was developed after
when a town council meeting asked the Engineer
to find a way to connect the original steep, haphazard network of
of Aberdeen to the surrounding countryside. His plan was for two streets, one of
which would run from
Castlegate to the Denburn
and the other which would run from the
Castlegate to the North of the town.
The former became
This was a particularly difficult project to complete as the street had to cut
St Katherine's Hill
at the East end and be built on a
series of arches
culminating with a
at the Denburn. The street was to be lined with classical buildings, but the
initial idea of having a long, uniform classical design that each new house
would have to conform to was abandoned, as it was realised that different
purchasers would require some control over the design Some variety was therefore
Union Street is a much
tinkered with major street and
former shopping thoroughfare in Aberdeen.
It is easy to forget that
a full half-mile of Union Street, from the Adelphi to Diamond Street, is an
It was built, along with the adjoining King
Street, in the beginning of the 19th Century under plans suggested by
Charles Abercrombie to provide an impressive entrance way into the City, and
nearly bankrupted the city when it was built. Union Street in particular was
intended to provide an impressive approach into the city from the south (and
west); previously the route had been via somewhat tortuous wynds via the
Hardgate, Windmill Brae and the Green.
The street is approximately one mile long (0.8
miles) and a feat of Civil Engineering skill involving the partial levelling of
St. Catherine's Hill and the building of great arches to carry the street over
This picture is the taken
at the junction of Union Street with Market Street to the left and St Nicholas
Street to the right, Trams abound and a single decker Corporation bus provides
an alternative service for passengers. Polite signs guide the pedestrians
away from making perilous diagonal crossings. Montague Burtons graces the
corner at the top of Market Street. Sun Blinds allow clear vision into
shop windows and prevent goods deteriorating in UV light. Flat caps and
sandwich board men abound while cars enjoy greater freedoms. Seagulls have
yet to abandon the sea and become foraging pedestrians themselves. The
grand facade of the new Commercial Bank of Scotland dominates the corner
opposite the old queen with superb corinthian columns. A central lamp is
suspended above the centre of the intersection. Classic Dormer windows
indicate the on going use of Attics as living space. St Nicholas Lane is
just visible C1938
Below the arches of Union Street
are catacombs which have been sectioned off, just like the subterranean closes
in Edinburgh’s Old Town, or lock-ups under old railway arches. A great 'tattie'
store lay almost directly under the old Trinity Hall, 30 feet under the street –
there were also cold stores used by meat traders in the New Market – and in
1958, a newspaper article reported that spare parts for the plumbing system of
Balmoral Castle were still sitting in a plumber’s store, 100 years after the
pipe work was completed on Deeside.
The vaults are secure, their
temperature is stable, and they are close to the market – but changes in level
mean that modern forklift trucks and lorries are excluded, so that the 'tattie'
merchants must have humphed many thousands of bags of Kerr’s Pinks and Arran
Banner in and out on their ample Shoulders.
Today, the arches and nearby
streets host a variety of uses, including nightclubs. Buried in solid masonry
catacombs with good acoustics, the sound systems can be cranked right up without
offending anyone, and the only clue to their existence are the crocodiles of
party people who queue impatiently in the cold night air with little clothing to
The Denburn Valley was crossed by Union Street by
Union Bridge (constructed 1801–05), which has a single span arch of 130 feet
There are long-term plans to fully pedestrianise Union
Union Terrace to the Castlegate
In 1964 a food poisoning outbreak occurred, this
was due to the sale of contaminated meat from a shop (William Low & Co) which
was on Union Street. The disease was typhoid imported in a can of Corned Beef
from Argentina which had a split seam and had been cooled in foul river water. After
the food poisoning outbreak the food shop closed. The name of the report of the
government enquiry is the "Milne Report".
