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Marischal Street c.1768

If you had stood at the junction of Marischal Street and Castle Street in the 1530s, you would not have been able to proceed directly to the Harbour, as Marischal Street did not exist. George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal and founder of Marischal College was busy sizing up the plot next to Pitfodels' Lodging for his new townhouse.  The Lairds of Pitfodels were the Menzies family, a very prominent and influential clan from the 15th century up to the Jacobite Rebellion and after.  One Gilbert Menzies is buried in the Snow Kirkyard just off College Bounds in Old Aberdeen which was disparagingly known as the Papists' Burial Ground after the Reformation.  The Menzies were Roman Catholic, and their old home at Blairs near Maryculter became a Catholic seminary which lasted until the 1980s.

Pitfodels Lodging in Castle Street was one of the earliest stone dwelling houses in the Aberdeen of the Middle Ages.  William Jameson, master mason, and the grand-dad of portrait painter, George Jameson built a stone townhouse for the Menzies in 1535 to replace a wooden one burned down 5 years' previously.  It had a long back garden, like many of its neighbouring houses, stretching down to the Denburn creek shoreland and to ‘Pitfodels Lodging' came Aberdeen's most eminent visitors including King James V, the Marquis of Huntly and Charles II.  Later, the Jacobite John Menzies had a back extension added in 1740.  The 'court' which was accessed from the archway or close on Castle Street was called Victoria Court by the 1860s and still exists today,

In 1766, the Town Council of Aberdeen acquired a property known as the Earl Marischal's Lodging which had lain unoccupied for a number of years. It was then demolished to allow a street to be built to create improved access between the Harbour and the Castlegate. It was named Marischal Street in his honour. 

In ancient Aberdeen the Denburn ran along Virginia Street, full 60 feet below the level of Castle Street, though the distance between the two streets is only 300 feet. It was desirable to get access to the harbour from Castle Street, therefore, it was resolved to divert the Denburn into the harbour and to throw a bridge over the bed of the burn and form it into a street. This new street was called Virginia Street, because in that part of the town were the buildings connected with the important trade carried on with Virginia before the war with the United States began in 1776. In the middle of the 18th century Castle Street was closely hemmed in with buildings. Though there were several entrances into the wide open market place they were but narrow lanes. In 1768 Marischal Street was planned. The house and garden belonging to the Earl Marischal on the south side of Castle Street were purchased : the foundation of the bridge over Virginia Street was laid ; the Houses in the line of the street were demolished; and a great embankment was formed between the bridge and the harbour. The new street was called Marischal Street in honour of the Earl,

Earl Marischal's Sundial, two blocks of concave dials stand one above another on a wide stone base, supported by balusters. At the top is a stone ball marked with dial lines. The whole reaches a height of 9 feet 5 inches.  It originally stood in the garden of the Earl Marischal's Aberdeen house, (C1692) which was destroyed in 1789, and the dial was removed by Mr. Skene to Rubislaw. It remained there till the house fell to decay, and was then transferred to Rubislaw Den

Sundial, 17th century, probably from the townhouse of the Earls Marischal in Aberdeen, transferred to the old house of Rubislaw c. 1789. 9ft 5ins (2.87m) high with two hollow-dial blocks. The balusters are not original. This sundial was dated 1692 and carried the motto 'POST EST OCCASIO CALVA'. Professor Lockhart was at the time honorary curator of the museum in Marischal College, and had urged the University 'to have the sundial properly set up'. The current location of this sundial is not known.  The description makes this very similar to the dial at Duthie Park dated 1707

17th century, originally at the town house of the Earls Marischal in Aberdeen, c. 1789 to old house of Rubislaw and thence to Rubislaw Den. Brought to Schivas House in Tarves  by Lord Catto. Stood 9' 5" high, 2 hollow dial blocks surmounted by ball finial standing on a table carried on balusters, moulded base of same dimensions and step.  Note: as rebuilt at Schivas House, Tarves the balusters have been set square instead of diagonally and the dimensions of the table, podium and platform step all reduced. The balusters are said to have come from the Earl Marischal's house but were not originally part of the sundial.

'Old Blackfriars' formerly the 'Royal Oak' pub pictured here is built on very ancient foundations and the basement is possibly the remains of the original old Blackfriars property, which then stretched over the top of Marischal Street.  The town paid £800 for the Earl of Marischal's Hall and demolished it and thus created Marischal Street.

7th March 1768 the Bannerman Bridge Foundation stone was laid

The most popular threat to young footpads of the 18th and 19th centuries was 'Ye'll end up lookin' doon Marischal Streeet!' in other words, executed by rope at the Gibbet outside the Tollbooth!

