of those youthful brief encounters on the road to finding our true love.’

Fraser's Grandad's shop Caklders was on the corner of King Street and  West North Street. The same shop being occupied by J N Stewart the flooring contractor where Eric Wilson, nephew of Stephen Wilson  the Baker, friend of Ron and Central School / Accies FP scrum half, worked as an estimator /  surveyor. It was he who gave me a deal, or so he said, on some lovely Malayan Keruing hard wood parquet flooring for the hallway of my new home in Stonehaven in 1973. It still lies there today now hidden from view by a carpet at the request of my dear wife who couldn't stand the constant noise of heels clicking on the wood surface. I recall my embarrassment when Eric gave me the actual price of his 'special deal' of £145. I was only just a year married, had a mortgage on a £8,500 house and a salary of only £2,100 and like all others, no savings.

Calders Sports Shop

Stewarts the "rubber fowk" took over the old Ernest Calder shop at 67/69 King St. They had a nightmare of removing 45 years of his accumulated rubbish in the cellar. My grandad was a hoarder, eg there were boxes of carbide lamps awaiting a comeback in fashion.  Your grandfather would have been given a hard time in East North St. My granda told a story about an Italian shopkeeper selling food, who complained to the police about the unhygienic behaviour of his customers, wiping their noses on the curtains, etc. After the policeman on the beat visited, the Italian went back up to Lodge Walk and asked that the cop be told not to go back. He said the cop was a bigger hooligan than his customers.

My grannie's great grandfather was a 'Chelsea' Pensioner & lived in the Gallowgate, then moved to Park St. about 1850. Here his daughter & family then lived in later years as an army wife. My grannie's father, George O'Brien Fraser, altho' born in Trinidad, ended up at Park St, then over some years managed to buy a proportion of Affleck St and collected rents. He also had a cabinetmaker's business.  No one knows where he got the money. He lived in Park St when single, with his sisters and mum, then shifted & brought up a family in Constitution St after he married the egg lady. He swam every morning at the town beach, summer & winter, and of course, died in his 50s, as so many ice men do. He had however, lots of lady friends who admired his physique. All was not lost.

My grandad Ernest Calder, was born in King St Place, opposite what is now the Family History Centre, near old J M Henderson's.  He went to the same school as my granny, Isabella O'Brien Fraser.  Ernest's mother-in-law, the once egg seller from Dyce, persuaded him to collect the Affleck St rents, as her man and sons were collecting rents in kind, not in money, and she was short of money. Granda would only accept siller, but as an old man thinking back, granda thought he should have tried it in kind occasionally, as no one would have been hurt.

Ernest's father, William, (see photo) was a Rosemount loon, who then lived in the Gallowgate, King St Place, and finally King St. He eventually had a gun merchant business in Guild St.  William's grandfather had a shoemaker's shop in Windmill Brae, and lived in Jack's Brae circa 1820 when it was at the edge of the country, and weavers spread their cloth to bleach in the Denburn meadows.  Ernest's grandfather lived in Nelson St (so he could visit his ailing son in the poor house there) then Jasmine Terrace. (It was supposed to be Jessiman Terrace but somebody misspelt it.) A teetotal man, who was renowned for telling interesting stories. A poor shoemaker who worked in the Spital. His sons had a shoemakers' shop there too. I have a painted portrait of him done about 1890 by the Aberdeen Artist Gordon of Urquhart Rd

I thought I'd tell you all this because regardless of where we think we come from, or who we think we are, we all spring from the same cultural well. I've tried to link my lot with yours in places.

It's all like ripples on a pond. - Fraser

Before my grandad took the original shop over in 1913, it was a draper, who had knocked 2 shops into 1. The original building was never so clean, but was built circa late 1700's. The upper flats were quite spacious but a down and outers' flop house in my childhood with only a cast iron sink for drawing water and also acting as a lavie..

Dow's Bookshop next door, almost, to my grandad's, sold paperbacks, comics, mostly second-hand, and some toys. The American comics were a constant magnet to me. I think second hand ones were 2d and new editions were 6d. That's where my 6d a week shop wages went when I was 8-10 years old: 3 second hand Marvel Comics. Captain Marvel and his nemesis Silvana Junior, in the Marvel comics were my favourite. Batman was small time back then.  The Dows were a decent, and large adult family. The men specialised in Fair-Isle sleeveless jumpers, tucked into their troosers, open necked shirts, and their waists nearly cut in half with a belt. Nice folk.  I think their shop and Davidsons the shoemaker, along with the flats above, were demolished to make way for the street widening of West North St, and the re-erection of 67/69 King St., my grandad's building, where he leased his shop, as that building had a protection order on it. Built in the late 1700's, it was of architectural interest. For kids, and near illiterate adults, Dow's shop was a treasure trove. It had a big trade wie country fowk. - Fraser.

