Old Aberdeen

Old Machar ~ Kirk of Kirktown
Aberdon ~ Old Aberdeen ~ Aulton

The Amalgamation of Old Aberdon (along with Torry Woodside) into the City of Aberdeen was in 1891.
Records of Old Aberdeen Vol-l (MCLVII-[MCMIII]) Printed for New Spalding Club
Records of Old Aberdeen Vol-ll (1498-1903)

(c) The University of Aberdeen; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Painting of Old Aberdon from the South-west showing Kings College, Firhill & the Powis Hermitage with St Machars Cathedral beyond.

OS Map 1868 Aberdeenshire LXXV.7 (Old Machar, North, West and Greyfriars)


‘enclosed with little Hills, pleasant corne fields, very fruitful, and with pastures mixed amongst the plowghed fields’ Parson Gordon
James Gordon – Map of Aberdeen 1661
On Graduating from King’s College in 1636, James Gordon became a Minister at Rothiemay in Aberdeenshire.  He is, however, remembered today as a Cartographer & Historian of considerable repute who assisted his father, Robert Gordon of Straloch, in producing Maps for John Blaeu’s famous multi-volume Atlas Novus.  His final Major Commission in 1661 was to create a Map of Aberdeen’s 2-Towns, for which the Town Council rewarded him with a Silver Cup, a Silk Hat, and “ane silk goun to his bed fellow“.  Great attention was lavished on his Alma Mater in the Old Town, compared with the Outline Sketch of Marischal College.

Early History Timeline
2ndC– Evidence of Tillydrone Mote, an early Wooden Defensive Structure, set in a barren, boggy Landscape covered in Gorse & Natural Scrubland.
6thC– According to popular Folklore, St Machar Establishes his Church on the Banks of the Don, having been instructed in a Vision to find a Site where a River bends like a Shepherd’s Crook.  Although most historians think that the evidence does not support the existence of St Machar, this Legend nevertheless has Cultural significance because it is so widely believed.
12thC– A Cathedral is Established on the Site where St Machar’s stands today.  The Chanonry is Laid out as a walled, Ecclesiastical Enclave, with St Peter’s Hospital & Kirk forming an Outpost on the ‘Spital’ Lands.  The Spine (which was the Primary Route between New & Old Aberdeen before the Construction of King Street) appears as the Main Route connecting New & Old Aberdeen and beyond.
• Early-14thC – Brig o’ Balgownie is Completed, a short distance upstream of the previous Ford.  A small Settlement Develops around the Turnpike River Crossing, which Spans the Black Neuk, a rich Salmon pool.  Throughout its History, the Bridge has been considered an important Asset.  For 5-Centuries possession of the Bridge was the only way to move large Armies quickly along the Eastern Coast of Aberdeenshire.  It also provided a Trade Route to the wealthy areas of the North-east of Scotland.  The Bridge dates from 1314-18 and was Built by Richard Cementarius, the King’s Master Mason and 1st Provost of Aberdeen It was extensively renovated in the early-17thC.  Constructed of Granite &
Sandstone, the Bridge consists of a Single Gothic Arch that Spans over 12M.  At Low Tide, the Apex of the Arch lies over 17M above the Waterline.
• Late 15thCBishop Elphinstone Establishes King’s College, making the University of Aberdeen Scotland’s 3rd and the UK’s 5th Oldest University.  Construction begins on King’s College & College Bounds is laid out shortly after as an Academic Enclave.  Old Aberdeen is Granted Burgh of Barony Status in 1489 with the Right to hold 2 Annual Fairs and a Weekly Market. The ‘Middle Toun’ Develops up around High Street as a Market Town.
16thC– Protestant Reformation slowly begins to make its presence felt in Old Aberdeen more gently than many other parts of the Country, with the Roman Catholic Churches & Canons’ Manses gradually falling into disrepair and some Buildings being converted to Secular Residential use.
View from Powis of Old Aberdeen – (Click Image to Enlarge).  Left is the Hermitage, then St Machar’s Cathedral and right stands Kings College University.

By the time of Gordon’s Plan in 1661, the Chanonry, Middle Toun, College & Spital were all very much in evidence, although the Town was still Distinct from New Aberdeen. It consisted of just a few Streets but would have been a bustling Market Town where  Traders, Clergymen, Students & Academics mixed together.  Thatched Cottages, packed tightly, lined the Road, with nothing but open Fields beyond their Lang Rig Gardens.  The Map shows Snow Kirk & Spital Kirk already in Ruins, evidence that the Protestant Reformation had made its Physical Mark on Old Aberdeen.  The growth of Industry, including Brick Production, Granite Yards & Stockings Making, brought prosperity to the Aulton, leading to the Construction of a number of Buildings combining both Granite & Seaton Brickwork.  By 1821 the combined Population of St Nicholas’ & St Machar’s Parishes stood at 44,796 with 41% living in St Machar’s Parish, which gives some idea of the relative importance of Old Aberdeen.  Throughout the 18th & 19thC, Older Buildings were gradually Demolished, rebuilt, remodelled & improved and the elegant Granite Townscape of Today began to take shape.  However, many retained the Medieval Burgage Plots with additional Buildings to the rear of the Plot being Constructed.
1902 OS Map of Old Aberdeen

81 High Street

Passing down to the Gated No.81 High Street, you meet on your right a handsome set-back Mansion House at this address Built c.1780, in the style of George Jaffray. It was the Town House of the Family of McLean of Coll – an Island Estate in the Inner Hebrides on the Western Seaboard. Their Links with Old Aberdeen probably originated from the habit, common among Highland Landowners, of sending their sons to King’s College. The House later belonged to the Rev Samuel Trail who worked as a Divinity Professor from 1867 to 1887. It remained in Trail Family possession until the 1970s. The walled Garden attached has Bricks made at Seaton Brickworks close to the Eastside of Old Aberdeen. Please note that access to the Grounds is not permitted.

