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Medieval Life Ancient Wells Powis Burn

Medieval Water Supply - The Burns

Two requisites for the convenience and expansion of the town were a corn mill, and a supply of potable water for the high ground on the line of Broad Street and the Gallowgate, in which direction the town could most conveniently extend. Being a burgh the townsmen could do collectively what they had not been able to do before. From the "Book of St George's-in-the-West " we see that there had been a corn mill at the end of the block of building between the Guestrow and Broad Street, facing Netherkirkgate. A local historian describes in it what was seen in the beginning of 20th Century when 2 houses on this site were taken down to be rebuilt.

They stood back to back, 1 fronting Broad Street and one the Guestrow, with their ends abutting on the Netherkirkgate. He says workmen came upon what had been a fall about 5 feet high, apparently for driving a Mill-wheel, in the end of the house in the Guestrow. After serving the Mill the water passed to the house in Broad Street, which it left in the Netherkirkgate some 6 feet from the front, and crossing Broad Street at an angle landed at or near the base of the steeple of the Municipal Buildings. On digging the foundation of the steeple the remains of a waulkmill were found. Having found a Mill, it is necessary to bring water to it. In the St George's Book we get a hint of a water course leading to the Mill. In 1873 when a house was taken down to be rebuilt at the West end of Red Lion Court, between Broad Street and the Guestrow, "the distinct remains of a burn were observed passing from north to south, and close to the Guestrow. At the North end it was on the surface about 6 feet broad, tapering slightly to the South end. The bed of the burn was fairly semi-circular, and about 3 feet deep." It must be observed that the surface of the ground in which the burn ran was not the same as the present surface of the street, which has been made up, for on rebuilding a house in Broad Street, a little further south, the door of a cow byre was found at 8 ft below the present surface of the ground. There was an old oak cask sunk into the floor with a paved channel leading into its mouth. On the other side of the street stood till lately old Greyfriar's Church. When it was taken down it was found that the original floor had been made up several feet to bring it to the level of the surrounding ground.

STP - Old & New Aberdeen - 1746
A survey of Old & New Aberdeen in 1746 by G & W Paterson with an inset map of Scotland and numerous annotations on the nature of the adjoining land, crops etc.
Map Showing Burns and Mills

The most readily available supply of water for the Mill and for the wants of the people had been the 2 burns the Spital and the Westburn which fed the old Loch of Aberden, now dry and covered with streets and houses. To bring them to the end of Broad Street all that was necessary was to divert them before entering the Loch, and to keep as hard to the left as possible without making a channel deeper than sufficient to carry the water.

The ford of the Spital Burn in Causewayend is 60 feet above the sea, and the South end of Broad Street is less than that at present, so that the water could run as things are; but formerly the Shiprow sloped upward more gradually than it does now, and it crossed Union Street in a depression between St Katherine's Hill on the West and Castle Street, once high uneven ground, on the East.

That the Shiprow has been made up several feet can be seen by a house at the end of Exchequer Row, and it crossed Union Street and entered Broad Street at a lower level than the present. The Shiprow was the early route from the Harbour up to the then Broadgate before the Guestrow was created.


Aberdeen's Meandering Burns

The Westburn or Gilcomston Burn
The Westburn or Gilcomston burn originally entered the Loch at the lowest part of Holland Street; but to get it to Broad Street it had been diverted eastward at the north end of Holland Street. It now crosses Millbank Lane, and comes into day-light at the back of a high dyke at the lower end of the lane. Here there must have been a mill at one time, for a house in Stafford Street formerly stood alone and was called Millbank House, and a part of George Street was called Millbank Terrace. There still remains in Millbank Lane the entrance lodge and a gate with a grotesque head on either side, worth the notice of antiquaries. The Gilcomston Burn crosses Fraser Street and Fraser Place, and near Hutcheon Street it joined the Spital Burn so long as it came this way, which, however, it ceased to do when the Waterloo Station branch of the Railway was made.

