Old Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire
ABERDEEN-OLD, or Old-Machar, a parish, chiefly without, but partly within, the city of Aberdeen, in the county of Aberdeen; comprising the former quoad sacra parishes of Bon-Accord, Gilcomston, Holburn, and Woodside; and containing 28,020 inhabitants. This place, originally a small hamlet, consisting only of a few scattered cottages, was, from the erection of a chapel near the ancient bridge of Seaton by St. Machar in the ninth century, called the Kirktown of Seaton. It was undistinguished, however, by any event of importance till the year 1137, when it became the seat of a diocese, on the removal of the see of Aberdeen by David I. from Mortlach, in the county of Banff, where it was originally founded by Malcolm II., and had continued for more than 120 years. Bishop Kinnimond, at that time prelate of the see, founded a cathedral church on the site of the ancient chapel of St. Machar; and towards the end of the thirteenth century, this church was taken down by Bishop Cheyne, for the purpose of erecting a structure of more ample dimensions, and more appropriate character; but in the contested succession to the throne of Scotland, becoming an adherent of Baliol, he was compelled to retire into exile, and the rebuilding of the cathedral was suspended. On the establishment of Robert Bruce, that monarch recalled the exiled bishop, who recommenced the work; and the undertaking was continued by his successors, of whom Bishop Elphinstone, the founder of King's College, with the assistance of James IV., made rapid progress in the rebuilding of the cathedral. It was completed by Bishop Dunbar, in 1518, and, since the abolition of episcopacy in Scotland, has been appropriated as the parish church. In the long line of bishops who made this place the seat of ecclesiastical state, there were some who by their deeds and character threw a lustre even upon their high and holy office.
The TOWN is pleasantly situated on a gentle eminence, near the river Don. Across the river is an ancient picturesque bridge of one lofty arch, in the early English style, said to have been built by Bishop Cheyne, though by others ascribed to King Robert Bruce, and concerning which, under the appellation of the Brig of Balgownie, a traditionary legend prophetic of its downfall is quoted by Lord Byron. Considerably to the east of this, is another bridge, affording a passage from Aberdeen to the north, erected from the funds for keeping the old bridge in repair, originally left for that purpose by Sir Alexander Hay, and which, from £2. 5. 6., had accumulated to £20,000: it is a handsome structure of five arches, built of granite. The principal street, which consists of houses irregularly built, extends from south to north, to the town-house, where it diverges into two branches, one leading to the church, and the other to the old bridge; the streets are lighted, and the inhabitants are well supplied with water by commissioners appointed by the rate-payers. The environs are extremely pleasant, and richly wooded; and in the immediate vicinity of the town are numerous villas.
On the establishment of the see at this place, the town was made a burgh of barony, by charter of David I.; and the various privileges conferred upon it by subsequent sovereigns were confirmed by charter of George I., who granted the inhabitants the power of choosing their own magistrates. The government is vested, by charter, in a provost, four bailies, a treasurer, and council of eight merchant and five trade burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk, procurator-fiscal, and other officers. There are seven incorporated trades, viz., the hammermen, weavers, tailors, wrights and coopers, bakers and brewers, fleshers and fishers, and shoemakers, who elect their own deacons, and also a deacon convener. The fees on entrance to these trades, which confer the privilege of carrying on trade in the burgh, are £8, and a payment of £3 to the court of conveners; and for a merchant burgess £5. 7. The jurisdiction of the magistrates extends over the whole burgh, but is seldom exercised: not more than two civil causes have been determined in one year; in criminal cases, their jurisdiction is limited to petty misdemeanors, and all more serious offences are referred to the sheriff's court. For parliamentary purposes the burgh is associated with Aberdeen, and the right of election, under the Reform act, is vested in the resident £10 householders of the place. The number of members of all the several guilds does not in the aggregate exceed 120, and of these not more than fifteen exercise any trade. The town-hall, which is situated at the northern extremity of the principal street, was built by subscription, in 1702, and has been since rebuilt. It contains a spacious hall for public meetings, a council-room for the occasional use of the magistrates, and various other apartments; in the upper floor is the grammar school, and on the ground floor a school for English. Opposite to the town-hall was formerly an ancient cross, consisting of a pedestal bearing the arms of the Bishops Dunbar, Stewart, and Gordon, from which rose a pillar surmounted by an effigy of the Virgin Mary; but this was removed on the rebuilding of the hall. Since the dissolution of the see, the town has owed its chief prosperity and support to its university, which was founded by Bishop Elphinstone, in the reign of James IV., who for that purpose procured a bull from Pope Alexander VI. The college was first dedicated to St. Mary; but from the great liberality of the monarch in its endowment, it was subsequently called KING'S COLLEGE, a designation it has ever since retained. The first principal of the college was Hector Boethius, the celebrated historian, under whom and his successors it continued to flourish till the Reformation, when many of its functionaries were expelled. In 1578, the institution received a charter from the parliament, after which it languished under the gross mismanagement of its principals, who sold the ornaments of the chapel, alienated the revenues for their own emolument, and committed other abuses. In 1619, however, Bishop Forbes, by great perseverance, recovered part of the alienated property, and restored several of the professorships, to which, in 1628, he added a professorship of divinity, which was afterwards held by his son. From this time, the institution revived, and continued to flourish till the introduction of the Covenant, for refusing to sign which several of the professors were expelled, among whom was Dr. Forbes, the divinity professor. Many of the new professors appointed by the Covenanters were, in their turn, ejected by Cromwell, under whom General Monk despatched Colonels Desborough, Fenwick, and others, to visit and reform the college: these officers, though they removed some of the professors, and appointed others, still promoted the general interests of the establishment, and subscribed liberally towards the erection of houses for the students. After the restoration of Charles II., the bishops of Aberdeen assumed their authority as chancellors of the university, and reformed the disorders which had been introduced during the interregnum.