The Manses of the Chanonry were progressively replaced by handsome Mansions for the Wealthy, and large Estates began to appear on the Lands around the Town, including Powis, Sunnybank & Seaton, each with their own Stately Villa.  The Maps produced in the mid-19thC show a Network of Closes & Courtyards.  The Town was beginning to expand laterally, away from its Principal Street.  The Construction of King Street and the New Bridge of Don (1827-30) effectively Bypassed Old Aberdeen & Brig o’ Balgownie, leaving it untouched.  This lack of Development pressure has resulted in the retention of many 18th & early 19thC Buildings that otherwise may have been Lost in the rapid Urban Expansion of the late 19th & 20thC.  The mid-19thC also saw the Northwards expansion of New Aberdeen to envelop Old Aberdeen, and a Series of new East-west Roads provided connections with these new neighbours.  Old Aberdeen was incorporated into the City of Aberdeen in 1891.

The queer name, Canny Sweet Pots, given to Pools of Freshwater at the Head of the Banstickie Burn, which was a Branch of the Tile Burn and within a ¼-mile of the Sea, conveys no meaning to an Englishman’s ear; but to a Highlandman the name suggests that there was a Primitive Settlement of Fisher Folk on the Burn, who were supplied with Water from Deep Pools at its Source. The name seems to be a compound of the Gaelic words “ceann,” head; “na,” of the; “suidhe,” settlement or residence, either temporary or permanent; and the Scotch word “Pots,” meaning Deep Pools of water.  We may infer from the name that here Landward People came in Winter when food grew scarce in the Interior, or that there was here a permanent Hamlet of Fisher Fowk.  On Parson Gordon’s Map, 1661, there is printed beside the Canny Sweet Pots:-
The River of Done is said credibly to have runn through the Loch of Canny Sweets Pott of old and thence to have turned the Streame Eastward, entering the Sea under the Broad Hill.
The nature of the Ground – red laminated Clay – renders this extremely unlikely. Formerly at High Water of Equinoctial Spring Tides, the Sea covered a large area at the Mouth of the Tile Burn, but it did not go far up the Banstickle Burn.  A Fisher Village at Canny Sweet Pots would have had a good claim to be called Aberdon.

Another place to which this name would have been very appropriate is the Ford Ferry below the Brig o’ Balgownie, for here before the Bridge was Built, all cattle & horses coming from the North to Aberdeen had to wade at the shallow place or swim at the deep and Foot Passengers had to be Boated across the Pool.  In the narrative of Sir Alexander Hay’s Mortification for upholding the Brig o’ Balgownie, 1605, its Erection is Ascribed to King Robert I and this may be received as evidence of the importance of this Passage over the Don.  The Aborigines of the place have left no Records for the Instruction of their Posterity.
Aberdon – AD 1100~1300
From about 1100 there had probably been a Church on or near the Site of the present St Machar Cathedral.  There must also have been a Priest’s Manse and a House for the Church Official, but likely no more.  From its situation near the Mouth of the Don the place had been called Aberdon, but perhaps there had been an older place of this name near the Mouth of the River.


Chaplaincy (Or Chanonry) Well stood at the Foot of the East Chanonry near its Junction with Don Street by the Chaplain’s Porte.  It disappeared in 1888 on the Introduction of improved distribution of the Water Supply.
About 1132 Aberdon became the See of a Bishop, and its Church became a Cathedral. This caused 2 separate Communities to spring up, one called the Chanonry, composed of Houses for Canons & other Ecclesiastics, round the Cathedral; and another a little farther off, of Houses for Labourers who tilled the Canons’ Ground, Built their Houses and supplied their wants.  At 1st there had been a desire to have in the Chanonry Houses of a humble sort which could be speedily erected rather than to have large well-Built Manses which would have taken years to erect. When affairs had been got into working order at the Cathedral and Wealth had increased additional Canons were Appointed from time to time.  More Residences for these were required and better Manses for those hurriedly Built at 1st.  There had not been the same reasons for improving the Hamlet of Aberdon and in process of time, it had come to look Old in comparison with the Chanonry Quarter.  It is impossible, however, to believe that it could have been called Old Aberdon within a few years of its 1st beginning and while it was still growing.  Throughout the 11th & 12thC, the name of the Cathedral Town remained Aberdon and there is no evidence that it was ever called Old Aberdon before 1300.

The question of the Origin of this Name has been perplexed by some Charters in the beginning of “Registrum Episcopatus Aberdonensis.”  Five of these the Editor of the Registrum and others have pronounced to be spurious; but of another, pretending to be a Bull of Pope Adrian IV. dated 1157, Cosmo Innes wrote:-
A Muniment which affords all the materials for testing its authenticity, and, submitted to all the tests, stands undeniably Authentic.” (Registrum, I. xix.)
If this Verdict cannot be upset it is impossible to read up the early History of Aberdon satisfactorily.  The same grounds for forming an opinion regarding the Bull are open to us as were to Cosmo Innes; and Arguments will be afterwards adduced to show that it is a palpable Forgery, the work of a man ignorant of the History of the Cathedral.  It must have been concocted after  1427.  In the meantime, it is asserted that the 1st 8 Documents in the Registrum are spurious.  In 5 of them, Aberdon is called “Vetus,” – (old).  Now, though the Documents are not genuine, their Authors would not have given the name “Vetus Aberdon” (Old Aberdon) to the Cathedral Town unless it had at some time borne the name, else their Forgeries would not have passed as Genuine.

18-19-21 Don Street – Litho by A J Gibb – Click Image to Enlarge

The Buildings on Don Street & Cottown of Balgownie are all important examples of 16th to 19thC vernacular Architecture.

