Brig o don booklet

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Introduction In the beginning of the 20th century, the Bridge of Don area was a small collection of houses situated on the north bank of the river where the main road bridge carried the A92 (now the A90) highway northwards from Aberdeen to the Buchan and beyond. The Bridge of Don forms one of the main routes into Aberdeen and carries a large volume of traffic. Further upstream there is a bridge at Persley and one at Parkhill which likewise carry heavy volumes of traffic. There is also the Old Brig of Balgownie but that has been closed to vehicular traffic since the 1970s. A bridge belonging to Grandholm Mills could be used by local traffic but that is now restricted to traffic for the housing complex that replaced Grandholm Mills. In the 1920s and 1930s, the population in Bridge of Don was gradually increasing to 3,000 which brought about modest housing development. If someone from this era were to cross the river to the Bridge of Don in 2011, they would find many changes. First of all the road surfaces on King Street and the bridge itself are much improved, being smoother and without tram lines. The cassie stones had been lifted or tarred over and in 1958 the tram lines were lifted, much to the relief of motorists and cyclists. The Donview public house

was relocated a short distance further back to allow for the widening of the increasingly busy road. Law’s grocer shop at the junction of Links Road had, after several changes, become the first bank in the Bridge of Don. Bridge of Don was originally a small community but without any large opportunities of employment. Mostly, people found work in Aberdeen in such industries as fishing, paper-making, engineering and various other trades. More locally, work could be found at Crombie Woolen Mills at Grandholm, and the various quarries and cement works in the area. The building trade was growing and demands for local labour increased. Farms in the area offered limited employment and there was a broad range of crops and produce provided locally. This situated lasted until the end of the 1950s, but with the coming of oil in the 1960s, things became very different. There were new demands for land to be used for housing and industrial premises, and also for labour. Bridge of Don could provide most of these needs and so many farms gave way to housing and industrial sites. This booklet aims to capture the changes which have taken place in the Bridge of Don area and show how a once small community grew into the busy town it is today. 1

My Life as a boy at the Buckie Farm

Bellfield Farm

It was a hard life on a farm.

Bellfield was a dairy farm, originally named Bellsfold. I don’t know exactly when the name was changed and can only assume this happened when my grandfather William Wilson Wright took over the farm sometime around 1895, having previously been at Hillhead, Westfield.

You had to start milking the dairy cows at 5.00 am in order to have it delivered to the customers. It was all delivered by horse and cart to the Bridge of Don and the City by can, as in those days there were no milk bottles. I can remember the threshing mill coming to the farm and all the neighbouring farmers sending a man to help for the threshing. It was quite exciting watching the steam engine being set up, but today harvesting is all done by combine harvester which saves a lot of hard work.

In the old days it was all done by a binder. The corn sheaves were set up in the field in bundles of six in order to ripen before being taken to the corn yard to be built into rucks to keep the corn dry until time for threshing. As a boy on the farm you had to collect the eggs, wash them and then put them into a box. George Whyte

Bellsfold relates to sheep fold or enclosure, where as Bellsfield suggests pasture which would be more use for dairy cattle grazing. This is very much my own reckoning as there is no one here now to advise me otherwise.

was put into it and also at the far end of the “Corn Yard”, a concrete base was made and a large hut placed on it. Inside the hut there was a stove and sometimes soldiers spent the night there. My father had built a high fence around the back door of our house as security for his children. This was great fun for us. When the NAFFI came around, the Officers would supply us with bars of chocolate over the fence. The gun and soldiers were for protection of the Barracks which was so close and the harbour was also vulnerable. I remember seeing a plane with the Swastika signs just skimming the top of one of our fields near to Greenhole. The pilot with his goggles sticks in my mind even to this day! Kathleen Stroud (nee Wright)

Following my grandfather’s death in 1927, my father Allan Wright took over the responsibility of running the farm, eventually James took over when my father retired. Early during the war years – I would have been about 10 years old – I remember a large hole being excavated right alongside my house at Bellfield and a large machine gun



Greenhole Croft I was brought up in town, but when I married Bill Wright we went to live at Greenhole Croft in 1956. My husband worked for a firm supplying components for milking machines, the hand-milking method being taken over by machinery. As the farmland was gradually taken over for house building, the streets and schools took the names of the farms, e.g. Scotstown, Middleton, Forehill, Upper Westfield (schools)

Upper Westfield Farm and Broadfold, Cairnfold, Crookfold (streets). Also, the Gordon and Cameron names came from the Highland Regiments. The Bridge of Don area changed from a small village to a town as houses, shops, churches, schools etc started to spring up and the transport increased with a bus service and lorries serving the City and beyond to the north. Sheila Wright

