Apr 202017

With thanks to Aberdeen/Shire Greens.

After famously standing a mannequin in the 2012 Aberdeen local elections, Renée Slater is back as a candidate in her own right, standing in the Torry & Ferryhill ward for the Scottish Green Party.

The mannequin, Helena Torry, emerged as an activist figurehead in 2010 in campaigns against the destruction of Union Terrace Gardens, and soon became popular in anti-austerity protests.

As Renée witnessed the effects of cuts to services for disabled people and young people, she wanted to bring these issues into the spotlight and challenge the antagonistic political climate with humour.

In the 2012 council elections, she registered Helena as a candidate to represent ‘the voice of the silent majority.’

When authorities realised that Helena was not a real person, Renée was arrested. She was held until a prisoner exchange took place, and Helena was locked up for a year. The story was covered across the UK, and further afield [links below]. After Renée’s acquittal, Helena continued to support local causes, including the campaign for Scottish Independence.

Renée has been involved in local politics and activism for more than 40 years, and she joined the Scottish Greens in 2014. In standing for Aberdeen City Council in 2017, she hopes to help address issues across the city, from housing and jobs to local pollution and public health.

After years of bitter conflict between Labour and the SNP, Renée and other Green candidates want to bridge the divide and work constructively across parties.

Renée said,

“I’m concerned about inter-party bickering. It’s time we pulled together for all the people of Aberdeen. It’s time to make a change.”


BBC Report: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WRFl9jvOCw
Daily Politics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJEL56CMOzc
ITV: http://www.itv.com/news/2012-04-20/mannequin-removed-from-scottish-elections/
BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-20970395
Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/20/shop-dummy-for-councillor-aberdeenshire_n_1440348.html
The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/woman-arrested-after-entering-mannequin-into-council-elections-7665476.html
Other: https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/tag/helena-torry/

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Jul 212013

The Aberdeen Antiques and Arts Centre has been established at 24 South College Street since 2005, yet many people know little or nothing of its existence. Now it’s offering opportunities for artists to showcase their work for display and sale. With thanks to Suzie Reid.

Hiding behind a small, rather unimposing front door you’ll find that the Aberdeen Antiques and Arts Centre is deceptively large.

It houses antiques and
collectables, books, furniture, art, jewellery, vintage clothing, vintage and retro artefacts, up-cycling and much more.

There’s something of interest for everyone who ventures through the Centre’s doors, with its many wee Aladdin’s caves and an upstairs loft.

Twenty two booths and numerous display cabinets are occupied and stocked by a number of local traders.

So, what are these opportunities?

The Centre is inviting local sculptors, photographers, painters and jewellery makers, in fact artists working in all media, to fill a display space with their work, offering publicity and a potential sales outlet. If you have good quality examples of your work, this could be an opportunity for the right buyer to find you. Staff at the Centre would like to meet you, right now. Are you interested?

Very soon, the BBC’s Antiques Roadtrip will be visiting to film another episode and it’s hoped that a small exhibition can be set up before the end of July. Although Centre staff realise that this is very short notice, they’re sure it will be well worth the effort.

After the cameras have gone, the plan is to continue utilising this space as an outlet for local art. It will be a place to give visibility to unknown but ambitious artistic talent and to help artists become known and sell their products.

If this sounds like something that interests you, why not pop down to The Arches and introduce yourself and your work? Alternatively, you can contact the Centre at


They would love to hear from you.


The centre is open from 11am to 4pm mon – Fri, and 10am to 5pm on a Saturday.

70s Clock

Image 1 of 9

Credit: Fred Wilkinson.

May 112012

Tally Ho and Long Live the Revolution!  Dong Dong…!  Things genuinely seem a bit more vibrant, dynamic and forward-looking since the elections.  Labour have a majority and the LibDems got the ballot-box cull they had asked for. By Suzanne Kelly.

No I didn’t get in – but I couldn’t have been much happier with the results, although we have one more Malone than I’d hoped for.  The candidate list I’d recommended got hundreds of hits in the run-up to polling day, and the results came out pretty much as I’d wanted for the deer, for UTG and for basic transparency in government.

Running was quite an experience and so was the count.  There were tired and emotional councillors and would-be councillors, some of who looked as if they’d been to the BrewDog AGM (held at the arena the Saturday before), and hadn’t been home yet.

Frenzied minions ran from computer screen to computer screen for glimpses of spoilt ballots and early result indicators. The most softly-spoken man I’d ever heard was tasked with whispering the results out to the candidates before the official announcement.

I had as much chance of winning Torry/Ferryhill as I did of winning the Grand National, but I was very very touched to have been the first choice for some 91 people.   Thank you.