The truth is that the City did bear this name in their time, but not at the dates assigned to the Documents.  The Cathedral is generally admitted to have been Founded in the 8th year of the Reign of David I, – 1132, and the Hamlet of Aberdon which gathered around it cannot be Older.  Yet the 5 Documents call it “Vetus,” old, at the age of 4, 23, 25, 31, & about 33 years respectively.
Aberdon could not have been called Old in 1157, the false date of Adrian’s Bull, which is the 3rd of the lot; but it was really called Old in 1446, and the Bull might have been concocted about this time but not before 1427.  There is some evidence that the Town was called “Old” before 1344. By that time the Cathedral itself had begun to Decay and in 1379 it was necessary to rebuild the Nave.  In 1392 the Chanonry is called “Canonia de Yeteri Aberdon,” the Chanonry of Old Aberdon; and “Canonia nostra de Aberdon,” our Chanonry of Aberdon (Registrum, I. 192-194).  It is only the Hamlet on the Eastside of Don Street and both sides of the High Street that is called Old – not the Chanonry.  At 1st, the Cathedral Church, the Bishop’s Palace & the Canons’ Manses had been very humble Buildings, and not enclosed with a Wall.  The Walls must have been of Clay, the Roofs of Divots covered with Heather or Thatch and the windows without glass; the 1st Church in Scotland to have glass windows at its Erection was Ladykirk, Built by James IV about 1500.  The Huts of the people finding Employment about the Cathedral could hardly have been worse than those of the Ecclesiastics.  When the Cathedral grew Rich and Officials increased in number the Ground belonging to the Bishop and Reserved for the Cathedral, the Churchyard, the Bishop & the Priests had been surrounded by a Wall, with Ports, to exclude Intruders; and this Enclosure formed the Chanonry.  Instead of mud-walled, turf-roofed, Huts, the Chanonry had been filled with what would have then been reckoned fine Buildings, with Walls of Stone & Lime and Roofs covered with thin Slabs of Sandstone.  The Old Walls of Houses & Gardens show that much well-dressed Sandstone had been brought from distant Quarries.  In 1240, when the Chanonry is 1st mentioned, there were 12 Canons, including the Bishop, and as they likely Built their Manses mostly with their own hands they might not all have been provided then with Manses inside the Chanonry.  By 1359 all had had Manses, Glebes, Offices & Gardens, and all these had been enclosed within a Wall.  In contrast to the Chanonry, the Hamlet on High Street was reckoned Old.  In 1446 it is called both Old Aberdene & Auld Aberdon in the same Document.  Towards the end of the 15thC, Aberdene is met with several times, showing that the Etymological distinction between Aberdon, the name of the Cathedral Town Aberdene, the name of the Royal Burgh, was beginning to be forgotten.  However, in the 2-Charters dated 1489 & 1498 Erecting Aberdon into a Burgh of Barony the distinction between the names is preserved.  The 1st mentions “the Chanonry of Aberdone with its pertinence commonly called the Auld Aberdone, “but it says” the Harbour of Aberdene.”  The 2nd is in the same tenure as the former, and it mentions “the Town of Abbirdone with its Bounds and Pertinents commonly called Auld Abbirdoin,” and “the Harbour of Abbirdeyn.”  About the close of the 15thC the names of the 2-Towns were usually spelt AberdoneAberdene.


We may assume that in the selection of a Site for the Cathedral of the Diocese of Aberdon a permanent supply of Potable Water had not been left out of the Account.  The Site of the Church is 50ft above the Sea and nearly as much above the Don.  Proximity to the River, therefore, had not been considered in the matter of drink, though it must have been thought of as a source of food in a Catholic Religious Establishment.   The nearest Supply of Water was the Loch, and the cradle of Aberdon had been planted near it.  A very high Antiquity is claimed for the 1st Church at Aberdon, many believing that a Church had been Built there by one of Columba’s Followers.

There is a Legend accounting for the selection of the Site of the Cathedral, but it is not worth repeating.  All that can be learned concerning St Machar has been gathered up and related in “Scottish Notes & Queries” by Dr Gammack and “The Diocesan Saints of Scotland” by the Rev George Cormack, but it does not carry the conviction that the Cathedral of Aberdeen was dedicated to St Machar.  The Gaelic word “machair” means a heugh, and the proximity of the Cathedral to a large, Fertile Heugh on the Southside of the Don had probably given rise to the Legend of St Machar.  The 1st Place of Worship at Aberdon might have been on the Heugh below the Cathedral.  There is not before 1170 any writing that can be relied upon in which St Machar is mentioned in connection with Aberdon or any evidence that there was a Church where the Cathedral is before the time of David I; yet proximity to the Loch affords a strong presumption that there had been a Settlement there soon after Columba’s time.  Then it was the Kirk of Kirktown dedicated to St Machar in a Village of 4-Ploughs.
Records of Old Aberdeen


The Bishops Palace & Prebend Lodgings – were Burned by the English in 1333 following the Burning of Aberdene over 6-days.  The Site of the Episcopal Palace rebuilt c.1459, the Original having been Destroyed in 1333 or 1336.  It was a Quadrangular Court with a Tower at each Corner and had a covered Passage to the Cathedral as well as a Back Close where the Offices, Dovecot etc stood.  The Orchard which lay between the Palace and the Chaplain’s Chambers remained at the end of the 19thC.  The remains of the Palace were removed in 1651 to provide material for the Erection of Fortifications on the Castlehill.  There is now no trace, the Site being occupied by Nursery Gardens.  This Building was formerly situated on top of a North-facing River Cliff at an altitude of about 19M.  An assessment took place in January 2002 prior to the Demolition of Dunbar Halls of Residence.  Evidence of 3-Ditches, 2 large Rubbish Pits & a Wall, probably the remains of the Old Aberdeen Bishop’s Palace, were uncovered.  The Building was Constructed of Ashlar Sandstone.  Very few finds were recovered, but they include window glass & shards of local Medieval Pottery.  A Stone Shaft within an Undercroft was discovered.  The Shaft may be a Well but could possibly be a ‘Bottle Dungeon‘, like that of St Andrews Castle, Fife.  Medieval Pottery & Roof Tiles were found in the fill.  The Building above was likely a 2 or more Storey structure.  Much of the Stonework was robbed in Antiquity.  Much of the area had been scarped during the Construction of Dunbar Halls in the 1960s, but a small pocket of undisturbed Ground included a substantial Basement within which a Well had been constructed.  The full extent of the Cellar was 5 x 5M and it survived to a depth of 2.2M.  The Well was 1.8 x 2M and was exposed to a depth of 1M.  The interpretation of this feature as a Bell Dungeon has been considered, but its Size & Construction make it more likely to have been a large Well serving the substantial Bishop’s Palace.  No dating evidence was recovered from the Structure, but a small number of Medieval Finds were recovered from the Backfill.
Girth Cross – Nothing is known relative to this Antiquity, than what is mentioned by the only Authority quoted which runs thus – This Cathedral had the Privilege of a Sanctuary, or Girth, and had a Girth-Cross, on the Bishop’s Dovecote Green which was a Sure Refuge for Manslayers, or such as had committed Slaughter by pure accident & misfortune, without any malice or design.