We were brought up at Upper Westfield Farm where St. Columbus Church and Braehead Primary School are now situated and the fields are now Westfield Park. When we moved into the farm in 1946, the water had to be pumped by hand from a well into the house tank. This was our job every day after school. We had no electricity, used paraffin lamps and had a coal fire in the living room. There was no heating in the bedrooms and icicles often formed on the windows in winter. We had to walk or cycle to school or the shops as we did not have a car. In the winter the road out of the farm often became blocked with snow. We had to walk over the fields to school – there were no days off for bad weather! On the farm, our mother and father kept cows which had to be milked by hand, horses were used to work the ground as there was no tractor. There were also calves, pigs, chickens, hens, turkeys, ducks and geese. Chickens, ducks and turkeys were sold at Christmas.


We grew potatoes and during the school holidays in October, local children and ourselves picked the tatties – oh the backache! Vans came to the farm with provisions – grocer, baker, butcher and fish as there were no shops nearby. We would often go for a Saturday outing to Woodside via Grandholm for extra shopping. Our farm neighbours were Westfield Farm where the Bridge of Don Academy now stands, the owners of which were cattle dealers. Roadside farm was a market Gardener and had a tractor and cart, selling vegetables around the area. Gateside Farm was a dairy farm, although the site is now houses. Balgownie Home Farm, now the University playing fields, was a dairy farm. Buckie Farm was also a dairy farm although it is now a pub/ restaurant on the Parkway. Our grandparents used to live at Buckie Farm and we spent lots of time with them. We had lots of chores to do on our own farm but it was a happy childhood. Norma Edwards & Moira Lamb

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Mary Johnstone I was born at 18 Bridge Terrace, which is now known as “the Cottown of Balgownie”. The house would best be described as a ‘but and ben’, with gas lights, a gas ring for cooking, coal fires in both rooms and a dry toilet across the road in the front garden area. A few of the front gardens also had a communal air raid shelter and I remember on one occasion being woken in the middle of the night, wrapped in a blanket and carried over to one of them. My father cultivated the garden at the back of our house for vegetables. There were two water wells from where we had to carry water for our daily needs – one was at the Black Neuk, the other situated on entering the Cottown from Balgownie Road. The house belonged to the Balgownie Land Trust Ltd at a rent of £9.15 per annum. We were the last tenants to leave the Cottown, being re-housed to Hutcheon Gardens in 1958. Donald stewart bought the properties, modernised the insides and it has been a conservation area since. As a young child, I remember on Sunday mornings in the summertime, the Salvation Army brass band would play at the Black Neuk. As a youngster, I wouldn’t have appreciated the music but it must


have been a wonderful sight and sound for the older generation and the few holidaymakers. A pony and trap would also take the holidaymakers around the Cottown in the summertime. At the opposite end of the street to the Black Neuk was Peggy McKenzies shop. Peggy was a small, quietly spoken lady with a ruddy complexion and glasses. She was a helpful soul who never gossiped about anybody. Her shop had a winow facing Balgownie Road and was one of the few buildings that had electricity – I remember the electric cord and the white coolie shade. Although it was rather dark, we still managed to see the goodies for sale – lucky tatties, sherbet lemon, cinnamon sticks, liquorice straps, ‘coo’ candy etc – decisions, decisions! It truly was a kid’s paradise! For the ‘oldies’, there was a good stock of everyday needs – sugar, tea etc – and newspapers and magazines could be ordered there too. A telephone and library were situated in the back shop – which was even darker than the front shop. The shop is now a residential property.

“Did you know” Did you know that Westfield playing field used to be a sand quarry? 7

Rent List Ogstons Meal Mill, where my father was known as the ‘Miller’, stood on the banks of the River Don. As a youngster, my brother and I would play in the drying loft, ankle deep in warm corn. We could hear the rattle and shudder of various belts and machinery as the corn went down a chute to have the husks removed. It was then put in sacks and barrowed to a storeroom ready for collection or delivery. The mill closed in the 1950s and a few residential houses have since been built on the site. My mother worked part-time in a guest house on Ellon Road which was owned by McGee’s. The property is currently the Royal Bank of Scotland. My first introduction to the classroom was at the ‘Auld School’, now known

as St. Nicholas. Apparently my brother was very quiet and although I was not school age, I was assigned to sit beside him in class. This would not be the procedure today. Sadly my brother was killed in 1984. My second school was at the Corner House which later became a dance hall before being renamed the Brig Inn. This is now a hotel and restaurant. It is pleasing to see that although the Bridge of Don has grown dramatically, the ‘Cottown’ remains a tranquil area and has remained virtually the same. Mary Johnstone (nee Hutcheon)

