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.
Compared with many other important cities, printing came late to Aberdeen, and then through an Englishman. The place and date of the birth of Edward Raban are not known, but might have been in Gloucester or Worcestershire. He was a soldier, fighting against Spanish occupation in the Low Countries for a decade in the early 1600s and is known to have stayed on in Leiden around 1617-19 when he learned the printing trade.
He started as a printer in Edinburgh in 1620 and in the same year opened a shop in St Andrews. He was enticed to move to Aberdeen in 1622 by two notables – Sir Paul Menzies and Bishop Patrick Forbes. He set up a printing office on the north side of Castle Street, where he also lived, and was appointed as printer to the City and University. The City Council paid him a salary of £40 (Scots) per annum – and charged him the same amount as rent for his premises! He was particularly industrious, producing about 150 publications in about 27 years with, as far as can be told, only one assistant. All this was, of course, long before any mechanisation. Much of this output was for the University and the City, but in 1623 he produced his ‘Prognostication’ or Almanac, a collection of writing about the preceding year. This continued annually and became the Aberdeen Almanac which records a wide range of information.
Edward Raban retired in 1649 and died in 1658, being buried near the west wall of St Nicholas Kirkyard on 6th December that year. The exact position is not known, but there is a memorial plaque to him in Drum’s Aisle of the Kirk of St Nicholas, as shown in the accompanying photograph. It was erected in 1922 by the Guild of Master Printers in Aberdeen to mark the three hundredth anniversary of the start of his business.
Friday 6th July 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster. On that fateful night the Piper Alpha rig exploded and caught fire killing a total of 167 men. No-one who was in Aberdeen at the time will forget that day nor the subsequent days. It is fitting that various memorials have been created for those who lost their lives. The Piper Alpha Memorial Garden is in Hazlehead Park where an Act of Remembrance will take place at 7 pm on 6th July. There is also a beautiful Piper Alpha memorial window in Ferryhill Parish Church.
At the time of the disaster the ‘Oil Chapel’ was being planned by the oil industry to mark the first 25 years of North Sea oil. This is in the Kirk of St Nicholas and naturally its design was influenced by these events. In particular the furniture, designed and built by Borders craftsman Tim Stead, features strips of native Scottish trees, the initials of which spell out ‘We Remember Yew’. This can be seen, for example, in the backs of the chairs (first photograph). Also in the Oil Chapel is a desk housing a book with the names of all those who lost their life. This is shown in the second photograph. The Chapel can be visited any weekday afternoon (between 12 noon and 4 pm) until the end of September in the Kirk of St Nicholas – entry by the main door facing Union Street.
Also available is a notelet showing a chair, as shown in the third photograph. In the chapel’s stained glass window there are red (oil) and green (gas) ‘lenses’ representing various fields in the North Sea. There is also one clear glass lens commemorating the Piper Alpha field.
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!
A chauntry (sometimes spelt chantry) is the word used to describe an altar or chapel created for the chanting of Mass for the soul of the founder. Setting up a chauntry would also involve a financial endowment to remunerate the clergy. By the early 1400s, there were more than 30 such chauntries in the Kirk of St Nicholas. Indeed, this was one of the factors leading to plans to expand the building.
One of these chauntries, dedicated to St Laurence and St Ninian, was founded by William De Leith in 1356. St Laurence (born in 225) was one of the elders of the church in Rome who was martyred in 258 by Emperor Valerian as part of his purge of Christians. By contrast St Ninian is first mentioned in the 8th century as an early missionary to the Pictish peoples in Scotland. His major shrine is at Whithorn in Galloway.
On the west wall of Drum’s Aisle is the plaque shown in the first photograph. It can be seen that parts of it appear to be quite badly worn, but it was part of that altar to St Laurence and St Ninian. The plaque has a richly sculptured stylised border. The central image shows a female figure with four children, some kneeling, and with what is probably an open book in front of them. To the right there may have been a cross, although this is now blank because it is reputed to have been defaced by Covenanters. Overall the scene probably represents a Mass taking place. The original altar was located in the extension to the south transept which William Leith had paid for that same year. This means that the original altar would have been near to where the main south door is today. The plaque was mounted on the west wall at the time of the rebuilding of the East Kirk in 1836.
Underneath is a panel recording the origin of the larger plaque (second photograph), but these are now in a different place, so the relatives of William Leith are not under its present location as indicated on the panel.