The joint stream crossed Hutcheon Street at the West side of the Meat Market, in the same course as the Gilcomston Burn still has, and kept as far to the East as the high ground at Kingsland Place would permit. Approaching Maberly Street it turned east across George Street, on the north side of Spring Garden and away from the Loch, which was at a lower level. At Lines Street it turned south, maintaining as high a level as practicable along the east side of Loch Street.' On the site of St Paul's Street was the Vennel, a lane which gave residents in the Gallowgate access to water. Keeping east of Drum's Lane, it had crossed the Upperkirkgate about University Press Court, where there was found in 1886 a Bronze Pot containing a pose of about 12,000 silver coins mostly of Edward I., Edward ll, and Edward III, of England.  Its subsequent course had been along the East side of the Guestrow till it reached the Mill at the South end. Its course had been laid out before there was a single house along the whole route, so that there were no difficulties to overcome. Going South from the Townhouse the water from the Mill had crossed Union Street and passed under the house in Union Street No 17, and under No. 8 Exchequer Row, then across this street and along Exchequer Court, and down the steep brae to the Denburn, which then ran where Virginia Street is now. In the house in Exchequer Row there used to be seen, in the cellar, posts and a framework of wood, the remains of a water course that had afterwards been built over. When a sewer was made in Exchequer Row the water course was crossed at a depth of 10 feet, and in the bottom of it was a pair of brogues.

This had been the Mill of Aberden mentioned in the "Registrum," I. 5, 84, in what is called the Bull of Pope Adrian IV.  Through a forgery the author may be credited with knowing that there was in Aberdeen a Mill, and only one, when he was drawing it up some time after 1427.  We may now fancy we see an open burn running along the west side of the Burgh market-place. Here, by charter of Alexander Il, the citizens held a weekly market on Saturdays for the purchase of provisions brought in from the country; and here at the long summer fairs strangers - some from abroad - came and offered for sale by retail the better sort of clothes and bought wool and furs and hidesTanning was imperfectly done in Scotland till the time of Charles I. from the Exchequer Rolls we see that there was a great export of furs and wool from Aberden in the time of Robert Bruce.

It is curious to note that in the rural parts of the county people might spin wool and weave cloth, but they were forbidden to dye it or shear it, that is, raise a pile and crop it close. This was reserved for the Burgesses of the Town. But ingenuity enabled the weavers of other places to produce some ornament without breaking the Law. In the inventory of plenishing left by Bishop Alexander Gordon, which had to be taken over by his successor, Gavin Dunbar, there is "Anequhyt Irelande playd corsyt with blak rangis," and " Ane aide comptour clayth of Buchane weifing," The 1st seems to have been a black and while tartan blanket, and the 2nd a Buchan-reade tartan tablecloth used in Compound Addition of money. As few could read or write the actual coins or counters representing them were laid down in rows on separate squares on a cloth, and then counted up.


The stream had served the double purpose of driving the Mill and giving the people water. This had been followed by extending the Town upwards, and in process of time Broad Street and the Gallowgate had been lined on both sides with low houses, walls of clay or wood and roofs of thatch, having their gables to the street and lanes in front for letting in cows and sheep and horses with backloads of corn and peats. When the Town became more crowded and space was more valuable the houses were made higher and roofed with tiles, with byres and stables below and the dwellings above, as is seen in rural Switzerland still. The dwellings were reached by a wooden stair ending in a gallery in front of the house leading to the door. The space below the gallery and the forestair, as it was called, was a convenient receptacle for the midden of dung from the byre and stable or for a swine's cruive. The last of the houses of this style was a row at the head of Mutton Brae, on the south side of Rosemount Viaduct, in front of the Churches. They were occupied by the chimney-sweepers of the Town, who used the ground floors not for domestic animals but as soot stores.

At 1st the water had run along in an open channel near the west side of the original Broad Street, as it did long in the Chanonry of Aberdon, and as it does to this day in towns in other countries, especially where there is an abundant supply from snow-clad mountains. In process of time traders from distant places were allowed to erect lockfast wooden booths on the east margin of the water channel to serve as shops in the fair time. These got the name of the Boothraw, which is mentioned in the Chartulary of St Nicholas about 1430. To give the residents on the East side of Broad Street access to the water, gaps in the Boothraw were left at Ragg's Lane and Blairton Lane, and the Red Lion Inn Court was a public thoroughfare long ago.


The Denburn
Den is from the Scots dialect meaning `wooded glen`. The Denburn course is from its outfall in the Harbour to its source in Kingswells.