List of rents for Bridge Terrace, Cottown c.1950 House number




Helen & Lizzie Cummings



Sheila & Tom Bews


James Hutcheon (Miller)



William Nicol (Postman)



Charlotte Watt



Margaret Watson



Barbara Robb



Margaret & Alex Robson


John Sim (Fisherman)



Catherine Nicol



John Anderson (Lorry driver)



Margaret Milne



Barbara Niven


List of rents – Balgownie Road, c.1950 20 Forebank

Top Floor - Fiddes


Bottom floor - Hay



McKenzie – house, shop, library, garage


John Baird (Postman)


Thomas Tosh (Fireman)

“Did you know” Did you know all houses north of Donside Road were either farms, farm cottages or crofts?



1929 OS MAP

School Days – Magic Moments


I was privileged to be a pupil of Denmore Primary School for a period of about two years. Denmore School is now a dwellinghouse and it is situated on the east side of the main Aberdeen-Ellon road, approximately 1 mile north of the Bridge of Don.

One day there was a visit from the school dentist who examined our teeth and through our teacher, advised our parents of what work was recommended and asking permission to go ahead.

The school consisted of two classrooms, cloakrooms, walled playgrounds and outside toilets. An attached dwellinghouse was for the Headteacher. An assistant teacher also worked at the school. The two teachers there were very strict but kindly ladies. They had a strap to administer punishment should the need arise but I never saw it used. Should a boy need correction he was often made to sit beside a girl, a blow to his ego and a real punishment. Memories bring to mind the screech of the slates we used to write on; tadpoles in jars on windowsills slowly growing legs; the large open fire in the classroom where the teacher would place our flasks of cocoa to keep them warm for lunchtime. Games in the playground were tackie, stone release or bools. We were forbidden to leave the playground during interval or lunchtime.


Walking to and from school was often the highlight of the day – especially if you found a bird’s nest or baby rabbit. In the wintertime, the cold wet winds would turn your knees red and your short trousers would fire your legs and you would rub snowfire on them.

George Thompson

Everything we needed for school was carried in our leather schoolbags on our backs. In our bags would be our reading book, slate pencils and most important, our piece for lunch, which was very often started on well before lunchtime. My sandwiches often consisted of bread, butter and jam or syrup. Some days there was mince or potted meat and sometimes classmates would exchange pieces. Looking back there were carefree and happy days in spite of the fact that times were hard and pocket money was unheard of. George Thompson

An assistant held me by the shoulders while the dentist extracted the offending teeth amid my yells and kicking the dentist who said I might make a good footballer some day. My toothless and bloody gums were the centre of attention that day.

School House Unfortunately my then milk teeth were decaying and impeding the growth of my second teeth. I was told that my treatment would take place at the school on a certain day and I was very excited at the prospect. On the morning of the appointed day, the classroom was cleared of pupils and the dentist set to work. There was several for treatment and they were called in turn. The patient sat on an ordinary chair in front of the fire, and in my case was given an injection from what seemed a great big needle.


“Did you know” Did you know that Thomas Blake Glover (who founded the Mitsubishi Company in Japan) used to live in Balgownie Road?


School Days

Scottish Country Dancing

Class Year here?

We were taught Scottish Country dancing at school by our PE teachers, Mr Williamson and Mrs Still. We participated in the yearly Scottish Country Dancing Competition, which was open to all Aberdeenshire schools.

It was held in the Music Hall. We did win it one year, and as a treat from our teachers, they took us to get a Knickerbocker Glory.


Tattie Holidays

Growing up In the haste to develop, priority was given to housing and industrial needs together with the necessary infrastructure. In the early days, there was little provision to meet the social needs of the Bridge of Don residents. Adults had little difficulty in seeking relaxation being so close to the City of Aberdeen, but for children there was only one small play area in Scotstown Gardens with some play equipment and a small grass covered section for games. There were no municipal playing fields and the use of school grounds outwith school hours was frowned upon. With the help of local councillors, residents founded a community centre at Balgownie and welcomed the provision of Westfield Park which brought playing fields for the local youngsters. Youth groups such as the Boy Scouts, the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigadesm Scouts and Girl Guides began to emerge. There was also the Army Cadets and the Air Training Squadron, formed locally and greatly supported by the military which then resided close by in Gordon Barracks. These youth groups do much to meet the needs of the young people by providing interests, activities and


opportunities; however even these provisions failed to meet the demand from youngsters with plenty of time on their hands. On their own initiative they found attractions at nearby Seaton Park or down at the beach. In the spring, there was the bomb hole on Scotstown Moor to fish for tadpoles or other water life. Many boys and girls could find seasonal work picking fruit or gathering potatoes on local crofts and farms, earning modest sums in the process. During the October school holidays, local farmers relied on the youngsters to harvest their potatoes crops in a period known as the ‘tattie holidays’ – whether or not they were so engaged.

