In February 2015 a post about the Hamilton Memorial in the St Nicholas Kirkyard showed two photographs taken 10 years apart. They showed the deterioration over the years. This post shows that it has been restored. The work was undertaken by the Aberdeen City Heritage Trust during the first half of 2018. The architect for the work was Aberdeen-based David Chouman and the contractors were specialist stonemasons Harper and Allan of Keith.
The photographs show the memorial in 2015, work underway in spring 2018, the finished restoration and a close up of the plaque on the memorial. We are grateful to all who have been involved in this work.
Sir Alexander Anderson had a long and full life, being successful in many fields of endeavour. He was born on 10th June 1802 in Strichen to the Rev Alexander Anderson and his wife Helen Findlay. He was brought up in the manse in Strichen. His education was at Aberdeen Grammar School and Marischal College in Aberdeen, where he graduated MA in law in 1819! His apprenticeship was served in Aberdeen and in 1827 was admitted to the Society of Advocates. He formed a partnership with William Adam to create the law firm of Adam and Anderson. This was probably the best known law firm in Aberdeen of that time and Alexander was the senior partner. Amongst his early achievements was the reorganisation of the Aberdeen Dispensary (originally founded in 1781 and which later developed into the Maternity Hospital) and he became its treasurer for 32 years. He promoted Aberdeen Fire and Life Assurance in 1836, which evolved to become the Northern Assurance Company in 1848. Their offices at No 1 Union Terrace are a major granite feature at the junction with Union Street. He was involved in a large number of other projects in the city including the North of Scotland Bank, the Aberdeen Market Company, a number of gas and water undertakings and the City of Aberdeen Land Association. He was also pivotal in the creation of the Great North of Scotland Railway (GNSR), the inaugural meeting being held in the offices of his company. His ability to think clearly enabled him to guide the planning processes for GNSR, particularly the routes to follow, at a time when ‘railway fever’ was at its height and often led to financial disaster. This was avoided with the GNSR, although Alexander did have some other unfortunate financial ventures, such as the Illinois Investment Company and the North Bank, both of which failed with substantial losses being incurred.
In 1859 a whole new chapter in the life of Alexander Anderson started when he was elected Lord Provost, a role he filled until 1866. He was knighted on 13th October 1863 on the occasion of the unveiling of the statue of the Prince Consort by Queen Victoria. It was during his time as Lord Provost that the City Council created a new water supply, built a new sewerage system and acquired the legislation to build the Town and County Buildings in Castlegate. One historian has suggested that he single-handedly ‘projected Aberdeen into the modern age’. Quite an accolade.
He died on 11th April 1887 just a few months after his wife. His gravestone, which also includes his wife and other members of the family, is on the Back Wynd wall of the graveyard at the Kirk of St Nicholas. There is also a white plaque to him, not accessible to the public, on the North Pier light at Aberdeen Harbour – he had been involved in the extension to the harbour as well!
In 1801 an Act of Parliament allowed Aberdeen to build two new roads – King Street and Union Street. Planning of Union Street had started around 1794, but it was a big project which faced many challenges. These included removal of St Katherine’s Hill and building the stretch from the Adelphi as far as Diamond Street on massive brick arches with Union Bridge over the Denburn linking the two ends together.
The Kirkyard of St Nicholas Kirk had followed a slope down towards the Green. Erecting the brick arches raised the ground level. The Kirkyard was extended southwards in 1819. There was a period when there was open ground onto Union Street, which started being used for events not really fitting for a Kirkyard. To counter this, the City commissioned its City Architect, John Smith, to design and build a colonnade to separate the two in a tasteful manner and to provide an impressive entrance to the Kirk.
John Smith was born in 1781 and trained as an architect in Aberdeen and London. At the age of 26 he was appointed Superintendent of Works for the City (the title was later to be changed to City Architect). He designed many fine buildings still in use today. For the colonnade, Smith took inspiration from the Hyde Park Screen in London which had been built a decade earlier by Decimus Burton.
The photograph shows the colonnade, sometimes referred to as a screen. It has a central wide and high archway flanked by double Ionic columns. To both sides there are six smaller columns mounted on a low wall with iron railings between. At either end are massive pylons which anchor the whole structure. Smith used granite from the Dancing Cairn quarry. The quarry closed in the 1960s and is now largely under the Auchmill Golf Course between Heatheryfold and Bucksburn. The stone is a light grey-silver granite and was also used in making Aberdeen Adamant paving stones. The colonnade was completed in 1829.
