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Bleaching Greens

Union Terrace Gardens

Sir John Cope, having missed the rebels in the north, entered the burgh on the 11th September with over two thousand men and encamped at the Dove Cot Brae, (where Union Terrace Gardens now are). 
The 'Doo Cott' is marked on several old maps including Parson Jacob Gordon's of 1661.

Jacob Gordon map of 1661
Union Terrace Gardens sits in the Denburn Valley, the lower part of which was historically known as Corbie Haugh To the east was Mutton Brae and to the west Dovecot Brae.   The land was then outside the built up area of the burgh and formed cultivated farmland.

Denburn, from Poynernook to Spa Street
Denburn Terrace, from Union Street Bridge to Skene Terrace

Alexander Milne map of 1789

By 1789, the land formed part of the Dovecot Croft or Doocat Croft on the west side of the Denburn.  In the 17th century this croft had been feued to the Findlater family In 1740, it was sold to Alexander Cushnie, farmer at Bridge Stone of Ferriehill. In 1758 it was acquired by John Leslie, Merchant and in the same year sold on to James Duff, Advocate on 23 August 1758.  Less than one year later, in 1759, James Duff sold the croft to Daniell Cargill, a merchant in Aberdeen and the then Master of the Kirk and Bridge Works. For the sum of £1300 Scots, Duff -“have sold, alienate & disponed to & in favours of the said Daniel Cargill & his successors in office, Masters of the said Kirk & Bridge Works of Aberdeen for the use and behoof of the bridge of Dee charges ......... All & whole that croft taill or piece of land called the Dovecott brae, comprehending and including also the Corbiebrae and the rigg of land at the foot of the brae ..... excepting and reserving the Dovecroft situate on the south end of the said brae ..... bounded as follows viz. having the road commonly called the Summer Road, lying on the north end of the Tenement of Land & yeard, sometime of the saids Mr John, Bessy, & Christian Finlaters, and Alexander Cushnie & now belonging to me the said James Duff at the south, the Croft sometime of Mr. George Bissett, and now of John Martine ffesher …… at the west, the croft sometime of Martine Howison, now of Robert Joyner Taylor in Aberdeen, called the Craigwall Croft at the north, and the foresaid burn called the Denburn at the east parts ..”

From the written description, the croft clearly comprises the low lying west bank of the Denburn, the wooded slopes to the west, and some cultivated ground bounding with the lands of the Hammermen’s ground. The buildings associated with the croft at the south end appear to be excluded from the sale.

John Wood Map of 1828

Something of the character of the area can be gleaned from the Lithographs which shows the Denburn valley looking south to the newly completed Union Bridge, the Bow Brig and the Green. An additional parcel of land was acquired from John Martin in March 1759. As the deed states,
“It is judged proper that the said Braes should be inclosed and Fenced, and a Hedge planted round on top of the same, But in executing the said Design, It is found Necessary to have two feet of the said John Martins Ridge all along the head of the said Braes. In order to plant a Hedge therein, and for digging, dressing and pruning the said Hedge.” 
The Town Council thus acquired a two foot strip of land along the top of the ridge of the wooded slope. In return, John Martin was granted the right to mow the grass in the “sunken terrace” and to carry it off though it was expressly forbidden for him “to carry in any beasts whatsoever within the Inclosure to eat pasture or feed on the Grass of the said sunk fences.”

1789 Survey Map - Alexander Milne

Illustration taken from a plate drawn by Sir John Carr, 1807 Showing the Bath House and Bleaching Grounds

The Denburn would seem to have been the most popular of these out-door “laundries” and  as recently as the 19th century, the side grassy verges of this stream - then flowing open through what is now Union Terrace Gardens and the Railway-line were the most favoured bleach-greens. Here, the demand for bleaching-space was particularly keen during February for then, after the winter’s snows, the sun’s rays were said to be purer and stronger than in any other month. In those days, Nature provided the only available whitener before chrorine  bleaches were introduced.