This year there has been celebration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his ‘95 theses’ on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Saxony on 31st October 1517. This is taken as the start of the Reformation, although it was a further 43 years before it properly reached Scotland, in August 1560.
However, things had been changing for a number of years and came to a head during 1559-60. This blog is going to focus on the first Protestant minister of Aberdeen, Adam Heriot. He was born in Trabroun, East Lothian in 1514. He matriculated at St. Leonard’s College, St. Andrews in 1543 and became an Augustinian canon at the cathedral in St. Andrews. As the challenges to the established Roman Catholic doctrine grew, Adam Heriot started to question his own beliefs and in 1558 he became a Protestant. It seems that he might have briefly been a minister in St. Andrews in 1559 before settling in Aberdeen where he remained until his retirement in 1573. In August 1560 he was appointed as the first protestant minister to the Kirk of St Nicholas in Aberdeen. In the West Kirk there is a board listing all the protestant ministers of the Kirk. His name tops the list as shown in the photograph.
His stipend was fixed at £17, which he received from the revenues of the town, but the magistrates presented to him annually a suit of black clothes (‘doublet and hose, all in black’), and other necessities, to the value of £2.50, besides a donation of about 85p in money, for house rent.
Not a great deal is known of his ministry in Aberdeen. It must have been a time of considerable turmoil and it was not until 10th December 1562 that a Kirk Session met for the first time. In 1564 there was a visit by John Knox who stayed for several weeks including preaching in the Kirk. It is presumed much of this time would have been spent on ‘purging’ the local church of Roman influence and advising on reorganisation. Adam Heriot has been described as being ‘an eloquent preacher and well seen in scholastic divinity’. On an unknown date, he married Euphemia Scheves. She died in February 1569 and he had a plaque prepared in her memory. It still remains in the wall of what is now St John’s Chapel (the Oil Chapel). It is, unfortunately, illegible but is shown in the second photograph.
He did not keep good health and in 1573 he was forced to retire. He moved back to St Andrews, where he had retained a manse. He died there on 28th August 1574 of apoplexy (possibly a stroke). An obituary says ‘greatly beloved of the citizens for his humane and courteous conversation, and of the poorer sort much lamented, to whom he was in his life very beneficial’.
Robert Gordon (1668-1731) was the only son of Arthur and Isabella Gordon and grandson of Robert Gordon of Straloch, an early Scottish cartographer. Arthur Gordon was a well-respected advocate in the Edinburgh Courts, but died when Robert was just 12 years old, leaving him 20,000 merks (worth about £1,100 at the time). When he reached the age of 16, he became a Burgess of the City of Aberdeen enabling him to become a merchant in the town. In 1689, at the age of 21, he graduated in Arts from Marischal College then left Aberdeen to travel around Europe, eventually settled in Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland). There he established a merchant trader business and over several decades was very successful and became sufficiently wealthy to make substantial donations to Marischal College and low-interest loans to Aberdeenshire landowners.
Exactly when he returned to Aberdeen as a very wealthy man is not recorded, but it was before 1720. A bachelor, he had no heirs so decided to found “a hospital for maintenance, aliment, entertainment and education of young boys” and started work on this just before his death (a ‘hospital’ was a boarding school). It was quite some time before the school actually opened. The building was completed in 1743, but before it opened was taken over by the Duke of Cumberland as a barracks for the Hanoverian troops sent to put down the Jacobite rising in 1746. It was not until 1750 that his wish finally came to fruition and the first students were admitted. Over time there have been two significant developments. It embraced secondary education and also became a day school in 1881, being known as Robert Gordon’s College. Then, from 1903, it introduced technical subjects, many as night school classes. These professional and technical subjects, led eventually to the Robert Gordon University in 1992.
Robert Gordon himself is buried within the Kirk of St Nicholas, although exactly where is not known. However, the close proximity of Robert Gordon’s College and the Kirk meant that there have been close links over the centuries. This has been recognised in the panel on the front of a section of the gallery in the West Kirk (shown in the photograph). The College continues to use the West Kirk for services. In 1934 the College held their first annual Founder’s Day to celebrate their benefactor. Originally these were held in April, but in the year 2000, marking the 250th anniversary of the opening of the school, Founder’s Day was moved to September. Each year there is a service in the Kirk of St Nicholas, this year on 21st September, during which pupils place wreaths on the memorial to Robert Gordon just inside the main south entrance to the Kirk. The photograph shows the memorial with the wreaths following Founder’s Day last year.
