The Blog

8 Fascinating Tales Behind Aberdeen’s Historic Sites

Scotland’s cities are historical and magical places that boast ancient stories and tales to tell. No matter where you decide to visit in our mesmerising cities, there will no doubt be a fascinating past waiting to be uncovered.

Aberdeen is Scotland’s coastal city with many interesting ties to the sea. Delve into the captivating history behind some of the city’s iconic attractions, as well as uncovering hidden sites that you may never have known were there!

1. The Gallows Hill

Located next to Trinity Cemetery, The Gallows Hill is an eerie place with a turbulent past. This historic site is probably one you haven’t heard of before, but it was known as a popular execution site for people from many different backgrounds over the centuries. Most commonly used as the final place for condemned criminals, the last hanging to take place here was in 1776. A man named Alexander Morison was executed here for killing his wife. Even despite the cold weather, hangings would typically attract a large crowd, so once a criminal was hung, his body would be left on the gallows as a warning to deter other people from following in their footsteps.

Some fifty years later, the hill was partly excavated for the King Street Militia Barracks to create a gunpowder magazine. Here the soldiers made a gruesome discovery — many human bones, the remains of the condemned, had been buried under the hill and excluded from a proper burial because of their sins. The Gallows Hill is for sure a site with a violent past.

2. The Lost Street

If you’ve ever wandered through Aberdeen’s Castlegate area, you may have strolled over the long lost Huxter Row. There is a line of cobbles between the Townhouse and Athenaeum that are the remains of the road surface marking the entrance of Huxter Row, a street now lost under this ancient granite city.

Huxter Row was first recorded in 1440 and contained shops that could be hired by traders, but by the time the city’s new main street was built in 1810, Huxter Row was a popular trade centre with tailors, printers, grocers, shoemakers and a number of taverns. The Old Lemon Tree Hotel was a favourite haunt for regulars. By 1816, a police watch house was built and remained until the street was demolished in 1867 for the new Townhouse.

Keep an eye out for this lost street the next time you’re strolling through this ancient city.

3. The Tolbooth Museum

Step back in time with a visit to one of the best preserved 17th century jails in Scotland. The Tolbooth Museum once housed residents that were prisoners after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 and to this day still features cells with their original doors and barred windows, creating an eerie atmosphere. The museum itself boasts fascinating facts about Aberdeen and its tempestuous history through displays and exhibitions. Find out all about the crime and punishment that took place in the city all those years ago, as well as the many gruesome medieval torture methods, including the blade of Aberdeen’s 17th century guillotine.

4. Torry Battery

Nowadays, you may see Torry Battery as the ideal place to spot a variety of Scottish wildlife, such as dolphins, porpoises, migratory birds and sometimes minke whales. But did you know this harbour has seen many different purposes in its lifetime?

Originally built in 1860 to defend the harbour from an invasion by Napoleon III, Torry Battery was later manned again in WW1 and WW2 to guard the city. During the time between the wars, 1945 – 1953, the battery served as emergency housing during a shortage across the city. Today Torry Battery boasts many vantage points where you can admire scenic coastal views and spot wildlife playing in the sea.

5. Footdee

Known locally as ‘Fittie’, Footdee is an old fishing village and a unique corner of this bustling city. Dating back to the mid-19th century, the village’s row of picturesque cottages and blossoming gardens will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Fittie was designed many years ago by architect John Smith, who also built the magnificent royal Balmoral Castle.

Did you know that the pretty gardens found here were deliberately built facing inwards with their back to the sea to protect them from harsh storms?

6. Trinity Cemetery

Aberdeen’s Trinity Cemetery is home to hundreds of burials, many of which belong to military or war veterans. It was recently found that the cemetery is home to the grave of Titanic steersman, Robert Hichens, a Cornishman who investigators ultimately blamed for steering incorrectly, resulting in the ship crashing into an iceberg. Despite Hichens only following orders from the First Officer, he was ultimately jailed for attempted murder, after surviving the sinking of the Titanic, but was later released in 1931. Hichens began working on cargo boats but his health began to decline and in 1940 he died on a ship two miles from Aberdeen. For decades his family believed he was buried at sea, but in 2012, his great-granddaughter traced his resting place back to Trinity Cemetery.

7. Aberdeen Maritime Museum

Aberdeen has a long and fascinating history with the sea and you can learn all about this relationship at the Aberdeen Maritime Museum. Boasting a unique collection of maritime painting, artefacts and more on display, you can delve into the vast topics of shipbuilding, fast sailing ships, fishing and port history, to name a few. Featuring touch screen consoles, computer visual databases, an education room and hands-on exhibits, the museum provides the perfect setting for the whole family to enjoy a dash of history and learning.

Before you leave, why not stop by the café for a spot of lunch? Or head to the museum shop and browse the wide range of souvenirs, gifts, crafts, books and music, all offering an on-topic nautical theme.

8. Crathie Kirk

If that’s not enough, head just outside Aberdeen to the small village of Crathie where Crathie Kirk has a story to tell. A place of regular worship for the Royal Family, when staying in nearby Balmoral Castle, this Church of Scotland parish church has been here since the 9th century but in more recent history, Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone here in 1893. The church is steeped in Royal history, from stained glass windows and bells, to a communion table, all donated by Royal Family members. In 1992, Her Royal Highness Anne married Timothy Laurence, a commander in the Royal Navy, at Crathie Kirk. Interestingly enough, Queen Victoria’s Highland servant, John Brown, who was played by Billy Connolly in the 1997 film ‘Mrs Brown’, is buried in the graveyard at the kirk.

We hope that has sparked your interest in uncovering the intricate and detailed history of sites in Aberdeen. This list shows just a handful of what’s on offer, there’s plenty more to explore across Scotland and in our other ancient cities.