Dr William Guild. A strong Polemic & Ecclesiastical controversialist himself, he did not fail to have his detractors as well as his admirers.  Spalding indulges in some especially severe strictures upon him in his “Journal of the Troubles & Memorable Transactions of Scotland, from 1624 to 1645,” making a number of grave charges against him, more especially with regard to the Demolition of the Bishop’s House in Old Aberdeen, which, however, was the Doctor’s own Property, having been gifted to him by Charles I in 1641.  Alluding to this & other Acts of Dr Guild which he strongly condemned, Spalding says:-
John Forbes Thomas Mercer, by the tolerance of Dr Guild, Principal of Kings College, caused Masons to throw down to the ground the Bishop’s Dovecot (which indeed was Ruinous & Unprofitable), to be Stones to the Bigging of a Song-School, which by some was not thought to be Sacrilegious, but yet was Evil done as others thought.  In the same manner, he (Dr Guild), dang down the Walls of the Snow Kirk to Big the College Dykes.  Now he is Demolishing the Bishop’s House, pitiful & lamentable to behold; Kirks and Stately Buildings first casten down by Ruffians & Rascals, and next by Churchmen under colour of Religion.  Dr Guild at his own hand cause break down the great Oaken Joists within the Bishop’s House and transported them therefrae for reparation of the College.  Pitiful to see so glorious a building thus thrown down by dispiteful Soldiers, and then Demolished by Doctors of Divinity.”  Finally, Spalding adds: “Dr Guild goes on most maliciously and causes cast down the Stately Wall standing within the Bishop’s Close, curiously Builded with hewn Stones and took the Stones down to the College for such vain uses as he thought most expedient (such was the iniquity of the times), and break down the Ashler Work about the Turrets, raised the Pavement of the Hall and caused laid them down to lay the Floor of the Common School.”
All this may be highly objectionable in the eyes of many, but this at least can be said for Dr Guild, that he was not using the Old Buildings for his own private ends, but for the Benefit of the College; and it is only right to state that, after all his bitter denunciation, Spalding himself makes the apologetic admission “It is true this House, Yards & Precincts were given to him by the Estates whereof he might have made a more Godly use by Upholding rather than Demolishing the same.

Kings College & Old Aberdeen
The Town is pleasantly situated on a gentle eminence near the River Don, over which is an Ancient Picturesque Bridge of one lofty Arch, in the early Norman style, said to have been Built by Bishop Cheyne, though by others ascribed to King Robert Bruce, and concerning which, under the Appellation of the Brig o’ Balgownie, a traditionary Legend prophetic of its downfall is quoted by Lord Byron.  The Principal Street, which consists of Houses irregularly Built, extends from South to North, to the Town-house, where it diverges into 2-Branches, the one leading to the Cathedral, and the other to the Old Bridge; the Streets are Lighted, and the Inhabitants are well supplied with Water by Commissioners appointed by the Rate-payers. The environs are extremely pleasant & richly wooded, and in the immediate vicinity of the Town are numerous Villas.  On the Establishment of the See at this place, the Town was made a Burgh of Barony, by Charter of David I and the various Privileges conferred upon it by subsequent Sovereigns were confirmed by Charter of George I, who Granted the Inhabitants the power of choosing their own Magistrates.  The Government is vested, by Charter, in a Provost, 4 Baillies, a Treasurer & Council of 8-Merchant & 5 Trade-Burgesses, assisted by a Town-Clerk, Procurator-Fiscal and other Officers.
Old Aberdeen
Aberdeen the Old is situated a Mile to the North of the New Town, commonly called Bon-accord, it hath its Name from its Situation, being placed at the Mouth of the Water of Don.  The Name of the River sufficiently shows that the Picts who Inhabited this part of the Country were of a Scythian Descent, for the River which by the Latins is called Danubius, by the Germans is called Dunave, by the Polonians Dunaum, by the Turks Tuna, being of a very same Name with our Don.  The River is remarkable for the Multitude of SalmonPerches which are taken in it.  About ½-mile from Old Aberdeen it has a Bridge of 1-Single Arch, which is both large & stately, it is made up for the most part of square hewn Stone, both the Ends of it being fixed on Rocks.  By its crooked winding, it breaks the Force of the Stream, so that Nature itself, seems to have made way for its Situation.  A little below it the Don enters into the Sea.  Above the Bridge 2-miles, is a heap of Stone artificially Cast in the Mouth of the Channel for the easier Catching of the Salmon.  It is the Bishops Seat, and hath a Cathedral Church commonly called St Machars, of a large & stately Structure; being Built of hewn Stone by the several Bishops of that See.  It Anciently consisted of 2 Ranks of Stone Pillars, another Cross Church & 3 Turrets, the greatest of which, was the Steeple, which was set upon Four Pillars of Vaulted Works.  In the Church likewise was a Library, but about the Year 1560, it was almost wholly Destroyed so that the Ruines do now only remain.

