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The Spital

The statement in the Charters that King David invested the town of Aberdon into an Episcopal See and City is a fiction based upon forged Charters which mention the town of Old Aberdeen before 1165, but it goes beyond them when it says David created it a City. There is no evidence for this, and it is exceedingly unlikely that before the Institution of the Bishopric there was at St Machar Church anything which could be called a town. But to entitle the Chanonry Close, with the hamlet in High Street, to be called a City it was enough that it was the See of a Diocese and the chief place in the Barony of Aberdon, a Crown-created jurisdiction. The Burgh Boundary on the South was the Powis Burn, but the town records show that the magistrates regarded its freedom as extending South to a key-stone in the Spital, probably one of the Royal Burgh boundary stones at King's Crescent. When the burgh affirmed this to the Commissioners of Supply for the shire in 1700 the answer was that the commissioners could not find any proof that the town of Old Aberdeen had any privilege or jurisdiction in the Spital. It was not necessary for burgesses to reside within their Burgh. Many Burgesses of Old Aberdeen lived in College Bounds and the Spital and found it advantageous to be treated as within the Burgh Bounds; and as the College was owner of the College Bounds its court had exercised some jurisdiction over its people and they may have believed that they were within the Burgh.

ST PETERS HOSPITAL - The Medieval St Peter’s Hospital gave the Spital Road and adjacent hills their names.  Spital, ran from Mounthooly to Old Aberdeen.  This was a shelter for infirm brethren of the priesthood, established by Bishop Matthew Kyninmond (1170-99) on the east side of the Spital. This name is a shortening of hospital. It was dedicated to St Peter, the chief of the apostles, and it was intended to be for the weal of the soul of King William the Lion, his ancestors and successors, and of the soul of the Bishop himself and his ancestors and successors.  It was an article of the faith of the old Church of Scotland that the souls of the dead were benefited by the prayers of the living.

In 1636, the Bailies of Old Aberdeen decided to clear the town of all infamous persones all ydleris, and those that has no certaine calling to liue be and wer not provyded of kaill and fewall and other necessaries of good neighbourheid and upon recepteris of begeris ydleris and vagaboundes or strangeris without licence as also to cognosce quhat number of brousteris may serve the whole boundes of the Auldtoun Spittell, and Chanrie.

The Spital, as it is know today, is one long street which took its name from the 12th century St Peter's Hospital, a hospice for retired Priests which was situated between Aberdeen and Old Aberdeen. The Chanonry runs from the other side of Old Aberdeen towards the River Don.  A roll of the inhabitants of the Spital was drawn up in 1636.

One Beatrix Cheilles appears on the list: 9 May 1636.
Beatrix Cheilles, with ane servant, of no calling, absent.  It is shown on Parson Gordon's Map of 1661 Beatrix Cheilles has nothing to liue on, to be banished or else set cautioun.
Anyone failing to leave the town would be punished - under the paines following, that is to say eftir the publict proclamation of thir present actes at the mercat croce if any of the saides persones be found within the Toune for the first fault to be put in the stockes or joges all the fairnoone and imprisoned efter till they set sufficient cautioun for removal. And if they be found the second tyme to lay ane burne yron on thair cheik or shoulder

A Scurger, (Scourger) Archbald Bischope, was appointed to enforce this ruling and anyone failing to assist him in his duties suffered a fine equivalent to three weeks' wages.  Beatrix appears to have died in 1687. The following burial at St Nicholas churchyard in Aberdeen is recorded:  Beatrix Chilles buried 25 April 1687

Inset - Polished granite religious icon incorporated into the corner of a wall in Kings Crescent - Was it from the Snow Kirk?

Slezer EngravingJohn Slezer’s 1688 ‘Theatrum Scotiae’ showed the Snow Kirk with a corbie-stepped gable in the lower foreground.  Gordons Map shows it West of the Spittal Road as Spired Ruins in 1661 just North of the Spittal Hills as was the Spittal Kirk further South and to the East

Our Lady of the Snows derives from Bishop Elphinstone’s veneration of the Virgin Mary and his familiarity with the second-ranking church in Rome – Sancta Maria Maggiore ad Nives.   There is a chapel at Corgarff, still in use, named for the same miracle of snow in a Roman August.    So much for the name, which has come down through five centuries as the Snow Kirk.  It was built as the parish church of Old Aberdeen so that the Cathedral and King’s College Chapel could be left free for more ceremonial functions.   The relationship can be described in terms of bells.  St Machar boasted a peal of 14; King’s began with 15 but relinquished two of the smaller ones to the Snow Kirk.   Sundays and feast days must have been joyful with these many chimes.  Only the two Snow bells were popularly identified by name: ‘Schochtmadony’ meaning Shuggle Madonna) and ‘Skellat’, which simply means a small bell.

