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Bishop's Loch Aberdon Loch King's College - 1495

Old Machar ~ Kirk of Kirktown

Old Aberdeen (Aberdon)

'enclosed with little hills, pleasant corne fields, very fruitful, and with pastures mixed amongst the polwghed fields' - Parson Gordon

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

The queer name, Canny Sweet Pots, given to pools of fresh water at the head of the Banstickie Burn, which was a branch of the Tile burn and within a quarter of a mile of the sea, conveys no meaning to an Englishman's ear; but to a Highland man the name suggests that there was a primitive settlement of fisher people on the burn, who were supplied with water from deep pools at its source. The name seems to be a compound of the Gaelic words "ceann," head; " na," of the; "suidhe," settlemenc or residence, either temporary or permanent; and the Scotch word "pots," meaning deep pools of water. We may infer from the name that here landward people came in winter when food grew scarce in the interior, or that there was here a permanent hamlet of fisher people. On Parson Gordon's map, 1661, there is printed beside the Canny Sweet Pots:- "The River of Done is said  credibly to have runn through the Loch of Canny Sweets Pott of old and thence to have turned the streame eastward, entering the sea under the Broad Hill." The nature of the ground - red laminated clay - renders this extremely unlikely. Formerly at high water of equinoctial spring tides the sea covered a large area at the mouth of the Tile Burn, but it did not go far up the Banstickle burn.  A fisher village at Canny Sweet Pots would have had a good claim to be called Aberdon.

Another place to which this name would have been very appropriate is the ford and ferry below the Bridge of Balgownie, for here, before the bridge was built, all cattle and horses coming from the north to Aberdeen had to wade at the shallow place or swim at the deep, and foot passengers had to be boated across the pool. In the narrative of Sir Alexander Hay's mortification for upholding the Bridge of Balgownie, 1605, its erection is ascribed to King Robert I and this may be received as evidence of the importance of this passage over the Don. But the aborigines of the place have left no records for the instruction of their posterity.

Aberdon - A.D. 1100 ~ 1300
From about 1100 there had probably been a Church on or near the site of the present St Machar church. There must also have been a priest's manse and a house for the church official, but likely no more. From its situation near the mouth of the Don the place had been called Aberdon; but perhaps there had been an older place of this name near the mouth of the River.

About 1132 Aberdon became the See of a Bishop, and its Church became a Cathedral. This caused two separate communities to spring- up, one called the Chanonry, composed of houses for canons and other Ecclesiastics, round the Cathedral; and another a little farther off, of houses for labourers who tilled the Canons' ground, built their houses, and supplied their wants. At 1st there had been a desire to have in the Chanonry houses of a humble sort which could be speedily erected rather than to have large well-built Manses which would have taken years to erect. When affairs had been got into working order at the Cathedral and wealth had increased additional Canons were appointed from time to time. More residences for these were required and better Manses for those hurriedly built at 1st. There had not been the same reasons for improving the Hamlet of Aberdon, and in process of time it had come to look old in comparison with the Chanonry quarter. It is impossible, however, to believe that it could have been called Old Aberdon within a few years of its 1st beginning and while it was still growing. Throughout the 12th and 12th centuries the name of the Cathedral town remained Aberdon, and there is no evidence that it was ever called Old Aberdon before 1300.

The question of the origin of this name has been perplexed by some charters in the beginning of " Registrum Episcopatus Aberdonensis." Five of these the Editor of the Registrum and others have pronounced to be spurious; but of another, pretending to be a Bull of Pope Adrian IV. dated 1157, Cosmo Innes wrote: - "A muniment which affords all the materials for testing its authenticity, and, submitted to all the tests, stands undeniably authentic." (Registrum, I. xix.) If this verdict cannot be upset it is impossible to read up the early history of Aberdon satisfactorily. The same grounds for forming an opinion regarding the bull are open to us as were to Cosmo Innes; and arguments will be afterwards adduced to show that it is a palpable forgery, the work of a man ignorant of the history of the Cathedral. It must have been concocted after 1427. In the meantime it is asserted that the first eight documents in the Registrum are spurious. In 5 of them Aberdon is called " Avetus," old. Now though the documents are not genuine, their authors would not have given the name "Vetus Aberdon" to the Cathedral town unless it had at some time borne the name, else their forgeries would not have passed as genuine.