Kings College Quadrangle

But the Chief Ornament of this Town is the King’s College, placed on the Southside of the Town, conspicuous beyond the rest of the Houses for the Neatness & Stateliness of its Structure.  ‘Tis Inferiour to no other College in Scotland.  One side of it is covered with Slate, the rest with Lead; the Church & Turret or Steeple are of hewn Stone.  The Windows were of old remarkable for painted Glass, and some Reliques of their Ancient Splendor do yet remain.  Here is a fine Monument of Bishop Elphinstone.  The Steeple besides others hath 2 Bells of an extraordinary Bigness.  The Top of it is vaulted with a double-cross Arch, above which is a King’s Crown, having 8 Corners upheld by as many Pillars of Stone, a round Globe of Stone with 2 gilded Crosses closing the Crown.  In the Year 1631 it was Overturned by a Storm, but shortly after was Built in a more stately Form.  It was begun by Bishop Forbes, continued by William Gourdon, Dr of Physick, and helped on by the largesses of several Noblemen and Gentlemen of that Country.  Close to the Church, there is a Library provided with many Books, much enriched by those which Dr Henry Scougal, Professor of Divinity there, and the Right Reverend Dr Patrick Scougal, Bishop of Aberdeen, his Father, did lately Bequeath to it.  This College was Founded by Bishop Elphinstone, Anno Dom 1500 and the greatest part of the Work was likewise built by him; but King James the IV assumed the Patronage of it to himself, whence it is called the King’s College.  In it, there is a Primar or Principal, a Professor of Theology, a Professor of the Civil Law, a Professor of Physick, a Sub-Principal, who is also a Professor of Philosophy, 3 other Philosophy Professors, and a Professor of the Languages.  This College & that in the New Town make up one University, called the University of King Charles. – Robert Sibbald 1641-1722.

In the Old Town of Aberdeen is King’s College, once a University by itself, but forming, since 1860, along with Marischal College in the new Town, the University of Aberdeen. Principal Marshall Lang, in an address to HM King Edward & HM Queen Alexandra, in connection with the Quatercentenary of the University in September 1906, remarked:
By the good Offices of King James IV of Scotland, Bishop Elphinstone obtained the Papal Bull which Sanctioned the Foundation of the University in 1494-5. In token of the Protection thus extended, the College dedicated to St Mary the Virgin in 1505 was described in Acts of the Scots Parliament as the College of Our Sovereign Lord and from an early time was known as The King’s College. The old grey Crown that still surmounts our Chapel is a Symbol of this ancient relation to the Scottish Throne.  The College of St Mary was originally dedicated to her under the style of the Virgin of the Nativity.  On St Mary’s Altar in the Chapel stood her Statue, made of Alabaster or Parian Marble; while Maria, one of the 5 large Bells in the Tower, bore her name. The connection of the Virgin with King s College is Symbolically indicated on its original Seal by a Pot of lilies, a device which appears also on the Burgh Arms of Old Aberdeen.  Some ancient fretwork decorating the Chapel represents a series of Pots of Lilies side by side. As Principal Sir W D Geddes observes,
this Emblem of the Virgin is known to have been not only familiar to but also a favourite with the Founder of the College.


“Concordia res parvae crescunt
By harmony small things increase.
Of the 4-Gates leading into the Chanonry of Old Aberdeen, 2 at least had Figures of the Virgin accompanied in the case of one of them, viz. Cluny’s Port, by a Pot of Lilies. A Statue of the Virgin surmounted the Burgh Cross, which once stood in front of the Old Town House, but was removed when the latter was rebuilt in 1702. The popularity of the Virgin in Old Aberdeen was further made evident by the Foundation of a Hospital in her honour by Bishop Gavin Dunbar in 1532 and by the addition of her name to that of St Machar in the dedication of the Cathedral.  A notable Building named after her was the Church of St Mary of the Snows, popularly called the Snow Kirk.  It stood on the Southside of the Old Town and was Built for the Parishioners by Bishop Elphinstone about the same time as St Mary’s College. The Bull commissioning its Erection was issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1495.  The name of the Old Aberdeen dedication was suggested by that of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, alternatively known in Latin as Santa Maria ad Nives.  Tradition says that the Roman Church was Built about the middle of the 4thC by a certain Patrician of the name of John, to whom, and to his wife, the Virgin appeared in a dream and told them to build a Basilica in her honour where Snow would be found.  Next day was the 5th of August and notwithstanding the heat of the weather a miraculous fall of Snow lay on the Esquiline Hill, and there Liberius, the reigning Pope, traced with his Crozier the Plan of the Basilica.  The Snow Kirk of Old Aberdeen has disappeared, but its Site was still used by Roman Catholics as a place of Burial.
Old Aberdeen Area Survey Map 1901

Bishop Elphinstone

Cluny Port (or Chanonry Port)
One of 4-Gates or Ports that led to the Cathedral Precincts of St Machar in Old Aberdeen.  Its former location was at the present Town House and Cluny’s Wynd in Old Aberdeen.  It was built sometime in the late 14th or early 15thC and had Effigies of the Virgin Mary on it with the Arms of Scotland & Old Aberdeen on the inner face that of Gordon but these were later broken and defaced at the Reformation.  It is visible on Gordon Parson’s Map of 1661.  In July 1789, the Port was listed as ruinous & dangerous.  Walter Leith, the Proprietor of the Port, was charged to give issue as to why the Port should not be pulled down or rebuilt.  The Port was later taken down and was reported as taken down at the close of the 18thC.
Bishop Elphinstone’s Arms were also above the Port along with the name John Elphinstone.  The Chaplain’s Port was on the East Chanory Junction with Don Street next to the Chaplain’s Chambers another Port was further east of this also on Don Street
It also had the Inscription
Pass not this way, unless you say, Hail Mary
By such a Salutation you shall obtain Pardon

Bishop Elphinstone’s Arms
3 Boars’ Heads
, ragged at the neck, as if torn off, 2 above & 1 below, with a Figure like a Couple or the Roof of a House striding over the lowest.  A Boars’ Head indicates Ownership of a wild, extensive Hunting-ground.  The Chevron, or Couple, is generally taken to represent the setting up of a new house or branch of an old Family.  Above the Shield is a Bishop’s Mitre. The motto, “Non confundar,” “I shall not be overwhelmed,” indicates confidence in the Day of Judgment.

