Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

A-Z of Aberdeen by Lorna Corall Dey

Places-People-History

“I’m really intrigued by this one and have been pretty distracted by it all day.”

Castlegate. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

The words of a reporter from Aberdeen’s Evening Express on receiving a review copy of A-Z of Aberdeen. Such a positive response from someone fielding innumerable publications straight off the press is heartening for, by its nature, the A-Z is selective and subjective and might have proven to be too personal, too close to me as the author. It appears this has not been the case.

Aberdeen Grammer School. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

Compiling A-Z of Aberdeen I was something of a hostage to fortune, for Aberdeen is a city with a long, long recorded history, and during the last thousand years or so many great lives were lived, and countless notable events occurred. As I explained in the introduction to the book the areas covered were picked because they were of special interest to me or stood out in the context of Aberdeen. In the end one hundred and twenty-five topics were included, many illustrated with photographs, but another volume could easily look quite different. Indeed I had to remove several entries from the original draft due to sheer lack of space.

As a historian my natural inclination was to head back in time – trawling through out-of-print books or old newspapers for lesser-known anecdotes or detail which will add flourish to the contents. To find curiosities that will stick in the minds of readers.

William Wallace, Guadian of Scotland. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

I love quirky items such as the story I stumbled across of a natural feature which has disappeared from the city and was known as the Roon O (Round O.) The O was a dip in the landscape formed by boulders scouring away at land during the last ice age in what became the area of Ferryhill. Once a little church was said to have stood upon the Roon O. One night its minister and elders were indulging in a spot of illicit gambling when a great flash of lightning lit up the kirk and Auld Hornie (the Devil) was seen dancing there as church and its sinners were drawn down into hell. Perhaps pause for thought for those residents living in the vicinity of the Roon O today.

Being a city renowned for its education Aberdeen has been a cradle of many a great intellect – people who influenced politics, science and social thinking not only in Scotland and the UK but across the world. Aberdeen has always been an outward-looking town with its mercantile tradition but also because of its two universities and their strong links with prestigious European seats of learning. Some of the greatest minds who contributed to that remarkable intellectual force of the 18th century. The Scottish Enlightenment, honed their intellects in Aberdeen – such as Thomas Reid who founded the Scottish Philosophical School of Common Sense and the innovative educationalist, George Turnbull.

Trawlerman in the 1970s. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

Several of the cities curiously named places and buildings get mentioned in the book such as the Monkey House and Monkey Brae, the Vennel, Patagonian Court and Froghall. There are tragedies, too, such as the high loss of life from the whaling ship, Oscar, when it sank at the mouth of the harbour. That was a natural calamity but another tragedy that was man-made was the despicable treatment of innocent women and men convicted of witchcraft in the town who were dipped into the harbour from the cran (crane) or partly strangled and burnt.

Aberdeen being a Scottish city there are the inevitable unicorns – an ancient emblem of the nation. As a former shipbuilding port the odd zulu is included for good measure. Ships carry cargo and maritime trade in and out of Aberdeen has been controlled through the institution of Aberdeen Harbour notably the oldest surviving recorded business in the UK with records stretching back to 1136. The city is also the proud home of the oldest surviving co-operative business, Shore Porters’ Society, dating from 1498.

Aberdeen rowies. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

Ten centuries after Ptolemy of Alexandria recorded a place called Devana by the River Diva (Dee) on his 2nd century globe, the community later known as Aberdeen has flourished as an international city of trade, engineering, fishing, woollens, granite, ideas. A vital servicer of the British empire, the UK centre of oil and gas production while retaining its unique character because of its relative isolation from the central belt of Scotland. This is a place where a distinctive dialect of Scots known as the Doric is spoken.  Doric has its own vocabulary and pronunciation, the result of the many peoples who lived around this part of Scotland from Scots to Scandinavians and perplexes many a visitor to the area.

Another vital ingredient that demanded inclusion in the book is that culinary delicacy that is quintessentially Aberdeen – the rowie, roll or buttery. The origins of this half bread, half pastry are unknown although some suspect they were produced as an alternative to bread for the city’s fishermen away at sea for days at a time. David Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones (once Zowie Bowie), developed a taste for the rowie when he spent part of his childhood in Aberdeen with his city nanny, Marion Skene. Nowadays Duncan makes his own rolls which prompts the expression ‘from Zowie Bowie to Zowie Rowie.’

This is a real dip into book packed with information but as the reporter quoted at the top commented it isn’t an easy book to put down either.

Lorna Corall Dey's new book A-Z of Aberdeen is available for purchase now.