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The Skene's


This view of Aberdeen from Rubislaw Road could have been taken from Queen's Lane North/Forest Avenue Junction or the Fountainhall Road not yet made up, leading off to Old Fountainhall Road (Desswood Place) c1900

The steeples from right to left are; Christs College - extreme right, The Langstane Kirk, Gilcomston South, Queens Cross, Rubislaw Church, St Marys RC, Huntly Street, St Marys - Carden Place (Tartan Kirkie), Belmont South (Slains Castle), The Town House, St Nicholas Kirk - Carden Place, The Triple Kirks, The North Kirk - Kings Street.

From the beginning of the 19th century Aberdeen rapidly expanded westwards from Union Street. Rubislaw Den  is part of the late 19th century development West of Queen's Cross. Rubislaw Den South runs almost parallel to Queen's Road (on the site of Skene Road) which was originally surrounded by the Estate of Rubislaw. In 1877 Rubislaw Estate was bought by the City of Aberdeen Land Association, who re-aligned Skene Road and sold off the estate in smaller plots.

Streets became wider and villas with substantial gardens often replaced terraces. Prestigious architects, such as W & J Smith and William Kelly, were often employed to produce bold and unusual designs to reflect the wealth and individuality of the clients. W & J Smith and Kelly were responsible for designing several houses in the Rubislaw Den area.

Old Rubislaw House as shown in The Memorials of the Family of  Skenes of Skene, 1887, Aberdeen, edited William Skene, facing p.131

Old Rubislaw House 1886 with the Earl Marischall's  Sun Dial of 1692 Right complete with added balusters.

Objections to abject squalor and foulness did not, however, apply to two notable houses which have gone down in Aberdeen during recent years.  The one was the old house of Rubislaw, dating from early in 1600, remarkable for showing the humble domestic requirements of leading families of the past, even though their rooms had been adorned with paintings in panel, one of which lingered till the very last.  The other was on School Hill, and there is good evidence that it was the residence of Jameson, the Scottish Vandyck, to whose family belonged the lady who wrought the quaint tapestries which now hang in the West Church.  Both the east and the west churches, with their intervening aisles and their "fat kirkyard" are full of historical and antiquarian objects.

This house was demolished in 1886 to make way for the current Rubislaw House.  The house was the Estate house for Rubislaw Estate. The Estate was part of Aberdeen's Freedom Lands and had been purchased by the Town in 1379. The estate had been feued out in 1551 to Alexander Rutherford.  The exact date of the building of the house is uncertain. It is quite likely that it was comprised a number of elements dating from different periods. Anderson reported in 1910 that a lintel above the entrance to the house was inscribed `A 1675 F' standing for Arthur Forbes one of the later feuars of the estate. It is thus possible that the building, in whole or in part, dated from 1675 (Anderson, Aberdeen in Byegone Days, p.38).

The Estate and presumably the house remained in the hands of the Forbes family until 1687 when they passed to Sir George Skene.  From here the house and estate remained in the hands of the Skene family until the 19th century. In the following year, 1688, Sir George Skene erected a carved stone tablet bearing his coat of arms above the door. The arms were removed prior to the destruction of the house and were taken into the possession of William Forbes Skene, editor of the Memorials of the Family of Skene of Skene.

Sir George Skene 1619 - 1707
Merchant and Provost of Aberdeen.  Skene's father died when he was just 12 and his brother took him to Danzig (Gdansk - Poland) where he became an apprentice to another Aberdonian merchant George Aedie.  Skene went on to make his fortune in Baltic trade.  In 1665, he returned to Aberdeen and purchased Wester Fintray, to the northwest of the city, in 1666. In 1669, he purchased the town-house which still bears his name, Provost Skene's House  in Guestrow, Aberdeen, and is today a museum. He acquired Rubislaw House and estate in 1687. Skene acted as Provost of Aberdeen between 1676 and 1685. He was knighted in Edinburgh by the Duke of York (later King James VII) in 1681.