Early illustration of the completed bridge c1805
shows St Nicholas Kirk in the background with Belmont Street. The Blind
and open Arches are apparent with the latter to disappear behind new
construction work. The viewpoint would appear to be in the Crown Terrace area
overlooking the Windmill Brae entry to the Green over the Bow Bridge.
Babbie Law's - 1885 the lady licensee Babbie
Law left this spot which still bears her name.
Babbie Law's Corner was on Holburn Junction, looking towards
Alford Place (right) and Holburn Street (left), next to Holburn Central Church in
its original form (left), Babbie Law's Corner Sweet Shop (centre) and the
United Free Christ's College (right). Babbie Law's corner was redeveloped in 1885.
Alford Place. Designed by Thomas Mackenzie 1850. It was a building to
train ministers for the Free Church. Now occupied by "The College" bar (2007).
Castle street Tram at the Junction
We have traffic jams to thank for these pompously
posed, chest thrusting, stand to attention leopards who have their superior
majesty removed by the occasional cigarette end (a Tabbie for the cat) being
inserted in their tightly pursed bifurcated lips by thoughtful Aberdonian
Smokers. They sought to restore a more acceptable countenance on the
smug wee Corporate beasties. Sadly this is not recorded faithfully in
the image we have here but a sight of that inspired act of desecration will
make you LOL should you get the chance to witness or perform it.
The side of the Bridge that
was further extended to provide an arcade of shops and deny the southern
view to pedestrians had the Leopards and panels removed and these now grace
the the Winter Gardens in the Duthie Park. Little is known of the
master caster William Wilson of Monymusk,
Walking the Mat
- the favourite evening entertainment for Aberdonians in Temperance
Aberdeen where pubs closed all day on a Sunday was to walk out in your 'Sunday
Best' the full length of Union Street from end to end till it was last Bus Time
- (10.30pm on a Sunday)
Bunches of Girls and Lads would
link arms and walk the pavements flirting and laughing in the hope of catching
someone's 'eye'. Couples would also swank around on the street scene to be
seen on and do their Window Shopping and catch their joint images in the large
Glass Windows. A delight for wee bairn's to run in and out of couples hand
in hand and jink through the groups of lads and lassies and perfecting
skills worthy of a Rugby Player moving their centres of gravity and pivoting
shoulders to brush through tight gaps. One dodge was to ask for change of
a sixpence from the lads and they would hand you a pile of pennies to impress
their girl with their generosity and refuse the higher denomination coin.
One had to develop a good memory for faces so you didn't ask the same guy twice
and blow your scam.. This was clearly the streets busiest night for
pedestrians and not a pub, shop or cinema was open such was the grip of Church
and Temperance Societies.
As for ‘walking the mat’, the young people of
today would gasp in astonishment if you were to suggest such an unsophisticated
activity for a Sunday night. Some might say that one would more likely get a
mugging than a kiss from a bonny lassie.
increasing membership the meetings of the Association were transferred from the
Bon-Accord Session House to the Round Room of the Music Hall, and later
to rooms at 183a Union Street, where with commendable enterprise
programme development followed.
1873 the Association moved from the
Music Hall Buildings
to premises rented
at 183a Union Street where
rooms solely for
YMCA use could be used. In
1874, Messrs. Moody and Sankey paid
their first visit to Aberdeen, and the city was stirred by the revival. Mr
Moody directed attention to the importance of the YMCA and pleaded for its
receiving a far greater measure of public support. With this a movement was
started for the purchase of a suitable building in a prominent position, with
ample accommodation for the headquarters of the Association. It wasn't long
before the YMCA purchased 198
Union Street (pictured right) which it occupied and maintained a building on
that site until the
In October, 1923, a large gathering attended the official opening of the
new gymnasium situated behind the Hostel in Golden Square. In
1952, one of the members, James Shearer, after a period of training in London,
left for India to serve in the Mission to Lepers.