Nowadays it is partly hidden by bus shelters and by the trees just behind it in the Kirkyard. However, in 2015 Aberdeen Inspired applied to install lighting on the colonnade. One of their publicity pictures is shown in the second photograph. The new lighting, which is very discrete, was working by 2016.
How things have changed! This is a brief account of the life of Revd Dr James Kidd (pictured) who was born on 6 Nov. 1761.
He was the youngest son of poor parents from Loughbrickland in County Down. His father died soon after his birth, following which the family moved to County Antrim where a friendly farmer paid for his school education. Later Kidd had sufficient means from running his own school, to go to Belfast to study English. He married Jane Boyd and in April 1784 they emigrated to Pennsylvania where he taught and also studied at Pennsylvania College. It was during this time that he chanced to see a written Hebrew character which started a new chapter in his life. He bought a Hebrew Bible, and with the help of a Jewish friend and by attending a synagogue he acquired fluency in Hebrew. At this time it was called Oriental Language and became his favourite subject. In 1792 he returned to Edinburgh University reading chemistry, anatomy, and theology, whilst earning money by teaching extra-collegiate classes in Oriental Language. In the autumn of 1793 he was appointed Professor of Oriental Language in Marischal College, Aberdeen, where he completed his theological qualifications and was licensed as a preacher by the presbytery of Aberdeen on 3 Feb. 1796. He was appointed evening lecturer in Trinity Chapel in the Shiprow. Then on 18 June 1801 he left Marischal College to become minister of Gilcomston Chapel of Ease where he stayed until his death on Christmas Eve 1834. During these years he took up the Abolitionist cause, founded the first Sunday School in Aberdeen and advocated the temperance movement. In October 1818 the College of New Jersey conferred on him the honorary degree of D.D.
His preaching was powerful and popular, reputedly to congregations of up to 2,000. But he was also a very forceful character who was not averse to being controversial. A source suggests he was an ‘Ian Paisley-like’ personality. One story told of him is that during one particular service a man wearing a distinctive red waistcoat fell asleep. The command came from the pulpit “Waken that man”. He was roused – for a while, but on falling asleep again there was a second reprimand from the pulpit. The third time, Dr Kidd picked up a small Bible which was to hand and threw it, accurately, at the sleeper – adding the words “Now, sir, if you will not hear the word of God, you shall feel it!” Dr James Stark published a biography of him in 1898. Dr Kidd had published a number of religious books.
He is buried in the Kirkyard at the Kirk of St Nicholas Uniting. It would be easy to walk past his grave (shown in the photograph). It almost overhangs the central path from Union Street on the right hand side. The inscription for Dr Kidd is on the vertical face at the side of the path. In the recent SPECTRA 2017, there were illuminated ‘spiders’ around there. One can only imagine what he might have said!!
Lady Elizabeth Crombie Duthie of Ruthrieston was born in 1818 to Alexander Duthie. Her father was a member of the wealthy family of merchants, ship owners and ship builders. She inherited considerable sums from her uncle Walter and brother Alexander Duthie, who had both been in the legal profession. In their memory she was determined to do something to benefit the people of Aberdeen. Therefore, in 1880 she purchased the 44 acre estate of Arthurseat by the banks of the River Dee for £30,000 and gave it to the City of Aberdeen to be developed into a park. The estate, on the north bank of the River Dee, was marshy ground covered with gorse and was traversed by a street, Sycamore Place. In the language of the day it was determined that the park be “available for all classes of citizens, that it should have a broad expanse of grassy sward upon which the young might indulge in innocent frolic and play…”. The work of designing the park was given to William R McKelvie of Dundee. Work progressed quickly with the first sod cut on 27th August 1881. The official opening of Duthie Park on 27th September 1883 was performed by HRH Princess Beatrice, substituting for her mother Queen Victoria who was recovering from an accident. Many of the original features of the park remain today, although they have evolved with time. Perhaps the best loved are the Winter Gardens, now known as the David Welch Winter Gardens. The original glass houses were opened in 1899. Today’s glasshouses were built following severe storm damage in 1969. They house the second largest collection (after the Eden Project) of bromeliads and giant cacti in the UK.
