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Shiprow - Trinity Port

Shiprow, ran from 23 Union Street to 1 Trinity Corner

The Shiprow followed the curve of the base of the original St Katherine's Hill now decapitated to form Union St and the Adelphi. 

Formerly the Shiprow sloped upward more gradually than it does now, and it crossed Union Street in a depression between St Catherine's Hill on the west and Castle Street, once high uneven ground, on the east.  That the Shiprow has been made up several feet can be seen by a house at the end of Exchequer Row, and it crossed Union Street and entered Broad Street at a lower level than the present. 

Another old house, fast tottering to its ruin, could be found with its enclosed court about the middle of the narrow "Ship row."  It is a very curious specimen of Scottish domestic architecture.  Alas Knocket Doon

The Shiprow was one of the most important streets in the city, since it led from the harbour into the Castlegate area - the heart of Aberdeen. It is first mentioned in documents in 1281.  Over the years it became more and more rundown and, although it had many historic connections, nearly all of it was demolished in the 1950's and 60's.

The Ports or Gates The Upper and Netherkirkgate were the roads ‘above’ and ‘below’ the Mither Kirk of St. Nicholas. The narrow street to the west of the Kirk nowadays known as Back Wynd used to be called Westerkirkgate. 

Picture - No.64 Shiprow: Look at the intriguing projection features from about 6 to 13 feet up the exterior wall of the tenement. These are in the correct location for the Shiprow Port, and the height would accord with the City Ports having been very substantial structures with the old style City Arms clearly visible on the adjacent Wall. Trinity Congregational Church, now part of the Maritime Museum, now stands on the site.

The Upperkirkgate Port was the last of the 6 medieval town gateways to be demolished, sometime after 1794. It stood near the foot of the Upperkirkgate, just beyond No. 42, the gable-ended 17th century house which is still to be seen there now.  The original six ports – solid walls pierced by gateways – had become an obstruction to the flow of traffic, having been in existence from the first half of the 15th century.  The other 5 ports were the Netherkirkgate Port, controlling movement around the north side of St. Katherine’s Hill; the Shiprow or Trinity Port, (hence Trinity House and Quay) checking entry from the south side of St. Katherine’s Hill and the harbour; the Justice or Thieves’ Port to the north-east of the Castlegate, demolished 1787; the Futty Port on Futty Wynd, to the south-east of the Castlegate, and the Gallowgate Port on Port Hill, controlling movement from Old Aberdeen and the north.  So perhaps its main market square  should have been called the 'Castlegates'

A view is preserved of the Shiprow in the early 1900's with the imposing tower of the Town House in the background. Prior to the building of Union Street in 1880, the Shiprow was one of the most important streets in the city, since it led from the harbour into the Guestrow and Castlegate area - the heart of Aberdeen. It is first mentioned in documents in 1281. Over the years it became more and more rundown and, although it had many historic connections, nearly all of it was demolished in the 1950's and 60's.

Parliamentary Debating Society had been inaugurated at a meeting in the Coffee Hall of the Shiprow Café: with this, the second such parliament in the city got under way.


Shiprow, looking North to Provost Ross' House, one of only 2 surviving ancient lodgings in the City. Originally built in 1593, the arcade is early 18th century. Acquired by Aberdeen City Council in the 1950s from ABC Cinemas, by whom it was to have been made into staff accommodation for their adjacent Regal, a plan halted by the outbreak of war in 1939. Now incorporated into Aberdeen Maritime Museum.

St Katherine’s Hall, - became Gaiety Theatre and Palladium
The debate had ended and the vote just counted when the gas lights went out. Pandemonium erupted in Aberdeen’s Parliament with agitated members striking matches so the Speaker could decipher the results of the division.  Liberal complaints that it was too dark for accuracy were overruled and their motion lost by a solitary vote; then to a cacophony of cheers and hoots of derision … victorious Conservatives and dejected Liberals… groped their way to the street along dark staircases.  Evening Express, 22 December 1881

It was during the periods of greatest activism that that the Aberdeen Parliaments were established: 1865.  Self-improvement must have been a motivating factor for many attending the Aberdeen Parliament with its opportunities to learn committee protocol, formal meeting procedures, public speaking and the like. Members had to keep on top of wide-ranging topics to avoid being shown up before their peers.

10, Shiprow  Gaiety Theatre / Palladium Aberdeen's 1st purpose Cinema opened 5th September 1908 by Dove Paterson in the old St Katherine's Hall of 1878. Refurbished, renamed Palladium, 5th May 1919. Closed. summer 1930. Derelict. Sold to ABC, August 1937. Demolished for the Regal Cinema.

The Original Cinema Site was that of the Regal which was begun then lay dormant due to the war and failure to secure a frontage entrance with simply a structural shell and steelwork for the Balcony.  This site was accessible by crawling through the ruin of Ross's House by the wee waifs who could then have an adventurous time walking tight ropes of the girders and trying to imagine a Cinema Screen.  The Regal was demolished despite being a recent structure and the Vue cinema complex erected to mar the historical nature of the Shiprow only having been previously defiled by a cheap supermarket and a brute concrete car park.