A diminutive rabbit-faced woman in an eye-wateringly lurid, mustard-coloured jacket was looking tired/confused/fearful, a bit like the 22 deer which she’d ordered destroyed on Tullos Hill.  (What was with that jacket?  Did she have a job as a theatre usher to go to after the count?  Was she wearing it for a bet?  Was it some new high viz outfit?)

I almost felt sorry for her as the members of her little herd were culled one by one by the voters and each loss was reflected in her doe-like eyes.  But I wasn’t.

Speaking of culls, newspapers accuse the Government and landowners of secretly planning a beaver cull in the Scottish countryside (what’s left of it).   Surely the transparent, non-political, scientific body that is Scottish Natural Heritage would not help secretly destroy wildlife?  Must be a mistake.

In some parts of Tayside beavers were reintroduced, and others escaped into the wild and have bred for generations, and are now wild as well.  Still, some clever clipboard-holder somewhere is thinking about taking some of them back from the wild now or culling them (beavers build dams you see – something the SNH could not have anticipated).  SNH –  Where would nature be without it?

If you are interested in beavers about to be persecuted by some ambitious SNH pencil-pusher, contact Louise Ramsay of the Scottish Wild Beaver Group.

Elsewhere in the news Eduard Munch’s famous painting ‘The Scream’ sold for £120 million.  For only £20 million more you could destroy a Victorian garden and get a granite web, if you’re interested.

I was struck by how closely it resembled some of the ex-councillors at the count, and a few of the hopefuls when they learnt they didn’t get in this time.  It is also quite a futuristic painting – it looks to me like a terrified person running away from a giant granite web.

The Cults, Bieldside, Miltimber online newspaper is a simple, straightforward, informative means by which area residents keep up on the latest news.  It became however, the point of attack for Stewart Milne’s legal rottweilers.  Why you may ask?

This little newsletter had repeated the (widely-circulated) rumour that Stewart Milne and family were going to depart their big house on the hill and have it turned into a hotel.  The ordinary Tom, Dick or Stewart might simply have dropped an email to the editor to say the rumour wasn’t true, but not Stewart Milne.  Nothing short of legal representatives contacting the newsletter would do – it was SERIOUS you see.

Munch’s ‘The Scream’ also resembles the area residents’ faces when they learned Milne wasn’t leaving.  Allegedly.  I’d best not mention the rumours around the ‘heated driveway’ or the destruction of a listed home for Milne’s ‘eco-friendly’ house, or I’ll have the lawyers onto me, too – so I won’t.  And as far as any stories about liquidity problems, well, you won’t hear about them from me.

But at this rate there won’t be time for any definitions, so here we go.

Spoilt Ballot: (noun) Eng.  1.  Voting slip or card which has been defaced or incorrectly marked so as to make it void.  2.  Voting slip or card which has been marked to elect a Liberal Democrat.

Well, possibly one of the best laughs of the count was watching computer screens which displayed the spoilt ballot papers.  The voting system might be less than simple in terms of tactics and strategy, but in the end all you had to do was put a number one for your first choice, a number two for your second choice and so on – for as many or as few candidates as you wanted.  Simples.

The spoilt papers made everyone laugh.  There was someone who’d written their life story on their slip, and another person livened the proceedings up with little smiley faces.    Unbelievably, neither slip could be counted.

Then we had someone who wrote number 12 next to each of the ten candidates in their ward.  Perhaps it was a good attempt at sarcasm; I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.  Far more sarcastic was the person who chose only one candidate, and gave them a number 26 (out of 14).  Other people had four or five choices to be their second choice.

Others used ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs instead of numbers, and some people just could not keep inside those pesky square boxes.  Just for the record, the referendum voting instructions did not say anything at all about not making stray marks on the voting form, but the election did.  Hmmm.

Fix: (slang, English verb) to alter a genuine election or vote result

I am outraged!  Horrorstruck!  Shocked!  That a blatant fix could have happened in this country, perpetrated by a special interest group to further their own ends.  The BBC confirmed it today, and it is now time to take action.

Yes, Spanish drinks giant Diageo fixed the results of the British Institute of Innkeepers award for the ‘Bar Operator of the Year’.  This award had been voted to go to BrewDog (and quite rightly so) – but Diageo put the frighteners on the competition organisers, threatening to pull future sponsorship.  This is apparently neither a threat nor intimidation nor even sour grapes  according to Diageo, who are calling it a “serious misjudgement” on their part.

If you are out there James, Martin and all of the BrewDog crew, award or no, you are assuredly the Best Operator of the Millennium.

