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History of The Green and surrounding area
Aberdeens historic Green and surroundings are amongst the oldest known parts of the city. The Green is one of four administrative medieval quarters recorded by 1399 and an important point of entry to the city. Religious and mercantile activity has underpinned the life and economics of the area over a 750 year period. The Green remains an important architectural and historic area reminding us of Aberdeens medieval urban origins through to its nineteenth century expansion.
Archaeological excavation in the Green revealed a flint working area where people prepared implements for fishing and hunting at least 8000 years ago. From the medieval period archaeological and historical evidence combine to show a picture of progressive urban expansion shaped by religion, trade and Aberdeens topography.
Carmelite and Trinitarian religious orders established friaries to the south of the Green and near Guild Street by the 13th century, centred on impressive stone built buildings. The strategic position of the Green close to the developing harbour and near one of the town ports which controlled trade, ensured that the area continued to be closely associated with trading.
Left: Bird's eye view of the Green, c.1450, by Jan Dunbar, showing the Carmelite friary (left) and Trinitarian friary (right).
Gordon, Barron and Co and Alexander Hadden and Sons established industrial scale textile manufacture in the late eighteenth century. However, by the mid nineteenth century the textile industry was in decline, although Haddens Mill adjacent to the Green struggled on to the end of the nineteenth century. The Green area was also home to Aberdeens first gas works dating from 1824 which were situated in the then Trinity Street.
How the area developed...
Aberdeen is built on a series of hills, which have shaped the pattern of development since early settlement. Documentary evidence suggests that the Green was a cosmopolitan area, home to overseas residents, ideas and influences. It retained a mixture of partly arable and rural character until well after the reformation in 1560. Timber framed buildings with thatched roofs predominated but later some of these were replaced with stone built houses, such as Aedies House, a fine late 16th century stone built house (now demolished).
Right: Aedie's House, from Miscellany of the Third Spalding Club, Volume II, 1940.
Larger plots of land, containing barns, kilns and associated buildings, were progressively divided up into smaller stances for individual houses. Population density increased markedly during the agrarian and industrial revolutions and it was during this time that the area we know today began to emerge.
Overcrowding and the consequent need to develop the city to the west combined with improvements to, and the need for more direct communication with the harbour forced the rationalisation and formal setting out of new streets around the Green including the Union Street. Archibald Simpson set out Market Street, Exchange Street and Hadden Street on a grid pattern between 1840 and 1842 for the New Market Company. Market Street was designed to be in line with the Great North Road and connected Union Street to the harbour. At the head of the street an impressive Market Hall was built with a Post Office and Mechanics Institute opposite. Vestiges of Simpsons architecture remain at the hotel, numbers 17-21 Market Street, one of his last commissions dating to1846.
Right: Market Street in the 19th century
Bridge Street was developing by the late 1860s and the curving Bath Street joined up with it in 1879. Although the eastern part of Guild Street was first developed in the 1840s it was not until 1867, when a new Joint Station and bridge were constructed in the Denburn valley, that it met Bridge Street and completed the new improved road connections from Union Street to the harbour. The development of the area involved monumental engineering works; Bridge Street, like Union Street was built on a viaduct of arches (now generally hidden but accessible), while the top of St Catherine's Hill was levelled. The layout of the nineteenth century improvers and much of their architecture has survived.
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