The view down Marischal Street from the Royal Oak Pub on the corner of the Castlegate. - the gap between the Georgian Terraces is the Bannerman Bridge a feat of Civil Engineering in its day bridging Virginia Street to provide a direct link to the Harbour.  The wee lad may be looking in the sweetie shop window and may even be me.  The road leads down to Regents Swing Bridge now removed

The period between 1660 and 1800 saw unparalleled urban growth due to estate restructuring and Industrialisation. There was a population migration from country to town. Intensive Burgage repletion is evident from maps between 1746 and 1789. The 9000 inhabitants of both Old and New Aberdeen of 1690 compares with 17,600 within New Aberdeen alone by the 1801 Census. Population growth led to increasing pressure and a desire to expand the city beyond the tightly confined streets around St Katherine’s Hill and Castle Hill. This was a spatial necessity but there was also a desire by the more prosperous to achieve physical separation and move away from the cramped confines of the medieval core. Expansion coincided with development of Aberdeen’s granite industry, which burgeoned in the 19th century following the opening of new quarries and improved extraction and steam powered cutting machinery after 1830.  The period was to see the City embark on a number of major Civil Engineering projects; 11 new streets were opened or improved in the latter half of the 18th and early 19th century. Tannerie Street, Virginia Street, James Street and Littlejohn Street were amongst the earliest to be improved. Marischal Street created a direct link between the Commercial and Civic heart of the City, Castlegate, via Bannerman’s bridge to the quayside. Marischal Street demonstrated how Aberdeen’s hilly environment could be overcome and, in conjunction with ideas emerging from Edinburgh, inspired further westerly expansion of the city.

Marischal Street was opened from Castle Street to the Quay: and, though rather inconveniently steep, it is interesting, both as still a great thoroughfare from the heart of the City to the Harbour, and as the first Aberdeen street that was paved with dressed stones (Granite Setts).

Earl Marischal Hall, previously a Blackfriars Religious Property, was Keith's town house.  It was evidently the most imposing mansion in Aberdeen in the Middle Ages.  Being a quadrangular building enclosing a Courtyard, presenting a Tower to the Castlegate, with a large garden extending southwards to roughly the line of Virginia Street, then the Harbour Line. From a window in this building Mary Queen of Scots is said to have witnessed 'not without tears' the execution of Sir John Gordon, son of the Earl of Huntly, thought by many to be her lover, on the steps of the tollbooth opposite, after he was defeated and captured at the Battle of Corriche in 1562 'Old Blackfriars' pub is built on very ancient foundations and the basement is possibly the remains of the old church, which stretched over the top of Marischal Street.  The town paid £800 for the Earl of Marischal Hall and around 1789 demolished it and created Marischal Street.

Earl Marischal’s Hall was purchased by the Town Council and demolished in 1789 to allow ‘the opening up of a passage from the Castlegate to the shore (or Harbour) and erecting a street there’, that being Marischal Street. Before then there had been no direct route from Castle Street to the Quay, and the growth of trade at the Harbour made a new street absolutely necessary. Marischal Street was (and still is) a fly­over, possibly the 1st in Europe, vaulting Virginia Street by means of ‘Bannerman’s Bridge’. It was also the 1st street in Aberdeen to be paved with squared granite setts, the 1st street of the new, post-medieval Aberdeen and it is the only complete Georgian Street remaining in Aberdeen today.  The buildings were constructed from Loanhead granite, which is softer in colour and texture than Rubislaw granite, adding to the uniformity of the street.

A cassie is a small block of granite.

They are used to pave roads and are also called setts. The word cassie comes from "causeway" which means roadway. Cassies were made at quarries in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. Millions were produced by skilled sett-makers. Many were sent to London. They sat in small huts called scathies. These huts could be lifted and turned to keep the mason out of wind and rain.  

At the arrival of tarmacadam to the main streets of Aberdeen circa 1955 the granite setts were lifted by the thousand and stored for re-cycling on waste ground around the suburbs,  They were as new and unworn as when they were laid save for the shiny tops due to shod hooves, steel and rubber tyres that polished them over 200 years. Approximately 12" x 9" x 3" wide and looks for the world like a petrified pan loaf.

Aftermath of bomb damage at the bottom of Marischal Street taken 20 July 1941, bomb crater cordoned off by post and wire fence, chain railings and single board barriers, various onlookers at the crater including three uniformed gentlemen, 2 policemen wearing metropolitan police hats, boy on bicycle in foreground, ladders laid against buildings at Marischal Street perhaps by Gaziers, 2 cars and a lorry on Marischal Street together with some hand carts, large collection of people gather by the Bannerman Bridge on Marischal Street, offices of John Cook & Son Ltd at the corner of Regent Quay and Marischal Street, North Bank at the opposite corner, Theatre Lane is centre left, cobbled roadway of Marischal Street and Regent Quay, goods railway.