Although built as a parish church, the Snow lost that function when its congregation was merged with St Machar’s in 1499.   Although intended for students it continued to draw local people to worship, so that the merger had to be proclaimed again some eighty years later.   The Rector of Snow was the University Grammarian who taught Canon Law as well as Latin.    His position was described in the University’s founding charter:  ‘Foreseeing and knowing that the fruits of the said church will be slender ... every student in our said new College shall pay to the Rector of St Mary and his successors ... at the Paschal feast four pence: and with the poor [students] the said rector or vicar shall compound amicably.’   In return for his church’s slender endowment the rector said mass once a year for the souls of King James IV and Bishop Elphinstone.

The building’s plain appearance and reputation caused Protestant Reformers to ignore it when the Angus men marched north to assail St Machar’s.   Quarter of a century after Edinburgh’s Reformation Parliament the congregation had to be placed more firmly under Kirk control, along with their neighbours from further up the road in Aberdeen:  ‘The parochinneris of Snaw and Spittal be compellit to resort to the said kirk of Machar to heir thair the evangel preichit, the sacraments ministrat and discipline exercisit, as their awin proper parochin in time to cum ... with power to the said college of Aberdene to dimoleishe and tak doun the ruinous walls and tymber of the present kirkis of Snaw and Spittal now abusit to superstition and idolatrie.

Catholic worship survived in an area where many influential people, starting with the Marquis of Huntly, were none too keen to carry through the intentions of southern politicians.    And whatever state the Spital’s Church may have been in, the Snow was far from ruinous in the illustration of 1688.    By then, however, the state of the walls was less important to the ‘Aulton folk’ than what had become hallowed as a place ‘within the whilk their friends and foirfathers were buried’.

‘Aulton Folk (Old Town Folk) ... secretly attending mass in its ruins... – balanced by the avoidance of St Machar burial fees and its ongoing use as a meeting-place, for children as well as adults.

Burying was controversial.  Edicts of the local authority give us an idea of the battle for hearts and minds which went on for more than a century after Mary Queen of Scots was executed.   Aberdeen Burgh Council repeatedly sought to limit the number of people attending funeral wakes, and to deny the bereaved family’s right to offer hospitality: the sweetmeats known as ‘drogues’ were banned, along with desserts, but it was the liberal offering of strong drink on these occasions which really offended the Burgesses. 

17th-century Presbyterians regarded all burial services as ‘popish’, and more so when they took place by torchlight.   The authorities took strong exception to the night-time burial at the Mither Kirk (St Nicholas) of the Laird of Drum’s daughter.  The Irvines of Drum were prominent papists.   Thirty-five years later (in 1705) the pressure was still on to discard old customs when the Council demanded ‘from each person who shall burn incense or perfume at the burial of their friends in church £4 Scots, or in the churchyard 40/- Scots’.    As in medieval times, the gentry were buried indoors and commemorated by armorial monuments, while ordinary people lay in unmarked graves outside.   In 1671 King’s College started to charge £8 for the Snow Church and ‘ane dollar’ for the cemetery beyond the walls.

No record of burials exists prior to 1776, but by the beginning of 19th century (when the charge was 13/4 for burial - within the walls only) 160 names were registered.   All but 13 date from before 1880, and the graveyard was declared full in 1934 when an 85-year-old spinster was buried alongside her parents.    G M Fraser the librarian, making an exception of the Pitfodels stone, dismissed the rest as having ‘singularly uninteresting inscriptions’.   The members of Aberdeen’s family history society, currently undertaking a graveyard survey of north-east Scotland, would probably disagree.   Bulloch’s discovery, through King’s College, of a Catholic record of burials made all the difference.  This remarkable document can be consulted in the April 1906 issue of Scottish Notes and Queries.   It is remarkable for the way it gives meaning to stones and even to unmarked graves.   There can be nothing like it in north-east Scotland.   One of the earliest recorded interments was that of Bishop James Grant.   Previous bishops had been buried inside a roofless chapel near Fochabers, but he died in the Castlegate of Aberdeen.