The truth is that the City did bear this name in their time, but not at the dates assigned to the documents. The Cathedral is generally admitted to have been founded in the 8th year of the reign of David I., 1132, and the Hamlet of Aberdon which gathered around it cannot be older. Yet the 5 documents call it "Vetus," old, at the age of 4, 23, 25, 31, and about 33 years respectively. Aberdon could not have been called old in 1157, the false date of Adrian's Bull, which is the 3rd of the lot; but it was really called old in 1446, and the bull might have been concocted about this time but not before 1427. There is some evidence that the town was called "Old" before 1344. By that time the Cathedral itself had begun to decay, and in 1379 it was necessary to rebuild the nave. In 1392 the Chanonry is called "Canonia de Yeteri Aberdon," the Chanonry of Old Aberdon ; and " Canonia nostra de Aberdon," our Chanonry of Aberdon (Registrum, I. 192-194). It is only the Hamlet on the east side of Don Street and both sides of High Street that is called Old - not the Chanonry. At 1st the Cathedral Church, the Bishop's Palace, and the Canons' Manses had been very humble buildings, and not enclosed with a wall.  The walls must have been of clay, the roofs of divots covered with heather or thatch, and the windows without glass, for the first church in Scotland to have glass windows at its erection was Ladykirk, built by James lV. about 1500. The huts of the people finding employment about the Cathedral could hardly have been worse than those of the Ecclesiastics. But when the Cathedral grew rich and officials increased in number the ground belonging to the Bishop and reserved for the Cathedral, the Churchyard, the Bishop and the Priests had been surrounded by a wall, with ports, to exclude intruders; and this enclosure formed the Chanonry. Instead of mud-walled, turf-roofed huts the Chanonry had been filled with what would have then been reckoned fine buildings, with Walls of stone and lime and roofs covered with thin slabs of sandstone. The old walls of houses and gardens show that much well-dressed sandstone had been brought from distant quarries. In 1240, when the Chanonry is 1st mentioned, there were 12 canons, including the Bishop, and as they likely built their Manses mostly with their own hands they might not all have been provided then with Manses inside the Chanonry. But by 1359 all had had Manses, Glebes, Offices, and gardens, and all these had been enclosed within a wall. In contrast to the Chanonry the Hamlet on High Street was reckoned Old.  In 1446 it is called both Old Aberdene and Ald Aberdon in the same document. Towards the end of the 15th century Aberdene is met with several times, showing that the etymological distinction between Aberdon, the name of the Cathedral Town, and Aberden, the name of the Royal Burgh, was beginning to be forgotten. However, in the 2 charters dated 1489 and 1498 erecting Aberdon into a Burgh of Barony the distinction between the names is preserved. The 1st mentions "the Chanonry of Aberdone with its pertinence commonly called the Auld Aberdone, "but it says" the Harbour of Aberdene," The 2nd is in the same tenor as the former, and it mentions "the town of Abbirdone with its bounds and pertinents commonly called Auld Abbirdoin," and "the harbour of Abbirdeyn."  About the close of the 15th century the names of the 2 towns were usually spelled Aberdone and Aberdene.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

We may assume that in the selection of a site for the Cathedral of the diocese of Aberdon a permanent supply of potable water had not been left out of account.  The site of the Church is 50 feet above the sea and nearly as much above the Don. Proximity to the River, therefore, had not been considered in the matter of drink, though it must have been thought of as a source of food in a Catholic Religious Establishment.   The nearest supply of water was the Loch, and the cradle of Aberdon had been planted near it.  A very high antiquity is claimed for the 1st church at Aberdon, many believing that a church had been built there by 1 of Columba's followers.

There is a legend accounting for the selection of the site of the Cathedral, but it is not worth repeating. All that can be learned concerning St Machar has been gathered up and related in " Scottish Notes and Queries" by Dr Gammack, and "The Diocesan Saints of Scotland " by the Rev George Cormack; but it does not carry conviction that the Cathedral of Aberdeen was dedicated to St Machar.  The Gaelic word "machair" means a haugh, and the proximity of the Cathedral to a large, fertile haugh on the south side of the Don had probably given rise to the legend of St Machar. The 1st place of worship at Aberdon might have been on the haugh below the Cathedral.  There is not before 1170 any writing that can be relied upon in which St Machar is mentioned in connection with Aberdon, or any evidence that there was a Church where the Cathedral is before the time of David I; yet proximity to the Loch affords a strong presumption that there had been a settlement there soon after Columba's time.  Then it was the Kirk of Kirktown dedicated to St Machar in a village of 4 ploughs.

Records of Old Aberdeen

The Bishops Palace and Prebend Lodgings - were burned by the English in 1333 following the burning of Aberden over 6 days.

The site of the Episcopal Palace rebuilt c1459, the original having been destroyed in 1333 or 1336. It was a Quadrangular Court with a Tower at each corner and had a covered passage to the Cathedral as well as a back close where the offices, dovecot etc stood. The orchard which lay between the Palace and the Chaplain's Chambers  remained at the end of the 19th century. The remains of the Palace were removed in 1651 to provide material for the erection of fortification on the Castlehill. There is now no trace, the site being occupied by nursery gardens.  This building was formerly situated on top of an North facing river cliff at an altitude of about 19m.  An assessment took place in January 2002 prior to the demolition of Dunbar Halls of Residence. Evidence of 3 ditches, 2 large rubbish pits and a wall, probably the remains of the Old Aberdeen Bishop's Palace, were uncovered. The building was constructed of ashlar sandstone. Very few finds were recovered, but they include window glass and shards of local medieval pottery. A stone shaft within an undercroft were discovered. The shaft may be a Well but could possibly be a 'bottle dungeon', like that of St Andrews Castle, Fife. Medieval pottery and roof tiles were found in the fill. The building above was likely a 2 or more-storey structure. Much of the stonework was robbed in antiquity.  Much of the area had been scarped during the construction of Dunbar Halls in the 1960s, but a small pocket of undisturbed ground included a substantial basement within which a Well had been constructed. The full extent of the cellar was 5 x 5m and it survived to a depth of 2.2m. The Well was 1.8 x 2m and was exposed to a depth of 1m. The interpretation of this feature as a bell dungeon has been considered, but its size and construction makes it more likely to have been a large well serving the substantial Bishop’s Palace.  No dating evidence was recovered from the structure, but a small number of medieval finds were covered from the backfill.