George Thomson Jr 1804-1895 - Clipper Ship Owner 35 Marischal Street, Born in Woolwich and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, he developed his own business as a Ship Insurance Broker in 1825. He became principal owner of the world famous shipping line, ‘The Aberdeen White Star Line’, which included the fast tea clipper the ‘Thermopylae’. He was elected Dean of Guild in 1840 and Lord Provost of Aberdeen in 1847.

Glover Brothers Co., Shipbrokers, 19 Marischal Street, Aberdeen.

John Thomson Rennie, Shipowners, 48 Marischal Street, Aberdeen

The Trustees of the Late JOHN THOMSON RENNIE, Shipowner,
Ship Insurance and Share Broker, and Commission Agent, 48 Marischal Street, Aberdeen,
6 East India Avenue, Leadenhall Street, London, and Durban, Natal, South Africa, hereby intimate that from and after the 30th day of April last they ceased to have any interest in the Businesses carried on by the deceased in his own name at Aberdeen and London, and by the Firm of JOHN T. RENNIE & SONS at Durban, Natal, having at that date disposed of the whole of said Businesses to the deceased's son, Mr. George Hall Rennie, who will pay all debts due, and receive payments of all accounts in connection with said Businesses.
James Abernethy, Robert Abernethy,J. Urqhuart, Alex Wood, James Bryce, John Stewart Bryce, James Galbraith,
A majority and quorum of Mr. Rennie’s Trustees.
James Stewart, of 24 Adelphi Court, Aberdeen, Writer, Witness.
Alfred Wishart, of 24 Adelphi Court, Aberdeen, Writer, Witness.
With reference to the above, the said George Hall Rennie hereby intimates that said Businesses will be carried on by him as formerly as follows, viz :-
At Aberdeen under the Firm of JOHN T RENNIE & SON;
At London under the Firm of JOHN T RENNIE, SON, & Co ; and
At Durban, Natal, under the Firm of JOHN T RENNIE & SON.
G. Hall Rennie

This photo shows Marischal Street at its junction with Regent Quay, looking north towards Castle Street. It was built to improve the connection between the harbour and the main part of the city, which had previously only been accessible via the steep incline of Shore Brae and the Shiprow. In 1766, the Town Council were successful in purchasing the unoccupied Earl Marischal of Scotland's Lodging which stood on the south side of the Castlegate. It was then demolished to open up the way for the new street which was named in the Earl's honour. It was the 1st street in Aberdeen to be paved with dressed granite setts. Houses were built and were occupied by prosperous professional men such as Dr William Dyce; Andrew Robertson, William Young and Alexander Fraser both to become Lord Provosts of Aberdeen. These properties were mostly converted to commercial use in later years.

The Bannerman Bridge had a stairway descending down to Virginia Street on the East side which led to Shore Lane and across Virginia Street was the Harbour Stables where the Shire horses were housed overnight in tiered stables with timber barred ramps to assist the climb.  William Hills had a betting shop on the North West Side of the bridge just beyond the bridge. Various shop fronts were on both sides of the upper section of the street. Sweetie Shop, 2nd Hand Furniture Shops etc.  The Church occupies the site of the Old Theatre RoyalTheatre Lane ran under the theatre.

William Kennedy (1758 - 1836) - 46 Marischal St, - Lawyer and Historian. Born in Aberdeen he practised as a lawyer in the city. He is best known as a local historian who compiled a 3-volume alphabetical index to the council registers of Aberdeen City Council from 1398-1836. He is principally remembered as author of the 2 volume Annals of Aberdeen

Next door at No.48 was the home of Dr William Dyce, father of the eminent artist William Dyce (1806 - 1864). Both of these properties have now been converted into flats. The Church shown at the left hand side of the road was built in 1881 on the site of the Theatre Royal built in 1795 and which closed as a theatre in 1872 prior to the opening of Her Majesty's Theatre and Opera House (Tivoli) in Guild Street. This building is now occupied by the Elim Pentecostal Church

Bannerman Bridge and the Harbour end Tenements with foundations in Virginia Street - a street that once contained a number of Breweries

In ancient Aberdeen the Denburn ran along Virginia Street, full 60 feet below the level of Castle Street, though the distance between the two streets is only 300 feet. It was desirable to get access to the harbour from Castle Street, therefore, it was resolved to divert the Denburn into the harbour and to throw a bridge over the bed of the burn and form it into a street. This new street was called Virginia Street, because in that part of the town were the buildings connected with the important trade carried on with Virginia before the war with the United States began in 1776.

