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Blaikies Quay Royal Naval Reserve The Sheerlegs Harbour Railway

The Harbour Quays

Trinity Quay - Market Street to
Regents Quay -
Weigh-house Square to Commerce Street
Waterloo Quay -
Commerce Street to Wellington Street
Provost Blackie's Quay -
Regents Road to Dock Street
Market Quay, -
Lower Market Street
Commercial Quay - Poynernook to Pacific Quay
Pacific Quay
Torry Quay,
Maitlands Quay,
Pocra Quay,
Mearns Quay,
Matthews Quay
Jamiesons Quay
Albert Quay

Trinity - The Original Quay
Small ships not drawing more than 12 feet ascended the Denburn as far as Shore Brae, formerly much wider than now. The quay extended from Market Street to James Street, being about 200 yards in length. There was a small creek going inward at the foot of Market Street where ships and boats lay. Such were the beginnings of the harbour of Aberdeen. The only work of man among them was the Quay at Shore Brae. Probably it had been erected at a very early point of time. The Shiprow, which runs along the head of Shore Brae, is mentioned in a charter of date 1281, but the Quay must have been in existence from the time that Aberdeen became a trading port. 

The use of coffer-dams, piles, and concrete in laying the foundations of erections in water had not been introduced when the quay was built, and its foundation, if it had one, had been laid in the muddy bottom of the Denburn. In 1453, £53 was spent upon the Quay, and in 1484 it was in a tumbledown state. In 1512 the Quay again required repairs, and in 1526 it was seen to be a hopeless task to build a substantial sea wall with the rounded ice-transported boulders found lying on the surface of the ground about Aberdeen. On this occasion, therefore, a new departure was made.

The master of Shoreworks of the time was sent to Dundee "to buy famous stonis" that is, large .blocks of squared sandstone, probably from Kingoodie, from which stones were often brought to Aberdeen. These good stones most likely had been used in extending the Quay wall and not in rebuilding the old part, for in 1549 repairs were again necessary. The rise of the tide being about 12 feet on an average, and more at new and full moon, a stair was provided to facilitate embarking and disembarking, and the loading and unloading of ships. The size and depth of ships had been increasing, and in 1561 an ordinance was issued by the Town Council forbidding casting out ballast from ships within flood mark under a penalty of 40/-. Money was constantly wanted for the Quay, and part of the price obtained for the silver ornaments and vessels in use in St Nicholas Church before the Reformation was laid out upon it. Continued growth of trade necessitated machinery for lifting and swinging heavy goods, and a crane was set up at the Quay-head in 1582.

In 1885 the old, quaint-looking Weigh-House, where goods were stored to be measured and examined for Customs duties, was demolished to furnish a site for a new Harbour Office; but the Weigh-House was some distance back from the Quay, whereas the harbour office comes up to the same line as the other houses. It cost £9000, which had to be paid out of surplus revenue.

Ach - Knocket Doon

In 1870 the widening of Trinity Quay was ordered. This was a much-needed improvement, as the roadway between the houses and the water was very narrow. The cost of the whole work was £4900, the greater part of which went for paving and other purposes than the building of the Quay wall,

Waterloo Quay wall, begun in 1811, continued to be extended upwards, requiring making up at the back. In 1834 the whole north-east and north sides of the harbour had been wharfed except a small portion necessary to join Waterloo Quay and Regent Quay. Before this was done it was seen by the Canal Company that it would be for their interest to connect the Canal Basin with the Harbour. This required a Sea Lock to pass barges into and out of the Harbour, which enabled them to go alongside ships with grain and to take in coals and lime.

The Waterloo Bar was situated at 79/80 Waterloo Quay and dates from 1890. It has always been a popular Quayside venue


In 1848 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Aberdeen, coming from London by sea. The north entrance of the dock was completed, but the south entrance was closed by a cofferdam.  The Royal yacht entered the dock and was moored at the north end of Waterloo Quay, where a wooden arch with 3 ports was erected.  At this time there was not another dock in the British Empire where the Royal Yacht could have been moored alongside a quay, and where the Queen could have landed without the aid of a boat. The cost of all these works amounted to £145,250.   Litho shows artist's impression of Queen Victoria's visit to Aberdeen in 1848 at the Triumphal Arch at Waterloo Quay with the paddle steaming Royal Yacht 'Victoria & Albert' in the background.