Work on the Denburn RailwayAn important, but often unseen, water course of Aberdeen City, it is arguably from the Denburn that Aberdeen takes its name Aberden - 'the mouth of the Den'. It rises in the vicinity of Kingswells, 5 miles (8 km) west of the city centre and flows east , passing through the Den of Maidencraig and curving around the site Woodend Hospital. It continues to the East, passing to the north of the Hill of Rubislaw, before entering a culvert in the Gilcomston area and continuing underground until it spills into the Upper Dock of Aberdeen Harbour, having completed course of 6 miles (9.5 km). The burn had carved out a steep little valley which now defines the topography of the centre of Aberdeen and supported industry such as Bleaching-greens. The river had been culverted to make way for the Railway in the 1840s, which exploited the Denburn Valley to pass though the City centre. Today, the valley is most obvious within Union Terrace Gardens and still provides route for a reduced Railway, alongside the Denburn Road which forms an underpass beneath Union Street to connect the North side of the City with the A90 in the South.
Work on the Denburn Railway c1840, covering of the Denburn, Aberdeen

The Denburn, the natural supply of water for Aberdeen, has its beginning beyond Kingswells, on the north side of the Skene Road, six miles and a half from its original termination in the Dee near its mouth. In its course it passes the Mill of Maidencraig, erected by the Town Council in 1616, but no longer at work. Half a mile farther down is Oldmill, a name which Indicates that there had been a Mill there before the Maidencraig Mill was built. A mile on it passes through Rubislaw Den and enters the City. At the lower end of the den was the Dam of the Glenburnie Distillery, which was in operation till 1857. At Blenheim Place the Denburn disappears in a culvert and crosses Osborne Place. Till 1903 it was crossed by Stonyton Bridge, a little west of Prince Arthur Street, where a branch went off' on the South side to drive a Meal-mill between Garden Place and Osborne Place, south of Gilcomston Dam. It was given up in 1830 and removed in 1842 ; but its site is shown in "Vanishing Aberdeen." Between Stonyton Bridge and Gilcomston Dam the Denburn received on the North side an important little stream which has now quite disappeared from sight. It was the boundary between the lands of Gilcomston, belonging to the Town, and Rubislaw, belonging to Skene of Rubislaw House, who thwarted the Town Council in a scheme for taking water from the Denburn across the tongue of land between the 2 burns, and this led to bringing water to the City from the Bridge of Dee. Originally this little burn appeared near South Stocket Road and ran along a hollow south of Morningfield Road. Crossing Forest Road, Carlton Place, Fountainhall Road, and Blenheim Place it ran along the south side of Desswood Place, and, turning off to the right, it entered the Denburn above Gilcomston Dam, now filled up. Its course now ends in a sewer in Forest Road. Though now quite lost to sight its course is shown on Taylor's Map, 1773. Gilcomston Dam was not formed till the town bought the lands of Gilcomston in 1580, but it was at this dam that the supply of water for the Town and the Upper and Nether Mills was taken off from the Denburn.

The Denburn is now only the surplus water which overflowed at the dam, and it is sometimes very small. It disappears from the light of day at a famous well called Cardenhaugh Well, to which citizens long ago made excursions in such numbers that old women attended with jugs and baskets of gingerbread, (Gibbrie) once a favourite cake with young and old. The Well was on the North side of the Denburn, where it enters a culvert near the Grammar School. Its water was the 1st to be taken into Aberdeen in a pipe. The Denburn reappears for a little at Esslemont Avenue, and finally vanishes at Hardweird, now a squalid street, but once a suburban village with St John's Well to supply it with pure water. Hardweird is a compound of two Gaelic words, " ard " and " uird," meaning the hill of the height. The second part had been added to explain the first after its meaning had been obscured by prefixing the " h " to it. It is first mentioned as the name of a croft on the brae above the street. In 1749 the Town Council began to feu the lands of Gilcomston, and made a bridge over the Denburn at Hardweird in 1754. At the end of Spa Street the Denburn originally received the overflow of the Loch fed by the Spital Burn and the Westburn; now it receives the Westburn and also the water taken oft' at Gilcomston Dam to drive the Mill at Jack's Brae and feed the Pond at Broadford. It passes under Collie's Bridge at the end of Skene Street, and turns south along the Denburn Valley. This was once a pretty, natural, glacier-made dell; but it has suffered many changes from the hands of man and continues to attract development. In 1758, the Denburn was straightened, and small cascades were formed at short intervals. Brick arches were thrown across the burn and called Chinese Bridges from their resemblance to the bridge on the Willow Pattern plate. Having no parapets these bridges were unsafe and were removed

One gave place to a wooden bridge on the footroad between Mutton Brae and Skene Terrace. The burn ran so slowly that it did not keep its bed clear of refuse, until it was shod, with a concave bottom, which increased its speed but diminished the volume of water and made the burn look puny in its wide bed. Other two bridges spanned the Denburn farther down, Union Bridge and the Bow Brig. Being low the Bow Brig had to be removed when the Denburn Valley Railway was made, and the burn was covered up. At the upper end of the valley the burn is on the west side of the Railway, passing under the east wall of the HM Theatre, where its bed is old red sandstone rock. Before reaching Union Bridge the burn is east of the railway; at Guild Street it is west : and at the south end of the Joint Station it crosses again to the East and enters the Upper Dock at its South-west corner. 

