The Doric Columns
The neighbourhood of Aberdeen
was originally so wild and barren that Telford expressed his surprise
that any class of men should ever have settled there. An immense shoulder of the
Grampian Mountains extends down to the sea-coast, where it terminates in a bold,
rude promontory. The country on either side of the Dee, which flows past the
town, was originally covered with innumerable granite blocks; one, called 'Craig Metellan', lying right in the
River's mouth, and forming, with the sand, an
almost effectual Bar to its Navigation. Although, in ancient times, a little
cultivable land lay immediately outside the town, the region beyond was as
sterile as it is possible for land to be in such a latitude.
"Beyond Futty," says an old writer, "lyes the fisher-boat heavne; and after that, towards the promontorie called Sandenesse, ther is to be seen a grosse bulk of a building, vaulted and flatted above (the Blockhous they call it), begun to be builded anno 1513, for guarding the entree of the harboree from pirats and algarads; and cannon wer planted ther for that purpose, or, at least, that from thence the motions of pirates might be tymouslie foreseen. This rough piece of work was finished anno 1542, in which yer lykewayes the mouth of the River Dee was locked with cheans of iron and masts of ships crossing the river, not to be opened bot at the citizens' pleasure.
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The Trade of the place continuing to increase, Mr. Rennie was called upon, in 1797, to examine and report upon the best means of improving the harbour, when he recommended the construction of floating docks upon the sandy flats called Footdee. Nothing was done at the time, as the scheme was very costly and considered beyond the available means of the locality. But the Magistrates kept the subject in mind; and when Mr. Telford made his report on the best means of improving the Harbour in 1801, he intimated that the inhabitants were ready to cooperate with the Government in rendering it capable of accommodating ships of war, as far as their circumstances would permit. In 1807, the South pier-head, built by Smeaton, was destroyed by a storm, and the time had arrived when something must be done, not only to improve but even to preserve the port. The Magistrates accordingly proceeded, in 1809, to rebuild the pier-head of cut granite, and at the same time they applied to Parliament for authority to carry out further improvements after the plan recommended by Mr. Thomas Telford; and the necessary powers were conferred in the following year. The new works comprehended a large extension of the wharfage accommodation, the construction of floating and graving docks, increased means of scouring the harbour and ensuring greater depth of water on the bar across the river's mouth, and the provision of a navigable communication between the Aberdeenshire Canal and the new harbour.
The extension of the North Pier was 1st proceeded with, under the superintendence of John Gibb, the Resident Engineer; and by the year 1811 the whole length of 300 additional feet had been completed. The beneficial effects of this extension were so apparent, that a general wish was expressed that it should be carried further; and it was eventually determined to extend the Pier 780 feet beyond Smeaton's head, by which not only was much deeper water secured, but vessels were better enabled to clear the Girdleness Point. This extension was successfully carried out by the end of the year 1812. A strong breakwater, about 800 feet long, was also run out from the South shore, leaving a space of about 250 feet as an entrance, thereby giving greater protection to the shipping in the harbour, while the contraction of the channel, by increasing the "scour," tended to give a much greater depth of water on the Bar. The outer head of the North Pier was seriously injured by the heavy storms of the 2 succeeding winters, which rendered it necessary to alter its formation to a very flat slope of about 5/1 all round the head.
New wharves were at the same time constructed inside the harbour; a new channel for the River Dee was excavated, which further enlarged the floating space and wharf accommodation; wet and dry docks were added; until at length the Quay berthage amounted to not less than 6290 feet, or nearly a 1.25 mile in length. By these combined improvements an additional extent of Quay room was obtained of about 4000 feet; an excellent tidal harbour was formed, in which, at spring tides, the depth of water is about 15 feet; while on the bar it was increased to about 19 feet. The prosperity of Aberdeen had meanwhile been advancing apace. The City had been greatly beautified and enlarged: shipbuilding had made rapid progress; Aberdeen Clippers became famous, and Aberdeen Merchants carried on a trade with all parts of the world; Manufactures of wool, cotton, flax, and iron were carried on with great success; its population rapidly increased; and, as a maritime city, Aberdeen took rank as the 3rd City in Scotland, the tonnage entering the port having increased from 50,000 tons in 1800 to about 300,000 in 1860.
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