Daniel Cargill was an Officer of the Town Council and thus, by this disposition of 1759, the Dovecot Croft was now the property of the Town Council and comprised a low lying haugh (the Corbie Haugh) and a wooded slope leading up to what is now Union Terrace. The haugh was used as a public bleaching green. In the 19th century, the Burgh feued land to develop Union Terrace

During most of the 19th century, the haugh was in use as a bleaching green. The new proprietors of Union Terrace were granted a right of servitude and liberty for themselves and their tenants of walking in the wooded slopes and it was declared in their titles that the “plantation” should be used for that purpose alone and that no houses were to be built  between the Terrace and the Denburn. These conditions (which were laid down by the Town Council) increased the value of the Union Terrace feus.

In 1815 the plantation had fallen into a neglected state and the Town Council entered into a contract with the Union Terrace proprietors and the proprietors of Belmont Street by which the Belmont Street proprietors were granted a servitude and privilege of walking in the plantation in common with the Union Terrace proprietors. It was agreed that the plantation should be enclosed and that the proprietors should lay out the ground in a neat and proper manner with paths, planting and shrubberies and maintain it in all time coming as a pleasure ground for the proprietors. The costs were to be borne by the proprietors. It was further agreed that should the subjects again fall into a state of disrepair, the Town Council would have the power to take action and charge the proprietors accordingly. In 1871, the plantation did indeed fall into disrepair once more and the Council called upon the proprietors to undertake the work necessary to tidy the place up. However, a dispute arose between the proprietors and the Council and, as a consequence a 2nd contract was drawn up in 1872 by which it was agreed that, 
“with the view of preventing litigation and in order to obtain an amicable settlement of the questions which have arisen between the Council and the Proprietors, and in consideration of the counter obligations after mentioned et pro bono publico, it is contracted and agreed between the Council and Proprietors in manner underwritten. That is to say, on the one hand the Proprietors in consideration of the obligations hereby undertaken by the Council, agree in so far as they have a right so to do, for themselves individually and their successors in the respective subjects situated in Union Terrace, and the west side of Belmont Street after said, that the servitude and privilege or liberty of walking upon and using the said plantation of planted bank situated on the east side of Union Terrace aforesaid, shall from and after the date of delivery hereof, be shared and enjoyed by the Public along with the Proprietors under such regulations as may from time to time be fixed by the Council; and further, the Proprietors agree simul ac semel with the delivery hereof, to pay over to the Council as a contribution towards the necessary repairs required to be made on the said plantation and enclosures thereof, and towards the cost of a new laying out and improving its condition, the sum of £100.”

The Terrace provides a wide vista over the Denburn Valley worn out over the millenia by what was left of this once Glacial River and now its bed has been usurped by both the Railway and Roads and giving fine sight lines to the Churches of Belmont Street (Bell Mount).  Union Terrace Gardens was once an oasis of parkland and Civic pride but has fallen into disuse and yet further plans to create a massive development area which would confirm its burial as a unique glacial chasm in Aberdeen.  The Denburn had long since been placed in culverts and sewage drains and only occasionally surfaces in the back street areas of Rosemount.  The Union Bridge is a major Architectural feature as a single granite arch and was further widened with steelwork to increase the road width by adding new outer pavements.

This was once a pretty, natural, glacier-made dell; but it has suffered many changes from the hands of man. In 1758, the Denburn was straightened, and small cascades were formed at short intervals.

Brick arches were thrown across the burn and called Chinese Bridges from their resemblance to the bridge on the Willow Pattern plate. Having no parapets these bridges were unsafe and were removed.  To the left of the upper illustration a walkway Mutton Brae extended under Union Bridge to the Bow Bridge which linked the Green to Windmill Brae and the Hardgate.  May have been a sheep droving lane in its time.

