Aberdeen City


Allan St Aberdeen common green


A present day street resident contacted me to ask what the street was like in the old days but being born not long after the war, I couldn’t help him. However, what war some may ask and what is the “old days”, so I decided to jot down my memories and send them on, this has inspired me to put them on the net, an example of a normal tenement street in grey granite Aberdeen, from the nineteen forties to the swinging sixties.

I was born around the corner, spent nearly twenty years living in the top flat of number 24 and in the early days the street was full of kids but as grew up I was amongst the last left in the street, I left in 1967/8, when we got enough points to get a house in Mastrick. When you read how we lived you’ll see what an indictment this is against the city council after the war. My great uncle Alexander Duff had the lease of the top left hand flat (from the front) from at least 1908, there’s a postcard from my granddad working in Canada to prove it. When he died my dad and his mother moved up from Livingston Station, to take the lease. I think number 24 was built after 1880 and I believe nearly all the houses were rented but some of, what we called the posher houses, round the corner, in Irvine Place, where there were few children, could have been owned. I’ve no idea of the type of person that lived in Allan Street, I just played with their kids, my dad was a gas worker and there was a bus conductor across the road (his son became teacher of mine at the Grammar), there was a teacher, Mr Dickie, lodger or boyfriend of Jeannie Burgess in a ground floor flat in 24 and another single female teacher, Mrs Abernethy moved into the ground floor of 22 in the 60s but apart from that I’ve no idea of the streets demography. My older brother remembers it as a street full of good working class and middle class families. Seemingly Jeannie Burgess was quite proud of a nude oil painting of herself, quite a liberated couple for fifties, Presbyterian Aberdeen. A John Cook has been in touch, I remember his mother, "I lived at 18 Allan Street. I emigrated to Canada in 1967 at the age of 20. I lived with my Mum and my brother, George. When I left for Canada my Mum lived alone. When she died the flat was sold to my niece, Susan Cook. It has since been sold again. I am trying to remember some of the names of the people who lived at 18. There was a Mr. and Mrs. Eddie Robertson on the ground floor. I think they had two sons. On the second floor was my mum's flat. Can't remember the name of the lady next door but I know she was a sister to one of the Robertsons downstairs." John

Postcard to Gt Uncle Alexander
dated 20 June 08 Click to enlarge

There was a grocer at the corner with Broomhill Road on the odd numbered side, before the houses start on the even numbered side there were two shops, the furthest from Broomhill was a Rowie shop (as near to a French Boulangerie you’ll get) and I think the other was a cobblers, these closed, possibly late fifties and for a while the area behind was a private or secret play area, with access from a lane, then through a hole in the fence, just the place for kids to get up to mischief but oh so innocent when compared to today.

In the fifties there were few cars, so we played football in the street, where the garages are now, on Irvine Place, was wasteland and was our main play area, the street bonfire was held there, I even remember a pit being dug so the older ones could play at acting out a horror scene from a classic book, being literate led to strange things in tenement life. It was a shock when the garages went up and we ended up playing on the street, loons football, quines ropies. As the street got busier with cars, we’d tend to play more on the pavement, Teazy Beezy or headers, using a gas lamp as the goalpost with the dyke but as the 60s progressed we would have to head to the Duthie Park to get some space. I suppose I added to the problem, later, I’d two old bangers and my dad had a car but even then we could still park at the door. The gas lamps were metal and coloured green, they lit automatically, the bottom of the lamp section (looked like a very large coach lamp) was a good height for an imaginary cross bar for the headers, they must have been replaced by electric in the early 60s. Also, there were two milk carts, one was the co-op, the horses knew the route and would walk on as the milkman delivered, my dad would watch from the bedroom window and when one of the horses defecated, he’d run down two flights of stairs to pick the dung up for his roses, using a shovel, of course. There was also a mobile shop van later on, run by a man I think was called Brand and I've vague memories of a rag and bone man on a cart. However, I clearly remember taking old wollen garments to the rag man near Zecca's cafe on Holburn Street and receiving cash for them.

You can see where the railings were by the cement marks in the dykes in front of the houses, my mother said they were taken during the war for aircraft manufacture, fighting the Luftwaffe with Allan Street railings was obviously successful. I remember the street being a pleasant sociable place, we’d even go out guising on Halloween and no one worried about safety. Also, we all went to Broomhill School and walked there in an informal group of street kids, up Broomhill Road or the back lanes, came home for lunch and back again, no adults were involved, in fact on my first day at school, aged five I had to give my mother a good telling off for turning up at lunchtime and embarrassing me.