When we first know anything of its course it turned east at Guild Street, and flowed along the South of the Carmelite Monastery grounds ; but sometimes it is shown making a detour to the South before turning East. It passed also the grounds of the Trinitarian Monastery, sometimes encroaching on the Churchyard. Here it took the name of the Trinity Burn, and Trinity Quay took its name from the burn. It ran along the base of the steep brae in the line of Virginia Street, forming the boat harbour of the ancient town. The Denburn ultimately joined the Dee so near the sea that Aberden might mean either the infall of the Denburn into the Dee or into the Sea.


The Powcreek Burn (also Pole or Poll Creek)
Powcreek means the wide mouth of a pow, an old name for a burn, especially a slow-running burn. The Powcreek Burn took its rise in a small spring in the side of West North Street at the mouth of Chronicle Lane. Its water was thought to be good for "sair een" and the trouble of collecting a bottleful with a spoon was not grudged by those who believed in its efficacy. Keeping near West North Street it crossed Mealmarket Street at the bend, the lowest place in the street, and drained the low ground between West North Street and King Street. Here there were pools much frequented by young Aberdonians in time of frost. Near the Railway the burn found its way across King Street, now made up, and ran in a slight hollow which afterwards became the bed of the Canal and subsequently the bed of the Railway. At Park Street, it was crossed by the Thieves' Brig on the way from Justice Port to the Gallow Hill, the place of execution. This is now partly in Trinity Cemetery and partly in a sand quarry off Errol Street. In excavating the sand 2 ends of strong iron chains were found at some distance from one another. They came from the direction of the Shelter in the cemetery, which appears to be on the spot where the gallows stood, and it was supposed that they had been used to prevent the bodies of criminals from being cut down and carried off by their friends. More likely the chains, which were not on the surface, but sunk in the ground, had been the terminals of a lightning conductor protecting a Powder Magazine subsequently erected on the Gallow Hill, and there may be other terminals extending into the Cemetery.

Before coming to Constitution Street the Powcreek Burn passed under the bed of the Canal in a culvert. At the Banner Mill, in Constitution Street, the Powcreek Burn was joined by a small tributary from the West side of the Broad Hill, the place of which has now been usurped by Urquhart Road. When it ran along the East wall of the Banner Mill this little stream was visited 60 years ago by Professor Macgillivray's young conchologists in search of freshwater mollusca. In it and in the Spital Burn were found "Lymnaeus pereger limosus" and "Planorbis vortex spirorbis." The Powis Burn in its course along Back Hilton Road supplied a small fresh-water limpet called "Ancylus Huviatilis." It may be noted that the Aberdeen University Library does not contain a copy of Macgillivray's Mollusca of Aberdeen, Kincardine, and Banff, though probably copies are still in existence in Aberdeen.  In the 1st stage of life the young of shell-fish move about freely and attach themselves to fishes, by which they may be carried up a stream. In the next stage they drop off and begin an independent life.

Fleece and FabricIn Gordon's Map of Aberdeen in 1661 the site of the Banner Mill is shown as an island, with the Powcreek Burn and its tributary all round it. The island was a willow plantation, and the houses shown in the map were wooden sheds for storing willow wands. Access to the island was got by a foot-bridge over the burn. The later Banner Mill was built in 1830 for spinning cotton yarn when flax-spinning was given up, and it was set down near the burn to get water for condensing steam. From the place where it was built it was long called the Bog Mill. Latterly the ponds at the Mill were fed by water from the Bansticle Burn, brought along the East side of the Broad Hill. After working over 70 years cotton-spinning became unprofitable and the Mill ceased to work in 1904.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

Below the Banner Mill the Powcreek Burn was crossed by the Boul Road. Boulget occurs in Alexander Hay's Charter for upholding Balgownie Brig, 1605; and it is mentioned repeatedly in Spalding's "Memorialls of the Trubles." Though generally thought to have some connection with the game of bowls, the name comes from the Gaelic word "buaile," a cowfold, and it means the road to the fold where the citizens' cows, herded on the links by a common herd, were put to rest and to be milked at mid-day. About 1830 the name was changed to Albion Street. There is also a Bowl Road near Tarves, another in Strachan, and Spalding mentions one in Edinburgh. There is one Bulwark, a corruption of Gaelic words meaning a cowfold, in Deer, and another in King Edward.  Bulwarks are present on ships to contain crew in severe weather