Skene never married, instead supporting his brother's children after he died. However, his nephews disappointed him, so he gave his wealth and property to his niece's son and the family of his former employer.  He is buried in St. Nicholas' kirkyard, Aberdeen.

Anderson provided a good description of the building writing in 1910. He wrote:  The end wings were evidently later additions to the original structure.  There was a narrow closet or passage (about two feet wide) along the back of a fireplace of a large room on the 1st floor; and over the fireplace of this room was discovered- on the removal of an upper coat of plaster when the house was being demolished-a painting in bright colours of some Scriptural scene; a scene from the book of Esther, it is believed.  Sketches of the house show an ornate sun dial in its garden. This sun dial was removed from the grounds of the Earl Marischal's Lodging (Pitfoddels) when it was demolished to make way for Marischal Street. Their town residence in the Castlegate was the first stone-built house in Aberdeen and to ‘Pitfodels Lodging' came Aberdeen's most eminent visitors including King James V, the Marquis of Huntly and Charles IIThe sun dial eventually passed into the hands of William Keith, granite merchant, who kept it in his grounds at Rubislaw Den House; the sun dial remains in private hands today.

Gordon House or previously, Rubislaw Den House, was built in 1881 for granite merchant William Keith, featuring impressive Gothic and Scottish baronial bays, turrets and pointed windows.  In 1935, the house was bought for Ishbel, Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair, an early campaigner for women’s rights and the widow of John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon (the first Marquess and former governor-general of Canada).  Her new home was renamed Gordon House, after the Aberdeen family name.

Honeybrae House. This house stood in the middle of a market garden near Morningfield Hospital about 1.5d-a-half miles west of Aberdeen City Centre. The lands were part of the old royal hunting forest of Stocket, given to the town of Aberdeen by Robert the Bruce. In the 17th century, it came into the ownership of the Skenes of Rubislaw and, in 1875, it was owned by Aberdeen Land Association.  This 2-storeyed house is most famous for its connection with the poet Lord Byron. In 1798, as a boy of about 10, he was taken there to spend a summer holiday while he was a pupil at Aberdeen Grammar School. At that time, it was probably a fairly new house, standing in its own grounds in a rural situation. He stayed there with his mother and their maid, Isabella Mitchell, before going to visit his old nurse, Agnes Gray. His room was on the 1st floor. By the 1830s, it was the home of a Captain John Boyd and later of market gardeners. Above the main door, there was a window whose 13 small designed panes led it to be called 'the thirteen' window. By the 1920s, it had fallen into disrepair and the house was demolished in November 1928. The site was redeveloped for modern housing.

Honeybrae on the South High Stocket Road leading past Morningfield, LH side, 1.5  half miles from Skene Square.

From the beginning of the 19th century Aberdeen rapidly expanded westwards from Union Street. Rubislaw Den North runs almost parallel to Queen's Road (on the site of Skene Road) which was originally surrounded by the estate of Rubislaw.  In 1877 Rubislaw Estate was bought by the City of Aberdeen Land Association, who re-aligned Skene Road and sold off the estate in smaller plots. Streets became wider and villas with substantial gardens often replaced terraces. Prestigious architects were often employed to produce bold and unusual designs to reflect the wealth and individuality of the clients. 27 Rubislaw Den North is the most substantial villa in this area of Aberdeen. Unlike most villas on the street, it stands set back from the road on the site of modest 18th century house, from which the terraced grounds date. It was built for William Keith, a granite merchant, and was called Rubislaw Den House. From 1935-39 it was under the ownership of Ishbel Gordon, 1st Marchioness of Aberdeen, who gave the house its present appearance. 27 Rubislaw Den North was for a time the Gordon House Hotel, and is currently in use as Rubislaw Den Nursing Home.

