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Old Wooden Bridges

Equestrians could manage fords fairly well when river and stream levels were moderate to low - though many a horse slipped and tumbled his mount to a concussed and watery fate even in low water. Algael deposit formed in warm weather, fed by nutrients, so that ford-paving became lethal.  For the pedestrian, too, fording was a potential hazard. In damp weather, stepping-stones and stone-slab 'clapper' bridges, wooden bridges or rope foot-bridges alike, became slippery.  In rainy weather, when rivers and tributary streams were full and the current strong, you took your chances with your life, mounted or on foot. Throughout Celtic folklore bridges are deemed perilous.

During the Middle Ages bridge building was a booming activity. Groups of piles, usually made of elm or oak were driven together into the soil. The pile hammer was a construction that allowed a heavy weight to fall on the top of the pile. Each pile wore a "pile shoe" tip made of iron. A group so hammered was called a "straddle" and atop as well as surrounding the straddle was a pile supported platform called a 'starling' which was filled with rubble before the pier and bridge deck were added.


In making the diversion of the Dee large oak beams were found beneath the surface at a depth of 9 feet. They were about 18 inches square, and 10 to 20 feet long, and they were fastened together by wooden trenails. They were found in the old spill-water, 200 yards or more below the Craiglug. The old ferry was a little below the Suspension Bridge, and these beams may have been a landing stage for the ancient ferry-boats. Farther down there were found large blocks of dressed sandstone, apparently the foundation of a bridge. The blocks were bevelled on one side and clamped together with iron. There was no certainty that the beams and. stones had any connection with one another. The stones might have been laid down in 1448, when the Town Council resolved to give £20 for 10 years to build a bridge, and employed Mr John Levingstone, vicar of Inverurie, to manage the work. Apparently the effort to construct a bridge then had not been successful.  In 1909 the remains of a wooden bridge were found near the head of Commercial Road, in making the trench for a sewer in South Market Street. Beams had been laid on stools either in the river or at the ends of the bridge.

RUTHRIESTON BURN BRIDGES (and the Pack Horse Bridge)

Ruthrieston Packhorse BridgeAfter the construction of the Bridge of Dee the south road turned up the river side on reaching the end of the Hardgate, and the mouth of the Ruthrieston Burn had to be crossed. For the convenience of travellers the Town Council provided a bridge for crossing the burn. Even while the building of the Bridge of Dee was in progress there seems to have been a bridge on the burn. The 6-inch Ordnance Survey map shows at the burn mouth :- " Plank Bridge, 15 2.3." Though it is very likely that there was a bridge even then, or at latest in 1527 when the Bridge of Dee was completed, the first bridge over the burn mentioned in books is one erected in 1541. There had been a flood in the river in the previous year, and some damage had been done to the Bridge of Dee; whereupon the Master of the Bridge Work was ordered to go and inspect the bridge and provide for its safety. Considerable repairs had been necessary, and a large quantity of materials had been provided. After the work was completed some things were left, which the Town Council thought might be utilised in erecting a bridge over the burn. It was found, however, that having been left unguarded these had been carried away. An entry in the Burgh Records, 7th March, 1541, says; -
The haill Counscll ordains the maistris of the brig wark to byo- ane bryg of tre (wood) our the Potburne on this side of the brig of Dee, and to gett and by al thing necessar thairfore and ordains him to cause raise ane gravatour (otiicer) to course (search) for all stuff' sic as lym, slanis, tymmer, and irn (iron) taken away fra the brig wark.

