Aberdeen (surveyed in 1866-7)


Aberdeen, on the north east coast of Scotland, was originally two separate towns, 'Old Aberdeen' at the mouth of the River Don and 'Aberdeen', sometimes referred to as 'New Aberdeen' at the mouth of the River Dee. In fact, both towns have medieval origins. Old Aberdeen was made into an episcopal see by David I in 1154 and Aberdeen was granted royal burgh status in the reign of David I (1124-53), although the earliest surviving charter dates to 1179. By the mid-nineteenth century the towns were growing into one another and together comprised the parliamentary burgh of Aberdeen.

The name Aberdeen means 'Mouth of the River Don'. It is derived from the Brythonic-Pictish word aber meaning 'river mouth' or confluence'. The second element of the name is confusing, as, in its present form, it appears to refer to the River Dee. However it was recorded in the early twelfth century as 'Aberdon', referring to the Old Aberdeen settlement by the River Don. The present form of the name seems to have begun to occur from the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, being recorded as 'Aberdoen' in 1178 and 'Aberden' in 1214.

The population of the parliamentary burgh of Aberdeen in the 1851 census was 71,973, an increase from 1831 when it was recorded at 58,019.

Town Planning

By the time of the survey, the settlement at the mouth of the Dee had grown to include a number of earlier villages. The core of the medieval town of Aberdeen can be seen in the curved street pattern to the east of the parish church (sheets xxvii.II.13, xxvii.II.14, xxvii.II.19). In the late eighteenth century, three main roads had been built; Union Street which cut north-east to south-west through the heart of the medieval town, King Street which gave a route to the north, and George Street which led to the west. The properties laid out around the new roads were in a grid pattern, except where the town had incorporated old villages such as Gilcomston (sheet lxxv.II.12) or Footdee (sheets lxxv.II.15, lxxv.II .20).

The settlement of Old Aberdeen (sheets lxxv.7.3, lxxv.7.8, lxxv.7.13) retained more of its medieval form, with properties on either side of the High Street, which then branched to form a 'Y' shape, with St Machar's Cathedral at the top. By the time of the survey, there were properties along both sides of the road connecting the settlements of Aberdeen and Old Aberdeen, although it was not heavily built-up.

The railway line from the south came up the coast to a station near the docks and then north below the new Union Street. Another line skirted around the eastern edge of the city from a station on the north side of the docks.


The architecture of Aberdeen of the early nineteenth century was dominated by the work of the architect Archibald Simpson (1790-1847) whose neo-classical granite buildings included the new buildings of Marischal College (1837-41), the Music Hall (1820), the East Church of St Nicholas (1837), and large parts of Union Street and the surrounding streets.

In Old Aberdeen, St Machar's Cathedral, although an earlier foundation, had been rebuilt in the fourteenth to sixteenth century.


Trade and industry was largely confined to the settlement around the Dee. The harbour was entered past the fishing village of Footdee and into the Victoria Dock and the Upper Dock (sheets lxxv.11.19, lxxv.11.20, lxxv.12.18 and lxxv.12.21), which had been built from c1810.

Ships from the town not only traded along the coast, but also sailed regularly to northern Europe, the United States and Canada. Many of the imports were of raw materials needed for local industries, such as raw cotton, flax, wool and coal. The exports included the finished woollen, linen and cotton, as well as fish, particularly salmon from the rivers Dee and Don.

From the mid-eighteenth century whaling was also an important industry and whaling ships from Aberdeen sailed to Greenland.


The textile industries were a major employer at this period. Wilson (1857) noted that the linen and flax industry employed some 8,000 people, the woollen industry some 2-2,500 and the cotton industry around 2,000 workers. Banner Mill (sheet lxxv.11.5) was regarded as one of the best cotton mills in the country at the time. There were major ship building yards near the docks (sheet lxxv.11.19) and many related industries such as rope makers and iron works.

Other industries in the town included clay tobacco pipe manufacture, comb making, soap making and several breweries and distilleries.

Religious Life

In Old Aberdeen, the Cathedral of St Machar (sheet lxxv.3.23) was the principal church, with the chapel of King's College providing a place of worship for the University. In Aberdeen there were six parish churches, including the East and West churches, which were built on either side of the surviving part of the medieval parish church of St Nicholas (sheet lxxv.11.13). There were also twelve Free churches, five United Presbyterian churches, an Original Seceder Meeting House, three Congregational Union chapels, an Independent chapel, two Episcopal churches, a Wesleyan Methodist chapel, a Quaker Meeting house, a Roman Catholic chapel and a number of smaller places of worship.


There were two separate universities in Aberdeen at this period; Kings College in Old Aberdeen, which had been founded in 1494 by Bishop Elphinstone, and Marischal College in Aberdeen, which had been founded in 1593 by George Keith, the fifth Earl Marischal. In the mid-nineteenth century, there were plans to unite the two colleges into one University.

By the mid-nineteenth century there were some seventy schools of various types in the parish, the most important being the Grammar school, which had been founded in 1418, and the eighteenth-century foundation of Gordon's Hospital.

Culture and Society

Aberdeen had a number of societies such as the medical society, the advocates' society, the shipmasters' and an agricultural society. On a lighter note, there was a theatre and a newly built music hall.