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History of the Parish of Banchory-Devenick
Bridge of Dee


A bridge doth reach along the river Dee,
Wherein seven double stately Arches be:
Who built this sumptuous-work if ye would know,
The myter which is carv’d thereon doth show.”

—Arthur Johnston.

The bridge of Dee is one of the most interesting relics of antiquity in the north-east of Scotland. The interest centres, not only in the mere structure, but in its associations with the history of the town of Aberdeen, and more than once with great national events.

As early as 1384 there would seem to have been a bridge across the Dee—perhaps on the same site as the present one—with a paved road leading southwards across the mounth.1 It had doubtless been of slim construction, for, in 1459, Master John of Levingston, vicar of Inuer-ugy, was appointed, by the alderman and common council of the burgh of Aberdeen, to be the master of work of a proposed bridge across the Dee. It would appear, however, that this design was abandoned, probably as too great an undertaking for the slender revenues of the town.

To the forethought and liberality of Bishop Elphin-stone the present bridge owed its origin. It was one of the last efforts of the church to exercise that function with which it was so closely identified in the Eternal City, the function that gave a title which its highest prelate bears to this day. It is strange—if we are to believe the statement of one writer2—that the only bridge that has been built by the clergy in this country since the Reformation, is the one erected by Dr. Morison across the Dee at Cults, in the same parish. The bridge was one of Elphinstone’s greatest schemes—the keystone virtually of his many magnificent services to the country. In 1500 he set about the erection of the College which the famous popish bull had authorised, and in the same year it is believed he began building the bridge of Dee. The early history of the latter structure is not very clear, for, as an ecclesiastical enterprise, the records of it have not been kept. That the bishop died, however, before it was finished is certain. The enormous labour entailed in carrying out two such schemes as building King’s College and the bridge of Dee, in the early years of the sixteenth century, can scarcely at this date be realized; but we cannot wonder that the latter work was not completed in 1514. The bishop’s successor, Alexander Gordon, did not take up the work. Bishop Gordon occupied the See for the short period of three years, and in 1518 he was succeeded by Bishop Gavin Dunbar, a man after Elphinstone’s own heart. It seems a doubtful point whether Dunbar finished the structure begun by Elphinstone, or made a new one altogether. A document, corroborating the latter view, was recently found in “ a rare old folio ” in the library of the Archiepiscopal Seminary at Mechlin.3 The writer, Alexander Kennedy, is said to have been an Aberdonian living in Brussels, who had joined the Order of St. Francis. The translation of the document is as follows :—

“The testimony of Brother Alexander Kennedy, the Scot, monk of the order of S. Francis. I, the undersigned, bear witness and take my oath that I heard from my ancestors the following facts :—That the statue of the Blessed Mary the Virgin, called Of Good Success, and placed in the monastery of the Augustine Fathers at Brussels, gave audible indications to the Most Reverend Father Gavin Dunbar, Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen, whilst he was praying concerning the spot where he should lay the foundations of the bridge over the rapid river Dee, and pointed out to him on both sides the points between which he afterwards built the magnificent bridge of seven arches that to this day is to be seen. —Given at Brussels, 19th May, 1636, in the Monastery of S. Augustine, by the hand of Brother Alexander Kennedy, unworthy Minorite of the Regular Observance.”

The evidence of this document certainly deprives Elphinstone of the honour of a share in raising the existing structure ; but it is at best a legend founded on an equally fanciful miracle. When we recall that Dempster and Bishop Leslie, writing at a much earlier date, set the pons lapideus magnificentissimus on ten arches, the story of the “ unworthy Minorite” will not carry much weight.

A side glimpse is given of how the bridge was actually built from an entry in the Council Register in 1531, when the Town Council ordained that the master of work “suld gar amend the frame of the brig, and gif hir in keping to sum traist hand.” A peculiar use was to be made of it, namely, to “ lat hir and the prouestis greit Reile to fraucht to the losing and laidnyng of schippis, and to the hame bringing of elding, and the profitte to be equalie deuidit betiux thame, hir part cummand to the tovnis vtilitie.” The town, it may be observed in passing, made excellent “vtilitie” of the bridge work, using the cooms for the arches of the Blockhouse at Footdee, in 1532, and nine years later the “lym, stanis, tymmer, andjrn, takin away fra the brig Wark,” were used “to byg ane bryg of tre our the pot burne ”—that is the Ruthrieston bridge. Dunbar carried out the idea of the early connection of the church with bridge building by appointing Alexander Galloway, parson of Kinkell, the architect. The master mason was Thomas French, who also built Dunbar’s Aisle in St. Machar Cathedral. Little is known of the progress of the work, but it had evidently been at least once delayed by a spate in 1522, which brought down the “ sentrice of the brig,” sweeping them away, “broking, spylt, to the see haid, in gret skayth and damag to the noble wark.” The “skayth” was estimated at “ane hundreth pundis and mair.”