Elizabeth Duthie died on 30th March 1885 at the age of 67. Her substantial memorial in the Kirkyard at the Kirk of St Nicholas is shown in the photograph and has the epitaph “Her best and most enduring memorial is the park she gave to her fellow citizens”. The memorial also records other members of her family. There is a less obvious memorial to her in Duthie Park. In recognition of her contribution to the city, the council erected the ‘Hygeia Statue’, which was unveiled in 1897. The four lions around the plinth of the statue are supposed to represent the strong citizens in the park whilst Hygeia is the Goddess of Health, shown holding a cup from which a snake drinks (a symbol linked with various health related professions). There is a third memorial to Elizabeth Duthie in the city – a plaque outside 34 Maberly Street where she lived. The original house was demolished fairly recently. A portrait of her, painted in the year she died, is owned by Aberdeen Art Gallery.
As part of the celebration of Christmas, Aberdeen City Council erects a Christmas Nativity scene in St Nicholas Kirkyard. It is located on the grass area by the main path from the Union Street entrance. It reminds us that at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The tableau also reminds us of the conditions which today would be classed as appalling and yet is still reality for many around our world. The bright lights, presents, parties etc. are another way of celebrating – but not the reason.
The Nativity Scene depicts the stable, with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, with the shepherds and wise men in attendance. This year the Blessing of the scene was organised by Aberdeen Churches Together in association with the Council. There was a short act of worship with the main participants being pupils from Aberdeen primary and junior schools gathering to sing carols, hear the Christmas story from the Gospel of St Luke and witness the blessing. Afterwards, they enjoyed refreshments in the Kirk of St Nicholas.
The photograph was taken last Christmas on a dark morning in the hope that the inside of the ‘stable’ would be clearly visible. Unfortunately, there is also some unavoidable reflection from the Perspex screen.
The Board of the OpenSpace Trust wish all our readers a very Happy Christmas.
Recently a diseased tree was removed from just inside the Back Wynd gate into St Nicholas Kirkyard. As a result a number of gravestone have become much more visible than they were previously. An elaborate one on the wall will be shown at a later date, but whilst photographing it, another memorial was noticed almost hidden at ground level, and partly covered by the sawdust from the tree removal. One of the people interred there is a significant person in the life of the city of Aberdeen and, indeed, his town ‘lodgings’ are in the news at the moment as well.
He is Sir George Skene of Fintray and Rubislaw, better known as Provost Skene, whose ‘house’ is being surrounded by the new Marischal Square development, and which is to house a new museum celebrating famous Aberdonians over the centuries. Provost Skene’s House is quite close to the former East Kirk which will complement with the stories of the development of Aberdeen – its buildings and people.
George Skene was born in 1619 at the Mill of Potterton in Aberdeenshire. His father died when he was just 12 years old and his half-brother arranged for him to be apprenticed to George Aedie who had strong trading connections with Danzig (modern day Gdansk, Poland) in the Baltic. Living there, he proved to be a very able trader and became a wealthy man. He returned to Aberdeen in 1665, then aged 36, and the following year purchased the Wester Fintray estate (near Kintore) with some of the money he had made. Three years later, in 1669, he purchased a mansion on Guestrow – now known as Provost Skene’s House. The house had been built in 1545 and has a fascinating history. Not only was George Skene a significant trader, he also became involved in the civic life of the area becoming Provost of Aberdeen in 1676, a position he held until 1685. During this time he used the house on Guestrow as his town ‘lodging’. He was also a benefactor of King’s College and the University of Aberdeen in general. He was knighted in 1861 by James, Duke of York (later James VII of Scotland). After ‘retiring’ as Provost, he bought the house and estate of Rubislaw in 1687 and used this as his main residence. George Skene never married, but supported his brother’s children. However, his nephews disappointed him, so much of his wealth was passed to his niece’s sons and his property to the family of his former employer. When he died on 9th April in 1707, aged 88 years, he also left 1,000 merks to the Kirk Session of St Nicholas to be used for the poor of the parish. A merk was worth 13 shillings and 4 pence, that is two thirds of a Scots Pound.
Because of its position, it is very difficult to photograph George Skene’s tombstone properly, and it has many other people listed on it. The two photographs show the whole stone (just inside the Kirkyard to the Union Street side the Back Wynd gate) and a closer view of the part of the inscription about George Skene taken when there was a low morning sun.
There are several large memorials along the wall of the Kirk of St Nicholas Kirkyard which backs onto Back Wynd. One of these is for George Davidson of Pettens. Pettens was a farm just north of Balmedie, but George Davidson acquired a large estate covering the area near modern day Kingswells, Newhills and Bucksburn.