Dr. William Guild. A strong polemic and ecclesiastical controversialist himself, he did not fail to have his detractors as well as his admirers. Spalding indulges in some specially severe strictures upon him in his "Journal of the Troubles and Memorable Transactions of Scotland, from 1624 to 1645," making a number of grave charges against him, more especially with regard to the demolition of the Bishop's House  in Old Aberdeen, which, however, was the Doctor's own property, having been gifted to him by Charles I. in 1641.  Alluding to this and other acts of Dr. Guild which he strongly condemned, Spalding says : "John Forbes and Thomas Mercer, by the tolerance of Dr. Guild, Principal of Kings College, caused masons to throw down to the ground the Bishop's Dovecot (which indeed was ruinous and unprofitable), to be stones to the bigging of a song-school, which by some was not thought to be sacrilegious, but yet was evil done as others thought. ... In the same manner, he (Dr. Guild), dang down the walls of the Snow Kirk to big the College Dykes. . . . Now he is demolishing the Bishop's House, pitiful and lamentable to behold; Kirks and stately buildings first casten down by ruffians and rascals, and next by Churchmen under colour of Religion. . . Dr. Guild at his own hand cause break down the great oaken joists within the Bishop's House, and transported them therefrae for reparation of the College.  Pitiful to see so glorious a building thus thrown down by dispiteful soldiers, and then demolished by Doctors of Divinity."  Finally, Spalding adds: " Dr. Guild goes on most maliciously and causes cast down the stately wall standing within the Bishop's Close, curiously builded with hewn stones, and took the stones down to the College for such vain uses as he thought most expedient (such was the iniquity of the times), and break down the ashler work about the Turrets, raised the pavement of the Hall and caused laid them down to lay the floor of the Common School."  All this may be highly objectionable in the eyes of many, but this at least can be said for Dr. Guild, that he was not using the old buildings for his own private ends, but for the benefit of the College ; and it is only right to state that, after all his bitter denunciation, Spalding himself makes the apologetic admission "It is true this house, yards, and precincts were given to him by the Estates whereof he might have made a more godly use by upholding rather than demolishing the same."

Kings College and Old Aberdeen

The town is pleasantly situated on a gentle eminence near the River Don, over which is an ancient picturesque Bridge of one lofty arch, in the early Norman style, said to have been built by Bishop Cheyne, though by others ascribed to King Robert Bruce, and concerning which, under the appellation of the Brig of Balgownie, a traditionary legend prophetic of its downfall is quoted by Lord Byron.  The principal street, which consists of houses irregularly built, extends from South to North, to the Town-house, where it diverges into 2 branches, the one leading to the Cathedral, and the other to the Old Bridge; the streets are lighted, and the inhabitants are well supplied with water by commissioners appointed by the rate-payers. The environs are extremely pleasant, and richly wooded; and in the immediate vicinity of the town are numerous villas. On the establishment of the see at this place, the Town was made a Burgh of Barony, by Charter of David I; and the various privileges conferred upon it by subsequent sovereigns were confirmed by Charter of George I, who granted the inhabitants the power of choosing their own Magistrates. The Government is vested, by Charter, in a Provost, 4 Bailies, a Treasurer, and Council of 8 Merchant and 5 Trade-Burgesses, assisted by a Town-Clerk, Procurator-fiscal, and other officers.

Old Aberdeen

Aberdeen the Old is situated a Mile to the North of the New Town, commonly called Bon-accord, it hath its Name from its Situation, being placed at the Mouth of the Water of Don.  The Name of the River sufficiently shows that the Picts who inhabited this part of the Country were of a Scythian Descent, for the River which by the Latins is called Danubius, by the Germans is called Dunave, by the Polonians Dunaum, by the Turks Tuna, being of a very same Name with our Don.  The River is remarkable for the Multitude of Salmon and Perches which are taken in it.  About half a Mile from Old Aberdeen it has a Bridge of 1 single Arch, which is both large and stately, it is made up for the most part of square hewen Stone, both the Ends of it being fixed on Rocks.  By its crooked winding it breaks the force of the Stream, so that Nature it self seems to have made way for its Situation.  A little below it Don enters into the Sea. Above the Bridge 2 miles, is a heap of Stone artificially cast in the Mouth of the Chanel for the easier catching of the Salmon.  It is the Bishops Seat, and hath a Cathedral Church commonly called St. Machars, of a large and stately Structure; being built of hewen Stone by the several Bishops of that See.  It anciently consisted of 2 Ranks of Stone Pillars, another cross Church and 3 Turrets, the greatest of which, was the Steeple, which was set upon Four Pillars of vaulted Works.  In the Church likewise was a Library, but about the Year 1560 it was almost wholly destroyed, so that the Ruines do now only remain.

But the Chief Ornament of this Town is the King's College, placed on the South side of the Town, conspicuous beyond the rest of the Houses for the Neatness and Stateliness of its Structure.  'Tis Inferiour to no other College in Scotland.  One side of it is covered with Slate, the rest with Lead; the Church, and Turret or Steeple are of hewen Stone.  The Windows were of old remarkable for painted Glass, and some reliques of their ancient Splendor do yet remain.  Here is a fine Monument of Bishop Elphingston.  The Steeple besides others hath 2 Bells of an extraordinary Bigness.  The Top of it is vaulted with a double cross Arch, above which is a King's Crown, having 8 Corners upheld by as many Pillars of Stone, a round Globe of Stone with 2 gilded Crosses closing the Crown.  n the Year 1631 it was overturned by a Storm, but shortly after was built in a more stately Form.  It was begun by Bishop Forbes, continued by William Gourdon, Dr. of Physick, and helped on by the largesses of several Noblemen and Gentlemen of that Country.  Close to the Church there is a Library provided with many Books, much enriched by those which Dr. Henry Scougal, Professor of Divinity there, and the Right Reverend Dr. Patrick Scougal, Bishop of Aberdeen, his Father, did lately bequeath to it.  This College was Founded by Bishop Elphingston, Anno Dom. 1500 and the greatest part of the Work was likewise Built by him; but King James the IV assumed the Patronage of it to himself, whence it is called the King's College.  In it there is a Primar or Principal, a Professor of Theology, a Professor of the Civil Law, a Professor of Physick, a Sub-Principal, who is also a Professor of Philosophy, 3 other Philosophy Professors, and a Professor of the Languages.  This College and that in the New Town make up one University, called the University of King Charles. - Robert Sibbald 1641-1722