A well known lady, Bunty Robertson would organise the groups to go to the various farms. She was well respected by the young folk and had the knack of getting them to do as she told them. At her bidding, the boys and girls who wished work would meet on Ellon Road at Hutcheon Gardens where she would brief them on their day ahead. She usually carried a large bottle of lemonade or something similar from which she first took a drink and then it would be solemnly passed around all those gathered there. At the arrival of the tractors and trailers, she supervised the youngsters boarding the trailers and accompanied them out to the place of work for a whole back-breaking day. They would return at night tired and either covered in dust or splattered with mud. Nevertheless, they would be back the next morning ready for another day. Now there is no demand for such labour which may be a pity as the youngsters proved they could find an alternative to languishing at home or in the street and being bored.

With the schools resuming, Bunty would return to her post as a school crossing patrol on the very busy dual carriageway on the Ellon Road opposite the barracks. IN all weathers she safely escorted the children across the road with no aid other than her school crossing sign. She would not tolerate any nonsense from the child or driver who was likely to ignore her presence. She would wave her crossing sign like any good drum major and verbally chastise any defaulters. She was held in awe by all road users!

“Did you know” On leaving Bridge of Don Academy in 1956, I was delighted to get a position with Aberdeen County Council on Union Terrace. I got married in 1962 and had to leave the council as they did not employ married women! However I was asked to return in 1966 as the rules had changed, and I stayed until 1996!! Joan Whyte (nee Cummings)


Employment in the Bridge of Don area

Recreation Over the past 40 years as the area has grown from approx. 5,000 people to the present 25,000 many changes have of necessity had to take place. New housing estates were built, which in turn meant new schools to accommodate the rising numbers of children for nursery, primary and secondary education.

for both young people and for not so young people. These include dancing and art classes, playgroups, gymnastics, messy play and much more. The two Sports Centres also offer activities for young people from gym activities, trampolining, karate and football – none of our young people need to be bored.

The activities, pastimes and pursuits were also something else that had to be addressed. This was before all the hi-tech gadgets took over our children’s lives. In the earlier days there might be Church groups, such as the Girls’ and Boys’ Brigades, and then as schools spread throughout Bridge of Don, there were Brownies, Rainbows, Boy Scouts which were sometimes held in school premises. The Air Cadets were another option for youngsters to join. All of these groups had long waiting lists of children wanting to join, but there was also a great need for more leaders and helpers.

The youngsters from an earlier time amused themselves in a different manner, as many will recall with fond memories of playing ‘bools – marbles’. Skipping ropes with rhymes, playing with balls, collecting scraps, cigarette cards or stamps, or just having fun playing rough and tumble games in the open air.

Swimming was available after the new Bridge of Don Academy/ Community Centre opened. There are now three community centres in the area offering a variety of activities


Isobel Butler

“Did you know” Did you know that due to the activity of the many mills along its length, the River Don became so polluted that the smell was referred to locally as the “Don Pong”.

Employment before 1920 would have mainly been in agriculture with the many farms and crofts. The area also had lots of mills, including Don Mills situated on the west side of the bridge, Mill of Mundurno at Murcar and further upstream, Kettocks Mills. Grandholm Mills weaved their world famous cloth, and on the south side of the river the paper mills and woollen mills all used water power from the river. There was a salmon fishing station at Nether Don beside the Brig of Balgownie, as well as the salmon fishing bothy on the sea beach north of the Don mouth accessed by a road running across the golf course. Also out towards the beach was a coastguard station and a volunteer lifeboat team to deal with the many shipwrecks in the area.

of Balgownie Crescent were built providing a fruiterer, paint shop, newsagent and hairdresser. Around this time, even more council housing was erected at Bellfield and Simpson Road. The discovery of North Sea Oil in the 1960s brought with it a huge expansion of industry. In so doing the population of the area grew massively and there was an associated boom in housing, retail and other support industries.

Council houses were built at Hutcheon Gardens along with a new police station and the Gordon Barracks were all started in the 1930s. Around this time, the builder Donald C Stewart began to build houses on Links Road progressing towards Donmouth Crescent, Donmouth Road and Donmouth Terrace. At the same time, the shops at the end


Joss & Sons The property now known as Joss Court was acquired in 1924 by John Joss & Sons as a garage, workshop and yard providing a taxi service and road haulage to the local councils, agricultural and building industries.