In the middle of the 18th century Castle Street was closely hemmed in with buildings. Though there were several entrances into the wide open market place they were but narrow lanes. In 1768 Marischal Street was planned. The house and garden belonging to the Earl Marischal on the south side of Castle Street were purchased: the foundation of the bridge over Virginia Street was laid; the Houses in the line of the street were demolished; and a great embankment was formed between the bridge and the harbour. The new street was called Marischal Street in honour of the Earl,

A plaque erected by Aberdeen City Council at Theatre Lane states: "In 1795 the Theatre Royal, seating 600, was created in Marischal Street where the Church is now. This lane runs under the building and was between the Stage and the Auditorium.  Theatre Lane. In 1795 the Theatre Royal, seating 600, was created in Marischal Street by Stephen Kemble, brother of the actor John Philip Kemble. Eminent performers included Charles Macready and Charles Keen. The Theatre flourished until 1872 when it was replaced by Her Majesty's Theatre and Opera House, later the Tivoli, in Guild Street.

The Theatre Royal, was completed in 1795 and funded by a subscription; it was Aberdeen's 1st permanent theatre and near the bottom of Marischal Street. The Theatre, designed by Mr Holland, cost £3000 Sterling and seated 5-600 people. In 1818 a box cost 6s, a place in the pit 4s and a place in the gallery 2s, whilst in 1837 this was 3s for a box, 2s for the pits and 1s for the gallery. The Theatre Royal was very popular with Aberdeen's high society until the 1830s when it began to fall into decline. Three years after the opening of Her Majesty's Theatre and Opera House in 1872 the premises of the Theatre Royal were sold to the Church of Scotland.

Although theatre and public performances have a long history in Aberdeen this was the 1st permanent theatre in the City. Arguably public performances in Aberdeen can be traced back to the dramatic religious performances of the pre-reformation era. From the early 17th century James VI licensed stage plays and companies of comedians to perform in the City.  From the latter 17th and early 18th century travelling theatre companies and theatre productions became almost unheard of in Scotland. After some opposition a Company of comedians established themselves in Edinburgh in 1745 and a detachment in Aberdeen in 1751. The detachment were initially denied any premises in Aberdeen itself and raised a building on the south side of the Spital for performances. This closed after 1 season. In 1768 the magistrates licensed a Company under one Fisher to perform in Aberdeen, in the New Inn. In 1773 the celebrated West Digges attempted to establish a Theatre in Aberdeen. Having been opposed he set up a successful theatre on the north side of the Spital.

In the wake of this success a site was selected on the newly formed Marischal St to house a permanent theatre in Aberdeen proper. The building was completed in 1795 at a cost of £3000 raised by subscription. Eventually the site was purchased outright by John Fraser, a local merchant. The theatre was effectively small to medium sized housing some 5-600 people. In the 1st few decades of its existence it was particularly popular and drew in many of those from Aberdeen's high society. The journalist W. Carnie reminisced that in the 1830s  'I have seen Marischal Street half lined with the waiting carriages of the best families of the Town and County.' Its main attraction, after 1818, was its production of Rob Roy. In 1817 the lease of the Theatre Royal had been taken on by Corbet Ryder, who was an actor-manager. He made a reputation for himself with his swashbuckling acting style. It has been argued that Ryder, and his wife Jessie Pollock (who managed the Theatre after her husband's death in 1842), established Scotland's Northern Theatre circuit using Aberdeen as their base.

The "Poetical Addresses" which in the old Theatre Royal, Marischal Street, were wont to open and close the season, or were spoken on the benefit nights of some of the more important Players

This view of the west side shows the properties at No 46 and 48 and an adjacent Church. William Kennedy (1759-1836) Advocate lived in No. 46, where he wrote his History of the City - 'Annals of Aberdeen'. Next door at No. 48 was the home of Dr William Dyce, father of the eminent artist William Dyce (1806 - 1864). Both of these properties have now been converted into flats. The Church shown at the right hand side of the road No.50 was built in 1881 on the site of the Theatre Royal built in 1795 and which closed as a Theatre in 1872 some 3 years after the opening of Her Majesty's Theatre and Opera House (Tivoli) in Guild Street. This building is now occupied by the Elim Pentecostal Church

By the 1830s and the 1840s the growing evangelical reform movement in Aberdeen successfully challenged the notion of the theatre as being a respectable form of entertainment for the aspirational and established classes. At this time the 'Penny Rattler' or Bool (Boul) Road Theatre (later Albion Street) attracted more patrons and more criticism for its poor acting, violence and drunkenness that attended its performances. Aside from these considerations Pollock's tastes were conservative, at a time when London based shows were increasing available (via an improving transport network) to the North. This led to a need to build a big venue to attract these touring London shows, this led to the opening of Her Majesty's Theatre and Opera House in 1872 (reopened as the Tivoli in 1910 after a refit by Frank Matcham), the Palace Theatre in 1898 on the site of the former Circus and finally His Majesty's Theatre in 1906, His Majesty's could seat 2500.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013