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- This article is about the Scottish city. For other uses see Aberdeen (disambiguation)
It boasts the title of Oil Capital of Europe thanks to the plentiful supply of crude oil in the North Sea, and stands on a bay of the North Sea, between the mouths of the rivers Don and Dee. Aberdeen is also one of 32 unitary council areas in Scotland, officially known as the City of Aberdeen. The city is currently run by a Liberal Democrat/Conservative administration.
Coat of Arms and Motto
The coat of arms shows a red shield bearing three triple towered castles within the double royal tressure. It is widely accepted that these represent the fortifications which from earliest times stood on the three hills where the city sprang up, namely Castle Hill, the Port or Windmill Hill (Gallowgate) and St Catherine’s Hill (Adelphi). The Arms are supported by two leopards – one either side – and above, the scroll with the words ‘Bon Accord’.
Legend has it that during the Wars of Scottish Independence, when the Castle of Aberdeen was stormed and the English troops ‘were killed all in one night’, the watchword to initiate the campaign was ‘Bon Accord’, and it is from this massacre that the Coat of Arms and the motto originated.
Aberdeen grew up as two separate burghs - Old Aberdeen at the mouth of the Don and New Aberdeen, a fishing and trading settlement where the Denburn entered the Dee estuary. The earliest charter was granted by King William the Lion about 1179, confirming the corporate rights granted by David I. The city received other royal charters later. In 1319, the Great Charter of Robert the Bruce transformed Aberdeen into a property owning and financially independent community. Bruce had a high regard for the citizens of Aberdeen who had sheltered him in his days of outlawry, helped him win the Battle of Barra and slayed the English garrison at the Castle. He granted Aberdeen with the nearby Forest of Stocket. The income from this land has formed the basis for the city's Common Good Fund, which is used to this day for the benefit of all Aberdonians.
The city was burned by Edward III of England in 1336, but was soon rebuilt and extended, and called New Aberdeen. For many centuries the city was subject to attacks by the neighbouring lords, and was strongly fortified, but the gates were all removed by 1770. In 1497 a blockhouse was built at the harbour mouth as a protection against the English. During the struggles between the Royalists and Covenanters the city was impartially plundered by both sides. In 1715 the Earl Marischal proclaimed the Old Pretender at Aberdeen, and in 1745 the Duke of Cumberland resided for a short time in the city before attacking the Young Pretender.
In the 18th century a new Town Hall was built, elegantly furnished with a marble fireplace from Holland and a set of fine crystal chandeliers and sconces. The latter are still a feature in the Town House. This century also saw the beginnings of social services for the Infirmary at Woolmanhill which was opened in 1742 and the Lunatic Asylum in 1779.
The 19th century was a time of considerable expansion. By 1901 the population was 153,000 and the city covered more than 6,000 acres. In the late 18th century, the council embarked on a scheme of road improvements, and by 1805 George Street, King Street and Union Street were open, the latter a feat of extraordinary engineering skill involving the partial levelling of St Catherine’s Hill and the building of arches to carry the street over Putachieside. The Denburn Valley was crossed by Union Street with a single span arch of 130 ft. Along these new streets was built the nucleus of the ‘Granite City’ in buildings designed by John Smith and Archibald Simpson.
The increasing economic importance of Aberdeen and the development of the shipbuilding and fishing industries brought a need for improved harbour facilities. During this century much of the harbour as it exists today was built including Victoria Dock, the South Breakwater and the extension to the North Pier. Such an expensive building programme had, of course, repercussions, and in 1817 the city was in a state of bankruptcy. However, a recovery was made in the general prosperity which followed the Napoleonic wars. Improvements in street lighting came in 1824 with the advent of gas, and a vast improvement was made to the water supply in 1830 when water was pumped from the Dee to a reservoir in Union Place. An underground sewerage system was begun in 1865 to replace the open sewers which previously ran along certain of the streets.
