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If we look at a map showing the parish of St Nicholas and the original parish of St Machar — embracing Old Machar, Newmachar, and Newhills — we see that the one represents a small area adapted for a manufacturing, trading, fishing, maritime community; and the other an extensive purely agricultural district. There is nothing on the map to indicate that they were originally 1 parish. When the history of the Burgh begins we find the inhabitants self-contained, self-satisfied, and exceedingly jealous of external interference with their municipal privileges; and thus we are led to the conclusion that the Town area and the Country area had never been 1 undivided parish.

When the parish of St Nicholas was instituted in the beginning of the twelfth century, Aberdeen had been comprehended within Market Street, St Nicholas Street, Upperkirkgate, Littlejohn Street, West North Street, King Street, and Marischal Street. The southern boundary had been the Denburn, whose bed is now covered by Trinity Quay and Regent Quay. A row of houses had extended along the north side of the Green, but the name Putachie, which means fold at a burn, indicates that the Green (on both sides of the Denburn) had been the pasture ground of the citizens' cows and that a fold had been provided for them at the burn side as it ran down Market Street to the Denburn.

The Church
The Church of St Nicholas was set down on a raised platform ending at a steep brae sloping down to the Green on the south and to Correction Wynd on the east. It was approached by 4 roads. The Back Wynd from the west end of the Green was a steep lane, of which the South end still remains in its original condition. Correction Wynd accommodated the inhabitants of the East end of the Green. The Netherkirkgate gave the inhabitants of the Castlegate and the South end of the Broadgate access to the East gate of the Churchyard, and the Upperkirkgate gave the inhabitants of the Gallowgate access to the North gate.

Fit a' Sicht!
In 1874 a fire destroyed the East Church and the old central tower with its lead-clad timber spire and its fine peal of 9 Bells
, 1 of which, Laurence or "Lowrie", was 4 ft (1.2 m) in diameter at the mouth, 3.5 ft (1.1 m) high and very thick. The Church was rebuilt and a massive granite tower erected over the intervening aisles, a new peal of 36 bells, cast in the Netherlands being installed to commemorate Victoria's Golden Jubilee of 1887. These were replaced in 1950 with a carillion of 48 bells, the largest in the UK.

Some maintain that the Crown constituted Bishoprics and set over them Bishops to subdivide them into parishes and procure the erection of a Church in each parish; but, however this may have been in other parts of Scotland, in the north-east churches and parishes had preceded the diocese and the Bishop, for the revenues of the parishes of St Nicholas and St Machar were assigned to the 2 principal officials of the Diocese of Aberdon. The erection of the two parishes of St Nicholas and St Machar had been as early as that of any other parish - say 1100 A.D. The Diocese of Aberdon was instituted before 1132, and the parish priest of St Nicholas was appointed Bishop of the diocese. This arrangement lasted till the Reformation, so that all the Catholic Bishops were rectors of the parish of St Nicholas.

The East and West Churches stand in a grave-yard of nearly 2 acres, which is separated from Union Street by an Ionic Facade, erected (1830) at a cost of £1460, and measuring 147 feet in length by 32 in height, with 12 granite columns, each consisting of a single block, and with a central archway.

These churches occupy the site of the collegiate St Nicholas, which, as built between 1200 and 1507, had a 9-bayed nave (117 feet by 66), a transept (100 by 20), and a 7-bayed choir (81 by 64), with a trigonal apse over the crypt of Our Lady of Pity. At the crossing a tower rose, with its oaken spire, octagonal and picturesque, to a height of 120 feet; and in it hung 3 great harmonious bells, of which one, 'Lawrie,' bore date 1352, and was recast in Flanders about 1633. After the Reformation the rood-screen gave place to a wall, and St Nicholas thus was divided into 2 Churches, the Western consisting of the former Nave, the Eastern of the Choir, and the Romanesque transept between (known as Drum's and Collison's aisles) serving as vestibule. The West Church, having become dilapidated, was rebuilt (1751-55) from designs by James Gibbs, architect of the Radcliffe Library at Oxford and of the Cambridge Senate House; 'but, as if,' says Hill Burton, 'emphatically to show that the fruits of his genius were entirely to be withdrawn from his own countrymen, the only building in Scotland known to have been planned by him, this church in his native city, combines whatever could be derived of gloomy and cumbrous from the character of the Gothic architecture, with whatever could be found of cold and rigid in the details of the Classic.  The East Church, too, was barbarously demolished and rebuilt (1834-37) in Gothic style; but on 9 Oct. 1874, its roof and interior were destroyed by fire, along with the spire and its peal of bells, increased by 5 in 1859. The total loss was estimated at £30,000, the West Church also being much damaged by water; but all has been since restored, and at a cost of £8500 a fine granite tower and spire erected (1878-80), 190 feet high. A carillon of 37 bells was placed in the tower in 1887, at a cost of nearly £3500.  The churchyard contains the graves of Principal Guild, Blackwell, Beattie, the author of the Minstrel, and of Andrew Cant, the famous Covenanting minister, Dr Campbell, and of other former celebrities; in the West Church are marble monuments by Bacon and Westmacott a curious brass portrait-panel of Dr Duncan Liddell, executed at Antwerp in 1622, from a drawing by Jamesone probably, and the tombstone of Provost Menzies (died 1641); whilst, in the southern transept, a small brass to Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum is dated 1400