This would indicate that the bridge was to be sufficient for riders and foot passengers, and to be constructed by Building two walls of stone and lime at the sides of the burn to support logs of wood, upon which might be laid cross bars to form the roadway of the bridge. There is not a pot in the burn or in the river near the Burn mouth, but there was a marsh where the Skating Pond is. "Poll" in Gaelic means a marsh or a slow burn and perhaps the name should have been Pollburn.  In 1093 it had become necessary to erect a new bridge, and it was built of stone and lime, with three arches, at the expense of the Bridge of Dee Fund. The bridge is still standing though it has probably been much altered in the course of repairs at various times. Though no longer necessary since the formation of Holburn Street it is kept in repair as a memorial of antiquity. Having been erected at a time when wheeled conveyances were hardly known the bridge is very narrow and has no parapets now, though it may once have had. In the two spaces between the arches there are shields bearing coats-of-arms carved on blocks of sandstone ; but they are now so much defaced by stone throwing that it is quite impossible to make out anything on the shields or a letter of the inscriptions on the stones, though it is well-known what was once upon them. The bridge was completed in the Provostship of Robert Cruickshank of Banchory, and though he contributed nothing to the cost he presumptuously caused a stone bearing a shield with three boars' heads cut of' at the neck to be built into the east face of the bridge. These arms had been registered by some person of the name of Cruickshank and, though the Provost had no more right to take his neighbour's coat-of-arms than his coat of cloth, he, passed them off as his own. This might have been allowed to pass unnoticed; but Cruickshank made himself obnoxious to his fellow Councillors by getting himself elected Provost several years in succession, and by putting up his son-in-law as his successor in the office. In 1698 the hostile feeling of a majority of the Council was shewn hy the following entry in the Register of the Council : —

The council, finding that when the Bridge of Ruthrestoa was perfyted Robert Cruickshank of Banchorie, being then [1693-4] provost, he did clandistenly cause put up his armes in the said bridge without any act of councill, albeit he coutrabute nothing for building thereof, and that the same was begune and near ended in Provost Cochran's time [1691-2], and was builded on the money of the Bridge of Dee, doe therefore appoint the said Robert Cruickshank's armes to be taken down and to be given to him, he paying the pryce thereof, and appoints the Mr of Kirk Work to cause put up in the place where the said armes stood ane handsome cut stone with the following inscription thereon, viz : -

which means : —
The Town Council of Aberdeen caused this bridge to be built with moue}' from the Bridge of Dee Fund, 1693.

The Provost refused to pay anything for the stone, and Morayshire sandstone not being abundant in Aberdeen the inscription was carved on the inner end of the old stone, which was then turned outside in. The Provost long survived the affront, and the hostility to him having died out the Town Council of 1705 ordered the stone to be turned again to show the arms, and an inscription to be carved below them stating that Robert Cruickshank of Banchory was Provost when the bridge was built. This was done, and the stone now shows at the top a closed helmet with a mantling called a lambrequin thrown over it, a shield in the middle, and a place where there had once been an inscription beneath. In 1877, when by order of Miss Duthie of Ruthrieston the bridge was repaired and paved to preserve it from decay, an opportunity was given of inspecting the inner end of the stone and it was found to bear the inscription ordered by the Town Council in 1698.

In 1705 the Council also ordered another stone to be put up, bearing the same Latin inscription as had been put on the other stone in 1698. This second stone bears a shield supported by two animals which no doubt once represented the leopard cats of the Aberdeen Arms, but the stone is so defaced now that the resemblance to cats is not perceptible. Above the shield may be seen the end of a scroll which once bore the motto " Bon-Accord." The triple towers on the shield cannot be made out, and though there is a space below it where there had been an inscription it seems rather small for what the Town Council ordered to put on the stone. Probably the stone with the arms of Aberdeen had been built into the bridge at first, and only the inscription or part of it had been added in 1705. The bridge had been designed to be a showy piece of work. One of the three arches would have sufficed to let through all the water of both burns. When the Turnpike was made a bridge was built over the Ruthrieston burn. Its position is shown by the parapet wall on the lower side of the road. A fair used to be held annually at this bridge.


Paterson's map of Aberdeen, 1746, shows two bridges near the Justice Mills on the Hardgate — one over the Holburn or Ferryhill burn, called New Bridge, and another a few yards south over the lade going to Ferryhill Mill. The latter dates from 1667 (See Ferryhill Mill), and for a time it also had been called New Bridge. In all there had been three bridges of this name if maps can be trusted. Milne's map, 1789, shows the old Countessweil Road beginning at what is now Holburn Junction and crossing, first, the lade to the Upper Justice Mill and, secondly, the Holburn in Union Glen, farther up the burn than Holburn Street, by a bridge also called New Bridge which, therefore, must have been a later erection than the new bridge on the Hardgate. The upper part of the Countessweil Poad is now obliterated, but from Union Glen to Great Western Road it still exists under the name of Cuparstoune Pow. From this lane westward it coincided with what is now Great Western Road.

