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Torry Point Battery Ferry Disaster 1876 New Torry Balnagask

Old or Nether Torry

Aberdeen 1756 by William Mosman from a panel painted above the fireplace of the Town Hall 'A perspective view from the South Side of Town and Harbour from Torry.'

The good folks of Torry witnessed a period of excitement, but with consternation in place of rejoicing. The Bar was at all times shallow and dangerous, for at the period we speak of there were only 2 feet of water on it at low water, and no more than 10 feet at neep tides. In 1637 "a great bed of sand was casten over it, mixed with marl, and clay, and stones, so that no ship could go out or come in, and at low water a man might have passed over, dry-footed, from the north shore to the bulwark. It amazed the haill people of Aberdeen, Burgh and land ; they fell to with fasting, praying, mourning, weeping, all day and night - this didn't shift it." Then they went out with spades and shovels, in great numbers, young and old, to cast down this frightful Bar, but all in vain, for as fast as they threw down at low water, it gathered again at full sea. Then the people gave it over, and became heartless, thinking our sea trade and salmon fishing was like to be gone, and noble Aberdeen brought to destruction, and hastily advertised the hail coast-side, south and north, of this accident, that none of their ships should approach the harbour. But while they are at the point of despair, the Lord, of his great mercy removed clean away the bar, and the water did keep its own course as before."

 

The mingling of the River Dee with the Denburn stream and the Powcreek Burn in such a wide estuary gave rise to many changes in the shape and distribution of the Inches as has been recorded at various times.  These would have been subject to the considerable changes in the flow of the River from Spates forcing their way through and scouring the channels to contrasting Droughts causing them and the Sandbar to silt up with the assistance of flow and ebb tides.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661


'New Aberdene' and the Blockhouse 1693

Here we have Aberdene from the south bank of the River Dee. We are looking northwest from a position just above the Torry Pier or Bulwark, constructed on the Torry shore in 1607 as a deep berth. New Aberdeen is on the left with the spires of St Nicholas Church (left) and Town House (centre left).  Old Aberdeen with Kings College and the twin spires of St Machar's Cathedral with its partially collapsed central tower is visible on the top right. The 'Blockhouse' Slezer mentions in his misnomer title for the drawing 'New Aberdene from the Blockhouse' is the central seemingly circular building (it was actually D Shaped) with a storehouse behind it standing in the centre on what was known then as the Sandness.  A Blockhouse is a small isolated fort consisting of a single building with a ported stone wall to seawards and housing Cannon and an Observation Tower. The later Torry Battery was constructed in 1860.

On the water are people in boats and also in a coble perhaps returning from the sea with its mast and sail stowed after a fishing trip.  Larger ships are moored off Pock Raw  and the Castlehill Shorelands.  Slezer's perspective seems adequately proportional in his recorded prospect.  Figures on the Torry Pier are of the same height as the large set of of 'transporter' wheels that we can see lying on the seaward ramped Quay Deck formed with piles and timbers in filled with rubble.  The substantial and ever shifting Dee Inches are evident and the pointing man with a staff is kilted.  Castlehill is well populated with buildings and a rampart and a Sail-less Windmill may be situated at Seamount and a sailed Windmill in the Langstane Place area. A further ship is berthed below what should be St Katherine’s Hill,  Salmon Fishers ply between the Inches Fishings (Raik and Sheil) with nets in the traditional manner and 4 women appear to be within a wattle pen or pond and may be storing live line caught fish or shellfish for market.  A ferry may be setting out from the shore to their right alongside the Blockhouse.

Slezers 'Aberdene' in High Resolution

Torry Pier
During the Medieval and early-modern periods, because Aberdeen’s Harbour was tidal and prone to silting up, large ocean-going vessels had to berth at Torry, or occasionally as far inland as Footdee.  Smaller vessels ferried their cargoes and men into Aberdeen.  This pier was planned in 1607, in order to facilitate these larger vessels. It was financed with money provided by Aberdeen Burgh Council as well as voluntary labour. The scheme was subject to several delays and difficulties, despite a tax of £4 per tun on all imports of wine to help finance the operation.  Work seems to have been completed around 1612, at a total cost of some £50 6s 8d. Work on the Pier remained ongoing during its history: in 1623-4, £33 8s 4d was spent in repair.  Later, in 1649-50, it was extended by 10 feet, at a cost of £18 6s 8d Scots.   Considerable rebuilding work was carried out at the Pier between 9 May and 8 September 1670, at a substantial cost of over £2000.  The pier was again repaired in 1707, partly with timber from a Dutch boat wrecked at Black Dog, north of Aberdeen. Eventually it was demolished in 1810, after the Harbour Engineer John Smeaton had questioned its usefulness in a report recommending a series of Harbour Improvements.  It ran from opposite Abercrombies Jetty to the Skates Nose