The Powcreek Burn entered the Denburn at the end of Virginia Street, but in consequence of some alterations at the Harbour in 1658 the Denburn was diverted from its old course into the upper end of the modern harbour, which formerly extended further west than it does now. This left the old bed dry and cut off the Powcreek Burn from the Denburn. Then a ditch was dug along the bottom of the brae extending from the Shiprow downwards to the Powcreek Burn, and the ditch was carried down to Fittie to give water to the Fisher population. Their boat-haven was called Pockraw, which means burn row, pouk being a Scotch word meaning a burn, or a hole. When the Railway was made provision had to be made for the Powcreek Burn. From its source to King Street it runs underground; but on crossing King Street it becomes a sewer. It runs under Jasmine Terrace and Duff Street, and crosses the Railway in an inverted siphon above the Bridge in Constitution Street. Then it passes under the corner of the Granite Works premises, crosses also Constitution Street and afterwards joins a Sewer in Cotton Street, which discharges at Abercrombie Jetty.

The nuitrients around Abercrombies Jetty were a great attraction for mackerel which could be caught on unbaited hooks at the jetty in the '40's as a wee fisher loon - needless to say my mither fed them tae the cat much to my disappointment having caught sae mony bonnie fish. 'Ach - their scavenger fesh' my mother would say

The old estuary of the Powcreek Burn was the boat harbour of the town till 1658, when it was filled up. It afterwards became First Basin where the Canal Barges lay and afterwards Waterloo Railway Station. In digging the Canal Basin anchors were found, which led the author of the "Book of Bon-Accord" to suppose that the whole estuary of the Dee had once been an arm of the sea, and that ships had been wrecked in it. When, however, we see from the Town Council Register that lime was brought from the Firth of Forth to Aberdeen in boats, another possible reason for finding anchors in the old boat harbour readily suggests itself. Prior to the introduction of Iron Ships, the latter end of almost every small coasting vessel which escaped the rocks was to be burned in port, from having sprung a leak in a storm when carrying a cargo of lime. She was in no immediate danger of sinking before reaching a harbour but the seams of her planks were yawning and letting in water so freely that she took fire, and though she reached her harbour nothing could save her from burning at the water's edge.

The Powcreek was reduced on the economic abbreviation of the Doric Language to the Po'Cra hence the later names Pocra Quay and Pocra Jetty.


The Holburn
The Holburn or burn of the howe has 2 head waters, the north, which is the greater, coming from Hazelhead through Walker Dam, and the south from Craigiebuckler. The two streams are crossed in going from Rubislaw Quarry to Springbank Cemetery, a little above their junction. The united stream did service in feeding steam condensing ponds at the now extinct Rubislaw Bleachfield and then flowed eastward. It crosses Forest Avenue and St Swithin Street, and at the bend in Hartington Road it again divides into two branches. The South branch, which is the original burn, keeping the low ground crosses Union Grove and Ashvale Place and passes under Holburn Bridge, built when the Stonehaven turnpike was made early in last century.

Map Showing Burns and Mills

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

The north branch, an artificial Mill-lead, goes to the Upper and Lower Justice Mills. At the end of Stanley Street it enters on Albyn Lane, which it follows to Holburn Street. Near the end of the lane may be seen a sluice on the Mill-lead. The advantageous situation at the east side of Holburn Street had early led to the erection there of 1st one mill and then another, both worked 1 after the other by the same water. The Chartulary of St Nicholas mentions the Justice Mill, II. p. 95, and subsequently in 1438 the Justice Mills, p. 1U2. A tradition of the Town says that William Leith of Barns gave the original Mill to the town as a peace-offering, that he might be exempted from punishment for killing a Baillie. The memory of the slaughter being upheld by a Cairn at the spot it is not unlikely that the traditional story is correct; but as the Burgh Records do not go so far back as the time of William Leith, the tradition cannot be confirmed. The "Book of Bon-Accord" says that the name Justice is a corruption of Justiciar, which implies that the King's Justiciar in the North had periodically held Circuit Courts there at a mound, the seat of justice. Below Holburn Bridge the Mill-water rejoins the parent stream, which thereafter passes under the Hardgate at a bridge called the New Bridge, erected in 1775 when the Hardgate was improved and widened. Above New Bridge a branch of the burn was diverted to the right along Willowbank and Rosebank to drive Ferryhill Mill, originally a Meal-mill and afterwards a Flour-mill. A good many years ago it was burned, and after standing long unoccupied it was converted into a glove manufactory. The Town Council got an annual rent for the water-power for several years, but the water was afterwards withdrawn from the Mill to save the expense of making a new course for it after leaving the manufactory.