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!!
In St Mary’s Chapel, there is a brass plaque on the wall in the south aisle commemorating Margaret Mansonia Brotchie, a member or ‘sister’ of the Guild of St Margaret. The plaque is shown in the photograph. The Guild was started in 1882 during the first year of the innovative ministry of Revd. James Cooper, but Margaret Brotchie had only been a member for 18 months when she died in July 1886.
This Guild is believed to have been the earliest guild for women in any Scottish parish church and was active 6 years before the formation of the Women’s Guild at national level. The intention was that it should provide a focus for mutual support and encouragement for women who were engaged is some aspect of church work – Sunday school teaching, district visiting, soup kitchen, knitting or sewing garments for the poor, etc. In addition to these practical activities, they were also devout, frequently meeting for worship, for which they even had their own printed service book. Much of the activity of the Guild was centred in the Mission Rooms in Guestrow and it was there that the memorial was initially placed. However, when the Rooms closed it was appropriately moved to St Mary’s Chapel in which many of the Guild services were later held.
Very little is known of Margaret herself: she was born on 7th April 1835 daughter of John Brotchie, parochial schoolmaster in Kintore, and died at 134 Crown Street at the age of 51. At a meeting of the Council of the Guild on 13th September 1886, in noting her death, mention was made of ‘her goodness and kindness of heart’ as having won the respect of all. It was agreed to send an expression of sympathy to her brothers, and with their agreement, to erect a brass memorial tablet. The cost was estimated at £3 and it was later calculated that that could be raised if each member contributed 6 pence. It was shown to members, prior to erection, on 7th February 1887 and was ‘much admired’
High on the west wall of Drum’s Aisle in the Kirk of St Nicholas Uniting is an elaborate monument, as shown in the first photograph. This memorial relates to two members of the distinguished Aberdeen Gregory family, five generations of whom became professors. To the left of the monument reference is to Elizabeth Gregory, nee Forbes, who was married to John Gregory. The latter was professor of medicine at King’s College in Aberdeen and then moved to Edinburgh University. The section to the right refers to James Gregory, son of Elizabeth and John Gregory. The inscriptions are in Latin, and for James Gregory it records that he visited the place where his mother was buried and, together with his wife and surviving children, to mourn the passing of his daughter Jane MacLeod Gregory in 1813 at the tender age of eight (see below).
Like his father, James Gregory was an Aberdeen-born physician who achieved great distinction. The family had moved to Edinburgh in 1764 when James was 11 years old. He graduated in medicine from Edinburgh University in 1774. His father died whilst he was still a student and he delivered the lectures his father should have given. Just two years after graduating he was appointed to the chair which his father had held. Later he became first physician to the king of Scotland (George III), a position renewed by George IV in 1820. James Gregory died in April 1821 and is buried at the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh.
A closer view of the section referring to James Gregory is shown in the second photograph. The translation of the Latin reads: “Here also her son James Gregory, MD, FRSE, Professor of Medicine in the University of Edinburgh and His Majesty’s principal physician in Scotland – who when a boy, as yet a stranger to sorrow, had paid the just dues to his beloved mother – after 52 years, now an old man, and not unacquainted with misfortunes, but glad to revisit with his wife and children this district and his native city, surrounded by four of his sons and a circle of weeping friends did sorrowing pay the same just dues to his eldest daughter Jane MacLeod, a child most winsome, of highest promise, her father’s delight, her mother’s other soul, by cruel death snatched away in the eighth year of her age, 27 August, 1813”
During his academic life James was popular with students but often not far from controversy. However, he is probably best remembered for his popular remedy of Gregory’s Powders also known as Gregory’s Mixture. This is a mixture of powdered Rhubarb root (2 parts), Light Magnesium Carbonate (6 parts) and Ginger 1 part. The normal dose was about 1 to 4 g. The powder mixture could be taken as such with a draught of water, or dispersed in the water before taking. It was used as a stomach sedative and also had mild laxative properties. It did not taste good – but there is the old adage that if it tastes bad it does you good! Along with many ‘traditional’ medicines, it has fallen out of use in the last half century.