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The Doric Columns


Upperkirkgate pre-dates George Street and St Nicholas Street in the medieval layout of the City and note the 2 distinct paths to the East and West churches of St Nicholas from the Upper Gate.  Flourmill Lane, leading from Netherkirkgate commemorates the site of the Royal Burgh of Aberdeen?s Upper Mill. The Mill, fed by the Mill Burn, stood nearby from the 13th Century until 1865. The Mill not only provided wheat, rye and malt for the Burgh but also revenue through the leasing arrangement.

This artwork by D R Alexander shows the already widened Schoolhill compared to the ascending narrowing width of the original Upperkirkgate determined by the Guestrow and Broad Street buildings.  The City Fathers had ambitious designs on this area with 1st the building of Reid and Pearson's at the bottom of Schoolhill then the complete demolition of the east side of Upperkirkgate and finally blocking off the former main northern thoroughfare of George Street completely with not 1 but 2 large Shopping Arcades.  Such freedoms are not normally extended to to the destruction of ancient town centre properties and streets in England, where 12th century Inns are given full respect and still exist.

Ach - Knocket doon!

Alexander Brown, a brisk, active, good-looking young fellow of 16, kept his eyes and his ears open to all the influences by which he was surrounded, and profited by them as he might have been expected to do at his age. Three years' service seems to have given him confidence in himself, and he then started business on his own account in a very humble way in a small shop on the north side of the Upperkirkgate, next to Drum's Lane, buying the stock of a Mr. Taylor. He opened this shop on June 7th, 1785, and the first entry in his Day Book is the sale of Guthrie's Grammar of Geography, price 7s. 6d.

Burgage Plots
No. 42 is the only remaining property on Upperkirkgate which retains the once-typical gable facing the street in the manner of the Medieval `Burgage'.

It is therefore a rare survival and a significant part of the streetscape. Burgage Plots still retained the need to  cultivate the backlands or 'backies' as they are still known within the Town.  They and generally related to the width of the property, with long plots running some distance from the back of the houses.

The original entrance to No 42 would have been from the East, either through a pend or, if separated from its neighbour, by way of a garden.



There were many such "courts", which led, by way of a "pend" for covered passage through the "tenement of foreland", or house on the street, to the former yards and gardens where the "tenements of inland and backland" were built. These courts were found in great profusion on the older streets of the Town: Gallowgate, Upperkirkgate, Netherkirkgate, North Street, Schoolhill etc, but the great majority of  them were swept away in slum-clearances in the later 19th century.

Ross's Court, 6-8 Upperkirkgate

Provost Robertson's House on the right c1739 with Coat of Arms above the Door and the Baronial Stair Tower above.  His bed linen gets both a bleaching and an airing.  The lodging was later to be developed for Aberdeen University Press in 1899.

Provost Alexander Robertson's House

This townhouse is a curious mixture of old and new buildings. It is generally said that the oldest elements dated from a town house built here in 1680 by George Leslie, Provost of Aberdeen from 1685 to 1687. The current building includes above its dormer windows carved stones form the 1680 house. One of the stones has George Leslie's initials and the initials CW, for his wife Christian Walker; they married in 1697. A final one bears a harp and the date 1680. The final relic of the 1680 house is a carved stone panel incorporating Leslie's Coat of Arms at 1rst floor level.

The house passed from Provost Leslie to his son James Leslie. James sold the property in 1705 to James Robertson, a merchant. James passed the property on to his son, Alexander, who went on to become Provost of Aberdeen between 1740 and 1741. Provost Robertson extended the house backwards in 1730. His work included the addition of a corbelled turret. The turret enclosed a staircase leading to a concealed chamber.

Alexander also added a carved stone bearing his name and that of his wife, Jean Strachan and the date 1730. This sits below another carved stone bearing Alexander's Coat of Arms. Although much weathered the central panel of these arms probably contained 3 'wolves' heads, over the motto `Robore et Sapore' (By strength and favour). At this period this was one of the most desirable and indeed fashionable residential areas in Aberdeen. Munro cites the following as having been immediate neighbours, Davidson of Cairnbrogie, Baillie Alexander, Irvine of Hilton and Cruickshank of Banchory (Munro, Landmarks of Auld Aberdeen, p.16).

Most of the old house was demolished in 1899 to make way for the building which we see today. The current building has a carved stone bearing the date of its erection, 1899. The 1899 building was erected by John Thomson and was built to house the printing business of Aberdeen University Press. The new building was designed by R G Wilson, Architect. Wilson and Thomson's building includes a reconstruction of the corbelled turret erected by Roberston and incorporates the original 1730 date stone, carved armorial panel and some fine sand stone moulding around the door to the house, situated at the bottom of its pend or court, known as Ross's Court.  The 1899 building also features ornamental door, at 1st floor level. This is modelled on the entrance to the Scots College in Paris. The door is flanked by pilasters and surmounted by a cornice.

