Mapping the development of the City and Shire: The MacDonald Maps and Plans Collection

In 2012 a unique collection of maps and plans, which had been housed for many years within the Geography Department in the St Mary’s building in Old Aberdeen, was transferred to the Special Collections Centre in the Sir Duncan Rice Library. Thanks to the hard work of volunteer David Harding and Special Collections staff who checked and catalogued the maps then transferred information from the original card index into the archive catalogue, the collection can now be searched online for the first time.

The majority of the collection, comprising approximately 5500 items, contains plans relating to the city of Aberdeen and the villages and towns of Aberdeenshire. They were originally amassed by successive Aberdeen firms of engineers and surveyors, particularly the firm of Walker and Duncan, in the course of their duties in Aberdeen and the north of Scotland, eventually becoming the property of MacDonald and Partners, engineers and surveyors, who took over Walker and Duncan in 1956.

MS 3860/211: Ellon: Plan of Glebe, 1893, signed by George James Walker with stamp of Walker & Duncan.

The plans are grouped together in portfolios: by parish, in the case of Aberdeenshire, and by wards, for the city of Aberdeen. Some places, for example, Strathdon, consist of more than one folio and are arranged by date. There are also a substantial number of plans of Banffshire and Kincardineshire as well as maps covering other regions of Scotland including Angus, Fife, Morayshire and Perthshire. The maps, when they were originally arranged and catalogued, were separated into areas/wards and stamped with a running 6 digit number which resulted in a number of gaps where space was left to accommodate future plans of a particular area or ward.

While the collection is particularly strong on 19th century maps, the earliest map in the collection dates from 1746 and the latest 1955. The collection, aside from being an important record of the work of a succession of north-east surveyors, is an invaluable source for researchers interested in studying the development of the city of Aberdeen and the villages and towns of Aberdeenshire, and shows the development of public housing, transport routes and water supply and drainage schemes. It also contains copies of widely produced maps, such as the County map of Aberdeen which was part of John Thomson’s ‘Atlas of Scotland’ (1831) and also Ordnance Survey maps of the City and Shire, often annotated to show proposed developments or names of occupiers.

MS 3860/3251: Part of the County of Aberdeen, showing the line of proposed Aboyne and Ballater, and Ballater and Cairnwell turnpike roads, 1831 – part 3 of J. Thomson’s map of Aberdeenshire

Organisations such as the Incorporated Trades’ Guild and the City of Aberdeen Land Association (CALA), as well as private landowners such as the Skene family, played an important role in urban expansion in the 19th century, and the developments instigated by CALA are well represented within the MacDonald collection (see for example MS 3860/798). Where it has been possible to identify the work of local surveyors these are recorded in the individual catalogue entry and the collection includes examples from the late 18th century of the work of Colin Innes and Robert Johnston (MS 3860/1001). Also part of the collection are later plans from the mid-19th century by John Hepburn (1810-74, MS 3860/3254) and Alexander Smith (d.1844, a brief partner in the firm of David Walker) as well as James A Beattie and George James Walker (later of Walker & Duncan), who in 1877 formed the second incarnation of the firm Walker & Beattie (MS 3860/1755). There are also numerous examples of the work of lithographers such as Keith & Gibb (c.1850-1880) and earlier examples by John Henderson (see MS 3860/32201 and MS 3860/4).

MS 3860/501: Portion of feuing plan of part of the lands of Rubislaw, 1849 by Keith & Gibb showing additions made by James F Beattie in 1851 highlighting the lines of sewers

The collection also corresponds with the business papers of MacDonald and Partners (MS 2626) and while further work is needed to link the maps and plans with the business papers, which include survey reports and particulars of sales of properties, taken together the collections provide an important record of the changes over time for a particular area.

MS 3860/514: Sketch of proposed Denburn Gardens combining footbridge with sewerage works. Three dimensional view of area, 1869, by James Forbes Beattie.

For more information please see the catalogues for MS 3860 and MS 2626 or search the MacDonald maps and plans collection here (enter place name in Any Text field e.g. Alford and MS 3860* in the Ref No field).


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