The university, as at present constituted, is under the direction of a chancellor, generally a nobleman of high rank, who is elected by the senutus academicus; a rector, chosen by the same body; and a principal and sub-principal, elected by the rector, procuratores gentium, and the professors, and admitted by the chancellor. There are nine professorships, of which those of Greek, humanity, medicine and chemistry, and civil law, are in the patronage of the rector, procuratores, and senatus academicus; that of divinity in the patronage of the synod of Aberdeen, the principal, and dean of faculty of theology; those of mathematics, natural philosophy, and moral philosophy, in the patronage of the senutus academicus; and that of oriental languages, in the patronage of the crown. There are also eleven lectureships, of which that of practical religion is in the patronage of the trustees of John Gordon, Esq., of Murtle, the founder; and those of the evidences and principles of the Christian religion, Murray's Sunday lectures, materia medico, anatomy and physiology, surgery, practice of medicine, midwifery, institutes of medicine, medical jurisprudence, and botany, are all in the patronage of the senatus academicus. The number of bursaries is above 150, varying from £5 to £50 per annum, and mostly tenable for four years. Of these, ninety-six are open to public competition, and the others are in the patronage of the professors of the college, or representatives of the founders.
The site of the college occupies a quadrangular area of considerable extent, surrounded with buildings raised at different periods, of which the most ancient were erected in 1500. The whole possesses a strikingly venerable appearance. In the north-west angle is a lofty massive tower, strengthened with canopied buttresses, bearing the royal arms of Scotland, and those of Stewart, Archbishop of St. Andrew's, and others: above the parapet is a lantern, supported by flying buttresses springing from the angles, in the form of an imperial crown; This kind of lantern also surmounts the cathedral of St. Giles at Edinburgh, the Cross or Tolbooth steeple at Glasgow, and at one time surmounted the central tower of the parish church of Haddington, and the tower of the church of Linlithgow: in England, only one example of it is known, namely, that which, far excelling any of these in the north, crowns the tower of St. Nicholas' church at Newcastle-on-Tyne. On the north side of the college quadrangle is the ancient chapel erected by Bishop Elphinstone, originally a stately structure of elegant design, with a lofty spire, and internally embellished with most costly ornaments, which, as before noticed, were sold by the parliamentarian functionaries. The nave is now appropriated to the use of the college library, and the chancel is the college chapel. There are still remaining, in the former portion, many traces of its pristine beauty, and an inventory in Latin of the various ornaments of the chapel; and in the chancel are the rich tabernacle work of the prebendal stalls, the pews for the diocesan synod, the carved oak roof, and the tombs of Bishop Elphinstone and the first principal, Boethius. The south side of the quadrangle, rebuilt by Dr. Eraser in 1725, is of plain character, 112 feet in length, with a piazza in front, and at the extremities were circular towers, of which one only is remaining. The common hall, which is sixty feet in length, and twenty-three feet wide, contains numerous portraits by Jamieson, including portraits of Bishops Elphinstone, Dunbar, Forbes, Leslie, and Scougal, Professors Sandiland and Gordon, George Buchanan, and Queen Mary. In the committee-room is a painting, on panel, of the college as it appeared in the sixteenth century. The library contains a very valuable and extensive collection of books and manuscripts, and was formerly entitled to a copy of every work entered at Stationers' Hall, of which privilege it was deprived by act of parliament in 1836, the loss being compensated for by an annual grant of £320. It comprises about 34,000 volumes. The museum contains a large collection of specimens in mineralogy and zoology, numerous Grecian and Roman coins and antiquities, casts from ancient gems, and some valuable books of engravings illustrative of these subjects: this department was, in 1790, enriched with the coins and medals bequeathed by Dr. Cummin, of Andover, and has been subsequently increased by numerous specimens. A commodious room, in the more modern portion of the building, was handsomely fitted up by subscription, in the year 1842, as a museum of natural history.
