Bridge of Dee

Full Summary

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In the15th century a drovers' road ran from Stonehaven to Aberdeen, called the Causey Mounth. It took a more direct line north, through Muchalls, Bourtreebush, Causey Port, Tolohill and then to Kincorth before reaching the Dee River where there was a ferry-boat crossing. Kincorth ferry is noted in a 1510 Charter of Arbroath .There was also a ford, 300m downstream of the present bridge. This ancient trackway was still in use until the mid 18th century. The line can be seen on roysroads.co.uk.

The first mention of the inconvenience of ferryboat crossings was made in 1448 by Aberdeen Council. Although there had been earlier bequests and proposals, a bridge was not started until the 16th century when Bishop Elphinstone bequeathed £20,000 towards the project. By 1514, when the Bishop died, quarry stone had been acquired but no work had started. The stones came from Moray and were transported to Aberdeen by sea, coming up the river in small boats. His successor, Bishop Gordon, declined to take on the project and it was left to the next in line, Bishop Gavin Dunbar, to take the building forward. Sadly, he too died before the bridge was completed which was around 1530. Thomas Franche was the master mason. There were seven fifty foot span arches, each with five ribs. It was a little over 14 ft wide and built in freestone ashlar. It was well recorded that branders were used in the construction of the piers (see Old Masonry Bridges  section).  In 1545 a wooden port or gate was erected and a wayside chapel was known to be at the the northeast end.  During times of bubonic plague burghers were posted on the bridge to apply quarantine to the town. 

In 1639, in the first battle of the Civil War, Aberdeen had been persuaded to take a Royalist stance. Forces under the command of Lord Aboyne occupied the Dee Bridge and came under attack from a Covenanter army led by Montrose and Marischal, approaching from the Causey Mounth. The defenders were overwhelmed but the townsfolk were spared any consequences because, simultaneously, a treaty was concluded at Berwick which ended the hostilities.This was the 1st Bishops’ War, a prelude to general hostilities.  

In 1719 the bridge was decaying. It was extensively repaired and restructured by the town council over a period of five years. In 1840 it was was widened to 26 ft  by John Smith, the city architect. The whole of the west face of the bridge was carefully dismantled and re-erected; this included turrets, abutments, piers, parapets, spandrels and archstones. At each arch the original outer rib was re-used and four additional ribs were added to support the widened deck. Granite was used. The project was a model for bridge widening and an account was published in 1842.

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Today, there are seven semicircular arches of approximately 50ft span with a rise of 18ft centrally, and a level roadway. There are nine ribs on each arch, supporting transverse stone slabs. The first rib gives the impression of a second order of voussoirs but this is not the case. The foundations, piers and cutwaters are still underpinned by timber framed branders and there are refuges above each cutwater. The spandrels are in course granite ashlar and the chamfered voussoirs are in very well dressed stone.  There is a heavy string course with a semi-coping at that level. There are splayed wing walls and buttresses with iron railings on the approaches which are in more modern ashlar, almost certainly from the 19th century. There are three flood arches are on the upstream northern end from the same period.  Their outflow is a single channel 50yards downstream. The chapel and the gateway are long gone: demolished in the eighteenth century. Many carved stones bearing coats-of-arms and inscriptions with dates are built into the sides of the cut-waters between the arches. The oldest date is 1520 and the most recent is 1527, both on the west side of the bridge. The position of these dates shows that the bridge was begun at the south end and completed at the north. The bridge has a variety of coats of arms on it, among which is that of Bishop Elphinstone, Bishop Gavin Dunbar, and the City of Aberdeen. Those on the SW pillar are probably the oldest. The tooled letters on the sundial stand for Alexander Watson, Master of Bridge Works, 1719. There are inscriptions referring to the work of Bishop Elphinstone, Bishop Dunbar, the early eighteenth century works and the nineteenth century widening.  Although the bridge was substantially rebuilt from 1719 onwards, so much effort and ingenuity has been directed to preservation of style that it has to be viewed as an early sixteenth century structure.

The bridge is on Roy (1750) , Bleau (1640) and Pont, 11 (1600). 

Dec. 2012                                      Site last updated  November 2017