The AGM BrewDog held probably made more money than some football clubs or newspapers made all year.  On the day, sales of rare, premium top quality beer was sold as fast as could be managed to eagerly queuing crowds; hundreds of cases of beer were sold.

The shareholder meeting was refreshing on several levels – the presentations were riveting, and the premium products we tasted during the meeting were some of the best beers I’ll ever have.  It was Beer Heaven on earth.  It was international.  It was emotional.  It was tasty.  It was an AGM, but not as we know it.

As to Diageo, well I’d not forgotten how they decided to slaughter the deer which lived on a site they acquired (wholly unnecessary, but as usual, sanctioned by SNH dogma).  Coupled with trying to wrest an award away from BrewDog, war has been declared as far as I’m concerned.  I’d list all of their products, but that would take ages.  Suffice it to say that Diageo brands are off my shopping list forever.

Loss of Office: (English phrase) – to find oneself without employment.

Pity those who had found suitable employment, only to have it taken from them suddenly, abruptly, and with no guidance on a future job or career, leaving them with financial worry, self esteem issues, loss of social contact and insecurity.  It is not fair to make people suffer like that.

So my heartfelt sympathies to those of you who suffered in the 2008 budget cuts which saw beneficial programmes such as ‘Can Do Aberdeen’ cut and its employees cut off without a lifeline.  (And sympathy also those people who needed and/or worked for many services for the elderly, people with special needs and so on who lost out when a past administration decided to cut you out).

They say that in the end time redresses balance, and what comes around goes around.  Perhaps something like just desserts will be served sometime soon.

But I am out of time and space for now.  Next week:  Summertime special.

Apr 062012

Suzanne Kelly, Independent candidate for Torry/Ferryhill in Aberdeen City’s Council elections, speaks out against the Green Party for its apathy over the controversial Tullos Hill roe deer cull, in light of the Greens fielding a candidate in Torry/Ferryhill.

When I was with the Green Party, I explained clearly on several occasions what was wrong with this cull and Aberdeen City’s ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme.

However, the Greens decided that the party was not going to take a stand on this, one of the most controversial environmental and democratic issues in the city.

Some of the longer-serving Green party members sympathised with me, but there were newer members who didn’t see what the big deal was with the city shooting these deer.

I couldn’t believe it, as I’d previously explained and written in detail that the trees are unlikely to grow and the cull is flawed. People wrote to the Greens to ask for their stance on the matter, but still the party didn’t want to stand up against this cull.

I have been campaigning actively to stop this specific roe deer cull for over a year. The Scottish SPCA branded the Tullos cull ‘abhorrent and absurd’ for killing deer to protect trees which don’t even exist yet. Many other animal welfare groups oppose this cull, and thousands of people have signed petitions against it.

Three community councils condemned the consultation and cull last year, and more recently these councils sent an open letter to the city, asking for the scheme to be halted. I don’t believe the trees will grow, as the hill’s soil is very scant and the ground cleared for the planting is extremely rocky, and is covered in industrial and domestic waste (there is a soil report by government officials which confirms this).

Three community councils object to the cull and the city’s so-called ‘consultation’ on the tree scheme. The consultation did not mention deer at all (but it did cover rabbits and rabbit fencing). The consultation also failed to say that a massive 89,000 trees would be put on the hill. No one in the area wants it – and even though the city has started, the opposition will continue.

I’d been writing about this issue for some time, and The Green Party knew that the cull was specifically to plant trees and not for deer welfare issues. I am so very disappointed in the Green Party over this issue.

The Aberdeen Green Party is running a candidate against me in the May elections. I have a chain of emails between members of the Green Party and me from this time last year. Some of the Greens’ comments include:

“I don’t think the party as such should have a position. I certainly don’t want to get involved in this”

“I don’t understand why these 30 deer (or whatever number it actually is) are so different and attracting so much attention.”

“Also within a relatively few miles of Tullos are large numbers of cattle and sheep that will be killed so people can eat them. We do not have a policy of enforced vegetarianism.”

This last statement was particularly, amazingly patronising, and the remark is completely off the point of why these deer are to be killed.

There was no way I was going to stay in the Green Party after this. For a party calling itself ‘green’ to stand idly by while a meadow and its wildlife was destroyed was beyond the pale. How they can possibly stand for election in Torry and expect me to stay silent about their stance is something I can’t understand either.

I have previously explained to a local member and a national member that I would have to publicise how the Greens view Tullos Hill. I did give fair warning that I would go public about how they decided to look the other way concerning Tullos.

I’m happy to have competition in this election, but people need to know the Greens could have helped when it mattered – and didn’t. If I stay quiet, some people will simply think the Greens must care about the hill and the deer – I have to let them know the truth.