John Gibb was born near Falkirk in 1776, and only moved to Aberdeen to take up the post of Engineer to Aberdeen Harbour in 1809. He acquired an interest in a quarry at Tyrebagger in 1816. His son Alexander Gibb was also a Civil Engineer, and for several years they operated from Waterloo Quay as Civil Engineers, Contractors and Stone Merchants: their early contribution to the Granite Industry was their introduction of larger drills for blasting holes, allowing larger stones to be brought down in 1 blast. In 1830 John Gibb acquired the lease to all the Quarries on the Rubislaw Estate, which he and his Company continued to work for many years.

It was part of the Harbour improvement scheme that the Inches should be made up far enough to be above the level of the highest spring tides, and to shut up all water ways between the Dee and the Harbour. Of these there were 2, one coming in about Commerce Street, and another farther west. The former took often a large quantity of the river water when the tide began to ebb, and the salmon fishers had to be compounded with before it could be shut up. The other was valued by the Brick-makers at Clayhill, because by it they could get coals brought to their works either by the Dee, or by the Harbour at spring tides. To satisfy them the pier was carried as far as Poynernook, with a channel alongside. There is always in a Town where building operations are ongoing on a quantity of earth and rubbish to dispose of.  Mr Gibb was too provident a man not to turn this to account. He saw that earth would be useful on the Inches, and he made a wooden bridge across the harbour at Shore Brae to let carts pass over to the Inches. The bridge had been easily constructed by driving piles into the channel and laying planks on their tops. Shore Brae was chosen because it was far up the Harbour, and Market Street was not then in existence. A bridge had been planned to be made at Marischal Street, but things were not yet ready for its construction.

Photograph is listed as 1920 Regents Quay before the 2 Storey Storage Shed.  Region possibly at the Harbour end of James Street (the Snug Bar was at 'tither' end next to Bissets Works).  - Anither story ensues at its mention.

It may indeed be Blaikies Quay which had a similar Gantry. 

Timber unloaded by derricks – note the high level Gantry Platform for loading what – bags of Grain into ships?  Yon logs would rummel aboot and catch yer taes a bit. Cycle over them rails ye 'ham and eggers'

The harbour was the cesspool of the town, and there were incessant complaints about the effluvium from the mud when the tide was low. The Denburn entered the harbour at its upper end, near Marywell Street, and the Millburn entered at Guild Street, both heavily charged with sewage. A sewer beginning at Trinity Quay ran along Regent Quay and, joining the Powcreek Burn, which had already become a sewer, entered the harbour at the top of Waterloo Quay. This sewer, quite dry and not far below the level of the quay, was seen in 1909 in making a track for Sewage Pipes coming down Shore Brae. In 1811, under the powers of the Act of 1810, a sewer was formed along the east side of Waterloo Quay to convey the sewage from Trinity Quay and the Powcreek Burn to the lower end of Waterloo Quay, where it entered the harbour. An outlet for overflow in time of rain was, however, left at the head of Waterloo Quay at the old place of exit.

Regents Quay

Busy traffic scene on Regent Quay roadway behind the 2 storey goods shed, 6 lorries, 1 being loaded with dressed timber cargo operated by George T Fraser, lorry with tarpaulin over load in the back of the truck has a large sign with a picture in the middle surrounded by the message 'To view Britain's landmarks you can be sure of Shell', behind that 'Good bread, Mitchell Muil Ltd for good health' on the back of another truck, next one 'P Buyers, Ships Chandlers, 55 to 62 Regent Quay and Mearns Street, Aberdeen', several cars in a line, members of the public walking along the pavement, gentleman on bicycle, Munro Transport's lorry being loaded with timbers also, rear of the 2 storey goods shed at Regent Quay, horse drawn cart empty making its way alongside the back of the goods shed, building frontages of Regent Quay and Trinity Quay in background. Photographer's location: First floor window from a building on the east end of Regent Quay.

