Duthie Park has long been a favourite with the people of Aberdeen, usually referred to as ‘the Duthie Park, but in recent years it had become pretty tired looking with some of the old favourite activities having been stopped by successive council administrations. Only the award-winning Winter Gardens was kept in anything like its former glory. That hasn’t changed but thanks to Heritage Lottery Funding Duthie Park is looking glorious all over once more.
In 1880 Elizabeth Duthie gave a parcel of 44 acres of land to the city to establish a park in memory of her family. Responsibility for its layout went to William McKelvie from Dundee and so a grand Victorian park close to the River Dee opened to the public three years later.
Work continues but essentially the park has been restored to much of its original appearance, which is a vast improvement on its recent guises. Those people desperate to destroy Aberdeen’s unique Union Terrace Gardens because it is Victorian, and so old fashioned, could do worse than learn from what has taken place in Duthie Park – old is not necessarily bad and new is most definitely not always progressive or an improvement.
Join me, if yous will, for a tour around the park.
Duthie Park has several entrances all with those fabulous moulded iron gates, which incidentally my grandfather’s brother worked on before he emigrated to the USA. That was a year or two back. He worked for Aberdeen iron founders McKinnons of Spring Garden so presumably that was where the gates were made.
Hygeia soars up into the sky on her fluted Corinthian column.
Hygeia (it has various spellings) is a goddess of health from Greco-roman mythology and naturally this is where the word hygiene originates. This said you can understand why she was chosen to grace the new park in 1881 for it was realised that green areas were essential oases amid the filth and squalor of industrialised urban areas – refuges for people to relax in and breath clean air. This is no less important today as urban sprawl continues to cement over our green spaces.
Hygeia holds the cup that is her symbol with a snake drinking from it, a reference to living in harmony with mother earth. According to tradition the snake has wisdom and is associated with healing and was believed to visit the dead whose souls the snake would carry off – hence their accumulated wisdom. The emblem of Hygeia’s snake and cup was adopted as the symbol for pharmacy in the 18th century and is still used by some health organisations.
Sculpted by Arthur Taylor in a light grey granite Hygeia stands on a base surmounted with pink granite recumbent lions with lovely expressions.
Arthur Taylor ran a granite yard in Aberdeen’s Jute Street from where several other significant sculptures in the city were sculpted.
Aberdeen Granite Trail pdf
The Gordon Highlanders Memorial is a Celtic cross of grey granite. Did you know that the author Raymond Chandler served with the Gordon Highlanders in France during World War 1?
Their motto Bydand (stand fast) can be seen above.
The Gordons took their name from Clan Gordon which occupied land around Huntly and so the Gordons, the cock o’ the north, were very much a northeast Scotland regiment, aside from Raymond Chandler.
Several Gordons won the Victoria Cross, the first of these was Thomas Beach, a Dundonian who was awarded the medal for gallantry during the Crimean War. On 5 November 1854, Private Beach tackled a group of Russians interfering with a British officer as he lay injured during the Battle of Inkerman. Beach killed two of the Russians and defended the injured man until help arrived.
The last, as far as I know, recipient of the VC was Allan Ker (with one ‘r’) from Edinburgh. In March 1918 during the Great War he single-handedly held back a German attack on the British line and remained at his post to protect badly injured comrades during which time he was being assaulted with bayonets. The Vickers gun he had been using ran out of ammunition but he held his stance for three hours against 500 enemy assailants, surrendering eventually when the situation became impossible.
The decorative bandstand stands on a granite plinth with 5 steps up to the platform. There are cast-iron supports and railings and various decorative features and cartouches with Aberdeen’s coat of arms. It is topped with a weather vane.
What are called the lakes are being restored. They consist of the upper lake and Aberdonians can once again take to boats, during holidays at least when the pedalos are on hire.
The central lake is supposed to represent a lochan which can be used for pond dipping.
The lower lake is, well just that.
The Iron Bridge over the lake is supported by grey granite piers and nicely worked cast-ironwork on the parapets . There are lion rampants on both north and south parapets.
This bridge was once used by the folk of Rosemount to get around the Denburn area, near where the Central Library now is, and where Mutton Brae and Black’s Buildings with their overcrowded slums used to house many from Aberdeen’s working population.
The Boating Pond being renovated
and it turned into this
The magnificent boating pond at the riverside which generations of Aberdonians visited on Sundays to sail their model yachts has been cleaned and resurfaced so that once again boys, isn’t it always?, will again sail their toy, sorry model, boats and more sporty people can kayak.
Nearby is another pond, circular with a spout of water.
Still on the theme of water, the Fountainhall Well predates the park but was re-situated here. Constructed in 1706 by James Mackie and John Burnet it consists of a small cistern of a brick and stone lined vaulted inner chamber with a rectangular pool and stone steps leading down to the water.
The people of Aberdeen used to get their water from the loch but by 1706 its water had become polluted and lead pipes were laid to take water from Carden’s Haugh Well. The water from it was carried by pipe to 6 cisterns or fountain-houses along Fountainhall Road and on through to the Water House in Broad Street until 1866. Once a new means of supplying water was introduced the old wells were no longer needed and in 1903 the Fountainhall Well found a new home in Duthie Park.
Silver City Vault
The plaque reads Old Well from Lands of Fountainhall, erected in connection with the first city water supply 1706, Re-erected 1903.
The McGrigor Obelisk
Designed by architect Alexander Ellis and Aberdeen artist James Giles in 1860 this is a memorial to Sir James McGrigor who was Director-general of the army medical department for 36 years and Lord Rector of Marischal College.
Built of polished pink granite on a square base and plinth it has a recessed tooled grey granite panel on its north side.