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The Manses used by the Canons were named after the Areas who provided the Stipend of the Clergy, viz Clatt, Belhelvie, DaviotOld Rayne.  Sadly most of these Buildings were destroyed in the Reformation years.  Chanonry Lodge was built on part of these Sites.  Other parts of the Land cleared during the Reformation were made into the Cluny’s Garden and is now the Cruickshank Botanical Garden and the Department of Plant & Soil Science.

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The Regality of Aberdon
The Bishops of Aberdon held all their Lands around the Cathedral as a Barony of Regality, which gave them all the Power over their Lands and their Inhabitants which the Crown itself possessed, with certain reservations.  They could put Thieves and others to death, but their Power was restricted to those who Lived in the Church Lands.  They, like other Barons, delegated their Judicial Authority to a Baillie.  In 1536, William Lyoun, Bailye to My Lord of Aberdene, “askit lycens at William Holland, Balye of this Burgh, to hang ane Thief convickit in my Lord’s Court ; quhilk.  The said William grantit, protest and it suld not hurt the Townis privilege in nae sort.”  (Town Council Register).  Tillydrone was the Hanging-place in the Regality.  The Bishop’s Lands were put in the charge of an Officer called the Deray, who resided upon them.  Charters often mention a Road separating Ecclesiastical Property from other Lands.  What is called the Deer Road in Woodside seems to have been originally the Deray’s Road and the Deer Dyke of Charters had been the Deray’s Dyke Bounding the Cathedral Lands.

The Prospect of Old Aberdien
Print of Old Aberdeen drawn by John Slezer. General View with the Crown Tower of King’s College and the Spires of St Machar’s Cathedral in the distance.  The small Building in the right foreground was the Snow ChurchSt Mary ad Nives – which was demolished in the late 17thC, although part of the Burial Ground survives.  Although Built as a Parish Church, the Snow lost that function when its Congregation was merged with St Machar’s in 1499.   Although intended for Students it continued to draw local people to Worship, so that the Merger had to be Proclaimed again some 80-yrs later.   Slezer uses another spelling for Aberdeen in the Title for this Prospect –  we view the City from the South.  On the right, with a Crowned Tower, is King’s College.  To its left, you can just make out the High Street.  The Twin Spires of St Machar’s Cathedral in Old Aberdeen are in the distance.  The Snow Kirk – in the right foreground it had a Corbie Stepped Gable and a simple Belfry which housed 2 Bells donated from St Machar’s, the gift of Bishop Elphinstone.  They were called Schohtmadony (Shuggle Madonna) & Skellat – Scots for small Bell.  The dark Building centre and directly opposite Kings College is the Mediciner’s Manse.  St Machar’s Cathedral sports its Saddleback Roof above the Central Tower.  John Slezer, Theatrum Scotia 1658.  Properly called St Mary Ad Nives (of the Snows), this was Founded as the Parish Church when Old Aberdeen became a Burgh of Barony.  The Parish Boundaries for this Church date from 1498 and specifically excluded the Canons of St Machar’s who were to continue to attend Service in St Machar’s Cathedral.  The Church went out of use at the time of the Protestant Reformation in 1560, although the Building survived for the next 100 years or so.  Burials continued, however; this was a problem for the Protestant Authorities at the time as the Burials here were of those who had a strong adherence to the old Catholic faith.  One of the flat Grave Markers is of Gilbert Menzies, a 17thC member of a very powerful local Catholic Family.

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The Gymnasium, (inset) or Chanonry School, is Private Property, but has some characteristics of an important Public School: was opened in 1848, with design to prepare (Old Gym) Boys for the University: had Accommodation for Boarders, 9 Classrooms with capacity for at least 150 Boys & 2 Playgrounds: and was conducted by the Proprietor, a Rector & 7 Masters.  A large Boarding & Educational Establishment with extensive Garden & Pleasure Grounds attached situated on the Westside of the Chanonry.
A small Public School on the Southside of New Street, erected about the Year 1830, by Voluntary Contributions by which also it is supported along with the Funds derived by Children’s Fees, the average number of Pupils 50.

There was also Dr Andrew Bell’s School, a large Public School situated on the Southside of New Street, near Back Road erected in the Year 1831 it was supported by the interest accumulating on £9000 left by Dr Bell of Madras, the Government allowance & Children’s Fees the School was divided into 2-Rooms, one being occupied by the Boys the other by Girls.  It had respective accommodation for 200 & 353 children, had an average attendance of 235 & 280 (1879) and Grants of £209-7s & £267-19s.
Dr Bell’s School in Fredrick Street, (New) Aberdeen was large Public School of 2-Storeys also Erected in 1831. Is supported by the Interest accumulating on £9000 left by Dr Bell, by the Government Allowance & Children’s pence. The Girls were instructed on the Ground Floor by 4-Female Teachers, and the Boys on the 2nd-Floor by 4-Male Teachers.