THE SECOND CENTRE -
Dee Place. The transfer of the Boys' Work to Dee Place in 1950
was an important event. A YMCA. Hut at Donibristle Air Station became available
and this was transported in section to ground acquired at Dee Place. This
commodious but was adapted as a boys' club with accommodation for gymnasium,
canteen, library, and recreation rooms. Included also was a Fellowship Room
presented by Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Gordon, in memory of his brother,
Douglas William Gordon, of The Gordon Highlanders, who was killed in action in
June, 1940. It was organised in the familiar house system, the boys being
grouped in four houses: Ythan, Morven, Cruder, and Ardo. The competitive
element between the houses stimulates interest in the various games and
activities. These include Physical Culture, Games, Woodwork, Music, Photography,
Stamp Collecting, First Aid, Camping, etc. After the War activities were
gradually restored to normal. During a period of seven years, George H.
Simpson (AKA 'Commie'), as Mr. Miller's successor, gave devoted leadership,
providing a well balanced programme with a spiritual purpose. Quiet and
unobtrusive in his leadership, he proved a friend and guide to the boys under
his care. In acquiring the Skene Terrace Halls as a permanent
headquarters for work among boys, a long cherished dream has been realised in
the provision of hall and rooms suitably equipped for extensive youth work. The
formal opening of the new Club on 11th October, 1958
The Union 1707
Uniting the kingdoms of
Scotland and England had been proposed for a 100 years before it
actually happened in 1707. From the day when James VI of Scotland and I
of England had been crowned it was expected that the parliaments would
eventually unite. Suspicion and mistrust between the two countries had
prevented the Union throughout the 17th century. The Scots feared that they
would simply become another region of England, being swallowed up as had
happened to Wales some four hundred years earlier. For England the fear
that the Scots may take sides with France and rekindle the 'Auld Alliance'
was decisive. England relied heavily on Scottish soldiers and to have them turn
and join ranks with the French would have been disastrous.
When the Darien Scheme collapsed and with Scotland in
financial chaos, William III played his hand and bribed the Scottish MPs,
Lords and Ladies with cash incentives. If they would vote to unite the
parliaments, then the king would give them some of their lost money back. Many
of the Scottish gentry jumped at this chance to recoup their losses.
An ill fated Merchant Adventure Expedition of 3 fleets of ships to
the mosquito infested Darian Isthmus near Panana (a new Caledonia?. Only a
handful survived the return journey. Scotland had paid a terrible price with
more than two thousand lives lost. Together with the loss of the £500,000 in
investments the Scottish economy was almost bankrupted. It has been argued that
the Darien Scheme crippled the country's economy to such an extent that it
triggered the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament and led to the 1707 Act
with England to create Great Britain. A
mere coincidence, or had the English insight and withdrawal from the scheme been
deliberately engineered to ensure its Scottish Investors failure?
Robert Burn's thoughts on the
Act of Union
Robert Burns reading his bitter but beautiful poem more often heard these days
as a folk song "Such a Parcel of Rogues" It derides those members of the
Parliament of Scotland who signed the
Act of Union with
1707, comparing their
treachery to the country with the tradition of martial valor and resistance
commonly associated with such historic figures as
Robert the Bruce and
William Wallace. It has continued to be associated with
Scottish Nationalism and also been referenced in other situations where
politicians' actions have gone against popular opinion.
Written in 1791, It contains the lines
'We're bought and
sold for English gold' -- Such a parcel of
rogues in a nation! echoing the sentiment that Scottish landowners, bankrupted
in part by the disastrous
Darien Scheme, sold out the Scottish nation for their own
financial gain. The melody and lyrics were published in
James Hogg's Jacobite Reliques of 1817 (no. 36). He also wrote in standard English, and
in these his political or civil commentary is often at its most blunt.
Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory!
Fareweel ev'n to the Scottish name.
Sae famed in martial story!