The elections are to be held on 3rd May. Torry and Ferryhill will be represented by four city councillors.

I served on the Torry Community Council for three years, and I have always been involved in helping people in my area and further afield whether it be fighting school closures, charity work, or helping some of our older people. One of the newer local Green Party ‘higher-ups’ apparently said ‘Suzanne doesn’t stand a chance of winning.’ Well, I am determined to prove them wrong.

Apr 062012

In response to Suzanne Kelly’s article in this week’s issue The Scottish Green Party, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Branch have issued the following statement.

Suzanne Kelly’s article is factually inaccurate and misleading.

For the record, while Ms Kelly has now decided she wants to be an independent candidate, in 2010 it was her wish to stand as the Green Party’s candidate for the Torry/Ferryhill ward.
The local Green Party branch agreed to support her candidature.

In June 2011, Ms Kelly advised the Green Party branch that she was resigning as candidate, with great regret, due to a change in personal circumstances. In her resignation e-mail, she expressed great admiration for the help and support she had received as a candidate and offered to help distribute another Green candidate’s leaflets.

She remained a party member. Early this year, it became known Ms Kelly now again wished to stand in the Torry/Ferryhill ward, but as an independent. She was advised that Green Party rules meant she would need the Party’s consent to stand as an independent and this would not be given to stand against a duly selected Green Party candidate. Ms Kelly then wrote to say ‘sadly’ she had decided to resign from the Scottish Green Party.

Ms Kelly is now campaigning for her own election. In her article for Aberdeen Voice, referring to events in the early part of 2011, Ms Kelly claims,

“There was no way I was going to stay in the Green Party after this.”

Not true. She did stay in the Green Party after that, for nearly a year. She offered to help with Green Party campaigning. She resigned from the Party, expressing regret at doing so, in January 2012. The claims Ms Kelly is making now about the Green Party cannot be reconciled with her statements at the time.

We do not know why Ms Kelly took her successive decisions about standing and not standing for the Council. We do know her claims in respect of her dealings with the Green Party are not consistent with the facts.

Sep 132011

The Friends of Duthie Park will continue their monthly gardening activities in the park on Sunday 18th September from noon until 2.00 pm. On the third Sunday of every month, during the summer season, the Friends of Duthie Park meet up to undertake gardening tasks to complement the staff in the park. With thanks to Dave Macdermid.

On Sunday, the Friends will complete the planting of a new Sensory Bed at the west side of the park.
A class from local primary school, Ferryhill, designed the bed as part of a competition and the Friends secured sponsorship for the plants from local garden centre Ben Reid & Co. In addition, herbaceous plants will be planted in other areas of the park.

Current and new members are invited join members of the committee meeting at the entrance to the David Welch Winter Gardens.

The Friends of Duthie Park, the group responsible for the resurrection of ‘Spike’ the talking cactus in time for last month’s successful inaugural Open Day, is also on the lookout to bolster its committee numbers, with certain specific skills being sought, as Chairman Tony Dawson explains.

“As a group, I believe we’ve achieved a great deal in a short space of time but if we are to continue to progress as we would like, we do need to supplement our committee numbers. While we are keen to hear from anyone who is interested in assisting, there are areas where we do require specific assistance, namely the development of our website, marketing & sponsorship, research & history and education & learning.

“In addition, the return of Spike was more of a success than we could ever have hoped for, resulting in a huge demand for regular appearances from him. Consequently, we would like to hear from anyone who would be interested in becoming one of the pool of people that we will require to call on to be the voice of Spike.

“With the forthcoming restoration work at Duthie Park, this is a hugely exciting time for the Friends and it would be fantastic to get some more people on board.”

Anybody interested in finding out more about any aspect of the Friends, including joining the committee, should, in the first instance, e-mail info@friendsofduthiepark.co.uk with their contact details and the area they would like to get involved in.

Nov 132010

Voice’s Alex Mitchell tells of the scandalous dissipation of the bequest by Dr Patrick Dun in 1631. Dr Dun bequeathed the Lands of Ferryhill in favour of The Aberdeen Grammar School, the tenants of Ferryhill, and the pupils of poor homes which, if handled appropriately, would today be of immense value.

This is an account of how a bequest of great value was first diverted to wrongful uses, and then almost wholly dissipated, not by an outside body of meddlers, but by the very trustees themselves, in whose hands it ought to have been sacred.

Dr Patrick Dun was the son of Andrew Dun, a burgess of Aberdeen.   He was probably educated at the Grammar School, and thereafter proceeded to Marischal College.