Dr Andrew Bell born in St Andrews made his Fortune in India. In February 1787 he went out to India and went Ashore at Madras, where he stayed for 10-yrs. He became Chaplain to a number of British Regiments and gave a Course of Lectures. In 1789 he was appointed Superintendent of an Orphan Asylum for the Illegitimate & Orphaned sons of Officers. He claimed to see some Malabar children Teaching others the Alphabet by drawing in Sand and decided to develop a similar method, putting bright children in charge of those who were less Bright. He was opposed to Corporal Punishment and used a System of Rewards. He Founded Madras College in 1832 in St Andrews, the School being based on the Madras System which involved Schoolboys Tutoring their fellow Pupils. Before Dr Bell Founded & Built Madras College there had been several Schools in St Andrews initially intended for Boys destined for the Church. There had been for a few hundred years before Dr Bell established Madras College, some Educational Establishments serving both sexes, providing a rather basic level of instruction. What Dr Bell did was to use his wealth to transform those existing Schools into a Single School well fitted to meet the needs of its day and to be run on the Monitorial System which he had Pioneered. The College provided an outstanding Education and many Families moved to St Andrews so that their children could benefit from this Education. The School grew rapidly after its Foundation and by 1838 there were 800-Pupils at the College, by 1845 there were around 900-Pupils, and by 1860 there were well over 1000-Pupils. The School had many Boarders and there were Houses around the Town for them run by Masters at the School. When the School was Founded there was no Headmaster – the Senior Masters of each Department were largely Independent and received Fees from the pupils.
Old Aberdeen Area Survey Map 1901

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Cluny’s Garden is now the Cruickshank Botanical Garden and the Department of Plant & Soil Science. The 1st Keeper of the Garden was James Traill FRS.  The Garden was laid out, as was the fashion at the time, in Formal Beds, but little of the original Garden survives, as it was entirely turned over to Vegetables during WW1. Traill’s successor, James Craib, planted many of the fine Trees which grace the Garden and laid out the long Herbaceous Border while still forms a main axis in the design. Craib also extended the excavation of the Sunken Garden, with formal Terraces and a Rose Pergola.

The modern Cruickshank Garden dates from 1898, when Miss Anne Cruickshank bought the Buildings & Playing Fields of The Old Aberdeen Gymnasium, a Private School for Boys, and presented them to the University to establish a Botanic Garden. The original imposing Granite School Building, now part of the School of Biological Sciences, is on the right as you enter the Garden from The Chanonry.  Soon afterwards, the strip of Land alongside what is now St Machar Drive was added, including Land which had been the 1st Aberdeen Football Club Pitch, and a Market Garden, whose Owner became the 1st Head Gardener.  A few years later the Land immediately to the North, comprising No.8 The Chanonry and its large Garden were added.  The House was thereafter home to successive Regius Professors of Botany until it was Sold in the 1980s.  Finally in 1966 the Land still further towards the River Don, in the angle between The Chanonry & Tillydrone Road became available, and this allowed the development of an Arboretum House that we see today in Old Aberdeen.  The Wall in front of this Building is made from Seaton Bricks.  These used extensively in Old Aberdeen and were produced locally at the Seaton Brick & Tile Works, which was located a little to the South of the Mouth of the River Don.

Smith Irvine & Co Brewers – Old Aberdeen
The Old Seaton Brewery in Old Aberdeen is a late 18th or early 19thC Building, whose name indicates either that it once served as the Burgh Brewery, or that it is Built on its Site. The Old Town’s original Alehouse was Established in 1504.  The Old Brewery has been designated a Site of Historical Interest, which means that no external modifications can be made to it. (In 1509 there were 157 Brewers operating in Aberdeen).  It is now part of the University – School of Divinity, History & Philosophy.   By 1890 the process had been Industrialised and the number of Breweries had shrunk to 8, though in the same year there were also 3-Distilleries operating in the City.  Today the Breweries and the Distilleries have all disappeared.  Two Pubs survive – St Machar’s Inn and the Red Lion c.1903.   A disposition relating to part of the Site in 1774 is unusual in that it describes a 2-Storey, Stone-Gabled Forehouse with a back Brewhouse.


The Old Town’s original ‘Alehouse’ was Established in 1504.  The Old Town Brewery was located on the High Street in Old Aberdeen, near to Regents Walk by King’s College.  It was founded by Smith, Irvine & Co around 1790, who Brewed there until the Brewery & Associated Premises were sold in 1863. In an Advertisement announcing the Sale it was described as having Malt Barns that were capable of malting nearly 2,000 Quarters (about 300-Tons).  In 1811 the Brewery was described as producing 2,000 Barrels of Porter & Strong Ale, and 1,500 Barrels of table beer, each year.  The Business was offered for Sale in 1861, following the death of the last of the Partners, and the Brewery was acquired by Thomson, Marshall & Co in 1863.  At that point, the Brewery was described as having been largely rebuilt & extended in the 1880s.  An Artesian Well had also been sunk “at considerable cost, giving a superabundant supply of water, excellent in quality”.  In 1866 the Company was Granted a Royal Warrant by which it was appointed Brewers to Queen Victoria and her son Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales“in consequence of the satisfaction given by the Ales, etc., supplied by the Firm to the Royal Families at Balmoral & Abergeldie”.  The Company’s Trademark was a Red Thistle, with details of their Royal Warrant.  The reputation for its Ales grew from strength to strength and in 1886 the Company was given the highest award for Scotch ales, and the Prize Medal for Stout, at the Edinburgh International Exhibition.  Amongst the Beers produced by the Firm were Pale Ale & Imperial Scotch Ale.  In 1889 2 of the Partners decided to retire and the remaining Partner, George Thomson, decided to continue the Business; it remained in their hands until 1890 when the Partnership was dissolved and a new Company – Thomson, Marshall & Co Ltd – was established to carry on the Business.


Thomson Marshall & Co, Aulton Brewery, High Street, Old Aberdeen
Brewers to Her Majesty & Prince Albert.
Re-Established in 1890 (Scottish Company No.1969), with a proposed Capitalisation of £65,000, to take on the Business.  Amongst the Beers produced by the Firm was Queen’s Ale, & Queen’s Stout.  The Company appointed several Directors from the Drinks Trade & Initially at least, the Business was successful.  However, by 1901 it was in difficulties and went into Voluntary Liquidation. The Company was finally wound up in 1907.   The Aulton Brewery was originally known as the Old Town Brewery and was located in the High Street in Old Aberdeen, next door to King’s College.  A small part of the Brewery complex still survives on what is now the Campus of the University of Aberdeen.