The interest of Torry was excited by a new undertaking on their side of the water. Nothing of consequence, until this time, had been done to improve the condition of the River mouth, which was narrow, shoaly, and dangerous. "During the usurpation of Oliver Cromwell, a mound was formed in the Harbour basin, which contracted it considerably on the side of the town," but in 1607 a long pier or bulwark was erected on the Torry shore opposite the Sandness of Futty. The inhabitants lent a willing hand to this undertaking, and a great bulwark of un-cemented stones and timber was built up. This work was no humdrum task, but a festival of labour, for the town pipers and drummers marched by the shore, and cheered the toiling crowd, and for once, at least, in those fierce old days, the drum beat and the war-pipe shrilled an advance along the paths of peace. From time to time this bulwark, ravaged by storms, needed repair. This pier stood by the Torry shore till about 1810, when it was entirely taken down. Baillie Skene, writing in 1685, says,-"that considerable bulwark the Magistrates of late years caused erect at the mouth of the southside of the river; extending up the shore such a great length; so that very great ships may enter and be safely preserved when they are in without hazard." Torry was more than a mere fishing village then, when the great vessels lay by its shore, and much loading and unloading was done on its Bulwark or Pier. However, when Smeaton, the great engineer, examined the River mouth, with a view to the improvement of the Harbour, he condemned the "Bulwark," as not only affording no protection, but being mischievous in abruptly meeting the storm-sweep from the north-east, and causing a recoil and disturbance along the Harbour Basin, while Rennie, the Harbour Engineer of that day, considered that the Torry bulwark led to increased disturbance in the harbour waters, and that its only advantage was to support capstans to pull in ships in westerly winds, and by narrowing the channel, to increase the sea-going river current, and thus aid in scouring the bar.

In 1637 the Rver Dee came down in spate, and drove from their moorings by the Torry Shore 4 vessels, one of which contained a body of Troops. A south-easterly gale was blowing which, catching the vessels as they were swept across the bar, drove them onto the sands. The soldiers on the Troop-ship were asleep when it struck, lying on heather in the ship's bottom. Awakened by the shock and the sea pouring in upon them in the darkness, a terrible scene ensued; a struggle for life with the pitiless sea, and, in the panic of the moment, their equally pitiless comrades. " Four score and twelve," the old record tells us, "were wanting, or drowned, or got away."


The subsequent building of the Bridge of Dee in the 1520s was probably instrumental in ensuring that Torry never developed as a Burgh of Barony. But the community continued to grow. In 1535 there is the name of Torry’s 1st pub, ‘Le Sandy Velle’.

The settlements of Nether Torry and Upper Torry can be seen on Parson James Gordon’s map of 1661. These formed part of a series of land-holdings stretching south as far as Cove which belonged to the Abbey of Arbroath from the 12th century until the Reformation of 1560. Nether Torry seems to have been the larger of the 2 settlements. In 1495 the Abbot received a charter from James IV erecting Torry into a Burgh of Barony, a means of assisting the development of services for travellers coming to Aberdeen from the south. The hamlets were composed of a number of different crofts.  By the late 18th century Nether Torry had begun to grow into what came to be known in more recent times as Old Torry. A moderate-sized settlement, named Torry Village, with a pier, can be discerned on Milne’s Map of 1789. Its location is very approximate, given the problems of reconciling 18th-century and later maps evidence as is the very approximate position of Medieval Nether Torry, derived from Parson Gordon’s map.

The fishing community of Old Torry was much reduced is size in 1871 when the course of the River Dee was diverted and much of the remainder of it was lost in the 1970s, as a result of oil-related harbour developments.

However, some streets, such as Abbey Road survive, at least in part. None of the standing buildings is earlier than the 19th century in date.  Cartographic sources show an ironworks occupying part of the development area from 1871 onwards.

Although the origin of the farmhouse at South Kirkhill, Balanagask is not exactly known, the familiar I-shaped central outbuildings which survive today, and the L-shaped farmhouse to the east, is depicted on Ordnance Survey Mapping of 1867 (Figure 2), although it is annotated with ‘East Kirkhill’, South Kirkhill being to the west of the present farmstead at that time, and North Kirkhill to the north-west; along with the Old Manse and the Old Chapel to the south-east. The present South Kirkhill is the only survivor of these farmsteads, the Old Manse being demolished in 1965, and the chapel already having long been abandoned by the time of the publication of the map.

Evidence from Ordnance Survey maps tends to suggest that the more easterly portion of the present site remained open ground for longer than the western end, although it should be borne in mind that the precise extent of Medieval Nether Torry can only be conjectured from earlier, less accurately drawn maps.  One small structure appears in the eastern part of the site on the 1901-3 Ordnance Survey map and it is not until the map of 1925-6 that the more easterly area is built up to a greater degree by the John Duthie’s Shipbuilding Yard. That business operated from 1904 until 1925.  

As land was swallowed up by the expansion of the city and as communication and access improved, formerly distinct settlements, which were also expanding, came within reach. Important among these was Torry.  Torry was granted a Royal Charter by King James IV in 1495, erecting it into a Burgh of Barony that could elect Baillies. The settlement developed from the late Medieval period as a fishing and industrial community. Torry Pier was used for the off-loading of lime and export of stone. Fishermen also served as pilots on the Dee. Torry and Girdleness played an important role in navigation and defence of Aberdeen’s Harbour. Stevenson’s lighthouse opened in 1833. Land access between Torry and Aberdeen was improved by the construction of the Samuel Browns 1829 Wellington Suspension Bridge and later Blyth’s 1881 Victoria bridge.  Torry existed as a separate town within Kincardineshire until it was incorporated with Old Aberdeen into the City of Aberdeen under legislation of 1891.

Torry is one of the oldest parts of Aberdeen with records showing that nearly 900 years ago it existed as a separate community.

The name Torry could arise from the Gaelic word torr meaning rounded hill or mound but some people believe it comes from the Gaelic torraidgh meaning thief or bandit. Torraidgh (now anglicised to Torry) Island off the north coast of Ireland was given that name as it was home to a band of infamous robbers.

