This Saturday Aberdeen opened the doors to lots of different buildings so I went along to explore a few in the city centre. With so many great buildings within a few minutes walk, I had time to get round not one, not two, but four different buildings in one afternoon!
My first port of call was the Kirk of St Nicholas, also known as “The Mither Kirk”. The church was a warren of different chapels and memorial rooms, and even the corridors were full to the brim with lots of interesting paintings, sculptures and tablets. It would have been very easy to get lost in there with so many different parts to explore! The church has existed in some form on this site since around 1157, and it’s fascinating to see (both from the outside and the inside) how bits have been added on to the building here and there since then.
One of my favourite parts of the church was St John’s Chapel, which was created in 1990 in the oldest part of the church. The chapel was a gift from the oil industry which continued the tradition of over seven hundred years of thanksgiving and support between the Kirk of St Nicholas and Aberdeen’s marine trades and industries. The furniture inside the chapel is the work of Scottish designer, Tim Stead, and combined traditional craftsmanship with contemporary styles.
The focal point of the “Oil Chapel” is the beautiful and striking stained glass window designed by Shona McInnes, which celebrates the endeavours and achievements of the oil industry and its links with the city. The lower section of the window depicts Aberdeen with the distinctive skyline and the Dee and Don rivers. The window highlights Aberdeen’s rich heritage of farming, as well as it’s traditional fishing industry and the modern oil industry. A special clear semi-spherical glass “lens” commemorates the Piper Alpha disaster.
Next it was time for a visit to Marischal College. The College was founded in 1593 but the current building dates from the 1830s, when it was redesigned and rebuilt by Archibald Simpson. The current frontage was designed by A. Marshall Mackenzie and was officially opened by King Edward VII in 1906. Marischal College is the second-largest granite building in the world – the largest being El Escorial in Madrid!
In 2007 Aberdeen City Council got the go-ahead to take over Marischal College, but they won’t have it forever – it’s currently on a 100 year lease from the University of Aberdeen! Most of the building is now used as the headquarters of the Council, but the University still retains the Mitchell Hall to the rear of the site, which has traditionally been used to hold graduation ceremonies.
After a wander round the courtyard at Marischal College, I headed down Broad Street to the Town House. It was designed by Edinburgh architects Peddie and Kinnear in 1867. The entrance hall is rather impressive with a beautiful spiral staircase surrounded by colourful stained glass windows. I particularly liked the “Bon Accord” windows with Aberdeen’s heraldic leopards!
Upstairs on the first floor I came to the St Nicholas room which was the former Council Chamber up until 1977. The glitzy chandeliers date back to the 1750s and cost around £200 altogether – sadly I think they would be rather more expensive today if I wanted one for my living room! The ceiling was covered in oak panels with family crests of prominent Aberdonians or those with historic connections to the city, all the way from the 12th century up to the present day.
Next door is the Town and County Hall and it was just like stepping back into a medieval banqueting hall. This room had a very different style to the rest of the Town House, and even had its own minstrel’s gallery – although it would have been more likely for a string quartet to be playing rather than a band of minstrels! The room was designed to be a meeting hall for the Commissioners of Supply, but is now used for lectures, conferences and functions. Royalty have been entertained here on several occasions, including Edward VII and Alexandra after the opening of Marischal College’s new building in 1906.
My favourite room in the Town House was definitely the Bon Accord Suite, which used to be the Country Committee Room but has now been finely restored and furnished as the Lord Provost’s Dining Room. The room is a picture of Victorian opulence, with beautiful gold leaf ceilings and yet more sparkling chandeliers. The furniture is all new, but is sympathetic to the original Victorian styles.
After a very quick look round the Charter Room in the Town House (it was tiny and packed full of people as well as historical books and documents!), I headed to the last building of the day, the Advocates Library.
As the name suggests, it’s a library owned by the Society of Advocates in Aberdeen, and is used to hold material relating to all sorts of laws and legal things. The library is right next door to the Sheriff Court, so is a handy place for members to catch up on work and do some research. I’d love to have a library like this of my own – although I must admit, it probably wouldn’t be full of law books!
Did you make it along to any of these Doors Open Days buildings at the weekend, or any other ones in Aberdeen? Let us know what you got up to!