A narrow foot-path called the Old Mill Road came from the lower parts of the Town, crossing the Denburn by a wooden bridge in the line of Guild Street. It crossed Dee Street and Bon-Accord Street and descended the brae at the end of Bon-Accord Crescent. It gave citizens in need of a stone or 2 of meal a short route to the Lower Justice Mill. The path followed the division between different proprietors' lands and had been begun to be used long before houses had been built west of the Denburn. The Mill-burn follows the foot-path down from the Mill to the bottom of the brae at Bon-Accord Crescent and then turns south across Springbank Terrace and Rosebank Terrace, and passes under Bon-Accord Bridge. The track of the burn is now covered up from the site of Rubislaw Bleachfield downwards; but, standing on Bon-Accord Bridge, the route of the burn may be distinguished passing to the West of the chimney of the Electric Works. These now occupy the site of Dee Village, which was between Crown Street and the River. In the end of 18th century it was a congeries of worn-out, brick, red-tiled houses lying between Dee Village Road and Millburn Street, through which the Holburn or Ferryhill Burn, as it was then called, flowed.

In the previous century the site of Dee Village was a Pottery, and the mouth of the burn was called the Potters' Creek. A branch of the burn drove a wheel, and it in turn drove short vertical shafts called potters' wheels, on the top of which earthenware vessels were fashioned by hand. On the north side of the burn there was an extensive Brickworks, and near it were banks of laminated clay so steep in the face that sand martins tunnelled long holes in them, where they brought out their young in safety. About the middle of the 18th century the clay was exhausted, and the Railway now passes over the site of the Clayhills Brickworks, the first brickworks at Aberdeen.

Water wheels designs in order of increasing complexity and efficiency. Norse wheels (left) turn millstones directly, undershot wheels (centre) require gears, and overshot wheels (right) also require an elevated stream

For pottery making: The potter’s wheel is connected to the rotor of the water wheel by a pulley and a belt system. The rotary motion of the water wheel rotates the potter’s wheel

Four trenches were excavated within the area to be disturbed by the construction of a flatted development. Levels of peat and clay were recorded as well as 19th-century wall foundations. The good quality pink clay recorded is almost certainly part of the seam of clay from which this area got its name. No evidence of clay digging was seen on the site, however. Three trenches on the frontage of the site contained no archaeological remains, but the sand and iron pan subsoil suggests that the area was flooded at one time. This area may be the remains of a small peninsular named `Pynner Nook', seen on Taylor's map of 1773 map of the area. This peninsular lay between the mouths of the Denburn and the River Dee. Peat recorded in some of the trenches may have been the remains of buried soils, accumulated during a period when the area was either under cultivation or, more likely, waste ground. The area of this site is probably within an area marked 'marish ground over flowed at evry tide' on Parson Gordon's map of 1661 and this may have caused the formation of these peat deposits. The area of this site has potential archaeological and historical importance because of its association over a long period with pottery manufacture. It is known that Bricks, Tiles and Pottery were manufactured in this area, known as `Clayhills' from at least the 18th century. From archaeological evidence it is clear that pottery and tiles were manufactured in Aberdeen from at least the 13th century, but the origin and 1st use of the name 'Clayhills' is unknown. 

Milnes Map 1789

At an early date in the history of Aberdeen there was a sheet of water on the site of Dee Village, called the Loch of Dee, which communicated with the River at high water. When the foundation of the Chimney of the Electric Works was excavated the skeleton of a red deer was found. It was supposed that the animal had been drowned in a spate of the Dee by being swept off an island, and that it had floated down the river till it was left at high tide where the skeleton was found. The stag's horns were placed in the Aberdeen Art Gallery, to serve as a model for artists. In recent times the ground at the mouth of the Ferryhill Burn has been raised to a higher level than the tide reaches, and it was greatly extended by diverting the river. The burn passes under Wellington Road, the railway, and Palmerston Road, and crossing Northern Esplanade enters the Dee at the end of Palmerston Place, below Wellington Bridge.

This location was a sewage outflow and was a great place to catch eels because of the abundance of Nutrients.  A man with a rod bristling with un-baited hooks in groups of 4 up the length of the shaft simply stabbed it into the water repeatedly and caught the eels by their skin, thus filling the bottom of his dingy with live writhing eels - these were presumably shipped south for jellied eels delicacy which did not extend to Aberdonians.