It is not known when he was born, nor who his parents were. He never married and was probably illiterate. Despite this he was a burgess of the city of Aberdeen and amassed a substantial amount of wealth, part of which he used to extend the estate. However, most of his wealth was used to fund projects for the benefit of others. Travelling home from Aberdeen one day he saw a man nearly drown in attempting to cross the Buxburne (the modern day Bucksburn, which flows through the Aberdeen suburb of Bucksburn to join the River Don). This moved him to have a stone bridge built, including the provision of money for its upkeep. In addition, he repaired the bridge at Inche (Insch), built the chapel at Newhills and the walls around St Clement’s Church in Aberdeen, where there is a memorial plaque to mark his generosity. Apart from this type of beneficence he also left endowments to the ministers of both St Nicholas and St Clement’s Churches.
As can be seen in the photograph, the central part of the memorial is a Latin inscription. The following is a translation, taken from ‘Collection of Epitaphs and Monumental Inscriptions: Chiefly in Scotland’ published in 1834, which indicates the wide range of good works which George Davidson did before his death in 1663.
“To the eternal memory of George Davidson of Pettens, a man truly notable for the integrity of his life, and profuse liberality towards the poor, and for his piety towards God, and who deserved very well from the church and all the commonwealth, and from this city of Aberdeen. This man, beside many donations for the perpetual help of the poor and publick uses, caused the bridge of Inche to be repaired, and the bridge of Buxburne to be built of a notable structure. He gifted to the church of Aberdeen the lands of Pettens and Bogfairlie, with certain sums of money, for the perpetual use of a preacher of God’s word there; he also caused build the church of Newhills, and, for the more increase of the kingdom of God, by a singular example and preparative, he dedicated and mortified the saids lands of Newhills also, for the maintenance of the ministers of the gospel thereat. He died in the year 1663.”
William Dyce was born in Aberdeen in 1806. His father was a doctor of some renown. William was a gifted scholar, graduating with an MA from Marischal College at the age of 16. Rather than entering one of the ‘learned professions’ as would have been normal, he opted to follow his interest and ability in art, firstly at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh and then at the Royal Academy in London. After a few months in Rome he returned to London and produced, at the age of 20, several paintings. His early professional work were mainly portraits, but he later widened his scope considerably concentrating on mythical and religious subjects. Some of his finest work are the frescos in the Queen’s Robing Room in the newly built House of Lords. Commissioned in 1847, these are based on the Arthurian Legends and use allegory to depict virtues such as mercy, hospitality and courtesy. Those of courage and fidelity were not started before his death. However, William Dyce had many other interests. He was very influential in developing art education, he was a fine organist and composed a number of works, he won a prize for some work on electromagnetism in animals and was involved in founding the Motett Society to study early church music.
Most of his life was spent in London where he died in 1864 and is buried at St Leonard’s Church, Streatham. However, he is not forgotten in his native Aberdeen. Apart from the large collection of his works in Aberdeen Art Gallery (temporarily closed for major renovation) he is remembered on a grave structure in the Kirk of St Nicholas Kirkyard. As the photograph shows, the structure is showing signs of ageing. To find the memorial go up the main path from Union Street almost up to the front door of the Kirk. On the right is a tree a few yards from the path. The memorial is ‘behind’ the tree.
The high four-pillared monument, the most prominent in the Kirkyard, which stands near the Union Street Gate, commemorates Robert Hamilton (1743-1829). Made of granite, it was erected in 1843 by public subscription and was designed by the City Architect, John Smith, who some years previously, had designed the nearby screen and gateway.
Robert Hamilton had an interesting life having a variety of employments. Initially this was in banking, then industrial management, followed by school-mastering. In 1777 Robert Hamilton was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy in Marischal College and later became Professor of Mathematics. He wrote widely, including an influential work on the National Debt. This no doubt included references to his interest in the economic consequences of slavery, as well as the moral awareness which then played a larger part in economic argument than it does today. He made significant contributions to the anti-slavery movement and was the first President of the Aberdeen Abolition Society a position he held until his death. He is still recognised in the City in the name of Hamilton Place.
The first picture, above, was taken by our architect about 10 years ago when the memorial was in much better condition. The second shows it as it is today with the central urn missing – it can just be seen to the bottom left unturned behind the memorial to ‘William Allen of Mileend’, and some weeds growing. The inscription to Robert Hamilton is in Latin. The contrast between the photographs shows the need to undertake regular maintenance of these old structures, because decay can quickly set in.