In 1607, he took his Doctorate in Medicine in Basle, Switzerland.   In 1610, shortly after his return to Aberdeen, Dr Dun was appointed Professor of Logic and a Regent at Marischal College.   He was appointed Rector of the College in 1619, then Principal in 1621.   He held this office, through very troublesome times, until his resignation in 1649, and died two or three years later.

Dr Dun had an outstanding reputation as a practising doctor.   He was a man of substance, and when Marischal College was burnt down in 1639 he contributed handsomely towards the cost of the new buildings.   His portrait, by George Jameson, dated 1631, is still to be seen in the Hall of Aberdeen Grammar School.

The Lands of Ferryhill consisted in those days of bogs and whins, fit only for rough grazing, and were described by Francis Douglas even as late as 1728 as amounting to ‘little conical hills over-run with heath and furze … the flat bottoms between them drenched with stagnant water’.   The Lands of Ferryhill had belonged to the Trinity Friars, who feued them out to the powerful Menzies dynasty.   After the Reformation of 1560, the Lands of Ferryhill became the property of the Crown.

Dr Dun purchased the Lands of Ferryhill in 1629 for, it would seem, no other purpose than to bequest them, and all property thereon, by his Will, dated 3rd August 1631, to the ‘Toune of Aberdeine’ for the maintenance of four masters at the Grammar School.   Dr Dun bequeathed the whole of this extensive property to the Provost, Baillies and Council of Aberdeen for this specific purpose.   He directed that the rents obtained from these lands should be invested until enough money accumulated to buy another piece of land sufficient to yield, along with the original gift, a yearly revenue of 1,200 merks, this sum being sufficient to pay the basic salaries of the stipulated staff of four masters, including the Rector.

Pupils from poor homes, all those who borne the name of Dun and all children of tenants on the Ferryhill estate were to be taught free of charge.   Dr Dun’s Will concludes with a solemn injunction that the mortification, or charitable bequest, shall “stand unalterable, inviolable and unchangeable in all tyme hereafter for ever”.

instead of letting the lands out to rent, the Council proceeded to feu them off by public roup or auction

Dr Dun’s Bequest put the Grammar School on a sound and permanent economic footing, and provided the blessing of free education for boys whose parents could not afford to pay fees.   So what happened?

In 1653, when the Town Council assumed control of Dr Dun’s Bequest, the stock or capital in the Trust amounted to just over £74.   Rents were added until 1666, by which time the capital amounted to just over £583.   The Council considered that this was sufficient to allow them to invest in land, as per the terms of the Will.

However: instead of buying land, as the Will stipulated, the Council lent the money out, without adequate security, to various people, including some of their own number; two Provosts, one Baillie and at least two Councillors, all of whom became insolvent, so that the Trust sustained a heavy loss.   Others abstracted interest-free loans.

In 1677 the Council purchased the lands of Gilcolmston, on behalf of the town, for just over £1,444; and charged one-third of this sum to the Dun Trust.   This was wholly illegal, given that the capital of the Trust belonged to the masters at the Grammar School.   By 1681 the capital had declined to just over £469, of which £287 was earning no interest; of this latter sum, £131 was wholly lost.   The Town itself was borrowing freely from the Trust.

schoolmasters were deprived of salaries, and the benefit of free education was denied to those actual or potential pupils specified by Dr Dun

In 1752, William Moir, the tacksman of the Lands of Ferryhill, was bought out by the Council, which now entered into full possession of the property.   The income from rents had risen to £102 yearly.   However, instead of letting the lands out to rent, the Council proceeded to feu them off by public roup or auction, to the great loss of the Trust.

In 1753, the masters at the Grammar School petitioned the Council for an increase in salaries.   A settlement was arrived at, or enforced, which cancelled the Town’s debt to the Trust of £427 and ordained that the balance should be applied to building a new school – the predecessor, on Schoolhill, of the present Aberdeen Grammar School, which dates from 1867 – and establishing an endowment fund for its maintenance.   All this was utterly illegal, and contributed to the further dissipation of the Trust, the capital of which had fallen to just £100 by 1770.

The effect of this was that the schoolmasters were deprived of salaries, and the benefit of free education was denied to those actual or potential pupils specified by Dr Dun in his bequest of 1631.   Walter Thom, in his History of Aberdeen, published in1811, drew attention to the Town Council’s misappropriation of the Dun Bequest.   He wrote: “The injury sustained by the citizens of Aberdeen by the mismanagement of Dr Dun’s bequest is sufficiently apparent, and the turpitude of the crime cannot be palliated by any plea of ignorance … the disgrace attachable to those who abused this valuable institution … (etc)”.