At last, in 1527, the bridge was finished. The bishop builder immediately offered it to the town, together with the lands of Ardlair in the parish of Kennethmont, which the bishops of Aberdeen had got before 1199 from David, Earl of Huntingdon and the Garioch, to uphold it. The most unaccountable wariness was exhibited by the Town Council in accepting the handsome gift. The first time it is mentioned in the town’s records is 1st April, 1527. “ The haill tovne, all in ane voce, thankit gretly thar lord and bischop of Aberden for the gret plesour and pro-ffeit done to thame in the biging of the brig of Dee,” but even on this occasion Elder John Anderson “saed he wad nocht mell with sik materis.” It was, however, agreed to “give a finell ansuir to the said lord.” “This is the ansuer of the tovnn of Abirden gevin to my lord of Abirdene anent the brig of Dee. (My lord, we your seruandis, prouest, bailzeis, consull, comunite, of Abirdene, hes ressauit your l[ordschipis] guid mynd exponit to vs be your commissar, Maister Alexander Hay, persoun of Turref tuching of your l[ordschipis] brig of Dee, fundit, biget, and endit one your grit, hie and exorbitand expensis, for the perpetuall commond weill of the cuntra and of ws ; of the quhilkis guid deid and mynd God eternall revard yow, for we ma nocht; and quhar your lordschip desiris ws and our successouris to be bundin to the ouphaldin of the said brig, it beand completit one your expensis, in the maist souer wise cane be devisit be wismen and men of craft in all thingis necessaris ; and at your lordschip will infeft ws and our successouris in your landis of Ardlar to be haldin of yow and your successouris in few, we ar hartlie contentit of the same, makand ws souer thairof be the pape, the prince your chartour, and all wther handis necessar, for we desyir na inconuenient, bot to be maid souer ; quhilk ve vnderstand is your l[ordschipis] guid mynd. Nochtwithstanding, gif your l[ordschip] may eislie infeft ws in ony if your landis liand mair evnse to ws, or interchange the saidis landis with wtheris haiffand landis liand mair ewnse to ws, lik as Rudrestoun or ony vther sik lik, it var profetable for the canseruacioun of your said l[ordschipis] vark, and plesand, and ewnse; quhilk we refer haill to your l[ordschipis] plesour, besaikand you to labour the same gif ye ma guidlie. And atour, we consideraned the mony guid turnis done be your l[ordschip] within your diocy to your cathedral and vther places, and wnderstanden at your l[ordschip] hes na kyrk within your diocy appropriat to your mitar except our mother kyrk, we vald exort your l[ordschip] to help to sum notable turne to be done thairto; to the quhilk we sail put our handis in the largeist form be the sycht of your l[ordschip], that sum remembrance ma remain thairin of yow, lik as is of money of your reuerend predecessouris, Bischop Thomas Spens, and Bischop Wm. Elphinstoun. In this cause and all wtheris referrand ws to your l[ordschipis] plesour, to the quhilkis we are gritlie indettit, as knowis the gret God eternall, quhome mot conserue your I[ordschip] in sawill and body at your noble desyir. Your l[ordschipis] seruandis, Prouest, bailzeis, consail, and comunite of your burght of Abirdene.”

As a specimen of Aberdonian caution this document ought to be preserved and become classic. The way in which the council looked the gift horse in the mouth, gently hinting that his lordship might “eislie infeft ws in ony of your landis liand mair ewnse to ws, or interchange the saidis landis with wtheris haiffand landis liand mair ewnse to ws, lik as Rudrestoun,” is characteristic ; and although no heed was paid to the council’s hints on this occasion, yet nearly a century later—1610—they were given effect to, through the sale of Ardlair and the purchase of the lands of Caprastoune—the old name for Hilton, Wood-side—“ to the uphauld and manteining of the brig of Dee, in place and sted of the lands of Ardlair.” Continuing the narrative of the original transfer, on June 3rd, 1527, twelve gentlemen objected to the making of the bond of indenting with the bishop to uphold the bridge, and the affair was not settled for two years, when, “efter diuerse and sundry consultatiounis at this time maid, and at diuerse wthyr tymes afor, it was fundin and concludit be the haill communite that the said bond vas ressonable.” So it was agreed that “ thair suld be ane kyst, denit in the souerest sort, quhilk said haue four lokis, and four keyis,” in which the funds for the support of the bridge were to be kept. Of the keys the “provest sail haue ane in keiping, and the merchandis ane wther, the maisteris of the kyrk wark the thrid, and the deikynnis of craftis the ferd.” The council then swore “ in jugment the grit bodelie aytb, the crucifixt being tuiching be thame and ilk ane of thame that thai suld neuer intromit with the money” for any other purpose, “and every future council was ordained to “sweir inlikvise the grit ayth.” The bridge was formally handed over to the town in 1529 by its architect, the parson of Kinkell, and Robert Elphinstone, the parson of Kincardine, in “name and behalf of ane reverend father in God, Gauane bischop of Dunbar,” and the council accepted it “without ony langer delay.”

The city has always been proud of the Bridge of Dee, and a whole series of eulogistic couplets might be adduced to show this. The document just referred to waxes eloquent over the “nobill and substantius brig.” “ The greatest and brawest bridge now to be seen in Scotland,” quoth Parson Gordon, but perhaps the most enthusiastic panegyric is by Boece, “ that excessively Scotch Herodotus” as Masson cleverly dubs him. His life of Elphinstone leads him of course to speak of this part of the bishop’s work, and it has been versified thus by Alexander Garden :—

“And yet a work als great
And necessar much more,
Unto his oune, his countrie’s good,
And both their great gloir,
Annon their-after he
Resolved and first intends,
That everie age and ey that vieus
Admires and yet commends.
This was the bridge of Dea
Which every man may mark,
Ane needful, most expensive, great,
A good and gallant wark;
Knit close with quadrat stones,
Free all, incised and shorne ;
Of these the pend with arches sevine,
Supported is and borne.
Sharpe poynted butresses
Be both that breaks and byds
The power of winter speats
And strenth of summer tyds
Above it’s beawtified
With posts and prickets four;
And all alongst rayled is
And battailed to look our.
A great and goodlie work
Which how long t’ stands and stayes
It aye shall mater ministratt
Unto the author’s praise.”