Mary Slessor's Story
A Missionary in Calabar, Nigeria was Born in Aberdeen in 1848, at Mutton Brae.  Her father was a Souter (shoemaker) who earned little and spent much of his wages on drink. The family lived in a slum long since cleared away, and were always underfed. Of the 6 children few reached adulthood and Mary was the only 1 to survive into old age.  She worked as a weaver in Aberdeen and Dundee.

Back in the 17th century, the area where the Gardens now stand was a wood (Den) called Corbie Haugh. The ancient Scots word for crow is corbie and the wood was named after the crows which gathered in the grassy valley and within the bank of elm trees. The elm trees in the Gardens dated back over 250 years to that 17th century wood.  An ancient legend, The Curse of Corbie Haugh, holds that when the crows depart, the City will be ruined.  Tell that to the the urban Seagulls

In 1843 the Church of Scotland suffered a major upheaval with the Disruption, another split resulting mostly from arguments about patronage. In Aberdeen all 15 ministers seceded into the New Free Church together with most members of their congregations. Many Churches were then quickly erected including the iconic Triple Kirks with a central spire (of brick in a granite city) and three radiating naves for the Free East, Free South and Free West congregations.

Visiting merchants and traders left their horses and ponies to graze in the Corbie Haugh, content in the knowledge that the Blackfriars of Schoolhill had a grand view of the copse and any attempt to interfere with these beasts could be swiftly dealt with.  The east bank of the Denburn is dominated by the community of Mutton Brae.  A tiny hamlet with its own internal streets, shops and access to the 'Cathedral of the Disruption', i.e. the Triple Kirks,

Mutton Brae was the home of Mary Slessor, who would eventually become the beloved surrogate mother to many poor foreign orphans when she went to Calabar in West Africa as a Christian Missionary. Mary recalled her life in the shadow of the great Kirk and the swift-flowing Denburn; still in the open, the river was prone to spring floods, and had in its time destroyed Andrew Jamesone's double-arch 'Bow' bridge and the old Spa Well in its fury.  The banks of the Denburn were used by the folk of Mutton Brae, Denburn Terrace and Black's Buildings as bleach greens.  The drying poles were sometimes pulled down by the force of the flooding water on what Mary described as ‘fast days'.

The Denburn Gardens Project
Opened in 1879 the conveniently named Union Terrace Gardens are situated in the centre of the City. It covers 2.5 acres (10,000 m2) and is bordered on 4 sides by Union Street, Union Terrace, Denburn Road and at 1st a Footbridge later to be replaced by Rosemount Viaduct. The Park forms a natural amphitheatre located in the Denburn Valley and is an oasis of peace and calm in the City centre.   That is to say if you were oblivious to shunting steam trains and now the coasting Diesel Trains in what was more affectionately known as the Trainie Park. Perhaps soon to be the Trainie Park for cottaging activities.

This early proposal illustration dated 1869 shows the original 3 Free Kirks as fully intact. with the Foot-bridge extending off School Hill, the Woolmanhill with its Royal Infirmary and the specially Engineered Rail Tunnel passing beneath the street.  The Cowdrey Hall and Memorial have yet to be considered along with the Arts Gallery
The Royal Hotel is also absent as are the Central Library, St Pauls, and Her Majesty's Theatre.  An interesting record of what was and what was yet to be.


To access the bleach greens, the folk would cross the Mutton Brae footbridge down into the valley.  This is the bridge we concern ourselves with today - before the new Rosemount Viaduct was built, and even before Rosemount Place was laid out, the crossing over the railway was via this footway bridge.  Steel arches decorated with intricate wrought iron trellis panels carried the walkway down into the valley, but not over the river, there was another footbridge nearer the new Union Bridge for that purpose.  The Infirmary can be seen in the background and the entrance to the Railway tunnel by Mutton Brae.  The footbridge was made redundant, and was transported - in a curtailed form - to Duthie Park and there it remains today as a bridge over the ornamental ponds.