Among the many distinguished individuals that have been connected with the university may be noticed, George, Earl Marischal, the founder of Marischal College; Chancellor Gordon, of Haddo, created Earl of Aberdeen in 1682; Dr. Thomas Bower, an eminent mathematician; the celebrated Dr. Reid, professor of philosophy, and afterwards of Glasgow; Lord Monboddo; Mr. Charles Burney, a distinguished Greek scholar; Arthur Johnston, a Latin poet; Dr. James Gregory, and his sons, afterwards professors of medicine at Edinburgh; Robert Hall, the distinguished preacher; and Sir James Mackintosh.
The PARISH originally comprehended the parishes of New Machar and Newhills, which, after the Reformation, were separated from it: anciently there was a deanery of St. Machar. The present parish is about eight miles in length, and varies from two to four in breadth, situated on a peninsula, between the rivers Dee and Don. Its surface rises gradually from the sea-shore, and the scenery is interspersed with flourishing plantations, and with the windings of the Dee and the Don, the banks of which latter are richly wooded, and in some parts, from their precipitous acclivity and rugged aspect, have a strikingly romantic appearance. The higher grounds command extensive views of the German Ocean, of the lofty and ancient bridge on the one side, and on the other of the cathedral and the spires of Aberdeen. The soil is various, in some parts richly fertile, and in others almost sterile; but the lands are generally in good cultivation, and the state of agriculture highly improved. The annual value of real property in the parish is £67,192.
Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery and synod of Aberdeen, and patronage of the Earl of Fife the stipend of the first minister is £273. 1. 3., and that of the second £282. 19. 9., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £31. 10. per annum. The church was formerly an elegant structure, of which the choir was destroyed by the reformers; and the remainder of the building was preserved from demolition only by the Earl of Huntly, and Leslie of Balquhan, who, at the head of a large body of their armed retainers, drove away the band which had been assembled for its destruction. The interior of the remaining portion suffered great mutilation under the Covenanters, who destroyed the altar, and the rich carvings and other ornaments; and in 1688, the high tower at the east end of the nave, which had been undermined by the soldiers of Cromwell, through the removal of masonry for the erection of their works at Castle-hill, and which, with its spire, 150 feet in height, had long served as a landmark to mariners, fell to the ground, destroying in its fall a considerable portion of the nave, with several of the monuments. The great arches on which the central tower was supported, have been built up, and the two towers at the west end are in good preservation; they are 112 feet high, and after rising to the height of fifty-two feet in a quadrilateral form, are continued by a succession of octangular turrets, decreasing in size till they terminate in a finial surmounted by a cross. The nave is nearly perfect; and its western front, built of the obdurate granite of the country, is stately in the severe symmetry of its simple design. The choir seems never to have been finished; and of the transepts, only the foundations now remain. The ceiling of the nave is divided into forty-eight compartments, in which are emblazoned, in vivid colours recently renewed, the armorial bearings of the Scottish kings, the ecclesiastical dignitaries, and the principal nobility. Of the several monuments still remaining, that of Bishop Scougal, father of Henry Scougal, author of the Life of God in the Soul of Man, is the most interesting and entire; there are also a monument to William Blake of Haddo, sub-principal of King's College, and tablets to Gordon and Scott, professors, and David Mitchell, Esq., LL.D. The portion of the building appropriated as the parish church is neatly fitted up, and contains 1594 sittings; the chapel in King's College contains 350 sittings. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church.
The grammar school, which is held in the town-hall, is under the patronage of the magistrates and council, and is visited annually by the professors of the college, and the ministers. The parochial school affords instruction to about seventy scholars; the master has a salary of £30, with an equal sum from the trustees of Dick's bequest, and the fees average about £30 per annum. There are also two schools on the Madras system, founded by a bequest left by Dr. Bell. An hospital was founded in 1531, by Bishop Dunbar, who endowed it for twelve aged men; the buildings consisted of a refectory, twelve dormitories, and a chapel surmounted with a small spire. The endowment has been subsequently increased by donations and bequests, and by the proceeds of the sale of the buildings; the present funds are about £3000, from the interest of which twenty-one aged men derive relief. An hospital was founded in 1801, by Dr. Mitchell, for lodging, clothing, and maintaining five widows, and five unmarried daughters of burgesses in indigent circumstances, for which purpose he bequeathed ample funds, in trust, to the principal of King's College, the provost and senior bailie of the town, and the two ministers of the parish. The building, which is situated near the church, is one story high; it contains a kitchen, refectory, and dormitories, neatly furnished; and attached to it is a pleasure-ground. A dispensary was established in 1826.