The Doric Columns
No Mean Streets
The River Don and the River Dee flow into the North Sea about two miles apart. Over the past 1500 years the area between them has slowly been developed into Scotland's 3rd City, Aberdeen.
The original settlement, often referred to as Aberdon, lay at the northern end of today's city, on the South bank of the River Don. This probably existed in Roman times and stayed in use after Julius Agricola's army briefly passed through in AD 84.
By AD82 the Romans under Agricola controlled everything up to the line between the Rivers Forth and Clyde. AD83 saw the Romans press further north, now in the face of serious opposition from the native Caledonians. In one incident, Legio IX Hispana was attacked at night and only saved from disaster through the intervention of a large force of Roman cavalry. In AD84 the Romans pressed still further into Northern Scotland, trying to draw the main forces of the Caledonian leader Calgacus (the Swordsman) into open battle. The Caledonians, however, were intent on maintaining their hit-and-run tactics. But when Agricola's troops captured many of the storehouses holding the Caledonians' recently gathered harvest, Calgacus had to choose between fighting, or letting his people starve in the forthcoming winter. The final showdown occurred at the Battle of Mons Graupius, apparently in Autumn AD84.
Certainly there was a settlement here that was sacked and burned by marauding Danes in the 900s. This area is now better known as Old Aberdeen or Aulton ("Auld Toon").
It would be useless to attempt to trace the origin of the town of Aberdeen, as, in the total absence of records, nothing but conjecture could be offered. It seems likely, that, whether the present town can be identified with the ancient Devana or not, there would be at a very early period a village or fishing-station near the mouth of the Dee, and this may be supposed to have stood where the most ancient traces of inhabitation in Aberdeen have been found, viz. along the south and west sides of St Catherine's Hill, where the Shiprow and Putachieside now are. Hector Boece says that it was erected into a city by Gregory about the year 893, but of this no record has been preserved. The earliest document extant relating to the town is a charter by William, granted at Perth, the date of which is with probability supposed to be 1179, and from this time the rise of Aberdeen as a place of note may be dated.
It was David l who created "New Aberdeen" in 1136. This built upon an older settlement on the north bank of the River Dee and ought properly to have been called "Aberdee". It's been suggested that "Aberdeen" was a compromise that drew together the separate villages overlooking the Don and the Dee. Aberdeen grew quickly in size and in importance. It gained a Castle before the end of the 1100s, a leper house in 1197; a market in 1222, a Friary by 1240, a Grammar School by 1250, a 2nd Religious Community by 1270, and a hospital by 1300. Meanwhile, Old Aberdeen gained a Cathedral - St Machars from the 1130s. The city saw bad times as well as good. There were 2 serious fires in the 1200s. The Castle was destroyed, and its English defenders killed, by Robert the Bruce in 1308. Edward III badly damaged Aberdeen in 1336, and the black death arrived in 1350.
There is little antiquity in Scotland compared to English towns and this may be the the nature of its resident citizens to look forward and rebuild rather than preserve worthy and venerable structures and streets of old world charm - ach its auld - 'knocketdoon' and lets build a new ane!
Witness the wanton destruction of the Marischal College in the present day to replace what - St Nicholas a house a very forgettable piece of latter day Toll Booth Architecture that was an affront to the Universities magnificent facade. No doubt to become another useless abode for the Corporate Management of Aberdeen.
Names of the older streets in the town, viz. Castlegate, the Braidgate, the Overkirkgate, the Netherkirkgate, the Gallowgate, the Gaistraw, the Shipraw, the Rottenraw, the Dubbyraw, the Checkeraw, the Narrow-wynd, the Back-wynd, the Correction-wynd, Putachie's-side, and the Green.
. The urban pattern of central Aberdeen can be thought in terms of 3 main layers of intervention and development. The 1st layer is the Medieval - and primarily organic - pattern. In this layer, the streets are rarely straight and for the most part wound around to find the easiest paths and the shallowest gradients. The 2nd layer, characterised by long straight streets, is the series of major Georgian (and subsequently Victorian) interventions and developments of the 2nd half of the 18th century and through the 19th century. The 3rd layer, not shown on the above plan, is the series of 20th century changes and interventions. These were primarily about accommodating new demands such as mass car ownership and the need for efficient traffic circulation, the growth in the size of offices, businesses and public administration (and the demand for larger buildings to accommodate them) and changes in the pattern and nature of Retailing
At the close of the 18th Century, Aberdeen still looked much like a Medieval Burgh. A maze of crooked streets, low bridges, hilly terrain, and bleak unsettled landscape dominated a town that was little changed from James Gordon's 1661 Description of Bothe Touns of Aberdeene. The town was still perched between Gallowgate Hill, Castle Hill, and St. Katherine's Hill, a loose collection of narrow streets winding between 3 and 4 storey buildings with no clear gates or focal points beyond the old Mercat Cross that stood, at the Castlegate end of Broad Street. The Magistrates had long lamented the odd boundaries and crooked roads of the burgh and met with the surveyor Charles Abercrombie in 1794. This meeting was intended to provide an estimate for the creation of several possible new streets and ways in which access to the Harbour and Markets of Aberdeen could be eased, and the town be opened up to convenient travel from the South and further North.
