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The Royalty

By a Royalty is meant the area defined in a Royal Charter conferring on the householders residing within its bounds privileges of trade and self-government. It is called a Royal Burgh, and its householders are called Burgesses. Some Royal Burghs have no extant charter. The charter may have been lost, or it may never have been committed to writing, just as there are many Acts of Parliament which were never printed. The area might have been defined by some natural features such as the sea, a watershed, rivers or burns, or by roads and the boundaries of circumjacent estates; and it may have sometimes been left to some extent undefined to allow for expansion as the population grew. It is supposed that the environs of every Royal Castle had Burghal rights and privileges, if the inhabitants chose to exercise them, though the Burgh never had its bounds defined in a written charter. The Castle of Fyvie seems to have been a Royal Residence in the 13th century, and in the next century there is mention of the Burgh of Fyvie. The Maills (Rents) were 1310.

When a Town was erected into a Royal Burgh any person wishing to exercise the rights conferred by the charter had to undertake to watch and ward for the Burgh, and to undertake to pay maill or rent to the Crown. The Burgh maills and custom dues formed a considerable part of the Royal Revenue, and they were an inducement to Kings to grant Royal Charters. It is allowed on all hands that though Aberdeen has not now an extant charter erecting it into a Royal Burgh - perhaps it never was in existence - it was made a Royal Burgh by David I. (1124-1153), if it had been made a Burgh by Alexander I (1107-1124), as seems likely from the Book of the Church of Scone, p. 2. As the Burgh had to make annual payments to the Crown it required to have some sources of income. One of these was feu-duties from lands given to the Burgh by the Crown and feued out to the Burgesses, and another was local taxes called "customs" levied on goods brought within the Burgh boundaries.

The burn called in the lower part of its course the Ferryhill Burn, farther up the Holburn and in the upper part of its course the West Rubislaw Burn, is the south-west boundary of the Royal Burgh of Aberdeen. Beginning at the mouth of the burn, 400 yards north from Wellington Bridge, the boundary ascends the burn to South Bridge, but the burn is now covered up from its mouth to the side of Rubislaw Works. Passing under the bridge the boundary turns north-east and cuts off both corners of Ashvale Place and goes along the west side of Holburn Street to Alford Lane. It follows the east side of the lane and crossing Alford Place comes to a boundary stone at No 7. Here the boundary formerly ended in the cornfields, which up till near the middle of last century extended to the west side of Rose Street. There never was anything but the divisions between fields to mark the boundary from Alford Place to Skene Street. It may be traced on the 25-inch Ordnance Survey plan of the city, going north-east from Alford Place to a bend in Thistle Place, then along this street to another bend. There the street turns north but the boundary goes farther east and then turns north. It crosses Thistle Street between Thistle Place and Rose Street, and afterwards turns west to Thistle Lane, which it follows till Margaret Street is passed. Then it strikes north-east and emerges on Skene Street at a lane between Thistle Lane and Rose Street. The boundary crosses Skene Street at the east side of the entrance to the Grammar School, and it crosses also the Denburn now covered up. Crossing Esslemont Avenue it runs along the north side of the houses and gardens sloping down to the burn at Mackie Place.

A colony of rooks nesting in the trees in Cherryvale are probably the lineal descendants of some which built there when it was on the outskirts of the town. It comes to Jack's Brae at March Lane, which gets that name from being on the March of the Royalty. The boundary then follows the north side of Upper Denburn eastward to Rosemount Viaduct. Passing under the bridge it leaves the street, and brings within the Royalty the houses with their grounds and back premises in Upper Denburn and Spa Street. Amongst these are the houses in Garden Nook Close, called also The Four Neukit Garden, which 400 years ago was the favourite suburban retreat of Jamesone the Painter. Jamesone went to Antwerp to study under Rubens, and there he had seen gardens with summer houses, and on his return to Scotland he had reproduced what he had seen abroad. The Garden Nook has its entrance from Upper Denburn. Formerly there was another from Spa Street opposite the Well, and James Gordon says : - "Hard by [the well] there is a four squair feild, which of old served for a theatre, since made a gardyne for pleasur by the Industrie and expense of George Jamesone, ane ingenious paynter quho did sett up therein ane timber hous paynted all over with his own hand." The Spa Street entrance was in the line of the south front of the Infirmary.