The Aberdeen Journal, March 3, 1892
Flooding at Aberdeen Quays
 - In the vicinity of Waterloo and Trinity Quays, Aberdeen, the cellars of the premises  were on Tuesday afternoon invaded by water from the sewer pipes, and although the damage to property is not great, the water in some instances rose to a height of over 3 feet, and caused a considerable amount of inconvenience to the occupiers of the buildings. At Wellington Street and Commerce Street the flooding was slightly felt, but at Water Lane, Mearns Street, and more particularly in the Cellars of the National Hotel and those of Baillie Mearns it rose to a height sufficient to float the lighter articles placed on the floor.  Since the introduction of the pumping-engine at Clarence Street some 11 years ago, no case of flooding has occurred in the district mentioned, the cellars in which lie below water mark; and the cause of Tuesday's accident was not in any measure due to the pumping apparatus, but was caused by a piece of wood about 4 inches square, which must have entered the sewer outlet at Duthie's slip, getting entangled with the safety valve at the manhole in Waterloo Quay opposite the Northern Agricultural Company's premises. On the cause of the flooding being discovered, the water was speedily run off. The tide was exceptionally high, the water rising to a height of about 22 feet, and the covering of the sewer outlet having been partially open, the heavy pressure of water sent debris up the main, with the result that the pipe got choked in the manner indicated.

Regent Quay, gas lamps, small section dressed timber stacked in middle of roadway, horse and cart with bagged load, buildings of Regent Quay including Adam Fruiter and Confectioner, Jamieson's Ships Stores, Ellis & McHardy's and Harbour Office and rear of goods shed on Regent Quay, gentlemen clearing manure by shovel into handcart, gentlemen pushing handcart, horse and cart heavily loaded with small section dressed timber, line of horses pulling carriages being led behind Regent Quay single storey goods shed. Note the out of plumb tall water fountain hydrant complete with lions head on the pavement edge for providing drinking water for both men and horses.

Provost Jamieson's Quay

There was a beginning of collapse of Jamieson's Quay following the loss of water level in the Upper Dock due to loss of water through the Victoria Dock entrance, Regent Bridge House stands in the left background, Jamieson's Quay masonry showing signs of bowing due to subsidence, Jamieson's Quay goods shed warped and twisted, locomotive steam crane listing badly due to subsidence, gas lamps, steel handrail, area cordoned off by rope, gentleman standing by the cordon, lifesaving apparatus on the building of float and rope type, sign reading 'Shelter S7', bollards, cobbled quay deck, vessel moored at the east end of Jamieson's Quay.   This Quay had been built and unfilled on the site of 3 former Shipyards and the 5 inclined Slipways of William Duthie, John Humphrey & Co, and Richard Connon.  Perhaps the last unofficial unison launch of such combined slipways still in use c.1835.

Jamieson's Quay looking West with snow clearance workers, mooring bollards and steam crane 1908.

Jamieson's Quay - Empty railway carriages at the east end of Jamiesons Quay, cobbled roadway, Morring Bollards & rings, rails, permanent steel post, dropped intermediate stanchion and chains, in the background Regent House (left) with some hand carts sitting outside, signal mast for the Regent Bridge, funnels and masts of collier vessels berthed at Blaikies Quay, St Clements Church Spires, corner of Regent Road with road sign apparent, Regent Bridge kiosk.


In 1885 a new Quay was built, beginning at the south entrance to the dock and extending round the point of the Inches and up the north side of Albert Basin to the Graving Dock. It affords a convenient wharf for passenger steamers, enabling them to enter and leave the harbour without delay. It had become a custom to name quays after the Provosts in whose time they were erected, and the new Quay was called Provost Matthews' Quay.

Matthews entered the Town Council in 1863, and retired as a Councillor in 1871. In November 1883 he was recalled as Lord Provost and held office until November 1886. He was mainly responsible for implementing the City Improvement Act of 1883 which included building Schoolhill and Rosemount Viaduct and giving improved access to the latter area of the City. He was a director of the North of Scotland Bank, of which he was Chairman from time to time. His public services (in particular the Mitchell Tower and Graduation Hall) brought an Honorary LLD from the University of Aberdeen. In his later years Matthews lived in some grandeur at Springhill, which he had greatly altered for himself.