The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 transferred the control of the Grammar School and the other schools in Aberdeen from the Town Council to a new body, the School Board, which had to look into the whole tangled question of Dr Dun’s Bequest.   The capital at this time amounted to just over £3,623.   There followed difficult negotiations between the School Board and the Town Council, the upshot of which was that the Council agreed to pay the School Board the sum of £164 annually, being the amount agreed on as the income from Dr Dun’s Bequest, i.e., the feu duties of Ferryhill.

In 1929, the Grammar School, as with the other schools in Aberdeen, was brought once again under the control of the Town Council as a result of the Local Government (Scotland) Act of that year.   In 1934, provision was made for a payment of not less than £150 per year to be applied so as to benefit boys attending Aberdeen Grammar School.   This was all that remained of Dr Dun’s Bequest.

In 1634, when Dr Dun reported to the Town Council his intention to hand over the lands of Ferryhill on behalf of the Grammar School, the total population of the Royal Burgh of Aberdeen was only about 5,000.   The town consisted of sixteen streets, centred on the Broadgate and the Castlegate.   The lands of Ferryhill – so-named after the ferry across the Dee at Craiglug – were hillocky and marshy, of use for little else but rough grazing by animals.   Land of this kind was abundant and of little value.

By the first census in 1801, the population of Aberdeen was about 27,000; it increased almost six-fold over the 19th century to about 150,000 by 1901, and to about 213,000 by 2001.   The Lands of Ferryhill, which were wholly built over by 1901, would even then – never mind today – have been an immensely valuable property.

The Trust would have required adjustment following the advent of State-provided and State-financed education but, had it been retained intact and honestly administered by the Town Council, it is easy to imagine what a favourable position the Grammar School – or indeed the whole Burgh – could have enjoyed through the 20th century and today.   That this fair prospect has receded into the limbo of frustrated things, of “what might have been”, is due solely to the dishonesty and carelessness of successive Aberdeen Town Councils through the 17th and 18th centuries.

N.B.   This article is adapted from an original titled The Tercentenary of Dr Patrick Dun’s Bequest to the School, by W. Douglas Simpson, published in the Aberdeen Grammar School Magazine of 1934.

Oct 152010

By Gail Riekie.

Henceforth, if anyone asks which institution awarded my PhD, I shall be very careful to say “The University of Aberdeen, that’s Aberdeen University, not Robert Gordon University”, or as it may soon, I fear, be renamed, The Donald Trump University.

Last Friday (8th October), first thing, I encountered my Ferryhill neighbour, a lecturer at RGU, as we were both walking our dogs in Duthie Park. Are you free for a coffee this morning, or are you busy, I asked? She said she was working at home, as a certain controversial degree ceremony was taking place at her workplace at 10 am.

I shall not rehearse all the arguments against Donald Trump and his golf resort here. Where in fact to begin?

The damage to a precious and scientifically special environment, the loss of an amenity, the contempt for local democracy and planning processes, Trump’s past record of reneging on agreements and his bully boy tactics against local residents. I could go on. You get where I stand on this issue.

When I first moved to Aberdeen, twelve years ago, I was awestruck by the magnificent stretch of coastline north of Aberdeen. Scotland’s mountains, lochs and islands are justly celebrated, but to stumble upon this beguiling other world of colossal dunes and pristine beaches was like discovering a well kept and very special secret. Why was this wonderland not more widely recognised? Did people not realise what a treasure lay on their doorstep?

At 50m intervals, big men in private security uniforms were surrounding the building. I was ordered off the premises

In July this year I took my new fox terrier puppy Bertie for a walk at Balmedie, a place where his predecessor, the Hamish the Westie, had many times joyfully romped. I tried to follow a favourite route, north along the beach and back inland through the shifting dune complex.

Only to encounter a line of notices, marching over the dunes, saying ‘Warning. Construction Site. Keep Out!’ The reality of the Trump situation finally hit home and I duly went home feeling sick at heart.

So anyway, back to last Friday morning. Work duties for the week completed, I decided to go any investigate what was up at RGU. I parked my car at Sainsbury’s in Garthdee, walked with wee Bertie along the river Dee and tried to approach the Faculty of Health and Social Care from the rear. We often walk around this area after a supermarket shop, to my knowledge, no-one objects. Except for this time.

At 50m intervals, big men in private security uniforms were surrounding the building. I was ordered off the premises “because of what is happening here today”. So I circuited round to the front, where, from a position amongst the bushes, above the front entrance to the FHSC building, I could see a small crowd of press and men in suits, with more arriving by the minute, mostly in 4WD vehicles. Very soon, another uniformed man approached me.

“What are you doing here?”
“Oh I often walk my dog round the campus, and this morning I was just a little curious to see what was happening with this Donald Trump degree ceremony”.