Though Old Aberdeen, extending from the area surrounding Aberdeen University to the southern banks of the Don, had a separate charter, privileges, and history, the distinction between it and New Aberdeen can no longer be said to exist. Aberdeen's popular name of the "Granite City", is justified by the fact that the bulk of the city is built of granite, but to appreciate its more poetical designation of the "Silver City by the Golden Sands", it should be seen after a heavy rainfall when its public buildings and countless houses gleam pure and white under brilliant sunshine. It is also known as the 'Flower of Scotland', as Aberdeen has long been famous for its outstanding parks, gardens and floral displays that include 2 million roses, 11 million daffodils and 3 million crocuses. On March 5, 2003 Aberdeen was granted Fairtrade City status.
The area of the city extends to 71.22 square miles (184.74 km²), and includes the former burghs of Old Aberdeen, New Aberdeen, Woodside and the district of Torry to the south of the Dee. The city was first incorporated in 1891. The city is represented in Westminster by three MPs - two after the forthcoming general election - who are all from the Labour party, and in the Scottish Parliament by three MSPs (one Labour, one SNP and one Liberal Democrat). The city council comprises forty-three councillors who represent the city's wards and is headed by the Lord Provost. The current Lord Provost is John Reynolds.
As of 1996, Aberdeen has been governed by the unitary Aberdeen City Council and no longer has any direct control over the neighbouring area of Aberdeenshire (although the headquarters of Aberdeenshire Council are located within the city's boundaries).
Aberdeen has good links to the rest of Scotland and the UK. The main road south to Edinburgh is a fast dual carriageway and plans are in hand to build a bypass round the city. Aberdeen is served by good rail links to the south and north to Inverness, all services running from the Railway Station in the city centre. Although there are no direct sea links south any more there is still a ferry service running to Orkney and Shetland. Aberdeen International Airport is located at Dyce, about 5 miles (8 km) north west of the city centre, and has frequent services to London and several international destinations.
Art and architecture
Union Street is one of the most imposing and famous thoroughfares in Britain. From Castle Street it runs for nearly a mile (1.5 km), is 70 ft wide, and originally contained the principal shops and most of the public buildings, all of granite. Part of the street crosses the Denburn ravine (utilized for the line of the Great North of Scotland railway) by Union Bridge, a fine granite arch of 132 ft span, with portions of the older town still fringing the gorge, fifty feet below the level of Union Street. Union Street was built from 1801 to 1805, and named after the 1800 Act of Union with Ireland.
Amongst the notable buildings in the street are the Town and County Bank, the Music Hall 1822, the Trinity Hall of the incorporated trades (originating between 1398 and 1527), now a department store; the Palace Hotel; the former office of the Northern Assurance Company, and the National Bank of Scotland.
In Castle Street, a continuation eastwards of Union Street, is the Town House, the headquarters of the city council. One of the most splendid granite edifices in Scotland, in the Franco-Scottish Gothic style, it contains the great hall, with an open timber ceiling and oak-panelled walls; the Sheriff Court House; the Town and County Hall, with portraits of Prince Albert, the 4th Earl of Aberdeen, various Lord Provosts and other distinguished citizens. In the vestibule of the entrance corridor stands a suit of black armour, believed to have been worn by Provost Sir Robert Davidson , who fought in the Battle of Harlaw in 1411. On the south-western corner is the 210 ft grand tower, which commands a fine view of the city and surrounding country. Adjoining the Town House is the old North of Scotland Bank building, in Greek Revival style. This building is now a pub named the Archibald Simpson, after its original architect. On the opposite side of the street is the fine building of the Union Bank.
At the upper end of Castlegate stands the Salvation Army Citadel, an effective castellated mansion. In front of it is the Market Cross, built in 1686 by John Montgomery, a native architect. This open-arched structure, 21 ft in diameter and 18 ft high, comprises a large hexagonal base from the centre of which rises a shaft with a Corinthian capital, on which is the royal unicorn. The base is highly decorated, including medallions illustrating Scottish monarchs from James I to James VII. To the east of Castle Street were the military barracks, which were demolished in 1965 and replaced with two tower blocks.