One great advantage expected from a wet dock was that the decks of ships would never be below nor much above the level of the Quays, and that thus the discharge and loading of cargoes would be facilitated. This belief was realised for a time, but there has been a steady increase in the dimensions of ships, and when a deeply-laden ship has discharged part of her cargo she rises so far above the Quay that the discharge of the remainder becomes very inconvenient. To remedy this lofty 2 storey sheds are now erected alongside the Quays, and by steam or electric power goods can be lifted out of ships and taken into the upper floors of the sheds by day or by night, from which they are lowered into Carts on the ground as required. A heavy expenditure was incurred for such sheds on the Quays under the Act of I879.

Albert Quay
Point Law Peninsula - forms a finger of land between the River Dee and the Albert Basin. Once a low-lying Inche or  island in the Dee, it took its current form in the later 19th century when the course of the river was diverted south to allow expansion of the Harbour. The Albert Quay runs along the North side, while the North Esplanade East and Mearns Quay occupy its southern side.

The introduction of a new way of catching fish by trawling necessitated the formation of a Quay for the accommodation of the ships engaged in this industry, and a place for laying out the fish which they caught where they could be seen by purchasers. These were provided in Albert Basin, on the north side, in 1888. About the same time sprang up the importation at Aberdeen of store cattle from Canada. For the accommodation of this trade a wharf was erected at Pocra Jetty in 1886, and wooden buildings were provided, in which to keep the cattle for a few days and afterwards dispose of them by auction. The sales were patronised by farmers from Aberdeen, Banff, and Kincardine and they brought an increase of revenue to the Harbour Board, but an apprehension arose that imported foreign cattle might bring into the country infectious cattle diseases, which led to the prohibition of the importation of live cattle unless for slaughter at the port of landing. This rendered useless the cattle sheds and Auction Hall at Pocra, and they had to be removed.

In 1899 another Act was obtained increasing the borrowing powers to; £735,000, the additional £200,000 being needed for the following purposes mentioned in the Act : —

1. Enlargement and reconstruction of the Graving Dock, and the construction of a pontoon Dock.
2. Deepening and dredging the Navigation Channel.
3. Deepening and dredging Albert Basin, the Tidal Harbour, Victoria Dock, and the Upper Dock.
4. Widening and reconstructing Regent Bridge.
5. Embanking and constructing wharves on the Dee.
6. Extension of Albert Quay on the south side of Albert Basin.
7. Improvement of Pocra Harbour and Point Law.
8. Construction of new quays and widening and strengthening existing quays.
9. Erection of goods sheds, workshops, and other buildings.
10. A new sea lock for the wet dock.
11. Electric supply for power and light.

The yearly revenue of the harbour at this time amounted to £68,000 and the ordinary expenditure to £62,000, which left a surplus of £6,000. Large sums have been spent at various times on the purchase of ground and buildings near the harbour and on the reclamation of new ground and the erection of buildings, and the Harbour Board derives a large part of its revenue from rents of houses and lands.

Bomb damage at premises at Mearns Quay, adjacent buildings with windows broken, cladding twisted, sign on building reads 'Buildings for Sale, Apply to Caledonian Milling Company Limited, Palmerston Road, Aberdeen', rubble strewn around the pavement, Cooper's barrels in a yard, undamaged tank adjacent. Photographer's location: North Esplanade East. Direction of photograph: Northeast.  Mearns Quay construction started in 1914 and was finished in 1923, broken into 2 phases.

Mearns Quay -
This overlies and probably incorporates the Torry Harbour Timber Quay, constructed in 1895 and extended in 1923 by the addition of a further timber quay. It was further extended in 1984 westwards into the River Dee Dock area through the addition of steel sheet piles. The site includes the underlying remains, the integral structure and some fixtures. This quay may overlie evidence of the settlements of Lower Torry and Old Torry Village. At present the Quay and the underlying archaeology appear to be intact

Aberdeen 1949

Aerial View of Harbour - with Hall Russell's / Alexander Hall's Shipyards lower right and the Orkney and Shetland Sheds which held livestock and cargo for transportation lower Left.  The old footbridges across the Harbour from York Place are evident. and St Clements Church dominates Footdee.  To the left of Victoria Dock are the Robert Miller's Sawmills with yards stacked high with sawn timber.  Castle Hill Barracks with Castle Terrace Tenements in front where I lived in the top left attic.  The Virginia Street Steps and the Swedish Church - (yet to be) are in front of Cocky Hunters Store formerly the Old Sick Childrens Hospital, The old Waterloo Station is now a Goods Yard and Commerce Street School lies at the narrows of the line.  The 2 storey storage in Regents Quay with its cavernous aperture where I used to play on top of the daily cargo loads.  Marischal Street leads up to the Town House the Marischal College and the North Church.  Some vast playground zone for a wee loon tae get lost in eh.  Some target for the Luftwaffe are those Gas Tanks.  Broadford Works just enter the picture on the top left..