Milnes Map 1789

In the early part of last century Union Street was formed, but it did not extend farther west than Bon-Accord Crescent. The houses in Union Place — now part of Union Street — faced Justice Mill Lane on the south, and gardens and fields extended behind them to the north. In the early part of last century Union Street Road was extended to Holburn Junction, and thence a new road, now Holburn Street, was made by the Town Council to the Bridge of Dee. It crosses the Justice Mill lade, and, a little farther on, the Holbnrn by a bridge now called the South Bridge. Broomhill Road began at Fonthill Road, and when the new South Road was made to the Bridge of Dee it cut Broomhill Road diagonally. There was also a bridge over the Holburn near its mouth. This burn had to be crossed by those who crossed the Dee by the Craiglug Ferry. Recourse was had to the Bridge of Dee Fund for the means of erecting the Ferryhill Bridge. The ground near the mouth of this burn has been altered so much by the formation of the railway and the diversion of the Dee that its site could hardly be pointed out now.


Of the many bridges over the Denburn, the first mentioned is that at the west end of the Green, which gave entrance to the town from the south. It is said in the Chartulary of St Nicholas (II. 54) in the rental of the altar of the Virgin Mary in St Nicholas, drawn up in 1444, that John Stokar had lands in the Green beyond the bridge. The Green had at that time comprehended the level ground on both sides of the Denburn, above and below the bridge. The bridge is mentioned again (Chartulary, I. 161) in a charter about a hundred years later in elate, wh6re it is called the Bow Brig. Pow means a burn, and Pow Brig is the Burn Brig. This bridge seems to have been something in the style of the bridge now occupying its place. Probably it had been constructed by raising two piers of masonry at the sides of the burn and laying on them trunks of trees. In 1565 the Town Council resolved to have a new bridge with an arch of stone (Burgh Records, XXII. 458) but it does not seem to have been erected till about 1587, for in 1586 they resolved again to have a bridge of " estlair " (ashlar). This resolution seems to have been carried into effect. The following entry occurs in 1587 in the Accounts of the Master of Kirk and Bridge Works (Chartulary, II. ;!80) : —
" For berin of ane auld tre fra the bow brig to the Kirk quhairof I causit mak ane sett in the Kirk, xvj d." Here we have mention of the material of the old bridge and the bow or arch of the new. In 1610 another bridge, this time of two bows, was ordered to be constructed of outlier stones, that is of ice transported blocks projecting from the ground in the district round the town. The money was to be taken from the rents of the estate of Ardlair, which had been mortified for upholding the Bridge of Dee. Gordon's account of the city, 1661, shows that the bridge had actually been erected. Sir Samuel Forbes in his account of Aberdeen says that the bridge had three arches. This seems to be a mistake, for in 1746 the Town Council ordered the bridge of two arches to be removed. The central pier obstructed the flow of water, causing the burn to overflow in spates and flood the west end of the Green.

In 1747 the new bridge was built, and it was the Bow Brig often mentioned in the later records of the town. It had a wide span, and there were two pillars with lamps at the middle of the bridge. When the lower part of the Denburn was covered up in 1851 the bridge was useless, and it was removed ; but the stones of the arch were numbered and preserved, and they were afterwards used to form one of the arches under the footwalk on the east side of Union Terrace. One of the pillar s was preserved by Dr Alexander Walker and now stands in the rockery at the north end of the Terrace Garden. A chain hung on it suspends a fragment of the famous bell called Lowrie, smashed when the steeple of St Nicholas Church was burned in 1874. The covering up of the Denburn in 1851 also rendered unnecessary a wooden foot-bridge which crossed the burn at the end of Wapping Street, nearly in the line of Guild Street. When the Denburn Valley Junction Railway was made in 1867 the connection between Windmill Brae and the Green was obstructed and the present high level foot-bridge was erected, but traffic through the Green has been greatly diminished because horses and carts cannot pass that way.

In the century 1700 to 1800 several bridges were erected over the upper part of the Denburn. About the middle of the century Collie Bridge was built at the west end of Blackfriars Buildings. Skene Street was not then in existence, but when it was formed it came to this bridge. A continuation of the Hardgate went along the line of Summer Street, past Gilcomston Chapel, and crossed the Denburn by a bridge built in 1745 to give access to Gilcomston Mill. At that time Rubislaw Road occupied the place of Skene Street, but instead of holding on to Collie Bridge it turned down Skene Row and crossed the Denburn by a bridge at the upper end of Hardweird to reach the Mill of Gilcomston. This bridge was built by the Town Council in 1754. Summer Lane was the old name of Sammer Street. Summer represents the Gaelic word " sughmor " (gh silent), meaning wet.