Abercrombie's results, sent from Glasgow in December of 1794, laid out 3 options for the improvement of the town's streets.
Abercrombie's proposals for the North entry were substantially more modest. The existing road to the Bridge of Don through Old Aberdeen was universally considered to be of very poor quality, though Abercrombie thought that little cutting or banking would be required to guide a level road from the Mealmarket to the Don. As with the future Union Street, Abercrombie's future King Street was also intended to be built around, expanding new and regular streets on a grid around the initial incising lines from the Mercat Cross to the rivers that confined Aberdeen.
After some prompting on the part of the Town's Police Commissioners, the Council met and acted upon Abercrombie's recommendations. Plans were drawn up for proposed north and south entrances to Aberdeen, and funds were raised for purchasing properties that lay in the path of the new streets through the cluttered roofs of the old Town. Proposals to bridge the Denburn and design the streets and houses were submitted, and crews, Architects, and Engineers were employed to rejuvenate Aberdeen. This undertaking was put into motion without levying of any tax or other attempt to raise public funds, and construction proceeded slowly, and not without errors. Further, as Union Street grew, the town found that acquiring ground in the street's path became an expensive necessity. The Town's debts mounted as Union Street – expected to recoup its costs swiftly as with Edinburgh – remained something of a white elephant, and the Town's debts had reached a staggering £250,000 by 1817.
Though creditors were called in and trustees were appointed to safely keep the Town's ledgers, this situation did not last forever – within 7 years, Aberdeen was solvent again, its debts were paid, and Union Street became a defining feature, if not the defining feature, of the Granite City.
Less than 500 years ago, the only approaches to Aberdeen were, from the south and west by the Windmill Brae and the Green, and from the north by the Gallowgate, and the streets in general were inconvenient, from their narrowness and the badness of the pavement, which consisted mostly of irregular causeway or round stones. About the end of the last century, a street was opened from Broad Street to North Street, which facilitated the entrance from the north, as North Street runs along the foot of the Port Hill, over which the Gallowgate passes. Soon after, Marischal Street was opened from Castle Street to the Quay, and it was the first street in Aberdeen that was paved with dressed stones; but its steepness renders it inconvenient.
About the beginning of the 19th century, a turnpike road having been made to Inverurie, a new line of approach to the Town was obtained, by opening George Street, through the middle of what had in former times been a loch or pool of stagnant water. But the grand improvement of Aberdeen in this respect was not effected until several years later, when a new approach was made from the south by the opening of Union Street, and from the north by means of King Street, both of which are spacious streets, which pass right into the middle of the town, both opening into the Castle Street. It cannot be looked on as the least of the benefits which Aberdeen derived from the opening of these streets, that, in order to their formation, it was necessary to remove a considerable number of houses, which were huddled together in a manner that renders it difficult to conceive how the town could be ever free from pestilential disorders. In order to avoid the inconvenience and danger of the steep descent of the Windmill Brae, and the equally steep ascent of the Shiprow or Netherkirkgate, the hollow through which the Denburn flows was spanned by a magnificent bridge of 3 arches, one of which has a span of 132 feet, while the others (which are concealed by being built over) are of 50 feet each. Union Street, which is carried along this Bridge, is also carried over 2 of the old streets of the Town, viz. the Correction Wynd and Putachieside, [The intervening space till it reaches St Katherine's Hill, part of which was removed in opening the line, being tilled up by embankment, so that Union Street is considerably raised above the Green, which lies alongside of it.] and by the opening of St Nicholas Street, which connects it with George Street, the access is rendered easy and direct from the north into the centre of the town.
Name this Street - Blackfriars? A clue is in the background spire. Vintage cars even then with club badges! - A Rolls Canardly perhaps.
Sealed structural Windows remind of the Window Tax abolished by Peel in 1845
Aberdeen Journal " of 26th April, 1762: - " As there has been so many mistakes in some former newspapers as to the late Act for Window Tax, our readers may depend upon the exactness of the following account, viz.. 8, 9, 10 and 11 windows pay 1/- each, 12 and all above pay 1/6d each, with a 1/- as house duty for every house that contains 6 windows or lights and all upwards."
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