A closer view on the same day - showing the Harbour Gates where we could walk over and marvel at the huge capstans and vertical clusters of lever spars then quite redundant.  Baltic Street and Links Road are evident. and Commerce Street leads off Wateroo Quay top left and leads to Hanover Street and Heading Hill.  Bottom Centre is where we fished for saithes in the harbour for amusement catching the odd eel when fishing with a Calder's Shop provided hook, hand line and lead sinker.  Fish Street and Bannerman Street on opposite sides of the rail line. A Pontoon Crane floats in the tidal harbour off the Hall Russell's Quay which appear to be undergoing an extension.  Top left are Queens Links which used to be a Horse Racing Course and the strip of greenery on its left was known as the Jungle - complete with Tarzans yodelling calls at which I considered myself audibly exact.  Were the strip cultures placed there to mask the horses from passing traffic?

Poster for the North of Scotland & Orkney & Shetland Steam Navigation Company. Their ships sailed from Aberdeen to Orkney and Shetland. In the summer, people went on holiday to the islands by ship. The company owned hotels there.  They also ran coastal trips to Leith and London for wealthy travellers to visit the highlands. Their transport sheds were a regular visit for us to look at the pigs and cattle held in pens pending transportation the the Islands.  We read with much concern the notices about swine fever while we stuck our index fingers in the mouths of young calves to test the urgent texture of a  calf or pigs suckling tongue.  Nearby their senior animals would be defecating and urinating to our delight as we fed water and straw to them with bits of green horse cake or nuts gathered from the SAI sheds.  How we made ourselves popular with such transient animals. 
The Trades fortnight was the middle 2 weeks in July.

The RoundhouseOld Marine Operations Centre, with Abercrombies Jetty to the left a sewage outflow meant you could pull out beautiful mackeral with an unbaited hook by the 100 but mither widnae eat em and threw them at 'Tibsy' our ravenous cat that would oft steal our uncooked dinner off the table as overdue wages for chasing rats.  West of this was an Old Tidal lower jetty which had a permanent pool at low tide where we would wade and catch wee crabs - and tiny saithe fish fry.  Further on was a Wooden Jetty on Pocra Quay where you could catch lemon sole in the tidal harbour of your line was long enough.  Greasy oil laden steps and horizontal frames were a real hazard and care was needed if you were not to fall in the murky drink.  The 'fresh' tidal harbour water was brown and mixed with the green sea at the Point of the mile long Pier or Harbour Bar.  Nae such freedoms to wander noo!

Heavy Horses - Ian Anderson - Jethro Tull

Iron clad feather-feet pounding the dust
An October's day, towards evening
Sweat embossed veins standing proud to the plough
Salt on a deep chest seasoning
Last of the line at an honest day's toil
Turning the deep sod under
Flint at the fetlock, chasing the bone
Flies at the nostrils plunder.

The Suffolk, the Clydesdale, the Percheron vie
with the Shire on his feathers floating
Hauling soft timber into the dusk
to bed on a warm straw coating.

Heavy Horses, move the land under me
Behind the plough gliding - slipping and sliding free
Now you're down to the few
And there's no work to do
The tractor's on its way.

Let me find you a filly for your proud stallion seed
to keep the old line going.
And we'll stand you abreast at the back of the wood
behind the young trees growing
To hide you from eyes that mock at your girth,
and your eighteen hands at the shoulder
And one day when the oil barons have all dripped dry
and the nights are seen to draw colder
They'll beg for your strength, your gentle power
your noble grace and your bearing
And you'll strain once again to the sound of the gulls
in the wake of the deep plough, sharing.