The Polmuir Burn
A little above Wellington Bridge a small stream of water is discharged from a pipe into the River Dee. This is the outlet of the Polmuir Burn, which must have been once a large stream; but its water has been let into sewers at various parts of its course. As already explained "poll" means a burn, and the muir which it drained had been the heathery ground around the peat moss which once occupied the sites of Aiken's Moss and Key's Nursery on both sides of Whinhill Road. The course of the Polmuir Burn is now almost wholly covered up ; but it may still be traced by the appearance of the surface of the ground. It drained the northern border of Great Western Road, formerly laid out in nursery and market gardens. The sub-soil is red clay of granitic origin and the rainfall does not readily sink into the ground. In forming Anderson Drive the first beginning of the burn was seen issuing from a small red clay pipe on the west side of the road, about ] 50 yards up from Great Western Road. It strikes North-east and comes out on Ashley Road at the North-east corner of the school ground. The hollow through which it flows is easily seen where it has not been made up by material excavated from the foundations of houses. At a gap in the east side of Forest Avenue its course Eastward is indicated by a row of trees which grow on its bank. In Brighton Place it crosses the street between Nos. 43 and 45 on the West side, and 44 and 46 on the East. Behind the gardens on the East it runs on to Ashley House Avenue, where it disappears from sight.  From the Ashley School lodge the burn strikes Southeast to the top of Nellfield Place and comes out on Great Western Road at a grating in a wall which projects into the pavement.  Crossing the street it runs down the west side of Nellfield Place, across Holburn Street, and along the back of a building, once Palmer's Brewery, in the Hardgate. This building stands awkwardly with Holburn Street, but for this the builders were not responsible. It was built before the turnpike road was made, and it stood at the corner where Nellfield Place and Broomhill Road met and was square with both; but the turnpike road cut off the corner obliquely. If the house had been built for a Brewery the water of the burn might have been utilised for brewing ale, and possibly also for driving the wheel of a Mill for grinding malt.

Leaving Palmer's Brewery, the original course of the burn was along the centre of the deep hollow between the Hardgate and Whinhill Road, formerly called Downie's or Aiken's Moss. On the east side of Whinhill Road there is another hollow formerly well known as Roy's Nursery. The 2 hollows were originally in 1 and were occupied by a deep bed of moss, from which the City was supplied with peats; but to give access to Pitmuckston Mill and a few Crofts now comprehended in Duthie Park and Allenvale Cemetery an embankment had been thrown across the middle of the hollow many years ago - at least before 1661. At the same time the water of the burn had been diverted to the South to help to drive a Mill near the mouth of the Pitmuckston Burn. The track of the mill-water has now been converted into a sewer, which may be traced for some distance along the west side of Whinhill Road. It crosses the Railway and joins a main sewer passing through Duthie Park.

To remove the rainfall which might accumulate in the moss, a covered water-way was formed where the embankment was to be laid down, and there may still be seen in Roy's Old Nursery a hole once protected by a flagstone, where it could be inspected and cleaned out ; but it got out of order and Aiken's Moss, which had been once arable ground, became a willow bog, much frequented by snipe 60 years ago. The Polmuir Burn flowed diagonally across the Nursery to the junction of Brunswick Place and Polmuir Road, which it thereafter followed till it reached the Dee. The outfall of the stream which feeds the ponds in Duthie Park may be seen above the Railway Bridge over the Dee.  On the margin of the Dee, a 100 yards West of Allenvale Cemetery, is seen the mouth of the Pitmuckslon Burn, which took its name from the land through which it flowed. Pitmuckston Estate extended on both sides of Holburn Street south of Great Western Road, and the residence on the estate, also called Pitmuckston, was on the east side of Salisbury Terrace, but latterly it was called PitstruanPitmuckston means the place of pigs, being compounded of the Gaelic words "pit," a place, and "muc," genitive plural of "muc," a pig, and the English word "ton," for Town, with the insertion of the euphonic " s."

There were in Aberdeen in old times many pigs, which ran about loose, necessitating Tradesmen to have half-doors to keep them out of their shops. In summer when the crops were sown the pigs were sent to the suburbs to graze on the stony uncultivated ground, under the care of a common herd. Pettymuck, in Udny, had been a common swine-fold. On Bennachie there is a small hill called Tillymuick, with a large circular enclosure at the top. This had been the swine-fold for all the farmers who had a right to the common on Bennachie.