March Lane, a narrow lane in the Rosemount area of Aberdeen had a number of small houses with tiled roofs. The rather rundown nature of the lane hid the fact that it stood on the boundary of the City of Aberdeen. At the end of the lane there was a dressed granite stone with the letters CR incised on it. These stood for City Royalty and up to the 19th century, the Town Councillors would inspect these boundaries or marches to check that such landmarks had not been removed. A series of such stones marked what was known as the Inner Marches and another series with the letters ABD marked the Outer Marches which bounded the Freedom Lands, including the lands granted to the City by Robert the Bruce in 1319

At Raeburn Place the Royalty Boundary turns back, westward, as far as the south-east end of Gilcomston Place. There it comes upon the ancient aqueduct called the "lead" or lade going to water the town. It is an argument in favour of the great antiquity of this aqueduct that from Gilcomston Place the Royalty follows it to Maberly Street, as if the boundary of the Royal Burgh had been made by a pre-existing water course. At Gilcomston Place the boundary returns upon itself at a sharp angle and takes into the royalty a long, sharp pointed, narrow strip of land. On it were the famous Mill of Gilcomston and a Well from which water was afterwards taken into the town. It is possible that this piece of land had not originally been within the Royalty but had been taken in when Gilcomston Mill became the property of the town.

Leaving Baker Street, the Royalty Boundary follows the water-course along the bottom of a hawthorn hedge, and crosses the street at the division between Gilcomston Steps and Skene Square. The original form of this name was Skene's Square, which was given to a plot of ground surrounded by dwelling-houses in the angle between Rosemount Place and Skene Square, now the site of a school. Passing through a gap between the houses on the east side of the street the water of the aqueduct crosses the railway in an overhead pipe which conducts it to Maberly Street. Here the aqueduct was diverted to feed steam-condensing ponds at Broadford Flax Works; but the Royalty Boundary follows that of St Nicholas Parish, and crossing Maberly Street ascends the Westburn, crosses Hutcheon Street, and passes along the west side of the Meat Market till it comes to the now dry course of the Froghall or Spital Burn, which the boundary follows to Jute Street.

Turning east the course of the old Froghall/Spital Burn passed upwards through the North end of the Meat Market, crossing George Street at No 466, and passing along the south ends of the feus in Charles Street it reached Causewayend between Nos 87 and 91. It crossed this street at its lowest part, where formerly there was a ford and, at the end of a house on which "Causewayend" was painted, it passed through the long narrow point separating it from Canal Road. It left Canal Road at No 14, and turned north along the backs of the houses on the east side of the street. At Milne's Preserved Provision Works the Royalty Boundary, still ascending the course of the burn, strikes north-east across the railway and Jute Street. Near the east end of the Granite Works it leaves the course of the Spital Burn and, following the ancient boundary between the lands belonging to the town and those belonging to St Peter's Hospital, it crosses Iving's Crescent at No 37 where there is a division in the wall on the west side of the Street.

1789 Survey Map - Alexander Milne

By Taylor's Map we see that in 1773 a small stream flowed eastward a little to the south of Love Lane, which name has now given place as St Peter's Street.  This stream formed the north boundary of the Royalty and of St Nicholas Parish.  It is now lost to sight, but its course was along the north side of the quadrangle of the Militia Barracks. It crossed King Street at the north end of a belt of trees on the east side of the street, and it held north-east, passing the gasometer on the north side. Originally the boundary had been visible to the eye, because it followed the lowest line in the hollow.  On reaching the Links the small burn was called the Banstickle Burn.  It turned north and joined the Powis or Tile Burn near the Brick Works.

Some people think that the Royalty Boundary holds on in the same general direction from King Street to the sea, following the lowest line in the hollow between the Pittodrie Football ground and the Gasometer ground to the Links Well, and crossing the Links in the same direction seaward. The Ordnance Survey map makes the boundary of the Royalty turn north along the east end of Pittodrie Park and the east side of Linksfield Manure Works, and thence along the course of the Powis or Tile Burn to the Don. The Town Council of Aberdeen has placed boundary stones on this line (one has recently disappeared), and it claims that the Royalty extends on the north to the Don. The ground for making the Royalty extend to the mouth of the Don may be found in the false idea, generally entertained long ago, that near its mouth the Don bent south till it was near the Broad Hill and then turned east to the sea. Both Gordon's and Taylor's Maps mention this belief, and Milne's Map (1746) has the mouth of the Don as far south as the Manure Works.