Later than these came a small bridge at Mackie Place, still standing, giving access to pleasantly-situated residences on the north side of the burn below Esslemont Avenue. Farther up there was a farm steading called Stonyton on the north side of Rubislaw Road, where No. 42 Garden Place now is. A road from Stonyton crossed the Denburn by a bridge above Prince Arthur Street, called Stonyton J3ridge, and passing North Rubislaw Farm steading it joined the old Fountaunhall Road, now Desswood Place; but the old Fountainhall Road turned up Blenheim Place, past Fountainhall House. The Denburn is now covered at Stonyton. In 1758, the Town Council ordered the Denburn to be straightened. This was done and a level green was formed on the west side of the burn, to which access was given by two Chinese bridges of brick like the bridge of the willow-pattern plates, though this pattern was not designed till 1777. These bridges had no parapets and were reckoned somewhat dangerous ; therefore when they fell into decay they were not renewed, and a more substantial wooden bridge was erected at the foot of Mutton Brae. This gave access to the lower end of Skene Terrace. Denburn Terrace was " blind," having no thoroughfare at the south end; but boys sometimes took a near cut through a house which had doors in both sides, and passing along the terrace they reached Skene Terrace and Silver Street. When the railway was made in the valley the wooden bridge gave place to a girder bridge at a higher level and a little farther up. It, too, in its turn was removed to give place to Schoolhill Viaduct, completed in 1889. Rosemount Viaduct, which crosses the Denburn above Collie Bridge, was opened in 1888.

Loch Bridge

The mill-dam called the 'Loch' at one time covered the whole area of Loch Street and was too broad to be spanned by bridges ; but after its width was contracted and a road was made in the eastern margin of the dam, wooden bridges were erected at the end of John Street and and St Andrew Street. Houses were erected in the bed of the old loch, at the foot of the bank which hemmed in the mill-dam on the west, and these also had private bridges. When the dam was further contracted to three feet of width and covered up, these wooden bridges were unnecessary and were removed. At the outlet of the dam or Loch as it was usually called, though the Loch and the dam were entirely separate things, was the bridge called the Loch E'e, west of the end of Drum's Lane.

Millburn Bridge

There was a bridge also on the Millburn where it crossed Upperkirkgate. The port or town gate was on the east side of the bridge, the burn being then the boundary of the town. After driving the meal mill and the flour mill in Flourmill Brae the water crossed Netherkirkgate at the lowest part of the street, a few yards west of Wallace Neuk, and ran down on the west of Putachieside. Where the burn crossed Netherkirkgate there was the Little Bow Brig. The name would lead us to suppose that the bridge had an arch; but perhaps the bridge consisted of a long and broad stone, or two or three tree trunks resting upon dwarf walls of mason work at the sides of the burn. The bridge is mentioned in the Chartulary of St Nicholas (II. 393) in an entry of the Kirk and Bridge Work accounts of date June 3, 1593, which reads: — The 3 of July Alexr Cullen, Provest agreed with Andw. Jameson, messoue, for to repair the eist syd of the lytill bowbrig besyd the hospital (St Thomas's in tlie Netherkirkgate to find warkmanship and rociie stanis to the sam for tlie Biun of viii li.

Here we may observe that only one end of the bridge was in want of repair, and the work was to be done with rough stones, which would not have been suitable for an arch. The inhabitants of Aberdeen had not yet learned how to quarry and dress their native granite, though foreign granite outliers some centuries before had.  The " bow " been a real arch, sandstone and not rough stones must have been used. The burn was the eastern boundary of the property on which the Hospital of St Thomas was built (Chartulary, II. 137).

After crossing the area now covered by Union Street and the Market the Millburn was crossed by a small bridge, which the older citizens remember, on the south side of the Market. As the Nether Mill had ceased to be a meal mill and had been converted into a malt mill, the bridge was latterly called the Maut Mill Briggie. It site must have been in the top of Exchange Street, as it was in Fisher Row and the burn was on a line passing through the sites of the Commercial Bank in Union Street and the North of Scotland Bank in Exchange Street.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013