Torry Capstan - Bucket dredger in the Navigation channel opposite the Lower Jetty and Pocra Quay

Torry, lying on the south bank of the River Dee, was once a Royal Burgh in its own right, having been erected a Burgh of Barony in 1495. It was incorporated into Aberdeen in 1891, after the construction of the Victoria Bridge, itself made possible by the 1871 channelling of the River Dee which had previously followed an unstable course to the sea. The channelling also enabled further expansion of the harbour.  The construction of a Bulwark at Torry helped deepen the entrance.  Torry is connected to the north bank of the Dee and the centre of Aberdeen then by three bridges.  Leading most directly to the centre of Torry, the Victoria Bridge was completed in 1887, following a ferry disaster in 1876 which claimed the lives of The Capstan32 people returning from a Festival. .  The bridge also has facilities for carrying water and gas services across the river. To the west of the Victoria Bridge lie the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge of 1983, and the narrow Wellington Suspension Bridge. This suspension bridge was designed by Captain Samuel Brown and opened in 1831, replacing the Craiglug Ferry. Refurbished in 1930, the Category A listed structure was closed to vehicular traffic in 1984 and to pedestrians in March 2002.
The Torry Ferry and Capstan (Inset)

A group of fishing smacks lying in the Old Torry Harbour, Aberdeen. On one of them at the end of the quay is A146.  The Navigation Light is in the centre. Open sea, to the left, beyond."  Artist - James McBey 1833-59

Most of the old fishermen's cottages of Old Torry have been swept away by 1st the re-channelling of the River Dee, then later by modern industry, particularly North Sea Oil at Torry Quay. Torry was also home to the Fisheries Research Laboratory in Victoria Road, as well as Craiginches Prison.

Old Torry Village From the late 12th century the Abbot of the Abbey of Arbroath was the feudal superior of the lands that included Torry. Initially Torry developed as 2 villages: Upper and Nether Torry. It was from Nether Torry that the village known as Old Torry developed in the late 18th and early 19th century. Much of this quaint old fishing town was lost in 1871 when the course of the River Dee was diverted. The remainder of the village was lost in the 1970s when the harbour and quay area expanded. Only 1 or 2 streets and a few houses are left from this village although none are dated earlier than the 19th century.

Mearns Quay -This overlies and probably incorporates the Torry Harbour Timber Quay, constructed in 1895 and extended in 1923 by the addition of a further timber quay. It was further extended in 1984 westwards into the River Dee Dock area through the addition of steel sheet piles. The site includes the underlying remains, the integral structure and some fixtures. This quay may overlie evidence of the settlements of Lower Torry and Old Torry Village. At present the Quay and the underlying archaeology appear to be intact

The famous engineer, Thomas Telford proposed the building of a South Breakwater in the early 19th century. It was completed by 1840,  making the entrance channel less susceptible to the effects of siltation and heavy seas.

New South Breakwater  This Breakwater was constructed between 1869 and 1874. It was much larger than the earlier Inner South Breakwater of Smeaton's and was made out of concrete. The Breakwater was designed to provide better facilities by sheltering the Navigation Channel from easterly weather.

 

Fishing Boats hauled up on what appears to be the 1871 new Dee channel course of the River Dee before the Victoria Bridge construction. Low rise living allows the Churches and Industry to dominate the skyline.  Castle Hill Barracks are top Right, Marischal Street runs down to the Harbour.  The Town House and North Church stands in isolation before new Marischal College and The Citadel stood proud.  North Church is dominant and Guild Street Station is on the left.  Albert Basin and the Fish Market have yet to be developed fully as indeed TorryPoint Law and Commercial Road in the mid picture.


Piers and Breakwaters

The limits of Aberdeen Harbour include the mouths of the Don and Dee, and the intermediate sea coast. The extension of the North Pier to the extent of 166 yards; a new pier or breakwater 420 yards south-east of the then existing breakwater, which had been erected under the superintendence of Telford; the improvement and deepening of the navigation channel along its whole length from the pier heads to a point 50 yards west of the lower jetty; the removal of 50 yards of the north end of the South Breakwater; the removal of Telford's South Pier on the River side; the improvement, deepening, and widening of a Navigation Channel between the Lower Jetty and the Dock-gates; the removal of 160 yards of the point of the Inches; the diversion of the Dee, beginning at Wellington Bridge and terminating 120 yards west of the lower jetty; the reclamation and hilling up of the old bed of the River Dee; and the widening of Trinity Quay east of Market Street.

THE NEW SOUTH BREAKWATER
The first work undertaken was the erection of the new South Breakwater, which was begun in July, 1869. As long as the work could be carried on without going under water the foundation was prepared by blasting, and the pier was formed of liquid concrete in frames; but when the work had to be carried on in the sea a staging was formed by means of tall Oregon spars which cost £55 each. So long as the foundation of the pier was on rock, iron shoes to receive the lower ends of the spars were bolted to the rock. The spars were set up vertically and fastened together by horizontal and diagonal bars. At the top of the spars, at ;!0 feet above the sea, a staging was erected with rails for wagons to convey blocks of concrete to be lowered into position. When deep water was reached, huge bags of concrete in a semi-liquid state were dropped into their proper places by means of a vessel having in its bottom hinged platforms which could be let down when four rods projecting upwards from the vessel came under other four projecting downwards from the staging. The upper part of the breakwater was formed of blocks of concrete mixed at Greyhope and conveyed on rails to the staging.

When the new breakwater had made some progress the stones of the old breakwater and the South Pier were used as "hearting." A railway was laid along the edge of the sea to the Bay of Nigg, where sand and gravel and loose stones were obtained to help to form the breakwater. Sand was also gathered from a quarry on the hill of Balnagask. The Work was carried on during summer only, and everything movable was removed during winter. The breakwater extends 1050 feet from high-water mark, and 700 feet from low- water mark of ordinary spring tides. It cost £78,000, an unusually large proportion of which went for preliminary expenses and works and purposes other than the cost of the materials used in construction and the wages of workmen employed at the breakwater.

