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Netherkirkgate

Runs from Broad Street to St Nicholas Street

This rare  40's colour shot or is it tinted judging by the areas left dull grey; it captures nicely the the medieval street width probably encroached on even then by the M&S Frontage - St Nicholas Street beyond shows Burton's Tailor Shop with its dancehall and entertainment rooms with high arched windows above - my mother held her modest wedding reception there in 1936 - 16 years old and pregnant - nothing changes eh. 

A lower Kirk entrance is evident although its identity is hard to discover at the end of Correction Wynd.  A lamp is suspended mid street indication a transition from gas to Electric Street Lighting. 

This scene has disappeared completely in the interests of St Nicholas Shopping Arcade and M&S wishing to displace Benholm Lodge despite its long survival from a troubled era that demanded a fortress house built in this location which was then in the edge of town. 

The Knights sword in the effigy is intact as is his faithful dog but no longer survives post move or cleaning.  A car parks cheekily in the narrow wynd and an unobstructed George Street extended as a a main thoroughfare from St Nicholas Street.

ThIs busy route for shoppers to access to other routes including George Street has been denuded and sanitised making it a less inviting sojurn at night as it is stark and foreboding and disappears in to the darkness of Carnegie's Brae

 

The later image shows the insensitivity of the placing of a Sodium Lamp Standard and no waiting signs for vehicles parking while the structure is badly neglected with failed guttering staining the facade and loosening the rendering.  The Sword bearing Knight and his faithful dog gaze outwards after having been cleaned it seems.  Recent visits to Aberdeen show even grander structures have guttering problems.  The name of the lesser Church below St Nicholas escapes me but that led to Correction Wynd leading to both Union Street via steps and The Green under the bridge.  On the other church side of the tower was ta Coat of Arms.  Moved to Tillydrone Avenue of all places at M&S expense during redevelopment only to be boarded up urgently to protect it from vandals and the loss of the Knight's Sword.  The effigy was probably recovered from a Kirk burial vault and used as decoration within a stone frame - nothing to do with Scotland's renegade hero William Wallace.  There may be associations with the Knights Templar who had property in Netherkirgate and an ancient Tower Chapel in Justice Street now overbuilt.  Note the corner infill to 'Wallace Neuk' opposite the site of a former Well to discourage abuse by casual urinators.  There was other pubs in Netherkirkgate called the Frigate Bar and East Neuk better known as the the 'Hen Hoose' as it favoured female clients.

The Frigate Bar was also active in this old lane but then I was a wee tee-totaller and not allowed inside these adult hop laden  yet very mysterious atmospheres.  I used to bump into my Paternal Granny from Torry on her way to the 'Hen Hoose' (East Neuk) a pub which readily catered for lone women and she would search her purse to find you a 'ticky' a thrift flower stamped three-penny piece while she swanked onwards for a 'cleck' in her Leopard skin coat.

BenholmTower.pdf

This small Z-plan fortress was built as a townhouse by Sir Robert Keith of Benholm around 1600, and stood at that time in virtually open countryside, some 20 yards outside the medieval burgh boundary near the site of a well.  Wallace was thought to be a corruption of Well House but we were in need of a memorial then.

Claypotts Castle in Dundee
- was was built to a sophisticated design, and is probably the best example of a Z-Plan tower house left in the world. By arranging two circular towers at the salients, or diagonally opposite corners of the rectangular hall, the little castle gained a dramatic and picturesque profile.

Square penthouses are perched on the circular drums; their gables are crowstepped and terminate in chimneys with broad flashbands.  In passing, it is worth noting that the fireplaces draw up a tapering flue which is still black with soot from Claypotts’ final inhabitants, and smoke exits through a doocot top, with a stone slab over the opening, rather than a lum can.

Yet the main generator of Claypotts’ Zed form is defence: the Z-plan means you can defend every side of the castle, by firing across the flanks of the main block from shot holes in the circular towers.  Sir Robert Keith in 1600 was a man planning ahead of his time in the light of past history and imminent troubles.