French Invasion Scare – Aberdeen Volunteers 1791-1802
Old Aberdeen – Early Volunteering in the Aulton; interesting extracts from Old Aberdeen Records; formation of a Volunteer Association, 1782; Resolution of 7th May 1798; Officers; Drillings & Inspections; Presentation of Colours; offer to serve in any part of Great Britain; final appearance & disbandment; courtesies; preservation of Colours & Drum; Officers at disbandment.

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(Inset) Thoms Place, East between High Street & Dunbar Street 1937

Gordon’s Mills are presumably earlier than 1639 when William Gordon of Gordon’s Mills was reportedly wounded at the Battle of Justice Mills. According to Milne, the Mill or Mills were first of all for Meal.  Later they became a Woollen manufactory and subsequently a Paper Mill. G M Fraser asserts that Gordon’s Mills was the Site of the 1st Paper Mill in Aberdeen, opened by Patrick Sandilands in 1696 and that by 1703 it had become a Textile Mill referred to as ‘Northmills at Gordon’s Mills‘ (Fraser 1986, 185-6).  The Map of Scotland drawn by Robert Gordon of Straloch in 1654 depicts what appears to be a Settlement called Gordon’s Mill, while the Map of 1661, by his son James Gordon of Rothiemay, shows Gordon’s Mill.  Gordon’s Mills appear on Taylor’s Map of 1773, where several buildings are shown, including some which seem to be in the Northern part of the present Site.  On the 1st Ordnance Survey Map made of the area, in 1867-69, the Woollen Mill is shown in the Northern portion of the area, situated partly within and partly outside the present Site, while an additional Corn Mill is depicted approximately 250M to the South-east, next to the Riverbank.  By that date, if not before, the name Gordon’s Mills seems to have come to refer to the area around and between the Woollen Mill and the Corn Mill.   On the 1926 Ordnance Survey Map, the Woollen Mill still occupies the Northern portion of the area, while Donside Paper Mills is represented to the South-east by an extensive complex of buildings.

The Aulton Cross
A remnant of this Ancient and beautiful Fabric, of which the original place has long ceased to know it, was recently rescued from a. situation of most inglorious obscurity and placed in a fitting asylum in King’s College.  Our topographers tell us that there formerly stood in the centre of the area fronting the Town House of Old Aberdeen a Cross which was formed of an upright Stone, raised upon a Pedestal of 3 steps above the level of the Street. This Stone was surmounted by a Figure of the Blessed Virgin, and underneath was the Armorial bearings of Bishops Dunbar, Stewart, & Gordon. The last-named succeeded to the episcopate in 1545, which serves to indicate the Period in which the Cross was erected.  In the era of the Reformation it was defaced by those whose undiscriminating zeal took offence at whatever even “smelt somewhat of Popery:” and, after experiencing the inclemency of many a trying season, and the rough manipulation of ruthless hands – Ministers of wanton mischief – the Fabric was finally removed about the time when the Town House was rebuilt.
What became of the shaft is not known; but the Stone on which were cut the Armorial Bearings of the Episcopal Trio was one day discovered in a Smithy in Old Aberdeen, where it had long been degraded into a utensil for holding tackets, old iron, and other odds & ends, tossed into the square cavity into which the top of the shaft had been inserted.  To such vile uses had come a portion of a time-honoured Fabric, which had once so proudly “cropped the causey!” This curious Relic owed its more congenial Quarters in King’s College to the commendable care of the party who by chance discovered it.   In Spalding’s Troubles, there is a droll passage, from which it appears that this Cross was pressed into a Candlemas “lark,” played off by certain juveniles of 1643.
Upon the 2nd of February,” saith he, with notable gravity, “being Candlemas Day, the bairns of the Old Town Grammar School, at 6 hours, cam up the Gate with candles lichtit in their hands, crying, rejoicing, and blythe eneuch; and, being 6 hours at nicht, cam thus up to the Cross, and round about goes diverse times, climbs to the head thereof, and sets on ane burning torch thereupon. I marvellit, being at sic tyme [of the dour Covenant], and whereof myself had never seen the like.  Atour, they went down from the Cross, convoying  John Keith, brother to the Earl Marischal, who was their [Candlemas] King, to his Lodgings in the Chanonrie, with lichtit candles!”
This ebullient demonstration seems to have greatly refreshed the Episcopalian spirit of the worthy Commissary Clerk, who let’s slip no opportunity of bewailing every falling-away from the observances of the good old times, through the chilling influence of Andrew Cant and his crabbed confederates.  Spalding, indeed, seems to have regarded the “ploy,” which he so carefully records, as a cheering revival in a small way a proof that there was yet some hope of young Scotland and a pregnant sign of the times doubtless, “afore something!” It is just probable that the merry, madcap rogues may have got up their “rig” in brave defiance of Cant himself, and all his tyrannical, ascetic whimsies; for, of a surety, he appears to have been so noted a hand to “frichten bairns” in his day, that no wonder if, as O’Connell used to say, the young blood might sometimes bethink itself of the Wild Justice of Revenge.

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Spalding assures us that, on 1 occasion, when some children, outside Church, were rather noisy, Cant, who was within, lost all patience with them, and, instead of tipping the requisite wink to the Beadle, banged out of the Reader’s Desk chased the young fry from the scene of their “Collie-shangie” and then returned to his seat, quite satisfied with himself, and seemingly all the easier for his explosive demonstration, but to the great “Admiration” of his Worshipping Flock, who were exceedingly scandalised by his indecorous sally.  Such severities must have rendered him no favourite with the rising race and may have even provoked the Candlemas Crusade which Spalding with such gusto narrated.  The careful circumstances, indeed, with which the quaint Annalist records the pranks of John Keith, Rex, as aforesaid, and his rollicking con-disciples, would almost suggest a suspicion that the “nickums” had actually coaxed the Old Chronicler nothing loath to give their “Shine” a sunny nook in his Troubles.
Aberdeen OS Map Donside to Militia Barracks 1902
Records of Old Aberdeen Vol-l Printed for the New Spalding Club