Footdee or Fittie as it is known locally was once a separate village before being absorbed by its big neighbour Aberdeen.
This picturesque area to the south of Aberdeen beach and close to the harbour consists of a few streets formed around squares.
The origins of the name Footdee or Fittie are disputed; some say it takes its name from its postion at the foot of the River Dee while other maintain it comes from St Fotin, a saint apparently connected with the local church. Whatever, it was once a poor working class area built at the beginning of the 19th century to house fishermen and their families but has become gentrified somewhat more prosperous and cute and a magnate for artists.
In its prime Fittie once used to boast lots of pubs and it was said that the folk o’ Fittie were not the most sober.
One public house was Jolly John Lyons – the London Tavern – and home to the aforesaid John, a jolly burly Englishman from Liverpool who worked as a boilermaker foreman at Abernethy’s Foundry at Craiglug in Ferryhill in Aberdeen .
Jamie Cumming used to sell whisky from what was a ship chandlery and former iron foundry belonging to John Duffus – hope you’re keeping up. Alcohol bought to take away was known as a carry out – or more precisely – a cerry oot – but it’s a term rapidly disappearing, banished by use of the ubiquitous take away. It would have been like those shops cum bars in the Republic of Ireland – you know where some guy would be selling hammers at one side of his shop at the same time as another group of guys are getting hammered at the bar on the other side.
So Jamie Cumming would dispense a gill of whisky while his customers waited for the assistant to gather together the essentials for their imminent voyage – candles, soap, ropes, oil or indeed a speaking trumpet that no self-respecting ship’s captain could set sail without.
Places to buy a drink were plentiful and there were no issues over opening hours as many never closed, or so the story goes.
Further down from John Duffus’s shop was a more select public house run by Blocky Anderson’s mother.
A little way from Mrs Anderson’s hostelry was a public-house where Highlanders James MacKay could be found when he wasn’t working at Hall’s the shipbuilder.
I’ll miss a few but pause to mention Blin’ Annie Nicol’s pub and another run by Widow or Lucky Sword and go straight to Jamie Bate’s establishment. The one-legged Jamie was a brilliant ship model maker by all accounts and despite the loss of his leg he was an expert sailor and sometime public-house host. Later in his life he ran a Shooting Gallery in the Nethergate. That was an unfortunate move for Jamie for while there he shot off his other leg.
Many of Fittie’s pubs were run by women as we’ve seen but there was more to Fittie than alehouses. There were other shops – a grocery run by Miss Leslie – where you could also get a drink if so inclined.
Despite its impoverished reputation it seems several fortunate individuals inhabited the village. In addition to Lucky Sword there was Lucky Still and Lucky Anderson and apart from their names what they had in common was – you’ve guessed it – drink.
Jinsie Smith who ran the Pilots’ Tavern rose at 5.30 each morning to unlock her front door before going back to bed for an hour or two while listening out for any early morning customers. As with all the best inn-keepers, Jinsie knew her customers and would call down when inevitably the door opened at 6am, ‘ Is that you Jamie Cumming?’ When Jamie replied Jinsie would call out to him to help himself and so he would, downing a dram before leaving for work at Walter Hood’s shipyard. I once stayed in a place like that in Belgium – although I wasn’t working in any shipyard.
Designed as a planned village Fittie’s houses once looked very similar – 28 single storey and thatched buildings built around its North and South squares with uniform doors and windows. Houses were of granite or harled over granite base with slate roofs, sash and case windows. Middle Row and Pilot’s Square were later additions.
Aberdeen’s illustrious architect John Smith was the man behind the design.
Later in the 19th century some home owners added storeys to provide more accommodation to house their families.
Now Fittie has conservation status.
A feature of Fittie is its outhouses or tarry sheds mostly highly decorated nowadays. Some of them look like little houses in their own right. Possibly roomy sheds were needed because the houses were so small storage would have been a problem.
The Mission Hall stands in North Square in the middle of the drying green and is a reminder of the village’s fishing roots.
Unusual weather conditions led to Fittie being inundated by foam from the sea in September of 2012. I can report it has now gone!
The Roundhouse at the North Breakwater used to be the Harbour Master’s Station. An 18th century building on an octagonal design with a balcony and control tower it is a well-known landmark in Aberdeen.
The safe control of the movement of boats in and out of the harbour used to be handled from the Roundhouse by a signal which involved three black balls. Who knows how that worked – possibly akin to the Dreikaiserbund where one emperor had died, one had gone mad and the other had forgotten what it was all about.
In 2006 a new base for controlling harbour traffic opened close-by – the unfortunately named Marine Operations Centre reminds us that current-day pen-pushers have mostly had their imaginations incised –Roundhouse is so much better.