 

The ‘Wallace Tower’ in Netherkirkgate, had nothing to do with the Scottish patriot, William Wallace (1272-1305), since it was not built until 1588. It was properly known as Benholm’s Lodging, being originally the residence of Sir Robert Keith of Benholm, the younger brother of the 5th Earl Marischal, and stood just outside the old Netherkirkgate Port – demolished about 1770 – at the corner of Netherkirkgate and Carnegie’s Brae; about where the M&S Food Hall is now. Carnegie’s Brae led down to the Green via Putachieside, so-named because the proprietor of Castle Forbes, then known as Putachie, had his town house there; it was latterly a particularly miserable street of slum tenements and was obliterated by the construction of Union St., and then of Market St. and Archibald Simpson’s New Market in 1840. There was also the Putachie burn which skirted St Katherines's Hill on the west side.

In the sense that is used here -gate derives from Gata, an old Norse word meaning the 'way to or street'. In this sense the meaning of Netherkirkgate is the Lower Road leading to the Church. In Aberdeen there is also Upperkirkgate; most other Scottish cities of medieval date have similar names.   Netherkirkgate has a claim to being the oldest named street in Aberdeen. In a charter dated 1212, recorded in the Chartulary of the Abbey of Arbroath, one Gilber Stute, Burgess of Aberdeen, and his wife Emma were described as having a piece of land lying in the Vicus Fraxini. From the description of physical factors on the street in the charter it seems clear that the Way of the Ash Tree is what we would call Netherkirkgate. The term Kirkgate is 1st used sometime later in 1311, but without sufficient evidence to distinguish between the Upper or Nether Kirkgates. It is in fact in 1382 that we have the first surviving recorded use of the exact term Netherkirkgate, although the street is clearly one of the very oldest in the history of Aberdeen.  In the Medieval period, and beyond, Netherkirkgate was one of the principle thoroughfares of Aberdeen and was the site of many prestigious townhouses. One of these was the so called Wallace Tower, a Zed Plan fortified House built by Sir Robert Keith of Benholm, a younger brother of the Earl Marischal, who had founded Marischal College. Keith bought the land on which the house originally sat in 1588 and the house was built shortly afterwards C1600. In 1965 the area was developed and a large department store built on the site of the House. The tower was removed from its original site and moved to a park in the north of the city (Seaton Park, off Tillydrone Road) where it was reconstructed'.  Not a considered displacement.

Another shop in Netherkirkgate was the Joke Shop by the close that run in from Union St with things for endless amusement of children and adults - run by a retired RAF Officer who was still active in gliding schools despite injury disabilities - I met later in adult life and he invited us all for a Gliding session - which was extremely generous use of his time.

 

 

Potty ('Putty') Donald's Glaziers - also had a large shop there and this was cleaned regularly by Bell (Isabel) Leiper a senior lady who lived one floor down from the attics in 32 Castle Terrace and therefore had electricity to her abode - it was considered too expensive to run any higher in the tenement house or perhaps the occupants considered unworthy of the new service..  'Bell' used come up for a laugh with my parents after we had gone to bed and often ran down the stairs with here apron over her head to avert her gaze from my drunken fathers bawdy antics.  Bell was a ready source for dusters, 'wettable' cleaning cloths, kneeling pads and other cleaning accoutrements as a result of her thrift and Potty Donald's generously regular issues of replenishments as suppliers to the trade.

The area behind the standing buildings formerly occupied by Potty Donald's paint shop and the Bond Bar, was being developed and the yard excavated for a beer cellar and car parking. Part of the site included the frontage on to the medieval Guestrow. Evidence of stake holes representing 2 sides of a medieval building were found, portions of probable post-medieval stone buildings on the frontage and under these large medieval pits partly underlying the Guestrow itself. Several 100 stake holes were found over the whole site, some indicating definite fence lines. Under the medieval deposits was a widespread and uniform clay and stone layer containing several 100 worked flints.


