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Aberdeen History

Aberdeen History Aberdeen, which is taken from the phrase ‘aber Don’ meaning mouth of the river, had humble beginnings as a fishing settlement in the 8th century.

However by the early 12th century, Aberdeen had grown into a town, being appointed its own bishop in 1137 and then in 1179 it was granted a charter by King William the Lion.

The early charters are almost exclusively concerned with trade, allowing the town to grow, and by 1264 Aberdeen had its own castle. In 1319, Robert the Bruce introduced the Great Charter as a thank you to the people of Aberdeen, who sheltered him during his days of outlaw and helped him win the Battle of Barra. His charter transformed the town into a property owning and financially independent community.

However, in 1336 Aberdeen suffered a terrible fate for its loyalty to Robert the Bruce when it was burned down by an English army, and worse was to follow when in 1350 when the Black Death came and then in 1401 many people were killed by an unknown disease, called the ‘pest’.

Despite these setbacks Aberdeen grew into a large town and by the end of the 1400s it had a population of around 4,000 people. The town’s population continued to grow and by the early 17th century between 8,000 and 10,000 lived there.

During the 16th and 17th centuries several buildings were erected, some of which can still be seen today, including Provost Skene's House (1545), which named after Sir George Skene, who was provost of Aberdeen from 1676 to 1685, and the Tolbooth (1615), which is now a museum dedicated to the history of crime and punishment in Aberdeen.

Throughout these 200 years, Aberdeen continued to be an important port, with a bulwark being built along the south of the estuary in 1607 to make the harbour deeper when the tide went in and out.

However, it was not all prosperity and development in Aberdeen during the 17th century because in 1644 the Marquis of Montrose led his royalist troops against the town, killing many local people. In 1650 his rule over Aberdeen came to an end when he was captured and executed – his arm was sent to Aberdeen and put on public display.

During the 18th century life became a little more civilised in Aberdeen with the introduction of oil lamps and the town’s first fire engine in 1721. Some 20 years later, the Royal Infirmary was built at Woolman Hill, while the Robert Gordon Institute of Technology opened in 1775.

Industry was also on the up during the 18th century when Aberdeen became famous for the manufacture of linen.

Moving into the 19th century, the town and its people continued to grow rapidly, with new streets, such as Union Street, being built, and the population increasing from 27,000 in 1801 to 164,000 in 1911.

Other improvements to life in Aberdeen also came in the form of a canal to Inverurie, which was completed in 1807, and the arrival of the railway in 1850. Many new buildings were also erected, including St Andrew's Episcopal cathedral (1817), the Music Hall (1820), and North Church (1830), which is now an arts centre.

Although the textile industry declined during the 1800s, new industries began to grow as Aberdeen granite was exported to America and shipbuilding boomed. However, the production of granite went into decline in the early 20th century and ceased altogether in 1971. Luckily the discovery of North Sea oil created a new industry in the city and the first oil arrived in Aberdeen in 1975.

Oil is still important to the industry in the Granite City although new developments in information technology are where the city flourishes today.


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