Now Sark rins over Salway sands,
An' Tweed rins to the ocean,
to mark where England 's province stands --
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
What force or guile could not subdue
Thro' many warlike ages
Is wrought now by a coward few
For hireling traitor's wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station;
But English gold has been our bane --
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
O, would, or I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour
I'll mak this declaration: -
'We're bought and sold for English gold'--
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
Barometers were manufactured by
Hay & Lyall
of 73 Union Street
In the 19th century when death amongst fishermen due to storms at sea was
considered an occupational hazard. One man set about improving the lot of the
fishermen and mariners generally by making provision for barometers to be sited
That man was Admiral Fitzroy who, acting as first head of the institution
we now know as the Meteorological Office, saw the need for a better
system of maritime weather forecasting. Not only did this benefit the fishermen
it also served to assist merchant shipping and the naval fleet of the day. It
would appear the Admiral persuaded government that such provision would
prevent loss of high numbers of men and boats at sea.
Reading a barometer allowed fishermen to forecast weather conditions in advance
of their setting sail. A significant drop in pressure would normally
bells and keep them ashore until the bad weather passed.
Did the fishermen take heed of this new device? - The available evidence
indicates that they usually did. Fishermen were skilled at predicting
the weather much of the time, however, when the unexpected happened loss of
life was the inevitable consequence.
Hay and Lyall
also of of
Marischal Street were
Carvers & Gilders (to the Queen)
John Hay formed his 1st
partnership with the photographer
George Washington Wilson, although this
slowly dissolved and
Hay co-founded the frame-making firm
Hay and Lyall some picture and
print dealers and frame makers, in
Market Street & Union Street, Aberdeen. The firm
provided frames for most Aberdonian artists in the second half of the 19th
John Hay from
& Lyall 1870s
to 1910s, Aberdeen. Picture
471-473 Union Street Adjacent to the Playhouse Cinema
If one thinks back to the Union Street of the
it was jam-packed with shoppers along its entire length every Saturday, as was
St Nicholas Street/George Street.
People dressed up to go ‘awa doon toon’, and you met everyone you knew in
Street. In that sense, Aberdeen really was a village.
The open-air markets in
were very much going concerns. Trams and Buses went all the way
and back again, via
The Castlegate, which served as the city’s main bus interchange, where you
nipped off one bus and on to another.
As a result, far more people had reason to go to the
than they do nowadays.
Union Street and St Nicholas Street/George Street
were full of
interesting, up-market shops: grocer
Andrew Collie &
at the corner of
Bon Accord Street;
& Grant’s department store;
toy shop, under
Woolworth’s, backing on to the
Falconer’s, Isaac Benzie’s,
the handsome and elegant old
Loch Street; the Rubber Shop.
Watt & Grant Ltd,
drapers, was incorporated in January
Its registered office was at
221 Union Street,
Aberdeen. It was open from 1882 until 1981
the corner of Dee Street and had a luncheon and tea room.
It was a subsidiary of the Scottish Drapery Corporation Ltd, a
management holding company, of Edinburgh. In September
Watt & Grant Ltd acquired the heritable property of
229 Union Street,
Aberdeen, belonging to
A & R Milne,
drapers. It was decided to continue trade in that shop under that name in order
to preserve goodwill. In September
the Scottish Drapery Corporation Ltd and its subsidiaries were acquired by House
of Fraser Ltd, department store retailers, of Glasgow. Watt & Grant Ltd was
wound up voluntarily in
Watt & Grant,
225 Union Street. "Three of these [cash] railways have been fitted up in
Edinburgh, two in Dundee, a number in Glasgow, but until just now there has been
none so far north as Aberdeen. The firm of Messrs Watt and Grant .. have been
the first to introduce the railway to Aberdeen. The special railway consists of
two lines of polished wood, the guage being 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 inches broad. Being
very light it is suspended from the roof by wires at such a height as to cause
no obstruction, and is rather an ornament than otherwise... There are 4
stations, or 5 if the cashier's desk is included. Two of them are placed at each
counter... The railway is now in full working order, and is well worthy of
E & M's - Esslemont and Macintosh were one of Aberdeen's oldest
department stores. It was founded in 1873 by Peter Esslemont, a
Lord Provost of the city and originally traded at premises on Broad Street.