The number one tram ran along Holburn Street, with the number two bus running up Broomhill Road, there was an old slum, a coaching house on the corner of Holburn and Broomhill, I had school mates living in them, it was a hovel but now I believe it was a terrible the council pulled them down, it became a car park and my mother’s paper shop was just opposite it, on Broomhill Road. Our neighbour Mrs Seaton owned it previously and my later mother sold it to her brother Charles Barron, it’s a crafts shop now. There was lots of shops round there, especially the Copie with its divi, where, even when little, I was sent to get messages, crossing busy Holburn Street without a qualm.

Number 24

Numbers 24 & 22 were unique (the last tenement on the evens side had a side entrance, as well) in that they had an outside stairs, at the back. All the others had the usual door into a communal hall and stairs, it always amazed me how small Aberdeen tenements were in comparison to friends’ in Glasgow. At the front was a separate stand-alone door, number 26, occupied by the Bruces, this lead into a flat, which had its back door by the outside stairs, so was part of the tenement community of 24. We entered by a side alley, where there was another stand alone door to another flat, these ground floor flats were looked on as posher but only were at 24 and 22.

Brodie StairsAs you entered the back yard there was a toilet on the right, shared by the two top flats, immediately left was another toilet built under the landing and stairs, which I think was shared and further round the yard to the left, also built in under the granite stairs, interestingly in brick, was another toilet which again I think was shared. In the winter we had to keep them from freezing with paraffin lamps, so we always stunk of that and of course, newspaper was used as toilet paper was something from another planet, I wonder if what you read showed you for what political beliefs you had. An elderly woman lived in a middle floor flat, overlooking the stairs, I feel sorry for her now, being stuck in her house with nothing else to do but look out the window but I used to get into trouble throwing snowballs at her windows. At night two sets of stairs was a fair climb, so we used a po, kept in the Scullery, in the winter, the stairs, being granite, were very dangerous and had to be salted.


The Backie

Wash HooseWas common to those who lived in the tenement, the area round the toilets was concrete and just before you went down a set of stairs to the common green, was the washhouse. Each flat had it’s own day, it had two huge sinks, a mangle and a boiler, which was filled from the sinks, my father, especially if he was on a 6 am shift, would be up filling the boiler and lighting the fire under it, before he went to work. Washing would be boiled, then rinsed in cold water in the sinks and put through the wringer. Bicycles were sometimes kept in there, as it was too far to carry them up to the flats but you had to have them clear for washdays. The common green was a play area to us kids but only when there wasn’t any washing on it, each flat had sole use for drying on the same day as the use of the washhouse.

Opposite the green was the coalhouses, for some reason ours was the furthest away from the house on the end, so we had to carry coal along the path, up the first stairs, round to the granite stairs, over the landing, up the inside stairs and into the house. Luckily we had only the one coal fire, as there wasn’t much room for storage of coal in the house. The coal was delivered by cart, it may well have been horse drawn in the early 50s. The path ran down to the wall neighbouring onto the back of the houses on Holburn Road, on either side was one allotment for each flat, ours, again was the farthest away, on the right, dad was very proud of it, grew roses, vegetables and strawberries, I had a small plot in it, to get me interested in gardening and even buried my dead budgies there, obviously, they never grew. The house was so small we couldn’t have big pets, so I had budgies, Mickey then Mickey two, Mickey used to love hearing Michael Holliday on the TV and would whistle away when he came on. Over the wall was a brick air raid shelter, we used to play in it although it wasn’t on our property and I have no idea who had the right to use it, in the war. 


Two Doors

At the head of the outside stairs was a landing (I saw the Northern Lights from there, in the 60s); in the early 50s there were enough kids to put on a play, using it as a stage. On the right was a door into a hallway and the two middle floor flats were at the end. The other door was to an inside stair, at the top of which two short staircases went off at right angles to the doors of the upper flats. Mum and the next-door neighbour took turns to clean and polish the stairs, on a regular basis, we had no flat numbers, just nameplates, for many years the Allardyce family were next door but were later replaced by the Seatons. . The Youngs were next door to a Mrs Thane, in the middle floor and one of their children married a sibling of Calum Kennedy, the singer, so we had a celebrity in the street. Their flat was bigger as it extend out over the flat below, which was bigger too, towards the wash house and had a big black range in the kitchen, we must have had one originally but we had a more modern coal fire, when I was young, then a gas one, a state of the Debonair. The lighting would have originally been gas but we had electric in my day.