Until 1905 it stood in the quad at Marischal College, now the HQ of Aberdeen City Council, and formerly part of the University of Aberdeen. The obelisk now dominates the area of the park overlooking the River Dee.
The Taylor Well
Grey granite was used to create this decorative drinking well to quench the thirsts of both people and dogs. Notice the dog basin at the bottom.
The inscription explain the well was provided by Alexander Taylor’s daughter Jane in commemoration of her father.
It is decorated with leopard and lion masks, a reference to Aberdeen’s coat of arms.
The Temperance Fountain
This is a bonnie piece of work: polished pink and grey granites by James Hunter and originally stood in the Woodside area. Some old codgers from the city still refer to the bus stop there as ‘the fountain’.
The temperance movement was very strong during the 19th century when pubs might outnumber people in some places and a working man could drink much of his weekly pay away in a single night which left a problem for his wife and children.
The fountain comprises a polished pink granite basin sheltered by a groin vaulted roof held in place by three slender columns of turned granite.
On top of the whole structure is a spherical finial.
This fountain, unlike the Taylor one, was designed to go into Duthie Park, a gift from Aberdeen Temperance Society, to provide uncontaminated water and healthy alternative to alcohol. If the prospect of pure water was not sufficient an attraction then the message carved into the base might provide the persuasion required.
‘In commemoration of the advance of temperance under the auspices of the Aberdeen Temperance Society in the year 1882.’ And ‘Thou givest them water for their thirst, IPH 9-20’
The text comes from the Book of Nehemiah in the Hebrew Bible.
Seats along the viewing terraces overlooking the River Dee.
The Swan Fountain
The Swan Fountain is a cracker. Made from red Peterhead granite it sits on a rustic circular base with a polished plinth on which sits four swans from whose beaks water pours – when it’s switched on.
The Swan Fountain under restoration
Admire the time taken to produce the impressive polished basin which might have been hand-polished or perhaps was a combination of machine and hand polishing.
The Swan Fountain was made by A. Macdonald & Co, granite merchants whose yard was in Constitution Street.
Bowling Pavilion but what – no tennis?
This timber building with overhanging eaves stands at the back of the bowling green.
Unfortunately Aberdeen Council continues to shut its eyes to the upsurge of interest in tennis in the wake of Andy Murray’s great achievements and mothballs courts around the city, or as in this case, removes courts altogether – here the area will be transformed into what it calls community gardens and rockery. It will be lovely no doubt but surely the authorities should be encouraging people of the city to become active by providing readily accessible facilities for them. Removing the tennis courts is a backward step.
The Mound or ziggurat used to be covered in roses but now it has been taken back to its original look with grass. A ziggurat is a raised area often involving a shrine. There isn’t one in Duthie Park but the view from the top is nae bad.
The Winter Gardens complex is among the biggest in Europe with different climate areas including its famous cactus and succulent house and home to the world’s only talking cactus, Spike.
People of Aberdeen used to take their unwanted budgies there to live in its urban tropical environment but they appear to have gone.
Aberdeen’s famous Kelly cats, those removed when part on Union Bridge came down to accommodate, wait for it, wait for it – retail units – ie shops. Now wasn’t that a lesson which went unlearned by some of Aberdeen’s prominent citizens when hoping to create a similar money-making desert over Union Terrace Gardens.
Imagine how better the centre of Aberdeen would be with the complete bridge back – incidentally the largest single-span granite bridge in the world. Some folk have no sense of worth.
It won’t happen but some of the cats are here. They are actually leopards, which appear on Aberdeen’s coat-of-arms and are metal cast. It is commonly put about that the cats which decorated the bridge’s balustrades, and still do on one side, were designed by Aberdeenshire architect William Kelly but apparently they were the work of Sidney Boyes who taught at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen. Kelly designed the metal plaques on the bridge.
All of above gets the thumbs up but there has to be a down side and her it comes.
Children’s park areas top and bottom. The one at the Ferryhill end has always been a pretty dark and chilly spot and it is a pity that the opportunity hasn’t been taken to shift somewhere more open to the sun. It has good facilities but for parents hanging around while their youngsters play it can be an uncomfortable wait.
The bottom play area near to the River Dee is far better although there’s traffic to contend with down there.
The present café isn’t really much of a facility with floppy paper plates, paper cups and very little choice of anything to eat and no napkins! Don’t know why there can’t be a proper restaurant there as I recall the old one used to be fairly busy.
I have been told the queue at the ice cream kiosk can stretch back a mighty long way. Now call me picky but isn’t there anyone employed there with the gumption to get hold of a box, fill it with ice creams and ice lollies and some cool drinks and go out into the park and sell the stuff? Remember when little ice cream wagons used to be common along sea fronts?
No points for effort.
The only toilets are in the Winter Gardens which is fine but why is there only one soap dispenser in the women’s toilet? And why was there no soap in it when I was in? Perhaps because there is only one soap dispenser in the women’s toilet – don’t you think?
Does no-one at Aberdeen City Council remember the great typhoid epidemic of 1964? Those were the days and if there’s not another soap dispenser put into the women’s toilets soon those days will be back with us.
Finally there are no rubbish bins in the park. Not totally correct, as I spotted at least one in one of the squares in the Winter Gardens but outside in the park itself – well what’s that all about? Please do not suggest it is from a fear of weapons of mass destruction being deposited in Miss Duthie’s Park because, frankly, you are on your own with that one.
Is it that you, meaning the Council, can’t get the labour to empty them anymore? If it is you’re going to have to find someone to go round picking up the litter being dropped in the park because there are lots of minkers out there who are doing just that.
And I can assure you I never came on any weapons of mass destruction anywhere, except in the women’s toilets where the lack of soap could potentially lead to a pretty messy situation.