When the breakwater was finished the spars of the staging were sawn off at the level of the top of the pier. Though they were of the finest quality of wood that could be obtained - such spars could not be obtained now - they did not last long, and only the upper parts remained sound. Large holes were bored in the spars with augers, and liquid cement was poured in to take the place of the decayed wood.

The new South Breakwater was built of concrete, and, like the Graving Dock, it has not altogether answered the expectations formed of it when it was designed. By the impact of stones dashed against it in storms by heavy waves great holes were broken out on the east side, and every year repairs were called for. The white streaks and spots on the west side show that water is passing through the pier and dissolving out the lime in the concrete. The water may come through from the east, side, driven into cracks by the tremendous waves which dash against it in storms, or it may percolate through from the top, which is often wet. In either case the loss of lime due to chemical reactions is tending to the disintegration of the breakwater. In 1887 repairs on the breakwater cost £1000.
 

Breakwater and Goliath - This structure was much larger than the Inner South Breakwater and is built of concrete.  A gale in 1937 tore a 100 foot gap in the Breakwater.  Repair work began in 1938, was stopped during the 2nd World War and resumed in 1954. At that time the Breakwater was widened. The works involved constructing 30 ton concrete blocks in a yard close to the Breakwater. These were loaded onto a Sentinel steam wagon by crane and transferred to a Titan crane, named ‘Goliath’. The completed Breakwater is 1050 feet in length and 35  feet in width.

Sentinel Waggon Works (1920) Ltd.
In 1920, after financial problems, the company was reorganized as Sentinel Waggon Works (1920) Ltd.  Sentinel, along with Foden, dominated the steam market, but the 1930s saw the demise of both companies' ranges as new legislation forced the development of lighter lorries, Sentinel surviving the longest.  In 1934 Sentinel launched a new and advanced steamer - the S type which had a single-acting 4-cylinder underfloor engine with longitudinal crankshaft and an overhead worm-drive axle. It was lighter and featured a modernized driver's cab with a set-back boiler and was available in 4, 6 and 8-wheel form, designated S4, S6 and S8. In spite of its sophisticated design, however, it could not compete with contemporary diesel trucks for all-round convenience and payload capacity, and was phased out in the late 1930s. It was not the end of Sentinel's involvement with steam, however; the company built about 100 "S" type vehicles for export to Argentina as late as 1950, for use by the Rio Turbio coal mine.  It has been stated that Sentinel were never paid for the last batch of the Rio Turbio production run. At least 2 of the Rio Turbio Waggons survive in Argentina to this day.

Aberdeen Bay affords safe anchorage with off-shore winds, but not with those from the N.E., E., and S.E.

On the Girdleness, the south point of the bay, a Lighthouse was built in 1833, in lat. 57o8' N., and long 2o3' W., with 2 fixed lights, one vertically below the other, and respectively 115 and 185 feet above mean tide.

There are also fixed leading lights to direct ships entering the Harbour at night. In fogs, a steam whistle near the lighthouse is sounded 10 seconds every minute - near the Harbour mouth are 3 batteries mounting 19 guns.



John Duthie, Torry Shipbuilding Co. Ltd

As the name suggests, the last Duthie shipyard was located in Torry. This business, run by John (son of Captain Alexander Duthie and grandson of old John) operated between 1904 and 1925.  John had been a partner at the Footdee yard but, in 1904, set up in partnership with his brother-in-law, Walter G Jameson, and John Fiddes, who had worked for the Footdee firm.  The drifter Choice, launched by Lord Provost Walker on 31 March 1904, was the first vessel built by the company. During its career, the yard's output consisted almost entirely of fishing vessels, many for north east owners. The yard did not build engines and these were often supplied by local companies, such as J Abernethy and Clyne Mitchell.  This yard was located at what became the Industrial Area of Old Torry, west of St Fittick's Road and bounded by Baxter Road and Abbey Road The yard did not build engines and these were often supplied by local companies, such as J Abernethy and Clyne Mitchell. Relatively little is known about the structures which occupied the site at that date.


Fishing

The completion of a new South Breakwater in 1874 on the south side of the River Dee, in the parish of Nigg, facing Aberdeen across the bay, was the 1st stage in the rise to prosperity of the small fishing village of Torry. Built of concrete blocks and extending 1000 feet seawards and close to the Girdleness Lighthouse, Torry harbour provided an ideal safe haven for fishermen, particularly the new trawlers, which began fishing from there in the 1870s.  The arrival of the 1st steam trawler in Torry, The Toiler, in 1882 signalled the end for the small line-fisherman and his sailing yawl. The line and herring fishermen of Torry and Footdee argued forcefully against the threat this new mode of fishing presented to their livelihoods and a Commission was set up in 1883 to consider their complaints, but the writing was on the wall and the Commission found in favour of trawl fishing.  Throughout the 1890s the Woods and many of the other fishing families from the fishing communities south of Aberdeen, moved up the coast to Torry. So many fisherfolk migrated to Torry during this time eager to take advantage of the new distant-water opportunities offered by steam that between 1881 and 1901, the population of Torry rose from 1117 to over 9300. It was due to the influx of these predominantly Episcopalian fishing families to Torry that St Peter's Scottish Episcopal Church was built in 1893.

In 1882, a Tyneside built tugboat, the Toiler, was converted for use as a trawler at Aberdeen. At this time, the fishing fleet was sail powered. The Toiler was so successful, bringing its crew over £200 for the 1st catch, that other boat owners took notice, and within 30 years, there were 230 steam trawlers based in Aberdeen. 