Marischal College on Broad Street, opened by King Edward VII in 1906, is the second largest granite building in the world, and is one of the most splendid examples of Edwardian architecture in Britain. The architect, Alexander Marshall Mackenzie , a native of Aberdeen, adapted his material, white granite, to the design of the building with the originality of genius. This magnificent building is sadly no longer a seat of learning and is under renovation as the new home of Aberdeen City Council.
There are no tramways in Aberdeen. The last tram went through the streets on May 3 1958. All trams except one were scrapped. The last tram is on display in the Transport Museum in Alford, Aberdeenshire.
Like most Scottish burghs, Aberdeen has many churches, most of them of good design.
The East and West churches of St Nicholas' Kirk , their kirkyard separated from Union Street by a 147 ft long Ionic facade, built in 1830, form one continuous building, 220 ft in length. It contains the Drum Aisle (the ancient burial-place of the Irvines of Drum) and the Collison Aisle, which divide them and which formed the transept of the 12th-century church of St Nicholas. The West Church was built in 1775, in the Italian style, the East originally in 1834 in Gothic Style. In 1874 a fire destroyed the East Church and the old central tower with its fine peal of nine bells, one of which, Laurence or "Lowrie", was 4 ft in diameter at the mouth, 3.5 ft high and very thick. The church was rebuilt and a massive granite tower erected over the intervening aisles, a new peal of 36 bells, cast in the Netherlands, being installed to commemorate the Victorian jubilee of 1887. These were replaced in 1950 with a carillion of 48 bells, the largest in the United Kingdom.
The Diocese of Aberdeen was first founded at Mortlach in Banffshire by Malcolm II in 1004 to celebrate his victory there over the Danes, but in 1137 David I transferred the bishopric to Old Aberdeen, and twenty years later St Machar's Cathedral, situated a few hundred yards from the Don, was begun. Save during the episcopate of William Elphinstone (1484-1511), the building progressed slowly. Gavin Dunbar, who followed him in 1518, completed the structure by adding the two western spires and the southern transept. The church suffered severely at the Reformation, but is still used as the Church of Scotland cathedral. It now consists of the nave and side aisles. It is chiefly built of outlayer granite, and, though the plainest cathedral in Scotland, its stately simplicity and severe symmetry lend it unique distinction. On the flat panelled ceiling of the nave are the heraldic shields of the princes, noblemen and bishops who shared in its erection, and the great west window contains modern painted glass of excellent colour and design.
St. Andrew's Cathedral is the Scottish Episcopal cathedral. The Episcopal Church in Aberdeen is notable for having consecrated the first bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, Samuel Seabury. The cathedral was rennovated in the 1930s to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Seabury's consecration. The memorial was dedicated with a ceremony attended by the then U.S. ambassador to the UK, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
The cemeteries are St Peter's in Old Aberdeen, Trinity near the links, Nellfield at the junction of Great Western and Holburn Roads, Allenvale, adjoining Duthie Park and the most recent Facilities at Dyce. There is also a crematorium and cemetery near Hazlehead.
The first of Aberdeen's two universities, the University of Aberdeen, was founded in 1495 by William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen and Chancellor of Scotland. The University of Aberdeen is Scotland's third oldest, and the UK's fifth oldest University.
Robert Gordon's College (originally Robert Gordon's Hospital) was founded in 1729 by the merchant Robert Gordon, grandson of the map maker Robert Gordon of Straloch, and was further endowed in 1816 by Alexander Simpson of Collyhill. Originally devoted to the instruction and maintenance of the sons of poor burgesses of guild and trade in the city, it was reorganized in 1881 as a day and night school for secondary and technical education, and in the 1990s became co-educational and a day-only school. It also produced the Robert Gordon Institute of Technology, which became Robert Gordon University in 1992.
Gray's School of Art , founded in 1886, is one of the oldest established colleges of art in the UK. It is situated in beautiful grounds at Garthdee on the edge of the city. It is now incorporated into Robert Gordon University.