Water was taken into the Medieval Town by a lead pipe following the Denburn to the Well of Spa. There it left the course of the burn and went up by Black's Buildings and along Schoolhill. At the east end of Schoolhill, on the south side of the street, it supplied a stone cistern well. Here the main pipe divided into two branches. One going south supplied a Cistern Well in Netherkirkgate at the head of Carnegie's Brae, opposite the end of Flourmill Lane. This Well is shown in "Scotia Depicta"  Descending Carnegie's Brae, the pipe supplied a Well in the Green, shown on Taylor's Map, 1773, and another at the Shore. The other branch ascended Upperkirkgate, and supplied a well in the Gallowgate and another in Broad Street in front of Greyfriars Church, where a reservoir or Water House was afterwards erected. There was another well near the south end of Broad Street, east side, and a large cistern well in Castlegate

A good example of late 18th century townhouse with ground floor shop in this part of Aberdeen. No.s 20 and 22 Upperkirkgate is a good example of the tall narrow townhouse with shops to the ground floor which are characteristic of 18th and 19th century Aberdeen. The pend would have provided access to the stairs to upper levels at the rear and side of the building

Andrew Begg's Footwear Shop
Alexander Begg, born in 1847, was the son of a farmer at New Deer in the heart of NE Scotland. He 'served his time' (his apprenticeship) and became a journeyman (time served tradesman) making shoes and boots with Queen Victoria's shoemaker at Ballater. In 1866 he decided to start a business of his own in New Pitsligo making boots, shoes and dancing pumps for the local population. He was a hard working man and had a son, Andrew (born 1877) to whom he taught his trade. 

Andrew, carried on the business at 54 High Street, New Pitsligo and developed a trade not just confined to the local area. The Large Bracket like Lugs at the top of Andrew Begg's Footwear Shop are Sundials in the past a large open Gallery was built between them. When Andrew finished university in 1979, the family put an ultimatum to him - work for the family business or find a job! Out of the blue a property in Aberdeen became available. At this point the property (built in 1696) at 24/26 Upperkirkgate, Aberdeen was bought and developed into the family business.

36-38 Upperkirkgate there was a Alexander McAslan & Co. Boot manufacturers and Pattisons at 34 Upperkirkgate.
Tylers Shoe Shop continued the tradition at the Corner of George Street

Milne and Munro Ltd., Boot and Shoemakers 7 George Street, and Holburn Place 1940

A now reversely constricted Upperkirkgate from the bottom of Schoolhill overlooking the narrow junction of old with Boots the Chemist on the St Nicholas Street corner and Tyler's shoe shop on the other. 

The shops appear to be closed for the widening of Upperkirkgate to match the prior re-widening of Schoolhill.  The Marischal College is masked slightly by surviving houses on Broad Street and the Guestrow all but cleared.

Upperkirkgate c.1950 prior to demolition in 1953. The building at the extreme right of the photograph is Reid and Pearson's. Behind the lorry were the premises of Charles Allardyce, Surgical Instrument Makers; next door was Joseph Sievwright, watchmaker; then A. B. Hutchison, bakers.

Kirkgate Court, Upperkirkgate.  John Farquhar and David Gill, Painters and Glaziers, bought adjacent land in 1828. Farquhar & Gill Colour Works operated until 1972Kirkgate Court is also known as Farquhar?s or Painter?s Court.

Drum's Lane, 28 Upperkirkgate
Robert Johnstone, 8 Drum Lane, Loch Street, Aberdeen, North British,- Soap Maker; for the invention of 'the use of certain portions of fish in the manufacture of soap'.

Drums Lane (East of Charles Court) at its junction with Loch Street. The Soup Kitchen was round the corner.

The same houses are quite recognisable

This commemorates the location of Lady Drum?s Hospital. In 1633 Marion Douglas, Lady Drum, mortified the sum of 3,000 merks for a commodious house for poor widows and aged virgins. Building began in 1671. By 1721, the house also accommodated daughters of Burgesses of Guild. In 1798 the area was redeveloped and Drum?s Lane was laid out.  Marion Douglas (1577-1633) , daughter of the Earl of Buchan, married Alexander Irvine, Laird of Drum, around 1590. The Irvines of Drum were an influential family in Aberdeen. Alexander Irvine gave money to Aberdeen University - the Drum Bursary. The new Mansion of Drum was built during their marriage, and Alexander Irvine and Marion Douglas' initials appear on one of the lintels. The couple had at least 3 children.  In 1323 William de Irwyn (whose name possible derived from origins in Irvine in Ayrshire) was appointed by Robert the Bruce to oversee the Royal Forest of Drum (where for many years the Kings of Scotland had come to hunt deer and wild boar) and granted the Barony of Drum, plus the 13th C Tower House you can still see in Deeside today. Many generations of Irvine's followed, with the heir usually being called Alexander.

Trial excavation in 1979 revealed evidence that the area was used for backland dumping and cultivation during the Medieval period. Two silver pennies of Edward I were found by workmen.  A trench here revealed a cess pit. It was sealed by post-medieval garden earth and may be medieval or early post-medieval in date. It yielded shell, bone and nut fragments but no pottery or datable finds.