Near the north end of the bridge stood a chapel which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The earliest mention of it is in 1530, when Sir William Ray is described as “ vmquhyle chaplane to our lady chappell,” but it had probably been built at the same time as the bridge itself. The habit of building chapels at bridges in those times was not uncommon, and in this case it had probably been set down for the benefit of passing strangers coming to the town, and townsmen speeding south. In that year, however, Sir William Ray gave to the council “ ane challis of siluer, ane ymage of siluer of our lady, baicht our guilt; thre naipkingis, ane broodin, and tua quhyt, “ane altare towell, togidder with the key of the offerand stok, to be kepit to the vtilite and proffite of the said chappell.” This image which the chaplain presented is now in a church at Brussels. An extraordinary story of how the statue found its way to the Continent is told by Father Blakhal in his tedious and misnamed Brcijfe Narration of the Services done to Three Noble Ladyes— “I did ther, as I have oft tyms dun in the faire of St. Germains, behold many fyne things, and wish myself able to buy them, but, for want of moneys, leave them to others for I was very scant. I had non but what I gotte for saying the first messe, every morning, at Notre Dame, de bonne successe, a chapelle of great devotion, so called from a statu of our Ladye, which was brought from Aberdein, in the North of Scotland, to Ostend, by a merchant of Ostend, to whom it was given in Aberdein. And that same day that the shippe in which it was did arrive at Ostend, the Infanta did winne a battaile against the Hollanders, the people thinking that our Ladye, for the civil reception of her statu, did obteane that victorye to the princesse, who did send for the statu to be brought to Bruselle, when the princesse, with a solemn procession, did receave it at the porte of the toune, and placed it in this chappel, wher it is much honored, and the chapelle dedicated to Our Ladye of bonne successe, which befor was pouer and desolat, now is riche and wel frequented. The common beleiff of the vulgar people ther is, that this statu was thrown in the sea at Aberdein, and carried upon the waves of the sea miraculously to Ostend. So easie a thing it is for fables to find good harbour, where verities would be beaten out with cud-gelles.” This is the statue referred to by Kennedy in his story of how Dunbar came to fix the site for his bridge. There has been a great deal of discussion over it, which has been revived within recent years. About twenty years ago, Father John Sutherland made strong but unsuccessful efforts to get it back to Aberdeen.

The chapel was protected by a bulwark, which was an eyesore to the laird of Abergeldy, who ordered the town to “ mak ane esy gait and passage betuix the brig of Dee and chapell of the samyn, quhair throw thai may eselye, without impediment wyrk and laubour thair watteris.” The council did not evidently see eye to eye with the laird, although he protested “ aluayis quhat damnage or skaith thai sustenit thairthrow suld com on the toune and nocht” on him, and so he hewed down the obnoxious bulwark. He was immediately demanded to build it again, and “to keipe stane stabill,” and, as if to punish him the more, “this to be extendit in the largest forme.”

The bridge was of much greater importance in the past than it is now. It was the only accessible land entrance from the south, and thus, if guarded, nearly all strangers from the south could be kept from entering the town. Two powerful factors compelled the town to keep watch and ward over the bridge—pestilence and war. This seems very primitive, viewed from the modern standpoint, but then the structure was of paramount importance ranking with the ports of the city, if not taking a higher position. The dreaded plague called in the guardianship of the bridge for the first time in 1529. It was then ordered that two persons should “pas dailie to the brig of De, and ramane thair continualie fray vj houris in the morning quhill vj houris at euin, during all the tym it hapnis this contagius plaige and pestilance to ring, for keiping of this guid tovne fra the samyn, and to lat nane our the said brig without testimoniall quhat place thai came fra.” The duty of watching went by turns among the citizens. The next step was to get a port erected, and, in 1545, the dreaded approach of an enemy made the council ordain that “ thair be ane port maid incontinent with all diligence on the south end of the brig of Dee with tymmer, to be fast lokit in the nycht, and weill keipit one day licht.” Every neighbour of the town “and honest men” had to give twelve pence thereto, and “ sobir folkis viijd., ” or “ sax d.” at the least. While the port was being made, “ tua trew honest fellowis” had Horatius-like to keep the bridge. A few months later the presence of the plague again demanded a watch, so that “ na suspect personis of the contagius pest haue enteres thairat.” Those antiquated sanitary precautions gradually became stricter. The punishment for a drowsy bridge watchman in 1566 was to pay forty shillings, and failing that “ to haue his lug nailed to the trone and to be put in the branks.” The severity of the order, however, reached its climax in the disastrous period of 1584-85 when Scotland was devastated by the plague. Seeing that it was “ringand in dyuerss partis, townis, and places of the south contrie,” the council ordained “ane port of tree to be biggit and sett upoun the Brig of Dee; that thair be ane wache there of twa honest burgess men or craftismen, that nane be sufferit to haue entrie thairat, without ane sufficient attentik testimoniall ; and that na testimoniall be ressauit nor admittit, giffen at ony suspect place.” A much more rigid restriction was enforced in the following year when the council, driven to desperation, ordered gibbets to be erected at the cross, the harbour, and the Bridge of Dee, “ that in caice onye infeckit per-soun aryue or repair be sie or land to this burght or fredome thairof, or in caice ony induellar of this burght ressaue, hous, or harbrie, or giff meat or drink to the infekit persoun or personis, the man to be hangit, and the woman to be drownit.”

These ports were all more or less of a temporary character, being erected every now and again when the council became panic-struck at the threatening of a plague, or other invader. The erection of one of those ports was one of the good deeds for which, in 1597, William Dwn, the dean of guild, received some odds. This dean has immortalized himself in local annals for “hes extraor-dinarlie takin panis in the birning of the gryt numer of wiches brint this year,” 1597, and the hanging of four pirates. In the following year the first really substantial erection was made in the shape of an arched port on the south end “ with a chamber above the arch for a watch tower.” This, probably, was the tower constantly occupied for two years, 1604-6, by watchers. When all the other ports in the town had had their watch restrictions removed, the Bridge of Dee port was still occupied. We find mention in the town’s accounts on one occasion, 1648, of “ twa gryt lockis to the brig of Die, and for stokis to thame and for shots and yron work.” There were evidently seats erected, for a mason is paid for “ seating the same and for caring out a tril to be a baer.” This arched gateway, which seems to have latterly been built of stone, was, in 1679, ornamented with Elphinstone’s and the town’s arms.