Originally incorporated as a thriving land management and feu collection company in 1875, the City of Aberdeen Land Association (CALA) was the 1st Scottish Company listed on the London Stock Market. In its original form (as the Land Association) before Incorporation it played a major part in the planning and construction of the centre of Aberdeen. Until its acquisition by Greencoat properties the company appears to have restricted its operations to Aberdeen and the surrounding areas.

Earl Marischall's Sundial, 2 blocks of concave dials stand one above another on a wide stone base, supported by balusters. At the top is a stone ball marked with dial lines. The whole reaches a height of 9 feet 5 inches.  It originally stood in the garden of the Earl Marischal's Aberdeen house, (C1692) which was destroyed in 1789, and the dial was removed by Mr. Skene to Rubislaw. It remained there till the house fell to decay, and was then transferred to Rubislaw Den

Sundial, 17th century, probably from the townhouse of the Earls Marischal in Aberdeen, transferred to the Old House of Rubislaw c. 1789. 9ft 5ins (2.87m) high with two hollow-dial blocks. The balusters are not original. This sundial was dated 1692 and carried the motto 'POST EST OCCASIO CALVA'.
- Let nothing pass which will advantage you.
From behind opportunity is bald. (This rather enigmatic saying is based on a famous depiction of "Kairos," the Greek word for the crucial moment, "Occasio" in Latin. The personified figure was shown with a lock of hair in front that you could grab, but bald behind. So, if you did not seize the oncoming moment, there would be nothing to grab hold of after the moment passed by. Seize the Moment!

Professor Lockhart was at the time honorary curator of the museum in Marischal College, and had urged the University 'to have the sundial properly set up'. The current location of this sundial is not known.  The description makes this very similar to the dial at Duthie Park dated 1707

17th century Sun Dial
, originally located at the town house of the Earl Marischal in Aberdeen, c. 1789 was moved to to old house of Rubislaw and thence to Rubislaw Den. Brought to Schivas House, Tarves (above) by Lord Catto. Stood 9' 5" high, 2 hollow dial blocks surmounted by ball finial standing on a table carried on balusters, moulded base of same dimensions and step.  Note: as rebuilt at Schivas House, Tarves the balusters have been set square instead of diagonally and the dimensions of the table, podium and platform step all reduced. The balusters are said to have come from the Earl Marischal's house but were not originally part of the Sundial. (See original sketch top of page Right Side.

The Estate of Rubislaw was purchased by the Aberdeen Land Association in 1877.  The Association had recently formed and was aiming to take advantage both of rising prices for land and the spread of the city out towards the west. The purchase of this estate was very much a speculative manoeuvre in the development of the middle class western suburbs of the city.

The old house was demolished in 1886 largely because it was now out of alignment with the new houses being developed along what became Queen's Road. John Morgan, master mason acquired the house and site and wanted to preserve the old building. Of this Morgan wrote:-

`the Old House of Rubislaw, this last I wished to preserve, when I feued the ground on which it stood. I found I could have made a nice residence of the old building, by preserving the original walls, and leaving the exterior almost unchanged, but this was not to be, as it stood in the way of straightening Queen's Road, was not in line with the other houses, and my feu charter put a period on its existence and decreed that it must go. The only relics of the old house worth preserving in the new were the steps leading up to the front door, which are now placed at the Conservatory Door, and the Entrance Door lintel moulded and inscribed.  A 1675 F. This has been placed over the arch of the kitchen door, and will there survive the life of the new House of Rubislaw I should have liked to preserve the Skene Coat of Arms over the front door, but this was removed before I came into possession, and I am sorry I have not been able to recover it, perhaps I may yet, who knows?'