McCombie’s Court in Aberdeen - McCombies Court, ran from 50 Union St to Netherkirkgate
Thomas McCombie was a Baillie who served on the Council in the early 1800s, but refused the Provost-ship. His premises were at 51 Netherkirkgate, where Marks & Spencers side entrance is now, and his house was at 52 Netherkirkgate, just opposite. Hence when Archibald Simpson came to build on Union Street in 1814, the Court running through from Union Street to Netherkirkgate was named McCombie’s Court. It is one of the few remaining courts in Aberdeen.

Alternatively:-

At the North corner of the Plainstones that McCombie, originator of a once famous brand of Aberdeen Snuff, had his booth.  In the newspapers of June, 1807, one may still read that "McCombie, late Dealer in Snuff and Tobacco, North Corner of the Plainstones, begs leave to Intimate that he has Removed to that Shop, Justice Port, head of Justice Lane, formerly possessed by Mr. John Walker, where he intends to deal in the Grocery, Tea, Spirit, and Porter lines." One is glad to add that such a soul was not wholly given up to grocery lines, for McCombie intimated also that he still intends "to keep an assortment of the very best qualities of Snuff and Tobacco on the most reasonable terms." The business was afterwards transferred to Netherkirkgate, near the passage now so well known as McCombie's Court.

Smith's Court, 16 Netherkirkgate
Cooper's Court, 26, Netherkirkgate
Yeats' Court, 30 Netherkirkgate
Coutt's Court,  63 Netherkirkgate
Kilgour's Court, 46 Netherkirkgate
Maitland's Court, 42 Netherkirkgate

Anderson's Court, 73, Netherkirkgate

The Dubbie Raw ran from a point near the Dyer's Hall in the Netherkirkgate to Schoolhill at the North Style or Gate of St Nicholas long before St Nicholas Street existed.
During a contested election which took place during the early years of the 19th Century, the rougher section of the people resolved to exhibit their antipathy to the Tory laird, by firing a house of questionable repute which stood at the juncture of Netherkirkgate and Dubbie Raw.  "Salmon Meg", as the occupant of this Mansion was popularly called, was a fine specimen of flesh and blood, and when the mob assailed her door with a blazing tar-barrel, she deemed it prudent to decamp by a back window, and take shelter in the Kirkyard

The workmen in digging the site of Dyer's Hall, found an earthen jar, containing nearly 1800 pieces of various reigns and values. They are for the most part Silver Pennies (Denarii) of Edward I, II and III - some of Alexander III of Scotland - and, it is said, some of Robert, whether I or II

The Round Table was the designation given to the irregular area at the Head or East end of the Netherkirkgate.  Prior title for Narrow Wynd or Round Table. Vendor is Alexander Cheyne, merchant, 1726 - 1801

Rotten Row afforded a link between the Shiprow and the Guestrow

Netherkirkgate (All one word on the street sign) and the 'Wallace or Benholm Tower' a street so narrow the Gas lamp was fixed to the Wall Circa 'Sooty' 1945 - with Horse and Cart transport busy at 10.45am according to St Nicholas Clock,  To the left is Carnegie Brae and straight through is St Nicholas Street which led to George Street, Burtons the Tailors is evident as were the function rooms above where my Parents Wedding Reception was held .  Many a Burton shop has snooker or dance halls above their premises which may have been a strange adjunct to tailoring as a way of generating further business.  The doorway extreme right was Barnet's Fruiters shop which did well in this favoured shortcut for pedestrians on their way to a busy shopping Street.  A hungry bold bairn would enter and ask if they had any 'chippet peers'.  He would often be rewarded with 2 or 3 bruised and over ripe pears for his immediate digestion after scooping out the damaged areas with his thumb - all for free if he knew the server or for a proffered Penny.  It is clear the scaffie hasn't reach this area on his 'roons' - unusual for Aberdeen Streets. 
Barnetts Fruit
shop display gets a little attention from the pedestrians. While perhaps the 'Four Bonnets' are on a Pub Crawl. 
Note the classic 3 sided Dormer Windows typical of Aberdeen Attic accommodation allowing respite to stand up and look out at the world clear of sloping roof line.  The only other place a tall man could stand or a doorway permitted was under the central ridge of the roof.