Trinity Church

Trinity Lane, Aberdeen,  - Trinity Street and Trinity Lane itself takes its name from the ground in the area once owned by the Trinity Friars. The building in the foreground was once known as Trinity Chapel, being opened for public worship on Sunday, 27th April, 1794. For a number of years, the Chapel was an important centre of religious life and activity. The Disruption of 1843 however eventually dispersed the congregation.

The old church of the Redfriars was pulled down in the 1790s and replaced by a new one. At the end of 1793 the Town Council appointed Reverend George Gordon to the vacant East Church of St Nicholas. Many of the parishioners protested vigorously about both the choice of candidate and the mode of election. When they were ignored they felt called upon to leave the congregation and set up their own place of worship.  The church, along with a session house and manse, was built at a total cost of £2000,  raised almost entirely through the efforts of those who had walked out of the South Church of St Nicholas. On Sunday 27 April 1794, the church was opened for public worship by Dr Cruden, minister of St Fittick’s Church at the Bay of Nigg. The first minister of the church was the Reverend Robert Doig. By 1825, the weekly attendance averaged about 1200, with a membership, which exceeded 1400, scattered in all parts of the city. The minister at that time, the Reverend David Simpson, was highly respected and had a tendency to take strong attitudes on certain subjects. It was said of him that he was a ‘ringleader among the teetotallers who infest the town’. 

Simpson’s sympathies lay very clearly with the Disruption in 1843, when 450 ministers of the Church of Scotland broke away to form the Free Church of Scotland, the main contention being over the right of a wealthy patron to appoint the minister of his choice to a church. After the formation of the Free Church Mr Simpson preached his last sermon at Trinity Church on 11 June 1843, which incited the congregation to leave with him: almost all of them did. Ultimately the church buildings were sold in 1881.

In 1843 the Church of Scotland suffered a major upheaval with the Disruption, another split resulting mostly from arguments about patronage. In Aberdeen all 15 ministers seceded into the new Free Church together with most members of their congregations. Many churches were then quickly erected including the iconic Triple Kirks with a central spire (of brick in a granite city) and three radiating naves for the Free East, Free South and Free West congregations.

Catholic Apostolic Church

This building has had a remarkable life: by turns a church, a banana warehouse and a café. It was built in 1880 for the Catholic Apostolic Church, a Church movement which had developed from the 1820s and preached the imminence of the second coming of Christ. The church declined significantly in the 20th century, but a congregation remains active to this day in various parts of the world. The Church was noted for its love of symbolism and some of the decorative scheme can still be seen inside what is now Café Musa. This building was in fact only a Church for less than 20 years. In 1896, it having been found to be too small and inconveniently positioned, alternative premises ar 14 Bon Accord Terrace were purchased and the church congregation moved away. After that the building was taken over by Knowles & Sons (Fruiterers), who used it as a Banana Ripening Warehouse and later it became a Showroom. More recently it was reopened as Café Musa. (33 Exchange Street)

The Alhambra - Guild St/Exchange St
Converted from Church in 1881; Theatre from 1881 - 1910

Ultimately the Chapel of Ease buildings were sold in 1881, converted and opened as the Alhambra Music Hall, a sort of rival to the nearby Her Majesty’s later Tivoli Theatre. Not only was the Alhambra one of several locations in Aberdeen where the public could experience the delights of the electro-graphic cinematograph, but it was also the winter quarters for the small zoo opened by John Sinclair in 1906, which boasted the ‘finest collection of lions, bears, wolves and hyenas in the North of Scotland’.