Aberdeen College has several campuses in Aberdeen and offers a wide variety of part-time and full-time courses leading to several different qualifications. It is one of the largest institutions in further education in Scotland.
Aberdeen Grammar School, (now comprehensive, despite its name) founded in 1263 and one of the oldest schools in Britain, was removed in 1861-1863 from its old quarters in Schoolhill to a large new building, in the Scots Baronial style, off Skene Street. A famous alumni of the Grammar School is Lord Byron.
There are 12 secondary schools and 54 primary schools which are run by the city council in the city. There are also a small number of private schools.
At Blairs , in Kincardineshire, five miles (8 km) S.W. of Aberdeen, is the abandoned St Mary's Roman Catholic College, for the training of young men intended for the priesthood, with plans to turn it into a hotel.
The city is blessed with amenities which cover a wide range of cultural activities and boasts a selection of museums. The Aberdeen Art Gallery houses a collection of Impressionist, Victorian, Scottish and 20th Century British paintings as well as collections of silver and glass. It also includes The Alexander Macdonald Bequest, a collection of late 19th century works donated by the museum's first benefactor and a constantly changing collection of contemporary work and regular visiting exhibitions.
The Aberdeen Maritime Museum, located in Shiprow, tells the story of Aberdeen's links with the sea from the days of sail and clipper ships to the latest oil and gas exploration technology. The museum includes a range of interactive exhibits and models, including an 8.5m (28 feet) high model of the Murchison oil production platform and a 19th Century assembly taken from Rattray Head lighthouse.
Provost Ross' House is the second oldest dwelling house in the city. It was built in 1593 and became the residence of Provost John Ross of Arnage in 1702. The house retains some original medieval features, including a kitchen, fire places and beam-and-board ceilings. The Gordon Highlanders Regimental Museum tells the story of one of Scotland's best known regiments.
The Marischal Museum holds the principal collections of the University of Aberdeen, comprising some 80,000 items in the areas of fine art, Scottish history & archaeology, and European, Mediterranean & Near Eastern archaeology. The museum is open to the public, but also provides an important resource for the University's students and researchers. The permanent displays and reference collections are augmented by regular temporary exhibitions.
Aberdeen's museums and attractions include:
- Aberdeen Art Gallery
- Aberdeen Maritime Museum
- Provost Ross' House
- The Gordon Highlanders Museum
- Marischal Museum
- James Dun's House
- King's College Visitor and Conference Centre
- Museum of Education Victorian Classroom
- Provost Skene's House
- Tolbooth Museum
- Doonies Farm
- Marischal College
- Aberdeen Arts Centre
- The Lemon Tree
The Aberdeen Central Public Library contains more than 60,000 volumes. His Majesty's Theatre 1906 (presently -2005- under renovation) is a fine granite theatre which provides a home for popular entertainments. It has a 1,500 capacity and is one of the most beautiful major touring theatres in Britain. Doonies Farm has one of the largest collections in Scotland of endangered breeds of farm animals. Open to the public, the farm is nationally recognized as a breeding centre for rare breeds and is situated on the old coast road between the Bay of Nigg and Cove.
Parks and open spaces
Duthie Park (50 acres), situated on Riverside Drive, was named after and gifted to the city by Miss Elizabeth Crombie Duthie of Ruthrieston in 1881 and opened by Princess Beatrice on 27 September 1883. It occupies an excellent site on the north bank of the Dee and includes extensive gardens, a rose hill, boating pond, bandstand, and play area as well as the David Welch Winter Gardens. First opened in 1899, the Winter Gardens were rebuilt in 1970 following storm damage and extended. They are Europe's largest indoor gardens and one of the most visited is Scotland.
Victoria Park (13 acres) opened in 1871, is a beautiful park situated in the north-western area. There is a conservatory used as a seating area and a fountain made of 14 different granites, presented to the people by the granite polishers and master builders of Aberdeen
Westburn Park (13 acres) opposite Victoria Park, caters for football and tennis, has a children's cycle track and a play area. An open section of the Denburn runs through the park.