Oor Hoose

As you entered from the small set of stairs, you were in a small hall with a door opening onto a pantry in front, where all the food was stored, being the coolest part of the house. Turn through the left hand door and you were in a bedroom/dressing area/secondary living area, off that, to the left was a small box room, which was used as a bedroom. They both overlooked Allan Street and the two main rooms in the house had lyins (for years I thought they were called lions but they are a common Scots building feature, I suppose dormer window is the nearest in English), the whole flat was strange living accommodation but with two kids and each grandmother living there at some time, it was a compromise. When I was young my brother and I slept together in a settee bed, which when daily made up, left the room as our room and also my mum’s dressing room, there was an old gas fire for heat and of course, cold linoleum on the floor, later my dad used it as an office, as well. The box room, on the left as you entered, was separated from the bedroom by a curtain, originally my grandmothers, when living with us in turn, had this as a bedroom and later it became mine, there was room for a single bed, a chest of drawers, a roll top desk and later a filing cabinet.

If you turned right at the hall, you entered the main room, off it through a door on the right, was what we called, the scullery, roughly the size of the other box room but with a skylight for a window in a lyin. The gas cooker was here, later a gas fridge, remember dad worked for the gas board, some storage, some drying washing in winter and the po. The main room was roughly square, like the bedroom but there was a recess behind the larder and this was where my parents double bed was, no curtain, open to the main room, we called the living room. This room was also the dining room, with an extending dining table and chairs, most of the furniture was chunky, post war, utilitarian, there were two arm chairs by the coal fire, then a large standing gramophone/radio. Across and beside the scullery door was a set of drawers and in 1959, when my brother left for London, my parents celebrated by buying a TV, the telephone went beside that in the 60s.

The main feature by the window on the back wall (you could just see the sea if you stood up on it), overlooking the back green and the backs of Holburn Road, was the sink and food preparation area, we had cold running water and hot was from a gas heater.

Bath Time

My earliest memory is standing in that sink as a toddler, looking out the window, as mum washed me, remember we had no bathroom or toilet, inside. As I got bigger, it really wasn’t the thing for a growing loon to do, at least not in Aberdeen, so going swimming at the Bon Accord baths and showering there, would take its place. In my teens, first of all the school baths at the Grammar would serve the social service and later a weekly visit to the bathhouse at the Bon Accord baths would have to do. There were a lot of people using these baths, so a lot of 60s housing in Aberdeen must have still been below well standard, if I remember correctly our landlord wouldn’t spend a penny unless he had to. The bathhouse was run by commanding women, who cleaned them and banged on your door if you went past your time but they ran your large spotless bath for you, in your own cubicle and the place ran like clockwork.

End Years

As I got into my teens it wasn’t a bad place to live in, the situation not the tenement that is, I could cycle or walk to school, Union Street was 10 minutes walk away, the Duthie Park, library and pubs were on hand. Trams were gone but the number 1 bus ran from the Brig o Don to Dee and the number 2 split to go up Broomhill Road from Holburn Street to Garthdee, a great cheer would come from the passengers and bell ringing from the conductor, when the driver would forget what route he was on, miss the split and was stuck with a bus full of passengers heading in the wrong direction. My parents would mistakenly trust me to behave when they went away, I was left at home and the temptation to have all night parties was too great. They weren’t too rowdy and it was just friends of both sexes but having an outside toilet meant a permanent queue at the foot of the stairs and outside noise. My parents could never understand why the neighbours didn’t talk to them for weeks.

In writing this I think on how substandard and tiny that accommodation was and a disgrace to the city of Aberdeen but my memories are of it being huge, I was born into it and knew no better. Most families in the street were conscientious, well dressed and working, kids looked out for each other, as well as fought but not in any excessively violent way, then made friends again, it was a safe environment but by the time I was in my late teens I was fed up of it and the move to Mastrick? Well it was heaven to us and the new house a palace.

I hope I haven’t been over self-indulgent in my writing, I just hope it invokes some memories from those in the street, those who were brought up in a tenement and teaches younger people about the way of life we had.