The Tartan Kirkie

St Mary's (1862), in Carden Place, is Germanised Early First Pointed in style, with strong Romanesque features, and consists of nave (69 by 36 feet, and 60 high) and chancel (51 by 22 feet, and 53 high), with trigonal apse, organ chamber, sacristy, crypt, and a flèche 112 feet high.

Ecclesiastical building in use as such. In 1861 there was a breakaway movement from the City Centre Episcopal due to "a difference over churchmanship" (The story of St Mary's). At that time there were no Episcopal Churches to the West of the City. The new church, which was at that time on the edge of the City, was built under the guidance of Rev. F G Lee. Lee was responsible for the inspiration, whilst Alexander Ellis (1830-1917) carried out the drafting. The foundation stone was laid on the 1st of July 1862, by Bishop Thomas Suther, with the help of Ellis and Fraser (the builder). The resulting church was described by the Illustrated London News as "one of the handsomest modern Ecclesiastical Edifices in Scotland", and was clearly influenced by the Ecclesiological movement. The use of granite rubble from Rubislaw, red Tyrebagger granite, dark blue granite from Kemnay, and red Turriff sandstone earned the church the nickname of "The Tartan Kirkie". According to Leith, (p42) there was originally a "lofty fleche or needle spire at he crossing, which was removed at an early stage (in 1869) because of strong winds causing movement". In 1905 Arthur Clyne designed the decorative hall and vestry to the South

East of the church, following the polychrome design of Ellis and Lee, the interiors of which reflect his previous church designs with his partner J B Pirie (died 1892). The colourful stone work is not restricted to the exterior of the building, but continues in what can only be described as one of the finest church interiors in Aberdeen. The windows are set high above the nave, the walls below were originally intended to be painted with frescos by Mr Allen Sutherland (1908), only one of which appears to have been completed, the Annunciation. The colourful chancel arch originally framed an altarpiece by Westlake, which was a triptych of the Crucifixion, St. Mary and St. John with attendant angels (Gammie). On the 21st of April 1943 a bomb was dropped on St. Mary's, and the chancel, crypt and sacristy were badly damaged, the windows were blown out, and the walls were badly cracked. The triptych had fortunately been removed, so survived the blast. A new chancel was built in 1952 with the aid of the War Damage Commission and the congregation. The church also has a fine Samuel Green upright organ of 1778, which was a gift from Mary Leith in 1946. St Mary's Church is the only surviving church designed (at least in part) by Rev F G Lee, as All Saints in Lambeth has been demolished.

The bombing of the Tartan Kirkie in Carden Place on 21 April 1943. On that night alone, the death toll in Aberdeen was 98 civilians and 27 soldiers, with another 235 injured, 93 of them seriously.

Alexander Ellis and Robert Wilson were Aberdeen Architects who were in practice together from 1869-1896 when Ellis died. They worked extensively in and around Aberdeen and their output included, in the main, houses, churches and other large office buildings. Wilson continued to work after Ellis' death.

Queens Cross Free Church, Aberdeen. In 1877, the Free Church discussed the possibility of a church to cater for those who lived in the increasingly popular West End of the city. They secured a triangular site at the junction of Albyn Place and Carden Place at Queens Cross. Competitive designs were sought and John Bridgeford of Pirie, of Pirie and Clyne, Architects, were successful with his French Gothic design in granite. The steeple is 150 feet high and the grand entrance doorway is flanked by massive pillars leading into the nave where there was space for around 800 worshipers. There is a circular window in the East end, stained glass windows having been gifted by members of the congregation. The building was opened for worship on 17th April 1881, and the popularity of its first Minister, the Rev Dr George Adam Smith brought large audiences to the church. Smith was later to become Principal of Aberdeen University. The church became the only one of the City's free churches to have instrumental music when it acquired an organ built by Henry Willis. Queens Cross became Church of Scotland in 1929 when the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church merged. Various extensions have taken place, including a new hall and vestry in 1939, and the building was extensively restored in 1980.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013