“Where are you from?”

“I stay in Ferryhill, just a mile over that way.” I wave my arm eastwards. He looks puzzled. I continue “and where are you from, by the way?” His African accent was even less Aberdonian than my English one and he stomped off to find the boss. The boss did sound local, and was all smiles. “Ah, is that a fox terrier, what a great wee chappie, I used to have a Scottie myself. Do come down here to the public viewing area, just behind the barricades, thank you.”

So I stood there alone in an area fenced off for ‘public viewing’, becoming increasingly bedraggled in the persistent drizzle. (Dr Trump’s golfers will soon be familiar with this experience). Where were the other protesters?

A cameraman took lengthy footage of Bertie, who, rather disappointingly in the circumstances, sat there looking all cute and not displaying any of his feisty terrier tendencies. ‘The Donald’ was already inside, I learned, and I decided not to wait any longer.

Later that day, a friend in Edinburgh texted to ask “was that Bertie I saw on the BBC news?

Sep 102010

by Jennifer Phillips.

Concerned parents of pupils at four city schools have launched a campaign against Aberdeen City Council’s proposals to reconfigure secondary school provision which could see the closure of Harlaw Academy.

A parent forum involving Broomhill, Ferryhill and Kaimhill Primary Schools and Harlaw Academy –  the Harlaw Associated School Group or ASG – is leading the drive to keep the school open.

More than 250 parents attended a  meeting at Ferryhill Primary on 24th August  to voice their concerns. The meeting was also attended by representatives of Aberdeen City Council.

Another meeting is taking place at Harlaw Academy on September 15 from 6.30 to 8pm.

The council has launched a stakeholder engagement process on options for a number of  secondary schools in the city, including the merger of Harlaw and Hazlehead Academies. This could involve the closure of Harlaw and the widespread rezoning of pupils from feeder primaries to new or established secondary schools elsewhere in the city – Torry / Kincorth, Hazlehead and Aberdeen Grammar.

the school is achieving success year after year. Its academic results are better than the national average.

Sarah Reid, Chairwoman of Broomhill Parent Council, said: “Parents at all four schools have already voiced a variety of concerns about the implications of such a move. There are fears it could result in existing school communities becoming fragmented or disintegrating altogether.

“The school network in this part of the city works extremely well and we don’t want to see that lost.

“There are also practical concerns such as pupils in Broomhill and Ferryhill potentially being rezoned to a new secondary south of the river and the difficult transport implications not to mention added congestion that would bring.

Murdo Maclean, Chair of Harlaw Parent Council, added: “We accept that changes are required but we feel the changes proposed by the Council are ill conceived and will have an adverse effect on education provision in the centre of Aberdeen.

“Harlaw is fully subscribed and has the highest placement request in the city – people want their children to go there. It consistently exceeds its predicted academic targets and has great links with the community.

“The initial meeting was very successful – parents were able to ask pertinent questions about the council’s processes and rationale, and to get an understanding of the proposals.

“The meeting has provided us with great impetus as we plan the next phases of our campaign.”

An HMI report for Harlaw Academy, just published, revealed that the school is achieving success year after year. Harlaw Academy’s  academic results are better than the national average.

Aug 132010

By Alex Mitchell.

I have been much taken by two illustrated postcards I bought for 10p each in the Ferryhill Library. They depict the long-gone building popularly, if erroneously, known as the Wallace Tower; a once prominent feature of the Netherkirkgate, and are intensely evocative of the old medieval Burgh of Aberdeen, long-predating Union St., King St., Market St., Bridge St., Holburn St. and the later 19th century development of the West End.

The site of Aberdeen has been inhabited since about 6,000 BC. There was a settlement known to the Romans as Devana and identified as such in Ptolemy’s Systems Of Geography of 79 AD. They knew the rivers Dee and Don, which used to conjoin on the Queen’s Links, as the Deva and Devona. Some scholars derive ‘Aberdeen’ from the Pictish-Gaelic aber-devan, meaning ‘at the meeting of two rivers’. It is likely that Roman fleets used the natural harbour at the mouth of the River Dee (Deva) in preparation for their great battle of Mons Graupius against the Caledonians in 83 AD. Thereafter, Aberdeen developed as two settlements: the Royal Burgh of Aberdeen from the mid 12th century which developed around the natural harbour at the mouth of the River Dee and the Episcopal Burgh or Kirk-toun of St. Mary’s from 1498, later the Kirk-toun of Aber-don, which grew up around St Machar’s Cathedral and King’s College and later became known as Old Aberdeen. The two burghs did not become one until 1891.

Trade outside the Burghs was banned. For the residents of a Royal Burgh, the feudal superior was the King himself.