The building of ports leads to the occasion when they were really most in requisition—the time of war. In this connection the Bridge of Dee has figured very prominently in the city’s history.

The first event of historical importance occurred in 1589, when the great Catholic noblemen of the north— Huntly, Errol, and Crawford—raised the standard of rebellion against the king, whose Protestant attitude struck terror to their hearts. James, advised of “sum interprises appeirandlie moved aganis the treu religion,” hastily collected about iooo men, and marched to oppose his noble subjects ; who, with 3000 followers, were then quartered in Perth. Both parties moved northwards, but at the Bridge of Dee, 20th April, according to Calderwood, “ feare seazed upon the most part of Huntlie’s faction, when they heard the king was in person in the feilds.” So the Catholic rebellion was for the time quenched, although it was not the last time that its leaders were heard of. Indeed, the “ Brig of Dee affair,” as it was long called, was Huntly’s first entry into a public life, which lasted for nearly half-a-century.

The part of history, however, in which the Bridge of Dee will always figure most conspicuously, was in the great Covenanting struggle. Built by the church, it is a noteworthy fact that in two religious struggles the bridge should have occupied a prominent place.

The part played by Montrose in the early struggle in the North is well known. Within three months, in 1639, he mulcted Aberdeen in 110,000 merks of penalty, and in May left the city for the purpose of punishing the Royalists elsewhere, carrying off Lord Huntly as a prisoner. A month later Huntly’s son, Lord Aboyne, a spirited boy of nineteen, was on his way north, and on June 6th he landed with two armed vessels, and a Newcastle collier, and a few gentlemen and field pieces. His subsequent movements are familiar. On June 14th he marched against Montrose at Stonehaven, was beaten at Megray Hill, his men scattering like sheep before Montrose’s guns. “ Musket’s mother,” as the great guns were called, were too powerful for them, and even Spalding tremblingly writes of the artillery as “veray feirfull.” The young general retreated to Aberdeen with his two colonels, Gun and Johnston, while his men fled helter-skelter. On Sunday the 16th he sent out a picket of seven men under Johnston ; and these, meeting seven of Montrose’s men some six miles from the city, soon knew that the energetic Covenanter was on the track. On the following day Aboyne issued orders to his men to re-muster, but they were not all forthcoming, One detachment, numbering 4000, never got further than Leggatsden, where they lay to see their comrades beaten. Before sunrise on the 18th, Johnston was sent to barricade the south port of the bridge, by casting up a “thik faill” rampart behind it. The river being swollen, and unfordable to the enemy, these preparations were deemed the most judicious for the safety of the town. Aboyne followed with 100 musketeers and a large number of cavalry, only to catch a glimpse of Montrose’s army encamped in the Tollo hill above Banchory House. Here, in March, Montrose and the Covenanters had “stentit thair pav-ilionis” before marching upon the city. Montrose’s force was estimated at 2000 foot and 300 horse. The arrival of Aboyne was greeted with a small volley, which, however, fell short of the defending cavalry. Then followed that quarter cannon, “haueing hir bullet of 20 pund wecht,” which Spalding thought so “veray feirfull.” But the defenders, under the courageous Johnston, stood firm. So bravely did they defend their position, that they won the admiration of the opposing musketeers. Their intrepidity inspired their servants and followers, who, in spite of the cannon and musket shot, went and came to the bridge with provisions and necessaries for the defenders.

“In the afternoon,” says Gordon in his Scots Affairs, “the companies of Dundee, emulous of the Aberdeen citizens, desired to be letten storm the bridge, which Montrose readily yielded to. Two companies fell on, under the command of one Captain Bonar, but they found so hot a welcome from the Aberdeens-men that they made a quick retreat, which was seconded with whooping and hollowing of such as were looking on, who mocked their poor bravado.” The battering rams which were brought into requisition against the barriers were of no avail. “Thus, this haill day, thay on the ane syde persewing the brig with cannon and mvscat, and on the vther syde thay ar defending with muscat and thair four brassin peices (whiche did littill service), yit,” recounts Spalding, '• no skaith on our syde except ane townes man callit John Forbes wes pitifullie slayne, and William Gordoun of Gordouns Mills rakleslie schot in the foot, both ante covenantaris.” The gathering darkness of night put an end to the fight, for, says Gordon curiously, “there is no sky-set then in the north of Scotland,” Watches were set, and the two forces went to sleep, only however, to renew hostilities as vigorously as ever on the morrow.