John Christie son of Andrew Christie sen., and Janet Wood, born in Skateraw in 1870 was one of the new breed of steam trawlermen. In 1892 he married Helen Wood (born in 1874) at St Nicholas Church, Torry, Aberdeen. Family tradition has it that on her wedding day, Helen Wood was waiting for the horse and cart to take her to the church at her brother George's house in Baker Street, Torry, but the transport went instead to Baker Street in Aberdeen, thus making her late for her wedding. The story goes that because of the mix-up they renamed Baker Street, Torry to Wood Street. Baker Street is on the 1891 Census records, possibly the fishermen's cottages on the left side of what is now Wood Street. John and Helen brought up a family of 14 at 32 Wood Street, Torry. George, Andrew, William, John, James, Peter, Thomas, Albert, Joseph, Annie, Bella, Janet, Helen and Mary. Seven of the nine boys became fishermen. James (b. 1902 - d. 1940) and John (b. 1897 - d. 1941) were killed by enemy action during WWII when their trawlers (the Kinclaven and Corennie respectively) were either torpedoed or sunk by a mine.

John and Helen died within months of each other in the upstairs bedroom at
11 Wood Street in 1950-51, across the road from where they 1st set up home almost 60 years earlier. By the time of their deaths in 1950-52 approximately 35 great line fishing boats sailed from Torry Dock. This was the generation of Torry fishermen who pioneered the great line-fishing on the banks at Faroe, Iceland, Greenland and Rockall. With a range as far as the Davis Straits, near Greenland, they could fish for larger, more commercial fish such as halibut as well as larger quantities of cod, skate and ling. By the mid 60s, however, the fleet had dwindled to only 4 'liners' fishing.

The introduction of a new way of catching fish by trawling necessitated the formation of a quay for the accommodation of the ships engaged in this industry, and a place for laying out the fish which they caught where they could be seen by purchasers. These were provided in Albert Basin, on the north side, in 1888.

About the same time sprang up the importation at Aberdeen of store cattle from Canada. For the accommodation of this trade a wharf was erected at Pocra Jetty in 1886, and wooden buildings were provided, in which to keep the cattle for a few days and afterwards dispose of them by auction. The sales were patronised by farmers from Aberdeen, Banff, and Kincardine and they brought an increase of revenue to the Harbour Board, but an apprehension arose that imported foreign cattle might bring into the country Infectious cattle diseases, which led to the prohibition of the importation of live cattle unless for slaughter at the port of landing. This rendered useless the Cattle Sheds and Auction Hall at Pocra, and they had to be removed.
 


In 1899 another Act was obtained increasing the borrowing powers to; £735,000, the additional £200,000 being needed for the following purposes mentioned in the Act : -

1. Enlargement and reconstruction of the Graving Dock, and the construction of a Pontoon Dock.
2. Deepening and dredging the Navigation Channel.
3. Deepening and dredging Albert Basin, the Tidal Harbour, Victoria Dock, and the Upper Dock.
4. Widening and reconstructing Regent Bridge.
5. Embanking and constructing wharves on the Dee.
6. Extension of Albert Quay on the south side of Albert Basin.
7. Improvement of Pocra Harbour and Point Law.
8. Construction of new quays and widening and strengthening existing quays.
9. Erection of goods sheds, workshops, and other buildings.
10. A new sea lock for the wet dock.
11. Electric supply for power and light.

RECENT IMPROVEMENTS
Under the powers conferred by the Act of 1899 the old Regent Bridge was removed and a new and wider bridge has taken its place, which is opened and closed by electric power. It was completed in 1905. Part of Point Law has been removed and a wharf has been erected on the north side of the channel of the Dee, on the south side of the point. Much dredging has been done between the dock gates and the pier heads. The sills of the two gates are 22 Feet and 26 feet, respectively, below high water, and the depth between the pier heads is now 29 feet. Sand and gravel and some shells, called Solen siliqua, are driven in during storms to a distance of 300 yards from the entrance, and they form a bar, which has to be removed by dredging.

Before the harbour improvements began in 1773, and even for many years after, the whole estuary of the Dee was covered at high water. This required such a volume of water that, as soon as the tide began to rise, the current of the river was arrested and the sea began to flow in, which ordinarily caused a scour in the Harbour mouth when it flowed out. This state of matters has been completely changed by the deepening and widening of the navigation channel and the formation of the wet dock and the embankment of the Inches. There is less influx of sea water at the bottom, and there is a steady flow outward of  the warm, light river-water at the surface at all states of the tide. When the tide begins to rise, sea-water gently comes along the bottom of the channel without arresting the outward flow of the River till Point Law is reached, where the depth of the river rapidly diminishes. Here the stream of sand and gravel incessantly rolling along the bed of the river is arrested and a bank is formed which must be removed by dredging, and there is now no scour in the navigation channel.