1789 Survey Map - Alexander Milne

Spital or Spittal?
Spittal of Glenmuick - Keith (Spalding Club 1843), in 1732, notes that, "there was an Hospital at Spittal (below an ale house) on the east end of Loch Muick, where is a pass (called the Caiple Month), to the Hills of Clove."  Easson states that its existence cannot be verified but Jervise says that, "a religious house and hospice were early established at the Spital of Muick by the Bishop and Chapter of Aberdeen, and was superseded by a hostelry until about 1850 near the old site."Fraser mentions that, "extensive foundations of the Spital ... near the loch ..."can still be seen, although McConnachie says that the site of the hospice is now occupied by a forester's cottage. Leyden, visiting the Spital of Glenshee in 1800, notes that, "spittal signifies a village."

Spital or Spittal is likely a locally favoured abbreviation of St Peter's Hospital

Saint Margaret's Chapel and Convent is in the area known as The Spital. It dates back to 1892 when the Rector of nearby St John's Episcopal Church in Aberdeen wanted a community to care for the sick and the poor. He was the founder of something similar in Sussex, England called The Society of St Margaret at East Grinstead. The Chapel was designed by Sir John Ninian Comper whose father was a Reverend but the eventual building incorporated existing buildings as well as some of the original drawings.   John Ninian Comper Architect was born in Aberdeen on 10th June 1864, the family lived at St Margaret’s Brae next to the Convent in the Spital. It was originally proposed that Ninian Comper would design a new Convent, but only the Chapel and a wing were realised.
“Built of granite, the tower-like east end, raised high on the Spital for the Sisters new home at Bayview is rooted in the Scottish vernacular tradition. It was modelled on the 15th-century Kirk of the Holy Rood in Stirling”.  St Margaret’s Convent in the Spital has massive walls, rough- hewn, battering buttresses rising from foundations to parapet, and is roofed in red pantiles”.  Apparently the Aberdeen Ecclesiological Society considered that Comper “had built his father’s conviction in stone”

Sister Mary Ellen SSM described the consecration of the chapel in 1892; “Looking down from the organ gallery at Vespers that evening, on the black and white veils of the sisters, the lofty vaults of the tower among which the flickering shadows were playing-the dim outline of the tall vast windows and the gorgeous colouring of the reredos, which was lighted by the rays of the setting sun; it was difficult to realise that only a wall separated us fromthe busy, hurrying life of the 19th Century.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

Gordon's Map shows the ruins of the Leper House on the east side of King's Crescent formerly the Spital. Its site is now a bowling-green, and a stone projecting into the pavement had probably been at the south side of the Leper croft. It was 200 yards within the city boundary. Like most of the other leper hospitals it was a religious house.

A Theatrical company of comedians established themselves in Edinburgh in 1745 and a detachment in Aberdeen in 1751. The detachment was initially denied any premises in Aberdeen itself and raised a building on the south side of the Spital for performances. This closed after one season. In 1768 the magistrates licensed a company under one Fisher to perform in Aberdeen, in the New Inn. In 1773 the celebrated West Digges attempted to establish a theatre in Aberdeen. Having been opposed he set up a successful Theatre on the North side of the Spital.

The Play House Theatre was in the Spital adjacent to the Old Red Lion Inn which was situated in Red Lion Brae now Firhill Place and dates back to pre 1750's this Inn was used by the Aberdeen Philosophical Society every 2nd and 4th Wednesday in the month at 5pm between 1758 and 1773.  It was better known as the Wise Club.  There was a later Red Lion Tavern which moved slightly within the area.  The present Red Lion Pub at 190 The Spital dates from 1903.  The Firhill was further west and was the site of the Firhill Well or Gibberie Wallie

Bendelow's Pie Shop

When weemin were wrochtin roon o’ the clock
At the
Jute Works or Broadford’s auld mills,
They’d set aff wi’ a shawl and a kwite owre their frock
To try to get owre a’ their ills.
By gaun ilka pay-nicht alang
To buy there o’ mair than ae size:
Sae tasty as kitchie, het, sappy and fine –
Jist ane o’
John Bendelow’s pie

Lord Provost George Stephen

From 1930's John Bendelow's Pie Shop was in the Spital area. It continued to be run by the Bendelow family until around 1960.