The medieval township was well established as an un-walled trading community by the mid 12th century. Aberdeen was granted the status of a Royal Burgh by King David I (1124-53), with concomitant rights and privileges relating to manufacturing and trade. The effect was that Aberdeen was permitted a degree of autonomy in the conduct of its affairs although it had to conform to the accepted mercantile and burgh law common to England, Scotland and northern France. The trading and other privileges of the older Royal Burgh of Perth were granted to Aberdeen.

It should be realised that markets, fairs etc. could be held only by permission of the landowner or feudal superior. This meant in practice that trade in agricultural and other products could only take place in the fairs and markets of the Burghs which became processing plants for the products of the rural hinterland. Trade outside the Burghs was banned. For the residents of a Royal Burgh, the feudal superior was the King himself. There were none of the usual feudal obligations to any local Earl or lesser landowner but taxes were payable to the Exchequer.

The most powerful of the townsfolk were the burgesses; generally merchants and traders, who had commercial privileges. Only burgesses could own and operate businesses as well as having certain civic responsibilities. Most of the early burgesses came from Flanders, northern France, England and Lothian, bringing with them skills and expertise hitherto lacking in Scotland. They spoke many different tongues, but settled on English as their common language. The burghs became enclaves of English-speakers and their use of English spread outwards to the surrounding hinterlands. In addition, the Royal Burghs, which were almost all east-coast seaports like Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, Leith and Berwick, had a legal monopoly of trade with foreign countries; in return, the burghs were responsible for the collection of the duties levied on both imported and exported goods and for remitting these revenues, plus sundry rents, fines and tolls, to the Exchequer. The burghs thus became the main source of revenue for the kings of Scotland and, in consequence, the burgesses became men of national significance.

Six members of the Menzies family were Provosts for a total of eighty-three years out of the 16th century alone

Aberdeen’s earliest extant Charter, detailing its privileges, rights and responsibilities, is that granted by William the Lion, grandson of David I, about 1171. In 1211, William the Lion granted his palace in the Green to the Trinity or Red Friars for use as a monastery. The Dominican or Black Friars and the Carmelite or White Friars settled in the same area whilst the Franciscan or Grey Friars had their monastery adjacent to the Broadgate; hence various street and place names still in use in our own time. The Burgh had become an efficient municipal organisation by the 14th century. Its first recorded Provost was Ricardus Cementarius, Richard the Mason, in 1272.

The Burgh had a system of higher and lower courts and a Council drawn from the burgesses of the Merchant Guild of between 12 and 24 members and other officers, sergeants, treasurers etc. In practice, the Council became a self-perpetuating oligarchy dominated by the Menzies family of Pitfodels; successive members of which served as Provosts of Aberdeen for 114 of the 212 years from 1423 to 1635. Six members of the Menzies family were Provosts for a total of eighty-three years out of the 16th century alone including (one such) Thomas Menzies. He served three terms (of) in office – the longest for the period 1547-75 totalling forty years. Aberdeen became something like a European city-state with a single ruling family whose autocracy was, however, subject to the constraint of other burgesses such as the Rutherfords, Chalmers and Cullens.

There was a degree of dictation from the Court and Parliament in Edinburgh and, occasionally, an attempt by neighbouring landowners like the Forbeses, the Gordon’s or the Seton’s to take over the Burgh or to seize some of its possessions. Substantial sums of what amounted to protection money were paid to these families, to keep them at bay.

The Gordons of Huntly were by far the largest and most powerful of the local landowning families and it was to them that the Burgh looked for protection and support. There was a close working relationship between the (burgess) Menzies family and the (aristocratic) Gordons of Huntly to the extent of intermarriage. In 1545, Thomas Menzies resigned as Provost to be succeeded by George Gordon, the 4th Earl of Huntly – the only peer ever to hold that office, albeit for a period of only two years.

But, for most intents and purposes, the Burgh was both independent and autonomous; the more so because of the grant to the Burgh in 1314 by King Robert I (Bruce) of the Royal Forest of Stocket. This became the basis of the Common Good Fund and guaranteed the Burgh a substantial source of revenue such as could finance significant investments and improvements thereafter. Another of the many benefactions from Good King Robert was the Brig o’ Balgownie, built at his order across the River Don in 1320 to facilitate trade with the lands of Buchan, Formartine and the Garioch.

King Robert’s daughter Matilda married Thomas Isaac, the Town Clerk of Aberdeen, and his (Bruce’s) sister Christian latterly lived and died in Aberdeen. These things are indicative of the Bruce’s close relationship with, and affection for, the Burgh of Aberdeen and its citizens.