Foreseeing the necessity of enlarging the accommodation for shipping the Harbour Commissioners spent a large sum in the purchase of land on the south side of the Dee for the formation of new docks. The dimensions of ships are increasing, and they wish to deepen the entrance channel and some parts of the harbour to 30 feet. This requires more money and new powers, and they obtained a Provisional Order, titled the Aberdeen Harbour Order, 1907, authorising them to borrow £300,000 additional for the execution of new works, comprehending : - securing the foundations of the North Pier; improvement of the Upper Dock by deepening, reconstructing the quays, and extension southward ; widening Waterloo Quay and Provost Blaikie's Quay; removal of the Graving Dock; construction of floating docks; wharves at Point Law and Albert Quay; wharves at the Fish Market; docking of the Torry Bank of the River Dee; reconstruction of the harbour railways; the purchase of locomotive engines; and the purchase of land. When deepening the Navigation Channel by dredging began the first obstacle met with was loose boulders which had been dropped by the Dee glacier as it melted on entering the sea. These were lifted and removed, and dredging went on till another difficulty was encountered.  It was found that solid rock extends northward from the Torry side under the Channel. For a time it was possible to remove upstanding points and decayed parts of the rock by dredging, and a depth of 27 feet was obtained by this means; but the deeper the dredging was carried the further the rocky area was found to extend northward and eastward. It is at present known to extend 400 feet from east to west, and in some places nearly as far as to the North Pier. Beyond it rock is found at the depth of 100 feet under the beach.

The increasing size of ships coming to Aberdeen has made it desirable to attain a depth of 30 feet in the entrance channel of the harbour, and this cannot be got by dredging. Hitherto the removal of submarine rock in harbours has been done by boring a row of holes, charging them with explosives, and firing them off simultaneously by electricity. At Aberdeen another method of breaking up solid rock has been adopted. A small ship has been furnished with an iron cylinder weighing 26 tons, with a steel pointed head. This is raised vertically and dropped on the rock several times in succession on the same place. In a short time the rock is broken up to the depth of 3 feet and then the ship is shifted to another place. The apparatus does its work efficiently and economically, and after a depth of 30 feet is obtained all over the Channel an effort may be made to reach 33 feet.


Torry Brick and Tile Works -

This artwork may show the outline of the Torry Brickworks in the background

The Hexagonal Brickworks Smokestack being demolished in the manner of Fred Dibnah's technique by timber props and fire.

There were a number of Brick and Tile Works in Torry in the 19th century, all working at different times. The earliest one was established some time in the first half of the 19th century. These works were first mentioned when the lands of Torry Farm were being rouped in 1859. The clay was described as of ‘fine quality, and well situated for manufacturing purposes. The quality is ascertained by actual borings… There is a Brick and Tile Works already established.’ It is not known whether or not a second company was definitely formed after 1859: however, one was in existence as late as the early 1880s. In 1882 the City of Aberdeen Land Association planned to feu off part of their lands to establish a Brick Works and Mr John Hector, manager of the previous firm, was tipped to become manager of the new one. It was in 1883 that Seaton Brick and Tile Company moved from Seaton to Torry, to part of the area now covered by Crombie Road. The company utilised the seam of clay which runs down the east coast of Scotland. There were 2 Brick and Tile works at Seaton and one at Strabathie at Black Dog, north of Aberdeen, which all used clay from this seam.  According to Leadingham, commenting in 1902, The brick works were an extensive business, and employed a large number of men.  The supply of clay becoming scarce, the works were removed to the Black Dog, a few miles passed the Bridge of DonDemolition of the Torry Brickworks chimney was in the early 20th century,


Dolphins off Balnagask

The 2 leading lights at Torry were erected in 1842.  They mark the navigation channel into the harbour,  showing red when it is safe to enter and green when it is dangerous. The towers are constructed of cast iron.  For many years, there was a keeper of the lights who lived in a cottage next door to the western light. The western tower had to be relocated towards the end of the 19th century as harbour improvements altered the position of the safe navigation channel. The lights are now controlled from the Marine Operations Centre across the harbour at the base of the North Pier

 

The Oscar was one of Aberdeen’s whaling ships. It used to go to the oceans off Greenland to catch whales. It 1813 the Oscar hit the rocks off Girdleness, was holed, and 44 of the crew died in the shipwreck. Many people were sad because of this and wanted to remember those who died. Oscar Road is named after the wrecked ship.

 

 

 

 

 

 


St Fittick's Church

Legend and myth tells that St Fittick himself was thought to have been shipwrecked and scrambled to shore at the Bay of Nigg c. AD 650 to convert the locals, and refreshed himself at a spring, which became known as St Fittick’s Well

St Fittick in all likelihood never actually existed and is probably an amalgam of 2 different saints: St Fiacre and St Fotin.  The historical evidence is absolutely clear that there was a church here since the late 12th century.

The fact that the Church was then consecrated in the early 13th century suggests that it was a relatively new church (or possibly a newly built church on an older site, but given the general reorganisation of the church in the 12th century it is more likely that this was a new church in the late 12th century).  The Church of St Fittick is first mentioned in a charter of 1189-1199 which refers only to the 'ecclesiam de nig' (church of Nig). The standing structure may date from the 13th century although much of it was rebuilt in the early 18th century."

The church and lands were gifted by King William the Lion to the Abbot of Arbroath Abbey, and they Abbots remained the feudal superior of these lands until the Reformation in 1560.

' Tis a sweet little old ruin this old church with its simple but finely proportioned lines, its sharp east gable surmounted by the quaint belfry in which hangs a bell still rung at funerals "Sabata pango, Funra plango,"—"Sabbaths I proclaim, at Funerals I toll,"—says the legend on the bell. This Bell was made by John Mowatt, and Old Aberdeen Blacksmith, who had learnt the craft and mystery of bell-founding from the French bell-maker, Gelly, who, half a century before, sojourned several years in the Old Town, casting and re-casting many of the city bells. It is now over 140 years since it was hung in the little steeple, and many a curious crowd of red-cloaked and snowy-mutched woman it has drawn in the old days from the villages on the cliffs, from Downies and Burnbanks and Cove.