In the Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, I. 12, there is mention of rent rolls found in the Castle of Edinburgh in 1296, showing cows (fat) and pigs payable from Aberdeen as rent to the Crown. Swine figure largely in the Burgh Records. In 1501, when Queen Margaret, wife of James IV., was expected, the following order was issued:- " Na swyne within this brucht, young nor auld, be haldin uteucht (without) band on the forgait for ane fiftene days under the pane of slauchter of the said swyne, escheting of tham and banyssing of tham that aw the samyne." Swine were kept in cruives under the stairs leading up to the doors of the houses. Sometimes they were allowed to take a place at the fireside, just as may be seen at the present day in cottar houses in Ireland. In 1507 the following edict was issued:- "Nay swyne to be haldin within this toun without band or ane ring in their wort (snout). Na man to have swyne, fyr or elding (fuel) in a hous."

It is not so very long since swine were banished from Aberdeen, and some of the older citizens will remember a negro, Black John, who went about the town leading a "moke" wliich drew a primitive low-wheeled "waggonette." On it were old herring barrels and pails full of pigs' meat which he collected at private houses and hotels, especially at the Royal Hotel, which was in Union Street, about No. 65. John disappeared mysteriously from Aberdeen.


Pitmuckston Burn has 3 branches. One beginning near the top of the brae in Seafield Boad runs down to Great Western Road, and Eastward along it to near Hammerfield Road, which it follows to Broomhill Road. Here it is seen running open along the West side of Broomhill Barn down to the Railway. It passes under the Railway and runs along the South side of it to Holburn Street, which it crosses near the Railway Bridge, and then it makes its way in a South-easterly direction to the Dee. Another branch beginning at Broomhill Road at the end of Salisbury Terrace runs South-east to Holburn Street. It crosses both the street and the Railway before they cross one another, and then it joins the 1st branch in a slight hollow East of Holburn Street. Small as the stream of this burn was (it is now covered up), it drowned a drunk man who, on his way home in a dark night, mistook it for his bed and lay down in it at the roadside.

The 3rd branch used to be seen 1st where Balmoral Road leaves the Hardgate. It runs South-east till it crosses the Railway and then turns South-west. Like all other burns about Aberdeen having a considerable fall, it had early been requisitioned for driving a Meal-mill. The Mill was on the south side of the road going east from Outseats House, and the Mill-dam was on the north. As the supply of water was but small it was supplemented by taking in the Polmuir Burn by means of a deep ditch from Aiken's Moss. The infall was above the dam, but this diversion now joins a sewer passing through the north side of Duthie Park. Below the site of the Mill the burn runs open still, and on the north side of Riverside Road it is joined by the united stream of the other 2 branches, and, crossing the road, it enters the Dee. Before the Bridge of Dee was built, the mouth of the Pitmurksion Burn was an important place.


Ruthrieston Burn
Ruthrieston or Rudrieston means Roderick's Town, coming from "Ruadri," the Gaelic for Roderick. This burn has 2 branches, the East and the West. The East rises at Beech-Hill and flows 1st North-east and then South-east along the south side of the Countesswells Road to Mannofield.  Though it runs under cover now its course can easily be seen in a hollow within a 100 yards of the road.  It forms the boundary between Old Machar and Banchory-Devenick, the Municipal Boundary, and the Parliamentary Boundary between the City and the County of Aberdeen. At 1st it, is the Northern Boundary of Springbank Cemetery; but the entrance gate is across the boundary and within the City.  Crossing Great Western Road it holds on in the line of Countesswells Road to Newlands Cottage on Broomhill Road. On the South side of the road there is a small enclosure within which there is a filtering bed for water to feed the ponds in Duthie Park, which is taken off there. The burn crosses the Deeside Railway and takes a straight course to the Old Bridge on the Hardgate, near the River. The lower part of the course is covered up, but the parapet of a bridge shows where the burn crosses Holburn Street. The West branch comes from Auchinyell, on the South side of the Railway. At 1st its course is open, but the lower half is covered up.  It crosses Holburn Street and passes through a boating and skating pond near the River and then joins the East branch at the old bridge on the Hardgate. Below the bridge the Ruthrieston burn enters the Dee.


Powis and Tile Burn
The lower part of Powis Burn is called the Tile Burn, near Seaton Brick and Tile Works -  it was crossed by the Tile Ford, which was on the road from the Brickworks to the Sand Hills at the sea-side, where the sand required in brick-making was procured. A wooden bridge has now taken the place of the ford. 


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Last modified: 01/09/2013