Aberdeen Harbour
Review and History

Aberdeen Harbor is an historic town on the North Sea coast of Scotland. Lying on the Rivers Dee and Don, it is a busy port and fishing industry center as well as northeastern Scotland’s commercial capital. Also the center for Britain’s North Sea oil industry, it has been called the “Oil Capital” or the “Energy Capital” of Europe. Aberdeen is the county seat of historic Aberdeenshire County, but parts of the city spill into Kincardineshire County.

From the mid-1700s into the 20th Century, many of Aberdeen Harbor’s buildings used grey granite that was quarried locally. The granite contains mineral deposits that sparkle, earning the town the nicknames of “Granite City” and “Silver City with the Golden Sands.” The city is home to the world’s second biggest heliport. In 2006, over 200 thousand people lived in Aberdeen Harbor.

Port History

People have lived in the area of Aberdeen Harbor for at the mouths of the Rivers Dee and Don for more than eight thousand years. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of prehistoric villages there.

Modern Aberdeen Harbor was originally two separate burghs, Old Aberdeen and New Aberdeen. New Aberdeen was a fishing a trading village. William the Lion granted the first charter to Aberdeen in 1179. Aberdeen won status as a Royal Burgh from Robert the Bruce in 1319, granting the town property-owning and financial independence rights.

Aberdeen Harbor was controlled by the English during the Wars of Scottish Independence, and Robert the Bruce besieged and destroyed Aberdeen Castle in 1308 after he massacred the English garrison. In 1336, Edward III of England burned the city, but when it was rebuilt, it was named New Aberdeen.

Both sides plundered Aberdeen Harbor during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in the mid-17th Century. Royalist forces ransacked Aberdeen Harbor in 1644, and then bubonic plague wiped out a fourth of the population in 1647.

In the 18th Century, modern facilities appeared in Aberdeen Harbor. In the 1770s, the city gained a Town Hall, an Infirmary, and a Lunatic Asylum. Later in the century, the important roads were completed.

In the early 19th Century, Aberdeen Harbor was home to ship-building and fishing industries that stimulated the development of Victoria Dock and other port facilities. For a time, the city spent so much on infrastructure that it was bankrupt. But in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, prosperity returned. Gas street lights arrived in 1824, and a dependable water supply appeared in 1830. By 1865, Aberdeen Harbor had a new underground sewer system.

Incorporated for the first time in 1891, Old and New Aberdeen are no longer separate, even though Old Aberdeen still has its own charter and history. Aberdeen Harbor’s early and traditional industries included fishing, ship-building, paper-making, and textiles. Grey granite for paving and building was quarried there for over 300 years. In fact, Aberdeen Harbor granite was used for the Houses of Parliament and Waterloo Bridge. Quarry operations ended in 1971. Over the years, these industries have been replaced by high-technology electronics, agricultural and fishing research, and oil. Over the last three decades, the oil industry has created an economic boom for Aberdeen Harbor.

Deep-sea fishing has surpassed the old fishing fleets in Aberdeen Harbor, encouraged by modern technology. But catches have diminished with over-fishing and use of the harbor by oil-related vessels. While its fishing business has decreased, Aberdeen Harbor is home to the headquarters of the Fisheries Research Services. The city respected for the agriculture and soil research conducted at the Macauly Institute, and the Rowett Research Institute is well-known for research on food and nutrition. Aberdeen Harbor has produced three Nobel laureates, and it is home to many life scientists.

Aberdeen Harbor has a long and distinguished history, yet it is one of Europe’s most modern ports. The Guinness Book of Business Records reports it to be home to Britain’s oldest businesses. The sheltered River Dee estuary is a natural harbor in use since about 5000 BC. People from the Baltic states arrived about 2000 BC, and it is believed that the harbor was used by the Romans.

King David I of Scotland granted Aberdeen the right to tithe ships trading at the port in 1136 AD. Trade grew slowly throughout the Middle Ages, but Aberdeen Harbor facilities were little improved until the late 16th Century when the first crane appeared to load and unload vessels. In 1596, King James VI granted a charter to fund port improvements in Aberdeen Harbor. After the 1707 Union of Parliaments with England, trade increased quickly. In 1780, the North Pier was completed, the water was deepened, and the entrance was sheltered.

In the 19th Century, the Parliament created a body of commissioners authorized to develop new quays, and the Albert Basin was constructed. In the 1880s, steam trawling brought an increase in development supporting the fishing industry. In the early 20th Century, modern development continued with deepening of the entrance channel, construction of transit sheds, and a new floating dock.

Aberdeen Harbor was an important base for the navy during World War II, and port facilities were seriously damaged by air attacks. Deep-water berths were added after the war. In 1960, a new port authority and board was created, bringing a new growth area that continues today.

In the mid-1960s, Aberdeen Harbor’s offshore oil and gas industry began, starting an effort to rebuild the harbor and transform it into one of Europe’s most modern well-equipped ports. New deep-water berths were added, the channel was deepened, and equipment was updated or replaced. Several quays were rebuilt, and Victoria Dock was dredged. The fish market was rebuilt, and the port was opened to round-the-clock operations. New terminals were built, and nine oil bases had been added by 1984.

In the 1990s, new facilities appeared: forest product and grain terminals, transit sheds, quay improvements and extensions, and general facility improvements. Aberdeen Harbor’s ship-building yards were closed in 1991, and they were converted to a multi-berth deep-water ship repair facility, Telford Dock. Improvements continue into the 21st Century. By 2008, Aberdeen Harbor was handling five million tons of cargo each year.

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