The old Denburn Road from Woolmanhill passed under the viaduct towards the Green and was close to the rear of the Triple Kirks built from the recycled Dee Village Bricks made by their occupants in Clayhills.  Adjacent are the old Schoolhill Station Platforms and in the distance the new C&A building dominates the skyline where the old Palace Hotel used to be.  To the right is the Union Terrace Gardens better known as the Trainie Park.  A long transition from the Bleaching Greens of the old Corbie Haugh.  A Gie Steep Brae for wheelin doon on yer bike on the way tae the shipyards or the harbour.


The Road to Nowhere - the urgency to demolish things for traffic reasons lead to this obliteration of the last vestiges of Mutton Brae to create the brief run of dual carriageway following the reduction in the railway line requirements. 

The valley is still under attack within site of Union Terrace Gardens and still provides route for a reduced railway, alongside the new Denburn Road which forms an underpass beneath Union Street to connect the north side of the city with the south.  How long before the 3 kirks spire is removed.


Milnes Map 1789

A recent proposal to build a three storey concrete and steel superstructure in place of the gardens, part of which will provide a commercial concourse, has proved highly controversial but now proceeds despite Public Opinion.

Brother Robert Burns was Initiated into Freemasonry on 4th July 1781 in St David Lodge, Tarbolton. He remained a committed Freemason for the rest of his tragically short life.  This sepia print of Brother Burns shows him wearing the regalia of Depute Master- as indicated by the collar jewel.. He was elected Depute Master of St James Lodge in 1784 and served in that capacity for 4 years.

The portrait was taken from the famous oil painting: 'Inauguration of Robert Burns as Poet Laureate of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, No.2, 1st March 1787' which hangs in the Grand Lodge of Scotland Museum and Library,

A number of Masonic Lodges call Aberdeen home: One has been housed in the Old Aberdeen Town House on High Street in Old Aberdeen since its construction in the late 18th century. The Lodge occupies the principal room of the building, which was possibly the original council chamber, that occupies most of the top floor of the building and is most notable for its coved ceiling.

Some eleven other Lodges, seven Royal Arch Chapters, and a number of other Orders in Freemasonry occupy the Masonic Temple at 85 Crown Street in Aberdeen, a building devoted entirely to Freemasonry. The building, which has three Lodge rooms, has richly ornamented interior spaces, including such features as the inlaid marble floor featuring the signs of the zodiac.

The Burns Statue depicts him addressing the modest Daisy and this was often stolen from his light grip by Student Revellers with a need for a memento of the bard.  The plinth surround gives access to the Union Terrace Gardens

Burns & Freemasonry

Burns came to 'Aberdeen, a lazy town,' 7 Sept. 1787

The only noticeable bridge within the city is Telford's Union Bridge, in the line of Union Street, over the Denburn (now the railway) Valley.

Besides three blind arches, one on the West and two on the East, it has an open arch of 132 feet span, with parapets 52 feet above the ground below, is 70 feet wide, with carriage-way of 21, and was constructed (1800-3) at a cost of £13,342.

Still a wooded Den it has seen many changes with the introduction of the Railway and a major trunk Road but remains an oasis of greenery in the Granite surrounds. It is a welcome retreat fro senior citizens and those who wish to sleep it off.  Civic pride was celebrated by Bands and Dancers showing their skills to a willing audience.  The Chimney stack in the distance is the Hadden Factory

Union Bridge before widening with the old pillar balustrades and the Palace Hotel ignominiously replaced by C&A's Store which itself is now accommodation of another sort in an attempt to restore living people to the Centre of an abandoned Aberdeen townscape.  The Northern Assurance Building on the diagonally opposite corner was built on the Site of the old Northern Club which was formerly the Townhouse of Lumsden of Belehelvie

At the NW corner of Union Bridge, in a circular recess, was Baron Marochetti's bronze seated statue of the Prince Consort, in field-marshal's uniform, the jack-boots very prominent. The figure is 6½ feet high, its pedestal of polished Peterhead granite 8: and it was unveiled in presence of Her Majesty, 13 Oct. 1863.- This has now been moved to grace the garden near the Central Library and replaced by a later granite statue of King Edward Vll which was originally meant to embellish the War Memorial.  A wee bit o' company for Wallace