In the old town of Aberdeen is King s College, once a university by itself, but forming, since 1860, along with Marischal College in the new town, the University of Aberdeen. Principal Marshall Lang, in an address to HM King Edward and HM Queen Alexandra, in connection with the Quarter-centenary of the University in September 1906, remarked:"  By the good offices of King James IV. of Scotland, Bishop Elphinstone obtained the Papal Bull which sanctioned the foundation of the University in 1494-5. In token of the protection thus extended, the College dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin in 1505 was described in Acts of the Scots Parliament as the College of Our Sovereine Lord and from an early time was known as The King’s College. The old grey crown that still surmounts our Chapel is a symbol of this ancient relation to the Scottish Throne."  The College of St. Mary was originally dedicated to her under the style of the Virgin of the Nativity.  On St. Mary s altar in the chapel stood her statue, made of alabaster or Parian marble; while Maria, one of the 5 large bells in the Tower, bore her name. The connection of the Virgin with King s College is symbolically indicated on its original seal by a pot of lilies, a device which appears also on the Burgh Arms of Old Aberdeen. Some ancient fretwork decorating the Chapel represents a series of pots of lilies side by side. As Principal Sir W. D. Geddes observes, "this emblem of the Virgin is known to have been not only familiar to, but also a favourite with the founder of the College."

Of the 4 gates leading into the Chanonry of Old Aberdeen, 2 at least had figures of the Virgin accompanied in the case of one of them, viz. Cluny’s Port, by a Pot of Lilies. A statue of the Virgin surmounted the Burgh Cross, which once stood in front of the old Town House, but was removed when the latter was rebuilt in 1702. The popularity of the Virgin in Old Aberdeen was further made evident by the foundation of an Hospital in her honour by Bishop Gavin Dunbar in 1532, and by the addition of her name to that of St. Machar in the dedication of the Cathedral.  A notable building named after her was the Church of St. Mary of the Snows, popularly called the Snow Kirk. It stood in the south side of the Old Town and was built for the parishioners by Bishop Elphinstone about the same time as St. Mary’s College. The Bull commissioning its erection was issued by Pope Alexander VI. in 1495. The name of the Old Aberdeen dedication was suggested by that of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, alternatively known in Latin as Santa Maria ad Nives. Tradition says that the Roman Church was built about the middle of the 4th century by a certain patrician of the name of John, to whom, and to his wife, the Virgin appeared in a dream and told them to build a basilica in her honour where snow would be found. Next day was the 5th of August and notwithstanding the heat of the weather a miraculous fall of snow lay on the Esquiline Hill, and there Liberius, the reigning Pope, traced with his crozier the plan of the basilica.  The Snowkirk of Old Aberdeen has disappeared, but its site was still used by Roman Catholics as a place of burial.

Cluny Port
One of 4 Gates or Ports that led to the Cathedral precincts of St. Machar in Old Aberdeen.  Its former location was at the present Town House and Cluny's Wynd in Old Aberdeen.  It was built sometime in the late 14th or early 15th century and had effigies of the Virgin Mary on it with the Arms of Scotland and Old Aberdeen on the inner face that of Gordon but these were later broken and defaced at the Reformation.  It is visible on Gordon Parson's map of 1661.  In July 1789, the port was listed as ruinous and dangerous. Walter Leith, proprietor of the port, was charged to give issue as to why the port should not be pulled down or rebuilt.  The port was later taken down and was reported as taken down at the close of the 18th century. Bishop Elphinstone's Arms were also above the Port along with the name John Elphinstone.
It also had the inscription
Pass not this way, unless you say, Hail Mary
By such a salutation you shall obtain Pardon

Three Boars' Heads, ragged at the neck, as if torn off, 2 above and 1 below, with a figure like the couple of the roof of a house striding over the lowest. Boars' head indicate ownership of a wild, extensive hunting-ground.  The chevron, or couple, is generally taken to represent the setting up of a new house or branch of an old family.  Above the shield is a Bishop's Mitre. The motto, "Non confundar," "I shall not be overwhelmed," indicates confidence in the day of judgment.

The Manses used by the Canons were named after the areas who provided the stipend of the clergy, viz Clatt, Belhelvie, Daviot and Old Rayne. Sadly most of these buildings were destroyed in the Reformation years.  Chanonry Lodge was built on part of these sites. Other parts of the land cleared during the Reformation were made into the Cluny's Garden and is now the Cruickshank Botanical Garden and the Department of Plant and Soil Science.