Stewart Park (15 acres) opened in 1894. The park was named after a former Lord Provost of the city, Sir David Stewart. Part is laid out as an 18 hole golf course; a section is reserved for cricket and football.
Hazlehead Park is a large, heavily wooded park on the outskirts of the city. It is popular with sports enthusiasts, walkers, naturalists and picnickers. Around the park are football pitches, a golf course, pitch and putt course, a horseriding school and woods for walking. The park has a significant collection of sculpture by a range of artists and heritage items which have been rescued from various places within the city.
Aberdeen Beach/Queen’s Links is a well-loved and extremely popular recreational area of the city, visited by holidaymakers and city residents all year round. The area is well provided with sporting and recreational facilities, including the Beach Leisure Centre and the Lynx Ice Arena, cafes, restaurants, a fun fair, a multiplex cinema, a nightclub and other attractions.
Seaton Park (27 hectare) is located in the north of the city and was purchased by the Council in 1947 from Major Hay. Beside the park's south gates stands St Machar's Cathedral. There are flowerbeds and a walled garden beside the old stables, which have been converted for housing. The Cathedral Walk is always a resplendent sight in midsummer and one of the most popular with visitors to the city. Seaton Park is also an access point for the River Don and there is a walk from the park to the city boundary.
The Union Terrace Gardens form a popular rendezvous in the heart of the city.
In Union Terrace Gardens stands a colossal bronze statue of William Wallace, by W. G. Stevenson. In the same gardens are a bronze statue of Robert Burns and Charles Marochetti's seated figure of Prince Albert.
In front of Robert Gordon's College is the bronze statue, by T. S. Burnett, of General Gordon. At the head of Queen's Road stands the bronze statue of Queen Victoria, erected in 1893 by the royal tradesmen of the city. Near the Cross stands the granite statue of George Gordon, 5th Duke of Gordon.
There is a 70 ft high obelisk of Peterhead granite, originally erected in the square of Marischal College, to the memory of Sir James McGrigor (1778-1851), the military surgeon and director-general of the Army Medical Department, who was thrice elected lord rector of the College. In the 1890s when the College was extended, the obelisk was moved to the Duthie Park.
The Dee is crossed by a number of bridges, from west to east:
- Bridge of Dee
- King George VI Bridge
- Railway bridge
- Wellington Suspension Bridge
- Queen Elizabeth II Bridge
- Victoria Bridge
Until 1832, the only access to the city from the south was the Bridge of Dee. It consists of seven semicircular ribbed arches, is about 30 ft high, and was built early in the 16th century by Bishops Elphinstone and Dunbar. It was nearly all rebuilt 1718-1723, and in 1842 was widened from 14 to 26 ft. This was the site of a battle in 1639 between the Royalists under Viscount Aboyne and the Covenanters who were led by the Marquis of Montrose.
The Bridge of Don has five granite arches, each 75 ft in span, and was built 1827-1832. A little to the west is the Auld Brig o' Balgownie, a picturesque single arch spanning the deep black stream, said to have been built by King Robert I, and celebrated by George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron in the tenth canto of "Don Juan".
Aberdeen Harbour is the principal commercial port in northern Scotland and an international port for general cargo, roll-on/roll-off and container traffic.
Originally, the defective harbour, with a shallow sand and gravel bar at its entrance, retarded the trade of Aberdeen, but under various acts since 1773 it was greatly deepened. The north pier, built partly by John Smeaton 1775-1781, and partly by Thomas Telford 1810-1815, extends nearly 3,000 ft into the North Sea and raised the bar. A wet dock of 29 acres and with 6000 ft of quay, was completed in 1848 and called Victoria Dock in honour of the queen's visit to the city in that year. Adjoining it is the Upper Dock. By the Harbour Act of 1868 , the Dee near the harbour was diverted from the south at a cost of £80,000, and 90 acres of new ground, in addition to 25 acres formerly made up, were provided on the north side of the river for the Albert Basin (with a graving dock), quays and warehouses. A 1050 ft long concretebreakwater was constructed on the south side of the stream as a protection against south-easterly gales. On Girdleness, the southern point of the bay, a lighthouse was built in 1833. 32 people were drowned in the harbour on 5 April 1876, in the River Dee Ferry Boat Disaster. Aberdeen Harbour was the first publicly limited company in the United Kingdom.