Terrace upon Terrace upon Terrace such was the depth and width of this of this now surmountable chasm as a result of pioneering Civil Engineers such as Thomas Telford. The space is amply consumed by the railway with enough to spare for substantial municipal gardens and a train servicing Turntable. To say nothing of the the original Denburn Road which led up to Woolman Hill. Another local Rail Station was provided on the Rosemount Viaduct adjacent to HM Theatre but fell into disuse.

Union Terrace Gardens was known locally as the 'Trainie Park' with the steaming and shunting of passenger and goods trains.

St Marks - Rosemount Viaduct. In 1892 the congregation of the South Parish moved into the present building, designed by A Marshall Mackenzie and featuring a giant portico surmounted by a drum and high dome, modelled on St Paul's Cathedral. H M Theatre was yet to be built.  Initially the United Free South Church, nowadays St. Mark's Church. Part of the great 'Educatlon, Salvation, Damnatiori' trio,

Patagonian Court was just to the front right leading to Belmont Street and ships used to unload here when the river and tides would allow them navigation.  Known locally as the Trainie Park

Union Terrace Gardens

Edward of England rapidly advancing northwards, crossed the Dee and came to the Castle of Aberdeen where he tarried five days and then returned to the South, leaving a garrison at Aberdeen. It was then that William Wallace rallied the Scots and marched over the ground Edward had taken, retaking the strong places, among others Dunnottar, and then North by Torry to Aberdeen, where the Castle was garrisoned by English troops, and by the Torry shore lay many English ships, with men and supplies. The English set the town ablaze and fled to their ships, but the water could not save them from the indomitable Wallace. Manning every boat by the Torry, Futty and Aberdeen shores, he attacked the English in their ships, sweeping some of them clear of every living thing, while others, crippled and terror-struck, stood out to sea, and so once more the clash of arms, the shout of conflict, and a blazing town is witnessed from the Torry shore. By-and-by, in nine short years, Torry witnessed another passing of Wallace, not, alas, in martial panoply and flushed with victory over the invader, but a mangled limb hurried from a London scaffold to rot on the Justice Port of Aberdeen — but that surely could not be tolerated — when night fell on the city the limb was taken by patriots from the town gate and carried across the river to the old churchyard by the bay (St Fitticks), and tradition points to its South East corner as the spot where the dust is, in part, that of Scotland's Hero.

A colossal bronze statue of Sir William Wallace, 'returning defiant answer to the English ambassadors before the battle of Stirling Bridge,' was also meant to be erected in Castle Street having been chosen for its site in June 1880, and Mr John Steill, of Edinburgh, having left £4000 for the purpose.

A statue of the young Queen Victoria, by the late Alexander Brodie, of Aberdeen, was placed in 1866 at the junction of Union and St Nicholas Streets. Of white Sicilian marble, and 8½ feet high, it stands on a pedestal of polished Peterhead granite, 10½ feet more. This statue was removed and placed in the Town House due to deterioration in the Industrial Atmosphere and was later replaced by the Older Queen in Bronze. Now moved to Queens Cross

Caledonian Hotel -The Caledonian Hotel was built as the Grand Hotel and opened in 1892. White Kemnay granite was used for the construction in Italian Renaissance style architecture. The hotel changed its name in 1930 when a syndicate of local businessmen purchased it for £30,000. This was a bargain as it cost £80,000 to build in the first place. The Caledonian is rightly proud of its ability to attract the finest clientele, including politicians, film stars and Royalty. H.R.H. the Queen, Sir Anthony Eden and Clark Gable were all entertained at the Caledonian.