The Regality of Aberdon
The Bishops of Aberdon held all their lands around the Cathedral as a Barony of Regality, which gave them all the power over their lands and their inhabitants which the Crown itself possessed, with certain reservations.  They could put thieves and others to death; but their power was restricted to those who lived on the Church lands.  They, like other Barons, delegated their Judicial Authority to a Baillie. In 1536 William Lyoun, Bailye to My Lord of Aberdene, askit lycens at William Holland, Balye of this Burgh, to hang ane thief convickit in my Lord's Court ; quhilk.  The said William grantit, protest and it suld not hurt the townis privilege in nae sort."  (Town Council Register).  Tillydrone was the hanging place in the Regality.  The Bishop's lands were put in the charge of an officer called the Deray, who resided upon them.  Charters often mention a road separating Ecclesiastical Property from other lands.  What is called the Deer Road in Woodside seems to have been originally the Deray's Road, and the Deer Dyke of Charters had been the Deray's Dyke bounding the Cathedral Lands.

The Prospect of Old Aberdien

Print of Old Aberdeen drawn by John Slezer. General view with the Crown Tower of King's College and the spires of St Machar's Cathedral in the distance. The small building in the right foreground was the Snow Church - St Mary ad Nives - which was demolished in the late 17th Century, although part of the burial ground survives.

View in High Resolution

Slezer Engraving

Slezer uses another spelling for Aberdeen in the title for this prospect -  We view the city from the south.  On the right, with a Crowned Tower, is King's College.  To its left, you can just make out the High Street.  The twin spires of St Machar's Cathedral in Old Aberdeen are in the distance.  Snow Kirk - in the right foreground it had a corble stepped Gable and a simple Belfry which housed 2 bells ex St Machar's, the gift of Bishop Elephinstone.  They were called Schohtmadony (Shuggle Madonna) and Skellat - Scots for small Bell.  The dark building centre and directly opposite Kings College is the Mediciners Manse.  St Machars Cathedral sports its saddleback roof above the Central Tower. John Slezer, Theatrun Scotia 1658.  Properly called St Mary Ad Nives (of the Snows), this was founded as the Parish Church when Old Aberdeen became a Burgh of Barony.  The parish boundaries for this Church date from 1498 and specifically excluded the Canons of St Machar’s who were to continue to attend service in St Machar’s Cathedral.

The Church went out of use at the time of the Protestant Reformation in 1560, although the building survived for the next 100 years or so. Burials continued however; this was a problem for the Protestant authorities at the time as the burials here were of those who had a strong adherence to the old Catholic faith. One of the flat grave markers is of Gilbert Menzies, a 17th-century member of a very powerful local Catholic family.

The Old Aberdon Grammar School  was just outside the walls, in front of the Kings College. stands East of the Town-House: is a very modest building, with a small playground: has accommodation for 91 scholars: and is chiefly engaged in preparing boys for University Bursaries. It dates from time immemorial: but, strictly speaking, is only a sessional school, connected with the kirk-session of Old Machar. The Gymnasium, or Chanonry School, is private property, but has some characteristics of an important Public School: was opened in 1848, with design to prepare boys for the University: has accommodation for boarders, 9 class-rooms with capacity for at least 150 boys, and 2 playgrounds: and is conducted by the proprietor, a Rector, and 7 Masters. There was also a Public School and a Bell's School, which, with respective accommodation for 200 and 353 children, had (1879) an average attendance of 235 and 280, and grants of £209, 7s. and £267, 19s.

Cluny's Garden and is now the Cruickshank Botanical Garden and the Department of Plant and Soil Science.

The modern Cruickshank Garden dates from 1898, when Miss Anne Cruickshank bought the buildings and playing fields of The Old Aberdeen Gymnasium, a private school for boys, and presented them to the University to establish a Botanic Garden. The original imposing granite school building, now part of the School of Biological Sciences, is on the right as you enter the Garden from The Chanonry. Soon afterwards, the strip of land alongside what is now St Machar Drive was added, including land which had been the first Aberdeen Football Club pitch, and a Market Garden, whose owner became the 1st Head Gardener. A few years later the land immediately to the north, comprising No 8 The Chanonry and its large garden were added. The house at No 8 The Chanonry was thereafter home to successive Regius Professors of Botany until it was sold in the 1980s. Finally in 1966 the land still further towards the River Don, in the angle between The Chanonry and Tillydrone Road became available, and this allowed the development of an arboretum.

High Street, of Old Aberdeen In the background is the granite Town House of Old Aberdeen, which was made redundant by the amalgamation of 1891. Old Aberdeen had received a Charter from King Jarnes IV in 1489 granting the status of a Burgh of Barony, which among other matters established a weekly market and a bi-annual fair. The building constructed in the 1700's has had a variety of uses over the years including being a prison and a water cistern. Several houses in the High Street are older than the Town House. The Post Office can be seen on the left of the road originally called the Via Regia. Kings Road - The Old Town House, High Street, Old Aberdeen, prior to the construction of St Machar Drive.

This Georgian Town House was built in 1788, by George Jaffrey, architect. Solid and symmetrical, it stands three storeys high under a piended slate roof with a central pediment and clock turret topped by a cupola. Over the entrance door is a freestone panel displaying the Burgh coat-of-arms, dated 1721, wtih the Latin motto "Concordia res parvae crescunt" - By harmony small things increase.

The town-hall, which is situated at the northern extremity of the High Street, was built by subscription, in 1702, and has been since rebuilt.  It contains a spacious hall for public meetings, a council room for the occasional use of the magistrates, and various other apartments. In the upper floor was the Grammar School, and on the ground floor a school for English. Opposite to the old Town-hall was formerly an ancient Cross, consisting of a pedestal bearing the arms of the Bishops Dunbar, Stewart, and Gordon, from which rose a pillar surmounted by an effigy of the Virgin Mary; but this was removed on the rebuilding of the hall.  The Market was held every Monday with fairs each year Skeir Thursday Fair at Easter and the 8 day St Lukes Fair.