Provost Ross' House. One of the oldest houses in Aberdeen, this dates from 1593. It was in a sorry state by the 1950s and was threatened with demolition. Fortunately it was restored by the National Trust for Scotland in 1954. Sadly the view looking in the other direction, towards the Town House, has been ruined by the unwelcome addition of a grotesque eyesore of a cinema. This shabby building, constructed in 2000, now obscures much of the view of the splendid baronial Town House.  This must have given a fine view over the the harbour which was by then the major wealth producer of Aberdeen.  The pen or close archway led to Abbey Place.

and in contrast -------------- on the same street

Being measured by the tall calibrated stick for Demolition?  Doorstep view for entertainment with the growing barefoot rising organ pipe family witnessing the measuring activity.  The flowers on the window for a little greenery.  The barred door and open window suggests the adjacent Shop premise has been boarded up. Sunlight Soap, Lifebouy Soap, Fry's Chocolate signs adorn the barred door.

Broken windows and cracked rough masonry.  One of Aberdeen's historic streets - the Shiprow. For centuries this was the main street leading from the Harbour into the centre of Aberdeen at the Castlegate, until the building of Marischal and Market Streets. At the left on descent was William Arthur's City Bar - this block was demolished around 1900, and most of the other buildings were also removed in the 1920's because the area became very rundown. Further demolition of the area at the left hand side took place in the 1960's to make way for a brute concrete mult-storey car-park and supermarket. 

The buildings on the right hand side on descent were replaced by the ABC Cinema which itself has recently been demolished for further redevelopment (1999)  The only building which remains would have been just round the corner. It is known as Provost Ross's House and Aberdeen Maritime Museum. It appears that the granite cobbles were laid down in 1890.

Narrow Wynd was more important than it sounds, and ran across Castle Street to the Shiprow. The famous Aberdeen Philosophical Society, the fons et origo of what became known as the Aberdeen branch of the Scottish ‘Common-Sense’ Philosophy and a major contributor to the ‘Aberdeen Enlightenment’, was founded by Dr. Thomas Reid and Dr. John Gregory, both of King’s College, and held its fortnightly meetings in a tavern in Narrow Wynd from 1758 to 1773. The remnant of Narrow Wynd was demolished in 1867 to make way for the new Municipal Buildings or Town House. 

Walker's Court, Shiprow
Hutcheon's Court. 4 Shiprow
Reid's Court, 6, Shiprow
Cruickshank's Court, 8 Shiprow
Cruickshank's Court, 10, Shiprow
St. Catherine's Court, 14 Shiprow
Collie's Court, 26 Shiprow
Pirie's Court, 30 Shiprow

Pirie's Court, 32, Shiprow
Jamieson's Court, 38, Shiprow
Jamieson's court, 40 Shiprow
Mearns' Court, 53, Shiprow
poultry shop, G, Milne's house, 57, Shiprow
Sutherland's Court, 76 Shiprow
Webster's Court, 72, Shiprow
Sutherland's Court, 78, Shiprow - Christian, poultry shop, 76, h.
Sim's Court, 88, Shiprow
Still's Court, 88, Shiprow
Fish Market, 88 Shiprow
Hart's close, 93 Shiprow
Shipmaster's Hall & Court, 97 Shiprow
Abbey Place, a close which adjoined Provost Ross's House in the Shiprow

West side of Shiprow. Vendor is George Moir, vintner 1665 - 1801. "The Ship Tavern". Proposals and policies for insurance Sun Fire Office and Edinburgh Friendly Insurance Office, 1796.

Prior titles of west side of Shiprow. Vendor is William Cushnie, mariner, 1631 - 1802. Including petition to Town Clerk and report on condition of property, 1750 and letter from R. T. Murray, Jamaica, on board the Antilope (slaver), to Alexander Strachan, 17 n B. C. Register 1727 with extract thereof. Also includes Burgess Diploma for Robert Murray, barber, 1685 and Charter for land in Futty 1556

Land around the Don in the north and the Dee in the south has seen human activity since at least 6000BC. The Don and the Dee offered access inland, sources of food and water and stable ground in an area of lower lying coast where shelter could be built. Mesolithic flints and flint knapping tools have been found in the Green during archaeological excavation.

Shell middens and a range of other early archaeological features have been discovered in and around the area. Neolithic Long Cairn evidences more settled existence in the area while a number of later Bronze Age cairns testify to ongoing, not necessarily continuous,
settlement. During the course of recent development in the city centre, evidence of later settlement has been discovered. A possible Iron Age underground souterrain was discovered during the building of the Marks and Spencer building in the
Netherkirkgate during the 1960’s.