The obstinacy of the defenders irritated the dashing Montrose, whose whole military tactics were of an energetic character. He “thought such a delay little better than to be beaten,” writes Gordon, and in the darkness of the night, he had drawn up his two half cannon nearer the bridge. The citizens were less active. In the early morning fifty of them foolishly left their post, leaving the other fifty to guard the bridge, and went to the town to bury Forbes, “quhilk wes veray vnwyslie done and to the tynsall of the brig.” Montrose saw his advantage and was quick to embrace it. He levelled his guns against the barricade, “ both to break the gates of the porte, and scour the bridge all along. For the day befor most of the canon shott wer made against one of the corners of the porte, which looked to the south-west, whereby one of the two small watche turretts upon the sydes of the porte, was much shattered in the topp of it, being all hewed stone, as all that bridge is, being,” says Gordon grandly, “ one of the gallantest in Scottlande, if not the statelyest itselfe.” Johnston put his few men “in the roundis of the brig on both sydes, where they could defend themselves with little loss.” Afternoon came, and yet there was no sign of victory for the besiegers. Montrose saw to his intense chagrin that—in Spalding’s homely language—he “culd cum no speid.” Resolving, therefore, to become master of the situation by strategy, he devised a “prettie slicht,” to decoy the defenders from their position, by sending a body of his horse up the bank of the river, as if they meant to ford it near Banchory. Loyalist writers, from the time of Gordon down to Mr. Mark Napier, have credited Colonel Gun with the basest treachery at this part of the battle. “ The colonel,” says Gordon in his most bitter style, “ who could espy no occasion before to draw off the horsemen, cries, ‘ March up the river’s side, and stop Montrose’^ crossing.’ It was told him there was no danger, the fords having been lately tried and found impassable. But no assurance could serve his turn, who would not believe that which he knew to be true.” Spalding merely says that_ the feint was “over haistellie believit ” by Aboyne, who immediately led off part of the defenders to oppose it. Johnston, with but a mere handful, was left to hold the bridge position. Montrose opened fire on both sections of the divided defenders. He poured his shot on the party that had turned to the river side, and the Royal Standard-bearer, celebrated in ballad lore as “ Bonny John Seton ” of Pitmedden, was shot dead, “most part of his body above the saddle being carried away and quashed.” The ballad is much more minute :—

It fell about the month of June
On Tuesday temouslie;
The northern lords hae pitch’d their camps
Beyond the Brig o’ Dee.

They ca’ed him Major Middleton
That man’d the brig o’ Dee ;
They ca’ed him Colonel Henderson
That gar’d the cannons flee.

Bonny John Seton o’ Pitmedden
A brave baron was he
;
He made his tesment ere he gaed
And the wiser man was he.

He left his lands unto his heir
His lady her dowrie ;
Ten thousand crowns to Lady Jane
Sat on the nourice knee.

Then out it speaks his lady gay
Oh stay my lord vvi’ me
For word is come, the cause is won
Beyond the Brig o’ Dee.

He turned him right and round about,
And a light laugh gae he ;
Says, I vvoud’na for my lands sae broad
I stay’d this night wi’ thee.

He’s taen his sword then by his side
His buckler by his knee ;
And laid his leg in o’er his horse Said,
Sodgers, follow me.

So he rade on, and further on
Till to the third mile corse ;
The Covenanters’ cannon balls
Dang him aff o’ his horse.

Up then rides him Craigievar Said,
Wha’s this lying here?
It surely is the Lord o’ Aboyne,
For Huntly was not here.

Then out it speaks a fause
Forbes Lived up in Druminnor ;
My lord, this is a proud Seton
The rest will ride the thinner.

Spulzie him, spulzie him, said Craigievar.
O’ spulzie him, presentlie ;
For I could lay my lugs in pawn,
He had nae gude will at me.

They’ve taen the shoes frae aff his feet
The garters frae his knee ;
Likewise the gloves upon his hands—
They’ve left him not a flee.

His fingers they were sae sair swell’d
The rings wuld not come aff;
They cuttet the grips out o’ his ears,
Took out the gowd signots.

Then they rade on and further on
Till they cam to the Crabestane ;
And Craigievar he had a mind
To burn a’ Aberdeen.

Out it speaks the gallant Montrose
(Grace on his fair bodye !)
We winna burn the bonnie burgh
We’ll even lat it be.

Then out it speaks the gallant Montrose
Your purpose I will break ;
We winna burn the bonnie burgh
We’ll never build its maik.

I see the women and their children
Climbing the craigs sae hie ;
We’ll sleep this nicht in the bonnie burgh
And even lat it be.

While this blow was being dealt at the river side party, Montrose’s men, under Colonel John Middleton, were dealing havoc on the bridge defenders. His men had been growing impatient and discouraged by the death of Captain Andrew Ramsay, brother of the laird of Balquhain, but Middleton rallied them, and led on himself to the attack. The defenders were “cruelie chargit, both with cartow and muskat schot in gryte aboundans, quhilk wes moir feirfullie renewit” the moment Aboyne left the bridge. At last the turret of one of the ports was struck by a shot, and Johnston, who stood all the time where there was most danger, was half buried in the ruins, his leg being “quashed to pieces.” The gallant defender was rendered useless. “ He haistellie callis for ane horss,” says Spalding in one of his vivid outbursts, “ and sayes to his soldioaris, ‘Gallantis, do for your selffs and haist yow to the toun’; quhairvpone thay all with him self took the flight. Then follouit in certane capitanes, quiklie takis in the brig peceablie, and kest our thair cullouris.” The river side party saw their colours flying from the bridge. Gordon, determined to blacken Gun, makes him give the order, “ ‘Gentlemen, make you for the town, Lieutenant-Colonel Johnston is killed, and the bridge is won,’ but his words got slender obedience.” He goes on to tell that William Gordon of Arroudale, asked Gun to stand and wait upon the Covenanters’ fore-party crossing the bridge, showing him that they yet had the advantage, and, as a final encouragement, reminding him that “ it was not the fashion of Huntly’s family to leave the field without fighting the enemy. But,” he adds, “there was no hearing for it was Gun’s fashion always to cry out that, if they would not obey his orders, he would lay down his charge and complain to the King.” Aboyne’s men, continues Gordon, did not take Gun’s refusal to fight well, but began to murmur that he was betraying them, and Arroudale “in a great chafe told him to his face that he was a villain, and an arrant traitor, all which Gun swallowed quietly.” The story is far too verbose to have been enacted on the river side at such a critical moment. One is inclined to believe with Spalding, whose royalist tendencies do not lead him to decry his own side—that “ the Lord Oboyne, seing thair horssmen stay vpon the vther syd of the water and not coming throw the water, as they seimit to intend and with all seing thair cullouris vpone the brig, takis the flight schamefullie, but straik of suord or ony vther kynd of vassalage.”