The Town House is situated at the head of the High Street at the point where the road forked between Don Street, which leads across the river and on to the north of the country, or to the Chanonry which lead to the Cathedral, then west along the river to other settlements.  Until the incorporation of Old Aberdeen into Aberdeen in 1891, the Town House was the centre of governance for the town.  Since then it has been a police station (the cells are still there!), a library, and a  Masonic Lodge. It is now in the care of the University.

This Georgian building was designed by George Jaffray in 1788. At 1st it incorporated a Grammar School, an English School and a Hall for the use of different Societies and the Incorporated Trades of Old Aberdeen.  It was in part funded by the Masons, who until recently retained the use of the attic to themselves. This replaced an earlier Townhouse completed in 1703 at a cost of £712/3/6. In turn that replaced an earlier complex of buildings dating to the later 1660s. Previously the council and trades had met in the School House. The panel above the door comes from another building, possibly an earlier version of the townhouse: it incorporates Old Aberdeen’s Arms under the burgh’s motto ‘By harmony small things increase’. Behind the large timber doors was kept the handcart used for picking up drunks from the streets and transporting them back to the cells to sleep it off. You can see a vent at the side of the building, which was a source of light and air into the two police cells at the rear. The coat of arms on the east side of the building are those of the Kings of Scotland with an imperial crown and are of unknown origin and date. The image of the building is used as the logo of The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland. The Townhouse has recently undergone restoration work, carried out by the University of Aberdeen, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Aberdeen City Council. Today it is the visitor gateway to the University and its campus.

The fine Townhouse that we see today in Old Aberdeen. The wall in front of this building is made from Seaton bricks. These, used extensively in Old Aberdeen, and were produced locally at the Seaton Brick and Tile Works, which was located a little to the south of the mouth of the River Don.

The Georgian Mansion. 81 High Street, Old Aberdeen - dates from about 1780 and was the town house of the family of McLean of Coll – an island estate in the Inner Hebrides on the western seaboard. Their links with Old Aberdeen probably originated from the habit, common among Highland landowners, of sending their sons to King’s College. The house later belonged to the Rev. Samuel Trail who worked as a Divinity Professor from 1867 to 1887. It remained in Trail family possession until the 1970s. The walled garden attached has bricks made at Seaton Brickworks close to the east side of Old Aberdeen.

Mitchell's Hospital
Mitchell's Hospital stands in the south-western vicinity of the Cathedral, is a 1-storey edifice, forming 3 sides of a square, with garden attached, and was founded in 1801 for lodging, clothing, and maintaining 5 widows and 5 unmarried daughters of Burgesses of Old Aberdeen.

Mitchell's Hospital is situated in the Chanonry not far from St. Machar's Cathedral in Old Aberdeen. It was founded and endowed in 1801 by David Mitchell, a native of Old Aberdeen. It was set up for the purpose of lodging, clothing and maintaining 5 widows and 5 unmarried daughters of Old Aberdeen merchants. The women who lived there dressed in deep blue, and those who were able to earn some money from spinning or knitting were expected to give half to the hospital. The building is of 1 storey in the shape of a letter 'H' with a Central Refectory for breakfast. Depending on the cost of beef, dinner was boiled beef and greens 2 or 3 times a week, otherwise they had fish or eggs. The building has now been reconstructed into 4 separate dwellings

This is a benevolent institution somewhat similar in purpose to St. Thomas's and Bishop Dunbar's Hospitals, but having been founded in 1801, well after the Reformation, no religious duties were enjoined by the founder on the inmates. It is situated near the north end of the Chanonry, opposite the Cathedral, and consists of a range of buildings of one story, intended for the comfortable accommodation and maintenance of 5 widows and 5 unmarried daughters of Burgesses and gentlemen residing in Old Aberdeen. It was founded by Mr David Mitchell of Holloway Down, Essex, a native of Aberdeen ; and the management of the institution and its funds is vested in the Principal and Professor of Divinity of the University and others.

Mitchell Hospital is a beautiful early Victorian Single-storey H-plan edifice of coursed rubble that stands in an attractive walled garden space in the south-western vicinity of St Machar’s Cathedral.  Amongst the original features of the building of particular note include the bellcote situated on the centre gable (such bell housings are normally associated to chapels or churches which have no bell towers) and the sundial in the courtyard at the front of the building. 

Although termed a ‘Hospital’, the building was not actually a hospital in traditional medical terms, but was in reality an Almshouse.  Almshouses had a long tradition in Europe and had been present in Britain from the 10th century. Normally Christian institutions, they were established to provide a place of residence for the poor, old, and distressed members of the community, and were generally maintained by a charity or the trustees of a bequest.   
To this end, on completion  Mitchell Hospital was described as consisting of a Refectory, Kitchen and neatly fitted up Dormitories, built with the purpose of providing lodgings and clothing.  Although benefactor David Mitchell endowed the building, from its completion the principal, sub-principal and professor of divinity in Kings College; the Burgh’s Provost, eldest Baillie, 2 Ministers and Convener of the Trades were then appointed as the Trustees and Governors of the hospital.    Before being converted into individual cottages in 1924, the building continued to provide refuge and assistance to many female members of the community, and in 1911, the
Encyclopaedia Britannica in describing the burgh of Aberdeen noted that along with the Woolmanhill Royal Infirmary, the Female Orphan Asylum, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, the Maternity Hospital, the City Hospital for Infectious Diseases and the Deaf and Dumb Institution, Mitchell Hospital was amongst Aberdeen’s most notable charitable institutions.   According to Historic Scotland, the Hospital had 2 recorded restorations dating from 1924 and 1965, and is now categorised as a protected ‘A’ listed Building.
  Keith B Pirie

Built in 1801,the founder and endower was David Mitchell LLD of Halloway Downe in the county of Essex, England. It was used for lodging, clothing, and maintaining 5 widows and 5 unmarried daughters of the Burgesses of Old Aberdeen.  The south west wing of the building was a later addition and in 1924 the building was converted into individual cottages. 

