History

Union Street early 20th century
Aberdeen's Union Street – itself an extraordinary engineering feat of the 19th Century – bustling with trams, pedestrians and horse-drawn cabs around 1910.
The origin of the name Aberdeen is far from clear. In his book A Thousand Years of Aberdeen, Alexander Keith explains that some Gaelic scholars believe it to come from 'Aber' and 'da-aevin' meaning "the mouth of two rivers". Adding weight to this is the Roman name Devana, which could clearly have come from 'da-aevin'. Others say Aberdeen comes from its location at the mouth of the Don. Another theory is that it derives from the Norse 'Apardion'.

In its early days Aberdeen consisted of two settlements, one in what is now Old Aberdeen, near St Machar's Cathedral, and another on St Katherine's Hill by the harbour. The town's first charter was granted by William the Lion in 1179.



Aberdeen became a centre of education with the founding of Kings College by Bishop William Elphinstone in 1495. The University of Aberdeen results from the merging of Aberdeen's two universities: Kings College and Marischal College in 1860.

The shaping of modern Aberdeen began in the latter part of 18th Century. At that time Aberdeen was crowded onto St Katherine's Hill (at the east end of Union Street), above the harbour. Expansion of the city was restricted by the Denburn Valley to the west.



In 1796 Charles Abercrombie, a roads engineer and surveyor, suggested an incredibly bold plan. He proposed to remove the top of St Katherine's Hill and build a huge viaduct over the valley. This ambitious project began in 1801. The resulting 60-foot wide viaduct was one of the engineering feats of its time and was completed in 1805. It was named Union Street after the union between Britain and Ireland.

It is easy to forget that Union Street, lined with buildings on both sides, is actually supported on huge granite arches from near the Castlegate to around Crown Street.



Only by using the old mediaeval roads on a lower level can you begin to get a concept of the scale. (Look at the arches from Correction Wynd and The Green, then view the massive span of Union Bridge over the railway and the culverted Denburn.)

The construction of Union Street was followed by similar viaducts along Union Terrace and Rosemount Viaduct. This opened the whole area to the west and the resulting development probably precipitated the bankruptcy of the city.



It is said this is the root of the mean image the city gained through "music hall" jokes. With the administration bankrupt, influential visitors to Aberdeen had to do without the expected civic reception.

A more recent milestone in the city's development was the discovery of North Sea Oil in 1969 and the development which led to Aberdeen becoming the Energy Capital of Europe.

Always an internationally-minded economy, Aberdeen has proven itself to be equally international in its thinking in the oil and gas industry and it is now an upstream oil centre second only to Houston in Texas.



Aberdeen is a global centre of offshore oil and gas technology and has set its sights on building a similar lead in renewable energy. Already it is the base for the UK's leading renewables exhibition – All Energy – which takes place in the city during May.
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