La Lombarda, the UK's oldest Italian restaurant was opened in 1922 by Joe & Nan Birnie who originally came from Italy's northern region of Lombardy  (hence the name).   The business was later passed to their daughter & son-in-law Monica & Fabrizio Necchi who expanded the original restaurant by adding a basement Wine Bar & Function suite and an adjoining Take Away.  The Restaurant has seen 2 world wars, the offshore oil boom and the demise of the city's famous fishing and granite industries. It is still trading successfully at the east end of Union Street in the Granite City's historic Castlegate, with the Mercat Cross, The Citadel, and The Town House just some of the many historic granite buildings surrounding it.  

Arched entrance to Lodge Walk off King Street still survives and is sealed by a wooden gate with a wicket door that was often left open for pedestrians and policemen - may have been a coaching entrance.  The Medico Building also served as a Children's Theatre in its time. 

La Lombarda:
I think Liz & I had a coffee here late one morning in June/July 1995. They had a resin table and two chairs out on the pavement. That morning it had hit minus 2C just before dawn. It was impossible to read the P&J due to the wind, as I had to hold on to my hat all the time, and the cold went right thro' us like a hot knife thro' butter. We persevered, much to the amusement of passersby, and drank our cold "milky coffee.". So the success with alfresco dining in an Aberdeen summer, one assumes, was not a huge hit. Fraser

The Restaurant was sold in 1999 to George & Theresa Wyatt (the present owners) who along with their staff welcome their many regular customers and visitors to the city serving traditional Italian Cuisine of Pasta, Pizzas, Meat and seafood dishes mainly sourced from Local Suppliers, in surroundings which have a friendly and traditional atmosphere

If you click on the website section about flytiers shops below, there's a wealth of info about the Aberdeen Sports Shops whose show windows we pressed our noses against.  Some shops went back to 1820 eg Playfairs on Union Terrace. Simpsons in Bridge Street. You'll need to do your own ferreting around on this site which is an ode to fishing gear. More interesting, however, than Birnie's: that mannie hated his customers! - Fraser H


Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society
The Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society was founded in 1789 in response to the lack of medical teaching offered by both King’s and Marischal Colleges. Its members, including such figures as Sir Alexander Ogston, Professor Matthew Hay, Sir Ashley Mackintosh and Sir James McGrigor, contributed to the development of Medical Teaching and Practice in Aberdeen and beyond in profound ways.

On the 14th December, 1789, the Aberdeen Medical Society was founded by a group of medical students, of which James McGrigor and James Robertson were the leaders. There had existed previously in Aberdeen 2 medical student societies, one in 1768, and the other in 1786 but both had withered and died, a fate which did not befall the 1789 foundation.  Over the years this Society gradually established itself and was strengthened by the addition of Medical Practitioners and Honorary Members. The name of the Society was changed to 'The'' in 1811.

From the earliest days it had been the desire of members that the Society should have its own meeting place. A subscription list was opened in 1812 with the object of acquiring sufficient money to enable the Society to build a Medical Hall. The building at 29 King Street next to the new Records Office was completed in 1820 to the plans of Archibald Simpson, the distinguished Aberdeen Architect at a cost of more than £3,000.  The Library of the Society instituted in 1791 grew rapidly and contained many rare and valuable books. With 30 members, its hall  is entered by an Ionic Portico, and contained a large Meeting-room, Laboratory and Library of 4000 volumes, with portraits by Vandyke and T. Miles, etc.  In 1967 the major portion of the library's old and rare medical books was sold, and later the Hall in King Street was sold. The proceeds enabled the Society to build its New Hall on the Foresterhill site, to which the Society moved in 1973.

Over the years the Society has played an important and influential role in the medical life of Aberdeen. It gave advice to the citizens through the Town Council on combating cholera and typhus; it instituted the training and certification of midwives in the city in 1827; it urged in 1867 the necessity of providing a Fever Hospital; it commented on medical education on many occasions.  In 1920 the Society held a special meeting to discuss the question of hospital accommodation for Aberdeen and district. At this meeting Professor Matthew Hay outlined his scheme for co-ordinating the Aberdeen Hospitals and Clinical University Departments on a common site. This resulted in the modern hospital and medical school complex at Foresterhill.

Dr William Clark Souter (1880 -1959) was ophthalmic surgeon to the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Aberdeen Eye Institution, Aberdeen Maternity Hospital and lecturer in Ophthalmology in the University of Aberdeen from c.1920 until his retirement in 1946. A long-serving member and president of the British Medical Association and of Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society, he received the polar medal for his service as ship's surgeon on the Terra Nova relief expedition to the Antarctic, 1903 – 1904.