Tom Bendelow was born on September 2, 1868. He was one of 9 children of John and Mary Edwards Bendelow, who operated the Bendelow Pie Shop in Aberdeen.  By his own admission, he began playing golf at the age of 5 with his religiously pious father on the Balgownie links, now the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, which was a short distance from his home and was very likely the course on which he learned to play. As a young man he travelled to other courses in Scotland and England to play. He became a good golfer, a competitive golfer, as a youth. He competed in various tournaments of the day but never achieved that championship status, I don’t think his heart or mind were fully focused on golf at the time.  It was on these occasions that he became acquainted with other golfers of the period, some of whom, like Willie Dunn Jr., John D. Duncan, Seymour Dunn, and Alexander Findlay, were to become the missionaries of golf to America.  The Johnny Appleseed of Golf!

Tom came to America in September 1892. His first job was with the New York Herald newspaper. Tom had worked as a typesetter for the Aberdeen Free Press, predecessor to the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper in Scotland.  (1868-1936)

The site of a Leper Hospital in Aberdeen, founded before 1363. It survived the Reformation, but was in ruins in 1661 and its lands were sold to King's College in 1718.

No.45 Spital was a Leper Hospital and a secret passage leading directly to the cemetery of St Peter's Church. The passage story is clearly disputed. The similarity of the stories is coincidental - but it does indicate the way many local inhabitants built links between buildings, people and unlikely circumstances. As evidence of this one of the recent residents in the Bede House also believed there was a passage from the Bede House to St Machar’s Cathedral. He claimed to have seen it when the houses were being renovated in 1965. There is no evidence to support this claim.

The site was known as 'Lepers' Croft'   The movement of people of different countries during the Crusades made leprosy an epidemic. Many hospitals were established to receive those infected with the disease to keep them apart from other people. Gordon's Map shows the ruins of the Leper House on the east side of King's Crescent.

Its site is now a bowling-green, and a stone projecting into the pavement had probably been at the south side of the Leper croft. It was 200 yards within the city boundary. Like most of the other Leper Hospitals it was a religious house. In 1519 Alexander Galloway, Parson of Kinkell, erected a chapel for devotion at the Leper House and dedicated it to St Anna. Lepers were forbidden to touch healthy persons and to wash in the streams used by others.

Near Aberdeen Leper House there was a marsh, which had supplied them with water. Aberdeen was formerly supplied with fire and light by peats and candle fir from the mosses round the town. The Lepers got a peat from every cart which passed their house. The disease had disappeared from Aberdeen by 1661, and the house was then in ruins.

Spital is a name derived from a Hospital for infirm priests, founded before 1200 by Bishop Matthew. It was dedicated to St Peter, and it stood in what is now St Peter's Cemetery on the east side of the street called Spital; but the burn was at the base of Spital Hill on the west side. Froghall is an old name coming from the Gaelic word " frog," a hole full of water; and there must have been one on its course anciently about Jute Street. In Foveran there is a place called Frogmore from a big pool near it. The Spital Burn formed the west boundary of a small parish called St Peter's or the Spital, suppressed at the Reformation. From Jute Street downwards to the Denburn it had been part of the boundary between the parishes of Old Machar and St Nicholas ; but it has now vanished entirely out of sight.  It rose out of the ground at the embankment in Sunnyside Road, which now covers its well-spring. Formerly, it passed under the Aberdeenshire Canal, the bed of which the Railway now occupies; but originally it crossed the line of the Canal and entered on Causewayend at the boundary of the Royalty, at the end of a house on which the word Causewayend is painted. This is at the lowest part of the street, where there was anciently a ford across the burn. Causewayend means the end of the made road which began at the Gallowgate and extended to the city boundary. Beyond this the road had long been left in its natural state. A causeyed road might be paved or shod with stones laid close and level by hand, or with small field stones and gravel laid down promiscuously.  Both ways were practised by the Romans in this country, as is seen in their roads along the Roman Wall. There is a Causewayend on the north side of the Don ; and "causeway," both in it and in the Aberdeen street, and also " calsay "in the name Calsayseat and "causey" in Causey of the Cowie Munth mean a shoeing of small stones laid down at random and covered with sand or gravel. Only the middle part of such roads was shod; there were at the sides broad bare strips called the ridges. "Causey" comes from Latin "calciare," to shoe, through French "chausser," having the same meaning. The burn crossed Causewayend and formed the boundary between the feus in Charles Street and Hutcheon Street, and it crossed George Street at No 466, where there is a low place in the street, now much made up. Here then used to be a Petty Customs Box where a tax was paid on provisions entering the town. West of George Street it received the Westburn and turned South. It crossed Hutcheon Street at the west side of the Meat Market, entering the Loch at its North-east corner.

Just who were they kidding in 1930's with this brute concrete and stanchioned Welfare House

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Last modified: 01/09/2013