The most important Treasure Trove of Aberdeen - indeed, the largest find of coins that has ever been made in Scotland - was the discovery of the locally celebrated "Bronze Pot" On the 31st May, 1886, workmen were busy excavating foundation works in the Upperkirkgate, when the foreman drove a pick into some hard substance that gave out a sharp metallic ring, and examination brought to light a bronze cauldron, from which, through the hole that the pick had made, a small stream of silver coins began to trickle forth. The treasure was, as usual, and, indeed, with great probability, set down as part of the pay chest of one of the English Armies that swept over the North of Scotland about the middle of the 14th century. The magnitude of the treasure quickly brought on the scene the officials of the Exchequer. and the pot and as many of the coins that could be taken possession of were deposited for examination to the Exchequer Offices, Edinburgh.  Altogether complete coins to the number of 12,1247 were recovered, and fragments of about 20 others, making in all 12,267.   

Clark's Court,         2 Upperkirkgate - East of Ross's Court at the end of Broad Street
Oliver's Court,       12 Upperkirkgate
Central Hall. 12 Upperkirkgate, David Reid. Proprietor
Burn Court, -14 Upperkirkgate in line with the Mill Burn
Boy's Hospital Crt  20? Upperkirkgate - East of Drums Lane led to the Hospital and was opposite the Guestrow
Farquhar's Court,17 Upperkirkgate - East of Boy's Hospital Court also known as Kirkgate or Painters Court
Ironmongers Court - East of Farquhar's Court
Ross's Court          - East of Ironmongers Court

Bourtie's Court,     19 Upperkirkgate
Painter's Court,     22 Upperkirkgate
Charles Court,     30 Upperkirkgate - East of Burn Court
Crown Court,         36 Upperkirkgate -
Wilsons Court       - East of Clarks Court
Lamond's Court,    49 Upperkirkgate
Jamieson's Court    South Side end of Guestrow block
Grants Close- Sth Side - 2 Houses up from George St

James Beattie's House stood in Crown Court at 36 Upperkirkgate, Aberdeen. It had an internal stone stair and some of the rooms were oak panelled. James Beattie was born in 1735 in Laurencekirk and in 1760 he was appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy at Marischal College. He died at this house on 18th August 1803 and was buried in St Nicholas Churchyard. His house became the home of an Advocate, but in the 1850-60's it was used by the Aberdeen General Dispensary, lying in an vaccine institution which supplied advice and medicines to the sick and poor. In more recent times, the area behind the Upperkirkgate was cleared and redeveloped as the Bon-Accord Shopping Centre - Aye - Knocket Doon

Ophthalmic Institution, for Diseases of the Eye, Crown Court, 36 Upperkirkgate (1853)

The Upperkirkgate Port - was the last of the 6 medieval town gateways to be demolished, sometime after 1794. It stood near the foot of the Upperkirkgate, just beyond No. 42, the gable-ended 17th century house which is still to be seen there now.  The original 6 ports ? solid walls pierced by gateways ? had become an obstruction to the flow of traffic, having been in existence from the first half of the 15th centuryMr George Cadenhead in his "Sketch of the Territorial History of the Burgh of Aberdeen '* (1878), says the Upperkirkgate Port was near the foot of Upperkirkgate, about the mouth of Burn Court probably level with the Mill Burn, and that the Ports in the town were removed in or about the year 1768, as being useless and obstructive to the streets. This date is incorrect, so as it concerns the Upperkirkgate Port, for the following paragraph appears in the " Aberdeen Journal' of 30th June, 1794:-
"The workmen have now finished pulling down the Upperkirkgate Port. The room over the Port was used as a state prison in the beginning and middle of last century, and Mr Samuel Rutherford, who was confined there (or non-conformity, in 1636 and 1637, calls it 'Christ's Palace in Aberdeen'.  A Mr Oswald, bookseller in the Poultry, London, a great admirer of Mr Rutherford', being  on a visit to his friends in Fife, about 40 years ago, came to Aberdeen for the sole purpose of seeing: it!"

The Upperkirkgate or Schoolhill Port was just within the Mill Burn which came down Burn Court, 60 yards west of Tannery Street. (now George Street) Kennedy's Annals says that before 1585 a gallery had been erected over the port, which communicated with the house adjoining the North end.  It has been supposed that Samuel Rutherford occupied this gallery during his banishment to Aberdeen, 1636-8, for his strict non-conforming Presbyterianism and severe Calvinism, but his letters written in Aberdeen contain nothing to bear out this supposition. "I am well. My prison is a Palace to me, and Christ?s banqueting-house"   Rutherford was an active man, always doing good.  He wrote many books and helped prepare the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Yet his life was involved in much suffering. In addition to the persecution and banishment he endured, he mourned the loss all but one of his seven children, who died before him.  His beloved wife also preceded him in death, after a long and painful illness.  When wheeled conveyances came into general use the ports were found to be an inconvenience, and in 1798 the Upperkirkgate Port with its Gallery was purchased by the City for £140 and promptly demolished.  Ach - Knocket Doon

The Aberdeen Students Union formerly the Henry Gray's Drapery and Emporium

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Last modified: 01/09/2013