I don’t wish to carp but at the recent showing of the Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil it was said that the Industrial Revolution had pretty well passed Aberdeen by – that apart from a bit of shipbuilding Aberdeen was by and large a feeder-servicer of the rural economy. This is simply wrong- perhaps an inability to see that the huge agglomerations of industrial capital and labour of the west of Scotland, and say Manchester, were just partial aspects of the bigger picture of the Industrial Revolution which was effectively occurring with degrees of intensity elsewhere in Britain.
The bit of shipbuilding that Aberdeen did centred for a brief period in developing the revolutionary tea clipper. Yes Aberdeen did not and could not build the yards found on the Clyde nonetheless it had an industry which survived into the later 20th century. In the era of wooden ship building it did compete but as first iron and then steel became the material of choice it lost advantage to those manufacturers close to iron-steel founders which of course tended to be close to coal supplies. But of course these later developments are at the far end of the period classically designated as the Industrial Revolution.
If we take textiles which was the industry often accepted as the archetype of the revolution, Aberdeen was a significant player with thousands of workers employed in cotton, flax and woollen manufacture:Grandholm, Broadford, Bannermill and Hadden’s by the Green being some of the most significant.
Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire granite which can be found the world over was quarried, hewn and polished in Aberdeen. Nowhere else in the UK could compete with the industry in northeast Scotland. It grew through the 19th century employing thousands and as early as the 1830s steam power was introduced to manufacturing here in Aberdeen. Beyond this we can identify further thousands employed in industrial processes such as chemicals, engineering, comb manufacture (possibly the largest in the world) and paper making.
If we take industrialisation up to the end of the 19th century, well beyond the classical Revolution, even fishing was being organised on an industrial scale with the introduction of steam trawling which agglomerated capital in a new way and introduced a wage-laboured proletariat to the industry.
We can all acknowledge that Aberdeen was not the west of Scotland. No huge steel mills, no huge shipyards but within the constraints of resources and geography the city was most definitely industrialised. In Aberdeen industries were created using new large motive power; there was the growth of an industrial working class with all the conflicts which were to be found elsewhere in Scotland. The city did service the rural sector, and with its harbour became the export point for farm produce but it was certainly more than a larger version of Turriff.
Contribution from Textor