The building to the right, No.s 26-30 Union Street were originally built
as offices for the Aberdeen newspaper, the Daily Free Press. When they
amalgamated with the Aberdeen Journal in 1924, Esslemont bought
the property. 32-38 Union Street was the home of Sangster and Henderson,
drapers and house furnishers. They went out of business in 1926 and
Esslemont and MacIntosh moved into this property, selling their property on
Broad Street to the Council.
It was a sad and sudden end for a store that had enjoyed a long history,
established in 1873 when Peter Esslemont and William Macintosh merged
their businesses into one. For over 130 years, the store had remained in the
ownership of the Esslemont family, the connection only ending when E&M was
to Owen & Owen
in 2005. At the time, company chairman Pauline Esslemont suggested that
“being within the Owen & Owen group will strengthen E&M’s position as the
pre-eminent department store in Aberdeen, highlighting the challenges that it
already faced as as an independent store within a competitive city centre. When
Owen & Owen fell into administration in March 2007, E&M was the only 1 of its
4 stores not to be saved.
John Falconer & Co
J FALCONER & CO ~ TEA ROOM OVAL BUILDING'S 5 UNION STREET
Falconer's was founded
by Alexander Falconer in Narrow Wynd in 1788, moving to
Queen Street in 1801 . It was inherited as John Falconer and Co
on his death in 1828 by 3 nephews. They moved to 23 Union Street.
In 1871 his nephew George became sole proprietor, whose son
William assumed that position in 1889. In 1871 the business
leased the ground floor of the Royal Hotel, part of the existing building at 65
Union Street and purchased the entire whole Royal Building in 1883.
Various enlargements added Ladies Outfitting and home furnishings and the
staff grew to about 80. The company traded until 1952 selling everything,
from kilts to afternoon teas, when the House of Fraser took over, keeping the
name until 1975. The store has been extensively enlarged and modernized
over the years, maintaining over 200 years of service.
Watt & Grant, Falconers, Esslemont & Mackintosh, Andrew Collie, Gordon & Smith,
Mitchell & Muil, Ledingham and Kennaway, had set up shop in Union Street, where
you could buy just about anything, from a side of beef to a bicycle
McMillans - 2nd Trinity Hall Building - William Stewart, became the
manager there at the start of the century, presumably retired in the 20s but
maybe later. His son, Douglas, was due to ‘succeed’ him but died in the 1930s.
William Murray, worked there during the 20s, maybe 30s, in the sports goods
section, but also died in the late 1950s. It was memorable for its
toy displays in the arcaded windows.
Silversmith - Henry Elkington, in the 1830s. It operated under the
name G. R. Elkington & Co. until 1842, when a 3rd partner,
Josiah Mason, joined the firm. It operated as Elkington, Mason, & Co.
until 1861, when the partnership with Mason was terminated. The
firm operated independently as Elkington & Co. from 1861 until 1963. It
was then taken over by British Silverware, Ltd.. In 1971 British
Silverware, Ltd. became a subsidiary of Delta Metal Co. Ltd.
On 6 & 7 May 1964, the Union Street William
Low Branch Delicatessen used a tin of Argentinean Corned Beef that had not
been fully processed correctly (the can seam wasn't sealed adequately and the
meat had been infected with Typhoid as it had been cooled using untreated
river water). Due to the fact that the meat was sliced using a universal
mechanical slicer which contaminated other meats. Approximately 500 people
were diagnosed in Aberdeen in 1964 with suspected Typhoid. Massive
public and domestic hygiene precautions came into play. William Low was never
successful in the City again with their branch closing in the City only 3 years
The disease was dubbed 'Typhoo' after the local popular tea brand such is the