In fact the fate of the Skene coat of arms is known. The arms were removed prior to the sale of the house by the last resident member of the Skene family by William Forbes Skene, editor of the Memorials of the Family of Skene of Skene who kept them in his possession. The 1675 lintel is preserved in the current Rubislaw house above a side entrance, whilst the front door steps are located on the west side of the building leading up to the conservatory.  
C P Croly

Rubislaw District
Kingswells can claim the most famous of the burns, the Denburn, which rises at Kingsford and runs for four miles between the Lang Stracht and the Skene Road into Aberdeen. It starts as a series of field drains, and emerges as a burn in the second field east of the drive to Kingswells House. It flows behind the public hall, on past the Huxterstone fields to the Maidencraig gorge, straight on under the Woodend Hospital bridge, and into Aberdeen, via the Rubislaw Den (where it is supposed to have got its name Denburn: (C M Lawrence, 1908), past the Grammar School, on to the Upper Denburn, where it is underground, and, still underground, joins with the Gilcomston under the Union Bridge beneath the Railway lines, beneath the station next, and finally joins the North Sea, its estuary being the present-day harbour. It ends, therefore, as a series of town drains. It has 600 years of history and has been fully and lovingly described by C M Lawrence. Some streets have taken their names form it: behind Woolmanhill, the Upper Denburn; beside the Green, Denburn Road; in Union Terrace Gardens. It used to be Aberdeen’s main water supply for domestic purposes and supplied the wells at Fountainhall Road.













1868 - Rubislaw, Lower Stocket and Westburn Survey

A Roller Skating Rink in Forbesfield Road was in the large garage premises that used to be there.  It opened in October 1909, it apparently closed in August of the following year.

Old View from Queens Lane Area                            Rubislaw Bleaching and Dyeing Works

Bleachfield Works Ponds, Rubislaw - skaters on Fountainhall Pond, curlers on Bleachfield Pond, 1891 24 Dec. Aberdeen Weekly Journal; shows 3 dams at Rubislaw Works and Bleachfield, West of Forest Avenue

View of Aberdeen from Cornhill, c.1840. This picture was contained in a series of lithographs of Aberdeen published in 1840 by J and D Nichol, booksellers, Montrose. The elevated position of Cornhill near Ashrove provided one of the best points of view over the city. The idyllic rural scene in the foreground is in contrast to the array of smoking chimneys in the distance, interspersed with the spires of various buildings. In the middle is Broadford Textile Works with Hutcheon Street on the left. On the far right, there is the tall chimney of Rubislaw Bleachfield Works, which was demolished in July 1908. The spires belong to the East and West Churches of St Nicholas, and the Tolbooth while, in the centre, there are the 4 turrets of the central tower of Marischal College and the tower of the North Church. The chimneys were evidence of the extent and importance of manufacturing in the city, while the western suburbs were the most attractive, with beautiful villas whose residents were often those citizens whose wealth came from these industries.

Lord Provost James Walker. Mr. Walker had been a successful businessman in the fish trade before he served as Lord Provost from 1902 to 1905. He was an active man involved in the Police Force and the construction of the Fish Market on Albert Quay. Walker Park is named after him.

Union Hall, 3 Skene terrace, James Mitchell, steward

Victoria Hall, Skene terrace, James F. Donald, manage

A building was erected in 1837 as a tollhouse on the Aberdeen-Skene Turnpike Road. Turnpike roads were built during the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the intention of improving the rough tracks which were the only roads at that time. Income for the maintenance of the roads was administered by local Trustees through a levy of tolls on travellers at bars or gates, usually set at 6 mile intervals. At each bar there was a tollhouse where the keeper lived. The rounded shape with windows facing in different directions allowed the tollkeeper to see who was approaching so that he could collect the tolls. The toll system was abolished by the Aberdeenshire Roads Act, 1865. The Rubislaw Toll House was then converted into a grocery shop and became known as Rubislaw Supply Stores, run for many years by Gavin Coutts. It remained as a grocery store until recently when it has been converted into a Restaurant. It stands at the junction of Queens Road and Spademill Road - named from an old mill which turned wooden handles for spades in the late 1700's.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013