At all events the bridge was taken about four in the afternoon after nearly two days’ fighting. The defenders lost five men, and Montrose but two. Then Montrose marched in triumph into the city “ with sound of trumpettis, displayit cullouris, and touking of drumis. As the army merchit, the haill covenanteris wes blyth, and the royallistis alss sorrowfull at this sicht, who for plane feir fled the toun, with thair wyfis and children in thair armes and careit on thair bakis, weiping and mvrning most pitifullie, straying heir and thair not knowing quhair to go. Thus war thay sore distrest for the love they had to the King, and now for following Aboyne.” Such is Spalding’s wail, and he waxes more mournful as he recounts the subsequent sufferings of the city, how it was rescued from destruction only by a bribe of 7000 merks,and how the citizens suffered gross indignities at the hands of the victors. In a very different vein is the following.

Pasquil made at the Bridge of Dee quhen it was wone from the Ante-Covenanteris of the north:—

God bliss our Covenanters in Fyffe and Lothean,
In Angus and the Mearnis, quho did us first begin
With muskit and with carabin, with money, speare and shield,
To take the toune of Aberdeen and make our Marques yield.

quhairvpone thay all with him self took the flight. Then follouit in certane capitanes, quiklie takis in the brig peceablie, and kest our thair cullouris.” The river side party saw their colours flying from the bridge. Gordon, determined to blacken Gun, makes him give the order, “ ‘Gentlemen, make you for the town, Lieutenant-Colonel Johnston is killed, and the bridge is won,’ but his words got slender obedience.” He goes on to tell that William Gordon of Arroudale, asked Gun to stand and wait upon the Covenanters’ fore-party crossing the bridge, showing him that they yet had the advantage, and, as a final encouragement, reminding him that “ it was not the fashion of Huntly’s family to leave the field without fighting the enemy. But,” he adds, “there was no hearing for it was Gun’s fashion always to cry out that, if they would not obey his orders, he would lay down his charge and complain to the King.” Aboyne’s men, continues Gordon, did not take Gun’s refusal to fight well, but began to murmur that he was betraying them, and Arroudale “ in a great chafe told him to his face that he was a villain, and an arrant traitor, all which Gun swallowed quietly.” The story is far too verbose to have been enacted on the river side at such a critical moment. One is inclined to believe with Spalding, whose royalist tendencies do not lead him to decry his own side—that “ the Lord Oboyne, seing thair horssmen stay vpon the vther syd of the water and not coming throw the water, as they seimit to intend and with all seing thair cullouris vpone the brig, takis the flight schamefullie, but straik of suord or ony vther kynd of vassalage.”

At all events the bridge was taken about four in the afternoon after nearly two days’ fighting. The defenders lost five men, and Montrose but two. Then Montrose marched in triumph into the city “with sound of trumpettis, displayit cullouris, and touking of drumis. As the army merchit, the haill covenanteris wes blyth, and the royallistis alss sorrowfull at this sicht, who for plane feir fled the toun, with thair wyfis and children in thair armes and careit on thair bakis, weiping and mvrning most pitifullie, straying heir and thair not knowing quhair to go. Thus war thay sore distrest for the love they had to the King, and now for following Aboyne.” Such is Spalding’s wail, and he waxes more mournful as he recounts the subsequent sufferings of the city, how it was rescued from destruction only by a bribe of 7000 merks, and how the citizens suffered gross indignities at the hands of the victors. In a very different vein is the following.

Pasqnil made at the Bridge of Dee quhen it was ivone from the Ante-Covenanteris of the north:—

God bliss our Covenanters in Fyffe and Lothean,
In Angus and the Mearnis, quho did us first begin
With muskit and with carabin, with money, speare and shield,
To take the toune of Aberdeen and make our Marques yield.

I had a beard as vther men,
But God reuard the pouder,
He suers he’s never cocke hes mathche,
Nor musket one hes shoulder.
While that the dogs of Aberdeene,
Which did cast vpe such trinches,
Themselves with speed fill vpe the same,
To please our Couenanters.
The beaten dogs of Aberdeene,
Is fled and veighed ther ankers,
They durst not byde into ther toune,
To feast the Couenanters.
They left ther children and ther wyffes,
To reed yare reuelit yairne,
And cuckold-lyke fled for their Hues,
Unto the Iyle of Ferne.

There is probably a good deal of truth in this skit. “ Musket’s mother ” had, according to one verse of the pasquil—whose suppression the taste of the day demands,—a disastrous effect on Aboyne himself. Sir Walter Scott touches the same key when he quotes in IVaverley, from one of the numerous “old ballads” that could sprout from his imagination like mushrooms. “In an old ballad on the Bridge of Dee,” he says, these verses occur :—

The Highlandmen are pretty men
For handling sword and shield,
But yet they are but simple men
To stand a stricken field.

The Highland men are pretty men
For target and claymore,
But yet they are but naked men,
To face the cannon’s roar.

For the cannon’s roar on a summer’s night
Like thunder in the air ;
Was never man in Highland garb
Would face the cannon fair.”