There are two natural forces at work, one tending to put the river mouth straight east from the Bridge of Don, and the other to put it farther south. When the river is in flood its tendency is to hold on a straight course to the sea. In the North Sea the fiercest storms come from the north-east, and the waves tend to shift the mouths of the rivers entering the south side of the Moray Firth westward, and the mouths of those entering the sea on the east of Aberdeenshire southward. The mouth of the Deveron is frequently altered; sometimes it is closed and has to be opened to let salmon enter. The mouth of the Ugie cannot be shifted farther south, the coast being rocky; but the mouth of the Ythan is curved southward, and the mouth of the Dee used to be frequently closed before the North Pier was erected. It would in like manner be a thing to be expected that the mouth of the Don should sometimes be closed in storms or driven southward. Looking, however, at the great size of the blown sand hills on the south side of the Don mouth and their diminishing size southward it seems clear that the mouth of the Don has as a rule been where it is at present. The sand hills are formed by east winds out of sand brought down by the river and then spread out on the shore by sea waves, and finally blown inward in tempestuous gales. Gordon does not say that there was any evidence that the Don once entered the sea near the Broad Hill. The Royalty is bounded on the east by the North Sea, and on the south by the River Dee from its mouth to the Ferryhill Burn.

The Freedom Lands are enclosed within a boundary measuring approximately 26 miles (42 km) in length, defined by 67 seven markers known as March Stones, which can still be seen today around the city. These March Stones start with one labelled Alpha - lying to the south of Aberdeen Railway Station - and end with Omega (at the mouth of the Don). The lands include much of the Aberdeen Waterfront and New Aberdeen and extend west to the present-day Council Area border beyond Kingswells. In the north, the boundary reaches the River Don for a short section north of Woodside and runs west to Bucksburn and then turns southwest between Brimmond Hill and Elrick Hill. In the south the boundary proceeds west from the mouth of the Dee, passing to the north of Mannofield, Cults and Beildside.

The Freedom Lands are enclosed within a boundary measuring approximately 26 miles (42 km) in length, defined by 67 seven markers known as March Stones, which can still be seen today around the city. These March Stones start with one labelled Alpha - lying to the south of Aberdeen Railway Station - and end with Omega (at the mouth of the Don). The lands include much of the Aberdeen Waterfront and New Aberdeen and extend west to the present-day Council Area border beyond Kingswells. In the north, the boundary reaches the River Don for a short section north of Woodside and runs west to Bucksburn and then turns southwest between Brimmond Hill and Elrick Hill. In the south the boundary proceeds west from the mouth of the Dee, passing to the north of Mannofield, Cults and Beildside.

A Freedom Lands' March Stone is distinguished from the other sort by bearing the letters ‘ABD’ and a number between 1 and 62, or the symbols for Alpha and Omega, and in certain cases the letters CR, for City Royalty. Aberdeen’s Freedom Lands’ March stones are composed of two separate sets: the inner and the outer. The inner march stones mark the boundary of a series of crofts and croft lands that ringed the Medieval Royal Burgh of Aberdeen. On these lands much of the city’s corn, bere (or barley) and wheat was grown. These lands have probably pertained to the Royal Burgh since its inception.

Till Whitsunday, 1880, small dues called Petty Customs were levied on produce brought into the town. There were stations on the roads where they crossed the royalty boundary. One was in Holburn Street beside Justice Mill, where dues on the produce of Deeside were collected by a man in a wooden sentry-box. There was another in Alford place, on the east side of Victoria Street, for produce from Skene and Echt. There was one on the site of Melville U.F. Church ; one on the point between Gilcomston Steps and Gilcomston Brae ; and another in George Street on the site of the Meat Market, where the Customan could keep his eye also on Hutcheon Street. There was one on the point between Mounthooly and West North Street, and another in the east side of King Street, opposite the end of Nelson Street, and another in Wellington Road. The Ferryhill Burn is the limit of the Royalty and there was a Custom Box near the bridge on the road from Nigg, crossing the Dee at Wellington Bridge. The tax on a boll meal was 3d, oats 2d, a peck of berries or any less quantity 1d, a stone of butter 1d, cheese ?d, a back birn of candle fir ?d, a horse load in creels ?d, a cart load 1d four dozen of eggs ?d, etc. When the Petty Customs were abolished the city Corporation had to make up the loss of income by a corresponding increase of the taxes levied on rental, and the amount of the compensation is still shown annually in the accounts of the Burgh.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013