Harbour awash with history New exhibit shows artifacts from the early days of the famous Granite City port

Hailed as the oldest existing business in Britain, the early history of the Aberdeen Harbour is being explored in a new city attraction.

Dating back to between 1136 and 1660, this fascinating exhibition at the Maritime Museum gives an insight into the life of early North-east ancestors.

One of the earliest known maps showing Aberdeen Harbour - Abredoniae novae et veteris descriptio. Image via National Library of Scotland

Curator Jason Finch helped pull the historic artifacts together.

He says the saturated soil of the harbour has allowed archeologists to unearth many artifacts from centuries ago.

"Aberdeen is actually very similar to York, in the respect that the ground is particularly wet, so items such as leather and wood are rather well preserved, sometimes in their entirety. As a result we have so many of these artifacts from the early days of the harbour, we thought it would be great to use them to find out more about how the people of Aberdeen lived back then. "We believe many in the area stayed in small houses, with many working in the leather industry and lots of trade focused on the North Sea."

Highlights on show at the Maritime Museum include 800-year-old leather and textile clothing, as well as everyday items from food bowls and gaming dice, to brooches and combs.

With a history that has spanned more than 900 years, Aberdeen Harbour was first established as a business in 1136 by King David 1st of Scotland, when he granted the Bishops of Aberdeen the right to place a levy on all ships trading at the port.

Engraved views from the 17th century - image via National Library of Scotland

By Tudor times, links with Scandinavia and Baltic ports led to improvements in the North-east port, with the first cargo-handling crane installed in 1582.

This was followed in 1596 by the issue of a charter by King James VI, which led to work near Torry to help expand the harbour entrance.

A blockhouse was then built at the entrance, something many think deterred the Spanish Armada from landing in Aberdeen in 1588.

"It's really awe inspiring to look out at the harbour now and see how far it has come, especially now we can see how life was back then. Spanning over 900 years you can only imagine all the changes that have happened during that time. Back then the harbour was very much a way of life, much like it is today for people in Aberdeen. This exhibition and all it shows gives you a much closer connection to our ancestors too."

Since 1136, the harbour has supported a fishing industry, which took off with the introduction of the steam trawler in the 1880s.

The junction of Regent Quay and Waterloo Quay was a busy one in the later years of the 19th Century.

Behind the sailing-ship fleet with its tracery of masts and spars, the Aberdeen we know to-day was coming into being."

"The city from the harbour in 1890. The Town House clock tower is a predominant landmark on the skyline.

Aberdeen has also been a major shipbuilding area, something which only ended in the 1990s.

The arrival of the oil and gas industry in the 1960s marked the start of a period of change at the harbour, when it was effectively rebuilt.

Today it is still considered one of the most modern ports in Europe, handling around 8,000 vessel and some five million tonnes of cargo every year.

A bustling scene at Aberdeen Harbour in May 1977. St Nicholas House and Aberdeen Town House can be seen in the background on the right.

This aerial photograph gives an idea of the scale of the busy Aberdeen Harbour in 1987

Aberdeen Harbour in the believed to be in the 1930s

View of Aberdeen from the east looking over Balnagask Golf Course and Aberdeen Harbour.

Plans for the Nigg Bay expansion now promise to add another chapter to the harbour's long and vibrant history.

The exhibition, called The Gateway to the North: Aberdeen Harbour 1136-1660, is on now at the Maritime Museum and will run into 2017 and beyond.

Created By
Callum Main


Pictures via Aberdeen Journals, words by Louise Aitken

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