On the panels of a Memorial at Nigg Church in Kincorth are recorded the names and places of origin of those who fell in both World Wars. There are no references to ranks or units, only to Farms or Districts in the immediate area:-
Abbotswell, Altens, Burnbanks, Charleston, Cove Bay, Kincorth, Kirkhill, Kirkton, Leggart, Loirston, Parkhead and Tullos.
Names of the 1st World War fallen are on the upper part of the memorial with the 2nd World War casualties below.

'Doonies' Rare Breeds Farm covers 134 acres on the southern side of Aberdeen from Nigg Bay to Cove.  Doonies farm stands on the coast, just passed the old fishing village of Cove in Aberdeen, The City Council had ownership of the farm for some twenty years, until in 2008 budget cuts faced potential closure for the farm. Recently, the farm's manager of 15 years had taken over the business as "Doonies Ltd."

There were in the old days other industries by the St Fittick's or Nigg Bay that brought a livelihood to the people in the neighbourhood. 

There may still be seen on the north side, beside the hatcheries, the foundation of the buildings of the old salt pans, where salt was made from the sea water, and there were living in Torry old people who worked there.

Salt Pans
In the mid 18th century there was an attempt generally in Scotland to expand the manufacturing base of the country. This sea salt manufactory and refinery was established by Alexander Smith, a merchant from Old Aberdeen, in 1796. The process worked by evaporating sea water and collecting the salt which was left over. A number of houses and buildings were set up in 1797 in order to accommodate the process.  However the venture was not successful, the Minister of Nigg noting in the 1830s that it had failed some time ago. However Ogilvie, writing in the 1st years of the 20th century, noted that the bases of the buildings could still be seen.

Kelp Works
Like the salt pans, the kelp works was part of an attempt to diversifying the manufacturing base of Scotland. Kelp could be used for a number of different purposes. In the case of Aberdeen (Bay of Nigg) it was to be used in part of the production of soap. As early as 1728 John Gordon, a merchant from Aberdeen, had been collecting ‘sea ware’ in the Bay of Nigg and burning it in his nearby kilns. The Town Council objected to this because it encroached on the rights of those who lived there and collected the seaware for enriching their fields. On 8 March 1750, George Leslie, a merchant trading in Aberdeen, applied to Aberdeen Council for a warrant to cut and burn kelp. He wanted to undertake this work as part of what he described as his ‘Soapere’. In the early 1790s Dr David Cruden who ministered over a 100 years ago in the old St. Fittick's Church described the kelp business. He wrote: ‘The sea-ware, or bladder sucus, grows up in 3 years on the rocks around the Ness and Bay chiefly, to a condition for being cut, dried, and burned into kelp. In 1791, 11 tons, of a fine quality, were made by 33 women, mostly young women, at 8d per day, with the direction of an overseer were employed at the kelp-burning in the Bay.  Kelp, at this time, being worth about £20 a ton.  In the 1830s it was noted that kelp gathering for soap production had ceased the discovery of cheaper sources of the alkali's have long since rendered the business un-remunerative. 
Old Jessie - recalls "
the string o' cairts" she "minds windin' awa' the wye o' the Brig o' Dee wi' the last load o' kelp fae the Bye o' Nigg."  Young women still collected (possibly harvested, as a food stuff) a number of different kinds of kelp, namely dulce (Fucus palmatus), bladderlock (Fucus esculentus), and pepper dulce (Fucus pinnatifdus).

 

Bay o' Nigg 1934

The tradition of people from Aberdeen visiting the Torry area, in general, for leisure has a long history. It may stretch back to the 17th century but was still very much in evidence in the early 20th century and known as - "lets go to the Grumps" - a corruption of Grampians.

Many families would make day trips to the Bay o' Nigg and a number of shops existed there to serve their casual needs. Kettles and water were lugged to provide a brew of tea to support the picnic provisions and makeshift camp fires would be lit. 

The bairns could scramble over rocks and collect buckies and limpets, throw rocks or skipping stones into the sea and rample over the bleak terrain. 

By the middle of the 20th century this age-old practice was in decline due to better forms of entertainment, improved public parks and more convenient travelling facilities.

 

In 1898, the Fishery Board for Scotland founded a laboratory at the Bay of Nigg as it became clear that fish stocks would need to be monitored. (The present car park there is built over the original site).  Subsequently, in 1899, a hatchery was added. It had been designed and built in Norway, transported to Britain and erected on the site of a small fishery laboratory at Dunbar. However, the situation there proved unsatisfactory and the hatchery building was dismantled and transferred to the site at Nigg Bay.  A few years later in 1905, when Greyhope Road was extended around Girdleness and along the side of Nigg Bay, the Hatchery had to be re-sited to make way for the new road.  Following the 1914-18 War, in 1923, with the increasing importance of fishery problems, the staff from the Nigg Bay Establishment together with others housed in the old Post Office building in Market Street, moved into the newly purchased brick building in Wood Street.

A stream that drains the Tullos hollow enters the Bay about the middle of its bend. The Bay side road crosses the burn by a little bridge called the Bridge of Nigg, from which, ere the Railway Embankment intercepted the view, it was said one could see further up Deeside than from any neighbouring point.  Funeral processions from the villages along the cliffs to St. Fitticks Churchyard used to halt on the bridge, and, doffing their hats, the bearers would mop their brows. They did this because it was the custom, but the tired mourners little knew that this simple ceremony dated from the Roman Catholic days when an image of the Virgin stood by the bridge, to which the passers-by would uncover as they crossed.  The shore of the Bay itself is much changed within a generation. One who played by the old well when it was a simple spring issuing from a broad grassy bank now swept away, says, "How different the Bay looked when I was a boy. It was pure sand from the old salt pans round almost to the bothy, and fine small gravel higher up, which we used to get carted for our garden walks, and in those days of wooden ships there was mostly some wreckage drawn up on the beach. I remember going out in the salmon-fishers' cobles, and looking over the edge to the pure clean bottom. How it has all changed since the stones were taken away to make the South Breakwater."