The Bede House is described in a few written accounts. It is recalled by Roger (1902) as ’’a good specimen of a 17th century Scottish Town House". The original house consisted of 3 storeys and an attic. Entry to the house from Don Street is through a pend or alleyway leading to 2 doors. To the left is access to what is now cellars, the 2nd door opens into a spiral stone staircase leading to the upper floors. The pend has a gate dating from 1965. The tower at the rear, which is capped with a pyramidal roof, carries the stairs to the 2nd floor. From the 2nd floor - to the attic there is a set of stairs within a corbelled turret. These stairs are now closed off but can be accessed through a bedroom from one of the flats. The 1st floor would have been a "great hall" in Logan's time. A plaque commemorating William Logan and Janet Moir is attached to the square tower above and to the right of the door. It reads


In English, "William Logan and his wife had the house built to their orders in the year 1676". Early prints show the house (probably in the 18th century) as having a building attached at right angles to the main building accessible from the courtyard to the rear. No records exist to confirm that there was a substantial building attached. The remains of the wooden roof beam are still visible. It is likely that some of the closed off arches along the internal stairway from the ground floor to the first floor, led into this building. To the right of the square tower was a chimney, again no longer present. However, bricks can be seen high in the wall of the tower indicating the chimney's location. The remnants of a beam forming the roof of the outbuilding are also visible, high in the wall of the house to the right of the square tower. Adjacent to the Bede House on Don Street nearer the University is a low 2-story building. There is evidence that this house was built from stones from the Central Tower at St Machar’s Cathedral that fell in a storm in 1688.

Irvine & Co Brewers - Old Aberdeen

The Old Seaton Brewery in Old Aberdeen is a late 18th or early 19th century building, whose name indicates either that it once served as the burgh brewery, or that it is built on its site. The Old Town's original alehouse was established in 1504. The Old Brewery has been designated a Site of Historical Interest, which means that no external modifications can be made to it. In 1509 there were 157 brewers operating in Aberdeen. It is now part of the University - School of Divinity, History and Philosophy.  By 1890 the process had been industrialised and the number of breweries had shrunk to 8, though in the same year there were also 3 distilleries operating in the City. Today the breweries and the distilleries have all disappeared. Two pubs survive - St Machar's Inn and the Red Lion C1903

A disposition relating to part of the site in 1774 is unusual in that it describes a 2-storey, stone-gabled Forehouse with a back Brewhouse

Powis Gateway, Old Aberdeen. These curious towers stand at the gate leading to Powis Lodge, almost opposite King's College, Old Aberdeen. They were constructed by John Leslie of Powis, who succeeded his father, Hugh Leslie of Powis, the builder of Powis House (1802), which was partly demolished in connection with the Powis Housing Scheme of 1930. John Leslie succeeded his father in 1812, and the singular gateway, with the "minarets", dates from about 1830. The towers were finished in 1834. The crescent on the top of 1 of the towers is the crest of the Frasers, the predecessors of the Leslies in the property of Powis."

c.1830. Powis "minarets", Old Aberdeen. Towers finished in 1838. Built by John Leslie of Powis.

Powis Gates were erected in 1834 by John Leslie and have a design that could have been inspired by Turkish Architecture. Partly stone, partly harled brickwork, the skinny minaret-like towers are capped with slated turrets bearing gold-leafed orbs and crescent finials; the crescent being part of the Fraser Leslie coat of arms.  Original construction coincided with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 that outlawed Slavery in the British Colonies from 1 August 1834, and a shield at the back of the gates carries busts of 3 black slaves commemorating the freedom of (or profit from) the slaves on the family's Jamaican Plantations.  Powis House was built by Hugh Fraser Leslie of Powis, the owner of the Powis Estate which formerly lay behind them. The Fraser Leslie Arms are visible on the obverse of the arch, with a shield on the reverse showing the bust of the black men - a link to the family's involvement in a Grant of Freedom made to their slaves in Jamaica. The entrance now leads to the University's Crombie-Johnston and King's Postgraduate Halls of Residence.

Powis House
A 2-storey Neo-Classical Mansion on Powis Circle in NAberdeen, Powis House was built by Hugh  Leslie of Powis in 1802. The house was later associated with the Arbuthnot family and politician Sir John Arbuthnot of Kittybrewster was born here in 1912.  Its estate was developed by the local authority to form public housing in the 1930s and the house opened as a Community Centre in 1941. The remarkable Powis Gates, which once formed a grand entrance to the estate, are preserved to the east within the modern campus of the University of Aberdeen. The ghost of a lady is said to haunt the house.