Radio carbon dating from a pit in Shiprow and a hearth in Old Aberdeen indicate activity in the 1st to 2nd century AD.
17th-century armorial panel was recovered from a boundary wall behind 24 Adelphi during redevelopment.  The stone probably came originally from a house in nearby Shiprow. In the late 19th century, when it was first recorded, it was still possible to make out the  initials ‘AB IC’  and the date, 1634, but the sandstone face is now much weathered. The initials may refer to Alexander Burnett, who became a Baillie of Aberdeen in 1650, and his wife Isabella Cumming, who died in 1670.

Exchequer Row - Check-Raw                                Old House Shiprow

Exchequer Row known locally as Cheq'ra Wynd (1st mentioned in 1350) was a short congested lane connecting the Shiprow to the Castlegate, and on its right side, were a number of Courts leading into an area crammed with insanitary dwellings which were later demolished.  It was popularly supposed that the name Exchequer Row derived from the Aberdeen Mint which stood in the area. However, it comes from the name of the Royal Customs House - the Skakkarium, dating back to the 14th century.

Aberdeen Tape Company's Warehouse, 2, Exchequer Row

Aberdeen Herring Cleaners at WorkOld Fish Market 88 Shiprow.
Much was done to Displace the Shiprow fish market as a foul smelling nuisance as it had also previously been in Castle Street no doubt to take advantage of the convenient and valuable Site for re-development. 

It was replaced by a new Post Office later to become the Unemployment Bureau - The Bru and is now a Commercial Office.  Market Street

Note the ubiquitous Bun and long dress for warmth with basic pinafores.  Creels, Baskets, Coopered Barrels and troughs await the issue from nimble fingers as fish were dressed by these 'cleckin' women.  A man stepped into this feminist throng at great personal risk.

Mr. Spark was subsequently appointed, and filled for many years the office of, Treasurer and Clerk of the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Of this respectable individual it has been related, that he never, for a single night, during his long-extended existence, slept out of the house, in the Shiprow of Aberdeen, in which he was born, and in which he died, aged 92, in March, 1848 ; and that he had never been farther from the place of his birth than the parish of Nether Banchory.


A somewhat similar case was that of the late Mr. Ninian Kynoch, in his early days the fellow apprentice, and subsequently, for many years, the Clerk of the late Mr. Johnston of Viewfield; after whose death, Mr. Kvnoch continued, as Clerk, in the employment of Mr. Johnston's youngest son, Robert. Mr. Kynoch, who died at Aberdeen, in March, 1846, aged 74, was wont to tell that he had never slept a night out of Aberdeen, and had never been at a greater distance from that town than Dunnottar Castle, 16 or 17 miles South of Aberdeen; after viewing which, he returned home before night. In these days of rapid and easy locomotion, such a spirit of adherence to their birth-place, as that indicated in the above 2 instances, may appear to be somewhat remarkable


This appears to be the upper crescent of the Shiprow being hosed down by perhaps a street cleaner or a leaking hydrant tapped by a Firemen and the action seems to have turned a few heads.  A Public House and shops stand below doomed Tenements.  The view in the opposite direction nicely frames the new but ghostly Baronial Clock Tower showing the Tenements to the West and the Closie's and Pends to the Backlands or Backies.   Echequer Row is at the top.  These doomed Tenement houses would make way for the new Regal Cinema.


Few remaining stately old houses of past times were so swamped in the slums that strangers do not readily find them.  The slum area of Aberdeen was but small, so small that one is inclined to ask why it had not disappeared altogether.  Changes were already hanging over much of it, and must be looked for joyfully, even though they must sweep away many things antique and interesting.  When these have been once allowed to sink to a certain point of dilapidation and squalor, there remains nothing to be done but "to bury the dead out of our sight."    In this connection I always recall a saying of Dr. Guthrie's, as we stood on the steps of his Church in Edinburgh, and he told me of the imminent doom of a picturesque old pile on which we gazed.  I was loud in the sentimental regrets of a dreaming girl.  "Well, young lady," answered the doctor, "if you want that house to be kept, then you should be made to live in it."  Hence - ach - jist knocket doon


Collies Court, Shiprow and Shepherd's Court in the Guestrow as captured by the forgotten Artist William Bisset Wylie resident of 121 Blenhiem Place, Fountain Hall Aberdeen, and published as etchings in 1923 these 90 year old  images were a matching pair discovered in a Charity Shop in Arbroath by Jackie H and yet there is no public record of who this accomplished Artist was.  If anyone can shed light on his work we would be pleased to hear from them.  Yet another captivating view of 18th century buildings.  They are certainly a captivating matched pair and the compatible vertical format indicates the artist was a skilled observer of these rubble built vistas leading from the Tenement Backlands to the Pends and Closie's of Ancient Aberdeen.


Would that our City Fathers had commissioned such fine records of our Ancient City features and before the demolishing of their glorious untrammelled development without planning requirements of the sort that could lead to one of the City's most valuable and salient Architectural features being removed from its unique 500 year old location simply for a poor substitution of a  Marks and Sparks extension.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013