The new Victoria bridge opened on 2 July 1881 at the cost of £25,000. A considerable expansion of Torry followed.

Torry Bar - Baxter Street gave magnificent views out over the navigation channel of the harbour from the corner Tower Windows and this would be a real tourist haven if it still survived - alas knocket doon - see old river frontage and navigation light below

Torry Free Church - Bank St and Sinclair Road

In 1843 the Church of Scotland experienced the Disruption. This resulted in a large number of people leaving the established church to form the Free Church. The issue at stake was that of Church patronage: whether or not town councils and other authorities had the right to nominate Ministers. The newly formed Free Church rejected the notion that ministers should be nominated by local authorities.  In 1843 the Presbytery of Aberdeen requested that Dr Spence, of St Clement’s Church, Footdee, consider creating a Free Church in Torry. Dr Spence acted quickly and by the end of the year a small wooden church was built, at the edge of the Dee, between Bank St and Pierhead. It cost a total of £40 to erect. Unfortunately there are no images of this building.  As the congregation increased there was a need for a larger church. This resulted in the building in the early 1860s of a stone Church on Sinclair Road. In turn the congregation eventually outgrew this Church and the move was made to a new Church on Victoria Road.  The old church on Sinclair Road was demolished in the 1970s when the Torry Harbour area was expanding.

Fore Chase - Old Torry

It was from Lower Torry that ‘old Torry’ village developed. Essentially it was a fisher community. Its houses mostly dated to the 19th century and included very characteristic narrow streets and forestairs, indicating that a house was split between those living down stairs and those upstairs.  Much of this quaint old fish town was lost in 1871 when the course of the River Dee was diverted. Paradoxically a lot of new ground was also created at that time. Much of the remainder of the village was lost in the 1970s when the harbour and quay area again expanded, this time with the oil trade. Only 1 or 2 streets (such as Abbey Road) and a few houses are left from old Torry,  although none are earlier than 19th century in date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Torry Dock 1960's. The granite building with the long bench in the background was known as "The Old Torry Houses of Parliament" It was a meeting place for the old fishermen of Old Torry for many decades. In reality it was a Public Convenience.

'There wis a burnie ca'ed the Struak ran doon oot o' far the Torry Brickworks cam to be, past Jessie Petrie's Public-House by the waterside.'  When the Dee was diverted to its present Channel in 1874 several skeletons were unearthed in the grounds of Jessie Petries Inn a Hostelry that stood at the foot of Ferry Road.  It is construed they were hidden there by Body Snatchers or Resurrectionists intent on delivering them to the Medical Doctors at the College for dissection.  It is assumed they had been removed from St Fittick's and buried in the Inn grounds pending further transportation which was frustrated. 

Torry’s 1st pub was ‘Le Sandy Velle’.

One old woman in Torry, approaching her century of life, when reminiscing of her early days, on the mention of St. Fittick's Well, the dull eyes gleamed for a little, as a flash of recognition lit up the worn old face. "I mind fine it was Jessie (Petrie's?) bairn, a thrivin' lassikie till it got amo' its teeth, an' sine it dwined and dwined and naething did it ony guid.  I dinna ken fa' put it in Jessie's heid, but ae meenlicht nicht she cut twa sheaves o' breid and put them in her breist, and took the bairnie and gaed awa' tae the Wallie at the Bay o' Nigg, and she weish the bairnie in the Wall, and syne she laid doon the breid tae the fairies and cam' awa hame, and fae that day the bairinie threeve and there are bairns o' that bairn in Torry the day."   Once started, this old lady gave many a glimpse of the customs and superstitions of the Torry of a 100 years ago. "We hid ither wyes o' curin' bairns and fouk fin I wis a lassie. I mysel' was the last wife in Torry to cure a bairn wi' unspoken water.

There wis a burnie ca'ed the Struak ran doon oot o' far the Brickworks cam to be, past Jessie Petrie's Public-House by the Waterside. The bairnie was wastin' awa' till a shadow, an' it couldna eat an' it wouldna sleep, but just murnt and murnt, an' its mither was sure the fairies had got at it.  So ae nicht I took a sma' pailie an' put a shillin' in't, and gaed awa' to the stroopy at the top o' the Struak an' let the water fae the stroopy run on the shillin', and if it turned heads up the trouble was in the bairn's head, but if it turned tails up it was in its system, but comin' or gaun I spak' tae naebody - for that's waht mak's unspoken water. I met twa or three lassies I kent an' they cried to me, but I said naething, and I met a lad I kent richt well, but I didna speak tae him; and I got hame and weish the bairn wi' the unspoken water and it got better. Did ye iver hear o' three times roon the crook?" She continued. "I min' on the wives i' my mither's hoose daein' that, when I was a bairn. They took three roon stanes fae the Bay o' Nigg, an they ca'ed ane the heid, anither they ca'ed the heart, and the ither ane wis the body, and they put them in the red fire, and the first stane that crackit was the pairt the trouble was in, and then the unweel body was carried three times roon the crook o' the big lum wi' the unwell pairt held next to the crook, an sometimes they got better an' sometimes they didna, jist the same as wi' the doctors noo-a-days."


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Last modified: 01/09/2013