Netherkirgate Port
The original course of the Upper Mill Burn after crossing Upperkirkgate had been southward across the top of Flourmill Brae, a little west of Flourmill Lane, and across Netherkirkgate at its lowest part. The point called Wallace Neuk had no existence till Sir Robert Keith of Benholm built his house between Carnegie's Brae and Netherkirkgate about the end of the 17th century. The Netherkirkgate Port one of the town's Ports (lockable gates) in this sense the term port derives from the French 'porte' for door and was located between the 'little' Bow Brig over the Mill Burn and the end of Flourmill Lane.  

On 7 June 1588 the Baillies and Council, convened at the port and convicted Duncan Donaldson, younger, of unauthorised alterations to the port. Donaldson owned a tenement of foreland lying immediately next to the Port and had built a stair from the ground up to his property: the stair ran up the side of the Port's wall. Duncan was accused of altering the stane wall of the said Port at his 'awin hand, and making his windois and eismentis thairin…' Having found him guilty of this they ordered that he was to 'mend and reforme the batteling of the said poirt…'

Flourmill Lane, This commemorates the site of the Royal Burgh of Aberdeen’s Upper Mill. The mill, fed by the mill burn, stood nearby from the 13th century until 1865. The mill not only provided wheat, rye and malt for the Burgh but also revenue through the lease.

 

Water was taken into the Medieval Town by a lead pipe following the Denburn to the Well of Spa. There it left the course of the burn and went up by Black's Buildings and along Schoolhill. At the east end of Schoolhill, on the south side of the street, it supplied a stone cistern well. Here the main pipe divided into two branches. One going south supplied a cistern well in Netherkirkgate at the head of Carnegie's Brae, opposite the end of Flourmill Lane. This well is shown in "Scotia Depicta"

The rounded corner of the Benholme House between Netherkirkgate and the Brae is called Wallace Neuk. Some think that Wallace is a corruption of Well-house, making the well the origin of the name ; but much more likely it arose from the supposition that the figure cased in plate armour in a niche in the corner represents Sir William Wallace, who, according to Blind Harry, visited Aberdeen. There is no doubt, however, that it represents Sir Robert Keith of Benholm, whose town residence it was. The initials SRKB, for Sir Robert Keith, Benholm, were once visible on the pediment of an upper window. Sir Robert died in 1616.

Descending Carnegie's Brae, the pipe supplied a Well in the Green, shown on Patterson's Map, 1773, and another at the Shore. The other branch ascended Upperkirkgate, and supplied a well in the Gallowgate and another in Broad Street in front of Greyfriars Church, where a Reservoir or Water House was afterwards erected. There was another well near the south end of Broad Street, east side, and a large cistern well in Castlegate.  The above Lithograph shows Netherkirkgate Well opposite the East Tower of Benholm House.

The use of the Netherkirkgate street as a thoroughfare effectively ended with the laying out of Union Street in the early 19th century. The streets southern route itself does still continue under Union Street by way of Carnegie's Brae, named after James Carnegie, (an early to mid 18th century litster (or dyer).

In 1992 No's16-18, on the north side or Netherkirkgate, were excavated. The excavation recovered a considerable amount of organic material and found evidence of wooden medieval buildings associated with the back lands of the tenements of the street.

The dismantling of Benholm Lodge after 4 century link with medieval Aberdeen in the interests of transient needs by a major superstore destined to to fail in much less.

- Ach Jist Knocket Doon Min!

During a contested election which took place during the early years of the 19th century, the rougher section of the people resolved to exhibit their antipathy to the Tory laird, by firing a house of questionable repute which stood at the juncture of Netherkirkgate and Dubbie Raw. "Salmon Meg", as the occupant of this mansion was popularly called, was a fine specimen of flesh and blood, and when the mob assailed her door with a blazing tar-barrel, she deemed it prudent to decamp by a back window, and take shelter in the Kirkyard.

 

St Katherine's Wynd


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Last modified: 01/09/2013