The activities and operation of the Aberdeen Children's Theatre which was the first Civic Children's Theatre to be opened in Britain at 31 King Street, the old Medico Building. The Theatre was operated by the Department of Speech Therapy. 
Catherine Hollingworth: 1904-99, Speech Therapist and Child Drama Pioneer. Born in Brechin and educated at the Royal Academy of Music she became Aberdeen's 1st teacher of speech in 1941. In 1942 she created the Aberdeen Children's Theatre which attracted international recognition for its pioneering work in the field of child drama.

Monumental Mason's
William Edwards & Son (Granite Merchants) Ltd, whose premises consisted of 2 yards, No.s 3 and 4 Pittodrie Street. In August 1971 it acquired the share capital of Robert Crofts & Sons Ltd whose yard in Pittodrie Street was adjacent to the former Edward's yard on the south side of the street. It was to this area on the east side of King Street, bounded by Merkland Road East to the South and occupied mainly by Granite firms since the 19th century,

King St Corporation Bus Depot - Early Beginnings

The King Street Militia Barracks were erected in 1863 at a cost of £10,000 in the old Scottish Castellated style.  The building was completed and first occupied by the Royal Aberdeenshire Highlanders in 1862. These quarters, which were for permanent staff, consisted of a block of stores, guard room and offices, which surrounded an ample parade ground. In poor weather, the men were provided with adequate shelter within the staff quarter’s basement.

Before long the accommodation was enhanced by converting the ranges of open shelters into barrack rooms, and then a considerable number of men were quartered in the barracks. The permanent staff had however, not long occupied the new quarters when they had to move to other accommodation due to an infectious disease Cholera and Typhoid which prevailed in Aberdeen in 1864 and it was deemed unsafe to keep the regiment there. This led to the training of the regiment being conducted at Fort George.

In 1880, the accommodation became insufficient therefore additional barrack rooms were built to house an extra 300 men.  In 1882, the Royal Aberdeenshire Highlanders became the 3rd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. At this time the staff based at the barracks consisted of Officers, Warrant Officers and permanent Staff Sergeants. All other ranks lived at home in the local area, and reported to the depot when drills and training were required.  No recorded history of the barracks can be found after 1882, until Aberdeen Corporation Tramways bought the property in 1914.

Aberdeen Corporation Tramways
Aberdeen Corporation Tramways purchases the barracks in King Street with the intention of providing a central depot and repair shop to replace the existing one at Dee Village Road, which was becoming too small to cope with the work of the Transport Department. However, with the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the barracks were again taken over by the military authorities, which put building schemes on hold until it was vacated in November 1918 at the end of the war. The transport department then set about reconstructing the premises and built accommodation for a number of tramcars once the military authorities vacated the building.

But not all Gordon Highlanders moved out…
In 1915 Captain Beaton, an army officer during World War 1, returned from the trenches in France after sustaining head injuries. After treatment and recuperation he was later transferred to King Street barracks. In March 1918 he received his orders posting him back to France, but Captain Beaton had endured enough. The following morning his body was found hanging in the southeast turret of the building, which was at the time used at the Officers Mess. The Captain has since been known to haunt the building, and has been spotted in full regimental dress by members of staff on several occasions with the latest sighting in October 1988.

1925 to Date - IIn 1925, a rapid extension of bus services took place, which required an increase in the fleet of buses and extra garage space. This was achieved by purchasing premises at Canal Road, capable of holding 70 buses.  During 1932, a big extension was carried out at King Street workshops, enabling the overhauling of both trams and buses to be centralised.  In 1958, further extension were carried out at King Street to provide facilities for garaging, servicing and repair of the fleet, which with the withdrawal of the trams, consisted of 230 buses. The centralisation of work allowed the department to close the depots at Queens Cross, Woodside, Mannofield, Canal Road, the Beach and Torry.

Grampian Regional Transport remained a department of the Council until 1986 when the Transport Act necessitated the formation of a private company, Grampian Regional Transport Ltd, was initially owned by the council but operated at arms length. In 1989, the employees of the transport company made a successful bid to buy the company from the council and on the 20th January 1989, the company was substantially owned by its employees under ESOP (Employee Share Ownership Plan).  Later the parent company, GRT Bus Group plc, after making several acquisitions, was the subject of a stock market flotation and was soon to merge with Badgerline to form FirstBus, which changed its name in 1998 to FirstGroup plc after acquiring interests in airport and rail operations.

Aberdeen Fire Station - King Street

The Fire station in Kings Street was constructed during the tenure of Lord Provost Daniel Mearns, and cost £6,500. The building dates from 1899. The 23 fire fighters of the period had horse-drawn tenders, which did not completely disappear until the 1920's.

Aberdeen recently made national headlines with their decision to paint Fire Service vehicles white. This colour is cheaper than the traditional red paint. Grampian Fire Brigade now employs over 800 staff tackling over 8,000 emergencies a year.



An early RG Registration Fire Engine in King Street looking more like a hearse.











305 King Street, Thompson & Stewart - Iron Foundry

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Last modified: 01/09/2013