Standing like tanks on the brow of the hill
Up into the cold wind facing
In stiff battle harness, chained to the world
Against the low sun racing
Bring me a wheel of oaken wood
A rein of polished leather
A Heavy Horse and a tumbling sky
Brewing heavy weather.

Bring a song for the evening
Clean brass to flash the dawn
across these acres glistening
like dew on a carpet lawn
In these dark towns folk lie sleeping
as the heavy horses thunder by
to wake the dying city
with the living horseman's cry
At once the old hands quicken ---
bring pick and wisp and curry comb ---
thrill to the sound of all
the heavy horses coming home.


Pocra Quay Improvements using steam cranes

Upper or Cross Quay - unloading coal from Collier adjacent to Market Street

Mystery at Sea
Northern Echo, dated November 22, 1963:
The Aberdeen collier Thrift arrived in Blyth at noon yesterday 8 hours overdue after an unsuccessful search off Girdle Ness for a
mystery object, which disappeared into the sea three miles astern of the ship. The Thrift was heading south for Blyth when shortly before 6pm on Wednesday evening, 4 members of her crew including the skipper, Capt. J. Murray, saw a 'flashing red light' which passed within a mile of her port side, 15 to 30 ft. above sea level, and suddenly disappeared 3 miles astern.  Capt. Murray alerted Stonehaven radio, put his vessel about and made for the spot where the light had vanished.  The collier had two radar contacts on her screens, but when she reached within a quarter of a mile of them, they disappeared. The Thrift searched for 3 hours, circling the area several times and was joined by lifeboats from Aberdeen and Gourdon, a Shackleton from RAF Kinloss, which dropped flares on to the surface, and a B.P. transporter. They discovered no traces of wreckage, however.  The Thrift gave up the search at 8.50pm and went to Blyth, being further delayed because of bad weather.

We could not make out what the light was.' said Capt. Murray. It passed about 3/4 of a mile off our port side, flashing brilliantly until it disappeared. It made no noise at all, yet we could hear the Shackleton when it was miles away. Judging by the way the radar contacts disappeared from our screen, it seems that whatever was there must have sunk before we could get to it. We found no trace of wreckage during our search, but something definitely fell into the water.' "

By the 100 ton shear poles with sign erected entering to it reading 'Welcome to the Master Mariner', coat of arms with flags, various bunting raised, people walking behind a cart, a horse drawn cart without horse on Waterloo Quay saying 'Lyons Tea' on the side and 'Lyons Coffee' on the front, cobbled roadway, concrete flag stone pavement, site hoardings to the shear pole yards, gas lamp, bunting, coat of arms and sign at the shear pole yards possibly to honour the Captain of the steam collier 'Thrift' who made his 500th voyage to Blythe from Aberdeen, the master's name was Captain MacKay, in which case date would be 9th of March 1926. SS thrift was owned by the Northern Co-op

I remember seeing the SS THRIFT many times in Blyth loading for Aberdeen . She was completed by Hall Russell of Aberdeen in 1931 for the Northern Co-operative Society (Aberdeen) She loaded at either Blyth , Seaham or Methil and by the time she was scrapped in 1968 she was one of the last coal burning East Coasters

The Collier 'Spray' built by Hall Russells was delivered to the coal merchants Ellis & McHardy Coal Merchants of Trinity Quay in 1932 to replace a previous cargo coaster of the same name.  'The collier 'Spray' will reach a total of 500,000 tons of coal carried when she completes her next trip. Captain Joe Andrews, an Aberdeen man, has been in command since the ship was built. He was mate on the old 'Spray' (a cargo steamship).'  The firm was established in 1880 by John Ellis and Charles McHardy to supply household coal, industry, and steam vessels sailing from Aberdeen. The company purchased its own collier in 1887, a pattern which continued until the last of 5 ships was sold in 1973. Ellis & McHardy was registered as a public company in 1928 following the death of John Ellis.  They also had coal distribution premises in Blaikies Quay.

Small steam locomotive of Caledonian Northern Scottish Railway pulling empty coal trucks at the junction of Blaikies Quay and Blacks Lane, Ellis & McHardy Coal Merchants yard and buildings on Blaikies Quay, young boy with hand cart in foreground, and coal being loaded in bags on to flat bed horse drawn carts.


Collier Ferryhill at Blyth on the Tyne

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Last modified: 01/09/2013