For long the “Brig Raid” was one of the reckoning dates with the citizens.4

This battle was the leading event, but for the next five years the bridge often crops up in the history of the struggle. It was, as Spalding says, a “randevouss” of the parties. Not satisfied with crushing Aberdeen at the Battle of the Bridge, the Covenanters made another campaign to the north; and, on May 26th, 1640, Earl Marischal penned the following epistle from Dunnottar:—

“To my loving friends, the prowest and bailies of Aberdeine. My very loveing freinds, these ar to show zow that I intend (God willing) on Thursday nixt, in the eftirnoone, to be at Abirdeine, quhair I will bring with me generall Maior monro and his regiment, for quhome I pray zow cause prowyd victuallis for the payment, for nothing sail be takin without reddie moneyis, ye alvayes approving zourselffis gude cuntrie men. And with all ye sail be in armes, and meitt ws at the brig of Dee, that we may joyne for defense of your toune, and of so many honest men as sail be fund thairin, and for the peace of the cuntrie about. But I wish ze be better conveened nor ze were at last wappin showing. So, not doubting of zour cair and diligence heirin, I rest zouris lowing freinds.”

In conformity with the foregoing behest, the citizens, two days after, being “chargit be tovk of drum,” marched forth to the bridge. There they met Munro with 40 horse and 800 foot, all in “ gude ordour, haveing blew bonnetis on thair heidis, with fedderis vaveling in the wynd.” The magistrates had to sign eleven articles, each of which humbled them to the dust. The city, already burdened with nigh twenty thousand pounds of debt, was compelled to support the army ; having in ' reddiness, 12,000 pund wecht of good bisket breid, togidder with 1000 gallouns of aill and beir; 1200 pair of schools, togidder with 3000 elnis of hardin tyking or saill canvess, for making of tentis to saif the souldatista from grite invndatioun of raynes accustomat to fall out wnder this northern climat.” For three long months the wretched citizens had to comply with these galling conditions, which had been imposed upon them at the bridge.

By a turn of the tables, however, in 1644, Huntly gained the ascendency, and, in April, marched into the town with 10,000 men. Determined to secure himself against a surprise from the south, he ordered the Town Council to “caus build ane port of timber, with ane wicket, on the south end of the Bridge of Dee,” threatening to “cut down ane bow” of the bridge unless his order was complied with. The poor Council, battle-dored and shuttle-cocked from party to party, did so “ with diligence;” and, instead of one“saif gaird,” two were put, one at each end.

The next occasion when the bridge appears is when Montrose marched north in the Royalist interest. Twice he had punished the town in the Covenanting cause, and now he marched north to inflict the severest blow of all for the opposite side. The citizens mustered some 3000 men; and, determined to meet the Marquis before entering the town, began to guard the Bridge of Dee and build fortifications. It was, as Spalding laments, “ to litle effect.” The Marquis “miskenis” the bridge and outwitted the citizens, on 11th September, by fording the river at Drum. Two days later, at the Justice Mills, he inflicted the most crushing blow that the city had yet received. The battle itself was not so bloody, but “ horribill wes the slauchter in the flight”—a few of the fugitives being slain at the very bridge which they had guarded but forty-eight hours before.

A few weeks later the town was again outwitted by the Marquis, whom Argyle had gone in pursuit of after the battle of the Justice Mills. How the latter out-manoeuvred Argyle for weeks is matter of history. But at last word was brought to the city that he was marching through Angus with his hotly pursued army, and Marischal, at once, on October 14th, got together “all, of whatso-euer aige, sex, or qualitie,” who had horse and money, to intercept him in advance by guarding the Bridge of Dee. For three days the citizens kept watch and ward, but the clever strategist once more repeated his trick, by fording the Dee at Drum. Thus, while the citizens were “lying watcheing the brig of Dee foolishlie,” the Marquis had his “ haill army saif and sound,” his men “ leiving idlie, destroying the countrie and thair cornes pitfullie.” All this but shows that the bridge was losing its importance as a city entrance, and with such a clever general as Montrose to deal with, the old edicts against the plague would have been utterly useless.

In the spring of the next year, 1645, Montrose was again master of the situation. He sent the gallant, but reckless, Nathaniel Gordon into the city, with 100 Irish dragoons. He took 1800 muskets from Torry, and routed Captain Keith, brother of Marischal, at the Bridge of Dee. After Hurry’s departure from the city Montrose despatched General M‘Donald, with 700 men, to guard the bridge. No sooner had he left, than Hurry once more appeared on the scene ; but an engagement there was fortunately averted.

In the course of the last two centuries the bridge has almost been rebuilt. From a very earlyperiod in thehistory of the structure, a special mason was appointed to keep it in repair. The first was Alexander Moneypenny, who, in 1531, was engaged to attend daily “ and aduert to oure brig of Dee, bulwarkis and chappell, and reforme all small faltis that sail happin in the said varkis.” He was not permitted to “ depart nor pass away fra the said wark at anay tyme without speciale lycence.” Time, however, wrought many changes, and, notwithstanding the caution exercised by the council in taking over the bridge, and obligations entered into to uphold it “ in good order and condition,” it had, within seventy years of erection, been allowed to fall into considerable disrepair. In the summons served upon the Town in 1591, at the instance of certain citizens, it is stated that the “provest and counsall hes sufferit, and daylie suffers our bridge of Dee, the most profitable monument within the north pairt of our realme, to decay, and the water bushing and rwning throw the hewin work of the pillars thairof, to the utter wrack alsweill of all our Hedges, as of our said burgh, the skaithe, damnage, and expensiss thairof, befoir the samyn be sufficientlie repairit. extending to fyve hundredth merkis.” In the middle of the 17th century a rude attempt was made to strengthen it. Most activity in this direction, however, occurred during last century, at various dates. A start was made in 1712, but little actual work was done beyond getting materials together. From 1718 to 1722 great masses of material were purchased for repairs, including rough sandstone from Elgin and Edinburgh, timber from the Duke of Gordon’s forests, and, in 1722, a quarry was opened on the Pitfodels’ property for stone to the bridge. The first improvement did not take place till 1773, when the port and stone walls at the south end were removed for the convenience of traffic. The original bridge consisted of seven semicircular groined arches, with a total span of 432 feet, but it was only 16^ feet wide. The great inconvenience of such a narrow roadway was first experienced when the great coach traffic began, and the turnpike to the south was made. But it was not till 1841-2 that the bridge was thoroughly repaired and widened, when 11^ feet were added to the west side, at a cost of 7250, Provost Thomas Blaikie carrying on the work.