John Joss & Sons opened a sand and gravel quarry at “Hills of Fyfe”, Blackdog in 1935 supplying material to the Aberdeen area. A second quarry at Mundurno was opened in 1937. On the back of this success, a separate company, Joss (Aberdeen) Ltd was formed. At the beginning of WWII, building materials were being supplied all along the East and Moray coasts for defences and air raid shelters. In 1943, the Joss premises at Links Road were hit by two bombs which completely demolished the building and destroyed most of the lorry fleet.


St. Columba’s Church of Scotland New premises were built and replacement vehicles acquired and the company continued to be operated by the original family until 2000, when it was sold. The company still trades under the name Joss (Aberdeen) Ltd, but is now operated from Loch-hills Quarry, Parkhill.

The first Church of Scotland service to be held in the church took place on Sunday 10 July 1983, with the building being dedicated on Thursday 7 September of the same year. The history of a Church of Scotland presence in the Bridge of Don area goes back much further than the 1980s however, with the gifting of a field by a local farmer to St. Machar’s Cathedral in the 1940s. This land of approximately 1.5 acres – the ‘Ellon Road site’ – on the corner of North Donside Road and Ellon Road lay vacant for many years and despite the intention, never became the site of a church. With the continuing expansion of the community in the 1960s and 1970s, the Kirk Session of St. Machar’s began looking afresh at the location and decided it would become too far away from the centre of the eventual community. Before a site was decided, schools and other venues were used for church sessions including Scotstown Community Centre and Denmore School. In the middle of the 1970s, Upper Westfield School was under construction and an approach was made to the Local Authority to seek permission to use the building on Sunday mornings for services. This situation lasted until in 1979, an

Associate Minister was appointed with specific responsibility for Bridge of Don. While various sites were considered for the new church, a letter was received from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen suggesting a joint approach. The present site was selected for the joint venture with building work commencing on 8 November 1982, and the building officially handed over on 23 June 1983. Payment for the site came from a combination of sources. St. Machar’s Cathedral received £28,000 from the Bank of Scotland and £59,000 from a Housing Association in relation to the sale of the Ellon Road site which all contributed to the total cost. The congregations also raised a large sum of money as contribution. Other gifts included the cross at the rear of the church being given by Joss Quarries. Isobel Butler


Balgownie Scottish Women’s Rural Institute (SWRI)

Gordon Barracks

The SWRI started in 1965, meeting in Scotstown Primary School, before moving to their present venue of Scotstown Community Centre the following year.

In the early 1930s, the building of a military barracks commenced on the east side of Ellon Road, practically opposite its junction with Balgownie Crescent. This complex was intended to accommodate a battalion strength of 1,000 men and provide all of their requirements such as training, food and medical supplies. Houses were also provided for the families of the married ranks. These barracks were to replace Castlehill Barracks in Aberdeen which were first converted into flats and then eventually demolished.

Around this time, the area was rapidly increasing and the population growing as the new housing developments emerged. It was originally believed that the group would have limited success given the proximity to the City of Aberdeen, but this has since been proven otherwise.

During the period since its founding to 2011, membership of the group has risen to an excess of 50 ladies attending the regular monthly meetings held between September and June. The initial interest was from ladies with a country background who were moving to the area with their families, but the group also welcomed a number of “townspeople” who were moving out of the city to the suburbs. Moira Massie, Isobel Butler and Doreen Boyne

Royal Aberdeen Golf Club “The Royal Aberdeen Golf Club” founded in 1780 is the sixth oldest golf club in existence, originally known as “the Society of Golfers at Aberdeen”, it was renamed in 1815 on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. Originally played on the Queen’s Links until 1888, a private course was procured at Balgownie. This club became the first to introduce the five minute rule for finding lost balls in 1783.


Castlehill to their new quarters. The Gordon Barracks became well known to many young men who passed through the gates to life in military service. During World War II, temporary huts were erected in the barracks to meet the increased demands of war. Sadly, in April 1943, the barracks were a target for enemy bombs and received direct hits killing 37 soldiers and wounding 200. This coincided with an intense air raid of Aberdeen where 98 people lost their lives.

The new barracks at Bridge of Don were named Gordon Barracks and in August 1953, the Gordon Highlanders, led by their pipes and drums and with colours flying, marched along King Street from

Major national and international events have been played on the course, attracting many of the world’s most famous and finest players.


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