Denburn Valley

An important, but often unseen, water course of Aberdeen City, it is arguably from the Denburn that Aberdeen takes its name Aberden - ' the mouth of the Den'. It rises in the vicinity of Kingswells, 5 miles (8 km) west of the city centre and flows east , passing through the Den of Maidencraig and curving around the site of Woodend Hospital. It continues to the east, passing to the north of the Hill of Rubislaw, before entering a culvert in the Gilcomston area and continuing underground until it spills into the Upper Dock of Aberdeen Harbour near Trinity Quay, having completed course of 6 miles (9.5 km). The burn had carved out a steep little valley which now defines the topography of the centre of Aberdeen and supported industry such as bleaching-greens.
Work on the Denburn RailwayThe river had been culverted to make way for the Dee Valley Railway in the 1840s, which exploited the Denburn Valley to pass though the city centre.

The Bow Brig
For many centuries this bridge, which spanned the Denburn, was the main overland entrance to Aberdeen, and the Green, from the south. It was here that all royal and important visitors to Aberdeen were received and offered the ceremonial gifts and cup of Bon Accord. The date for the building of this bridge is uncertain. There is a  reference to a bridge here in 1453, although there had probably been one at this location from a much earlier time.   Bow Brig, in this sense, means an arched bridge. In 1610 the Burgh Council noted that the existing bridge’s arch was too narrow, so when the Denburn overflowed the narrowness of the bridge caused the surrounding land to be flooded.  So a double-bowed bridge was built.  The double-arched Bow Brig survived until the middle of the 18th century. The Denburn, however, continued to overflow,  and latterly this was being aggravated by the two bows of the bridge. Following a major flooding of the surrounding area on 4 October 1746, there was a public clamour for the Brig to be rebuilt with one arch. The new Brig was begun in 1747 to a design by the mason, John Jeans. The Bow Brig was finally removed in the 1860s to make way for the Denburn Valley Railway. At that time the arches of the Brig were taken to Union Terrace Gardens, where part of it was incorporated into the arches which support Union Terrace itself.

New Aberdeen Savings Bank, Union Terrace. designed by William Kelly, 1896. Aberdeen Savings Bank, Union Terrace, Aberdeen. Aberdeen Savings Bank was established in May 1815 'for receiving such small sums as may be saved from the earnings of tradesmen, mechanics, labourers, servants etc'.  As the bank became more successful they moved from premises in the Guestrow to a new building in Exchange Street. By the 1890's, the directors decided that a new site was necessary, especially as the population in the city was moving westwards. The design by the architect William Kelly, in 1894, showed the building that was to be constructed at the junction of Union Terrace and Diamond Street at a cost of £11,000. The design is of renaissance style, with the central entrance leading to an inner porch lined with red and grey granite, then a short flight of steps led to the main telling office. This office had a deeply panelled ceiling and dome partially filled with painted and decorated glass. Coats of Arms of the City and Lord Provosts were also displayed. The counter and desks were made of mahogany and oak with wrought iron and wrought copper grills. In the 1960's a large extension was built on an adjacent site, and in 1983 the bank became part of the Trustee Savings Bank in Scotland, and in 1999 became part of Lloyds TSB.

On the upper terrace of Union Terrace Gardens and beneath Robert Burns Statue (always short of his daisy) was the pastime of many a drunk spectator waiting for the pubs to re-open.  Auld Mannies playing war games with mere giant draughts (and nae a tammie among em Rab) - note the stacked pieces on the board denoting a potential winner.  Chess would have been more appropriate for the University City This terrace led to the public toilets by the Union St Bridge again a magnificent collection of Green Marble Divisions and surrounds with white glazed Shanks urinals.  The Gardens were well laid out in there day with floral representations of the Coat of Arms of the City and many a Pipe Band would march there and give Highland Dancing displays with nimble thigh flashing strappin' lassies showing dexterity of step between Swords.   Here's tae Tam o'  Shanter's observation of the Witches Reel  - Weel Done - Cutty Sark!.

Trainie Park in Steam Days

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Last modified: 01/09/2013