The history of the bridge is continued briefly in the inscriptions and coats of arms that adorn the various parts of the structure. The first mention of inscriptions is in 1679, when the Council resolved to “caus heu the tounes armes and Bishop Elphingstounes ” on the port of the bridge, and “ to caus illuminat the same in decent forme.” There are no less than twenty-five such—nine on the east side, and sixteen on the west. There are eight inscriptions, the rest being coats of arms. Dunbar’s arms appear eight times—six times on the west side and twice on the east front. Elphinstone’s arms appear twice, once on each side. The arms of Scotland appear three times— on the first pier and last buttress of the west front, and on the first buttress of the Aberdeen side. The arms of Bon-Accord and of Provost Thomas Blaikie appear on the second pier of the west side, and the Duke of Albany’s on the first pier of the east side. Taking the inscriptions chronologically, the following one in black letter takes the first place :—

GAUIN . DUBAR . ABERDONEN .
EPS . IPERII . IACOBI .
5U SCOTORU .
REGIS . ANO . DNO . ME . LAPSU .
REEDIFICARE . FECIT . ORATE . P . EO .

The translation is—As I had fallen into a state of decay, Gavin Dunbar, Bishop of Aberdeen, with the assistance of James V., King of Scotland, caused me to be rebuilt, in the year-. Pray for him.

The next inscription, also in black letter, is as follows :—

GAUIN . DUBAR. ABERDONEN .
POTIFEX . ME . TRAS . DEE . FLUUII . FIERI .
IUSSIT . ANNO . DNI . QUITO . ET . UINESIO .
SUPA . MILLEm . ET . QUIGEm . ORATE . P . EO . ANNO . DOMINI .
1525 .

The translation is—Gavin Dunbar, Bishop of Aberdeen, caused me to be built over the river Dee, A.D. 1525.

The next inscription brings us down to the repairs made in the early years of the eighteenth century. It is on the third pier of the west side :—

Senatus Aberdonensis, QUI, PER

INTEGRUM ADMINISTRATION IS CURRICULUM, NE QUID INCURIA SUA RESPUBLICA DETRIMENTI CAPERET SUMMA OPE NITEBATUR, OMNES ARCUS HUIUSCE PONTIS, IAM COL-LABASCENTES, EX .ERE AD PONTEM SARTUM TECTUMQUE CONSERVAN-DUM DEDICATO, INSTAURANDOS CURABAT ANNIS DOMINI 1719, 1720, 1721, 1722 ET 1723

The translation, taken from Jervise’s Epitaphs, runs— “The Town Council of Aberdeen, who, during the whole period of their tenure of office, exerted their utmost efforts to prevent the public interests from sustaining any injury through their negligence, caused, in the years 1719-2021-22 and 23, the whole of the arches of this bridge, which had fallen into a state of decay, to be rebuilt out of monies set apart for keeping the bridge in repair.”

On the parapet over the first four arches, Aberdeen side, of the east front, several modern dates are given—as, Instauratus a.d.1720

The longest inscription appears on a slab inserted into the second piers of the west front, and reads as follows—

Annvente svmmo nvmine,

HICCE PONS EX BENE ADMINISTRATA PECVNIA AD EVM CONSERVANDVM LEGATA TRECENTIS AMPLIVS ANNIS POSTQVAM PRIMVM EST EXTRVCTVS MVLTVM DILATATVS PENITVSQVE REFECTVS EST ANNO M.D.CCC.XXXXI . ET M.D.CCCXXXXII

Thoma Blaikie civitatis Aberdonensis

PRAEFECTO,

Georgio Henry 'I opervm publicorvm deinceps

Gvlielmo Fraser

cvratoribvs.

Ioanne Smith, Architecto,

Alexandro Macdonald Gvlielmo Leslie

REDEMTORIBVS

The arms and initials of Provost Blaikie are on the opposite side of the pier.

The translation, again according to Jervise, is— “ Under the Divine blessing, this bridge, more than 300 years after its first erection, was much widened and thoroughly repaired in the years 1841 and 1842, out of the funds left for its maintenance, Thomas Blaikie being Provost of Aberdeen ; George Henry and Thomas Fraser, successive Masters of Kirk and Bridge Works ; John Smith, Architect; and Alexander Macdonald and William Leslie, Contractors.”

At the approach to the west front of the Kincardineshire end stands an old sun-dial. An iron clamp has

destroyed part of the face ; but the following letters can still be made out on the top of it—

a. w . Mr o . . . . b. w. 1719 .

A stone inserted in the wall on the east front, of the Aberdeen approach, shows how far the famous flood came up—

FLOOD MARK.

6th AUGUST 1829.

The bridge regained much of its ancient prestige in the end of the last century, when turnpikes were being made with such energy. In the days of the old north and south road, when the coaches sped across its narrow roadway daily, it was something of importance ; but since that era ceased it has not figured conspicuously beyond being an excellent country road. Perhaps the only incident worth noting in the century—beyond the improvement already mentioned—is one which, strange to say, adds to the death-roll which has been made on the old bridge. On 20th April, 1818, when two police officers, were conveying James Grant from Stonehaven jail to Aberdeen, to stand his trial before the Circuit Court for sheepstealing at Bridge of Dye, the desperate prisoner broke clear at the Bridge of Dee and threw himself over the parapet. He fractured his skull and died instantly.


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