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Topographical, Antiquarian, and Historical papers on the City of Aberdeen By John Milne, LL.D. (1911)


This volume consists of a series of papers on Aberdeen which were written for a newspaper without any intention of reproducing them in book form. They have been reprinted in compliance with many requests from persons who wished to preserve them. This has been done not very willingly. The papers would have required to be rearranged and condensed in order to convert them into a book. They were written from week to week without any prearranged plan. Some of them described at great length things of little importance and now quite forgotten. This was done when the information given had not been previously published, or was not readily available.

An Index has been prepared, which shows that some papers contained repetitions of what had been written before. Where discrepant statements are made on any matter it may be understood that the second is intended to correct an error in the first, detected when it was printed and could not be changed. Some improvements have been made in the process of revising the papers, but perfection has not been obtained in orthography.

On making Aberdeen my residence some years ago I found that the burns which I had been familiar with fifty years before were lost to sight. In some of these I had gathered freshwater mollusca when in Professor MacGillivray’s class in Marischal College, and it was an interesting pastime to visit their fountain heads and trace their underground courses through the city. I next became anxious to know which of the streams connected with the city had given rise to the name Aberdeen. For this purpose I examined many books and wrote down all the forms I could find. I settled, to my own satisfaction at least, that Aberdeen docs not mean the town at the mouth of the Dee but the town at the mouth of the Denburn.

At the same time, by request of the Geological Survey Department, I was keeping watch wherever subterranean or submarine operations were going on, for information about old red sandstone and other rocks underlying the site of the city.

Thinking that what had interested me might interest others also I wrote papers on these subjects and offered them to a newspaper. They were accepted and printed, and more were wanted. From many citizens came encouragement and offers of help, which were afterwards amply made good. The series of papers was continued till the Bridges, Ports, Lochs, Mills, Wells, Water Supplies, Canal, and everything connected with water had been treated of. The history of the Cathedral, Monastic Convents, Churches, and Universities was next taken up; and the series ended with the Harbour and the Railways.

The Topographical and Antiquarian papers necessitated a long study of old records, newspapers, maps, and railway plans; and every detail had to be verified by personal inquiry and minute exploration in the city and the suburbs.

The Historical papers were founded upon the Burgh Records of Aberdeen, the Register of the Great Seal, the Register of the Cathedral, the Chartulary of Saint Nicholas Church, and the Records of the Universities.

The utmost care was taken to secure that the information given should be strictly accurate, and I have to thank very many people who helped in accomplishing this. Some who are now dead gave information which could not be obtained now. When questioning an old gentleman about the Mant Mill Briggic he said he could never forget it for when a boy, in breasting the parapet to get a sight of the mill-burn, he sprang up too far and falling into the burn was carried over the waterwheel of the Maut Mill; but he was rescued by a man who saw his bonnet floating down the burn. Kirsty Davidson, a blind widow almost a centenarian, who kept a small shop in the Bowl Road, as she called Albion Street, described the site of the Banner Mill exactly as it is figured in the Meikle Cairt drawn by James Gordon in 1661. The mill, she said, was set down in a bog, and it was called the Bog Mill. I was curious to know the use of small houses on an island in the bog, shown in the chart, and she was able to tell me that they held sheaves of willow wands which grew in the bog; and on the island.

In writing the early history of the Cathedral, it was necessary to examine critically a document in Registrum Episcopate, 1. 5, titled “Bulla Adriani,” dated 1157. In it, besides the Church of Saint Machar and the Church of Saint Nicholas, there is mentioned the Church of Abbirdein. No place could be found for this church. and I suspected the bull to be a forgery. Cosmo lnnes however, had said in the Registrum (xix. note) that the bull was undeniably authentic, and John Stuart, LL.D., had also said that it was authentic (Exchequer Rolls, 1. clxxvi). Experts who were consulted thought there might have been a church somewhere near the Cathedral; but there were other suspicious things in the bull:—a monastery at Mortlach, and another at Clova, the mill of Aberdon, the absurdity of calling the cathedra) town old when it was only in its infancy, and of imagining that the Bishop of Aberdon had carried on the business of the diocese for many years, single-handed, without the aid of canons. The style of the Latin, moreover, is not like that of papal bulls. At my wit’s end. I consulted the keeper of Manuscripts in the British Museum. He referred me to a book on bulls and charters by a French author, Giry, which gives the characteristics of forged documents and shows how to discover the motives of their fabrication.

The single word “sororum” in Registrum 11. 39. shows that “Statuta Ecclesie Aberdonensis” is a fraud, for St Peter’s Hospital was not a shelter for women but infirm priests (Registrum I. 11). It is preceded by “Statuta Generalia Ecclesie Scoticane.” written in the same style of Latin, and it is probably another fraud. Both pretend to have been written in the thirteenth century, but more likely they were written on the eve of the Reformation with the view of reforming the Church.

I regard as forgeries a series of documents in Registrum (vol. I.) designed to establish the right of the bishops of Aberdon to second tithes falling to the Crown. They arc given in the Appendix to the Preface to vol. I. of the Exchequer Rolls, the editors of which thought they were authentic. Some of these documents are in the form of Acts of Parliament and were imported by Cosmo Innes into the edition of the Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland which he prepared for the Crown. One of them (Registrum I. 44) makes Robert I. order his Chamberlain and his Justiciar to pay annually to Bishop Henry Cheyne and his successors the Crown’s second tithes in Aberdeen. Though they were threatened, by the Act, with forfeiture if they neglected the kings command the Exchequer Rolls show no payment made for ten years. Then there is an entry of a payment to the bishop for second tithes, which was not to be continued to his successors.

These second tithes forged documents deceived not only Cosmo Innes, Dr John Stuart and George Burnett in the last century, but also a careful discriminating writer—Bishop Dowden—in the present. (See “Medieval Church in Scotland,” pp. 59, 175, 177).

A critical examination of all the documents in the Registrum is needed ; and it should be done in Aberdeen. It was local knowledge of the city and county which rendered it impossible for me to believe that the bull attributed to Adrian IV. was authentic. The University is the daughter of the Cathedral, and it would be a pious office on the part of the University to render this service to the memory of its Alma Mater. A commission consisting of three Professors skilled in Latin, Law, and Church History would find no difficulty in detecting and stigmatising documents highly suspicious or palpably false.

The design on the cover of the book was engraved from a drawing by Mr Alexander J. Murray, Architect, Aberdeen. It is intended to be a correct representation of the armorial bearings of Aberdeen, assumed when it became a burgh and was provided with a castle for its defence. The city arms were described by the Lyon King of Arms in 1674 as being three towers, triple towered. Two very different representations of this blazon have been issued from the Lyon’s office. Neither is correct. The older represents three towers, double towered, and the more recent represents three towers with three turrets on the top of each tower. I think each of the three towers should show three battlements with crenellated walls, indicating that the castles were capable of being defended by a great number of men. The words of the blazon are the only guide to a correct representation of a coat of arms granted in the Lyon’s court, and every person is entitled, subject to a court of law, to interpret the blazon for himself.

J. M.

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