Owing to the variety and importance of its chief industries Aberdeen is one of the most prosperous cities in Scotland. Very durable grey granite was quarried at Rubislaw quarry for more than 300 years, and blocked and dressed paving "setts", kerb and building stones, and monumental and other ornamental work of granite have long been exported from the district to all parts of the world. Quarrying finally ceased in 1971.
This, though once the predominant industry, was surpassed by the deep-sea fisheries, which derived a great impetus from improved technologies throughout the twentieth century. Lately, however, catches have fallen due to overfishing in previous years, and the use of the harbour by oil support vessels. Aberdeen remains an important fishing port, but the catch landed there is now eclipsed by the more northerly ports of Peterhead and Fraserburgh.
Most of the leading pre-1970s industries date from the 18th century, amongst them woollens (1703), linen (1749), and cotton (1779). These gave employment to several thousands of operatives. The paper-making industry is one of the most famous and oldest in the city, paper having been first made in Aberdeen in 1694. Flax-spinning and jute and combmaking factories also flourished, along with successful foundries and engineering works.
In the days of wooden ships ship-building was a flourishing industry, the town being noted for its fast clippers, many of which established records in the "tea races". The introduction of trawling revived this to some extent, and despite the distance of the city from the iron fields there was a fair yearly output of iron vessels. The last major shipbuilder in Aberdeen, Hall Russells, closed in the late 1980's.
With the discovery of significant oil deposits in the North Sea during the late twentieth century, Aberdeen became the centre of Europe's petroleum industry, with the port serving oil rigs off-shore. The number of jobs created by the energy industry in and around Aberdeen has been estimated at half a million. In the mid 1980s, the city was dealt a heavy blow by the loss-of-life suffered during an explosion and fire aboard one such rig, the Piper Alpha.
Aberdeen Football Club was founded in 1903. Its major success was winning the European Cup Winners Cup in 1983 and three League Championships between 1980 and 1986, under the current Manchester United F.C. manager Alex Ferguson. The club's stadium is Pittodrie.
Aberdeen Golf Club was founded in 1815. It has two 18-hole courses at Balgownie, north of the River Don. There are other golf courses at Auchmill, Balnagask, Hazlehead and King's Links.
There are four main roads serving the city;
- A90 The main arterial route into the city from the South, linking Aberdeen to Edinburgh, Dundee and Perth.
- A96 Links to Elgin and Inverness and the North West.
- A93 The main route to the West, heading towards Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms.
- A92 The original southerly road to Aberdeen prior to the building of the
The city's original ring road, Anderson Drive, which was built in the 1930s has long since been engulfed by the expansion of the city, and is inadequate for dealing with today's traffic. To this end, a new main bypass road, the Western Peripheral Route, is planned to divert through traffic away from the city centre. The road is due to open in 2010.
The city is well served by the national railway network. Aberdeen has regular rail services to Glasgow and Edinburgh as well as long distance trains to London. It is possible to take the longest scheduled rail journey in the whole of the UK from Aberdeen. A daily service runs from Aberdeen to Penzance in Cornwall, which is 722 miles and 12 and three quarter hours away. Regular trains also run north westerly towards Inverness.
Aberdeen also has an airport in the neighbouring town of Dyce, which is operated by BAA. As well as connecting the city to the rest of the UK, Aberdeen International Airport (sometimes refererred to as Dyce Airport) is a major helicopter terminal for flights serving the many North Sea oil installations.
Twinned cities worldwide
Aberdeen is twinned with several cities across Europe and throughout the rest of the world. These include:
- List of people from Aberdeen, Scotland
- List of Bishops of Aberdeen
- List of Provosts and Lord Provosts of Aberdeen
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