Gordon's Mills are presumably earlier than 1639, when William Gordon of Gordon's Mills was reportedly wounded at the Battle of Justice Mills. According to Milne, the mill or mills were first of all for meal. Later they became a woollen manufactory and subsequently a paper mill. G M Fraser asserts that Gordon's Mills was the site of the first paper mill in Aberdeen, opened by Patrick Sandilands in 1696 and that by 1703 it had become a textile mill referred to as `Northmills at Gordon's Mills' (Fraser 1986, 185-6).

The map of Scotland drawn by Robert Gordon of Straloch in 1654 depicts what appears to be a settlement called Gordon’s Mill, while the map of 1661, by his son James Gordon of Rothiemay, shows Gordon's Mill. Gordon's Mills appear on Taylor's map of 1773, where several buildings are shown, including some which seem to be in the northern part of the present site. On the first Ordnance Survey map made of the area, in 1867-69, the woollen mill is shown in the northern portion of the area, situated partly within and partly outside the present site, while an additional corn mill is depicted approximately 250 metres to the south-east, next to the riverbank. By that date, if not before, the name Gordon's Mills seems to have come to refer to the area around and between the woollen mill and the corn mill.

On the 1926 Ordnance Survey map, the woollen mill still occupies the northern portion of the area, while Donside Paper Mills is represented to the south-east by an extensive complex of buildings. 

French Invasion Scare - Aberdeen Volunteers 1791-1802
Old Aberdeen - Early volunteering in the Aulton; interesting extracts from Old Aberdeen records; formation of Volunteer Association, 1782; resolution of 7th May, 1798; officers; drillings and inspections; presentation of colours; offer to serve in any part of Great Britain; final appearance and disbandment; courtesies; preservation of colours and drum; officers at disbandment.

Brick Kilns, Old Aberdeen

Thoms Place east between High Street and Dunbar Street 1937

The White House

The Aulton Cross

A remnant of this ancient and beautiful fabric, of which the original place has long ceased to know it, was recently rescued from a. situation of most inglorious obscurity, and placed in a fitting asylum in King's College.  Our topographers tell us that there formerly stood in the centre of the area fronting the Town House of Old Aberdeen a cross which was formed of an upright stone, raised upon a pedestal of 3 steps above the level of the street. This stone was surmounted by a figure of the blessed Virgin, and underneath were the armorial bearings of Bishops Dunbar, Stewart, and Gordon. The last named succeeded to the episcopate in 1545, which serves to indicate the period about which the cross was erected. At the era of the Reformation it was defaced by those whose indiscriminating zeal took offence at whatever even "smelt somewhat of Popery:" and, after experiencing the inclemency of many a trying season, and the rough manipulation of ruthless hands ministers of wanton mischief the fabric was finally removed about the time when the Town House was rebuilt.  

What became of the shaft is not known; but the stone on which were cut the armorial bearings of the episcopal trio was one day discovered in a Smithy in Old Aberdeen, where it had long been degraded into an utensil for holding tackets, old iron, and other odds and ends, tossed into the square cavity into which the top of the shaft had been inserted. To such vile uses had come a portion of a time-honoured fabric, which had once so proudly "cropped the causey!" This curious relic owed its more congenial quarters in King's College to the commendable care of the party who by chance discovered it.   In Spalding's Troubles there is a droll passage, from which it appears that this cross was pressed into a Candlemas " lark," played off by certain juveniles of 1643.  " Upon the 2nd of February," saith he, with notable gravity, " being Candlemas day, the bairns of the Old Town Grammar School, at 6 hours, cam up the gate with candles lichtit in their hands, crying, rejoicing, and blythe eneuch; and, being 6 hours at nicht, cam thus up to the cross, and round about goes diverse times, climbs to the head thereof, and sets on ane burning torch thereupon. I marvellit, being at sic tyme [of the dour Covenant], and whereof myself had never seen the like. Atour, they went down from the cross, convoying John Keith, brother to the Earl Marischal, who was their [Candlemas] King, to his lodgings in the Chanonrie, with lichtit candles!"  This ebullient demonstration seems greatly to have refreshed the Episcopalian spirit of the worthy Commissary Clerk, who lets slip no opportunity of bewailing every falling-away from the observances of the good old times, through the chilling influence of Andrew Cant and his crabbed confederates.  Spalding, indeed, seems to have regarded the "ploy," which he so carefully records, as a cheering revival in a small way a proof that there was yet some hope of young Scotland and a pregnant sign of the times doubtless, " afore something ! " It is just probable that the merry, mad-cap rogues may have got up their "rig" in brave defiance of Cant himself, and all his tyrannical, ascetic whimsies ; for, of a surety, he appears to have been so noted a hand to "frichten bairns" in his day, that no wonder if, as O'Connell used to say, the young blood might sometimes bethink itself of the wild justice of revenge.

Spalding assures us that, on 1 occasion, when some children, outside church, were rather noisy, Cant, who was within, lost all patience with them, and, instead of tipping the requisite wink to the Beadle, banged out of the reader's desk chased the young fry from the scene of their "collie-shangie" and then returned to his seat, quite satisfied with himself, and seemingly all the easier for his explosive demonstration, but to the great "admiration" of his worshipping flock, who were exceedingly scandalised by his indecorous sally.  Such severities must have rendered him no favourite with the rising race, and may have even provoked the Candlemas Crusade which Spalding with such gusto narrateth. The careful circumstances, indeed, with which the quaint annalist records the pranks of John Keith, Rex, as aforesaid, and his rollicking con-disciples, would almost suggest a suspicion that the "nickums" had actually coaxed the old chronicler nothing loath to give their "shine" a sunny nook in his Troubles!

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Last modified: 01/09/2013